Film Festival 10
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Here is my review of the films that I saw at the 2005 Nantucket Film Festival. I saw eight features and three shorts. The shorts were:
The Raftman's Razor, which was about two kids who avidly follow a comic book called The Raftman where nothing happens, The Fan and the Flower, narrated by Paul Giamatti, about a love affair between a ceiling fan and a flower, and The Lost Cause , about a Civil War re-enactor with personal problems. Here are my mini-reviews of the features:
1. Broken Flowers
(release August 5)
Broken Flowers is the latest movie in Bill Murray's rejuvenated film career that began with his appearance in Rushmore. Broken Flowers has some of feel and pace of Lost in Translation but has more in common with High Fidelity. Like an older version of John Cusack's character in High Fidelity, Don Johnston (Murray) sets out on a voyage to find and interrogate his ex-girlfriends from 30 years previously. Murray's character has made millions in computers and has a reputation as a Don Juan. But his latest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) has just left him and then an anonymous note arrives saying that he has a 19 year old son that he never knew about. Murray isn't going to do anything about it but his next door neighbor (Jeffrey Wright) tracks down all of Murray's ex-girlfriends and convinces him to visit them to find out which is the mother of his son. Murray begins to travel the country visiting Laura (Sharon Stone), Dora (Frances Conroy), Carmen (Jessica Lange) and Penny (Tilda Swinton). Stone is trailer trash with a daughter named Lolita (Alexis Dziena), Conroy is married to a fatuous real estate agent (Christopher McDonald), Lange is an Animal Communicator having an affair with her receptionist (Chloe Sevigny) and Swinton is married to a biker (Larry Fessenden).
Broken Flowers is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). The pace of the movie is purposely very slow, mirroring the pace of Murray's life. His character is almost a zombie. But Murray's journey into the past, starts to bring him back to life. I really liked Broken Flowers and it did win the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. At least one other person I know, who saw it, thought it was the worst movie ever. But then she hated Groundhog Day too. The casting is fantastic. Bill Murray is "a god, not The God but a god." And Jeffrey Wright, if you haven't seen him before, is a revelation. He's mostly a stage actor, most famously in Angels in America for which he won a Tony and, more recently, an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the HBO version. He is the antithesis of Murray in Broken Flowers, all continuous motion. And Murray's emotional bond with Wright and his family is the only thing that cuts through the wall he has built around himself. The vignettes with each ex-girlfriend are very entertaining. Sharon Stone, in particular, is great and Swinton as usual is almost unrecognizable. After movies like Stripes, Ghost Busters, Caddyshack and Groundhog Day in his first great career, Bill Murray is having an amazing second career with a series of bittersweet comedies, Rushmore, Lost in Translation and now Broken Flowers. The sadness of the characters, that Murray plays, was always always there just beneath the surface in his earlier films, but now his performances break my heart.
2. The Dying Gaul (no release date)
The Dying Gaul is yet another Indie movie directed by a screenwriter, this time Craig Lucas. I guess after they watch a couple of their screenplays being made into films by someone else, the screenwriters can't stand it anymore and they have to do it themselves. This film feels like a play. There are only three characters and they form a classic love triangle, well maybe not classic since there are two men and one woman. A troubled screenwriter (Peter Sarsgaard) sells a screenplay to a studio executive (Campbell Scott) who has the hots for him. Scott is also "happily" married with a wife (Patricia Clarkson) and two kids. This is sort of my bi-fantasy to be having sex with both Clarkson and Sarsgaard! Hot, hot, hot. But really this movie isn't all that hot. The three characters are unhappy and looking for love, and since this movie is what it is, they all enter a death spiral, and down they go. Clarkson finds out that her husband is having an affair with Sarsgaard and decides to bring them both down. But the last few scenes of the movie get very confusing and by the end you aren't exactly sure what happened and what was imagined.
3. Me, You and Everyone We Know (in limited release in theatres now)
Me, You and Everyone We Know is a very cute, very quirky film, written and directed by and starring Miranda July. She started out as a video artist and she is basically playing herself in the movie. July plays a struggling video artist who makes ends meet by driving elderly people around town. She meets and falls for a cute department store shoe salesman (John Hawkes) who is newly separated and is trying to restart his life. He has two young sons (Miles Thompson & Brandon Ratcliff). Me, You and Everyone We Know is a very enjoyable movie in the low-budget first-movie Indie genre. Besides being shown here in Nantucket, it won prizes at both Sundance and Cannes. It has a lot of buzz.
Even though Me, You and Everyone We Know has all the elements of an Indie romantic comedy, it is pretty subversive. The MPAA noticed this and has given it an "R" rating for "disturbing sexual content involving children." There are two subplots which led to this rating. In the first one, which is fairly innocuous, Hawke's fellow shoe salesman tries to seduce two 13 year-old girls. But he is all talk and no action. The more entertaining and disturbing subplot has Hawkes' younger son, aged about 6, participating in porn chat-rooms on the internet. But this subplot is so funny and the kid is so good, that even though it will make you squirm, it works. But that is the purpose of the whole film. It lays bare the missed connections and misunderstandings that make up so much of human interaction. The cast is great. The only really familiar face is Hawkes who also plays the only nice guy on Deadwood. He is great on that show and is great here also. He has a nice chemistry both with July and with the kids who play his children. July is so otherworldly that she comes across like Mork from the planet Ork. Me, You and Everyone We Know should be a big breakout Indie hit.
4. Stolen (no release date)
This is only documentary I saw at this year's festival. It tells the story of a robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. Two men pretending to be Boston police officers talked their way into the museum and then stole 13 priceless works of art including paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer. Today, 15 years later, none of the artworks has been recovered. Stolen tries to tell the story of both the search for the stolen art and the story of Isabella Stewart Gardner and her museum which opened in 1903. But the story of Gardner (voiced by Blythe Danner) is half hearted and we don't get much of an idea of why she so single-mindedly pursued art and then designed and built her own museum. The modern story of the search for the stolen art is more interesting primarily because it focuses on Harold Smith, art detective extraordinaire. He is (actually 'was' since he died shortly after the film was shot) very interesting. He suffered from skin cancer for 50 years and is quite difficult to look at. He traveled the world following up tips on the Gardner Museum robbery. But none of it is very convincing. No real evidence is found or presented, so I found this film very unsatisfying.
5. Hustle and Flow (in theatres now)
Hustle and Flow was the "it" film at Sundance this year and is about to go into general release. It has an oft used plot: a person with many socioeconomic and other personal problems has a dream, works hard, and makes it in the end. This is the plot of most Dickens novels and many movies such as Educating Rita, Flashdance, and Billy Elliot. In Hustle and Flow, the person with problems and a dream is an unsuccessful pimp (Terrence Dashon Howard) who is tired of his business and of taking care of his whores (Taryn Manning and Taraji P. Henson) who, needless to say, all have hearts of gold. He hooks up with a Church sound engineer (Anthony Anderson) and a geeky white guy (DJ Qualls) who help him produce his new hip hop sound. His signature song is called, 'Whoop that Trick.' With the help of a kindly bar owner (Isaac Hayes), he just has to get a gangsta rapper (Ludacris) to listen to his music.
Like most of these rags to riches stories, Hustle and Flow stretches credibility and your suspension of disbelief to their limits. You have to believe that, like in a Dickens story, all these rough and tumble characters really are nice people at heart and are just waiting for the chance to prove it. My lack of acquaintance with the sex industry prevents me from commenting on how real these characters really are. But if you are willing to go with the Hustle and Flow, then the characters are pretty likeable. You will be rooting for them to succeed, particularly cute little Taryn Manning when Howard puts her in charge.
6. Somersault (limited release October 28)
Somersault is this year's version of Thirteen. Both films are designed to scare parents of teenage girls into locking them up until they turn 30. In Somersault, a young teenage girl (Abbie Cornish) naively seduces her mother's boyfriend and is then caught by her mother. She runs away from home to a ski resort and begins to seduce most of the male population, which is fairly easy since she's pretty darned attractive. She is, of course, on a course for the usual death spiral but she meets a nice guy who tries to keep her on an even keel.
Somersault is quite similar to Thirteen but doesn't have as much complexity. This is a more straightforward story of one girl's coming of age. This is an Australian film but not one of the wacky ones. It is written and directed by a first-timer, Cate Shortland. It is very well shot and the cinematography is quite beautiful. But mainly the film is good because of the performance of Cornish, who unlike the girls in Thirteen who were real teenagers, is actually 23 years old. There are no big surprises in the storyline but Cornish's performance makes Somersault worth seeing.
7. Lonesome Jim (no release date)
Lonesome Jim is Steve Buscemi's third time as a feature director. The other two films, Trees Lounge and Animal Factory, I've never heard of, and I don't think they had wide distribution. His new film, Lonesome Jim, has a classic Indie movie plot. A 30-ish young man (Casey Affleck), whose life isn't going very well, moves back in with his parents (Mary Kay Place & Seymour Cassel). He is depressed and his life is in the usual Indie death spiral (see reviews above) which is not helped by his crazy family. But he meets and falls in love with a local nurse (Liv Tyler) who is a single mother and she tries to help Afleck out of his funk.
Lonesome Jim has the languid pace that we have come to expect from Indie movies but never see in mainstream movies anymore. In this movie, the slow pace is mirroring the emotional state of Afleck's character. Casey, who is Ben Afleck's brother, has previously done some very good work in supporting roles in Ocean's Eleven and Good Will Hunting. He does a good job here, given the chance of being in the starring role. Liv Tyler seems to like these small-town roles. Cookie's Fortune comes to mind. And Mary Kay Place seems to have a lock on "mother" roles now. It's too bad but she makes the most of it. Cassel, who was in three movies at the Nantucket Film Festival, is his usual self. This is a nice little movie where not much happens but it's a good break from the frenetic summer action movies.
8. The Wendell Baker Story (no release date)
The Wilson brothers, all three of them (Luke, Owen and Andrew), have teamed up to make a new comedy, The Wendell Baker Story. Andrew and Luke co-direct from Luke's script. And Luke and Owen star. This film tells the story of a small town crook, Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) who gets busted for making fake Texas driver's licenses for illegal aliens. While in the Texas State Pen, he realizes the error of his ways and also that he can't live without his now ex-girlfriend (Eva Mendes). When he gets out, he wants to get into the hotel business so he gets a job at a State home for the elderly run by an evil nurse (Owen Wilson) who is abusing the old people and stealing their Medicade checks. Like I said, this is a comedy. The inhabitants of the old people's home include such well known faces as Harry Dean Stanton, Seymour Cassel and Kris Kristofferson.
The Wendell Baker Story is a big mess. It has a common problem of comedies in that it's just not that funny. And in addition, the direction is very loose. I guess one brother has trouble telling another brother what to do. In particular, Owen Wilson's part as the evil nurse is really not funny. They must have worked hard at this since Owen Wilson is naturally one of the funniest actors around. The movie is saved by the old guys who give some very good acting lessons that the Wilsons might have applied to themselves. Cassel, Kristofferson and especially, Stanton are really smooth and really funny without having to do much except deliver their lines. Eva Mendes looks awfully good but doesn't get to do much else and isn't helped by having her character leave Luke Wilson for Will Ferrell, another funny guy who isn't funny here. So no 'thumbs up' but The Wendell Baker Story is worth seeing for the seventy-something actors (OK, Kris is only 69), who a la Cocoon, show the youngsters how it's done.