Monday, October 25, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Day 8 through Day 11

Unbreakable  (10th Anniversary Screening)                        Grade:  A+
What can I say about this film from M Night Shyamalan starring Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson from 2000 that won’t ruin it in case you haven’t seen it?  Nothing.  So I won’t say anything about the plot.  I will say this is the 3rd time I’ve seen it.  When I first saw it 10 years ago in the theater I thought it was very good.  Then, when I saw it a second time a few years later I realized it was actually great.  And now I truly believe it’s a masterpiece.  Unfortunately it’s always compared to Shyamalan’s previous film, ‘The Sixth Sense’ which is also one of the greatest films of all time, so it often gets criticized for not being as good.  Well, I’m not sure I agree, and technically speaking I think it’s even better.  Some of the shots in this film are truly unbelievable long takes.  Hitchcock would be amazed.  If you’ve never seen the film, you should definitely check it out.  And if you have seen it and already dismissed it as just being ok, see it again.  I think it’s brilliant.
I should also add that at the Philadelphia Film Festival we were treated to a nice, long Q&A with Shyamalan after the film.  He could not have been better or more humble.  He discussed how the initial poor reviews of the film after its release devastated him, and how meticulous he was storyboarding and filming each scene, and how insane his ambitious camera work was.  Well, it shows.  And even though his films have clearly gotten worse over time, he’s still one of my all time favorite directors. 

Trust                                       Grade:  A
David Schwimmer directed this film about a teenage girl who falls victim to an internet predator pretending to be a teenager.  Clive Owen and Catherine Keener give tremendous performances as the girl’s parents struggling to keep their family from falling apart.  I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but it’s a very emotional film.  And although I haven’t heard any Oscar buzz, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one gets some nominations.

Every Day                               Grade:  A
Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt play a couple struggling to deal with the trials of life.  Hunt is dealing with her aging, cranky father, played by Brian Dennehy, who is no longer able to take care of himself.  Schreiber is a writer for a trashy TV soap opera, dealing with his recently out teenage gay son, pleasing his perverted boss, played by Eddie Izzard, who wants his scripts to include more ultra-shocking moments, and the temptations of a sexy coworker, played by Carla Gugino.  This film is a dramedy for adults.  But considering the heavy subject matter, it’s actually dealt with in a light, yet realistic way that leaves you feeling satisfied and even hopeful.  Well, at least it did for me.  Some might find it depressing.  But I think it’s a great film with a great cast.  Schreiber is always amazing and makes everything he does better just by being in it.  If the film sounds like something you might like then I think you should give it a try.  Unfortunately I suspect it won’t get a wide theatrical release, and will probably die a quiet death on DVD.

Welcome to the Rileys          Grade:  B+
There have been an awful lot of films lately about parents dealing with the death of a child.  Some have been great (like ‘The Way’ and ‘The Greatest’ which I’ve talked about before.)  This one is another good entry in the genre and didn’t feel like a repeat of its predecessors.  This time James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are the grieving parents.  They’ve already been grieving for quite some time by the time the movie begins, so they’ve already adapted to the situation and learned to deal with it as best they can.  But their relationship is distant.  However, when Gandolfini meets runaway stripper Kristen Stewart on a business trip to New Orleans, things change as he begins to act as a father figure to help get her back on track.  That sounds corny, but it’s done well and doesn’t feel it.  I’ve heard that the director gave Gandolfini and Stewart the note that they should model their characters after Baloo and Mowgli from ‘The Jungle Book’.  And that pretty much sums up their relationship better than anything else I could add.  The film premiered at Sundance and is opening soon.

Red Hill                                   Grade:  B-
There are a lot of interesting movies coming out of Australia these days.  (e.g. ‘The Square’, ‘Beautiful Kate’, and ‘Animal Kingdom’ to name a few recent titles.   But that’s a blog topic for a different day.)   This one is a neo-noir Australian western.  That alone makes it interesting enough to see.  It’s about a small town police officer who moves to an even smaller town to de-stress, and ends up in the middle of a crisis, when an escaped convict returns to get even with the local police department.  The cast is good and the cinematography is amazing, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t reach its full potential.   It’s kind of like ‘No Country for Old Men’, but not as good.  I’m still glad I saw it though.  At a film festival, this one’s a success.

Cafe                                         Grade:  C+
I mentioned a few days ago my opinion on films filmed locally.  More often than not they aren’t very good, and are only shown at the festival because they were filmed locally.  Well, this one actually isn’t terrible.  It’s about a variety of stories that take place at a café in West Philly.  Many of them aren’t very engaging, but the film does include Jennifer Love Hewitt and ex-boyfriend Jamie Kennedy, and I was reminded of how good looking Hewitt is and what a good actor Kennedy is (when he’s not acting like an idiot).  So that’s something.  But as for the film in its entirety?  It’s ok.  It’s basically Jim Jarmusch lite, and I’d rather see ‘Smoke’, ‘Blue in the Face’, or even the so-so ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’.

Fair Game                               Grade:  C-
This political ‘thriller’ starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, based on the true story of exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame, which opens in a few weeks, didn’t do it for me.  To be fair, I don’t normally go for political/CIA/espionage films.  And I also think Sean Penn is WAY overrated.   So nothing about this one was working for me.  I was terribly bored.  But I suspect the public might end up disagreeing with me on this one.  We’ll see. 

Kings of Pastry                       Grade:  D
A documentary about the best pastry chefs in France?  Sounds fun and mouth watering, right?  Nope, it was a bore.  The chefs were annoying and unlikeable, and the pastries didn’t even look that tempting.  Stay home and watch the food network.

Outcast                                   Grade:  D
I love a good monster movie.  And I love a good Irish film.  But this film was terrible and unintelligible.  I couldn’t even follow it.  But it definitely had the tone and atmosphere right, and Irish actor James Nesbitt is always good, so it gets spared an F.

Well, that about does it.  Check back tomorrow when I give my final thoughts on this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.

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