Showing posts with label Salt Lake Film Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salt Lake Film Society. Show all posts

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Leave No Trace

Friday night I went to see Leave No Trace at a screening that was completely full!  I absolutely love it when an independent film gets a lot of buzz and this film certainly deserves the acclaim it is receiving.  It is a brilliant character study about a father and daughter relationship and I had such an emotional response to both main characters.  I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  Will (Ben Foster) is a combat veteran suffering from PTSD living off the land in Oregon with his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie).  Their existence isn't idyllic (the brutal honesty is what makes this film so compelling) but it is what Will needs and it is all that Tom has known (there is not a lot of exposition but the scenes of them quietly going about their daily routine do more to establish their bond than pages of dialogue would).  After they are discovered and come under the auspices of social services, they begin an often perilous journey of discovery that ultimately leads to redemption for both of them.  I understood the choices that both of them make at the end of the film.  Will has a need to live off the grid because he cannot abide the rules and conventions that other people impose upon him and that is often very appealing to me.  Tom loves her father but often questions his choices and his ability to keep her safe.  She longs for stability and connections with other people (her interactions with the people she meets are so poignant in their portrayal of human kindness) and it is heartbreaking when she realizes that his life does not have to be hers.  I can relate to the need to let people go for your own good.  The redemption at the end of the film is painful but it is there.  I had tears in my eyes as the lights came on in the theater because it felt so bleak but there is a scene at the end where Tom leaves food in the forest for another recluse and that felt like a metaphor for Will's well-being. Foster is brilliant as Will but I was so impressed with McKenzie who more than holds her own with him in a physically demanding role.  I highly recommend this this very moving film.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mad Max: Fury Road (Black & Chrome Edition)

When I first saw Mad Max: Fury Road I was absolutely blown away by it!  The action is intense and unrelenting!  It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where overlords control the scarce resources.  One such overlord is Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who sends out a War Rig driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to search for gasoline.  When she veers off-course, Joe realizes that she has taken his five enslaved wives and so he leads his army of War Boys after her.  Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), captured by Joe because he is a universal donor, accompanies the army because he is supplying blood to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of the War Boys.  After an epic battle in a sand storm, Max eventually joins Furiosa as they try to escape to the green space Furiosa remembers from her childhood.  I love this movie because it is ultimately about redemption and I think that Furiosa is one of the best female characters in film.  The action sequences are epic, made all the more amazing by the fact that most of them employed practical stunts rather than CGI.  Director George Miller has always asserted that he wanted to shoot this movie in black and white and that the black and white version is the best edition of the movie.  Due to its huge commercial success he was able to release the so-called Black & Chrome Edition on DVD and it was screened in theaters very briefly.  This really intrigued me because the colors are so vivid in the theatrical release but I was unable to see the Black & Chrome Edition when it was shown in SLC.  Luckily the Salt Lake Film Society screened it Friday night as part of their Summer Late Nights series and I finally got to see it!  It is awesome!  The black and white images serve to heighten the sense of desolation and they make Immortan Joe and the War Boys really stand out with their pale white skin which makes them even more terrifying.  I also loved the wind storm in black and white because it seems so surreal.  It was quite the experience seeing this on the big screen with a really rowdy crowd (some were dressed as War Boys) and I highly recommend it!  There is one more chance to see it today at noon at the Tower Theatre.  Go here for more information about the Summer Late Nights Series.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Seagull

Even though I studied British literature in college, Russian literature is my passion.  I love the play The Seagull by Anton Chekhov so I have been anticipating this new movie adaptation for quite a while.  I was able to see it yesterday and I loved it!  A group of artists and aristocrats are seething with unrequited love, jealousy, and resentment while staying at a country estate for the summer in turn-of-the-century Russia!  Of course I loved it!  Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening), an aging actress, has come to stay at the estate of her ailing brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) with her lover Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a celebrated author.  Her son Konstantin (Billy Howle), who lives on the estate, is a young and idealistic playwright who scoffs at his mother's fame because it is not "art" and yet he is jealous of Trigorin's success.  He is also jealous because Nina (Saoirse Ronan), the neighbor girl with whom he is in love, has become infatuated with Trigorin.  There is also a strong ensemble cast including Elisabeth Moss, Jon Tenney, Mare Winningham, and Glen Fleshler who play members of the household who all have their own intrigues.  Chekhov's play is all about subtext so there is not a lot of action and the themes are incredibly bleak so not everyone is going to like this movie.  However, the performances are what makes this movie worth seeing (for people not enamored of Russian literature).  Of course, Bening and Ronan are brilliant but I was really surprised by Stoll's interpretation of Trigorin.  I have always thought of him as a rather feckless character but Stoll imbues him with a vulnerability that was unexpected.  Moss, also, is hilarious as Masha, a woman pining away for someone who will never love her.  It is sometimes hard to translate a play to the screen but I really liked how the filmmakers made use of the locations, particularly the lake.  The production design and costumes are incredibly sumptuous so this film is gorgeous to look at.  Chekhov isn't for everyone but I loved this film.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I have very vivid memories of spending afternoons at my Grandma Johnson's house when I was a little kid.  She had a large console television in the family room in the basement and I loved sitting right in front of it.  I would watch episodes of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and then I would watch the exact same episodes again dubbed in French on the French channel (I lived in Canada) because I loved them so much!  I especially loved Mr. Rogers because I felt like he was talking directly to me and he explained things in a way that I could understand.  I loved it when he would walk through his door with some sort of object because that meant that he would show us how that object worked!  I also really loved the Land of Make-Believe!  As soon as you heard the trolley you knew that you would be transported to a kingdom filled with wonderful characters who always had a lesson to teach you.  My favorite character was Lady Elaine Fairchilde because, while most people thought she was the villain, I thought she was just feisty and always stood up for herself!  Because I love Mr. Rogers so much, I had to see Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about his life, as soon as I possibly could.  Like the man himself, it is just wonderful!  It traces his early days in television, his ordination as a minister in the Presbyterian church, his advocacy for children, the creation of his groundbreaking show, and his lasting legacy.  There are archival interviews with Fred Rogers himself as well as contemporary interviews with his wife, two sons, the program director of WQED, cast and crew from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and close friends.  The overwhelming theme from these interviews is that Fred did not have a television persona.  He was exactly what you saw on the screen: a genuinely good person who truly cared about the welfare of children.  There is a moment when he says that everyone deserves love without having to do anything to earn it that moved me to tears!  I am so impressed by the fact that he wrote every script, composed all of the music, and voiced most of the puppets in the Land of Make-Believe!  He truly was a remarkable man and I think everyone should see this lovely tribute to his life!  Oh how I wish he were still here to bring a little kindness to a world sorely in need of it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hearts Beat Loud

Believe it or not, I actually saw a few films at the Sundance Film Festival this year that were not dark and gritty!  One such film was Hearts Beat Loud which is absolutely charming and I enjoyed it so much I decided to see it again now that it is in wide release.  It is a heartwarming story about Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), a single father who is facing many changes including having to close his record shop, a mother (Blythe Danner) with dementia, and a daughter (Kiersey Clemons) about to leave for college.  Frank and his daughter Sam write and record a song during one of their weekly jam sessions and, when Frank uploads it to Spotify, it goes viral.  Frank begins to fantasize about recording an album and going on tour with Sam but, ultimately, he realizes that he needs to let her go to pursue her own dream.  There is a tremendous amount of humor in this film, especially when Frank hears their song playing in a coffee shop for the first time and when he begins thinking about their potential costumes.  Both Frank and Sam are incredibly sympathetic characters and the father-daughter relationship is very affecting.  Offerman, more known for his comedic roles, give a heartfelt performance as a father afraid to lose his daughter and there are moments when he looks at Sam that are so poignant.  Even more impressive is the fact that both Offerman and Clemons perform several original songs.  Clemons has an amazing voice and I really loved the song "Hearts Beat Loud."  I highly recommend this feel good movie.  It will put a smile on your face!

Monday, June 18, 2018

American Animals

When I saw the trailer for American Animals last week I thought it looked highly amusing and immediately wanted to see it.  I took in a screening on Saturday afternoon and I really enjoyed it.  Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) is finding college life to be less exciting than he imagined and, as an aspiring artist, longs for a transformative experience to give his paintings more interest.  On a typical college tour of the library he notices that the special collections library has several volumes of Audubon's The Birds of America valued at over $12 million.  He fantasizes about stealing them and mentions this to his ne'er-do-well friend Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) who is on the verge of losing his athletic scholarship and longs for adventure. They spend all their time planning an elaborate heist and, when they realize that it could actually be done, they recruit Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner).  As the narrative plays out, the real Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk, and Chas Allen give documentary-style interviews about the goings-on and this is both incredibly successful and a bit detrimental in the final resolution.  Their commentary is often hilarious but their remorse at what they did feels a bit self-serving.  At the end of the movie the librarian of the special collection, Betty Jean Gooch (played in the narrative by Ann Dowd), condemns the boys as selfish thrill-seekers.  This feels a little bit out of place, as if this movie doesn't know if it is a light-hearted caper or a cautionary tale about the amorality of affluent young men.  However, I found it to be wildly entertaining despite the weighty conclusion and would recommend it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mary Shelley

Since I teach the novel Frankenstein to my seniors every year I felt that Mary Shelley was required viewing.  Unfortunately, for being a biopic about such an interesting and unconventional woman, I found it to be rather boring and conventional.  Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) feels overshadowed by her famous parents, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died shortly after she was born and the philosopher William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), and struggles to find her own literary voice.  Soon she meets the dashing poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth) and, despite the fact that he has a wife and daughter, she decides to run away with him.  They live a tumultuous life together, plagued by creditors, Shelley's infidelity (possibly with her own step-sister Claire Claremont played by Bel Powley), and the death of her infant daughter.  She also feels overshadowed by Shelley's literary success.  Eventually the couple meets the poet Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) and are invited to his mansion on Lake Geneva.  Byron issues the fateful challenge for everyone to write a ghost story to pass the time during a stormy evening.  Mary channels her feelings of loneliness and despair into the creation of Frankenstein's monster.  Once the novel is finished, she struggles to get it published because she is a woman.  She settles for having it published anonymously with a foreword written by Shelley, causing everyone to think that he wrote it.  These events are blandly portrayed as if the filmmakers were simply ticking boxes to get all of the biographical information included without taking any risks.  It is more like a made-for-TV movie than a theatrical release (how could they not show her losing her virginity on her mother's grave?).  Furthermore, I found the narrative to be very disjointed.  Is she a feminist living an unconventional life or is she a victim of all the men around her?  Fanning gives an almost listless performance but even more maddening is the fact that there is very little chemistry between her and Booth.  In contrast, Sturridge and Powley are electrifying (pun intended) together and I was far more interested in them.  This was a little bit disappointing for me and I would recommend giving it a miss.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

First Reformed

Last night my friend Angela and I went to see First Reformed and I can honestly say that this film left me completely shattered.  It is a brutal portrayal of a man in torment with an incredible performance by Ethan Hawke.  Reverend Toller (Hawke) is the head of the First Reformed church, which is more of a tourist stop rather than a thriving religious community.  It is administered by a megachurch called Abundant Life and its leader, Pastor Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), is concerned that the 250th anniversary celebration of First Reformed go off without a hitch.  He has reason to be concerned.  Toller is struggling physically (from a stomach ailment), emotionally (his son was killed in Iraq), and spiritually (he no longer feels that God listens to his prayers).  A pregnant parishioner named Mary (Amanda Seyfried) requests that he speak with her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist, because he is distraught at the thought of bringing a child into a world facing the cataclysmic effects of climate change.  This encounter further challenges Toller's faith, especially when he discovers that a major contributor to Abundant Life owns a company known for environmental violations.  This film was deeply upsetting to me because it grapples with ideas of despair and hope (I really struggle with the darkness in the world right now and sometimes I lose hope) but the ambiguous ending can be interpreted as either damnation or salvation.  My friend and I had different reactions but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it and, for that reason, I believe it is one of the best films of the year.  It is not easy to watch but I recommend it.

Note:  Just give Ethan Hawke the Oscar right now.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Beast

A friend of mine recommended Beast to me so, of course, I had to see it yesterday.  It is a fascinating and intense psychological thriller that I will be thinking about for a long time to come.  Moll (Jessie Buckley) is a young woman with troubled past and a domineering mother (Geraldine James).  She begins a relationship with Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a young man deemed unsuitable by her family and a suspect in a series of unsolved murders, which causes a scandal in the close-knit community of Jersey.  During the course of their relationship she begins to wonder if he is guilty and the action takes a really interesting turn.  Both Buckley and Flynn give absolutely riveting performances and you cannot take your eyes off of them when they are onscreen together.  You really cannot tell which one is the hunter and which is the prey.  James gives a chilling performance which is somewhat baffling until some information about Moll comes to light.  What makes this film so suspenseful is that information about the characters is revealed very slowly so you are always kept guessing about both Moll and Pascal's motivations and I had all kinds of wild theories running through my mind.  The visuals in this film also contribute to the menace with a dark and foreboding forest juxtaposed with waves crashing against the shore.  I found the tension to be almost unbearable and I would highly recommend it to fans of psychological thrillers.

Monday, May 28, 2018

1945

Yesterday I spent a rainy afternoon at the Broadway seeing a compelling foreign film called 1945.  In a rural village in Hungary just after World War II, two Orthodox Jews get off a train and arrange for two large trunks to be taken into the town by wagon.  News immediately spreads throughout the village and everyone reacts with alarm, wondering who they are and what they want.  We slowly learn that many of the villagers were complicit in denouncing a prominent Jewish family before the war and that many profited, unethically, from their arrest.  Intermingled with these frantic scenes of chaos are long shots of the two men slowly following the wagon into town which is a bit menacing as the villagers await their arrival.  As guilt plagues the villagers, with catastrophic results for many of them, we learn the innocuous reason for their visit.  It reminded me a lot of High Noon because the town is anticipating, not gunslingers, but two strangers walking into the town while nervously peering out from behind lace curtains as events unfold in real time.  This is, ultimately, a profound portrayal of guilt and how you cannot escape from the consequences of your actions forever and I am sure that I will be thinking about it for some time to come.  The cinematography effectively uses high contrast black and white to create unbearably beautiful images and the jarring score does much to add to the tension.  It is in Hungarian, and some Russian, with English subtitles and many of the characters look and dress alike (particularly the women) so I had a difficult time following the action at first but I found the images on the screen to be riveting.  I would definitely recommend this film.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Rider

Last night I saw The Rider, a film I have been anticipating for weeks, and it is so good!  Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) has suffered a catastrophic brain injury from being trampled after riding a bucking bronco at a rodeo.  Riding broncos is the only thing he knows how to do and it is his sole source of identity.  When he is told that he can never ride again he struggles to find himself again.  It is a beautiful and powerful exploration of what it means to let go of a dream.  What makes this film so remarkable is that it is based on actual events in the life of rodeo star Brady Jandreau, who plays a fictionalized version of himself, and stars his father Tim, his sister Lilly, several of his friends, and a former bull rider named Lane Scott who was paralyzed in a similar accident.  This device lends a certain authenticity to the film.  Footage from Jandreau's accident is used in the film and scenes where he actually trains wild horses are absolutely spellbinding.  Because he lived through these events, his pain and frustration are palpable and I found Brady to be an incredibly sympathetic character.  When he breaks down after visiting Lane in the rehabilitation center, knowing that this could be his fate if he continues, it is one of the most powerful moments I've seen on film.  The scene where he rides his horse for the first time after the accident is also beautiful and the look on his face does much to establish his motivation for wanting to continue in the face of insurmountable obstacles.  It is a remarkable performance.  The film takes place in the South Dakota badlands and the cinematography is stunning.  The beautiful, yet harsh, environment is the perfect backdrop for a character-driven film that is ultimately hopeful but tinged with melancholy.  I loved The Rider (it is now one of my very favorites of 2018) and I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

RBG

Yesterday I saw RBG, an inspiring documentary about a truly remarkable woman.  I happen to agree with her on a number of issues but no matter where you fall on the political spectrum you have to admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her tireless dedication to the notion that everyone deserves equal protection under the law.  This documentary portrays her as a trailblazer but it also humanizes her.  We learn that she was asked by the dean of Harvard Law School why she was sitting in a seat that could have been occupied by a male and that, upon graduation, no law firm in New York City would hire her despite the fact that she made Law Review.  This fueled her desire for equal rights for women but she was too shy and retiring to march with other protesters so she joined the ACLU and quietly and methodically argued cases for equality before the Supreme Court.  Of course there is an interview with Bill Clinton on her appointment to the Supreme Court and footage of her confirmation hearings.  Of course there are interviews with friends and colleagues about her incredible work ethic.  However, I loved learning about her relationship with her husband Marty and how he respected and supported her throughout her career.  I loved learning about her friendship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia despite having vastly differing opinions.  It is hilarious when she watches Kate McKinnon's impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live and laughs out loud, when she mentions that she enjoys the comparison with the rapper Notorious B.I.G. because they are both from Brooklyn, and when she shows us all of her signature jabots (including the rhinestone encrusted one she wears when delivering a dissenting opinion).  She is a rock star and I really enjoyed this entertaining portrait of her life.

Note:  I leaned that I have two things in common with her:  a love of opera and the inability to cook!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Disobedience

Last night I went to see the film Disobedience and it was an incredibly poignant experience for me.  I live in a very conservative community and I have several LGBTQ friends who have been disowned by their religious families so I was very eager to see how this film treated the subject.  Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a New York photographer who is devastated by the news that her father, a distinguished Rabbi in an Orthodox Jewish congregation in London, has died.  She returns to her childhood home and, without a lot of exposition, it is clear that the community regards her with a mixture of curiosity and scorn.  She reconnects with Dovid (Alessandro Nivolo), a protege of her father's who is poised to take his place, and Esti (Rachel McAdams), another childhood friend.  She is stunned to learn that the two of them are married.  Through a series of interactions between the two women that are fraught with tension (it is a very slow burn) we learn that they once had a sexual relationship and were condemned by the community.  Ronit is rebellious and left but the repressed Esti submitted to the will of the Rabbi and dutifully married Dovid in order to "cure" herself.  Neither woman is happy in her choice and they eventually resume their relationship, bringing consequences for Esti.  The final resolution left me a bit conflicted because, while they seem to find a way to reconcile their sexuality with their faith, it is rather vague and I don't know if their choices will bring them happiness. I know that many of my LGBTQ friends still believe even after they have escaped the repression and it torments them (Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the country).  Both Weisz and McAdams are incredible, giving highly nuanced performances, and their love scenes are passionate and romantic (aside from one bewildering element).  Nivolo is also good as a deeply religious man caught between his duty and his love for his wife.  It is more than just a film about forbidden love and I would recommend it for its powerful exploration of the freedom to disobey.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tully

Yesterday I finally had the chance to see Tully, the new comedy from Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman.  Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a stressed out mom about to have her third child when she meets a friend from her days as a free-spirited young adult and begins ruminating on what she has given up to move to the suburbs.  Her husband (Ron Livingston) is well-meaning but he has a stressful job which frequently takes him out of town and is generally clueless about the toll motherhood has taken on Marlo.   Her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) offers to gift her with a night nanny when the baby comes but she doesn't like the thought of a stranger taking care of her newborn.  After the baby is born she is almost incapacitated by fatigue and, after a particularly trying day with her son, who seems to be on the autism spectrum, she relents and calls Tully (Mackenzie Davis).  Tully's presence has an immediate effect on Marlo, who gets a good night's sleep for the first time in years and begins to re-engage with the world.  Tully reminds Marlo of the free-spirit she used to be while Tully tries to remind Marlo that her most important dream has come true.  There is a huge twist at the end which some viewers may have difficulty with but for me it worked very well.  It's hard to talk about why I loved it so much without giving too much away, but I think it shows that just because a woman's role may change she should never lose who she really is.  I loved that this film highlights the fact that you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of other people.  Charlize Theron is fantastic in this multi-layered role and she isn't afraid to show the real (read: unglamorous) side of motherhood.  You can really feel her quiet desperation.  She and Mackenzie Davis have great chemistry and the scenes of them giving each other advice are incredibly poignant.  I enjoyed this movie a great deal and I highly recommend it.

Note:  My very favorite moment is when a school counselor tells Marlo to stop apologizing for her autistic son after he reacts to a loud noise because he has done nothing wrong.  So powerful! 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Lean on Pete

I have developed a lovely habit of seeing an independent movie at my favorite art house theater every Sunday afternoon and yesterday's selection was Lean on Pete.  Charlie Thompson (Charlie Plummer) is living a hand-to-mouth existence with an unreliable father when he finds a job at a racetrack working for an irascible trainer named Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi).  He grows attached to an aging racehorse named Lean on Pete but, when the horse starts losing races, he is destined for slaughter.  After a tragedy involving his father, Charlie takes Lean on Pete for a cross-country journey to find his aunt.  It is a coming of age story about a boy whose situation becomes more and more perilous and it is absolutely unrelenting.  Much like Andrew Haigh's previous movie 45 Years, this movie does not have a lot of dialogue or exposition but everything that Charlie is feeling is evident and he is an entirely sympathetic character.  There were times when I had tears in my eyes and one scene made me gasp out loud but I never felt that it was manipulative.  It felt like an accurate portrayal of a segment of society living on the edge of poverty.  Plummer gives an astonishing performance, appearing in literally every scene.  The cinematography is beautiful, especially the nighttime scenes of Charlie walking with Pete through the desert with only a lantern for illumination.  I loved this movie and I highly recommend it!

Monday, April 23, 2018

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here was the very first film that I saw at Sundance this year and it has haunted me ever since.  I knew that I would need to see it again. Luckily it is being screened by the Salt Lake Film Society and I got to see it yesterday afternoon.  Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a brutal and ruthless hit man, whose weapon of choice is a hammer.  He is clearly tormented, attempting suicide multiple times, and through flashbacks we learn that he is suffering from PTSD from a violent childhood at the hands of an abusive father, from combat duty in Iraq, and as a former FBI agent.  He is hired to rescue the daughter of a New York State Senator who has become the victim of a sex trafficking ring.  The operation to rescue the girl goes wrong and everyone involved in her rescue, except Joe who manages to escape, is brutally murdered which prompts him to seek revenge.  What I loved about this film is that a tragically flawed character is ultimately redeemed by the very person he sets out to save.  This is a theme that really resonated with me because, while this film is dark and gritty, it does end on a optimistic note.  Joaquin Phoenix gives a brilliant central performance.  There is not a lot of exposition or dialogue but you can instantly feel Joe's pain and desperation.  One scene, in particular, is incredibly powerful when he realizes that the girl he has been hoping to save will now be as damaged as he is and I was almost in tears as she attempts to comfort him.  Jonny Greenwood's pulse-pounding score adds to the almost unbearable tension and Lynne Ramsay's script is a powerful exploration of suffering.  It is beautiful in its brutality.  It is profound in its simplicity.  It is a masterpiece!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Death of Stalin

One of the things I love best about the Sundance Film Festival is the opportunity to talk to people who are just as passionate about film as I am.  I always ask the people I meet what their favorite film of the festival has been and one of the coolest guys I met immediately mentioned The Death of Stalin, telling me that it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen.  I did wonder how Stalin's Great Purge in the Soviet Union could be viewed as a comedy but he made me promise that I would check it out.  As I was unable to get a ticket at Sundance I have been eagerly anticipating its wide release ever since.  I saw it last night and it is an absolutely hilarious political satire that had me, along with everyone else in my screening, laughing out loud!  After Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) dies from a cerebral hemorrhage, the Members of the Central Committee plot and scheme for control.  The ineffective Gregory Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) assumes control of the Committee but both Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) manipulate him as they fight each other for control.  The fear of Stalin is satirized as the Moscow Symphony is forced to recreate a performance because Stalin wants a recording (they bring in peasants off the street to recreate the acoustics and the applause because Stalin will know the difference), when the officers outside Stalin's door hear him collapse but are too afraid to enter for fear of provoking his anger, and when the Committee cannot find a doctor to attend to Stalin because all of the good ones have been shot.  Some of the funniest scenes are when the Committee Members try to ingratiate themselves to Stalin's daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) and his unstable son Vasily (Rupert Friend, in a hilarious performance).  There is a montage as they prepare for Stalin's elaborate funeral ("Ruched or non-ruched drapery?") that had me laughing so hard I couldn't breathe.  Jason Isaacs is completely over-the-top as Field Marshall Georgy Zhukov as he conspires with Khrushchev to stage a coup against Beria.  I had another laughing fit as his medals clanged together in slow-motion.  The ultimate resolution of this farce is quite shocking but, even so, I was laughing again when I saw Leonid Brezhnev looking over Khrushchev's shoulders.  In my opinion, director Armando Iannucci strikes the just the right balance in satirizing what were some darkest days in the history of the Soviet Union by making fun of the stereotype rather than the event itself.  As a fan of dark comedies I highly recommend this film!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Party

Last night I was in the mood for a dark comedy so, of course, I took myself to the Broadway to see The Party.  Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is an idealistic politician who has just been promoted to Minister of Health.  She and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) throw a party for their friends to celebrate.  The first to arrive is April (Patricia Clarkson) and her boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) followed by Martha (Cherry Jones) and her partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer).  The last to arrive is Tom (Cillian Murphy) who informs them that his wife Marianne will not be able to join them until later.  As they toast Janet's promotion, all of the characters have their own announcements:  Bill has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, April and Gottfried are separating, and Martha and Jinny are expecting triplets.  By the way, Tom, who is clearly agitated and carrying a gun, takes every opportunity to snort cocaine in the bathroom and Janet keeps receiving texts from a lover who is clearly not Bill.  What begins as a celebration among friends rapidly descends into a tense drama filled with long dormant recriminations and culminates in another bombshell announcement.  I laughed through the entire film, as did everyone at my screening.  I don't know what it is about deeply flawed characters behaving badly but I find watching their over-the-top antics to be very cathartic.  All of the actors are fantastic, especially Clarkson (her cynical character has the best lines), and you could say that they give a master class in verbal sparring.  All of the action takes place in a London townhouse in real time so it has the feel of a one-act play (the run-time is only 71 minutes) in which all of the characters come undone right before your eyes and the black and white cinematography highlights the claustrophobia.  I really enjoyed this film but I have to say that I have been in a black mood lately so it might not be for everyone!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thoroughbreds

I love a good psychological thriller and Thoroughbreds, which I had the chance to see last night at my favorite art house theater, is a darkly comedic one that I quite enjoyed.  The narrative revolves around two wealthy and privileged girls living in a Connecticut suburb.  Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is seemingly perfect and impeccably put together while Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is a disheveled sociopath who has been forced to leave school over an incident with a horse (thankfully only hinted at rather than shown).  They were once childhood friends but had grown apart until Amanda's mother hires Lily ostensibly to tutor Amanda but, more importantly, to once again befriend the isolated girl.  Neither girl is who she first appears to be and their early interactions are characterized by rapid-fire dialogue as the girls passively aggressively manipulate each other.  They soon bond over a plan to murder Lily's cruel stepfather, which involves coercing a down-and-out drug dealer (Anton Yelchin).  There is a twist at the end of the film which makes you reevaluate everything you think you know about each girl and I found it to be unbelievably unsettling (in the very best way).  I was fascinated by these two amoral characters and how privilege can completely skew a person's sense of right and wrong.  The script is absolutely brilliant and, while the premise may seem familiar, there are enough completely unexpected moments to make it highly original.  The camera work is masterful making this film both suspenseful and menacing, more for what you don't see rather than what you do, and the sound design does much to enhance the sense of unease (I will never hear a rowing machine in quite the same way again). Both Taylor-Joy and Cooke give fantastic performances and have tremendous chemistry but Yelchin, in my opinion, steals every scene he is in.  This may be my favorite movie of 2018 (so far) and I highly recommend it!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Call Me By Your Name

Several of my friends saw Call Me By Your Name at Sundance last year and were blown away by it so I have been eagerly anticipating its wide release for what seems like such a long time!  I finally got to see it last night because Salt Lake Film Society brought it to SLC a week earlier than planned.  This film left me an emotional mess and I'm pretty sure that I will be seeing it several more times.  Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending the summer in Northern Italy with his family when Oliver (Armie Hammer), a doctoral student, comes to stay to assist his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is a professor of archaeology.  Elio had an instant attraction to Oliver and awkwardly tries to gauge his feelings, even beginning a relationship with a girl (Esther Garrel) to make him jealous.  The scenes between Elio and Oliver are long and drawn out but they are fraught with so much tension (Chalamet and Hammer have unbelievable chemistry) until they finally begin a physical relationship.  Eventually, Oliver must go home which leaves Elio brokenhearted but, in what is arguably the best scene in the film, his father tells him that it is better to feel sad than to feel nothing at all and that he should be grateful to have had such a special relationship because they are rare.  In my opinion this is one of the best coming of age films about first love ever made and, if you have ever loved someone that you can't be with, you definitely need to see it.  I started crying when Elio says goodbye to Oliver at the train station and I was a complete mess by the end credits. Timothee Chalamet is absolutely brilliant in this role and, as much as Gary Oldman impressed me as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, I think Chalamet is deserving of the Oscar for the final shot alone.  His quiet restraint as he cries after hearing some devastating news simply shattered me.  The cinematography is beautiful, almost making the lush countryside a character itself, and, while I loved the songs by Sufjan Stevens which are so evocative, the use of "Love My Way" by The Psychedelic Furs pretty much did me in (it is a favorite from my youth and many memories came rushing back to me of high school).  It is an amazing film and I highly recommend it!

Note:  If I had seen this before the end of the year, my Top Ten list would be different.  This film is definitely up there with A Ghost Story and Personal Shopper.
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