Apr 26, 2016

Movie Bites

So many movies, so little time. Here are some mini-reviews of things I' ve seen recently:

The Measure of A Man

I recommend this small, powerful film in which the hero (the great Vincent Lindon) is a guy who loses his job and is willing to do anything to have one, until his conscience says "enough". It takes place mostly in a kind of French WalMart. Director Stephane Brizé wrests nail-biting suspense from a conversation with the guy in the unemployment bureau, from confrontations between security guys in the store and people whom they catch stealing. No swelling string section when the hero stops at nothing to do the heroic thing. Just the relentless fight of every man, every day, for dignity.


A heroic fuck up, Krisha, the title character of this strange and powerful movie, is a larger than life walking disaster, played with ferocious, self-destructive panache by Krisha Fairchild. Director Trey Edward Shults, who wrote, directed, produced and acts as Krisha's son, uses his family members and recombines them to tell the story of a Thanksgiving dinner from hell thanks to the arrival of this middle-aged woman whom the family views with condescension and very little patience. And for good reason. She abandoned her son, she's a drunk, and she is way too long in the tooth for her aimless, needy, self-indulgent antics. Her fragility belies an almost industrial-grade energy for self-sabotage. You know that when a humongous turkey is introduced, and she is in charge of it, things are going to go very, very wrong. Shults weaves this tale with equal doses of dark humor (not that the other family members are that sane), family horror, and true heartbreak. It's all somehow wonderfully cathartic.

Miles Ahead

Don Cheadle is fantastic as Miles Davis in this quirky, invented episode in the great trumpeter's life, which Cheadle himself directed and co-wrote. While I understand Cheadle's resistance to make this a conventional biopic, and his aim to capture Davis' unruly spirit (which he nails, here and there), the plot is too silly and it conspires against Cheadle's push to show Davis's anarchic side. Still, after this year's Oscars so white brouhaha, here's a very deserving performance.


Green Room

Jeremy Saulnier's genre exercise in horror makes absolutely no sense and wastes an interesting premise (a touring rock band falls prey to a skinhead militia), in this tepid, arty slaughterhouse flick. There is no suspense, just dull spurts of mangled flesh. It's nicely shot and is peppered with dry humor but nothing is believable, much less the elegant Patrick Stewart, sporting his usual plummy British accent as the urbane leader of the neo-nazis.

The Invitation

A truly disquieting and unnerving movie that is undone by a mostly amateurish cast, The Invitation is a dark little tale of cultish obsession that takes place in the Hollywood Hills, a perfect little metaphor for the obsessive LA self-improvement culture. A couple is invited to dinner with old friends whom they haven't seen since a terrible loss happened. The evening turns out to be more than an innocent dinner party. Director Karyn Kusama displays a very good hand at making this evening as creepy and uncomfortable as possible. She is aided by the great John Carroll Lynch as a guest with a quietly menacing air, and by convincing performances by Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard and Lindsay Burdge as the hippie chick from hell. It's really too bad that the rest of the photogenic cast cannot muster the chops to make it feel like they've actually known each other for years. Still, the overall icky feeling and a fantastic twist at the end make it an interesting option among horror films.

Apr 6, 2016

Chus Lampreave: Spain's National Treasure.

Spain has given the world many wonderful things, among them Serrano ham, cañitas (the Spanish are the only people on Earth who know how to serve beer, in an ice-cold small glass), some soccer teams (I won't get into which), churros, paella, Picasso, tapas, Javier Bardem, Gaudí, etc.
But none is greater than the wonderful Chus Lampreave, a character actress and national treasure who appeared in many Spanish films, most notably Pedro Almodovar's, and who died recently at the age of 85.
Chus always looked like a little old lady and, for the most part, she played the part of the mom or the grandma: the traditional Spanish señora; in her incarnation, a folsky, no-nonsense everywoman. Almodovar gave her the most hilarious lines, and I can't imagine anyone delivering them better.
Her trademark is a mix of the oblivious and the stubbornly commonsensical.  She has no malice but she is never a pushover. It helps that she really looks like a sweet little old lady but then it turns out that she is very much in a league of her own, traditional but unsentimental, and completely true to herself. She has an unshakable, principled internal compass that makes complete sense, if mostly only to her.
There is a wonderful scene in What Have I Done to Deserve This where she is helping her grandson with his homework to identify who of the 19th-century authors on the kid's list is a romantic and who is a realist. She proceeds to tell him all the wrong answers, with the absolute conviction that she can just make shit up and no one will notice. At no point does she waver or give any inclination that she is winging it. She closes with a confident "See how easy it is?" Genius.

Her comic timing was more than impeccable. Sad for her loss, I turned to You Tube for clips of her performances. I think part of her hilarity comes from her uncanny ability to turn on a dime and completely change her mood without missing a beat  in a sentence, let alone in a scene. She goes from 0 to 60 in a nanosecond.
In The Flower Of My Secret, she fights with one of her daughters (Rossy De Palma, whom she hates) and then she turns to the other daughter (Marisa Paredes, whom she loves) and in the same breath talks to her with the utmost tenderness. This being Almodovar, they are having an argument about skinheads.
Chus: "I don't know what I did to the skinheads, you should see how they look at me".

She was a natural because she never intended to be an actress.  Yet she was one of the most memorable comedic character actors in film.
I always thought that she deserved a monument, a fountain in the middle of Madrid, her effigy in a postage stamp, a resplendent statue. She was adored and she will be missed.