The Rail’s intrepid movie reporter Galen Williams is known for attending as many as three films a day, acting as the sacrificial lamb who separates out the sleepers from the cinematic lemons for the rest of us. Late this fall, she braved the Ugg Boots and cashmere ponchos cluttering the Hamptons Film Festival to check out what proved to be a surprisingly progressive lineup, including a bevy of documentaries and foreign imports. Many of these films are just now hitting theaters, or will be this spring; what follows is her mini-mosaic of what to look out for, and what to avoid. Film editor Lisa Rosman also contributes her two cents.
The Festival’s opening and closing films were disappointing, no doubt about it.
Though a noble effort at adapting to screen Philip Roth’s fine novel, The Human Stain, director Robert Benton simply miscast Anthony Hopkins as a black classics scholar who has passed for 50 years as a white Jew and the elegant Nicole Kidman as a low-class janitor. It’s in theaters now (and opened the festival), but save yourself the 10 bucks and read the Philip Roth novel instead. Don’t see it. (GW)
The Cooler fares a bit better and merits its nationwide release. Director/writer Wayne Kramer came up with an original idea: A casino owner (Alec Baldwin) hires a down-and-out loser (William H. Macy, as yet another sadsack) to simply stand near gaming tables that are winning too much in order to jinx them. The plot see-saws two too many times, causing the movie to be too long, though it has it’s moments. That said, don’t see it. There are too many better films in theaters right now. (GW and LR)
My Architect is about acclaimed architect Louis Kahn, known for such buildings as the Salk Institute and the Capital building of Bangladesh, as told from the perspective of the filmmaker, Kahn’s illegitimate son. The film’s power stems not only from the massive scale and spiritual force of Khan’s work but also from the pain of Nathaniel, who was only 11 when his father died in 1973, bankrupt and alone in the men’s room of Pennsylvania Station. To better understand his father, Nathaniel set out on a five-year journey in which he immersed himself in Louis’s structures all over the world, interviewing people who knew him along the way. He creates a picture of this complex genius who built uncompromising monuments and led an intricate personal life. (He had three children with three different women who still speak of him with awe and love.) Set for a national release this winter, see it. (GW)
The Morrison Project is another documentary made by a child seeking to understand her brilliant father’s erratic life. Jean Morrison was a hippie intellectual, writer, and philosopher living in poverty with his six children, including filmmaker Amy Morrison, on the Lower East Side in the ’70s. He read voluminously, argued, and barely scraped by, while his heroic wife worked and adored him, despite his chronic unfaithfulness. One Christmas, Jean’s friend walked him home and then beat him in the head with a pipe; Jean was having an affair with the friend’s wife. In his frustration at not being able to recover from brain damage, Jean beat the children while his wife was working. Although the children somehow survived not only him but their neighborhood where they were routinely victimized, they all became drug and alcohol addicts. (They have now gone straight, but for one, who died of an overdose.) Piecing together photos, interviews with friends, families, and Jean himself (who died three weeks before this screening), Amy excavates the story of this man and of her childhood, showing how he mellowed in his later years, and who in his family was able to forgive his earlier transgressions. Make sure to see this one, too. (GW)
The Bison (and his Neighbor Dorine) stars the blonde, dumpy Isabelle Nanty, who is also the French film’s writer and director, as Dorine, a very pregnant concierge. When Dorine and her four children are suddenly abandoned by her no-good husband, she enlists her next door neighbor, bachelor Bison, to help her out. Despite the perilously clichéd-sounding situation, the film is light-hearted, comic, and generous. When and if it makes it here, see it. (GW)
The Swedish film Kopps was described in the program as "a hilarious parody of American cop movies," and though such a description made me skeptical, the film did have the audience rolling in the aisles and wildly applauding at the end. Director-writer Josef Fares’s deadpan comedy is crisply edited, archly acted, and skillfully shot. A small team of cops patrol a quiet Swedish town where there is, in fact, no crime. Police superiors decide to close down the station sending a gorgeous blond police administrator to soften the bad news. The cops hastily explain that they operate by "the American system of pre-crime" but to no avail. Suddenly, the town is riddled with crime, depicted with tongue-in-cheek special effects that send up movies like The Terminator. This Swedish spoof has not yet found distribution, but if it does, see it. (GW)
The Irish film Intermission, starring the likes of Colm Meaney, Colin Farrell, and Kelly Macdonald (who was so great in Gosford Park), is that rarest of things: a successful ensemble movie about love. Funny and moving without being saccharine, the movie’s subject is hardly groundbreaking, but it doesn’t matter. It’s about the acting, stupid. Directed by John Crowley, the first scene is a shocker, so see it when it’s distributed stateside, and don’t be late. (LR)
If released, avoid at all costs the pretentious Mexican film Recuerdos. If it hadn’t been made by a woman, director Marcela Arteaga, I would have walked out of this film in which the testimonies of Jewish refugees to Mexico are made subservient to the banal images (such as an empty chair) of her "arty" cinematography. If I haven’t made it clear enough, don’t see it. (GW)
The Canadian feature Various Positions, by Ori Kowarsky, moved like molasses, confusingly exploring what little tension exists when an Orthodox Jewish law student falls for a gentile "femme fatale." Be warned: don’t see it. (GW)
Written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier and starring young Elisabeth Moss (The West Wing), Robin Wright Penn, and Daphne Rubin-Vega, Virgin concerns an unmarried 17-year-old outcast who’s pregnant due to a date rape though she truly believes she is a virgin carrying the Christ child. Set in the Bible Belt, the movie draws on a veritable encyclopedia of clichéd images—the homeless, crazed woman; the abused black woman; the flock of birds flapping across a wintry sky; magical realism; the Footloose-style town, and the teen-as-martyr. This is just the kind of WB crap that could achieve distribution over many more deserving films (it took home a screenwriting award from the festival). If so, don’t see it. (LR)
Kleine Freiheit (A Little Bit of Freedom) from Germany is a feature filmed like a documentary about two refugees stranded in the red light district of Hamburg where the immigrants cluster. Director/writer Yuksel Yavuz explores the deepening relationship between the two men as they work together to evade undercover cops. Though he shoots in video using the usual tricks (speedups, odd angles, slowdowns), he gives us an urgent sense of the Hamburg underbelly and refuses to compromise his ending. If released, see it. (GW)
Touching Wild Horses from Canada is another feature shot through with faux documentary-style touches. A 10 year old boy whose family has been destroyed in a car crash is sent to live with his crotchety maiden aunt on an island where she has studied wild horses for 20 years. Director Eleanor Lindo may include some gorgeous shots of the horses but she pulls out every emotional stop to ill effect. Although half of the audience who stayed was in tears, my girlfriend, bawling her head off, asked, "You don’t think this is sentimental, do you?" I did. Time much better spent would have been a documentary on real wild horses. Don’t see it. (GW)
Another Swedish import, director Bent Hamer’s able Kitchen Stories carves out the loneliness of single men’s lives with a winking Nordic restraint. Swedish researchers go to Norway in the 1950s to explore country bachelors’ use of their kitchen areas, but more than one find it difficult to maintain professional detachment when faced with Norwegian delicacies and their own hollowness. A feel-good movie that doesn’t make you feel bad, go see it when it comes out this February. (LR)
I can’t tell if Orwell Rolls in His Grave will help or hurt the left’s battle to bring America back on course. A froth-at-the-mouth diatribe that takes on every red button issue of the last 10 years—including September 11th, the 2000 presidential elections, the media as big business, and U.S. actions in Iraq—the delivery may be bombastic and uninspired visually, but it did straighten out my spine—and a lot of others, judging from the fact that it was granted an extra screening and has garnered a fair amount of press (ironically). As long as director/narrator/writer Robert Pappas doesn’t get in his own way (he was the most off person I met at the festival), this movie might remind its audience to wake up and smell the democracy burning. See it and weep. (LR)