Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cineworld: The Good, The Bad, and The In-Between

I finally wrapped up the Cineworld Film Festival, so here are some advanced thoughts on some of the films that may or may not be coming to a theater near you. I'll turn the titles of each of the films into links for the trailers (where available) for handy reference.

The first film was called Chronicle of an Escape. It's a solid little film, but nothing I would encourage you to go out of your way for. It's about a group of political prisoners in Argentina during the late 70s, and stars Rodrigo de la Serna, who you may remember from The Motorcycle Diaries. I liked it just fine, and I wasn't bored while watching it, but nothing terribly earthshattering going on here, so I'd probably Netflix it. (All I can find is a French trailer at the moment).

The following film, The Betrayal, was quite good, though it's been languishing for years without distribution. It's about the Franco-Algerian conflict, and specifically about the conflicts at play within a military regiment with several Algerian soliders. It was one of those films that left you with a lot to chew on afterward. (No trailer available)

The first day concluded with Persepolis, which at this stage in the game, is my favorite film of 2007 so far. I just absolutely loved this film. It's animated, but it's most definitely an adult film about a young girl growing up in Iran amid the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Despite so many heavy things going on, it's imbued with a healthy sense of humor, and I really enjoyed this film like nothing else I've seen this year. And France has submitted this one for the foreign language Oscar, and I hope this one wins.

The following day, I saw what is being billed as this year's "little indie that could" a la Little Miss Sunshine. And I'm pleased to say that with Juno... believe the hype. It's great. I haven't laughed this hard in a film in quite some time. The writing is sharp, it's quick witted, but also very sweet at times too. One of my favorite comedies in a long time. I've read that this will be opening locally in Tampa on Christmas Day.

That film was followed by Son of Rambow, which will be opening next summer. It's a cute film, but a little too geared toward kids than I care for. So, there's some requisite silliness and corniness to it, so while I might not recommend it, if you have kids, they might appreciate it.

Finally, Day 2 closed with The Band's Visit (click on "Media" for the trailer). The trailer for the film isn't that great, but it's a charming film that I really enjoyed a lot. And I appreciated that for a film with Israeli and Arab characters, there was no politicizing their various issues in the film. Just a very sweet natured film that I'd recommend.

The third day started out with yet another high note with The Savages. It stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as a pair of siblings who are forced to deal with their estranged father after his girlfriend dies, and the writing is on the wall that he's gotten to a place where he can no longer take care of himself and that he's slipping into dementia, and with it, a lot of sibling rivalries and uncomfortable topics from their past comes bubbling back to the surface. Exceptionally well acted and written.

After that, I saw The Counterfeiters, which on the surface may seem like "just another Holocaust movie," but it's so much more. A very different story with a lot of unique moral dilemmas. Austria submitted this for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and I think it would be a very deserving nominee. So, I was glad to begin end the first weekend on a high note.

And while the first weekend ended with a bang, the second weekend opened with a thud. Barbet Schroeder's documentary, Terror's Advocate, was an absolute disaster. And it's a shame, because the material he had to work with was there. It's a documentary about a criminal attorney named Jacques Verges, who has represented some of the most vile, reprehensible characters in modern history. But you'd never know that these stories were of any interest based on the film. It's tedious, convoluted, and pretty uninteresting film, and Verges is such a smug, arrogant ass that I really lost interest in hearing him speak. And while I might chalk this up to a personal issue with the film, I have never seen more people get up and leave a film in my life.

Fortunately, I followed this film with The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, which was far better. Pretentious title aside, this was a remarkable true story that, like director Julian Schnabel's previous films Basquiat and Before Night Falls, sidesteps the Hollywood biopic template that is often seen in films like Ray and Walk The Line, and highlights a life of which I knew nothing about. In this case, it is the life of Jean-Dominique Bauby, an editor for Elle magazine in France, who suffers a stroke, damaging his brain stem so that all he can move is his left eyelid. And by reciting the alphabet using a chart that orgainzes the letters in terms of frequency of usage, he is able to blink out his entire memoirs by having someone recite the letters and blinking on the correct letter.

The film largely takes place in Bauby's mind through memory and imagination since those are the only things he has left. It's visually stunning and well done. Very well worth your time.

On the final day, I started with They Turned Our Desert Into Fire, which will not be hitting a theater near you. The director, Mark Brecke, is traveling around with it at film festivals and college lectures, and it appears to be PBS-bound. But it was a well told film about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. What is happeninig now, what led to it, and the political entanglements that are preventing much of anything from happening. Brecke is a photographer more than he is a filmmaker, but he has been covering Darfur and using his photos to do almost a grassroots version of An Inconvenient Truth by showing these photos and telling the stories to passengers on an Amtrack train and recording their reactions to it all. There are also some activists and politicos who weigh in with tremendous insight as well.

While I had a passing understanding of what was happening in Darfur and with the Sudanese refugees, I think I have a better understanding of the whole picture now, and if you can catch it, I recommend checking it out.

The festival concluded, for me at least, with Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which didn't work as well as I'd hoped. The acting is all fine and the story is there, but some of the directorial choices sort of sank it for me. Lumet employed some irritating tactics to make it needlessly repetitive and it's just a film where Lumet doesn't give the audience enough credit for being able to read between the lines and figure things out on their own. Instead, he has to go back and spell things out for you, and it's usually done to make sure you got it and remove any possible ambiguity, where I don't feel it existed in the first place. It's not horrible, but I think it could have been a far better movie than what I saw on screen.

I love going down for the festival, and would encourage you to go, if even for an afternoon if you can make it. And I'm glad I went this year since it was mostly a strong line up. But right now, in the comforts of home, I'm also kind of glad that it's all over for this year.

No comments: