Wednesday, 14 September 2016

21 Quickie Reviews from the Venice Film Festival

Press Room at the Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) The Venice Film Festival had excellent energy this year. The great line-up and new, bright-red Sala Giardino theater contributed to the positive vibes. I also think the President of the Jury influences the festival, and this year it was Englishman Sam Mendes, famous for American Beauty, and the James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre, who held the reins.

From an American point of view, a couple of interesting folks also on the jury were the avant-garde Renaissance woman, Laurie Anderson, who among her many claims to fame, was NASA's first artist-in-residence (!), and Josh Oppenheimer, best known for his documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. The jury was cool.

The Woman Who Left
The Golden Lion, the top prize, went to the nearly four-hour Filipino film, The Woman Who Left, directed by Lav Diaz, which I did not see. Here is the review from the Financial Times.

Go to Biennale for a complete list of all the awards.

In addition to stars, my ratings suggest the venue where you should see the film: Multiplex, Arthouse, Drive-in, Stream-it, or Someplace for Free.

Here are the 21 films I managed to see (whew), in the order in which I saw them:

Emma Stone & Damien Chazelle
1. *****La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling - if you've read my previous post, you will know that I fell in love with La La Land (as did Tom  Hanks), and predict it will win some major Academy Awards, including best picture. Read the review from Deadline Hollywood. Emma Stone won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. Watch it at a MULTIPLEX with someone you love, and then BUY it to watch time and again.

Michael Fassbender & Alicia Vikander
2. ***The Light Between Oceans, directed by Derek Cianfrance, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Terrific performances and heartbreaking story about what constitutes motherly love. Read the review at The Independent. Watch it at a MULTIPLEX or STREAM-IT.

Jeremy Renner & Amy Adams
3. ****Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Amy Adams is an expert linguist called in by the military to try to communicate with aliens who have landed on Earth. Read the review at Indie Wire. Watch it at a MULTIPLEX or STREAM-IT.

Les Beaux Jour d'Aranjuez
4. *Les Beaux Jour d'Aranjuez, directed by Wim Wenders, starring Reda Kateb and Sophie Semin. Usually I love Wim Wenders, but I was so bored that I walked out when Nick Cave put yet another song on the jukebox. Based on a theater piece by Peter Handke, it's one long conversation about life and love shot unnecessarily in 3D. At the screening I saw, the movie accidentally started with French dialogue and Italian subtitles, and I thought I would concentrate to see how good my language skills were, which made it kind of interesting. Then Sam Mendes, President of the Jury, got up and briefly left the theater, apparently to tell them to switch the subtitles over to English, which they did. Too bad! It was better when I couldn't understand exactly what they said. Watch it at a friend's house for FREE while smoking marijuana

5.***American Anarchist, directed by Charlie Siskel. A documentary about the late William Powell, who wrote The Anarchist's Cookbook, and who died suddenly two months ago on July 11, 2016 of a heart attack without seeing the film. After Siskel grilled Powell about accepting responsibility for all the terrorism inspired by the book, I wondered if Siskel had examined his own conscience about Powell's sudden death. It took a while, but finally Variety wrote a stern review with which I agree. Watch it at an ARTHOUSE or STREAM-IT

6. ****The Bleeder, directed by Phillipe Falardeau, starring Liev Schreiber, who also produced (it's his project), and Schreiber's, real-life wife, Naomi Watts. The Bleeder is a true story based on the life of boxer Chuck Wepner, who inspired Sly Stallone to write Rocky. Here is the Variety review. Since I grew up in New Jersey about the same 70s time period, I thought the film was a lot of fun, and think you should have a light night out and watch it at a MULTIPLEX, go to the DRIVE-IN or definitely STREAM-IT.

Aaron Taylor Johnson, Tom Ford, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal 
7. *****Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize, which Ford accepted in Italian. I think fashion designer Tom Ford is one of the coolest people on the planet, and my estimation of him has only gotten higher after screening his second film. Set in the world of fashion that Ford knows so well, Amy Adams reads a violent novel written by her ex-husband, which comes to life on the screen. Michael Shannon is fantastic, as always, as a hardened Texas cop. Here is the Guardian review. I hope this film also gets nominated for lots of Oscars. Watch it at a MULTIPLEX or definitely STREAM-IT 

Kasper Collin
8. ****I Called Him Morgan, directed by Kasper Collin. A documentary about the life of the brilliant jazz trumpet player, Lee Morgan, who died too young after his common-law wife, Helen, shot him during a blizzard in New York in 1972. Here is the review from The Guardian. See it at an ARTHOUSE or definitely STREAM-IT; if you love jazz, then BUY it.

The Young Pope
9. *****The Young Pope, directed by Paolo Sorrentino. We screened the first two episodes of a 10-part TV series about the first American Pope played by Jude Law, who smokes, schemes, and drinks Cherry Coke Zero for breakfast, wears designer-pope outfits, and insists that Sister Mary, who raised him, played by Diane Keaton, be his right-hand nun in the Vatican. Here is the review from Deadline Hollywood. It airs starting October 21, 2016 in Europe on SKY and in early 2017 in the States on HBO. I haven't watched a regular television show in almost 20 years, but I will SUBSCRIBE.

Mel Gibson-  Venice Film Festival
10. ****Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, starring Andrew Garfield. A true story about Desmond Doss, the first conscientious-object to receive the medal of honor. To me, anyone who thinks that war is glamorous should watch this film, which feels only a breath away from actually being there. Here is the review from the Guardian. After each screening, there are usually TV journalists waiting outside the exit to interview the journalists inside who have just watched the film. I was stopped, I think, by RAI, the national broadcasting network in Italy, and asked my opinion. I was so shaken that I said, "I will speak in English. I do not like violent films. They make me physically nauseous. But this was a good film. Mel got his point across." See it at a MULTIPLEX to feel the full impact of war

11. **Safari, directed by Ulrich Seidl. A documentary about ordinary folks going on holiday in Africa to kill some of the world's most beautiful animals. I walked out. Here is the review from The Hollywood Reporter. STREAM-IT, if you must.

Suki Waterhouse and Ana Lily Amirpour at Venice Film Festival
12. ***The Bad Batch, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, starring Suki Waterhouse. This should have been a campy, dark-funny film about cannibals living in a wasteland outside US territory, dumped there because there's no place for them in society. Instead, it was too long, and took itself too seriously. Amirpour won the Special Jury Prize; to me, it was because the jury recognized Amirpour's genuine talent. She should lighten up; she got defensive during the press conference when a journalist called her on the violence. Here is the review from JoBlo. Perfect for a DRIVE-IN or STREAM-IT

Dark Night
13. *Dark Night, by Tim Sutton.This film got a lot of praise at the Sundance Festival, but I left. Maybe if I had been living in the States during the shootings in Aurora at "The Dark Knight Rises," I could have related more to the film, but without that prefabricated emotional terror installed, I had trouble connecting. Here is a review from Roger Ebert. STREAM-IT

Voyage of Time
14. ****Voyage of Time, by Terrence Malik. I was really looking forward to this film, and that is often a mistake because your hopes get so high. The images are beautiful, but the voice-over by Cate Blanchett was so... syrupy, and the words so on-the-nose, I almost fell asleep. I would like to see the shorter IMAX version with voice-overs by Brad Pitt. Here is the Variety review. See it at IMAX

Natalie Portman on the Red Carpet at Venice Film Festival
15. ****Jackie, directed by Paoblo Larraì, and starring Natalie Portman is a portrait of the First Lady holding herself and the United States of America together in the days after John Kennedy was assassinated, which I wrote about here (when I just googled my own post, I was amazed to discover how many other writers had used the same headline: Natalie Portman Channels Jackie Kennedy; I thought I was being so clever). Here is the review from IndieWire. See it at a MULTIPLEX or STREAM-IT.

Colm Meany & Timothy Spall in The Journey
 16. ***The Journey, directed by Nick Hamm, starring Colm Meany and Timothy Spall. I had no expectations whatsoever about this film, and was pleasantly surprised. Here is what I told the BBC: "I really enjoyed it. I am an American, and had no idea about that part of history, but I was once married to a first-generation Irishman. Sometime back in the late 80s/early 90s, we drove into Belfast by accident. It was pretty scary. The film shows that if those two can have a conversation, anybody can. It was an entertaining history lesson." Here is the review from Variety, subtitled: IRA v Unionist: Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall play clashing Northern Irish leaders in a juicy bit of backseat political theater. STREAM-IT

Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp at Venice Film Festival
17. **Planetarium, directed by Rebecca Zlotowski, starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as two psychic American sisters seance-ing their way around Europe, Paris in particular, just before WWII. I was curious to see Johnny Depp's 17-year-old daughter, who was lovely to look at and has some riveting qualities, but the movie itself was dull. Here is the review from The Playlist. STREAM-IT

Our War crew
18. *Our War, directed by Bruno Chiaravalloti, Benedeta Argentieri and Claudio Jampaglia. A documentary about a former US Marine, an unemployed Italian and a Swedish guard who volunteer to fight the Islamic State. I left about a third of the way through, and cannot find it reviewed in English, so I don't think you will have much of a chance of seeing it, but if you do, watch it for FREE

Rem Koolhaas
19. ****Rem, directed by Tomas Koolhaas, is a biopic and act of love by the son of "the world's most talked-about architect," which I wrote about here. I have always found the minds of architects fascinating -- they are artists who create structures for human beings, so they must be practical as well as imaginative. Rem is a glimpse into the mind of one of the most intense, renowned architects on the planet, who likes to swim. Here is the review from The Hollywood Reporter. See it at an ARTHOUSE or STREAM IT

Antoine Fuqua, Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington at Venice Film Festival
20. ***The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring one gal (Haley Bennett) and a whole bunch of guys, including Denzel Washington. Here is the review from Forbes. A typical Hollywood blockbuster with an ethnic cast, it was slick and entertaining, and worth making a trip to the MULTIPLEX or definitely STREAM-IT. Not worth the extra price of an IMAX
Julia Vysotskaya and Christian Clauß in Paradise

21. *****Paradise, directed by Andrei Konchalavsky, starring Julia Vysotskaya and Christian Clauß. When the winners were announced in the press room, I had to make a quick decision: stay for the press conference, or see one of the Silver Lion winners; everything, astonishingly, was scheduled at the same time. I bolted to see Paradise, and I'm glad I did. Because I am American, I have had a lifetime of propaganda about Russia and the Soviet Union -- two different entities -- shoved into my ears. Not just another-Holocaust-film, it leaves one hoping there really is a Paradise after all the Hell on Earth. Here is the Variety review. This film was so riveting, elegant and poignant... I am very happy that it won, and I hope everyone goes to see it WHEREVER THEY CAN.

Here is a moving summary of how it feels to leave the Venice Film Festival written by E. Nina Rothe for the Huffington Post:

I felt a pang of anxiety as I left Venice this morning, in the midst of the boats’ rush hour traffic. It was a strange feeling, like knowing that this kind of event, this combination of great films, magnificent interviews and wonderful meetings will never happen again.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. The Venice Film Festival had excellent energy this year. The great line-up and new, bright-red Sala Giardino theater contributed to the positive vibes. I also think the President of the Jury influences the festival, and this year it was Englishman Sam Mendes, famous for American Beauty, and the James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre, who held the reins.