Film Festivals

Dallas Buyers Club

Editor’s note: Our review of Dallas Buyers Club originally ran during this year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film expands into more theaters. Matthew McConaughey’s quest to establish himself as one of the finest, most committed actors of his generation (post-Fool’s Gold, of course) continues apace in Jean-Marc Vallee’s fact-based Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a Texas good old boy with a taste for women, rodeo, good times, and intravenous drugs. When Ron’s hard-partying lifestyle results in a very unexpected HIV positive diagnosis, his life changes completely (and in some very surprising ways, as predictable as that may sound). Set in the eighties, in a time when public misconceptions and misunderstandings about AIDS, HIV, and victims ran rampant, Dallas Buyers Club is tasked with turning Woodroof, an initially unlikable and unlikely hero, into a gutsy and brave protagonist. McConaughey doesn’t balk at playing up Ron’s least appealing features – a womanizer, a drug addict, and an opinionated asshole to the fullest extent, Ron’s diagnosis comes with a sense of inevitability. He’s been reckless with his life and body, and he’s paying for it in the most final way possible. Initially given thirty days to live, Ron’s hardened stubbornness and profound spite for the entire situation seemingly keeps him alive, especially after his illegally procured meds dry up.

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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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doc-nyc_592x299

It should come as little surprise that Gotham’s own DOC NYC – the largest documentary film festival in the country – has knocked out a very impressive lineup for this year’s fest, but that doesn’t make the breadth and depth of available offerings any less exciting. Only in its fourth year, the fest has already scheduled over one hundred films for screening, along with twenty different events. These are specs that would sing at any festival, but they really shout when it comes to a fest entirely devoted to documentary storytelling. As DOC NYC’s artistic director Thom Powers explains it, this year’s “films range from profound and mysterious to humorous and sexually provocative. Not only can you experience unforgettable stories on the big screen, you can also meet many of the makers, participants and other documentary lovers.” Sexually provocative, you say? Sign us up, Thom. Of course, there’s far more available at DOC NYC than the sexually provocative, because there’s actually something for just about everyone – from awards season watchers to art geeks to Noam Chomsky fans, the festival promises to deliver programming for the masses. (And, unlike the adorable Forever Fest, we definitely plan on making time for this one.) What’s DOC NYC got lined up for you? Let’s find out.

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review peaches does herself

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as part of our coverage of SFIFF, and we repost it now as the film opens today at the Quad Cinemas with a national rollout to follow. It seems like the appetite for widely-loved trans/glam/camp musical/rock operas can take a new one about once every two decades. Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in the late ‘70s, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the end of the 90s (even if it wasn’t made into a film until 2001). With Peaches Does Herself, electroclash musician and performance artist Peaches is gunning for an early next spot. The career retrospective/genesis story of the “electro-artist persona Peaches,” Peaches Does Herself is told with the help of trans porn star Danni Daniels, veteran stripper Sandy Kane, and the Fatherfucker dance troupe. It’s a high-energy, transgressive, genial revue with barely a word of dialogue. As the title’s double-entendre suggests, it does risk being a little too self-regarding, solipsistic, or — excuse me — masturbatory to transcend its subject and resonate with a new generation of genderqueer kids looking for a new musical soundtrack to sing along to. But who knows? Peaches and company create an appealing vision of a world where people ardently give zero fucks about gender in order to sing, dance, and dry-hump with abandon, which might be just what it takes to join the trans/glam musical/rock opera pantheon.

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12 Years a Slave

Editor’s note: Our review of 12 Years a Slave originally ran during this year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens today in theatrical release. In certain circles, the excellence of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has just been assumed for months now – after all, how could a film that features such a talented cast, a gifted director, and a dramatically ripe true life tale not be a masterpiece? It’s a dangerous business, the kind of prognostication and hype that can exist before even one frame of a film is shot, but McQueen’s latest is the rare bird that lives up to its hype (and then some).

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The Fifth Estate

Editor’s note: Our review of The Fifth Estate originally ran during this year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens today in theatrical release. If nothing else, Bill Condon’s tone-deaf and inept The Fifth Estate will make plain the impact that the controversial Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks have had on modern journalism, the Internet, and whistle-blowing in general. Unfortunately, little of the depth and power of Assange’s work is conveyed via adept filmmaking, instead the facts have to speak for themselves, and it’s to their credit alone that they manage to emerge from the mess Condon’s film has made of a compelling story. Thank goodness Benedict Cumberbatch is there to make an otherwise shockingly uninspired biopic even remotely interesting.

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Forever Fest

Most of the time, cinephiles and pop culture junkies who can’t make it down to Austin, Texas for a super-cool event taking place in that fine city bemoan their inability to make it SXSW (music! film! bad hats!) in March or Fantastic Fest (a steady diet of movie food! blood!)  in September. But when it comes to festivals I’m personally heartbroken to be missing, it’s all about next month’s inaugural Forever Fest. Created by Brandy Fons (PR whiz) and Sarah Pitre (lead programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse), Forever Fest “is a celebration of girlie pop culture, a weekend for fans of female-centric films, books and television to come together and enjoy their obsessions without shame.” It’s basically the dream festival for ladies (and dudes, too!) who still feel a connection to the cheeseball movies of the nineties, freely dive into the rich YA culture of today, and aren’t so shabby at karaoke no matter what sort of jams they are belting out. Forever Fest is the type of festival that a lot of people probably fantasize about conducting via sleepover in their own home, without ever thinking that it could actually be launched at a movie theater over an entire weekend. But it can! And it is! Forever Fest will kick off on November 1st, and it will utterly consume the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin for the next three whole days. Pack your coziest pajamas, kids. After the break, take a looksie at the seven Forever Fest events we’re […]

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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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Parkland

Editor’s note: Kate’s review of Parkland originally ran during this year’s TIFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited release. Eventually someone will attend a showing of Peter Landesman’s Parkland and need to be reminded that President John F. Kennedy went to Dallas, Texas in November of 1963, only to be gunned down during a motorcade through streets lined with well-wishers, but the film’s pre-opening credits text that convey that information is an eye-rolling start to a generally inoffensive film. Centered on the moments just before JFK’s assassination until the day the beloved president was buried (the same day, incidentally, his murderer was also laid to rest), Landesman’s film attempts to convey the emotional and historical impact of the death through the stories and perspectives of various people involved in his final hours. A large cast (including such draws as Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, and Marcia Gay Harden, in addition to many, many more) gamely take on interesting if not entirely invigorating material and the result is something entirely unfulfilling, though well-intentioned.

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gravity

“Life in space is impossible.” Before we even hear a word from Alfonso Cuaron’s staggering Gravity, a thin line of text already tells us everything that’s going to happen within its slim, unrelenting ninety-minute runtime. Life in space is impossible. But is survival possible? It’s a normal day for the Explorer team, one that sees Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) working on his space walk time (he’s eager to break a previously-established record by another astronaut) while Shariff (Paul Sharma) tinkers outside the station and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) attempts to repair some malfunctioning equipment so they can finish the upgrade they are tasked with completing. Things are relatively peaceful, the only hitch in an otherwise unremarkable excursion being Dr. Stone’s jumping stomach and her frustration at getting her work done – until the formerly relaxed Houston team suddenly demands an emergency evacuation. Not just for the three space walkers to go inside the station, but for them to get the hell out of their general location. A Russian satellite has exploded and its debris (moving around Earth at a pace faster than a speeding bullet) has begun knocking off other satellites, setting off a chain reaction of zinging space shrapnel that won’t just bust open a spacesuit, but an entire space station. The evacuation doesn’t happen.

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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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Prisoners 2013

If you’ve seen a recent trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners and bemoaned that it seemed to give the entire plot away – a pair of girls are kidnapped on Thanksgiving, and their terrifically angry and upset dads (played by Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard) capture and imprison man they think is responsible (Paul Dano, mewling it up), intent on beating him until he breaks – that’s a good thing, because the final product is trip into darkness that makes even extreme vigilantism the least shocking element of its twisted story. A thriller that doesn’t so much come with twists as puzzle pieces that cleverly slide into place across the course of its (incredibly engaging) 146-minute runtime, Prisoners is filled with a near-constant sense of tension and dread. Even the most seemingly benign scenes posses a low level of fear, and the final hour is heavy enough to leave audiences shaking (and shaken). The basic plot of Prisoners is indeed the one laid bare in its trailers – two sets of families, celebrating Thanksgiving together, discover that their young daughters have gone missing during the afternoon. Panic sets in quickly, and our various parents (Jackman and Maria Bello as one set, Howard and Viola Davis as another) swiftly assume the roles they will play during the duration of the film. Jake Gyllenhaal joins their fold as Detective Loki, a mysterious local cop who has never left a case unsolved, and one who certainly seems to have walked into a piece of […]

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Enemy

Yes, film festivals are wonderful to attend (and this month’s just-concluded Toronto International Film Festival is one of the most wonderful I’ve ever personally covered), but for those cinephiles who can’t get to Toronto or Park City or Cannes or Venice, it’s the ultimate question – which of these films will I actually get to see? TIFF is, of course a bit different than the vast majority of other festivals out there, simply because its biggest titles arrive with not only a large studio or production company footing the bill, but with set release dates we’ve known about months in advance. For a lot of the largest films at TIFF, the festival is simply a good place to have a premiere, get some buzz, and prep for the upcoming awards season – getting bought and distributed has already been taken care of. It’s no surprise that we’ll get to see films like Rush, August: Osage County, The Fifth Estate, Prisoners, and many more sooner rather than later (seriously, Rush comes out this week), but what about all those films that screened at TIFF with the intent to get bought? Plenty of them did get snapped up, and hopefully that means they’ll be hitting a theater near you soon enough. Take a look:

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Tim

If the plotline of Teller’s (yes, of Penn and Teller fame and, yes, he legally changed his name to just “Teller” years ago) documentary, Tim’s Vermeer, sounds unbelievably dry and not jammed with anything resembling mainstream appeal, well, that’s a fair assumption – but it’s also incorrect. The film centers on a longtime pal of Teller’s comedy partner, Penn Jillette (who frequently appears in the film), technology executive Tim Jenison, whose slightly obsessive and curious nature has long been obsessed with the works of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. An old world master who “painted with light” (and, no, not in the Thomas Kinkade way), Vermeer’s work has enthralled art fans for centuries, thanks to its unmistakable photorealism and a skill set that apparently set him apart from his contemporaries. While not a star during his lifetime, Vermeer is now considered one of the finest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. And Tim, who has never picked up a paintbrush in his life, wants to paint a work in Vermeer’s style. Wait, no, not just in his style, but a painting that so deftly mirrors Vermeer’s work that it could actually be mistaken for a true Vermeer.

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TIFF

As this year’s Toronto International Film Festival enters its final weekend (and now that Team FSR is already back on American soil and craving whole buckets of poutine), it’s time to reflect on the year that was at TIFF 2013. The prestige of the festival, paired with its proximity to Hollywood’s favorite four-month holiday (awards season, that is) have long meant that big gun films come out to show at TIFF (and a number of them often go on to have very strong showings Oscar showings). But this is still a film festival and this year’s TIFF still held plenty of surprises that snuck in between the flashiest of titles that everyone already knew they would clamor to see. After all, who would suspect that the most interesting documentary of the entire festival would center on a pal of Penn Jillette who is obsessed with the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer? Or that we’d still be thinking about a haircut choice from one of the first films to bow at the festival? Or that we’d feel the need to include a Best Of category for “Screaming Family Dinner Sequence”? Behold, the Best Of TIFF 2013!

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Tracks

Robyn Davidson tells it plain – “I just want to be by myself” – but the budding nomad’s idea of solitary experience is an extreme one. Based on the true-life tale of Australian native Davidson, Tracks stars Mia Wasikowska as Davidson, who embarked on an extraordinary journey in 1977 that took her from Alice Springs (in the center of the continent) west to the Indian Ocean. On foot. It is a two thousand mile journey that, at best, can take six months. For someone who wants to be alone, it’s a hell of a way to do it. Robyn doesn’t do so well with people – at one point, she and her beloved dog Diggity literally hide behind her squatted home in an attempt to avoid contact with a pack of Robyn’s friends that she actually seems to like – so it’s not surprising that even though her trip across the desert is done with express purpose of being alone, Robyn eventually discovers that her desire to be solitary isn’t the safest thing for her (or, honestly, anyone).

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August Osage County

The dysfunctional family drama can pack it in now, because the genre has reached its zenith with John Wells’ spectacularly entertaining and unsettling August: Osage County. Adapted for the screen from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, Tracy Letts has effectively moved the traumas of the supremely effed up Weston family to the big screen, ensuring that droves of film-goers will be able to reason, well, at least I’m not part of that group just in time for an awards season the film will surely clean up during. Starring a tremendously talented cast, the film hinges on Meryl Streep as maddening matriarch Violet Weston and her control freak daughter Barbara (played by Julia Roberts in one of her finest performances), and the two do not disappoint in the slightest. Despite heavy subject matter (suicide, incest, drug abuse, alcoholism, infidelity, oh my!), the film still includes plenty of humor to keep it humming right along, fully engaging its audience all the way. Set in – well, you know this – a steamy week or so in August in Oklahoma’s Osage County, the film opens with Weston family patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard) conducting an interview of the family’s new cook and aide Johnna (Misty Upham). Before the pair can finish the briefing of duties, the volatile Violet comes to after another night of pill-popping, only to stumble down into Beverly’s booze-filled office to offer color commentary and first class slurring. She’s a wreck, through and through, and it’s no […]

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