Tag Archives: New Hampshire Film Festival

Equity

equity-is-such-a-good-wall-street-movie-you-almost-forget-that-all-the-characters-are-womenEquity is a cold, unblinking look at Wall Street’s backrooms, through the eyes of a female dealmaker who’s trying to recover from a failed transaction. Her client’s shares traded too low during the initial public offering, and now she’s got a target on her back. Equity throws us into the immediate aftermath and we watch her as she tries to save her career by putting together a bigger, better deal.

Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) is well cast as the investment banker protagonist. She is cold, smart, and driven, a shark among fish. She never backs down from anyone, and gets us to root for her character without being particularly endearing or warm. That is Equity’s strongest trait: it gets us to respect both Gunn’s character and her antagonist, federal prosecutor Alysia Reiner, without resorting to familiar gender stereotypes for wither character.

equity-2If you have at least a passing interest in finance, Equity’s story will draw you in and keep your attention until the end, avoiding most cliches throughout, at least when it comes to the main females. The male supportung characters fare less well, as they are all thinly sketched stereotypes (e.g., sexist boss, backstabbing boyfriend, and frat boy internet sensation). It is refreshing, though, for women to be the most compelling and realistic characters for a change.

Equity is no more or less than a Wall Street drama. It is a well-done addition to the genre, but feels somewhat constrained by its chosen niche. With that said, I appreciated that Equity unapologetically shows that women can be just as ruthless as men and shouldn’t be held to a higher standard based on outdated conceptions of femininity or motherhood. I also liked that the writers did not force a tidy resolution on the audience (which may be tied to the fact that a spun-off TV show is in development).

In the end Equity intentionally leaves the audience cold, but the challenge to gender stereotypes sticks even as the story beats start to fade from memory. I’d count Equity as a success thematically, and it’s entertaining to boot. In financial terms, it’s not a career defining deal but it’s still one that deserves handshakes and high fives all around on closing.

Chronic

Without knowing much of his back story, or any plans for his future, we experience the day-to-day existence of home care nurse, David (Tim Roth). Extremely compassionate toward his terminally ill patients, he devotes himself to their care and comfort, forming a special kind of intimacy that’s hard to understand from the outside.

But for all of David’s efficiency and dedication with his clients, his personal life is a wreck. He’s healing from some sort of trauma, isolated and depressed, secretly needing his clients as much as they need him.

chronicI found this film to be deeply moving, not least of all because of Tim Roth’s strong performance. He brings dignity but also humanity to the role. We slip easily into the shoes of both care giver and the cared for, and both are unsettling experiences.

Director Michel Franco keeps us grounded in each moment by omitting a musical score. There are no distractions to be found in Chronic.

Franco’s camera, conservative in movement and breadth, penetrates to the fragile core of life, and stays beyond the last breath. The stillness of the picture forces us to feel each second ticking by, life slipping slowly between the fingers, blood pumping toward its finale. Franco’s tone matches Roth’s reserved performance, the colours subdued, the sound restrained. This proximity to death and the realism of what’s on screen is uncomfortable. You might even wonder if it’s worth going through this hardship, but that’s exactly how you should be feeling: to be the nurse in a palliative situation is much worse; to be the patient, unthinkable. Until it isn’t. Until one day it’s you, or your mother, or your spouse. And that’s what’s most disquieting. Michel Franco is voyeuristic as a director, and we sense the detachment, and its necessity.

Chronic is cold, bold, and a stark reminder that in the end, death comes for us all.

Weiner

“Good to see a bunch of political junkies like me,” quipped a beaming NHFF programmer as he introduced last week’s screening of Weiner. “You’d think most people have had enough of political scandals at this point. But not you”. The packed Music Hall Loft cheered in agreement.

I’ve been so busy feverishly reading everything I can find about the American election lately that I couldn’t help seeking out anything the festival had to offer on elections and the issues facing voters this year.

There’s nothing quite like a public meltdown. I’ve caught myself snickering out loud all morning just thinking about some of Trump’s most quotable sulking from last night’s debate. I didn’t know nearly as much about Anthony Weiner’s crash and burn so was looking forward to learning more with Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary Weiner.

Directors Kriegman and Steinberg were given seemingly unlimited behind the scenes access to Weiner’s 2013 campaign for Mayor of New York City, just two years after his resignation from Congress after his first sexting scandal. Amazingly, everything seems to be going just fine with the campaign until another embarrassing photo resurfaces. Kriegman and Steinberg’s cameras are there from day one to capture his staff’s attempts at damage control and some seriously uncomfortable moments between Weiner and wife Huma Abedin.

“So, yes, I did the thing,” Weiner admits at the very start of the film. “But I did a lot of other things too”. His self-destructive habits, of which his fits of public anger are as damaging as his possible sex addiction, make it hard to find anyone but himself to blame for his downfall. But as tempting as it is to laugh at him (the festival audience laughed, cheered, and jeered at he screen so much you’d think you were at a midnight genre screening), a nagging feeling  of weird sympathy for him may give you pause. There’s something almost unjust about seeing a charismatic politician fighting so passionately for his constituents brought down by such an embarrassing scandal. Sure, the story plays well on late night comedy shows and his last name- hilariously appropriate to the fourteen year-old boy in all of us- makes his mistakes impossible to forget. But he did other things too. And this documentary makes a strong case that his wiener isn’t the only thing he should be remembered for.

Holy crap. Never mind. I literally just read an article about him carrying on texting a 15 year-old girl. Fuck that guy.

So…. still. It’s worth watching for the voyeuristic pleasure of watching an ambitious and prideful man dig a hole for himself. And it might just make you ask some important questions about what really matters when deciding who to vote for and about the media’s obsession with scandal.

 

 

 

 

A Woman, A Part

Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy) plays Anna, a woman who wanted nothing more than to become an actress all of her life, and left her friends in the lurch in order to pursue her dreams. Now a successful TV actress, she hates her life. She’s disillusioned with her career. She wants out. But her contract says 5 more years. Burned out, she retreats to the last place she really felt engaged: New York City, where her friends have moved on and her famous face isn’t quite welcome.

It turns out that things are a little more complicated than she imagined: Oscar a_woman_a_part_john_ortiz_maggie_siff_cara_seymour_photo_by_chris_dapkins(John Ortiz), an ex lover, is married with a kid, though his relationship isn’t rock solid. He’s excited to have Anna around again, but you wonder if it’s real friendship he’s after, or the attention she can bring to his flagging career. A play wright, he’s got one ace in the whole: a new script he’s developed that revolves around a character that very closely (and unflatteringly) resembles Anna. Kate (Cara Seymour) is more reluctant to see her old friend. Is it because of the betrayal, or something else?

These three make a very complex and compelling little story that unfolds around more general themes of addiction, gentrification, sexism, burnout, and friendship.

Director Elisabeth Subrin’s appropriately looks at women in the entertainment industry, and the demands and expectations that constrain them. As the title suggests, Anna is not merely the part she plays, but seems to have trouble extricating herself from that notion. Who is she outside of Hollywood? A simple change in geography is clearly not the answer.

A Woman, A Part works best as a critique of the film industry, a theme that resonates all the more when you factor in Siff’s own most famous role (as the a-woman-a-partgirlfriend on Sons of Anarchy), which registers a double impact for every blow the film lands. Literally seen swimming amid a sea of scripts containing empty female parts, Siff is every female actress of a certain age searching for meaningful work. Anna’s opposite, Nadia (Dagmara Dominczyk), has given up her own work to be the rock of her family; her husband, Oscar, depends on her to be the stable one at home. But Nadia doesn’t want to be the rock anymore – “the rock is boring” she says, a line many of you will want to high-five because women are more than just someone else’s support (note to Jax!).

There are no big dramatics here, but a respect for the characters and their flaws, and the space for some talented actors to showcase those nuances. It’s a small film that explores not just Gender as a general theme but on an intimate scale as one woman tests her own self-perception.

 

 

A Stray

Adan, a young Muslim refugee in Minneapolis, is temporarily homeless and forever between jobs. This film is cross section of his every day experience. On this particular day, he’s cut off from home, wandering around with nowhere to go: a stray. But then he crosses paths with a fellow stray, a scruffy mutt that, being Muslim, Adan can’t even bring himself to touch. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get attached…

Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman) is a little immature, and finds the outside world to be all-too tempting. He’s not equipped to care for himself, much less a dog that his religion rules unclean. But perhaps he sees a bit of himself in the mutt he calls Layla.

Writer-director Musa Syeed shows us a side of Minneapolis rarely seen – the mosques, alleys, businesses, and social services accessed by its influx of Somalian refugees (the largest population outside of Africa). The film is mv5bzmrlnzzlmjutnge5ys00ytnhltk4odqtngzmztm5mdi3ztk3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntqxnjm5ndc__v1_sy1000_sx1000_al_meandering but not as aimless as it first seems. Adan has a lot of room for self-actualization and self-improvement, but Syeed doesn’t insult us with a quick fix. Instead, the dog is a catalyst for Adan’s adopting a gentler perspective to the unknown. The result is a realistic testament to the immigrant experience. Both Adan and the stray dog are unwanted but the film resists a too on-the-nose metaphor. Instead it chooses to see possibility and understanding, which is a beautiful thing to see in theatres, especially at this particular time when the question of refugees is so urgent, and some people’s response so full of hate and ignorance.

Barkhad Abdirahman gives a strong performance, thankfully since he’s the anchor in this minimalist story. He and Ayla (yes, the dog gets second billing!) have excellent chemistry, and his care for her pulls our heart strings gently in the right direction.

 

The Architect

Drew (Parker Posey) and Colin (Eric McCormack) are a blissful suburban couple about to invest in a dream home together. The cracks, though, aren’t that hard to find: she’s an artist, he’s buttoned down. She’s impetuous, he’s a planner. She wants a baby, he’s avoiding sex.

So when they hire a kooky architect, Miles Moss (James Frain), he’s just the thing to wiggle between the cracks and push the couple apart. Colin is the_architect_stillimmediately suspicious of his impractical, ego-driven work. Drew, however, is flattered to be his muse and determined to be a “good client.” But as the two work more and more closely together building this dream home (whose dream is it?), Colin starts to be the third wheel in an awkward little triangle. And he’s footing the bill!

Posey and McCormack have terrific chemistry together – which, in the confines of this story means they have very little, but their awkwardness is funnily unbearable. Although billed as a comedy, The Architect doesn’t have much in the way of jokes, it relies mostly on the absurdity of the situation, which sometimes is a little much. Or, you know, a lot much. Because this movie honestly relies on a lot of clichés. Like, architect as tortured artist. The characters are not so much finely drawn as crayoned stick figures. James Frain has little to do in the way of acting because his scarves tell you he’s a pompous ass.

I kind of love Parker Posey and I wish there was more of her usual satire in this when instead we get some pretty lowball comedy, mostly digs at the narcissism of the middle class. I’d like to give it a little more credit and wonder if perhaps the architect is not just the guy who designs buildings, but also acts as a catalyst to their crumbling marriage – an architect of change, if you pardon how trite that sounds. But the movie didn’t give me enough evidence that they aspired to such heights. And the resolution is so easy that all you can do is shrug your shoulders – it’s hard to care what happens to a marriage when we never knew why they were together in the first place.

The Eyes of My Mother

The horror is not what you’ll see on screen – it’s what you’ll see when you close your eyes in bed that night, if you’re able to close them at all.

I went into this film at the New Hampshire Film Festival having been warned by Anna at Film Grimoire – not warned against it, mind you, but warned that it screen-shot-2016-06-26-at-9-47-49-pmwas…unusual, intense, disturbing. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it. You may know by now that Jay and horror don’t mix. But Sean was keen despite my own warnings, so we hunkered down in the same beautiful theatre where I barely survived watching The Witch last year and hoped for the best (ie, dry pants when all was said and done).

Anna felt that the less you knew about this film going in, the better, and I agree. But I do feel compelled to tell you that it is not a traditional horror film, by which I mean: I was completely fine, didn’t cover my face even once, but Sean, shaken and pale when we left the theatre, confessed to 0% when I asked how much he’d enjoyed the film. “Enjoy” is the wrong word.

It’s about a young girl living on a farm with her immigrant parents. She witnesses the brutal murder of her mother (at the hands of a super creepy serial killer played brilliantly by Will Brill) and in some ways the even more brutal response to the murder by her father. Basically, she’s warped. As a little girl with certain proclivities, this trauma pushes her over the deep end and she deals with it in ways that most of us only encounter in nightmares.

Shot in stark black and white, the cinematography can be disturbingly eyesmo2beautiful for such a twisted movie. The monochrome may lessen the impact of the gore but it only serves to heighten the intensity of the atmosphere, creating a world I was never sure of, never trusted. So while there’s little in the way of jump-scare, there’s plenty of hair-raising all the same.

Do I recommend it? It’s interesting. It’s unique. It’s creepy as fuck. I found it bearable, but the suspense is unrelenting. I had to buy Sean a Fred Flintstone nightlight, so I guess your “enjoyment” of this film will depend a lot on your tolerance for depravity.

Command and Control

We Assholes were in the lovely town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire over the weekend for a film festival, but little did we know we’d be joined by a 4th on Saturday – the king of the assholes himself, Donald Trump. Don’t worry, we managed not to catch fleas or throw pies, and we did see plenty of great movies.

Command and Control was one of them, a super scary documentary about that one time in 1980 when American almost launched a nuclear weapon ON ITSELF. Well, scratch that: no “almost” about it – the bomb was in fact compromised, and it just luckily failed to obliterate humanity. This whole thing happened before I was born, when my mother was just a pixie-haired 19 year old – roughly the same age, incidentally, as the men charged with preventing the doom of civilization

Even the best-case scenario, which the military obviously deems adequate, sounds terrifying: the Titan II, a big-ass missile carrying the biggest warhead on the books, was bunkered in an underground silo manned by teenagers not skilled or disciplined enough to get a better posting. And why are we surprised that shit went down?

It was end of shift when two little words heard over the radio would change everything -“Uh oh!” – not words you want to hear when a weapon of mass untitled.pngdestruction is at stake. Some kid used a ratchet rather than a wrench, and an 8 pound socket was dropped. Picture, for a moment, what this giant missile really looked like: from the bottom, you couldn’t even see the warhead, which was at the top, 8 stories up. The boys, working somewhere in the middle, dropped a big hunk of metal which made 1 bad bounce, tearing a chunk into the side of the missile which immediately began spurting oil. Nobody really wanted to own up to this possibly extinction-level fuck-up, so a half hour went by before anyone with any authority knew what was going on. And this being a government operation, a further 8-10 hours went by before anything was done about it. So the bottom fuel compartment was emptying quickly, which meant the top part was about to collapse in on itself at any moment, likely causing a huge-ass explosion even not counting the fact that a MOTHER FUCKING WMD WAS SITTING ON TOP!

Since I’m writing this and you’re reading this, we didn’t get wiped off the face of the earth, but the thing that saved us was dumb luck. The bile will rise in your throat watching this, knowing how close we came. The lady behind me uttered “Oh Jesus” 17 times before I lost count. But Command and Control, based on Eric Shlosser’s book of the same name, tells about that ONE time in 1980 when everything almost went black. That one time. This documentary lets us know that in fact, there have been hundreds, maybe thousands of accidents involving nuclear missiles. Every single day that some dopey American doesn’t accidentally kill us all is a miracle, and that reliance on constant miracles doesn’t exactly sit well with me. People with an awful lot of medals on their uniforms refer to the nuclear program as a “seat of the pants operation”; then-secretary of defense Harold Brown says about safety “we probably didn’t worry about it enough.” Gulp.

Today, in 2016, the U.S. still has 7000 nuclear weapons just waiting for an accident to happen. And to make matters worse, they’re threatening to elect a buffoon named Donald to hover his dumb little fingers over the big red button. So here’s the thing: accidents happen all the time. Most are covered up. American nuclear weapons have taken American life. But the bigger the accident, the more loss of life. And if there’s a big accident, there’s a mushroom cloud and ten million dead instantly. Who’s going to tell Donald to stand down, that this is “friendly fire” and not a button-pushing incident? No one. That guy will be dead. His superiors will be dead. It’ll just be Donald and his excellent decision making between us and all-out global war. Oh sweet Jesus – if this film isn’t another in a long list of compelling reasons not to vote for this guy, I don’t know what is.

Peter And The Farm

I saw 5 movies today at the New Hampshire Film Festival – Peter And The Farm was the first, and it’s the one I can’t stop thinking about. It isn’t a perfect film; the film makers are having a little too much fun experimenting with their fancy cameras, content to show you their prowess with focus/unfocus on a brightly lit night sky. But they get top marks for subject: A+++.

mv5bmty4odk0nzk4mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmta2njc5ote-_v1_ux477_cr00477268_al_Peter Dunning, farmer, is the star of the documentary. He’s like no one you’ve ever met. He’s an artist who took up farming as way to sustain his art. But farming has overwhelmed his life. He fell in love with it, put it ahead of everything else, neglecting his art, his health, his numerous wives and children, who all have left him. Now it’s just him and the farm, a derelict little operation he has grown to loathe. And the memories that haunt him. And the alcohol that soothes him.

Rarely seen without a bottle of something in his hand, Peter is a legendary story-teller with a bottomless bag of tales to tell, grateful to finally have an audience again. He performs his farm work dutifully but grudgingly, the brutal realities of farm life a lonely cautionary tale. Sean and I agreed that Peter has a philosophical soul, and that that might just be his undoing. Alone on the land, he’s got nothing but quiet hours of drudgery for thinking, thinking, and more thinking. And most of his thoughts revolve around the pointlessness of existence in general, and his life’s work specifically. The only thing that gets him through the day is fantasizing about his suicide.

Peter is an endlessly fascinating character, but he’s a real, flesh and blood man with real demons. This is a documentary, and you can never forget that the stakes are real, and that the man selling you beets at the farmer’s market this Sunday might just be thinking of going home and putting a shotgun in his mouth. The honesty is beautiful but there’s a tormented soul on display, and that’s tougher to watch than the sheep gutting and the cow gynecology. Rural Vermont looks gorgeous but you get a very real sense that this one-time utopia has now turned into a prison and Peter, one way or another, is serving a life sentence.

Oh hello, New Hampshire

We’ve made no secret of the fact that the New Hampshire Film Fest is our favourite – New England this time of year is to die for, and the relaxed atmosphere makes the movie going extra nice. Some of you are here to watch along with us, but the rest of you can stay tuned for reviews and check our twitter for live updates – @AssholeMovies.