Hello NEON Fans,
Thanks for checking in again…it’s been another busy day. I attended a little queer party for TIFF attendees last night, so it was a bit of a struggle to get up this morning. But I made it to my first screening – FIRST MAN, directed by Damien Chazelle. Almost every year, I go ahead and see one big film that is too big (too Hollywood) to make it to THE NEON. This year, I chose Chazelle’s follow-up to LA LA LAND (which is still THE NEON’s highest grossing film). “The Academy Award–winning team of director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reunites for this biopic on the adventures and life of Neil Armstrong, from his entry into NASA’s astronaut program in 1961 to his epoch-making walk on the moon eight years later.” This film is beautifully done and best seen via IMAX (ALERT: If you don’t want a fun aspect of the film ruined, don’t read this parenthetical. SPOILER: The film plays with aspect ratio that can only be accomplished to full effect on an IMAX screen…this happens upon landing on the moon – and it’s magical.) The film feels more indie than Hollywood in its use of close-ups and medium shots and its overall quiet approach to its lead character. It will certainly be a big player in this year’s Award Season.
GIANT LITTLE ONES, a Canadian feature directed by Keith Behrman, was my next film of the day. “In the latest from Canadian director Keith Behrman, Kyle MacLachlan and Maria Bello star as divorced parents whose teenage son (Josh Wiggins) faces seismic personal upheaval after an unexpected incident at a party.” This touching (and scary and frustrating and exhilarating) coming-of-age story is truly intended for a teenage audience. Though not without storytelling flaws (including some major tonal shifts), it’s a good film. That said, I couldn’t help but think “Who is the intended audience for this film?” during the entire screening. It wouldn’t work for a theatrical release…thus I think it will mostly find a home on the festival circuit and as a popular streaming film.
VITA & VIRGINIA, directed by Chanya Button, was my next film. Here’s the brief TIFF synopsis: “Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki shine as socialite and author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf, respectively, in director Chanya Button’s sumptuous double portrait of two uncompromising women and the unconventional affair behind one of Woolf’s greatest novels.” This film has a lot of merits…but it ultimately turned me off. There is a lot of attention to period detail, but the contemporary score pulled me out of the movie at every turn. It’s not like a stylized use of contemporary music (ala MARIE ANTOINETTE), it’s almost a dance club beat that interrupts the drama. (There are also a couple moments of strange, fanciful special effects that didn’t work for me…is this a trend – period films with overdone special effects? They didn’t work in TELL IT TO THE BEES for me either.) The best thing about this film for me is that it makes me want to pick up and re-read my copy of ORLANDO when I get home. (there’s no trailer for this film – just the clip below)
Up next was PAPI CHULO, directed by John Butler (Butler directed HANDSOME DEVIL, the awesome little film we screened last summer for our special PRIDE selection). “A solitary and alienated television weatherman ‘hires’ a middle-aged Latino migrant worker to be his friend, in this darkly comedic reflection on class, ethnicity, and companionship in contemporary Los Angeles.” This modest little film is funny/sad and really kind of charming…but takes a darker, sadder, scarier and then pathetic turn in act 3. Matt Bomer lets loose in this performance, and Alejandro Patiño is hysterically dry. It’s a sweet little matinee film, but I don’t see much of a life for it theatrically. (there’s no trailer for this film – just the clip below)
My final film for the day was EVERYBODY KNOWS, directed by 2-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi…but this time he’s moved landscapes from the Middle East to Spain. “Academy Award winner Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Salesman) directs Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in this layered, psychological drama about a family wedding interrupted by a shocking crime and some long-buried secrets.” The performances in this film are spectacular, and I could have watched scenes from the wedding for hours – so jovial, so vibrant, so steeped in tradition. Penelope is radiant in the opening scenes of this film (think VOLVER or BROKEN EMBRACES). There’s so much to like. It’s naturalistic, something terrible happens and the stakes are high…but it never seems phony. Ultimately, I really liked this film – but it lacks the wallop of other Farhadi films. I wanted more…but I’d also want to trim it down a bit.
I’m now at 31 films in 7 days, and I still have 2.3 days left. I’m trending for a personal best.
Thanks for stopping by.