Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Film Fest, 2014 Style

Actually, this year the New London Winter Film Festival is called:

Save Movies at the Garde Film Festival.
A preview to showcase and raise funds for the Garde’s new state-of-the-art digital cinema and sound system.

And saved they have been. What a line-up. What awesome new video- and sound-systems. What a Film Fest.

Okay then! Let's get started . . .

Dallas Buyers Club
Way to start off the Film Festival on Thursday evening with a bang. Great first movie. Matthew McConaughey was excellent as Ron Woodroff, working the system -- working around the system -- to get AIDS patients non-USA-approved medications, but this movie belonged to Jared Leto, as Rayon.

She was smart, she was funny, she was passionate, she was flawed, she was perfect. I couldn't take my eyes off her.

Great script, great direction, great acting. And of course: great venue -- oh, what a venue the Garde is -- incredible crowd, friendly bartenders, gorgeous space. We're off to a flying start.

Captain Phillips
I liked the first half, a lot. Lots of tension, lots of desperation, the worst Boston accent this side of the Mississippi (Why? Why is that accent so hard for the peeps?), and the thrilling ship-boarding scene I've been eager to see ever since I heard director Paul Greengrass interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

But then? The movie became a U.S. Navy recruiting film. Lots of helicopters, lots of parachuters, lots of stern, fit, white guys barking orders into radios, lots of guns and stern, fit, white guys shooting said guns. The movie is based on a true story (fun fact: the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama was the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years), so I guess all that Military Might actually was, er, deployed, but it was way too over the top for me. As were the accompanying violins.

BUT. The back-and-forth between the two captains, Captain Phillips and Captain Muse, was fabulous. And Barkhad Abdi's mix of bravado and fear, of determination and desperation, was completely compelling.

Now that is how you make a movie.

The writing, the acting, the spectacular cinematography, the music . . . it all added up to brilliance. I loved it. I loved those stark Nebraska landscapes, I loved the script, I loved June Squibb. She was perfection as Kate Grant. And Bruce Dern, of course, was fabulous.

I seem to be stumbling onto a lot of Quest stories lately, from Fan in Chang-rae Lee's On Such A Full Sea to Sonia Sotomayor in her memoir My Beloved World, both just in the last month. And in this movie, Woody Grant joins the crowd. He's got his Eyes on the Prize, he rises up out of his usual life to attain it, he hits lots of bumps and meets lots of bad guys along the way, but he finds the people he needs to help him, and he reaches his goal.

Sort of.

I love the arc of the Grant family in this movie, how they start out as four separate people, at odds with eachother, and become a cohesive unit, the Grants against everybody else. My favorite scenes were the four of them in the car, on their ill-fated trip to and from what turned out to be the Westendorf farm. Sigh. Just perfect.

I don't know if this movie is for everyone. It's slow-paced and thoughtful, but I loved it. And so did my movie-mates Mistah, Jennie and special celebrity guest star The Mumsie Herself. We all loved it. Loved with a capital L.

And later that night . . .

A double feature! Mistah thinks it was the first time in his life that he saw two movies in one day. And we hit not one but two restaurants in between. We are single-handedly improving the economy of New London during the Film Fest.

So, Gravity. Let's see. It wasn't as good as some people have said. And it wasn't as bad as some people have said.  It was short, but I still drifted off (get it? drifted off?) halfway through. I'm not sure any of it made any sense, or was actually supposed to make sense, because it was all about the effects -- and the stars were really pretty, and I did like trying to figure out which land mass we were looking at, down there on Earth. And I was moved by the whole soliloquy/re-determination scene. But mostly, it felt like Sandra Bullock gasping and grunting around in space. And I just kept imagining her in the studio, gasping and grunting into a mic. Which is kinda funny.

Twenty Feet From Stardom
Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, Judith Hill, Táta Vega, The Waters Family, Luther Vandross..... the crucial, wildly talented, hard-working, anonymous-until-now, Backup Singers.

I was so eager and excited to see this documentary, not least because when I listen to music, I listen to the backup singers. As one of those brilliant women so eloquently put it (I'm paraphrasing here): "Everybody sings along to the hook of the song. We're the ones singing the hook."

It was absolutely brilliant. Chills. Tears. Laughter. More chills. This is a movie that gets you right in your soul. I was never so aware of my fellow movie-goers than I was druing this one, because someone like Lisa Fischer sang a riff, belted out a tune, skat-sang some notes, and everyone sitting around us in the theater collectively sighed with awe and wonder.

These women can sing. Sing. And for whatever reasons -- and there are many -- they have remained in the background -- twenty feet from stars like Stevie and Mick and Sting and Bowie and Ray Charles and Bruce and Tina and Bette Midler and David Byrne.

It was heart-warming, surprisingly sad, and ultimately, absolutely inspiring. Brilliant movie. Fabulous women. Spectacular voices.



Four days, five movies. We are off to a pretty rockin' start, I'd say.

And we resume Thursday night at the gorgeous, venerable Garde Theatre for Enough Said.

See you at the movies!


Dawnie said...

Great reporting, girlfriend. Your assessments are spot on. You know how much I love the fest and how excited I am as it nears, and while it is on, I am in a dreamy state.

As much as I loved all of the movies, the one I return to over and over is Nebraska. Perfection indeed. Will Forte - you are my hero.

Can't wait for Thursday!

Me, You, or Ellie said...

I love, love, love your reporting too, E! I am SO not into the movies. I mean, once I get there, or start to watch one at home, I'm typically riveted, I get drawn in like everyone else, but I don't even know what movies are OUT there.....so, this is so great. Once a year, I get my movie reviews strictly from YOU!

And so now I know that I will NOT be seeing Gravity or Captain Phillips, but will DEFINITELY be seeing Twenty Feet From Stardom and Nebraska, and probably Dallas Buyers Club too.

Mil gracias, Ellie! You rock.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

I share Beth's list! And so lament the loserdom that prevented me from getting to the movies more this year. Who loses? This girl.

But YOU, my sister? You win.

(see you friday!!!)

mom said...

You oughta be a film critic Ellie, great reporting.... love, mom

unmitigated me said...

I never wanted to be Stevie or Bette, or Tina....well, maybe Bette. I wanted to be the backup singer!

Speaking of Bette, I love her and all, but I would rather have seen clip tributes to Harold Ramis and Philip Seymour Hoffman than hear Wind Beneath My Wings one more time.

Lisa S said...

Love this post, El, and wish I were there to see and talk movies with you and Dawn and Jennie and Bill. Can't wait to hear your report on "Enough Said". We saw it twice!