NYFF

Ben Affleck in Gone Girl

Doesn’t it feel like we just finished up covering the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest? Well, it should, because we did, but that’s festival season for you, and now we’ve got a whole other festival (in a whole other city) to get to work on. This year’s New York Film Festival (the fifty-second!) kicks off later tonight with the world premiere of David Fincher‘s Gone Girl (side note: we cannot wait), followed by a hefty number of hyped and highly anticipated features. This year’s festival boasts a solid mix of festival favorites — Whiplash! Pasolini! – and some brand new stuff that’s yet to rock audiences — Inherent Vice! CitizenFour! – all combining into one hell of a fun slate that should quite easily send its attendees into Oscar time feeling quite prepared. Festival season is here, and here’s what we can’t wait to see at this year’s NYFF.

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Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

*Editor’s note: Our review of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty originally ran during this year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens wide on Christmas Day.* The joke of Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an old one – far older than both the James Thurber short story that inspired it and the 1947 Danny Kaye-starring film of the same name – centering on a man so prone to daydreaming that he has ceased to live his life inside the “real world.” It’s hard to blame Walter (Stiller), however, because the real world hasn’t been especially kind to him for a long time. It hasn’t been particularly cruel, either, but Walter has long suppressed his dreams of something more (and of being someone more), and his more creative and individual instincts come out to play in the vivid (and overly effects-laden) daydreams that Walter periodically lapses into (so frequently, in fact, that those closest to him just refer to it as Walter “zoning out” and that’s all there is to it). The regular life issues that Walter faces are hard enough – a dead dad, an aging mother (Shirley MacLaine), a wacky sister (Kathryn Hahn), a job in a changing industry, a hopeless crush on a clueless co-worker (Kristen Wiig, who isn’t given nearly enough to work with to make the romantic element of the film stick) – so it’s understandable that he would slip into fantasy when things get rough. But Walter’s […]

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The Invisible Woman

*Editor’s note: Our review of The Invisible Woman originally ran during this year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens Christmas day in limited theatrical release.* It’s best to assume that when Ralph Fiennes took on the story of Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his teen lover Ellen “Nelly” Ternan (Felicity Jones) for his The Invisible Woman, he didn’t intend for the film’s big takeaway to be that the beloved British author was basically a big jerk, at least when it came to matters of the heart. And yet, that’s the unexpected result of the apparently fact-based tale, a “romance” devoid of emotion that fails to capture any of the spirit or intelligence of Dickens’ own works. While the film has some very compelling source material, including a book by Claire Tomalin and a script from Abi Morgan (who penned the wonderful Shame and the laughably bad The Iron Lady), it ultimately falls spectacularly flat. Cold, emotionless, and strangely paced, the film thankfully features breathtaking cinematography and one hell of a supporting performance by the real invisible woman in Dickens’ life – his own wife. But this is meant to be a film about a life-changing romance, and it simply doesn’t deliver on that front, no matter how many times Jones wanders a beach with a haunted expression on her face or Fiennes acts out in a horrible way simply because he’s a man in love.

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About Time

Romantic comedy fans have long been starving for satisfying genre fare to hit the box office, all the Valentine’s Days and New Year’s Eves and Arbor Days (surely, the next one, right?) notwithstanding, and it’s long seemed as if the When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail glory days (we loved Nora Ephron, what can we say?) were far gone. Yet, with Love Actually writer and director Richard Curtis finally returning to the sort of films he excels at crafting, it’s perhaps a bit early to consider the entire genre dead. Maybe it’s just sleeping. Curtis’ About Time certainly comes with an enviable pedigree (any film that features Curtis directing Bill Nighy is cause to celebrate), but it’s the film’s charming cast and cleverly tangled plot conceit that keeps it ticking right along. About Time centers on hapless young Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, who is utterly adorable in every frame of the film), a sweet guy who has never been very lucky in love. Tim’s been lucky elsewhere, however, as he had an exceedingly idyllic childhood in the arms of his “sturdy” mother Mary (Lindsay Duncan), deeply bookish dad (Nighy), heartbreakingly sweet Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery), and whimsical sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and he’s soon to embark on an exciting (well, somewhat) legal career in London. Before all that, however, he’s got some time to kill at his family home, and it’s only after one of his family’s rip-roaring New Year’s Eve parties that dear old dad shares an […]

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her trailer

With Saturday night’s closing night premiere of Spike Jonze‘s very stirring Her, this year’s New York Film Festival (in its fifty-first outing) came to a rousing, romantic close. The end of the weeks-long festival also signaled the steady conclusion of the year’s big guns festivals in general (and thank goodness for that, we’re still not quite recovered from the joys of Toronto), finally allowing us time to consider and appreciate some of the truly wonderful stuff we’ve been treated to over the past few months. Of course, that also means we’re also able to consider the films that made up NYFF, including the program’s finest performances and special attributes. After attending screenings for nearly a month, there was plenty to review, but most of our best of honors came quickly – there were plenty of winners at NYFF, but there were also plenty of very clear winners. After the break, relive the glories of this year’s NYFF, complete with evaluations of best films, performances, food, cats, and hair, because we’re nothing if not totally professional.

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Tom Hanks

Editor’s note: Kate’s review of Captain Phillips originally ran during this year’s NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in theatrical release today. Side note, it’s the best film currently playing in wide release. Go see it. Early on in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, the eponymous Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) reads an email advisory from Maersk, the multinational business conglomerate that owns his vessel, that includes detailed information about incidents of high seas piracy in the exact area his Maersk Alabama happens to be sailing through on its way to Kenya. Phillips is already aware of the risks, and he’s taken precautions – later that day, he’ll even request his crew perform a series of safety drills – but all the warnings in the world won’t change his fate, and they certainly won’t remove the audience’s knowledge of what is coming. Based on the true story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking and the real Captain Phillips’ book on the subject, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea,” Greengrass’ film is tasked with delivering a moderately fictionalized portrayal of a highly publicized event, and the final product is a wonderfully tension-filled and surprisingly even-handed version of events. Hanks excels in the leading role, effectively portraying an everyman trapped in extraordinary circumstances, and Greengrass’ action-savvy direction pairs perfectly with both his story and his lead actor.

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Abuse of Weakness

In 2004, French director Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl, The Last Mistress) suffered a massive stroke that left one side of her body paralyzed. In 2007, she met a con man that would eventually bilk her out of over 700,000 Euros. In 2009, she wrote a book about the experience. In 2012, con can Christopher Rocancourt was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. In 2013, she made a movie about it. Understanding that the story of Abuse of Weakness (or “abus de faiblesse,” a French legal term that perfectly describes the film at hand) is actually Breillat’s story isn’t essential to either the film’s power or strength, but it sure helps clarify some things (a few of which haven’t been clarified in Breillat’s own life). Isabelle Huppert stars as bawdy, whipsmart Maud, the film’s version of Breillat, who also happens to be a French director with a signature style (at one point, her work is compared to porn). Within the film’s opening seconds, Maud is in the throes of a stroke, all while tucked into the seeming safety of her own sleigh bed. It’s evident almost immediately that Huppert is about to embark on a true full body performance, and the actress delivers in spades – her body contortions, facial expressions, and lack of mobility are never less than entirely believable, and the result is a terrifyingly uncomfortable film that never lets up on either its audience or its leading lady.

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Le Week-End

It’s not that Nick and Meg Burrows are looking for an easy fix (though, returning to the site of their honeymoon for a romantic weekend away may indicate that’s very much the case), but that the long-married (and apparently long-suffering) couple are looking for anything to mix up their stale marriage. Paris sounds like as good a place as any, and why not go for a nostalgia-fueled romp in a city that, even without personal baggage, comes complete with all the romance one could ever wish to find? Though it’s clear from the start of Roger Michell’s Le Week-End that there are bigger problems afoot in the union of Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) than general annoyances may indicate, the trick of the film is to navigate the sort of issues that come with being married for thirty years without coming across as shrill or overwrought. Most of the time, Michell and his two very talented stars are able to do that, and Le Week-End switches between comfortable humor and biting revelations with ease, all bolstered by the charm and beauty of Paris. And yet Hanif Kureishi’s script doesn’t put as much faith in the trio as it should, loading down the film’s final third with wacky supporting characters and over-the-top confessions.

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Tom Hanks

Film festival season is off and running, what with TIFF wowing the international crowds with all its surefire award season contenders and Fantastic Fest blowing a hole a mile wide in the great Texas sky of genre flicks, and before we can even catch our breath (or rest our tired, tired eyes), the New York Film Festival is ready to blast us with still more wonderful films. We’re tired, but we’re also excited. Film festival feelings are complicated. NYFF kicks off later this week with the highly anticipated premiere of Captain Phillips. For the next two weeks, Gotham will be inundated with a murderer’s row of big time films – from buzzy titles from Cannes and TIFF to premieres of fresh new features, all the way up to some of the biggest (and yet to be seen!) films of the awards season. With plenty of films we’ve been wanting to see for months (and, in some cases, years) now, NYFF is looking pretty swanky this year, and we can’t wait to dive right in. Until then, here are ten films we’re most looking forward to seeing (and we think you’ll agree).

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review like someone in love

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. It’s impossible to understand who a person truly is upon first meeting them. Impressions can be made, based on the context of the meeting, but you can never know the true self that lies beneath the surface. In Abbas Kiarostami’s masterful Like Someone In Love, two very different people meet by chance, but within a 24-hour period, they discover more about each other and about themselves than either of them could have possibly fathomed. Kiarostami takes what would seem like a simple character study and, with his astute direction, morphs it into an incredibly well-executed work of art that is imbued with a palpable sense of unease. These two people are Akiko (Rin Takanashi) and Takashi (Tadashi Okuno). Akiko is studying biology in college and conflicted over whether or not to break up with her controlling boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase). She also works at an escort service. Takashi is an elderly man, working as a translator, who lives alone.

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review no

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. The revolution will not only be televised, it will have commercials. At least that’s how it happens in No, Pablo Larraín’s new chronicle of the last days of Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile. It is the story of a military dictatorship that fell to an ad campaign, a cheerful one at that. This causes contradictions. On the one hand, the film emphasizes the joy of mass political action. Liberation is exciting, and people get excited about it when they are shown a brighter future. However, advertising is also the great commercial and consumerist art form, here being used as a tool by socialist and other left-wing opponents of the regime. On paper this seems extremely counter-intuitive, and No doesn’t lose sight of these tensions. To turn this whirlwind of politics and confusion into a human story, Larraín builds his film around a single young man caught at the very center of the drama. René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is an up-and-comer in the world of advertising, making a name for himself in a particularly important firm. Yet he suddenly finds himself faced with a life-changing decision. It is 1988, and due to international pressure on the Pinochet regime Chile is going to have a national plebiscite regarding the dictatorship. It would be the first free election in almost two decades. It was a simple proposition: “Yes” to keep […]

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Not Fade Away

Editor’s note: David Chase’s feature debut hits theaters this week, so please feel free to rock out with this New York Film Festival review, originally published on October 7, 2012. Into a quiet moment between lovers, toward the end of his new film David Chase injects Plato. Introspective college student Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote) turns to her aspiring musician boyfriend and quotes: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” The line could read as an epigraph, the inspiration and core theme of the work. Yet, paradoxically, Not Fade Away rocks the boat significantly less than the 1960’s themselves, or even other movies that look back on this tumultuous period in the life of the nation. Rather, it plays like a form of American “heritage cinema,” to borrow a term from the Brits, fantasizing about a time gone by while carefully avoiding any of its real tensions. At core, Not Fade Away is a simple coming-of-age story. Douglas (John Magaro) is a skinny white kid in suburban New Jersey who, more than anything else, wants to play music. He’s a drummer with an excellent singing voice, and soon he finds himself in a band. They play covers of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at local parties and dances but dream bigger. As he gets older, the band goes through the typical trials and tribulations: fights over love, fights over integrity, the loss of members, and on and on. And, of course, he is simultaneously […]

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Editor’s note: Hyde Park on Hudson cruises into theaters this week, so please get handsy with our New York Film Festival review of the film, originally published on September 30, 2012. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is considered to be one of our greatest presidents — a strong, charismatic leader during World War II, beloved by his nation. Roger Mitchell’s Hyde Park on Hudson reveals FDR to be all those things… and also quite the Don Juan. The film tries to reveal FDR “the man,” a history-making president who can also seduce the ladies, befriend shy kings, and possess a mean stamp collection. While Hyde Park on Hudson is consistently entertaining, its tendencies to meander in tone and to veer too far into the ridiculous prevent it from succeeding as a whole. One fortuitous day, FDR (Bill Murray) requests that his fifth cousin Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney) visit him at his country home in Hyde Park, New York. Naturally, Daisy obliges, and shortly after being dazzled by FDR’s stamp collection she becomes a fixture at his country home. Their visits turn into full days of merriment and long aimless drives on country roads. When FDR stops the car in the middle of a field of purple wildflowers one afternoon, however, there is only one direction their relationship can go in (not to reveal too much, but watching Bill Murray as FDR receive pleasure in a car is mildly disturbing and somewhat hilarious). Eventually, though, Daisy comes to realize that besides the First […]

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This year’s New York Film Festival ended on Sunday night with the world premiere of Robert Zemeckis‘s Flight, a big Hollywood movie that many saw as too mainstream a selection for the event. But it’s apparently decent enough to currently have a very high rating on Rotten Tomatoes — our own Jack Giroux gave it a “B” in his review from the fest — so it’s not like they closed things out with Alex Cross. Other big movies that some didn’t see as fitting were opening night film Life of Pi (review)and the “secretly” screened debut of Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln (review). However, for the most part the 2012 programming was the typical New York cinephile’s dream smorgasbord of highbrow indies and foreign films. And these seemed to mainly meet the approval of our two primary critics covering them, Daniel Walber and Caitlin Hughes (both of whom are new additions to the FSR team and did an excellent job). And all together, our 22 reviews of NYFF features averaged mainly in the range of “B” to “B+” grades. And the only thing to get less than a “C” was Brian De Palma‘s Passion, to which Caitlin gave a “D.” We weren’t only interested in new works, either. Caitlin had some fun with the anniversary screening of The Princess Bride, while Daniel had requested that one of his picks of the fest be an older film: “If I can say the new (Dolce and Gabbana funded) restoration of Satyricon that made its […]

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For anyone who has been clamoring for Robert Zemeckis‘s return to live-action, Flight should appease those fans of the director who haven’t embraced his recent motion-capture adventures. This isn’t exactly a triumphant comeback, but with Flight he mostly knows what buttons to push in order to please. It’s a true testament to Denzel Washington‘s performance that the blunt drama doesn’t fall on its face. Washington has major obstacles to overcome in making the character of Whip Whitaker as empathetic as he is. From frame one, Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins unflatteringly show us who this guy is: a bad father, an alcoholic, a coke addict. There is nothing to admire about him, not even his surface level charms, which are best showcased in scenes between Washington and John Goodman.

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Alzheimer’s is one of the most tragic diseases for a creative person. While physically painless, the dementia and memory loss are dreadful impairments that no mind should have to bear, and that seems to be especially the case for celebrated artistic minds like that of Edwin Honig. The late poet and critic is the subject of a new documentary by Alan Berliner, the renowned maker of deeply personal experimental nonfiction films. Previous works of his include An Intimate Stranger, which focuses on his maternal grandfather, and Nobody’s Business, which is about his father. His relationship to Honig is directly spelled out in the new doc’s title, First Cousin Once Removed. In addition to that familial bond, though, Berliner considers his mother’s cousin to be his mentor and friend; Honig’s estranged adopted kids meanwhile imply that the filmmaker was treated more like a son than they each were. Making the subject matter even more subjectively relevant is the fact that Berliner’s father and paternal grandfather both suffered from dementia. So, surely this film is as much to do with the director facing his own fear that he too will one day lose cognition. It’s also his second go at the subject, as First Cousin Once Removed is an expansion of his 2010 short, Translating Edwin Honig: A Poet’s Alzheimer’s.

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When fighting their various political fights, young people oftentimes lose sight of why exactly they are fighting in the first place, getting swept up in the intrigue of dodging the police or suddenly having a tangible purpose in life. Olivier Assayas’s Something in the Air follows a group of these idealistic young people, who think that revolution is in their grasp… until disillusionment sets in. The film chronicles the lives of high schooler Gilles (Clément Métayer) and his friends’ involvement in this all-consuming revolutionary fight against the establishment in early 1970s France, in the aftermath of the General Strike and student uprising of May 1968. Assayas’s film is interesting and adeptly captures the misguided, yet well-meaning political fervor of this specific youth culture, but it sometimes falls flat in terms of delving deeper into characters and getting to the root of their passion for their various causes.

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Police burst into a beautiful Parisian apartment to discover a semi-decomposed elderly woman’s body, arranged painstakingly on her bed, surrounded by flowers. There is duck tape around her bedroom door, preventing the smell from coming into the rest of the apartment. Cut to the woman – alive – coming back home with her husband from a concert. How did this become her heartbreaking end? In Michael Haneke’s beautifully unflinching Palme d’Or winner Amour, he circles back to this opening scene as he tells the story of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and how Anne’s debilitating illness tests the parameters of their love for each other. Amour is a great feat in filmmaking, as its near-perfect direction and performances go to emotive depths very rarely achieved onscreen. Anne and George are vibrant, retired music teachers somewhat estranged from their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who lives in England with her philandering husband. One morning, Anne prepares Georges a boiled egg for breakfast. She serves it to him, sits at the table, and then suddenly goes blank. She is completely unresponsive to her pleading husband, but as he rushes into his bedroom to start getting help, he hears the running water turn off. When he returns to the kitchen, Anne is just like her normal self and has no recollection of the episode. All seems fine until minutes later when Anne can no longer pour a cup of tea.

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The shorts programs at the New York Film Festival are not technically curated according to any specific theme. Yet rarely does a festival put together events like this without a trend or two sneaking in, unconsciously or otherwise. There are twelve short films. Six of them are quiet, melancholy sketches of loneliness. I’m not going to psychoanalyze the programmers, of course, which would be silly. I will, however, tell you why some of these little films rank among the most beautifully articulate representations of human emotion I’ve seen this year. On the surface, this is a wildly different bunch. Curfew is about a suicidal twenty-something in New York, while Saint Pierre follows a Québécois dishwasher living in English Canada. Night Shift looks at the troubled life of a cleaning woman at an airport in New Zealand, while on the opposite side of the world Nothing Can Touch Me examines the fallout of a high school shooting in Denmark. All four of these films grant us a brief glimpse into the solitary lives of their protagonists, whose troubles seem so close in kind despite the great physical and cultural differences between them.

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Commemorating the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman (also the author of the source novel) and stars Robin Wright (“Buttercup”), Wallace Shawn (“Vizzini”), Chris Sarandon (“Prince Humperdink”), Mandy Patinkin (“Inigo Montoya”), Carol Kane (“Valerie”), Cary Elwes (“Westley”), and Billy Crystal (“Miracle Max”) all gathered at NYC’s Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday as part of a New York Film Festival special event screening. This marked the first time in almost 26 years that they have watched the film with an audience, re-experiencing the saga of Buttercup and her Westley (and all swordsmanship and kissing involved). Throughout the film, which sold out the 1,086-seat Lincoln Center venue, attendees of all different ages loudly applauded and hooted for their favorite lines and for the first appearances of their favorite characters. They were worked up into a fervor, more closely resembling a ribald grindhouse crowd than one at a typical NYFF screening. This large-scale showing injected new life into The Princess Bride, and it is especially great that the audience was so responsive, given that the cast sat through the film and were able to witness the extreme appreciation of their work firsthand.

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