ANNUAL NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Reviewed by Frank
Written by Mike Leigh
Starring:: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville,
Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley,
Karina Fernandez, Martin Savage, Michele Austin, Phil
Davis, Stuart McQuarrie, Imelda Staunton
Another Year begins promisingly
enough with a close-up of a very miserable woman, played
effectively by Imelda Staunton, sparingly discussing her
feelings of angst with her counselor (Ruth Sheen). On
a scale from one to ten, her life is a one. It’s
a rough, compelling scene that sets the stage for the
four-seasons that frame the film. We only see Staunton
one more time, which is unfortunate because her character
is quite fascinating.
Luckily, we soon meet Mary, played to
the hilt by Lesley Manville, who is almost assured an
Oscar nomination for astonishingly revealing work. When
Manville is onscreen, the film is riveting. When she isn’t,
her presence is sorely missed.
The film’s focal point is the
(unexplained) happy marriage between Gerri (Sheen) and
Tom (Jim Broadbent, ever wonderful). Yet too much of the
film is focused on the minutiae of their marriage, rarely
giving us any insight into why they work so well together.
In addition we are forced to sit through
the indulgent rantings of their mess of a friend Ken (Peter
Luckily, Mary pops by quite a bit—welcome
or unwelcome--to bitch, moan and complain about her life—yet
she does it in a way that never gets on the viewers nerves—just
the opposite, we feel for her and want things to get better.
But we wish she would stop falling into the same trappings.
I wish writer/director Leigh had allowed us to follow
Mary home for a spell so we could really get to know her.
Still, Manville gives us enough to fill in the many character
blanks left by the script.
Mary enjoys flirting with Gerri and
Tom’s thirty year old son Joe (an efficient Oliver
Maltman), that is until Joe finds Katie (Karin Fernandez)
and Mary’s true jealousies are revealed. Manville
has a ball with her disgusted reactions to the couple’s
In the final season, Winter, we meet
Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley in a lovely
performance), who has just lost his wife. We are also
introduced to Carl (Martin Savage in an all-too-brief,
but explosive turn) and I finally woke to what the movie
should and could have been. In a few electric scenes we
are privy to the worst type of familial dysfunction.
I had hoped that a dynamic character
like Carl would be placed in the same room with Mary,
but, alas, like the Imelda Staunton return, it was not
meant to be. Leigh misses more than a few great opportunities
and, instead, lets the film meander too much.
In the end, I appreciated the way Another
Year dealt with themes of depression, desperation
and mortality, but I only truly cared where Mary was concerned
(and to a lesser degree, Carl).
Mary’s insecurities, slowly dying
vanity and constant need to be coddled…loved, gripped
me. Tom and Gerri left me cold and bored.
Writer/Director Mike Leigh wants
to be the British Ingmar Bergman, but, too often, his
films are not emotionally engaging enough and we are left
with great performances in static films that show great
promise but fail to fully live up to them.
ANNUAL NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Reviewed by Frank
Written by Olivier Assayas,
Dan Franck, based on an original idea by Daniel Leconte.
Starring: Edgar Ramirez, Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstatten,
Christoph Bach, Ahmad Kaabour, Fadi Abi Samra, Rodney
El-Haddad, Julia Hummer, Rami Farah, Zeid Hamdan, Talal
El-Jurdi, Fadi Abi Samra, Aljoscha Stadelmann.
Edgar Ramirez gives a towering performance
in Olivier Assayas’s 319-minute study of the life
of notorious terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known
by his chosen alias: Carlos. It’s certainly the
best performance by an actor I have seen this year so
Is Carlos worthy of your giving up five
and half hours of your time for? It most certainly is.
Olivier Assayas’s cinematic achievement
here is beyond impressive. He has made a sprawling, engrossing
work that rarely lets its grip over the viewer go.
Like Steven Soderbergh’s Che
(which also featured a brilliant star performance) the
film makes certain demands on its viewers. Unlike Soderbergh’s
film, Carlos is able to sustain viewer interest
in his subject and keep things exciting for the duration.
(Che goes completely awry in the second half).
Assayas structures Carlos in
three-parts. The film is being released here by IFC in
its long form and in a shorter two and a half hour cut.
The miniseries aired on European television and will be
shown here on the Sundance Channel. While I did find that
it could have been a bit tighter, I highly recommend the
original, uncut version (not having seen the short version
but having immensely enjoyed the epic nature and sweeping
intelligence of the anti-biopic in its pure form).
Labeled “Carlos the Jackal,”
the man was an enigmatic, leftist revolutionary that the
CIA called “an historical curiosity,” the
KGB called “a mercenary, dangerous, uncontrollable,”
and who boasted, about himself “Weapons are an extension
of my body.”
Assayas bypasses the typical cliché’
analyses of the man giving us very little backstory, but
simply focusing on his life as a terrorist. The insight
into his nature is gleaned from his behavior and from
what Edgar Ramirez gives us—which is plenty.
Everything about the film works--from
its crisp script to it’s perfect 70s/80s look to
the sharp editing.
Part One finds early radical Carlos
excitedly joining the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine where he took part in car bombings, grenade
attacks, an ill-fated attempt to bomb an El Al jetliner
and the Japanese Red Army raid on the French Embassy--among
other political terrorist plots.
Most of Part Two is devoted to the December
1975 raid on the Opec Conference in Vienna, funded mostly
by Saddam Hussein. Here Carlos and his fellow revolutionaries
take 42 multinationals hostages and are flown to Algiers.
This sequence is taut, suspenseful and deliriously chilling.
We learn quite a bit about him when, instead of sacrificing
himself and murdering the hostages, he negotiates with
the Algerians and saves himself. The segment is an extraordinary
triumph, masterfully shot.
The third chapter follows Carlos’
downfall after the end of the Cold War, bouncing from
country to country in search of militant guerilla war
that the world no longer had a necessity for.
In the end the man took himself too
seriously, he was an arrogant revolutionary basking in
the glory of his own notoriety. He treated women like
sexual object to be tossed aside on his whim. And had
little regard for the innocent people he murdered. His
eye was on advancing the movement—whatever that
movement happened to be.
Early in the film, there’s a marvelous
sequence where Carlos stands naked, sexy and proud, admiring
himself in a mirror, and cockily touching himself. Assayas’s
Carlos gets off on himself or the notion of who the world
thinks he is. It’s a brilliant comment on what made
a modern day terrorist tick in the days before religious
zealotry began to rule the terrorist day. Carlos would
never suicide bomb himself; he could never choose death.
Even today, he lives in France, imprisoned for life, but
Based on fact, Assayas calls his
work a fiction since he had to fill in many blanks. In
doing so, he has crafted a powerful hypothetical about
the delusions that come with thinking you are so omnipotent
you can actually change the world.
NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Closing Night Film
To Be Released Nationwide on October 22, 2010
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Written by Peter Morgan
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile de France,
George McLaren, Frankie McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas
Howard, Marthe Keller, Thierry Neuvic, Derek Jacobi, Lyndsey
At the age of 80, Clint Eastwood shows
no signs of slowing down and we should all be mighty grateful.
This past decade alone he has given
us two bona fide cinema classics: Million Dollar Baby
and Letters from Iwo Jima as well as two
that are pretty close to classic: Mystic River
and Flags of Our Fathers. In addition, he has
crafted flawed but fascinating films such as: Invictus,
Changeling, Gran Torino and Space
Now Eastwood takes on the afterlife
in a loving, contemplative yet enveloping meditation on
death and perceptions about the hereafter.
In the visually arresting opening sequence,
a tsunami wreaks havoc on a beach resort and Eastwood
literally takes us into the storm as we follow Marie (an
impressive Cecile de France) getting tossed about under
the forceful waters. The scene is exceptionally shot (by
Tom Stern) and directed with little CGI-obvious moments.
A successful French anchorwoman, Marie’s
near death experience changes her perspective on the hereafter
and she decides to write a book about it, much to the
upset of her producers.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a lonely
psychic (Matt Damon), haunted by his abilities, is trying
his best to deny his “gift” and have some
type of ‘normal life.’
While in London, eleven-year old twins
(George and Frankie McLaren) live with their junkie mother
until the older twin is killed in a freak accident leaving
the grieving boy alone and lost.
These three stories come together, not
in a contrived and obvious manner but in a way that tries
to say something about different aspects of dealing with
thoughts on the afterlife. It also delves into the alienation
a person feels when they aren’t necessarily in tune
with the rest of the world.
Peter Morgan’s screenplay is a
bit sentimental at times, but never feels forced or overly
religious. For the most part, it’s a terse and absorbing
script, sincere in its desire to ask questions.
The ensemble is uniformly wonderful
with Damon continuing to prove he is one of the best actors
working today. His George bears the “curse”
of being able to speak to those who have passed on and
Damon’s conflicting feelings are painstakingly investigated.
Bryce Dallas Howard is heartbreaking as his potential
girlfriend. The development of their relationship, through
an amusing Italian cooking course subplot, is meticulously
explored and Howard’s revelatory (in all respects)
moment is a great example of the “be careful what
you wish for” sentiment.
Frankie McLaren is perfectly haunted
and devastated by the loss of his ID twin—a bond
that is deeper than any other type of relationship.
All tech credits are superb, including
Eastwood’s gorgeous score.
Eastwood is a wonder in the director’s
seat. He, thankfully, takes his time to set up what he
wants to depict yet the film is never dull—it actually
takes on a surprising urgency. It’s as if the pain,
loss and confusion that is felt by the characters forces
the viewer to wax on his/her mortality, asking the big
questions: why are we here and what do we think happens
when we die? Do those we have loved and lost watch over
us or do we need to feel that in order to get over the
pain of their passing and move on with our lives? Why
do some of us feel out of synch with the rest of the world
and it’s inhabitants?
Eastwood’s final shot offers some
hope--not necessarily a hope that any tangible answers
about the afterlife will be revealed to us--but a hope
that those people who feel estranged from the here-and-now-world
can find common ground with others who feel exactly the
ANNUAL NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Reviewed by Frank J.
2010 has yielded a host of urgent and
vital non-fiction films. One of the best in a year of
bests is Charles Ferguson’s intelligently crafted
indictment of the US economic system, Inside Job.
Ferguson takes a complex, potentially
excruciating subject and patiently explains it in such
a precise and detailed yet exciting manner that one leaves
the film feeling far more educated about the financial
crash than ever—and therefore incensed by how our
government allowed and actually encouraged the behavior
that caused it.
This meticulous expose’ of how
the meltdown happened and how no one in charge has yet
to serve time is pretty powerful stuff and Ferguson’s
filmmaking technique makes it riveting cinema.
Narrated by Matt Damon, the film seems
to have one major goal in mind: to incite his audience
to demand change.
The film masterfully begins by using
Iceland as an example of how deregulation led to three
banks having all the power and how that led to the collapse
of the Icelandic economy.
‘Part One: How We Got There’
explains that after the great depression the US saw forty
years of financial growth due to the face that the system
was heavily regulated, that is until the Reagan administration
began an ultimately cataclysmic plan for deregulation,
setting greed in swirling motion.
‘Part Two: The Bubble’ shows
just how the moneymen thrived on a system of derivatives
that made it possible for the top 1% to get richer while
the poor got shafted.
‘Part Three: The Crisis’
focuses on the warnings that went unheeded and takes us
through the details of what happened in September of 2008.
In ‘Part Four: Accountability,’
we are presented with damning evidence that those that
caused the crisis received no punishment and actually
got to keep the fortunes they made at the expense of taxpayers.
This segment also explores just how Academic Economists
benefited financially from deregulation and continue to
‘Part Five: Where Are We Now’
bleakly shows how the Obama administration has done little
in terms of reform, how the villains are still in power
and sadly boasts that for the first time in history the
average American has less education and is less prosperous
than their parents.
Ferguson peppers his work with fascinating
interviews with a potpourri of experts, including a chatty
Wall Street Madame. Of course the gentlemen who refused
to be interviewed for the film—and are called out
for it—prove telling.
In a revealing moment in the movie,
Glenn Hubbard, Chief Economic Advisor during the Bush
Administration and current Dean of the Columbia University
Business School, gets increasingly agitated by Ferguson’s
fair but probing questions and begins to warn him that
he has little time left so he should “Give it your
This jackass, along with so many others,
royally screwed most US taxpayers, because he COULD, and
continues to be allowed to financially thrive. Isn’t
it time to insist that these men pay for their crimes?
Inside Job is a wakeup call to demand just that.
Martin Scorsese &
A Letter to Elia
ANNUAL NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Narrated by Elias Koteas
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
60 minutes. Documentary.
Martin Scorsese (along with Robert DeNiro)
presented Elia Kazan with an Honorary Oscar in 1999 amidst
protests because Kazan named names when he was brought
before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.
He named eight names—to be exact--to avoid being
blacklisted. Of course, Kazan had already won two Best
Director Oscars while so many talented directors had never
won one. But that didn’t stop then Academy president
Karl Malden, who owed his Oscar for A Streetcar Named
Desire to Kazan, from pushing for his pal to be awarded
one last time.
Now, in a 60-minute documentary by Scorsese,
we come to understand just why Scorsese stood by his friend.
In A Letter to Elia, Scorsese explains just how
influential Kazan’s films were on him and gives
Kazan credit for his becoming a filmmaker.
Kazan was one of the most celebrated
stage directors of his time and went on to become quite
an extraordinary film director, helming Streetcar,
On the Waterfront, East of Eden and
America America (Scorsese’s favorite),
to name a few.
It’s obvious that A Letter
to Elia is a highly personal film for Scorsese, but
because of that, it’s also rather dull and toothless.
It’s great to see gripping clips from On the
Waterfront, East of Eden and the underrated
Wild River with Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick.
But where were the moments from A Streetcar Named
Desire, Gentleman’s Agreement, Viva
Zapata!, Baby Doll, Splendor in the
Grass and The Last Tycoon? Was there a rights
I felt Scorsese tried to explain away
Kazan’s actions by stating that he wasn’t
the only one to name names and that Kazan’s films
after 1952 were his most personal (as if to imply ruining
lives was somehow a good thing for Kazan’s creativity).
I know he didn’t directly state this, but I kept
getting the feeling Scorsese made this documentary to
try and offset the negativity surrounding Kazan the man
vs. Kazan the artist. He also stated that because Kazan
wrote a letter to the NY Times explaining his actions,
that “almost guaranteed he was the one people would
Maybe we should separate the artist
from the person. This film brings that debate up…but
doesn’t really address it. To Scorsese that probably
isn’t the point. It’s Kazan’s filmic
legacy that is the point.
I am glad Kazan’s films existed
so we can have Scorsese’s films. They are both artists
who have contributed greatly to American film. One day
Scorsese deserves a loving tribute for his continuing
contribution to the film medium and film preservation.
He is an artist who should be celebrated. He is also a
man who commands our respect. Alas, the same cannot be
said about Kazan.
The Social Network
NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the
book The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg),
Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean
Parker), Armie Hammer (Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss),
Max Minghella (Divya Narendra), Josh Pence (Tyler Winklevoss),
Rooney Mara (Erica Albright), Brenda Song (Christy), Rashida
Jones (Marylin Delpy), John Getz (Sy), David Selby (Gage),
Denise Grayson (Gretchen), Douglas Urbanski (Larry Summers)
The opening scene in David Fincher’s
startling and intoxicating film should be required viewing
for all future filmmakers. In less than five minutes (apparently
nine pages according to Fincher and screenwriter Aaron
Sorkin), the groundwork is laid for the entire film. We
are introduced to Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and
his girlfriend, Erica (the terrific Rooney Mara) as they
verbally spar and go from lovers to ex’s as Erica
decides she can no longer tolerate Mark’s arrogance
and condescension (he brags about getting a 1600 on his
SATs, then the highest score possible). Ego bruised, Mark
returns to his dorm at Harvard University and sets a chain
of events in motion that will change a generation’s
way of socially networking with one another. It’s
the beginning of the Facebook generation where everyone
interacts through emails, websites and texts, oh my! The
horror, the horror.
Much is being written about this film
capturing a generation. It is certainly a ‘right
place, right time’ movie. It’s urgent, contains
a kick-ass ensemble of new blood actors and is damn good
The fact that it’s based on a
true story (although just how true is anyone’s guess)
adds to the relevance. But just how good is it?
Zuckerberg sets out to prove his genius
and because of his ability to create a site that has so
much traffic it crashes the Harvard network, he’s
brought to the attention of Aryan-esque Olympic rowers
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer masterfully
playing both twins with the help of cine-magic). The boys
and their friend (Max Minghella) have an idea about a
Harvard-exclusive social website and they want Mark’s
help. He instantly agrees, yet puts them off for weeks
as he and his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield)
begin work on their own idea called “The Facebook.”
The insanity ensues from there as the
duo set about creating what would arguably become one
of the most significant social inventions of the new millennium.
“They came up with an idea, I
had a better one,” charges Zuckerberg in one of
two courtroom lawsuit scenes that frame the film (he is
eventually sued by the Winklevi as well as Saverin).
One of the great ironies of the film
and Zuckerberg (as he is presented) is that this great
social network was created by one of the most anti-social
people in existence. Here is someone who, had he not been
at the helm of Facebook, would probably be someone with
few, if any, Facebook friends!
Of course, what Facebook really means
comes into play here as well. It can be argued that the
new technology has created a generation of social retards…but
is the opposite true? Have a handful of socially retarded
individuals (regardless of intelligence) created a technology
that protects them from pain and rejection?
Midway through the film we met Sean
Parker (Justin Timberlake in a tease of a performance—is
he a manipulator or isn’t he?) who created Napster
and proudly announces that he brought down the record
companies. When challenged, his response is: “How
many Tower Records do you see open?”
Mark is seduced by what he sees as Sean’s
ingenuity but also by his ability to live a lifestyle
only the rich and famous are privy to. And he is awfully
quick to betray a friendship in order to reap the titanic
rewards. Although just how close Saverin and Zuckerberg
really are depends on whom you listen to.
Eisenberg plays Mark as cool, pompous
and apathetic. Many times he isn’t even paying attention
to people that are speaking to him. But because of that
first scene we carry with us the realization that a lover
scorned him and most of his nastiness comes from that
humiliation. Mark can easily be dismissed as an obnoxious
asshole, but Eisenberg won’t let us off that easy.
It’s a fascinating performance.
Garfield is slowly becoming one of the
best actors of his generation. His Eduardo is a good guy
caught up in a world where good guys are eaten alive.
The scene where he confronts Mark after the ultimate betrayal
shows Garfield at his best. He may be nice and accepting
but when he’s crossed, look out!
The film’s ending brings Mark’s
journey full circle and should have felt perfect but I
actually wanted more. Perhaps that is one of the marks
of a great film. I guess I’ll have to see The
Social Network again and, probably, again, in order
to really figure out where it lands on the great scale.
Right now, I can easily say it’s one of my favorite
cinema experiences of 2010 thus far.
ANNUAL NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL
Reviewed by Frank
Written by Julie Taymor,
based on the play by William Shakespeare.
Starring: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Ben Whishaw,
Djimon Hounsou, Reeve Carney, David Strathairn, Alan
Cumming, Chris Cooper, Tom Conti, Alfred Molina, Russell
feminized version of Shakespeare’s last great
play, The Tempest, has all the earthly elements
assembled to create a remarkable motion picture. Alas,
as ambitious as it begins, the end result is a stunning
feast to behold but a filmic experience that is uneven
Taymor is one of the
few film directors with roots in the theatre that has
managed a seamless transition to the visual medium.
She has the innate ability to transport audiences to
a singular world of her own creation. Here, with the
help of a gifted technical team (including the extraordinary
Elliot Goldenthal’s musical compositions), she
does just that, bombarding our senses with fantastical
scenes. But there is something sorely missing. I felt
similarly about Frida and Across the Universe
(although after repeated viewings I have warmed to the
latter film). Titus is still her best work.
The Tempest is not. Helen Mirren, however,
makes the journey worthwhile.
The original play is
about 400 pages long and its protagonist, Prospero,
is a clever magician who has been banished to a deserted
island. Taymor chose to cut the text so it runs under
two hours and re-gender Prospero so he is now Prospera.
This was her smartest move, changing the story significantly
and giving it more urgency.
Mirren is a force—powerful,
maddening, yet sympathetic. Her Prospera is a woman
born into a man’s world, fighting for her daughter.
Medea and Mamma Mia overtones abound.
The only other ensemble
member allowed to give a fully realized performance
is Ben Whishaw, a magnificent, bizarrely-intoxicating,
sexually-ambiguous Ariel. Part Gollum, part Tinkerbell,
part David Bowie, Whishaw’s Ariel is loyal, ethereal
Felicity Jones and Reeve
Carney are pretty enough as the young lovers and Djimon
Hounsou does his best with the very angry Caliban.
The others perform well
enough but aren’t really allowed any stand out
moments--save the anachronistic Russell Brand, as the
jester Trinculo—who I enjoyed despite myself.
Tempest is visually arresting but emotionally