By Ray Pride
Of the news coming south out of the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, there are three or four or a dozen films that sound like surprises and delights, as there should be from any festival its size.
But the season’s finest surprise for me is a film, or, rather, films, that debuted at Toronto 2013, a heavyweight directorial debut by writer Ned Benson that comprised two features with a combined running time of 201 minutes. The delicately astonishing “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” relates two subtly but telling different sides of the aftermath of the sudden detonation of the lives of a married couple with a child, the first from the dreamily subdued perspective of a woman named Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), and subtitled “Her,” and the second from the more volatile perspective of her estranged husband, Conor (James McAvoy). When the narrative shifts to Conor’s perspective, scenes that were played between Chastain and McAvoy’s characters repeat, but with subtle variations in dialogue and dramatic emphasis. The separate events in their lives, when they are apart, are equally telling: the bruised hush of “Her” rises to confounded masculine disarray as we discover further eddies of grieving in the lives around “Her.” The essential elegance of this structure is how we, as viewers, have to reconstruct our memory of prior events, if only an hour, hour-and-a-half before, the way the characters, her and him, try to reconstruct tragic events of only a few months earlier. Read the rest of this entry »
“If you want to hear your voice floating in the middle of a beautiful tapestry of frequencies… you’re gonna need a pop group.” I can’t help but have a pooling soft spot shy of a puddle of swoon for “God Help The Girl,” the expectedly twee but crazy-charming lovable coming-of-age musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, also known as the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. In a candy-colored, idealized, even lovable Glasgow, young fantasist Eve (Emily Browning) overcomes a fistful of emotional problems by learning to become a singer-songwriter and get out into the city with other very cool-looking girls and boys. Read the rest of this entry »
Xavier Dolan by Clara Palardy.
Oft-expressed concerns about the “mainstreaming” of gay characters and subjects and how that would affect gay film festivals may be misplaced in the tectonic economic shifts of contemporary filmmaking and distribution. By advance word and by the range of subjects, the thirty-second edition of Reeling, like many other recent film festivals, looks like we may be in a brave new world of possibilities. A few I’ve liked: “Lilting,” with Ben Whishaw as a young gay man mourning a lover whose Cambodian mother did not know he was gay is low-key and touching, even more so in the light of Whishaw recently coming out. The intense psychological thriller, “Tom At The Farm” was made just before “Mommy,” the latest over-the-over-the-top melodrama by twenty-five-year-old Xavier Dolan, who shared a Cannes Jury Prize with eighty-three-year-old Jean-Luc Godard. While it lacks the peacock vainglory of the Québécois wunderkind’s fantasticated “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom” toys with the kind of ambiguous psychological turns that many French masters have done so well, including Clouzot and Chabrol. Read the rest of this entry »
“The Last Of Robin Hood,” directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceañera,” “The Fluffer”) is a genteel swatch of Todd Haynes-lite, appropriate considering that Haynes is one of the fifteen credited producers, along with Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler. (A&E Networks and Lifetime are behind the production.) A decade-long project, “The Last” portrays the February-December romance between fading swashbuckler Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) and fifteen-year-old aspiring actress Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), facilitated by her stage mom Florence (Susan Sarandon). Glatzer and Westmoreland explain their approach: “We made no justification for it and neither did we want to pass judgment. We simply wanted to show what Beverly experienced and what Florence and Errol went through—their understandings, delusions, manipulations, flaws, hopes, dreams and fears.” Methodically, coolly, that’s just what the film does, never rising to full fever. Where melodrama should be indicated, we’re only offered mellow drama. Read the rest of this entry »
(La Jalousie) At the age of sixty-five, Philipe Garrel’s bittersweet wisps of black-and-white found love and lost love grow ever more specific and tender. The charcoal-rendered “Jalousie” is one of his best, in a recent run of fine work, beginning with 2004’s “Regular Lovers,” “Frontier of Dawn” (2005) and “That Burning Summer” (2011). The closer the films approach mere sketches, the more languid, yet electric they become. The widescreen images by eighty-year-old Willy Kurant (“Masculin-Féminin,” “The Immortal Story,” “Pootie Tang”) are gloriously simple, timeless in their open but specific framing. It’s geometry as suffering. Garrel identifies the look this way: “For my preceding film, ‘That Burning Summer,’ which is in color, I asked Willy Kurant for a gouache effect, rather than an oil paint effect like most color images in cinema. And here, in black and white, I asked him for charcoal, rather than black pencil.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Ira Sachs’ quiet, measured “Love is Strange” captures a forced separation of a couple who’ve been together for thirty-nine years, a painter and a music instructor, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. After their marriage, Molina’s character loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school, and they’re separated after having to sell their apartment, settling, for at least a brief time, into the lives of their extended families.
Drama seeps in, sensation is suggested. The film’s quietly detailed, lived-in, loved-in feel is both emotionally specific and painterly in its suggestive formal sensations. (Sachs cites American painter Fairfield Porter as a key visual touchstone.) Among his cast, which extends two generations, each figure walks in geometry. Each character has a specific fashion of holding space. “Love is Strange” is about love and about family and about the necessity of generations sharing knowledge and secrets, yet there’s not a line of dialogue that announces this. “Love is Strange” also bears the acuteness, the precision of the era the characters would have lived through. Buried deep beneath the surfaces, surely there are submerged fragments of Frank O’Hara and his fragrant, antic verse as well as the lore of the painters who frequented and illuminated the interior life of lairs like the Cedar Tavern. The succession of setting and framings are beautiful for their precision and coolness, from strong design rather than a prurient glow. (Cinematographer Christos Voudouris’ credits include “Alps” and “Before Midnight”; production designer Amy Williams repeats from Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On.”) Read the rest of this entry »
Sue, Peter Larson/Photo: Ray Pride
Todd Douglas Miller’s engaging, sometimes enraging feature documentary debut, “Dinosaur 13” chronicles a decade of legal battles over one of the great finds of natural history—the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever excavated. That T-Rex, of course, is “Sue,” star attraction at the Field Museum since 2000. Amiable paleontologist Peter Larson and a team from the Black Hills Institute made the discovery in 1990, but museums, the government, Native American tribes and other paleontologists challenged possession of the dinosaur. And it only grew worse after that, as the film explores. Shot widescreen like a Western, “Dinosaur 13” is a study of curiosity, investigation and a search for justice. But, as Miller tells me one sunny afternoon at the Field, “In the guise of a ninety-five-minute film you have to focus on a story, and for us, it was one man’s passionate pursuit of his girlfriend, his first love and it just happens to be a dinosaur.”
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In one of the first scenes in Michael Dowse’s uncompromisingly adorable modern-day romantic comedy, “What If,” Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is at a party, a year after the breakup of a relationship, transfixed by word combinations of magnetic poetry on a refrigerator: “Love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane.” Within seconds, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a woman in a relationship of five years, and charming is as charming does. They push the word choices around with their fingertips and wide-eye each other. They’re razor-sharp in the flirtation neither expected, and the toe-to-toe exchanges are exhilarating. Immediately, you can see why these two would be attracted to each other. But there have to be pesky obstacles for star-crossed love to overcome, including the tragedy that is the platonic friendship.
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Another Marvel left-field choice of a seemingly unlikely director pays off, in slightly different fashion than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” directed by the Russo brothers as a politically charged gloss on 1970s paranoia thrillers. Co-writer-director James Gunn’s 2010 no-budget “Super” had its share of appalling violence, but he still manages to thread abrupt violence and casual malice into the huge expanses of the outright comedy and fine sarcasm of “Guardians.” And most of the meanness is funny, after a cartoonish fashion. Any moment that could be drenched in earnestness is either beautiful—a bereft child’s ascension in a beam of light to a spaceship that will wrench him from Earth—or mocked from the get-go. Chris Pratt plays the grown boy, Peter Quill, as a would-be cock-of-the-galaxy who describes himself at one point, hopefully, as “an a-hole, but not one-hundred-percent a dick.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“I Origins” blushes with swirls of sensory extravagance, of emotional extremes, of drenching passions and bathetic loss.
It’s the sophomore feature of writer-editor-director Mike Cahill, who made his debut in 2011 with “Another Earth” (co-written with actor-writer Brit Marling), and I could reprise my enthusiastic description of that film upon its release for his marvelously ambitious new movie: “serious, somber, bruised, hopeful, thrilling, shocking, emotions-over-the-line speculative science-fiction romance-tragedy with one scene in it that I cannot tell you how hard it hits and I hope no one else does either.” (For “I Origins,” I’ll add “exhilarating.”)
Michael Pitt gives one of his most concentrated performances as Dr. Ian Gray, a molecular biologist obsessed with defining the evolution of the eye. He also has a fetish of asking people he encounters if he can take a picture of their eye. He’s obsessed with coincidences and numbers, too: among other patterns that materialize in his moment-to-moment life, the pattern “11 11” becomes very important. (And the title itself plays with those figures.) A fervent romance erupts with Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a European woman he meets at a party, flirts with on a rooftop, then fucks in a bathroom. Things quickly grow strained, she flees; he pursues. Epic romantic gestures proliferate. His obsessions grow, including with the dazzling character of her eyes. Read the rest of this entry »