It is irritating to see a filmmaker get close to putting something great out there, but still be ultimately undone by script issues. Split has the makings of a very clever and tense psychological thriller. A terrific turn from star James McAvoy certainly deserves plenty of praise. Still, for every new layer and reveal, there is a feeling suggesting how another look at this screenplay could have helped to better workout some of the old-fashioned ideas and configure a better resolve for the characters. Split does well to work in the moment as tense fun, but misses out on nailing what it promises in a better sense.
Archive for the 'AFI Fest 2016' Category
It would be interesting to account for the number of big moments found in all of Jim Jarmusch’s films. Paterson is the 12th feature film from the acclaimed indie director and it continues to show Jarmusch’s focus on existential drama, with an absence of much in the way of impactful moments. Give or take some gunfights found in Dead Man or Ghost Dog, the director’s style has always evoked a sense of minimalism. Featuring lead characters and their contemplative sense of self, surrounded by others who are more high energy and loaded with various idiosyncrasies, Paterson finds a way to balance a sense of repetitiveness with what kind of profound discovers can be made from jotting down poetry concerning what life has to offer. The film is slow, long and uneventful. I loved it.
The Salesman is another signifier of the kind of quality to expect from Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi. Sure, many of his films are bound to draw comparison to his acclaimed 2011 masterwork, the Oscar-winning A Separation, but having seen several of Farhadi’s films at this point, it is clear the man knows his way around gripping drama. Working to underplay his skill as a director, his films are not so much about clever cinematic construction (although there’s an argument to make there), as they are a careful examination of pure human response to what regular life brings upon people. Sometimes it can be unfair, sometimes different, but Farhadi’s The Salesman is just another look at what can come from circumstance.
Miss Sloane is the kind of film that can be championed, but called into question at the same time. On the whole, the film is a well-acted political drama that leans heavy on some pulp qualities. The film does away with overt statements arguing for specific causes, with the exception of calling out accountability and making a case for women in positions of power, who can be just as cold and calculating as men. That is still the kind of film that is not seen all that much and Miss Sloane does what it can to make its case, while providing some entertaining twists and turns along the way. I only wish the film was as smart as it thinks it is.
It takes a lot to make a dramatic feature, based on a true story, into something that hits in the right ways. Because a drama can have the intent to strike at certain chords to ideally generate emotions, there is often a level of manipulation to consider. Lion concerns the story of a lost Indian boy, who loses his family, gains another and then searches to find what he has lost. That is the sketch of a tale that will likely draw up various emotions, but the key is to earn it. The film’s success largely revolves around how it carefully navigates this story’s big moments that go from a more visceral adventure to a cerebral study of loss. It pays off big, as the film is quite the effective drama.
Looking at the documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai, I am reminded of Gimme Danger, the Jim Jarmusch documentary about Iggy & The Stooges, which I didn’t get around to reviewing. That film and this one, which details the life legendary actor Toshiro Mifune, have little to offer outside of an engaging, cinematic version of Wikipedia research, but there is plenty to enjoy. For Mifune, there is a bonus that comes in the form of hearing Spielberg and Scorsese share their insight, in addition to many others. Various clips and archival footage make a good case for why the actor deserves all his acclaim as well, regardless of whether this doc has any other impact outside its key subject.
It is pretty fitting to see this year’s AFI Fest kick off with a film that tells the story of maverick filmmaker and business tycoon Howard Hughes. Produced, written and directed by Warren Beatty, nearly twenty years after his last directorial effort, Bulworth, the film serves as a semi-fictional biopic, a screwball comedy and a drama all rolled into one. Coming from an idea Beatty started developing 40 years ago, the film is a clear passion project and despite all the various issues involving tone and narrative construction, I dug it. Beatty and his four editors have assembled a messy film out of what is likely a ton of footage, but it was never uninteresting, features some terrific performances and even buries some interesting themes amidst all the Hughes-focused chaos.