Tuesday, 12 September 2017

20 Quickie Reviews from the Venice Film Festival 2017

74 Venice International Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) This year the Venice Film Festival especially felt like you were traveling to another world because of the tight anti-terrorism security. Just to get into the area you had to pass through several cement barriers designed to prevent truck attacks. Every Italian police department seemed to be there; there were cops on horses, cops with bomb dogs, baggage checks and more -- and that was just to walk on the street. To actually get into the Palazzo del Casinò, where the press conferences are held and the press room is located, you had to have the proper accreditation, which was scrutinized. The security was not invasive, but professional, friendly and efficient.

Once you were inside it felt lovely and safe, a happy, relaxed bubble with children dashing and splashing in the new fountain, everyone drinking spritzes (with chips!), fans queuing-up outside the red carpet to see their favorite stars, and creative-types roaming the streets. There were sun-kissed white terraces and deep green parks -- it was idyllic, a cinematic world, far removed from the turmoil on the rest of the planet.

Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, said: "The world in general is reacting beyond the most positive expectations with a sort of bold feeling of independence to the terrorism threat. Italy is full of tourists. We need to have faith in our institutions and in our selves. And I think that we, like all those who can feel threatened, can be proud of the way we are reacting.”

Kid-friendly fountain at the Venice Film Festival
I could not be more thrilled that The Shape of Water won the Golden Lion this year, and judging from the reaction in the press room when the winner was announced on Saturday night, that was the general consensus. I am sure it will be nominated for major awards in many categories -- including Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Here is the rave post I wrote, which includes links to a few critics' reviews:

The Movie that Everyone is Raving About: THE SHAPE OF WATER at the Venice Film Festival


Go to La Biennale for the complete list of winners.

The Shape of Water poster by James Jean
This year I managed to see 20 films. Since it is impossible to see everything, I tried to focus on American films, or English-speaking films, with a couple of exceptions. Here are my quickie reviews in the order in which I saw the films, and whether you should make the trip to the theater or stay home and stream it. I've linked the titles to the reviews I agree with the most -- not just the reviews from Venice, but also Telluride and Toronto -- so if you want to know more, click the link.

1. ***Downsizing directed by Alexander Payne opened the festival. Starring Matt Damon, it's a science-fiction comedy about a couple who decide to shrink themselves down to help save the planet (and immediately become rich). The best thing in the film was Hong Chau's dynamic performance of a Vietnamese dissident shrunk against her will. Worth a trip to the theater.

2. ***Nico, 1988 directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli, won the Orizzonti award for Best Picture. Starring Trine Dyrholm as Nico long after the singer left The Velvet Underground, the bio pic captures the last two years of the hard-living former beauty's life. The Orizzonti films have their own jury, and is the section "that represents the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema." See it at an art house, or stream it.

3. ***First Reformed, directed by Paul Schrader stars Ethan Hawke as a Dutch Reformed priest of a remote, historical church, frequented mostly by tourists, about to have its 250th reconsecration. Since it is a Schrader film, it is bizarre and intense, especially when the priest is called upon to counsel a suicide bomber. Definitely worth streaming.

4. *****The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is an adult fairy-tale, which I adored, as did most critics and the jury -- it won the Golden Lion for Best Picture. See it at the theater, then stream it, then buy it. But you MUST see it.

5. ***Human Flow directed by Ai Weiwei that illustrates and humanizes the refugee crisis on a global scale. An awesome effort. Stream it.

6. ****Our Souls at Night, directed by Ritesh Batra, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I wrote a post: Robert Redford & Jane Fonda talk sex at 80, raising kids and growing old at Venice Film Festival that sums it up. Unless you are in NY or LA, you will have to stream it because it is a Netflix production, though it would make a great older folks's date night out.

Charlie Plummer in LEAN ON PETE
7. ****Lean on Pete, by British director Andrew Heigh, stars the next teen idol, Charlie Plummer, who is terrific, and won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress. Set in the US Pacific Northwest, "Lean on Pete" is the name of a race horse, owned by Del, played by a grizzled Steve Buscemi. Charlie has no mother; his father is involved with a married woman, with unfortunate consequences. A story about a lonely boy and the horse he loves. I thought it was terrific, and hope some clever marketers can figure out how to get both teenage girls and boys into the theater to see it.
.
8. ***Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney, starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. Based on horrific real-life events in Pittsburgh when a black family moves into a white neighborhood in the 50s, the story was merged with an old Cohen Brothers black comedy script. Then real-life sidetracked George Clooney when Trump was elected during the making of the film. It should have been great, but it feels like two different movies stuck into one. Stream it.

9. ***Victoria & Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Based on a true story that was covered up for decades, Queen Victoria becomes smitten with an Indian clerk shipped over to England for her Golden Jubilee, and promotes him to her to be her "Munshi," or guru. At the press conference, Judy Dench said, "It's good to be the queen." Stream it unless you are in the UK, then see it in the theater.

10. ****The Leisure Seeker, directed by Paolo Vitzi, starring Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren is an American road film by an Italian director with Canadian and British oldster stars. He's got dementia, and she's got cancer, but that doesn't stop them from hauling out the old RV, "The Leisure Seeker," and heading from Massachusetts to Hemingway's house in Florida, escaping the plans of their adult children. I thought it was poignant, witty and wise -- a love story -- and hope folks see it in the theater.

11. ****EX LIBRIS - The New York Public Library, directed by Frederick Wiseman. All the wonders the NYPL offers. It needs some editing, but definitely worth streaming just to remind ourselves how marvelous human beings can be when knowledge is king.

12. ***Michael Jackson's Thriller 3D, directed by John Landis and the Making of Michael Jackson's Thriller, directed by Jerry Kramer. Of interest is you are a huge Michael Jackson fan. Stream it.


13. *****Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. McDonagh is an Irish-born Londoner, and the film is set in Missouri, which gives the film a different take. After The Shape of Water, I liked this movie the best. McDonagh knows how to get the best out out his actors, taking them to extremes with a heightened, extraordinary vision that works. Frances McDormand is brilliant, and deserves an Oscar nomination -- as does Sam Rockwell. See it in the theater.

14. ****My Generation, directed by David Batty, narrated by Michael Cain. A fascinating history lesson about the class system -- and the reasons behind the 60s when the working class broke through to the top -- not with violence, not with protests, but by sheer talent -- and why the world is in the mess it is today. Stream it.

15. **mother!, directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Barden. This movie was booed in Venice, and called, "a spectacular disaster." People laughed, the way you laugh when a film is ridiculous, so self-important that it becomes silly, and just doesn't work. Usually I like Aronofsky, but this time he seemed almost cruel. Of all the critics, Xan Brooks had the guts to address the elephant in the room: "Aronofksy likes to push his audience to the brink. I’ve heard that he likes to do it to his performers as well. Mickey Rourke – Oscar-nominated for his brilliant performance in The Wrestler – described the director as “an old-style Jew gangster”. He has a reputation for being combative and controlling, for breaking actors down and shooting them in extremis." Jennifer Lawrence, the 27-year-old real-life girlfriend of 48-year-old Aronofsky, dislocated a rib. “I have oxygen tubes in my nostrils, and Darren’s like, ‘It was out of focus; we’ve got to do it again,'” Lawrence said. “And I was just like, ‘Go fuck yourself.'” See it in the theater to get the full effect -- if you must.

16. ***Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond - the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton, directed by Chris Smith, narrated by Jim Carrey. Like many other fascinating creatures, Jim Carrey is not of this earth, but he is earnest and compelling to watch. Stream it.

17. ***Loving Pablo, directed by Fernando Leòn de Aranoa, starring real-life couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, based on the book, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, by Virginia Vallejo, Escobar's real-life journalist lover. It kept me in my seat. See it in the theater.

18. ***Cuba and the Cameraman, directed by Jon Alpert is a documentary that spans several decades from the 70s and up to Fidel Castro's death. No critic seems to have reviewed this film. Weird. It is a "Netflix original" and labeled "provocative." I thought it was interesting, and definitely watchable, if only to see Cuba metamorphosize. Jon Alpert is the only American cameraman who was allowed to get up close and personal with Fidel Castro. He travels to Cuba over the decades, filming the same places through times of plenty and times of despair. Needs some snipping. Stream it.

Charlotte Rampling at Venice Film Festival press conference - Photo: Cat Bauer
19. ***Hannah, directed by Andrea Pallaoro, starring Charlotte Rampling. Pallaoro is Italian, but the film is in French, and it feels like a French film, which always frustrates me because we must see every little detail of ordinary life, and there is never a clear ending. However, Charlotte Rampling is so riveting and courageous -- she allows us to see every wrinkle on her 71-year-old body -- that I stayed until the end (just to learn that, once again, there is no clear ending, nor is there a clear story). Rampling justifiably won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. Stream it or see it in an art house.

20. ****Wormwood, directed by Errol Morris. This should count as two movies because I saw 258 minutes (4 1/2 hours) of all six episodes. Morris gets as close as anyone can to proving that the CIA deliberately assassinated biochemist Frank Olson in 1953 because he no longer wanted to do his job, part of which was developing biological weapons for the United States to use in the Korean War. He knew too much, so he had to go. The Feds first said he committed suicide by leaping from a hotel window in Manhattan after taking LSD. His son, Eric, who was 9-years-old at the time, has never bought that story, and has spent his entire life searching for the truth, which has included exhuming his father's body. (Did you know there is a 1953 CIA manual, "The Study of Assassination?!") For 60 years, Eric has relentlessly sought closure. Let's hope this series gives him some peace. Morris wanted the tagline to read: "The LSD was a red herring." It's a Netflix, so you must stream it.

Annette Bening, President of the 74th Venice International Film Festival - Photo: Cat Bauer
It is always difficult emerging from the high energy inside the Venice Film Festival cocoon and going back to the outside world, especially when Annette Bening is the President of the jury. We will be cheering all the contenders that premiered here when it comes time for the Academy Awards.

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

1 comment:

  1. This year I managed to see 20 films. Since it is impossible to see everything, I tried to focus on American films, or English-speaking films, with a couple of exceptions. Here are my quickie reviews in the order in which I saw the films, and whether you should make the trip to the theater or stay home and stream it. I've linked the titles to the reviews I agree with the most -- not just the reviews from Venice, but also Telluride and Toronto -- so if you want to know more, click the link.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to leave a comment.

Ciao from Venice,
Cat