JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Bent | Alpha: The Right to Kill | The Mayor of Rione Sanità (Directors: Sean Mathias, Brilliante Mendoza, Mario Martone) - October 15, 2022

Bent | Alpha: The Right to Kill | The Mayor of Rione Sanità

4.5 4.5

Variety is definitely the spice of life!
1995, 105 minutes
Sean Mathias
Four and one half stars

“Is there another way to live?”

How extraordinarily chilling to see playwright Martin Sherman’s masterpiece on the screen a quarter century after its release, even as Putin’s “fake war” tries to rid Ukraine of its Nazi population. The atrocities in both periods are, brutally, ironically, bookends to two totalitarian “rulers” who are only driven by their own lust for power and blind worship.

And all of this on the same day that Trump and his snivelling lawyers send a $475 million feckless lawsuit to CNN for having the gall to compare the Liar-in-Chief’s resemblance to Hitler. Really?

Being gay in the 1930s then being shackled with that truth and consequently sent to Dachau as the Führer seeks to “cleanse” his population of queers and Jews (imagine being both!), is the narrative outline of Sherman’s play/screenplay.

The acting is universally excellent from Clive Owen’s multifaceted portrayal of “girl about town” Max to his incredibly faithful lover Rudy (Max Webber’s physique and delivery steal every scene he’s in) along with diva-to-die-for Greta (a marvellously campy Mick Jagger) and the epitome of “fluff”, Ian McKellen trying to do family “service” as Uncle Freddie. On the other side of the ledger is Jude Law’s appropriately creepy take on a selfish stormtrooper.

The artistic icing on the cake is the arpeggio-rich, Alberti bass-laden score from minimalist Philip Glass. Its innocence, (whether piano or string quartet) is the ideal foil to the pain, carnage and shattered dreams that dominate the action.

Of many highlights, perhaps the most telling is when Max has his reverse Judas moment, denying his homosexuality even as another dies in his stead. Still, what would you do? Just ask the Ukrainians!

As the world remembers and mostly celebrates, Hitler did meet his end, but not before needlessly slaughtering those who “weren’t like me”. One can only hope that in the cases of Putin and Trump, their exit from any sort of power or sway will happen as soon as more saner minds prevail. JWR

Alpha: The Right to Kill
2018, 134 minutes
Brilliante Mendoza
Four stars

Where are the good guys?

On the very day that Adolf, oops, Vladimir Putin illegally “annexed” 15% of Ukraine’s territory to his increasingly failing (ethically, morally, militarily, economically) state, how instructive to see Mendoza’s “fictional” study of how Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” might have played out in real time.

Essentially, it’s a two-hander with blood. Up-and-comer in Manila’s police intelligence (oxymoron, for sure) department, Espino (given a fine, cold-and-calculated performance by Allen Dizon), shamelessly uses a “turned” small-time drug pusher Elijah (Elijah Filmaor, whose tattoos delight the camera while he gamely portrays the role of a “yes” man with a scene-of-the-crime stash) to do his will (and for a slice of the “profits”).

Ratting on his neighbourhood’s petty criminals to stay in law enforcement’s good graces, the code-named Alpha, sets up a relatively big time “distributer” Abel (whose inevitable takedown most certainly fails to live up to his moniker) for the fall.

With the “method” of “SWAT, entry first, Intel after”, 10 unwitting drug “soldiers” are sent to early graves even as nearly two-dozen more are stripped to the waist—possibly future snitches, even though their arrests are denied vociferously by the chief of police.

Since every “operation” manages to enrich Espino’s off-shore bank account, who wouldn’t look forward to the next raid to rid society of its scourges?

But the desperation of Filipinos barely existing knows no bounds of imagination. To avoid checkpoints and the dreaded sniffer dogs, homing pigeons and baby diapers are put to good use. But—of course, or it isn’t a movie—nothing goes completely to plan.

Diwa de Leon’s pulsating, moody original score further reinforces his director’s intent.

Not seen on these pages since Ma’ Rosa (cross-reference below), Mendoza continues his quest to show the Philippines and its citizens and “governors” as they really are and he succeeds mightily.

Cheers to the coming day when Putin is as long gone and Trump is sporting an orange jumpsuit along with those fictional characters who have no shame about using the innocent to further their own fantasies of greed, power and adulation. JWR

The Mayor of Rione Sanità
2019, 115 minutes
Mario Martone
Three stars

The Godfather without style

“If you want to win the case, the lawyer must never know the truth.”

Sage advice from “Don” Antonio (a capable performance from Francesco Di Liva) where he literally gets away with murder, mayhem, and ever-increasing wealth in a version of Naples that best remains fictional. But like the U.S. in 2022, keeping facts from lawyers is a large part of the modus operandi of a loser president who thrives on lies, half-truths and “legal” delaying tactics.

The film opens with the Don’s wife, Armida (heroically, stoically portrayed by Daniela Ioia), whose late-night arrival at the family estate earns her the wrath, claws and bite marks of a pair of attack dogs who most certainly can’t tell the good guys from the bad.

The scene tries to work as a metaphor for being in the right place at the wrong time, but, as a curtain raiser, does more to confuse than illuminate.

The rest of the film (featuring subplots of “brothers” in arms using a bullet instead of canine cruelty to inflict pain, and a baker’s son vowing to kill his father once “left out of the will”) tries its best to keep the momentum going, even as the Don attempts to being his version of justice for all, but can’t hold a candle to the style and substance of the first two installments of The Godfather trilogy (cross-reference below).

Excelling the rest of the cast by far is Viviana Cangiano’s take on the long-serving servant (and so aptly named), Immacolata. With “immaculate” body language, withering looks and exceptional timing in her interjections, this performance should serve as a masterclass on the subject of less-is-more acting for any actor who’s serious about improving their game.

If gangsters are your thing, definitely give this a look, but if you prefer more real drama than contrived scenes, best to go to Brooklyn or Mar-a-Lago. JWR

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