Throughout the week I’ll post more detailed and traditional reviews of the films I saw this weekend. For now, however, here are some highlights from my weekend:
Opening night I went and saw the film Once More with Feeling starring Chaz Palminteri and Linda Fiorentino. The film, directed by indie stalwart Jeff Lipski, is about a psychiatrist named Frank Gregorio(Palminteri) who once had a passion for singing. As he prepares to sing a song for his daughter’s wedding, his fire is rekindled and the only appropriate outlet is through a karaoke bar located in the local bowling alley. This creates problems with the family as they wish they had more of their father around – he sees it as his family not taking an interest in what he’s doing and what he’s passionate about, and thus it inevitably leads to a romantic interest with Fiorentino, a quiet lurker in the bowling alley bar who sees talent in Palminteri. There are hidden secrets and truths and something else lurking behind the intentions of Fiorentino, but nothing every overtly sexual; the film is too smart for that and doesn’t rely on Hollywood conventions. The film parallels the story of the father with a story about his daughter (the wonderful Drea de Matteo) who is also considering an affair with a local policeman. Lipsky’s film is touching and warm and had me smiling from beginning to end. There are moments that come from real life situational humor, moments that evoke genuine laughter – a kind of been there, done that tone to the punch line. The film also (wisely) sidesteps the siren song of sitcom humor or drama – there are no false moments of mistaken intentions, there are no wacky moments of sexual advances, and most importantly, the characters don’t act like their actions don’t have consequences. It’s irrelevant whether or not the main characters do or do not have affairs, but what is important is that Lipsky’s film actually shows them weighing the pros and cons of said affairs. Rarely do you get a film or a filmmaker that has the patience to show that. The only minus for the film was the way it was filmed; filmed in digital some of the film was a little murky and in some scenes I definitely noticed the digital photography more than the story, but those are nitpicks. Lipsky was in attendance for a Q and A afterwards and mentioned that filming on digital was something that he didn’t want to do, and it’s something he’ll never do again.
The following day I attended the Celebration of Cinematography seminar with Vilmos Zsigmond in attendance. He was accompanied by fellow cinematographer James Chressanthis who directed the recent documentary about the careers of Vilmos and Laszlo Kovacs. They both showed clips from their films and answered questions about the art of cinematography. I will follow-up with a more detailed account of the event tomorrow or Wednesday, but I just want to point out that there were some great quotes about the film industry and filmmaking today. Also, I asked a question about Heaven’s Gate without mentioning the title of the film, Vilmos, ever the diplomat, kindly sidestepped my question and answered it in a way without ever addressing what I was getting. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
After the seminar I had a few minutes to prepare for the one film I was most looking forward to, Atom Egoyan’s Adoration. This is a powerful film about the thin line between truth and reality and how we remember things. Like any good Egoyan film, Adoration begins in flashback and then works its way towards a conclusion via more flash backs, until finally the major epiphany happens and Egoyan unravels the final layer. I admit I am a huge fan of his films and probably an apologetic one at that, but this is a film of tremendous power that ranks right up there with Egoyan’s own masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter. I felt lucky to see the movie as we were informed before the film began that it probably won’t be released until July or August.
Later that night I watched the Japanese film Kabei: Our Mother which is a deliberate and poignant WWII melodrama. There is a shot at the end of the film that shows post war Japan in a small rural village, it’s an unexpected punch to the gut as most of the film is quite tame aesthetically. This is your typical Japanese film, slow, methodical in its melodrama, and wonderfully acted. The director Yoji Yamada has apparently been around a long time as I researched him prior to seeing the film and found that this was the man’s 80th film (!). At certain points I felt the films length, but then to the films credit I was sucked right back in for another 45 or 50 minutes. A really nice film.
The final film of the night was the real surprise, and I think ultimate winner, of the festival. Jeffery Goodman: The Last Lullaby. Tom Sizemore stars as a “retired” and weary hitman who can’t sleep, stumbles upon an opportunity to make some money which dominoes into events that get him more and more involved with someone he is supposed to kill. The film is a highly affective small town neo-noir in the vein of Blood Simple, Red Rock West, and 2007’s The Lookout. There's also a nice homage to John Boorman's noir classic Point Blank. Sizemore still has the chops to act, and the look of the film is gorgeous as we were treated to a pristine 35mm print made solely for the Salem Film Festival. The film doesn’t rely on the clichés of the thriller; rather, it has fun with the conventions and motifs of noir: the weary protagonist, the man who gets in too deep, ambiguity, etc. There’s a great shootout scene that is intelligent and relies on silence and smarts, rather than guns blazing. It’s films like this that get me excited about the fact there are still filmmakers out there who realize that, when making a film like this, subdued and classical film techniques are always going to trump the “in-the-moment” action style found in most movies containing shootouts. The violence in The Last Lullaby is shocking, not because it’s ultra violent, but because the loudness of gun bursts always breaks the comforts of silence. It's an amazing film that succeeds in existing in that kind of no man's land found in sorta-commerical, sorta-indie films like In Bruges and the aforementioned The Lookout.
I wrapped my weekend by seeing a touching Chinese/American film called Children of Invention. The film was made before the market crashed and millions of people lost their jobs, but it has come at an appropriate time. The film concerns a mother who is trying to make ends meet after her husband has left her to go back to Hong Kong. Elaine Chang and her two young kids live just outside of Boston in an abandon new construction condo (the owner is out of town for five months, so their friend allows them to stay there). Elaine is constantly looking for the next “get rich quick” idea as she spends most of her day replying to ads in the newspaper. Eventually she is conned into a pyramid scheme and the bad goes to worse as events unfold that leave her kids vying for themselves. There are moments of real joy that are cut with moments of intense anxiety as Elaine struggles to figure out how she will get food on the table. The title comes into play at the end, something I dare not spoil, but I will say this: when the kids’ moment of reverie is interrupted by the harsh realities of the world they have to live it, well, it was one of the most poignant moments of any film I saw at the festival. The film is doubly remarkable by the fact that the two young young actors carry the film, and kudos to writer/director Tze Chun for not making the kids sugary-sweet and going the conventional route where the audience’s emotions are manipulated; which is usually the case with films concerning small children.
Overall it was a great weekend and the films are still fresh in my mind. I’ll post some more thorough reviews throughout the week. Until then…