Tag Archives: Venice Film Festival

West of Sunshine

A deadbeat dad picks up his son to spend the day. Scratch that: the deadbeat dad forgets to pick up the son, gets an irate phone call from his ex, and son reluctantly goes with him with dad finally shows up.

Of course, this day which must now be spent with his young son is also the day on which Jim has promised to pay back a loan shark. Jim has problems with dogs and casinos and gambling all his family’s money away. He’s not a great guy. And now he’s got to watch 35654-west_of_sunshine_1____photo_credit_thom_neal-h_2017Alex while also evading violent criminals. Instead of getting his son to safety, he drags him into all kinds of terrible scenarios which they often escape by the skin of their teeth. The thing about crazy loan sharks is that they don’t really allow for excuses. They don’t make special allowances for a child. It’s pretty clear that Jim doesn’t really rearrange his life for his son either. So that’s awesome.

Things don’t go well, and Jim gets increasingly desperate. Of course, I believed that things still went better than he had any right for them to. I wanted to see this guy crushed. The script seems to believe Jim is undergoing some sort of growth but I was just so steaming mad at the risk he took with his kid, the constant harm he dangled him in front of, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t forgive the guy.

Little Alex seems to lean toward forgiveness, and that made me mad too. Mad on behalf of all the single mothers who work so hard to provide a loving and stable life for their kids only to have their deadbeat exes waltz in when it’s convenient for them and fuck shit up. Not all dads are crap, but far too many are. They act like they can also divorce their kids. And the kids will still want to adore their fathers, because he’s dad, and isn’t he awesome? Meanwhile mom gets all the flack. Because life isn’t fair. This movie doesn’t bother to really point any of this out, but it’s my honest reaction to it and I never warmed to the film, or to the dad who never redeemed himself in my eyes. I am slightly endeared by the fact that Jim is played by Damian Hill and Alex is played by his real-life stepson, Ty Perham, a really cute kid with apparently no prior acting experience. I hope they had more fun making the film than I did watching it.

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Invisible

Director Pablo Giorgelli has it in for us. His protagonist, Ely, is a marginalized teenaged girl who finds herself pregnant by  the adult, married son of her after-school employer. She’s brilliantly played  by Mora Arenillas, no small accomplishment because much of what is conveyed is done in total silence. Arenillas must constantly reach into her bag of tricks in order to portray the insight and the mental toughness, and the resilence shown by her character.

For his part, Giorgelli sets his gaze upon the social margins of Argentina with a sparse aesthetic that will test your limits. He likes agonizingly long, silent shots in which we contemplate our heroine as she stares out the window of a moving bus [which, by the 35482-invisible__2_way, why do movies always make this seem so peaceful? If you’ve ever rested your forehead on a bus window in real life, you’ll know it feels more like going through the wash with a bunch of rocks, but whatever, don’t mind my grumbling, that’s neither here nor there]. The point is: looooooooong shots with little to no action, little to no dialogue, little to no plot. The whole movie can be summed up as: She’s pregnant. Oh jeez. How to get an abortion in a country where abortion is illegal? It’s only 87 minutes long but it feels more like 87 hours. Case in point: Sean fell dead asleep.

Invisible is a love letter to spartan film making. Although Ely dominates the screen in almost every shot, the things that remain unseen are as significant. We don’t know much about her home life, and glimpses are enigmatic. Her living situation and long commute suggest poverty but Giorgelli doesn’t rub our noses in it. His lens is sympathetic but we get a sense of her loneliness as she faces the biggest decision of her life.

There’s no pointed political criticism to the film but Ely’s exploration of the underground abortion scene is chilling. She is so matter of fact, so responsible, it’s easy to forget that Ely is still a young student. The actress is formidable as she bravely, stoically faces down an impossible situation. But as interesting as I found the topic, I couldn’t forgive the long, boring stretches of just watching her mute in her daily routine. It felt stagnant, bled of life, like a carnival ride that pelts you with boredom.

 

 

 

 

The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

Lean On Pete

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“It was just so unrelentingly bleak,” Jay sighed as we divvied up our review assignments after a busy day of films in Venice. That’s exactly right. Lean On Pete is misery from start to finish. Parents are thrown through glass doors and wind up in hospital. Teenagers have to take shitty jobs instead of fuflilling their athletic potential. As part of those jobs, teens see slow horses being sent to Mexico for slaughter. Nice aunts who may be able to help those teens have disappeared from phone books after fighting with teens’ parents. Will teens have to live on the street while they search for those nice aunts?

Having just mentioned horses being slaughtered in Mexico, is it in bad taste to say that Charlie Plummer is the glue that holds this film together? Well, either way, that’s the word I’m going to use, because Plummer is amazing as the teenager, Charley, who would have no luck if not for bad luck. Plummer more than holds his own against screen veterans like Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny and Steve Zahn (none of whom stick around for too long). His strong performance and natural charisma will make you root for him.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every conceivable thing goes wrong for Charley in this movie. It’s horrible. Even as I warn you, I know you cannot be prepared for what is about to happen. Charley seems smart, and he’s clearly a hard worker, but he keeps getting dealt the worst possible hands, against all conceivable odds.

Plummer’s strong performance makes it so devastating to see what happens to this poor kid, especially because you know there are real kids out there with similar luck to Charley’s, stuck in a bad situation without any path out. Life isn’t fair, and Charley’s journey is evidence of that, because Charley doesn’t do anything to deserve the lifetime’s worth of misery he experiences during Lean On Pete’s two hour runtime.

There is something uplifting to be found in Charley’s resilience. In the face of all the misery he’s subjected to, he does not stop. He gets to where he wants to go, and maybe even gets a happy ending. Hopefully. After suffering with Charley, I need to tell myself he did, and the film is kind enough to let me believe it happened. I’m not sure the lift at the end was enough of a boost to put me back to level, but a cinematic reminder of how charmed a life I lead is never a bad thing when it’s this well put together, even if it’s this unrelentingly bleak.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Holy hell.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh has almost certainly reached the peak of his film making career with this film. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The three billboards in question have been rented by grieving mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) to accuse the town sheriff, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of not having made any progress on the case since her daughter was brutally raped and murdered. Willoughby isn’t terribly pleased, but he’s got more important things to worry about – namely, terminal cancer. So it’s his racist, hotheaded, cruel officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who takes up his cause, torturing anyone he suspects of having helped.

MV5BZmMyMTg1NzEtNWZiZi00OTczLTg0NzUtNzFlNjI5YjJkMzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_McDonagh uses lyrical language peppered with inspired cursewords; his heavy-weight cast punches it up with a surprising mixture of gravitas and black comedy.

Frances McDormand, national treasure, is of course fantastico. Wearing her ubiquitous coverall, she’s a no-nonsense woman who’s been through hell even before her daughter’s gruesome death. She is not without a softer side, though rarely seen. McDonagh gave her a couple of speeches that practically earned standing ovations at our screening. She walks a thin line between vengeance and justice but discovers she is not exempt herself. She’s got a terrific scene pitted against Willoughby that suggests these two have more history than we’re privy to. It’s a small town; there’s almost no vitriol without at least a measure of respect. As Willoughby, Harrelson once again reminds us he’s capable of almost anything. But, arguably, the man to watch is Sam Rockwell. He’s hateful, detestable, and yet we don’t quite hate him or detest him as we should. That’s sort of the miracle of McDonagh’s script – all of his characters are deeply flawed. Mildred is our protagonist but she’s no one’s hero. She makes too many mistakes. Dixon is all mistakes but for a small sliver of charm, and Rockwell exploits the hell out of it. He’s almost maniacal at times, and loads of fun to watch. Any time any of these power houses square off verbally, they’re shooting spitfire, and it’s even more entertaining to watch than a good old fashioned shoot out. And that’s not even mentioning a very capable stable of secondary characters that add dimensionality to the population of this small, insular town.

McDonagh’s world is not one of easy outs. It feels like he has asked himself – what would be most surprising here – and yet, despite a plot that constantly feels like it’s developing from the left field, it feels right.

I fully expect to see McDormand’s name on the Oscar ballot this year, in a race for Best Actress that’s already crowded (she’s the third name I’ve tossed out this festival alone). But Rockwell’s belongs there too – this is what Best Supporting aspires to be. Although conventionally shot, this is an extraordinary film, one I hope you’ll see and love when it comes out this November.

Our Souls At Night

Actor-comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife suddenly in April 2016. He was very vocal in his grief following her death so it took people by surprise when he announced his engagement barely a year later. Some were critical. I, however, wish him nothing but the best, and I’d wish the same for Sean if he were ever in the same spot. I know a little about love and grief, and how they are not mutually exclusive. I’d also never want Sean to feel lonely.

That’s how Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda) are feeling when we first meet them – lonely. Both of their spouses are long dead and they’ve each been leading pretty Fondasolitary existences up until Addie gets up the courage to ring Louis’s doorbell and invites herself in for a chat and a little proposal. Why not sleep together, she suggests. No, not sex. Sex doesn’t interest her. But the nights are long. Very long. Couldn’t they come to some arrangement? After thinking on it, he agrees, so off he goes in his best blue plaid shirt, to have a platonic sleepover with a neighbour he’s lived alongside for decades but never really known.

I’m often critical about movies starring senior citizens. So many feel demeaning, unworthy of their subjects, but I must admit, this new one from Netflix feels invigorating and authentic. Addie clearly has agency. They both have plenty to offer. Of course they’re not immune to aging but they’re also not done living, and that was fantastic to see on the big screen.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford both accepted Lifetime Achievement awards here at the our-souls-at-night'-will-reunite-'barefoot-in-the-park'-stars-robert-redford-and-jane-fondaVenice Film Festival, in a ceremony preceding the screening of their new film. They’ve co-starred in movies before: The Chase (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), and The Electric Horseman (1979); this is their first in 38 years. To mark the occasion, Fonda said “It was fun to kiss him in my 20s and then to kiss him again in my almost-80s.” I have to say, it was fun for the audience, too. Yes, it’s great to see mature faces getting meaty roles, but you’re also getting a masterclass in acting. These two make it look easy. Their chemistry feels effortless.

nintchdbpict000349666861Of course, if you’re looking for classic, cheesy romance, this isn’t it. Louis and Addie are too wise for that. They have responsibilities, baggage, obligations. Kent Haruf, who wrote the novel upon which this film is based, knew a little about that. He wrote his book under a death sentence: he was 71, and he finished it just months before he died of lung cancer. The novel was published posthumously, so Louis and Addie are his legacy. Fonda and Redford would have made him proud.

This is an excellent movie from Netflix that will be available for streaming later this month.

Mother!

Some stories do not need to be told. Mother! falls squarely within that category. I walked out of the theatre at the end of the movie asking, what was the point? Why did I suffer through two hours of claustrophobic misery to get back where I started?  And actually, further behind than where I started because at least then I tmp_oLHXPW_d785c743c5338b61_Momwas curious about Darren Aronofsky’s latest project. Afterward, I was just tired and dreading this review.

Mother! is not an awful film, I don’t think. It has a stellar cast and is visually captivating (though it’s too harsh and dour to ever be beautiful). Maybe some will even appreciate the crazy downward spiral that is this film, as it goes to soul-devouring depths that most wouldn’t dare to approach. Me? Not one bit. Not even a little. It made me uncomfortable right from the start, and not in a challenging way, and not in a way that offered me anything.

This film is the same as Javier Bardem’s nameless poet: selfish, desiring my affection, and oblivious to anything else. It is art that takes from the audience rather than giving, which also echoes the plot of the movie itself. Is that intentional? If so, that would make Aronofsky our version of the poet, and I would suggest that you not give him your energy in service of his creation. I already gave enough for both of us.