Netflixable? “100 Days of Solitude,” 93 minutes of stunning Spanish scenery

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Spanish filmmaker  José Díaz Martínez wanted some time to himself, to reflect on his long-dead brother Tino and get away from the modern world.

And his wife and two kids as well, he doesn’t hasten to add.

So he set out to emulate American philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He’d go to his family’s ancestral farm, high in the mountains of Austurias, northwestern Spain, between Portugal and the North Atlantic. He’d spend 100 days with no human contact, just him and nature, just like Thoreau at Walden Pond.

“I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself,” as Martínez quotes Thoreau (in Spanish, with English subtitles) putting it. It’ll be a “zen” existence, lonely but introspective, he adds.

He’d live simply, in an ancient stone hut, hiking, keeping an eye on the horse, Atila, growing and harvesting potatoes like “The Martian,” planting vegetables in a homemade hothouse, keeping the pine marten (weasel) out of the henhouse.

He’d bring a pack and hiking shorts and jackets. And he’d bring GoPro cameras, tripods and much heavier gear. And a drone. He’d talk to those cameras (as well as provide poetic voice over narration later). Like, um, “Survivorman.”

“100 Days of Solitude,” produced by the same company that gave us  “Cantábrico,” also shot in the Cantabrian Mountains, is a gorgeous nature film that reminds us that even if America “invented” national nature parks, Europe and the rest of the world grabbed the idea and saved a few wild spaces as well.

Martínez hikes into the the nearby  Redes Natural Park, gorgeously remote, with mountain goats and deer, wolves, boars, owls, all of which he captures. For 100 days, he hikes and films he craggy mountain vistas, forests, waterfalls and wildlife, shooting time-lapses of a spider spinning its web, improving close-ups of owls in their nest.

He is adept with a camera (selfie) stick, showing himself trekking up mountainsides and down into places like the Felguera Valley,  attaching a camera to Atila when he decides he’ll let the horse tote his stuff on such treks.

And he talks, a lot, about “the cold, the sky and the solitude.” Truth be told, this off-the-cuff chatter and even much of his later-added narration is filled with poetic banalities. We get it. You miss your family (he leaves video recording cards at a “drop,” where they leave food for him so he doesn’t starve), but not work (kind of a “thing” in a country where unemployment ranges from 16-26%, and has for decades), not civilization or the city.

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There’s something about the talking that somewhat spoils his “100 días de soledad,” but talking to oneself is no longer limited to cranks, so you get used to it.

The best moments in his film, though, are just nature observed — no titles identifying Cantabrian chamois (goats), the stags, boars and other species. Just nature, in the moment and in its element.

The sole bit of “action” in all this is the pine marten that breaks into the henhouse. Martínez needs the eggs to live, so he can’t have this. Whatever his background and connection to this piece of land, he’s got to figure out how to trap it, get it away from the nonplussed chickens, and get on with his days. It’d be a challenge for any of us.

But there are limits to the format, and to the viewer’s patience, that “100 Days” presents that Martínez can’t overcome. As lovely and striking as this place is, worth web searching to see about vacationing there, the drama it provides is entirely scenic — fog and snow and rain, seasons changing. And that’s not going to be to every taste any more than the tedious “I’m cold, there’s some pain” on-camera confessions.

 

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MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: José Díaz Martínez

Credits:Written and directed by José Díaz Martínez. A Netflix/Wanda Vision release.

Running time: 1:33

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Documentary Review: Bobbito Garcia finds fame via “Rock Rubber 45s”

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It’s got to be exhausting being Bobbito Garcia, the self-styled “cultural orchestrator” at the nexus of New York’s sneaker, hoops and hip hop culture. He’s probably hard on friends, too. He must wear them out, after a while.

Hell, I’m going to need a nap after sampling the sizzle reel of his life, “Rock Rubber 45s,” an autobiographical documentary in which he tells his story, and rounds up legions of folk famous and less famous to sing his praises. It’s a whirlwind tour of a life lived on the cusp of his corner of the subculture, brisk and information over-loading and entirely self-serving.

Garcia, 50, gained some measure of success in more fields than most of us can imagine, influenced many, met many more, basically anyone  who was anyone in those various fields in and around New York in the ’80s, 90s and early 2000s.

Relentlessly upbeat, a cheerleader, hustler, coach and “influencer” across multiple generations and multiple media platforms, and a shameless self-promoter all along the way, it’s only natural that when he wanted to start telling his version of the history of his era, he’d add documentary filmmaker to his resume. It’s an impulse he probably should have fought.

“Bobbito’s Basics to Boogie,” “Doin’ it in the Park: Pick up Basketball, NYC” and “Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives” were earlier chapters in a life that took him from Puerto Rico to New York, Wesleyan College to gigs with Def Jam, ESPN, Vibe Magazine and an on and on.

“Rock Rubber 45s” sort of wraps it all up into a somewhat more confessional essay in self-promotion.

Street ball in its pre-ESPN heyday? He was there, never quite fitting in with a college team, but able to play pro ball in his native Puerto Rico.

The birth of hip hop? He was a fan long before he got a job at Def Jam Records, starting as a messenger, working his way up to A & R guy, working radio stations, charming artists. He ventured into doing a New York college radio program, breaking scores of acts on the airwaves, took on columnist duties with Vibe Magazine, sitting down for listening session interviews with everyone from Chaka Khan to Michael Jordan. He’s still a club DJ of some note.

And after dabbling in self-designed sneakers, he became a consultant with Nike, hosted an ESPN series “It’s the Shoes,” was featured in a legendary showboating street ball Nike commercial,  ran a few NYC sneaker boutiques, “Foot Work,” and literally wrote the book on New York giving birth to sneaker-mania, “Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987.”

You’ve got to love his motivational speech ethos. “Work incredibly hard, find what’s missing, fill the void.”

You cover all that ground, you make friends, and everyone from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Rosie Perez to Questlove, Chuck D, Chris Paul and actor/hop fan and filmmaker Michael Rappaport pitched in on his film, which is built on home movies, TV appearances,  athletic department tape, still photos, report cards and fan letters.

 

But there’s a telling moment early in film when Rappaport, who has made docs for ESPN, wishes aloud he’d gotten to make this movie. And it isn’t long before you start to agree with him.

It’s not that Garcia’s manic blur of visuals, testimonials and scrapbook items isn’t well shot, cut and somewhat entertaining. It’s the lack of that outside authority, that other voice to challenge his “version” of this Bobbito-centered history, that is sorely missed.

Aside from an older brother who pooh-poohs this bit of family lore or that one (Garcia’s father was a drunk, he was abused, etc.), where is that one person who will say, “You know, maybe you didn’t make the basketball team because you weren’t a good enough team player,” or “No, Foot Work wasn’t ‘ahead of its time’ as a sneaker boutique. Foot Locker beat it to the marketplace by 20 years,” or “The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was around for decades before you got involved in slam poetry promoting in the Big City.”

We live in the age of the self-made “star,” people who rewrite their own histories to create drama, wealth and fame — or seize the White House. So Garcia’s just doing what New Yorkers who succeed do — blowing his own horn, gilding the lily, etc.

Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, who famously said “No credit you have to give yourself is worth having” would have starved to death under today’s rules.

Maybe it doesn’t matter that only a few will take issue with Garcia cherry-picking his interviews, calling in favors, telling his story his way, protecting his “brand.” In Instagram Nation, that works. Conversely, the glib put-down when you criticize such immodest blowhards,  “just a hater,” is laughable.

Google him. Most of the first page of Garcia’s search results are self-promoting, self-produced websites, accounts, etc. Read the IMDB descriptions of his movies. Self-penned, too, I dare say.

But if you want your place in history chiseled in stone, you can’t expect to be taken seriously if you buy the rock, carve the rock and peddle that rock wherever chiseled stones are sold. We can’t just take your word for it, whatever your impressive run of credits and however deep the Rolodex.

There are scores of documentaries about “big deal folks you’ve never heard of” (And outside of New York, how many have heard of Bobbito?). The memorable ones — “Supermensch,” “Tom Dowd and the Language of Music,” and “Who The F**k Is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey Of Michael Alago,” may have had the eager participation or even their genesis in their egocentric subjects. None of them dared go full onanism by directing themselves.

You need somebody else to say, “Yeah, he was a big deal and his story is worth the time and effort it would take me (not Garcia) to tell it.” Otherwise, it’s just “Says you.”

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MPAA Rating: unrated, lots of profanity

Cast: Bobbito Garcia, Questlove, Rosie Perez, Patti LaBelle, Chris Paul, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael Rappaport

Credits: Written and directed by Bobbito Garcia. A Saboteur release.

Running time:1:34

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Preview, M. Night Shyamalan ties up his “Unbreakable” to “Split” universe with “Glass”

This is the form of storytelling a big chunk of the cinema/cable/streaming audience loves these days, interconnecting threads, shared characters, etc.

Not a fan of that, myself. But “Split” was fraught, I tellya, just fraught! Shyamalan’s comeback has been humbling enough to make him a sharper, less frivolous and self-indulgent filmmaker. So why not?

Just when you write him, and write off Bruce Willis AGAIN, they get another shot.

At least one film breaks out every January, in the middle of dumped horror pictures and Oscar holdovers. Could this Jan 18 release be it?

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Netflixable? Has it really come down to “Us and Them,” you wonder?

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Nobody takes “class war” more seriously than the Brits.

A nation that misnames its most exclusive institutions “public,” where accent, political party and the very newspaper one reads seems set for life at birth, it has to.

And in acknowledging this, it’s remained a step above the U.S., where “class war” is an accusation the side with all the resources convinces the side with few that their gripes about “the one percent” have no merit. And a lot of the fools buy it.

From its opening “moment of despair” analogy about sociological experiments carried out on drowning rats, to all the slang, sarcasm, wit violence that follows, “Us and Them” is a violent, profane British satire of the conflict.

It’s like Guy Ritchie got political instead of marrying Madonna.

Glen, “the wrong sort,” is introduced to girlfriend Phillipa’s family, luncheon at their gated country estate. And it doesn’t go well. Working class Glen (Jack Roth) is confrontational, and out of his element.

Phillippa (Sophie Colquhoun) tries to keep the peace, or so it seems. Her keeping-up-appearances mum (Carolyn Backhouse) is polite in spite of everything.

But bank dad Conrad (Tim Bentinck) isn’t hearing Glen’s uncouth “We’re gettin’ married.”

“Do you see my car (a 1970s Rolls Royce in the driveway)? It’s a classic. And the reason it’s a classic is that it has a heritage.”

“That car is rather like my family. It has tradition, value and a heritage…made over generations.”

Over his dead body you’re marrying his daughter, in other words.

“You think I’m not good enough?”

“Think you’re not good enough? I KNOW you’re not GOOD ENOUGH!”

And that’s when not-actually-Glen plays his card, the associates with guns and a video camera show up, and his own lecture is trotted out.

“It’s called ‘class war’ for a reason! There has to be victims on both sides!”

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What follows is a punk-rock-scored generally brisk, often witty, violent and cruel dose of class “payback,” administered by an off-his-nut anarchist and his two more pragmatic running mates.

Writer-director Joe Martin takes a lot of pacing, editing and joking cues from the “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” era Ritchie, usually to great effect.

The tale is told with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, chapters headed “Complications” and “Last Chance” and “What Phillipa Knows” titles. An incredulous mention that this manse has “seven toilets” prompts a montage showing them set the “The 1812 Overture.”

Tying up a posh earns a “Seriously! I’ve just had this shirt STARCHED!”

Danny (Glen’s “real” name) lets his idealistic grievances show in every (usually profane) word to come out of his mouth. He’s going to “expose the wealthy to the same threats we face…Remember, there are more of us than them.” His lectures about criminal bankers escaping the “justice” of “the market” that they laud as “king,” until they’re the ones needing the bailout, sting.

“You’re terrorists.”

“Depends on how you look at it.”

In his mind, Conrad delivers his side of the “debate” in a tirade directly to the camera.

“You bath-dodging, benefits-scrounging, joy-riding, track-suit-wearing, white-van-driving, ketchup-and-chips-with-everything eating, ‘soap’ watching…product of a teenage mother and an absent smackhead father…sixth form Socialist mongrel.”

Back atcha, “You ski-holidaying, horse-riding, fox-hunting, money-grabbing, tax-dodging, back-slapping tie crest” insert the favorite Brit-cockney swearword here.

Bentinck and Roth make well-matched sparring mates, overshadowing but not smothering strong supporting performances by the accomplices (Andrew Tiernan and Daniel Kendrick) and the lady hostages.

Like good satire, “Us and Them”  burns, bites and wounds as it lands its punches. Like stumbling satire, the tone feels off as writer-director Martin lets things go too far even as Danny’s mates start to absorb his message.

Still, a darkly-fun working class venting at an increasingly unjust casino game that is stacked entirely in one side’s favor — for now.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violent, profanity

Cast: Jack RothSophie ColquhounTim Bentinck, Carolyn Backhouse, Paul Westwood

Credits: Written and directed by Joe Martin. An Orchard release.

Running time: 1:23

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Preview, Coming of Age, Overcoming Bullying, Growing Up, the “Measure of a Man”

Top drawer supporting cast for this summer romantic drama — parents played by Judy Greer and Luke Wilson, a sage by Donald Sutherland.

Blake Cooper, Liana Liberato and Danielle Rose Russell are the young leads. An intriguing trailer that packs a lot of heart and a lot of threads into two minutes.

“Measure of a Man” doesn’t appear to have hit its opening day of May, so we’ll see. Probably on Netflix.

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Preview, Cumberbatch and Shannon, as Edison and Westinghouse, go at it in “The Current War”

Got to love the pun in the title.

And are there two more intense actors working today than Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon?

“The Current War” is about the war between Edison and Westinghouse, between AC and DC.

With Nicholas Hoult as Tesla, Matthew MacFadyen as  J.P. Morgan and Tom Holland as Charles Insull, this may be one we have to catch on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Theatrical? Not every period piece, not every movie distributed by this studio, gets a a substantial theatrical release. Started life as a Weinstein project, now it’s with eOne. Not exactly limbo.

But worth posting in the hopes that it’ll see the light of day.

 

 

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Movie Review: Second time’s not the Charm for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

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You only get to sweep us off our feet once, and expecting to do it again is just…greedy.

Where the guiding light in the original musical, “Mamma Mia!,” was the disco-era delights of Abba, the sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” takes it cue from another disco queen — Andrea True. As in “More, More More, How do you like it?”

Not nearly as much.

The many many songs are mostly forgettable deep tracks from the Abba repertoire, as the first film burned through most of the hits. Not that some of those aren’t reprised.

The cast is VASTLY expanded — double the number of Oscar winners —  as the story takes us into the past, when “Mamma” (played by Meryl Streep in the first film) was is a young coed in search of her “destiny” in Greece, tumbling for three different young men in the process. The production numbers, choreographed by Anthony Von Laast, involve a sea full of Greeks, an army of dancing French waiters, restaurant patrons and staff dressed as Napoleon.

And they’ve killed off “Mamma,” for Pete’s sake. Donna (Streep) has been dead a year, daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is finishing up the quaint Greek Island hotel mom always dreamed of. “Grand opening” or not, there’s a pall cast over the whole affair.

It’s not helped a lot by the cleverly integrated flashbacks, where Lily James of “Downton Abbey” is the young Donna raving up Oxford graduation with her Donna and the Dynamos pals (Jessica Keenan Wynn is the young Tanya/Christine Baranski, Alexa Davies the young Rosie/Julie Walters) doing the little known “When I Kissed the Teacher.”

Donna sets out across Europe seeking adventure and romance. That leads her to the charmingly awkward and virginal Harry (Hugh Skinner as the younger Colin Firth), the dashing Swedish sailor/writer Bill (the Bjorn Borgish Josh Dylan as the young Stellan Skarsgaard) and the more romantic but spoken for Sam (Jeremy Irvine as the young Pierce Brosnan).

As the movie bounces through “Angeleyes” and “Kisses of Fire,” we’re reminded that English wasn’t the Swedish quartet’s first language, and there’s a reason most of these syntax-slaughtering groaners and filler didn’t make the “Abba Gold” hits package.

Still, I liked what they did with “Andante, Andante,” and turning the title tune into a lament (sung by James) is a smart play.

So was casting James as the Boho young Donna,  a pre-Jane Fonda Workout Video/pre-“heroin chic” beauty with voluptuous curves and hair that she works, onstage, like a rock star.

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Seyfried can’t carry this show by herself, Dominic Cooper (as Sophie’s great love) has little to play. So Andy Garcia makes a smoldering  “The Most Interesting Man in…Greece” manager for the hotel, Señor Cienfuegos, who makes the other older Dynamos’ hearts skip a beat. You already know the big guest star, Cher, as grandma, and she gets a couple of age-appropriate numbers.

Celia Imrie is a singing, dancing vice-chancellor at Oxford (Or was it Cambridge?), Hélène Cardona amuses as a taverna proprietress and Omid Djalili (“The Infidel,” rent it) all but steals the picture as a ferry ticket agent we watch age, from then to now, always with droll commentary on the principals and their appearances.

I mention all these peripheral delights because the young men cast as younger versions of the cream of dashing European leading men fail to impress. Random gags work, but none of the new additions sing any better than the fellows they allegedly grow up to be — Firth, Skarsgaard and especially Brosnan.

And for a movie set in sunny, touristy Greece, “Here We Go Again” is absurdly sound-stagey. Fake backgrounds abound, static staging (Cher needs it) with little movement, with other scenes positively overrun with movement.

The odd big outdoor show-stopper is as rare as funny lines for ANY of the leads. Director Ol Parker, of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” should go by “Fusty Ol Parker” after this one.

“Mamma Mia,” this time around, isn’t so much bad as dispirited. It finishes well, for instance, and then goes on beyond that big finish to spoil even that.

For all the over-the-top choreography and the many tunes, it takes forever to rope us in.

And for the odd bit of emotional connection that a great song can add to a sweet scene, it’s awfully reliant on the throw-away material of a band whose hits were hits for a reason, and whose flops are forgotten for a reason.

This is “Mamma Mia’s” B-Side.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive material

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Cher, Lily James, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Stellan Skarsgaard, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia and Meryl Streep. Credits:Directed by Ol Parker, script by Ol Parker, Richard Curtis and Catherine Johnson. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:54

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Preview, In Zombieland, Stanley Tucci IS “Patient Zero”

Matt Smith? OK.

Natalie Dormer? Flip your hair, dear, so we know it’s you. Meowwwwwrrrrr.

The desperate search for that first infected zombie (so as to affect a cure) leads to Stanley T. Thank heavens.

Looks fun, even if it is the umpteenth zombie movie in a “Walking Dead” world. Vertical has it, release date? “Sooooooon.”

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Netflixable? Whatever you do, don’t cross “Romina”

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A silent girl , Romina, is debriefed by police (in Spanish, with English subtitles) for purposes of criminal and psychological evaluation. Something happened last June on Crystal Lake.

Wait, Crystal Lake? Is that where Jason Voorhees carried out hockey-masked mayhem every “Friday the 13th?” They have a Crystal Lake in Mexico?

A lot of people died, and the lgirl (Francisca Lozanocan only nod her head at the names of the victims. “Narrate the events,” her interrogator orders.

No narration ensues, thankfully. Just the camera tracking over assorted mutilated, bled-out corpses, a female survivor. “Pelicula Adolescente muerto,” you say to yourself. It has spread to Old Mexico for this cut-rate horror quickie, “Romina.”

Six college age pals set off for the lake, four guys and two women. “Camping,” they giggle,  because they’ve never googled the phrase “Crystal Lake.” And the playful, profane banter in the car gets around to Romina, “that freak of nature.” But only briefly.

They’re not alone at the lake. There’s no cell reception. The women? They’re spooked by the fact that “somebody is spying on us,” etc. Whoever “she” is, the lads like that she skinny dips.

“Go get her, tiger. I brought a date.”

Ezekiel (Victor Bonilla) wanders off by himself, Ramon (Walter Berchtwanders off to find him. Sexual assault ensues.

And payback is a,…well, you know. “Didn’t you see ‘Evil Dead?’ ‘Friday the 13th?’ ‘BLAIR WITCH?'”

In a 76 minute movie, there is virtually no space for dead time, scenes that bore or do little to leap right into the action and advance the plot. Writer-director Diego Cohen manages to find some. Lots.

“Romina” toddles along like a student film, kids accusing the park caretaker, cursing each other at their bad fortune, camera lingering over the lake and the trees. Oh, the trees. Here and there, we see other buildings — homes? Businesses? You know, places they could turn for help?

What happens on camera? Comeuppance? “Tortura porno?” Naah. Just hints of a psycho-sexual power over the victims, non-victims discovering the remains of those caught, hog-tied and (usually) cut up, or weeping for their lives.

The performances are laughable. Suspense is dispensed with, “justice” in the retribution abandoned. Just a murderous, vengeful rampage with zero urgency or terror.

I want my 76 minutes back, Señor Cohen.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence

Cast: Francisca Lozano, Victor Bonilla, Roberto Beck, Walter Bercht

Credits: Written and directed by Diego Cohen. A Corazón Films/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:16

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Preview, Nicole, Russell and Joel Edgerton push Lucas Hedges into “conversion therapy” in “Boy Erased”

Another November release with the cast and zeitgeist-grabbing subject matter to be an Oscar contender, “Boy Erased” features Osacr winners Russell Crowe as a Southern preacher, Nicole Kidman as the preacher’s wife and Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges as the son who thinks “about men, a lot.” Joel Edgerton (All these Aussies!) runs the sham of a “conversion therapy”: program, in this based-on-a-true-story drama.

Edgerton (“The Gift”) also directed this Nov. 2 drama.

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