As Press, we are not allowed to write a full review of any of the films or documentaries until they are released. We can only write capsule reviews, so I shall write capsule reviews of the 10 films I’ve seen so far. I was unable to take part in viewing any films yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 21) as I was on a panel in Highland Park regarding writing children’s books. My Toyota GPS took me right past the front of Wrigley Field both going and coming, just as the Cubs were being trounced by the Mets, so, as you can imagine, getting there and back was a lengthy ordeal.
Here are the films in the order in which I saw them, with a capsule review or comment (full reviews later and some Q&A material to follow):
“I Smile Back”
This small budget film features Sarah Silverman proving she has serious acting chops. She portrays Laney, an attractive, intelligent suburban wife and mother of two adorable children who suffers from depression and turns to destructive coping mechanisms. The film electrified this year’s Sundance Film Festival crowds with its unblinking plunge into the nature of addiction and the roots of self-loathing. The routinely excellent cast includes Josh Charles (“The Good Wife,” “Masters & Johnson”) portraying her long-suffering husband, veteran actor Christopher Sarandon as her father, and television’s Thomas Sadoski as Donnie (“Life in Pieces,” “The Newsroom”). Directed by Adam Salky, the film was shot for $100,000 in just 20 days.
“Embers” – Director Claire Carre’s film depicts a world where a neurological epidemic leaves survivors with no long-term memory. (Think a world where everyone has Alzheimer’s disease.) One young woman, quarantined by her father, craves freedom. Two lovers struggle to remember their connection. Described as being “like Memento en masse” this was one of the slowest-moving films of those I screened.
“James White” – Directed by Josh Mond, the best thing about “James White” is the acting by Christopher Abbott (“Girls”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City) as a mother dying of cancer. A raw, affecting film that nearly everyone who has ever lost a loved one will be able to relate to, it is as depressing as it sounds. Abbott has the intensity of a young Pacino and Josh Mond has done a great job of translating to the screen some of the emotions he experienced with the passing of his own mother. (“The movie feels like I’m opening up my diary all the time to strangers.”) Q&A from the director and star of the film to follow.
“They Look Like People” – by Director Perry Blackshear. The write-up made the film sound like a modern take on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which is not totally incorrect. However, the film turned out to be less a horror movie and more a disturbing look at a young man on the edge of paranoid schizophrenia. The Q&A following this film featuring Wyatt Goodwin as the lead proved that a talented filmmaker can work nearly alone and produce a film in one month on a shoestring budget. (I can honestly say that, having reviewed film since 1970—45 years, if you’re counting— this is the first time the lead in a movie I am about to attend came down the line of patrons beforehand handing out buttons promoting the film.)
“Howard Shore” – See previous article on the Tribute to Howard Shore and check for it on Saturday, up on ReadersEntertainment.com.
“The Abandoned” – From Director Eytan Rockaway comes this psychological horror film starring Jason Patric. In a vacant luxury complex, a young woman takes a job as one of two security guards covering the night shift (the complex is actually several New York courthouses). As she patrols the vast hallways, increasingly sinister phenomena threaten her, seemingly born from the building’s catacombs. A claustrophobic, bone-chilling thriller that features sound from the soundman honored for “Gravity.” A confusing ending, but a great beginning and middle.
“Looking for Grace” – This Australian film from Director/Writer Sue Brooks featured an almost all female group behind making it and the acting of Richard Roxburgh, who cleaned up at the 1st Annual Australian Oscars a few years back. Roxburgh played the lead in the television series “Rake” (which was later made into a tepid, short-lived American version starring Greg Kinnear). The amazing thing about the film is its ability to mix humor with pathos in the story of a rebellious teenager who leaves home by bus without permission to attend a concert several days away. It’s a look at rural Australia (shot in western Australia) and contains not only the story of Grace, the runaway off to see the rock group “Death Dog” with her friend Sapphire (and a pocketed $13,000 from the family’s safe), but also a story of everyday life and how everything can change in an instant. Recommended.
“Brooklyn” – This Ireland/UK film from Director John Crowley tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones”), a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn who must decide whether to stay in America with her Italian boyfriend or return home to her widowed mother and a romance that develops unexpectedly when she must attend her sister Rose’s funeral. Beautiful cinematography and a well-told tale, but IMHO, they either needed to tell Miss Ronan to take off her high heels or they needed to find a taller male lead. The scenes in Central Park where she is to lay her head on her date’s shoulder are about as awkward as can be, since she is taller than he is, and must practically become a pretzel to pull the scene off at all. Develops slowly, but was enjoyable.
“Motley’s Law” – A documentary from Danish filmmaker Nicole Horanyi, this was the World Premiere of the film and both lead and director were present, so I will be getting some Q&A remarks posted later. A captivating documentary about a former Mrs. Wisconsin, Kimberley Motley, who is the only American allowed to practice law in Afghanistan. Motley defends US and European citizens detained in a corrupt system and finds herself targeted as a foreigner. (A grenade is thrown through her apartment window). Meanwhile, Claude, her husband, back home watching their 3 children, goes to Milwaukee for a class reunion and is shot in the face! More to come on this one.
“I Am Michael” – U.S. Director Justin Kelly takes on the true life story of a former gay advocate (Michael Glatze) who goes from outspoken champion of the gay community as a writer and magazine editor to become a conservative Christian pastor and “ex-gay” therapist. (Michelle Bachman’s husband might like this one). Zachary Quinto gives a great performance as James Franco’s gay lover. The film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant.