Tag Archive | Movie Review

Recommended Viewing: The Circle (Der Kreis)

The Circle Poster

Love doesn’t have to look a certain way, and it is a thoroughly compelling love story that anchors the Gay rights battle at the heart of The Circle, a new German language film from Director Stefan Haupt. In this engaging film that mixes a scripted dramatic narrative (set in 1950s Zurich) with present day documentary interview footage with film’s real-life main characters, The Circle (Der Kreis) is also the name of a gay social organization and the multi-lingual, borderline-homoerotic magazine/newsletter it publishes and distributes to an extensive international list of subscribers.

Although post WWII Switzerland has no laws banning homosexuality, The Circle’s staff members are always careful to avoid excessive censorship by keeping the publication’s nudity “artistically tasteful” and ensuring that any provocative articles are written in a language that the censors don’t speak. It’s obvious from the beginning that The Circle offers an invaluable social outlet and sanctuary for its members; one which they will go to great lengths to preserve and protect.

It’s at one of the organization’s formal dances that reserved Girls School teacher Ernst Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbuehler) meets flamboyant drag performer Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker), and Ernst is instantly smitten. While Ernst’s profession and desire to achieve tenure necessitate that he remain closeted to anyone outside of The Circle — including his ultra-repressed parents –Robi is openly gay and very comfortable inside his own skin. Robi has particularly charming relationship with his very warm and accepting mother (played by actress Marianne Sägebrecht ).

As Robi and Ernst’s relationship develops into a committed romance, Ernst becomes more self-confident and accepting of his sexual identity while also growing more passionate toward his involvement with The Circle and the cause of Gay rights.

Robi and Ernst
Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbuehler Portray Lovers Robi and Ernst

Both actors are brilliant in their respective roles, sharing a palpable onscreen chemistry that really brings the deeply loving relationship between Ernst and Robi to life; but it isn’t all about romance. When several friends of The Circle fall victim to a series of murders within the gay community, the formerly liberal authorities begin to crack down on suspected same-sex behavior. This leads to The Circle’s regular dances and social events being declared illegal, and police using strong arm tactics to collect the personal details of all members. With the resulting turmoil, the organization becomes impossible to maintain and must be disbanded.

A unique aspect of The Circle’s method of storytelling is the interspersing of documentary interludes, featuring present-day interviews with the real life Ernst and Robi, now in their eighties. Not only are they still happily together but, in 2003, they actually became the first legally married same-sex couple in Switzerland. Friends and family of the couple, as well as former members of The Circle also contribute their personal stories, to create a very satisfying and entertaining movie-going experience. I really loved this film.

The Circle (Der Kreis) – which is the Official submission of Switzerland to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards 2015 – opens in NYC on November 21st and in Los Angeles on December 18th, 2014. Runtime: 102 minutes.

The Worley Gig Gives The Circle Four out of Five Stars

Movie Review: Art And Craft

Art and Craft Movie Poster

While watching the actions of Mark Landis, the undeniably creepy subject of the recently released documentary, Art and Craft (directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman), I had the same feeling as when I watched I Think We’re Alone Now, an indie documentary that follows two obsessed fans of ’80s Pop singer, Tiffany. While the story of Landis‘ 30-year career of flagrant art forgery is truly fascinating — because, how the hell did he get away with it for so long? — his obvious mental illness gives the film a slight aura of exploitation. I do not think that was intentional but, rather, it’s an unavoidable side effect to telling his story. Landis is certainly committing some kind of fraud, which is infuriating, but as his multilayered mental-issues are revealed over the course of Art and Craft‘s 89 minute run time, it’s hard not to feel sadness for someone who is clearly addicted to his (some would argue harmless) pattern of deceptive activity. So, polarizing, I guess, is a good word to describe this film and its borderline unsympathetic anti-hero.

His authentic talent as an artist aside, the real life Mark Landis is a lonely, emaciated hermit, diagnosed with Schizophrenia and a laundry list of other mental issues, who resembles a less-attractive version of well-known character actor Zeljko Ivanek (Big Love, 24, etc). In fact, it’s likely his unassuming nature and lack of overt charisma that allowed him to dupe the representatives of over 50 art institutes across 20 states into accepting the gifts of his forgeries as highly desirable donations of legitimate original works of art. Landis also chose to imitate lesser-known artists, and made his philanthropic gestures (the forged paintings were always given as gifts, never sold or traded for any kind of monetary gain) toward lesser known museums and colleges, which probably did not raise as many red flags as it would have had he chosen to, say, present the gift of a DaVinci drawing to the MFA in Boston.

Landis‘ elaborate prank comes to light in 2008, when Matthew Leininger, Curatorial Department Head of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art — which had accepted multiple donations of the forged paintings — does his “due diligence” (a phrase that is repeated often in Art and Craft), and discovers the forger’s extensive trail of fakes that have been given to many and varied art institutes, even uncovering the fact that Landis had donated up to six copies of the same work to different museums. Mark Landis essentially becomes Leininger’s Great White Whale, as the registrar vows to out the forgers shenanigans and take him down. This is easier said than done, of course, since Landis has never accepted money in exchange for his forged paintings and therefore has not actually broken any laws. Leininger believes that the reward Landis reaps for his actions is the gleeful satisfaction that he has fooled seeming “Art Experts.”

Eventually, Leininger’s incredible sleuthing leads to Mark Landis being nationally exposed as an art forger via articles in publications such as The Art Newspaper (in 2010) and the Financial Times. Since there is no real legal recourse for his actions, it is the strong desire of Leininger and others that Landis simply stop the forgeries. Without spoiling anything, I’ll conclude by admitting that, by the time the movie wraps up with a rather extensive gallery exhibit of Landis’ forgeries and a few of his original pieces, I went from wanting to punch Mark Landis in the face to feeling like he deserved at least a little sympathy.  Mark Landis may be an ass, but he’s obviously battling a few personal demons. I’m not sure he would know how to stop, even if he wanted to.

For a list of theaters showing Art and Craft in your area, visit Art and Craft Film Dot Com.

The Worley Gig Gives Art and Craft 4 out of 5 Stars

Movie Review: The Little Tin Man

The Little Tin Man Poster

Being different is much easier to deal with when the characteristic that sets you apart isn’t immediately visible. In Matthew Perkins‘ very entertaining and heartfelt first film, The Little Tin Man, Herman (Aaron Beelner) is a struggling actor who works as a waiter in his family’s NYC restaurant. Herman also happens to be a little person, something that makes the typecasting he often finds himself up against even more glaring when he auditions for a Martin Scorsese remake of the Wizard of Oz.

While casting directors are enthusiastic about Herman’s chance of landing the part of the Mayor of Munchkin Land, Herman has his sights set on the role of the Tin Man – a part that, due to his height, he is not even allowed to audition for. When his mother passes away suddenly, leaving the restaurant to his flamboyant older half-brother, Gregg (played brilliantly by the hilarious Jeff Hiller, who steals every scene he is in) while Herman’s only “inheritance” is the advice that he get serious about his acting career, he is forced to undertake an ingenious plan to make his dream of playing the Tin Man come true.

The Little Tin Man finds its unique humor and heart when Herman enlists the help of his restaurant co-workers including his brother, best gal-pal Miller (played by comedy writer Kay Cannon), whom he also has a secret crush on, Dishwasher Juan (Emmanual Maldonado) and bartender Pete (Chris Henry Coffey, who reminds me very much of Greg Kinnear) to help him make an audition tape that he can then sneak in to Scorcese while he is guesting on the Rachel Ray Show (don’t ask).

Despite its heavier message of prejudices we all have against people who look different, and serious plot undertones, this is a very sweet, funny and uplifting film. The Little Tin Man has the engaging, laid back feel of a cable TV sitcom similar to Curb Your Enthusiasm or Stephen Merchant’s Hello Ladies, and the appealing ensemble cast shares such a good chemistry, I really felt like I could watch a weekly adventure with these characters. Very highly recommended!

The Little Tin Man now is screening locally at the Williamsburg Cinemas in Brooklyn and is available via Video On Demand nationwide.

The Worley Gig Gives The Little Tin Man Four out of Five Stars

Movie Review: It Was You Charlie

It Was You Charlie
Michael D. Cohen stars in It Was You Charlie

Sometimes, a film unfolds so quietly and subtly that to attempt to explain the plot is to spoil the entire story. It Was You Charlie, written and directed by Emmanuel Shirnian, comes together so invisibly that it’s very much like putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in which you can’t get a satisfying idea of the big picture until the final, tiny piece is locked in place.

Shirnian’s directorial debut tells the story of Abner (Michael D. Cohen in a spot on performance), a diminutive, shy doorman who works the graveyard shift in an apartment building where he and his fellow doorman are accustomed to secretly entering apartments while tenants are out to make a snack from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. Through flashbacks, we learn that Abner was once a respected Artist and Professor whose unrequited love for a beautiful student, Madeleine (Anna Hopkins) is rendered all the more poignant by the fact that she has fallen in love with his tall, handsome brother, Tom (Aaron Abrams).

Abner’s loss of his love interest, which consequently results in a deep rift between him and his brother, pitches him into a downward spiral, leading to his involvement in a two car collision in which the driver of the other car does not survive. Despite his continued appreciation for art and his dream of one day moving to Greece, Abner’s world view is bleak and his thoughts of suicide are ever present.

Enter Zoe (played by Emma Fleury, who reminds me very favorably Greta Gerwig) an upbeat and outgoing cab driver who befriends Abner and attempts to cajole him out of his depression. Through his relationship with Zoe, Abner begins to emerge from his funk and seeks to mend his damaged psyche and relationships.

The film segues seamlessly between hyper-reality and surreal, dreamlike scenes that will keep you questioning how much of the action is going on only in Abner’s imagination. For me, being kept guessing also kept me engaged in the journey towards an emotionally resonant outcome that wasn’t necessarily predictable.

And for those wondering, as you should be, who the titular ‘Charlie’ is: “It was you, Charlie” is a quote taken from the most famous scene in the Marlon Brando classic, On the Waterfront, a film that Abner and Tom have a tradition of seeing annually on Abner’s birthday — an event on which several key plot points pivot.

It Was You Charlie is billed as a dark comedy/drama, and it definitely isn’t a traditionally funny film. Anyone going in with an expectation of seeing a silly, feel-good movie will be disappointed. While I did laugh out loud a couple of times, the moments of humor derive from the absurdity of the action and discomfort of the characters – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just be advised that this film is unexpectedly heavy, and it will probably take you a few days to really digest and appreciate what you’ve seen.

It Was You Charlie will be available via Video On Demand as of September 23rd and will open in NYC at Cinema Village (22 E 12th Street) on September 26th, 2014.

The Worley Gig Gives It Was You Charlie 3 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

Must See Movie: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer Poster
Snowpiercer Movie Poster: International Version!

When it comes to taking on the hot button topic of Global Warming and its possible catastrophic effects, Snowpiercer is a movie that believes you should either go big or go home – and the films’ premise is a doozy. Set 17 years in the future, Snowpiercer drops us into the aftermath of a failed chemical experiment; one that was meant to slightly lower the global temperature but which instead propels the Earth into a devastating ice age, annihilating all life on the planet. However, a group of survivors have boarded a global circumnavigating high-speed train, run by a perpetual motion engine. The Snowpiercer, as it is called, is both a utopian haven and hellish prison for its passengers; depending on which car you’re in.

Aboard the Snowpiercer there exists a strictly segregated class system that doesn’t really make any sense, but which you just need to go with in order to let the film tell its story. People unfortunate enough to have boarded at the back of the train live in bleak, congested squalor that portrays a dystopian scenario similar to films like The Road and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The train is governed by its mysterious Wizard of Oz-like inventor, Wilford (Ed Harris), and his strict rules of order are brutally enforced by Mason (Tilda Swinton), in a role that is by turns both terrifying and comical. Fed up with mere survival under constant oppression, those in the back of the train band together, deciding it is time to overthrow the nonnegotiable dictatorship and devise a way to advance to the front of the train in order to take control of the engine.

The rebel’s reluctant leader is Curtis (Chris Evans), who is joined by Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gillam (John Hurt) and Namgoong Minsoo (Koren actor Song Kang-ho), a notorious drug dealer with a keen knowledge of lock picking who is liberated from the train’s prison car in order to help the gang in their quest. The scenes at the back of the train are the least visually compelling of the film and tend to drag a bit, but aside from setting up the film’s main point of conflict, they seed the plot for events and revelations that take place further on, so you need to pay attention rather than just “waiting for them to be over.” As the rebels move forward, the settings of the various train cars change from ones depicting simple comforts to over-the-top opulence and outright hedonistic decadence. This is when Snowpiercer really gets rolling.

I enjoyed Snowpiercer, especially the amazing sets and captivating scenes of the train speeding through the frozen landscape, but I think the script could have used a bit more work, as there are continuity holes big enough to, well, drive a train through. The film does at least partially address the question of how passengers are fed, with the growing of fresh vegetation aboard the train, the aquarium car scene – which is marvelous – and the nauseating revelation of just want goes into making those Protein Blocks that constitute the sole sustenance of the train’s rear car inhabitants. But I couldn’t help but wonder how Namgoong Minsoo could have been able to make an annual observation of a plane crash landmark in the arctic wasteland as the train passes the Ekaterina Bridge each New Years Day, when he’s supposedly been living in a drawer in the train’s jail car for who knows how long? Perhaps I just need to see the film again.

It is worth noting that Snowpiercer is the first English-language film from Korean Director Joon-ho Bong, and while he succeeds in making a compelling film on many levels, perhaps the muddled script is an indication of too much ambition and an unwillingness to glean plot points that confuse and weigh the film down. Certainly it is no accident that Snowpiercer is already on DVD in Europe and Asia while its US theatrical release is not until June 27th. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer will surely appeal to fans of that genre and anyone who enjoys an original Sci-Fi Action flick.

The Worley Gig Gives Snowpiercer 4 Out of 5 Stars!

Rated R with a Runtime of 2 Hours, 5 Minutes, Snowpiercer Opens Friday June 27th, 2014. Find theaters and show times in your area at Fandango Dot Com.

Recommended Viewing: Super Duper Alice Cooper

Super Duper Alice Cooper Poster

I’m going to assume that everyone reading this not only knows who Alice Cooper is, but is also aware that “Alice Cooper” was originally the name of a band with five guys in it. If you don’t know that much, you need to do your homework. Aside from getting your hands on Bob Greene’s long out of print book, Billion Dollar Baby, this film is as good a place as any to get schooled.

Although many only know Alice Cooper as an individual solo artist and Pop Culture icon, there are legions of devoted fans who are deeply dedicated to the music, history and memory of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted original band called Alice Cooper – a group that recorded seven groundbreaking gold and platinum-selling albums of original material and set single concert attendance World Records before disbanding in late 1974. For that latter group, let me speculate now that there will never be a better-made, more authentic public vehicle for telling the story of that original band, in as close to the ‘true story’ as possible, than this film. If the statement “Alice Cooper was a Band” resonates with you, then there is no way you will want to miss seeing this film.

Super Duper Alice Cooper is a highly entertaining documentary that aims to tell the life story of Vincent Furnier, the lead singer of the band Alice Cooper, who took the name as his own when the group disbanded. Vince/Alice’s story is told via first person voice over and vintage interview clips with Alice, but Alice Cooper band bassist Dennis Dunaway (whom Furnier met in high school) and drummer Neal Smith, who joined the band when they were still called The Nazz, also contribute to its engaging narrative. Furnier’s early days playing in local Phoenix bands with Dunaway and AC co-founder and lead guitarist, the late Glen Buxton are discussed in fairly minute detail, so you get a really good idea of the struggle that these guys went through on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world. Oddly, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter, Michael Bruce is never mentioned by name even once in the film.

The most enjoyable parts of the film, for me, were the up-and-coming story of the band, its transition into becoming Alice Cooper, and the insane live performance footage, 90 percent which I would guess has never been shown in public before. It is one thing to read about how the band Alice Cooper invented Shock Rock, but it is an entirely different animal to see it play out before your eyes. No wonder that fans who were lucky enough to see the band live 40 years ago still talk about those shows to this day.

I’d say that a good 80 percent of Super Duper Alice Cooper is dedicated the formation and disintegration of the band (and holy shit, what a great fucking band they were), with the other 20 percent covering Alice’s budding solo career, alcoholism, cocaine addiction and recovery. So, there’s something for everyone. Consult Google to find a showing in your area, or wait for the DVD release. Either way, you gotta see this film.

The Worley Gig Gives Super Duper Alice Cooper 5 out of 5 Stars!

Must See DVD: The Punk Singer

The Punk Singer DVD Cover
Image Source

Confession: After hearing the names Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill and Riot Grrrl off and on for two decades, I really didn’t know anything about Hanna, her music or the highly influential feminist movement she co-founded until I watched Director Sini Anderson’s excellent documentary, The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna, on DVD last night. In fact, I admit that for many years I had confused Kathleen Hanna with Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses, which is just embarrassing.

So, I guess it’s extremely high praise for Kathleen Hanna, for being so doggedly determined and fiercely talented and also a thoroughly compelling human being – as well as Anderson, for coaxing her somewhat reluctant subject into revealing her life story with such profound intimacy – that I was completely engaged in The Punk Singer from the first few minutes. I mean, wow, this film is amazing!

If you are already a fan of Kathleen Hanna then you don’t need me to tell you about how Hanna and her band mates in Bikini Kill championed woman in rock like nobody’s business, performing songs about subjects that made people uncomfortable but that stayed true to Hanna’s vision of inspiring positive change. Scenes of Hanna performing on stage in The Punk Singer reminded me of a cross between the late Poly Styrene and Henry Rollins. Punk Rock!

There’s also an astounding amount of quality archival footage used in this film which will take you back in time to the beginnings of the Riot Grrrl movement as well as a time when Hanna was best friends with another rebel outsider, Kurt Cobain. I’m sure Kathleen Hanna could not have foreseen what would arrive in the wake if her casually scribbling the phrase “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Cobain’s apartment wall. That is a story that takes too long to talk about.

Former band mates and friends of Hanna including Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Hanna’s husband Adam Horowitz of The Beastie Boys help to color the film’s rich narrative with their stories about what made Hanna a special, unstoppable force in music. But The Punk Singer isn’t just a music documentary; it is a true life story and a film that will draw you in as much as other personal musical journeys such as Jobriath AD, Nothing Can Hurt Me and Searching For Sugarman. I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

The Punk Singer is available for purchase at Amazon.com and for rental and streaming through Netflix, where it has racked up a ton of well-deserved 5 Star Reviews.

The Worley Gig Gives The Punk Singer Five Out of Five Stars