The Letter

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! I’m at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Damsels In Distress A newcomer at Seven Oaks College is guided through her year by a trio of erudite girls determined show her the light of socializing, reason and dating beneath her station. It’s to defend your love Greta Gerwig when she seems to end up in fairly shitty movies more often than not, but the odds favored her starring in a true winner eventually. That time has come thanks to Whit Stillman’s smart, funny and somewhat satirical look at modern day college life. Gerwig plays the trio’s leader and the one who most believes their own brand of bull, and it’s a joy to watch her play with such loose and casually humorous dialogue. Adam Brody has a small role, but it’s enough to remind us all that he should be headlining more comedies. Also available on DVD. Check out Kate Erbland’s full review. [Extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes]

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The Letter Trailer

Ever think that Winona Ryder always looks like she’s creeped out about something? Ever think that James Franco always looks kind of creepy? Then The Letter is the movie for you. Because, from the looks of its new trailer, it seems like that’s pretty much the only thing the movie is about. Sure, there’s some talk about bad dreams, and some talk about poisoning people, but what’s definitely clear is that Ryder spends 90% of the movie either looking creeped out or screaming, and Franco spends 100% of the movie staring at people like a total weirdo (or doing unseen things to their nether regions while staring like a total weirdo). Given the vague nature of the advertising, I guess we need to turn to Lionsgate’s official synopsis  for the film to discern what it’s really about. According to their blurb, “Martine Jamison (Winona Ryder) is a NY theatre director beginning rehearsals for a new play starring her boyfriend Raymond (Josh Hamilton) opposite a young beauty. They are joined by an unknown newcomer, Tyrone (James Franco), who develops a peculiar fascination with Martine and is openly hostile to all others. As rehearsals continue, Martine has periods of disorientation that quickly deteriorate into vivid hallucinations as she becomes convinced someone is trying to poison her. As Martine’s mental state devolves she begins to rewrite her play… and art and life become inseparable.”

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Wouldn’t you bloody well know it. Before the festival was tarnished by the Von Trier/Nazi scandal, all anyone seemed interested in talking about was the way Terrence Malick‘s latest had split the audiences in attendance almost straight down the middle. Not only that, The Tree of Life also inspired a rejuvenated debate over the nature of film, and the sometimes opposing ideals of entertainment and art. I ended my review stating that your reception of the film would depend entirely on what you valued more in your film-making experience, and it seems we now know that the Jury values the art of something over its entertainment value. Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the film was already chosen before even the first minutes of footage rolled. Held up to the light, The Tree of Life looks exactly like a Cannes film, something eccentric enough, with grand enough aspirations and some sort of importance that extends beyond what we can actually see. And that troubles me somewhat: should a film win because it fits the artistic manifesto of the festival, or should it win on quality? Robert DeNiro‘s comment after the decision answers precisely that: It seemed to have the size, the importance, the tension to fit the prize. Not, “it was fantastic,” not “it moved me,” but it fit the bill.

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