Stream of the Week: TRUMAN – how people say goodbye

Javier and Ricardo Darin in TRUMAN
Javier Cámara and Ricardo Darin in TRUMAN

For the second week in a row, I’m suggesting that you take this opportunity to watch what may be the best movie of this year – in your own home. In the deeply emotionally affecting and humane Spanish film Truman, Tomás (Javier Cámara) leaves Montreal to pay a surprise four-day visit to his longtime friend Julián (Ricardo Darin) in Madrid. Julián has been battling cancer and has just received a very grim prognosis. Julián has chosen to forgo further treatment, and his cousin and caregiver Paula (Dolores Fonzi) is hoping that Tomás can talk Julián out of his decision.

Julián is a roguish bon vivant, although now hobbled by illness. Tomás is a responsible family man. As the four day visit unfolds, Tomás tags along as Julián cavalierly settles his affairs. Because of the circumstances, even the most routine activity is heavily charged with emotion. Julián, who has always been a wild card, is now a tinderbox always on the verge of erupting into some socially inappropriate gesture. Julián is particularly focused on arranging for adoption of his beloved and ponderous dog Truman.

Julián is a wiseacre, but his reaction to a moment of kindness from an very unexpected source is heartbreaking. Julián goes to say goodbye to his son, and then the learn a fact afterward that make this encounter exponentially more poignant. Truman has an especially sly ending – the granting of one last favor, however inconvenient.

TRUMAN
TRUMAN

The Argentine actor Darin is one of my favorite screen actors: Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, The Aura. As a man living under a death sentence, Julián has adopted a bemused fatalism, but is ready to burst into rage or despair at any moment, and Darin captures that perfectly.

I was blown away by Javier Cámara’s unforgettable performance, at once creepy and heartbreaking, in the Pedro Almodovar drama Talk to Her. Cámara is a master of the reaction, and his Tomás stoically serves as the loyal wing man to a friend with hair trigger unpredictability, often in a state of cringe.

The Argentine actress Dolores Fonzi (The Aura) is excellent as Paula, whose caregiver fatigue finally explodes.

Packed with bittersweet emotions, Truman is never maudlin. The Spanish director Cesc Gay, who co-wrote Truman, has created a gentle and insightful exploration into how people can say goodbye. There’s not a single misstep or hint of inauthenticity. Again, Truman is one of the best films of the year.

Truman had a brief US theatrical run. It’s now streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

(Note: The crappy trailer below fails to capture all the humor and deep emotion in this film.)

Stream of the Week: TRUMAN – the year’s best movie?

Javier and Ricardo Darin in TRUMAN
Javier Cámara and Ricardo Darin in TRUMAN

This may be the best movie I’ve seen this year. In the deeply emotionally affecting and humane Spanish film Truman, Tomás (Javier Cámara) leaves Montreal to pay a surprise four-day visit to his longtime friend Julián (Ricardo Darin) in Madrid. Julián has been battling cancer and has just received a very grim prognosis. Julián has chosen to forgo further treatment, and his cousin and caregiver Paula (Dolores Fonzi) is hoping that Tomás can talk Julián out of his decision.

Julián is a roguish bon vivant, although now hobbled by illness. Tomás is a responsible family man. As the four day visit unfolds, Tomás tags along as Julián cavalierly settles his affairs. Because of the circumstances, even the most routine activity is heavily charged with emotion. Julián, who has always been a wild card, is now a tinderbox always on the verge of erupting into some socially inappropriate gesture. Julián is particularly focused on arranging for adoption of his beloved and ponderous dog Truman.

Julián is a wiseacre, but his reaction to a moment of kindness from an very unexpected source is heartbreaking. Julián goes to say goodbye to his son, and then the learn a fact afterward that make this encounter exponentially more poignant. Truman has an especially sly ending – the granting of one last favor, however inconvenient.

TRUMAN
TRUMAN

The Argentine actor Darin is one of my favorite screen actors: Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, The Aura. As a man living under a death sentence, Julián has adopted a bemused fatalism, but is ready to burst into rage or despair at any moment, and Darin captures that perfectly.

I was blown away by Javier Cámara’s unforgettable performance, at once creepy and heartbreaking, in the Pedro Almodovar drama Talk to Her. Cámara is a master of the reaction, and his Tomás stoically serves as the loyal wing man to a friend with hair trigger unpredictability, often in a state of cringe.

The Argentine actress Dolores Fonzi (The Aura) is excellent as Paula, whose caregiver fatigue finally explodes.

Packed with bittersweet emotions, Truman is never maudlin. The Spanish director Cesc Gay, who co-wrote Truman, has created a gentle and insightful exploration into how people can say goodbye. There’s not a single misstep or hint of inauthenticity. Again, Truman is one of the best films of the year.

Truman had a brief US theatrical run. It’s now streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

(Note: The crappy trailer below fails to capture all the humor and deep emotion in this film.)

SUBTE-POLSKA: memory, vitality and loves from the past

SUBTE POLSKA

Here’s a wonderful movie (with an off-putting title) that you can ONLY see Sunday in Palo Alto or Wednesday in San Francisco. Subte-Polska is an Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past. A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte-Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Tadeusz (Hector Bidonde) is a working class nonagenarian chess master. He’s still able to win several simultaneous chess matches, but his age is catching up to him and he has periods of confusion and memory loss. His doc has prescribed meds that counteract the memory loss, but he refuses to take them because they…wait for it…diminish his sexual performance.

His adult adopted son (Marcelo Xicarte) is understandably frustrated because he has to keep tracking down an unnecessarily (from his perspective) addled old man. And the son is in a touchy period in his own marriage.

Tadeusz is a Communist Jew who left Poland, his family and his girlfriend to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He found another lover in Spain, but he left her,too, when they were defeated by Franco. Tadeusz’ family didn’t survive Hitler. That’s a lot of loss, and Tadeusz dealt with it by emigrating to Argentina and LITERALLY going underground. To avoid triggering painful memories, he gets a job constructing and then working in the Buenos Aires subway system. He sets up his son as a subway driver, and his best buddies also work in the subway, including the guy who runs the underground newsstand (Manuel Callau).

As Subte-Polska unfolds, Magnone explores our sense of memory, and how we consciously and subconsciously handle both the cherished memories and the devastating ones. As he takes and abstains from taking his meds, Tadeusz’s short-term memory ebbs and flows. This is a guy who has framed his entire life to suppress the memories of his youth, but he begins to remember his youth more and more vividly. As he remembers, he feels a need to find closure.

Tadeusz is a strong-willed person, and Subte-Polska is pretty funny as he causes consternation in his son, doctor and friends – in everybody except his well-serviced girlfriend and his ball-busting old friend from their first days underground. Marcelo Xicarte and Manuel Callau both prove to be excellent comic actors.

Speaking of acting, Hector Bidonde delivers a magnificent lead performance. Bidonde plays someone who has always been determined to do what he wants, stubborn to his core, still confident in his beliefs, mental acuity and sexual prowess, but occasionally shaken by moments of confusion.

You have three chances to catch Subte-Polska at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 4:25 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Wednesday, July 26 4:05 PM
  • Albany Twin (Twin), Tuesday, August 1 6:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Subte-Polska is funny, insightful and moving. I’m still mulling it over. This film deserves a US distributor – and a US distributor who changes the title. After all, it’s a subtitled movie about a 90-year-old; ya gotta help the audience want to see this. It’s the under-the-radar Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

SUBTE-POLSKA: memory, vitality and loves from the past

SUBTE POLSKA

Subte-Polska is an Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past.  A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

Great movie. Off-putting title.

Tadeusz (Hector Bidonde) is a working class nonagenarian chess master. He’s still able to win several simultaneous chess matches, but his age is catching up to him and he has periods of confusion and memory loss. His doc has prescribed meds that counteract the memory loss, but he refuses to take them because they…wait for it…diminish his sexual performance.

His adult adopted son (Marcelo Xicarte) is understandably frustrated because he has to keep tracking down an unnecessarily (from his perspective) addled old man. And the son is in a touchy period in his own marriage.

Tadeusz is a Communist Jew who left Poland, his family and his girlfriend to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He found another lover in Spain, but he left her,too, when they were defeated by Franco. Tadeusz’ family didn’t survive Hitler. That’s a lot of loss, and Tadeusz dealt with it by emigrating to Argentina and LITERALLY going underground. To avoid triggering painful memories, he gets a job constructing and then working in the Buenos Aires subway system. He sets up his son as a subway driver, and his best buddies also work in the subway, including the guy who runs the underground newsstand (Manuel Callau).

As Subte-Polska unfolds, Magnone explores our sense of memory, and how we consciously and subconsciously handle both the cherished memories and the devastating ones.  As he takes and abstains from taking his meds, Tadeusz’s short-term memory ebbs and flows.  This is a guy who has framed his entire life to suppress the memories of his youth, but he begins to remember his youth more and more vividly.  As he remembers, he feels a need to find closure.

Tadeusz is a strong-willed person, and Subte-Polska is pretty funny as he causes consternation in his son, doctor and friends – in everybody except his well-serviced girlfriend and his ball-busting old friend from their first days underground.  Marcelo Xicarte and Manuel Callau both prove to be excellent comic actors.

Speaking of acting, Hector Bidonde delivers a magnificent lead performance.  Bidonde plays someone who has always been determined to do what he wants, stubborn to his core, still confident in his beliefs, mental acuity and sexual prowess, but occasionally shaken by moments of confusion.

You have three chances to catch Subte-Polska at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 4:25 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Wednesday, July 26 4:05 PM
  • Albany Twin (Twin), Tuesday, August 1 6:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Subte-Polska is funny, insightful and moving. I’m still mulling it over.  This film deserves a US distributor – and a US distributor who changes the title. After all, it’s a subtitled movie about a 90-year-old; ya gotta help the audience want to see this.  It’s the under-the-radar Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

TRUMAN: how people say goodbye

Javier and Ricardo Darin in TRUMAN
Javier Cámara and Ricardo Darin in TRUMAN

This may be the best movie I’ve seen this year.  In the deeply emotionally affecting and humane Spanish film Truman, Tomás (Javier Cámara) leaves Montreal to pay a surprise four-day visit to his longtime friend Julián (Ricardo Darin) in Madrid. Julián has been battling cancer and has just received a very grim prognosis. Julián has chosen to forgo further treatment, and his cousin and caregiver Paula (Dolores Fonzi) is hoping that Tomás can talk Julián out of his decision.

Julián is a roguish bon vivant, although now hobbled by illness. Tomás is a responsible family man.  As the four day visit unfolds, Tomás tags along as Julián cavalierly settles his affairs.  Because of the circumstances, even the most routine activity is heavily charged with emotion.  Julián, who has always been a wild card, is now a tinderbox always on the verge of erupting into some socially inappropriate gesture.  Julián is particularly focused on arranging for adoption of his beloved and ponderous dog Truman.

Julián is a wiseacre, but his reaction to a moment of kindness from an very unexpected source is heartbreaking.  Julián goes to say goodbye to his son, and then the  learn a fact afterward that make this encounter exponentially more poignant.  Truman has an especially sly ending  – the granting of one last favor, however inconvenient.

TRUMAN
TRUMAN

The Argentine actor Darin is one of my favorite screen actors: Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, The Aura.  As a man living under a death sentence, Julián has adopted a bemused fatalism, but is ready to burst into rage or despair at any moment, and Darin captures that perfectly.

I was blown away by Javier Cámara’s unforgettable performance, at once creepy and heartbreaking, in the Pedro Almodovar drama Talk to Her. Cámara is a master of the reaction, and his Tomás stoically serves as the loyal wing man to a friend with hair trigger unpredictability, often in a state of cringe.

The Argentine actress Dolores Fonzi (The Aura) is excellent as Paula, whose caregiver fatigue finally explodes.

Packed with bittersweet emotions, Truman is never maudlin.  The Spanish director Cesc Gay, who co-wrote Truman, has created a gentle and insightful exploration into how people can say goodbye.  There’s not a single misstep or hint of inauthenticity.  Again, Truman is one of the best films of the year.

(Note: The crappy trailer below fails to capture all the humor and deep emotion in this film.)

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE AURA – smart enough to plan the perfect crime, but is that enough?

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA

The Aura is a brilliant 2005 neo-noir from Argentina that I wasn’t familiar with until the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller programmed into the 2017 Noir City film festival.

The Aura is about a taxidermist who leads a boring life, but fantasizes about the Perfect Crime. He is perpetually cranky because he is so dissatisfied, but he resists getting out of his life rut. It’s not easy to be his friend (nor, apparently, his wife). Unexpectedly, he finally finds himself in position to participate in a major heist.

He is epileptic (the movie’s title is from the sensation just before a seizure); he and we never know if and when he will pass out from an episode, a particularly dangerous wild card in a thriller. He also has a photographic memory, and that can help him if he has the nerve to go through with the crime.

The taxidermist is played by one of my favorite actors, Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, Wild Tales) . I like to think of Darin as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. Darin can expertly play a slightly twisted Every Man, and he excels at neo-noir.

The rest of the cast is excellent, especially Walter Reyno as The Real Thing criminal, Alejandro Awada as the taxidermist’s long suffering only friend and Dolores Fonzi as the intriguing woman in the woods.

Ricardo Darin THE AURA
Ricardo Darin THE AURA

Sadly, writer-director Fabián Bielinsky died at 47 after making only two features – the wonderful con artist film Nine Queens (also starring Darin) and The Aura. Those two films indicate that he was a special talent.

Darin’s taxidermist is smart enough to plan a Perfect Crime, but professional criminals have that sociopathic lack of empathy needed to carry out crimes. Does he? Does he get the money? Does he get the girl? Does he even escape with his life? It’s a neo-noir, so you’ll have to watch it to find out.

By the way, the dog in this movie is important. Watch for the dog at the very end.

The Aura is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream on Amazon Instant.

Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA
Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA

THE AURA: smart enough to plan the perfect crime, but is that enough?

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA

The Aura is a brilliant 2005 neo-noir from Argentina, that I wasn’t familiar with until the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller programmed it into the 2017 Noir City film festival.

The Aura is about a taxidermist who leads a boring life, but fantasizes about the Perfect Crime.   He is perpetually cranky because he is so dissatisfied, but he resists getting out of his life rut.   It’s not easy to be his friend (nor, apparently, his wife).  Unexpectedly, he finally finds himself in position to participate in a major heist.

He is epileptic (the movie’s title is from the sensation just before a seizure);  he and we never know if  and when he will pass out from an episode, a particularly dangerous wild card in a thriller.   He also has a photographic memory, and that can help him if he has the nerve to go through with the crime.

The taxidermist is played by one of my favorite actors, Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, Wild Tales) .  I like to think of Darin as the Argentine Joe Mantegna.  Darin can expertly play a slightly twisted Every Man, and he excels at neo-noir.

The rest of the cast is excellent, especially Walter Reyno as The Real Thing criminal, Alejandro Awada as the taxidermist’s long suffering only friend and Dolores Fonzi as the intriguing woman in the woods.

Sadly, writer-director Fabián Bielinsky died at 47 after making only two features – the wonderful con artist film Nine Queens (also starring Darin) and The Aura.  Those two films indicate that he was a special talent.

Darin’s taxidermist is smart enough to plan a Perfect Crime, but professional criminals have that sociopathic lack of empathy needed to carry them out crimes.  Does he?  Does he get the money? Does he get the girl? Does he even escape with his life? It’s a neo-noir, so you’ll have to watch it to find out.

By the way, the dog in this movie is important.  Watch for the dog at the very end.

Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA
Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA

DVD/Stream of the Week: WILD TALES

WILD TALES
WILD TALES

Okay, here’s the hilariously dark Argentine comedy Wild Tales. Writer-director Damián Szifron presents a series of individual stories about revenge. It’s still high my list of Best Movies of 2015 – So Far.

We all feel aggrieved, and Wild Tales explores what happens when rage overcomes the restraints of social order. Think about how instantly angry you can become when some driver cuts you off on the highway – and then how you might fantasize avenging the slight. Indeed, there is a story in Wild Tales that has the most severe case road rage since Spielberg’s Duel in 1971. Now Wild Tales is dark, and you gotta go with it. The humor comes from the EXTREMES that someone’s resentment can lead to.

One key to the success of Wild Tales is that it is an anthology. In a very wise move, Szifron resisted any impulse to stretch one of the stories into a feature-length movie. Each of the stories is just the right length to extract every laugh and pack a punch. The funniest stories are the opening one set on an airplane and the final one about a wedding.

The acting is uniformly superb. In one story, Oscar Martínez plays a wealthy man in a desperate jam, who buys the help of his shady lawyer fixer (Osmar Núñez) and his longtime household retainer (Germán de Silva) – until their prices get just a little too high. The three actors take what looks like it’s going to a thriller and morph into a (very funny) psychological comedy with a very cynical view of human nature.

One of the middle episodes stars one of my favorite film actors, Ricardo Darín, who I see as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. I suggest that you watch Darín in the brilliant police procedural The Secrets in Their Eyes (on my top ten for 2010), the steamy and seamy Carancho and the wonderful con artist movie Nine Queens.

Wild Tales was a festival hit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance) around the world and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar. I saw Wild Tales at Cinequest 2015. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

SFIFF: LEAF BLOWER

LEAF BLOWER. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.
LEAF BLOWER. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Leaf Blower is an amiable Mexican slice-of-life comedy.  Three young guys are drifting rudderless though their adolescences, doing what teenage males do – wasting time, busting each others balls and achieving new heights of social awkwardness and sexual frustration.  Its first screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) is on April 24, and director Alejandro Iglesias Mendizábal is expected to attend.

In his promising first feature, director and co-writer Iglesias Mendizábal has created an entirely character-driven portrait of male teen friendship and restlessness.  After all, the only real plot is whether they will find the keys that one of them dropped into a pile of leaves.   But we want to keep watching these guys to see what happens to them, and it’s all pretty funny.

  • Ruben (Alejandro Guerrero) is too cool for school.  He’s sure that he’s the only one in charge of his life – he just doesn’t know where he wants to go.  So he masks his indecision and avoidance by brooding.
  • Lucas (Fabrizio Santini) is nervous and a little hyper, but his bossy girlfriend totally paralyzes him with dread.  He’s always a day late and a peso short, the kind of guy who is stuck wearing his dirty soccer uniform to a funeral.
  • Emilio (Francisco Rueda) is constrained by his status as the fat kid (and I was a fat kid, so I relate).  Self-isolated, he yearns to be more social, but then counterproductively comforts himself with more and more calories.

All three are sexually awakened but inept.   Only Lucas has a girlfriend, and she causes him to sigh painfully every time his cellphone rings.  Ruben and Emilio are so intimidated by females that they’re too scared to even borrow a rake from one.

Come to think about it, Leaf Blower is not a pure coming of age movie because its characters don’t seem to grow or change as a result of their experiences.  It’s more of a “being-of-age” movie because they just are who they are.  Perceptive and observational, Leaf Blower is pretty far away from the American Pie kind of teen comedy.

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) runs through May 5. Throughout the fest, I’ll be linking more festival coverage to my SFFIF 2016 page, including both features and movie recommendations. Follow me on Twitter for the very latest coverage.

Cinequest: MAN UNDERGROUND

MAN UNDERGROUND
MAN UNDERGROUND

The sci-fi comedy Man Underground is centered around the entirely humorless Willem (George Basil), who is emotionally scarred by a failed relationship and an occurrence that he believes was an encounter with space aliens.  Unburdened by any lack of confidence, Willem makes his way as a lecturer and Internet personality specializing in paranoid theories of government cover-ups.  He decides to make his own biopic, assisted by oddball acolytes Todd (Andy Rocco) and Flossie (Pamela Fila).

Most of Man Underground fills out the portrait of the deeply troubled and absurdly misguided Willem.  But, even with cringe humor, it’s hard to watch Willem when it turns out that the really interesting characters are Todd and Flossie.  Todd and Flossie finally get their due, but too much of Man Underground is about Willem.