FILMS NOT TO MISS
Read Michael’s review here.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Jeff Who Lives at Home
The Bully Project
THE GENERALLY GOOD
FILMS TO SKIP
FILMS NOT TO MISS
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Jeff Who Lives at Home
The Bully Project
THE GENERALLY GOOD
FILMS TO SKIP
For the second year in a row, I’ll be hitting the Savannah Film Festival in Savannah, GA. This year, I have the added bonus of a media pass getting me full access to the event, which features some high profile films such as Cannes hit The Artist, Sundance Winner Like Crazy, A Dangerous Method, Carnage, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and a many more. Be sure to check back here, on Twitter, and at the festival’s Voices of the Fest page throughout the week.
While it was indeed painful to watch the events of the night unfold (Moises Alou’s reaction to Bartman, Alex Gonzales’ error on a sure thing double play, the Marlin’s 8-run rally), Alex Gibney’s documentary did more than simply talk about an infamous man that people know almost nothing about. Instead, Gibney tells the story of a night in which 40,000 fans let nearly 100 years of disappointment on one guy who made an honest, human mistake.
What makes Catching Hell so interesting is the way in which Gibney dissects every possible angle of the game. He sets the stage by reviewing the Bill Buckner error of the 1986 World Series, pointing out that Buckner may have missed the ball, but it was preceeded by one pitcher loading the bases and another throwing a wild pitch. Buckner just had the bad timing of being last and the most easily remembered. Gibney’s driving question about Bartman comes out right then and there: did he actually cause the Cubs to lose or did they lose it themselves?
Gibney also questions the mob mentality that overtook Wrigley Field and Chicago following the incident. Several of his interview subjects mention that all of the sudden, every fan in the park thought the game and season was over when there was still an inning and a half of baseball to play. The crowd starts chants of “asshole” directed at Bartman. They throw beer on him. One piece of footage featured a fan yelling “put a 12-gauge in his mouth and pull the trigger!” It’s a shameful sight that actually hit closer to home as a Cubs fan than rewatching footage of the actual game. Wrigley Field is supposed to be the Friendly Confines after all.
The most riveting part of Gibney’s documentary is the way he humanizes Bartman. He mentions that Bartman was at the game with two friends, both of whom appear to be trying to distance themselves from him and who left him alone as soon as they could. He interviews the reporter who badgered him right after incident and a fan who was thrown out of the game for harrassing him. Most heartbreakingly, Gibney talked to the security guard that was with Bartman in the aftermath, watching him process what happened and seeing he wasn’t concerned with himself, but whether the Cubs won or lost. Anyone that still hates the man after watching Catching Hell probably has no capacity for sympathy in them.
On the surface, Catching Hell is about scapegoats and the assignment of blame in sports, but deeper, Gibney offers brilliant commentary on the idea of fandom. Gibney only interviews two players on that Cubs team, Alou and first baseman Eric Karros, talking mostly to people that were in the stands or covering the game that night, clearly pulling the film away from the field and into the seats. Did the crowd at Wrigley that night actually lose the game? It’s a big question that Gibney wisely leaves to the viewer, but one that leads to a rabbit hole of questions about the notion of being a fan and the lengths we go to to support teams in our culture.
Made in Dagenham
Of all the feature films at the festival, this was the one I was least excited to see, but was pleasantly surprised. Sally Hawkins gives a great performance as the leader of a group of machinists at a Ford factory in England that fought for equal pay in the 1960s. Miranda Richardson has entered the Oscar conversation for her supporting role in the film, and while she was good, I don’t know if it was good enough to warrant an Oscar. Richard Schiff, as a corporate big wig from Detroit steals all his scenes, as does Bob Hoskins. It was a light and fun film that won’t set the world on fire, but is definitely worth your time.
Mike Leigh’s newest effort, following the life of an aging couple, their son, and their friends, is a delightfully warm and enjoyable film. Leslie Manville is phenomenal as Mary, a middle-aged alcoholic whose life is seemingly falling apart at the seams, and Jim Broadbent provides a slew of laughs with nothing more than his manic expressions. The film has an interesting structure, dividing the year into the four seasons and essentially creating four acts. Leigh continues his hot streak, and I’d expect to see that extend into Oscar season once again this year.
Closing out the festival was Danny Boyle’s newest, much buzzed about film. I’d heard all of the rumors of people passing out during the graphic self-amputation scene at the climax of the film, but it was still a shock when I heard someone yelling to turn on the lights and call a doctor. The person who passed out was thankfully okay, but I have a feeling the one scene will overshadow a film that’s actually quite gripping and a lot of fun. James Franco continues to assert himself as one of the best actors around, and Boyle finds ways to make a man stuck in one spot for 127 hours a suspenseful, highly entertained. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, but if you have the stomach (or don’t mind covering your eyes), go check it out.
The true story of Stan Herd, an artist who with the help of several homeless men, created landscape art out a vacant lot in New York, Earthwork is the kind of film you want to like, but end up finding poorly written and dull. John Hawkes does well with a fairly mundane script, but in the end, there’s not much you can do about poor writing and editing. It’s a nice story of overcoming adversity, but one that just fails to make its mark.
If there was one film at the festival that I absolutely loved, it was Nick Moran’s The Kid. Based on the best selling British autobiography of Kevin Lewis, it’s the ultimate story of never giving up and overcoming odds. Born in the slums of London, Kevin endures an abusive mother, alcoholic father, school bullies, and a social worker who doesn’t see a problem. After the foster father who saves him passes away, Kevin turns to the underworld to make his money, only seeing his problems get worse. As Moran himself said in introducing the film, you’ll think the first half is incredibly hard to watch, but its all worth it for the payoff of a happy ending. Rupert Friend is great as Kevin, and Natascha McElhone is unrecognizable in giving a remarkable performance as his abusive mother. I don’t know how well The Kid will fare here in the States, but if you have the chance to see it, I can’t recommend it enough.
While all the attention at this festival went to other marquee films like Black Swan and 127 Hours, Blue Valentine quietly arrived as the best of the featured films. With a brilliant performance from Ryan Gossling and Michelle Williams giving the film everything she has in her, Blue Valentine is a beautiful and devastating portrait of a relationship both starting and ending. A heavy film indeed, Blue Velvet is not the feel good movie of the year, but it is a fantastic piece of cinema that should not be ignored, especially come awards season.
Fans of animation must do anything in their power to go see The Illusionist, the gorgeous French film from the studio that made the Oscar nominated Triplets of Belville. Should Toy Story 3 get nominated for Best Picture, I’d hope The Illusionist would take home a statue. The animation is tremendous, with much care and craft going into a film that reminds us that you don’t need computer animation or 3D to make something great. The story of a magician seeing the prestige of his profession starting to decline and the girl that he takes under his wing, The Illusionist is funny, touching, and dark, a perfect trio that come together to create a film you won’t soon forget.
Despite a solid and charming performance from Rashida Jones, Monogamy was a dull, poorly paced film. Clearly aiming to be a quirky indie, Monogamy moves at times at a glacial pace and features disorganized structure throughout. Just describing the plot is hard to do, but at its most basic, its about a photographer who begins to question his relationship when he secretly photographs a woman who engages in public displays of sexuality. Maybe its an interesting idea, but for the most part, the film doesn’t really know what its getting at and leaves too many threads hanging by the end.
For weeks, we had been guessing what the secret Director’s Choice film would be, but in the end it seemed like Robert Redford’s newest film, The Conspirator, would be the pick, given that it was shot in Savannah. Telling the story of Mary Surratt, charged for conspiring in the Lincoln Assassination and sentenced to death. It’s a fascinating story that ends up being presented dully. Robin Wright, as the titular character, does a good job playing the innocent victim, and Tom Wilkinson is terrific as well, but flat performances from star James McAvoy and supporting cast Evan Rachel Wood and Alexis Bledel take you out of the story. The film looks very nice, and it was exciting to see Savannah pose as Washington D.C., but ultimately The Conspirator is just too dull of a film to generate any Oscar buzz.
My first taste of the big screen on Tuesday came with the charming musical short Sudden Death! With everyone dying from Sudden Death Syndrome, which causes them to break into song and dance right before they die, two scientists race for a cure while falling in love in the quirky short which is recommended for (and clearly made by) fans of Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible.
Artists and car enthusiasts alike will enjoy this funny and highly entertaining documentary on Art Cars, cars turned into works of art. Whether its a famed spoon bender covering his car in bent cutlery, a car covered in ship and train horns, or two cars stacked on top of each other to make a Gothic cathedral, Automorphosis is a film of real life characters that will have you laughing and keep you interested in this unique form of expression from start to finish.
Probably the quirkiest documentary short I’ve ever seen, Quadrangle features the split screen story of a divorced couple as they explain their wild time in the 70’s when they essentially swapped spouses with another couple while both families were living under the same roof. It’s a totally bizarre story that is sold mostly by the creative split screen story telling.
The Night Catches Us
Fans of The Wire will enjoy seeing some familiar faces in this drama about the aftermath of the Black Panthers 1960’s rebellion, set just years later in the 1970s. One of the film’s producers described it as “Deerhunter meets the Panthers” as opposed to a straight story of the Black Panthers’ fight, and it does indeed play out as an interesting portrait of people caught in the late years of the Civil Rights Movement, and their decisions that not only replay their past, but greatly affect their future. Throw in a killer soundtrack from The Roots and you have an great indie that will continue to win over small audiences.
Jonah already touched on Fair Game, so I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that I think it’s essentially two movies pasted together. The first half is an entertaining real life spy movie, as Naomi Watts’ Valerie Plame navigates the pre-Iraq War C.I.A., wheeling and dealing all over the globe. Once she’s identified as an agent, her whole world collapses, and with it, the movie. The second half of the film is full of melodrama and loses the momentum the first half carries well. It’s an interesting story, for sure, but the execution in Doug Liman’s film misses the mark.
Don’t Go in the Woods
The final screening of Tuesday was a late showing of the directorial debut of Vincent D’Onofrio, the super low budget, super campy slasher musical Don’t Go in the Woods. The film, about a band and their groupies in the woods, getting picked off by a mysterious killer one by one, was great fun. Speaking after the film, D’Onofrio explained the film was made with as little money as possible as quickly as possible, with an amateur cast, and was more directing practice than a serious piece of work. Either way, the audience couldn’t stop laughing and gasping throughout, in what was one of the more fun films of the festival.
TUiW is spending the week at the Savannah Film Festival. Stay tuned here and on Twitter for more.
John Cameron Mitchell’ latest effort has only been on the festival circuit for about two months, yet it has generated a lot of good buzz. Still, with the promise of a film about a couple coping with the loss of their only child, I anticipated a slow, depressing film that would end my Halloween on a sad note. I was nicely surprised however, as Rabbit Hole packs in a considerable amount of humor and warmth into a film about an inherently sad topic.
Rabbit Hole is supported by three terrific performances by Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Wiest. Though Kidman has been largely absent from the awards scene in the last several years, she turns in a great turn as a character that splits the difference between sympathetic and loathsome. In one moment, she struggles to pack up her child’s room and in another, she openly admonishes members of her group therapy group for believing in God. Wiest also delivers a memorable performance as Kidman’s mother, and watching her interact with Kidman is a sheer joy, seeing two tremendous actresses go at it. Aaron Eckhart as Kidman’s husband whose struggles with both letting go of his son and trying to reconnect with his distant wife give him a lot to work with, and he should be an Oscar nominee.
Perhaps the best part of the film is its slow build. Instead of starting the movie with direct exposition, it trickles out. What happened becomes clear, not because a character stands up and tells you what happens, but through the arguments of the characters. Similarly, when the tension between Eckhart and Kidman finally breaks through, its natural and powerful, without feeling like its supposed to be the scene where they yell at each other.
I don’t know if Rabbit Hole will be in the best picture conversation, but with such a large category, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it nominated. Either way, it’s a powerful film that has grown on me even more over the last 24 hours.
If you see one animated short film this year that isn’t done by Pixar, make it Zero, a charming Australian film that elicited numerous “aww” moments from the crowd at the Animated Shorts Showcase. Set in a world on yarn people born with numbers on their chest that determine their spot in the social hierarchy, Zero‘s titular character lives a life of loneliness until something comes along to change his life. If you can find it, watch immediately and get a smile on your face.
Lost Editors Panel
For you Losties out there that can’t get enough, I went to a panel of editors from Lost, and here are three fun facts I learned:
If you thought TUiW was off the festival circuit, you were wrong! Hot off the tails of Jonah’s trip to the Austin Film Fest, I’ll be spending the week at the Savannah Film Festival in Savannah, GA, which features an impressive slate of films including Black Swan, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, Another Year, and Rabbit Hole, just to name a few. Since I’ll be at the festival most days from 9AM to 10PM, be sure to check out our Twitter page for the best film criticism 140 characters can provide.
Last night started off with a bang with Darren Arononfsky’s newest film Black Swan. Since Jonah already gave it a rundown, I won’t go into too much detail except to say that I too found it to be an exceptional film. Aronofsky is a tremendous director who is a master of visual storytelling. I felt bludgeoned to death early on by the black and white motif the film has at its heart, especially considering how obvious it seems, but as the color palate fades into gray and then black, just as its characters are plunging into darkness, an unsettled feeling creeps in on you. Shots of mirrors is also a fairly drab convention, but instead, Aronofsky focuses on the fractures in mirrors and the points in which one becomes another. It’s an interesting visual trick that ups the suspense and eerie feeling the movie is built upon. While not exactly a funny movie, there were several points in which the audience couldn’t help but let out some chuckles, mostly to break the tension. Like The Hurt Locker last year, it’s a film predicated on tension and the expectation that at any minute, things could blow out of control.
The acting too is phenomenal. Natalie Portman is at times unrecognizable, having slimmed down considerably, and she manages to play the frail Nina to a point of believability, keeping camp as far away as possible. Vincent Cassell is a natural in the role, and while Mila Kunis doesn’t seem like she’s branching too far out of her wheelhouse, she brings all she has to a dramatic role, something she’s not as familiar with. Barbara Hershey is as phenomenal as all of the early buzz has said. There is a point in which she comes out of darkness that sent tingles up my spine. Her’s is a performance that will without a doubt win her an Oscar nod.
Be sure to check in tomorrow for a review of the Animated Shorts showcase, as well as my take on John Cameron Mitchell’s newest effort, Rabbit Hole, which I’m seeing in an hour and a half!