Philadelphia Film Festival: Week 2

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 26, 2011

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Blonde ambition: Michelle Williams is divine at Norma Jeane in My Week With Marilyn.

Let’s not mince words: In its 20 years, this is the most impressive—if not perhaps the best—lineup the Philadelphia Film Festival has ever had. The latest from Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss) and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia)—not to mention art cinema titans Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (The Kid With a Bike), Hong Sang-soo (The Day He Arrives), Aki Kaurismaki (Le Havre) and Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse)—are yours for the peeping. You have the third (and final) Paradise Lost doc, completed just before the freeing of the West Memphis 3, as well as two sex movies with Michael Fassbender (David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Steve McQueen’s Shame). That leaves plenty that won’t be returning here for a theatrical stint. Here’s a selection of film’s playing during the final week:

Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death & Technology: Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webbys, pays tribute to her late father Leonard, a neurologist whose books (like The Alphabet Versus the Goddess) argued that the creation of the alphabet helped create our patriarchal society, since language relies on left brain (and therefore masculine) tendencies over right brain (i.e., feminine) ones. L. Shlain’s ideas, contested by many in academia but popular amongst the likes of Björk, are interesting and entertainingly communicated (via animation), enough to wish she’d chucked the “autobiography” part and dug into them exclusively. C+ (Matt Prigge) Thurs., Nov. 3, 7:45pm, RE.

My Week With Marilyn: A preposterous piece of fan-fiction along the lines of 2009’s Me And Orson Welles, this stuffy middlebrow adaptation of Collin Clark’s suspicious memoir stars Eddie Redamayne as an annoyingly eager-beaver production assistant working on The Prince And The Showgirl, landing himself a front row seat for the infamous clashes between Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, wearing a silly prosthetic) and Marilyn Monroe (the divine Michelle Williams.) If you absolutely must, the reason to see the film is Williams’ bravura take on an American icon, equal parts neediness, petulance, and va-va-voom. You’ll wish she had the chance to play Monroe in a tougher, better picture. C- (Sean Burns) Fri., Oct. 28, 5pm, PMT.

The FP: In Brandon and Jason Trost’s custom-made fanboy object, youths of a post-something future battle each other via a knockoff of Dance Dance Revolution. Can you believe this was expanded from a short? Or that, at feature length, it feels like it would function better as a short? The Trost Brothers trained under Crank’s Neveldine/Taylor, retaining their love for thrift store mayhem but not the ability to spin endless, inventive variations on a simple concept. The world of The FP barely widens past its first 10 minutes, managing only a couple mildly amusing iterations of unironic ’80s movie badassery that were funnier in the MacGruber movie, anyway. C (M.P.) Thurs., Nov. 3, 10pm, RA.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Distant, Climates) holds onto his title of greatest current Turkish filmmaker with this perversely ambling twist on the police procedural. After nabbing an alleged killer, a car of bickering and shit-shooting lawmen roam the countryside in the dead of night, looking for the body in landscapes that all look the same. Largely lit through car lights, Ceylan’s latest—gorgeous as ever—occupies the space between art-film-slow and deadpan, all the while taking its sweet time in laying out a devastating treatise on the unknowability of truth and the arbitrary nature of justice. A- (M.P.) Fri., Oct. 28, 4:20pm, R5; Sun., Oct. 30, 12:10pm, RE.

Staging Hope: Acts of Peace in Northern Uganda: Run by actress Melissa Fitzgerald (whom you may remember as Carol from The West Wing,) the nonprofit Voices In Harmony travels the world mentoring at-risk teens by starting drama clubs. I know, it sounds like a parody of Hollywoord liberal do-gooder-ism – “Let’s go to a refugee camp and put on a show!” But these kids individual stories are so undeniably compelling, and Fitzgerald so sincere about healing through theatre and personal expression, even cynical bastards like yours truly can’t help but surrender. Less can be said for the filmmaking. Executive produced by Fitzgerald’s former TV boss Martin Sheen, it’s a boilerplate worldaffairs doc, and the kind of thing that might have worked just as well as a television newsmagazine piece. C+ (S.B.) Tues., Nov. 1, 7:30pm, RE; Tues., Nov 1, 7:45pm, R5.

Sleeping Beauty: Australian novelist Julia Leigh proves a natural filmmaker in her film debut, which tells of a young, cash-strapped woman (Emily Browning) who agrees to a beyond strange job: For rich rewards, she will be drugged, although she will never know what happens to her while she sleeps. We do get to see, however, and the slow reveal of the Eyes Wide Shut-ish world in which she’s embroiled makes for engrossing, if highly dubious, viewing. It’s never clear what Leigh is trying to say, and though it seems like it could be a feminist comment on female submission, but it appears to be beyond interpretation, interested mostly in unfolding like a messed-up dream. If nothing else, it holds your attention. As in Sucker Punch, the 20-something Browning looks no older than 12, which is far from the creepiest aspect of Leigh’s picture. B (M.P.) Wed., Oct. 26, 7:30pm, RE.

The Turin Horse: Lars Von Trier destroys the planet in Melancholia, but Béla Tarr—the Hungarian minimalist/miserablist of Werckmeister Harmonies and the 7½ hour Sátántangó—will settle for two peasants. While a torrential windstorm lets rip for several days, a cab driver and his daughter pass the time in near-wordless, Akerman-esque routine, waiting for death inside their remote cottage. The most direct of Tarr’s works, it’s therefore his most accessible—or it would be, if it weren’t a film about, as he’s cheerfully put it, “no hope.” Tarr goes out with his protagonists: this is his (alleged) swan song. Apart from feeling sad for his protagonists, feel sad for yourself: this is the last time to experience Tarr’s potent mix of textured B&W, grimy landscapes and shots so long and slow that time evaporates. A- (M.P.) Thurs., Oct. 27, 6:50pm, RE; Sat., Oct. 28, 12pm, R5.

Surrogate Valentine: Bay Area indie rocker Goh Nakamura stars as himself in writer-director Dave Boyle’s shaggy, agreeably ambling comedy glimpse at life on the road for a professional musician just successful enough to scrape by. Distressed by the onset of his 30s, still pining for a high-school sweetheart (Lynn Chen) and strapped for cash, Nakamura is pressed by a pal into letting a goofball sitcom actor (Chadd Stoops) tag along on his low-rent tour to research a role. It’s a loose, coming-of-middle age saga buoyed by the lead’s easy charm, fine musical performances and some gorgeous black and white cinematography. Nothing earth-shattering, but I enjoyed spending time with these people. B (S.B.) Sat., Oct 29, 12:10pm. RE.

Tyrannosaur: Peter Mullan plays a rageaholic widower introduced kicking his dog to death. Eddie Marsan plays as an abusive louse who enters the picture by drunk-pissing on his wife (Olivia Coleman). This unexpected grim-o-rama from actor Paddy Considine (My Summer of Love) is filled with such OTT horrors that it occasionally spills over into pitch black comedy. Even when it doesn’t, which is most of the time, it’s still ridiculous, although it doesn’t wind up exactly where you’d expect, and its actors do their damndest to make it credible. Coleman, a comic actress best known for Peep Show , is particularly strong as an abused spouse with a secret capacity for strength. C+ (M.P.) Sat., Oct. 29, 10:20pm, R5; Wed., Nov. 2, 9:30pm, RE.

The Conquest: Nicholas Sarkozy’s campaign becomes the stuff of cynical comedy in Xavier Durringer’s fast-paced dirt-slinger, which chronicles how the French president (Denis Podalydès, only marginally charismatic) ascended to power partly through savvy, partly through turning his life into a reality show. This isn’t a docudrama so much as a blueprint on how to score in modern Western politics. Learn how Sarkozy micromanages, how he recovers from the public relations disaster that is his marital implosion, how he miraculously capitalizes on his appalling remarks on the “suburban uprising.” Armando Iannucci (In the Loop) does this thing better, but it’ll do. B- (M.P.) Sun., Oct. 30, 5:15pm, R5.

Race to the Bottom of the World: Comprised almost entirely of footage shot by its two subjects, this doc reveals the would-be-suicide mission of Philly explorer Todd Carmichael, who decided to trek from the edge of Antarctica to the very South Pole. (A partner-in-crime bailed halfway through.) Neither he nor his wife, fretting from home, have much of an eye, but we can understand if they were otherwise engaged. Still, Carmichael makes for a boisterous host (who becomes increasingly less boisterous, natch). Too bad directors Michele Loschiavo and Nancy Glass do little in their role as a third party. There’s no probe into his obsessions or possible mania. It’s just his trek, which may be enough for some. B- Wed., Nov. 2, 7:20pm, RE.

Theater Key:

RE =Ritz East

R5 =Ritz 5

PMT = Prince Music Theater

IH = International House

ZB = Zellerbach

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Philadelphia Film Festival: Week 1
By Matt Prigge and Sean Burns

Let’s not mince words: In its 20 years, this is the most impressive—if not perhaps the best—lineup the Philadelphia Film Festival has ever had. Over the next fortnight, the latest from Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss) and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia)—not to mention art cinema titans Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (The Kid With a Bike), Hong Sang-soo (The Day He Arrives), Aki Kaurismaki (Le Havre) and Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse)—are yours for the peeping.