More independent and international movies to see.
By Gary Meyer
Nine more terrific art house films that I like and urge you to see. Some may have come and gone or are either available on-demand or will be shortly. Others are still playing in local cinemas but you might have to seek them out. The film titles are links to websites that usually list screenings.
At the end of my reviews are movies I still hope to see based on solid word-of-mouth and reviews.
To read my first report posted on July 15 go here.
Tell us what you have liked—or not—on the EatDrinkFilms Facebook page.
THE FITS – It is always dangerous to oversell a movie so I want to be careful as I tell you about a small independent film that has kept me thinking. THE FITS is overflowing with new talent, including Anna Rose Holmer, who co-wrote and directed her first narrative feature. The film tells the story of 11-year-old Toni, an African-American tomboy who is learning boxing while hanging out with her brother at a West End Cincinnati community center. But she is equally intrigued by the dance team she sees and hears in another room. She joins and initially struggles to be comfortable in that world. Befriending the outgoing and natural dancer Beezy (Alexis Neblett), the two are drawn to the older girls talking about boys, the team, and suddenly the confusion all the young women feel when one dancer and then another suddenly collapse from what seem like epileptic fits. They recover quickly but more girls have the unsettling experience, even as an investigation into whether the water is contaminated proves negative. We are left to wonder if there is a scientific explanation or this is a voluntary form of acceptance— a coming-of-age rite. The interpretation is left to us but it is not just an easy out for the creators. Somehow, it works. While this film may not be for everyone, at 72 minutes it is worth seeing — if for no other reason than to know about the fine work of a group of talented film artists I hope we hear more from in the near future. I was practically hypnotized.
As Toni, Royalty Hightower is so compelling that it is hard to believe this is her acting debut. Only 9 years old when she started the movie, Royalty has been dancing much of her young life, as has her real-life stepsister Alexis Neblett. Their natural chemistry makes me hope they will team up again. Cinematographer Paul Yee establishes an atmosphere in the community center that sets the stage for the mysterious happenings but also provides a safe haven from the dangerous outside world. And the music by the team of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans sets the mood without drawing attention to itself.
I am not going into depth here as you should discover the film’s surprises and pleasures, but this New York Times article about the creation of the THE FITS is worth reading before or after seeing the movie. Otherwise I’d suggest waiting to read reviews easily found on the website until after.
MAGGIE’S PLAN – Greta Gerwig’s ongoing performances as a ditzy but not dumb blonde are possibly becoming a cliché but that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of Rebecca Miller’s (THE BALLAD OF JACK & ROSE, PERSONAL VELOCITY) newest film. When John (Ethan Hawke), an NYU college professor in fictocritical anthropology (!?) meets the single, unfashionably dressed Maggie (Greta Gerwig) with two master’s degrees they have walks and talks. He decides to share the novel he is writing and tells her about his wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), a highly respected anthropologist at Columbia University. “She is wonderful, but she is kind of destroying my life,” John explains. And then he falls in love with Maggie. This was not part of her plan but soon she has fallen for him too. As they settle into a life with his two kids and their own baby, she wishes she could give him back to his first wife and hatches a complicated and very funny plan. It has been suggested that MAGGIE’S PLAN has the spirit of earlier, prime Woody Allen but with an understanding of women he could never get right. Miller does get it right and you should enjoy it.
MICROBE & GASOLINE – Two high school outcasts with creative streaks meet and plan to run away from home for a summer road trip. How do they plan to get around? Why not invent a kind of camper putting a shed on wheels and rebuilding an old engine? Against all odds it works, and they are off on a crazy adventure meeting wacky characters and unexpected situations. Despite the many setbacks and conflicts the boys experience, it is a funny film about friendship from the always ingenious Michel Gondry (THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, BE KIND REWIND, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND). “If you’re my friend, you’re an independent spirit,” one boy tells the other. The quirky independent spirit of this movie and its constant surprises make it the perfect alternative teen summer movie.
OUR LITTLE SISTER – Three sisters, ages 29, 22 and 19 live in a house their grandmother left them. When they were young their parents divorced. They had not seen their father for 15 years when news arrives that he has died. At the funeral they are introduced to his 14-year-old daughter Suzu who has no one to care for her. She is invited her to live with them. Hirokazu Kore-eda (NOBODY KNOWS, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, AFTER LIFE, MABOROSI) has adapted the graphic novel/manga called Umimachi Diary into a beautiful and sensitive story of these women appreciating each other and learning about their parents. We follow the four who each have very different personalities from one season to the next with both dramatic and humorous stories. It is a rare foreign summer offering you should seek out.
SING STREET – A teenager in the ‘80s wants to start a band to impress a girl by letting her star in a music video. John Carney (ONCE, BEGIN AGAIN) is a master of intelligent romantic comedies that demonstrate the power music has to communicate emotion. He once again succeeds at creating an entertaining work with humor and enthusiastic youth looking for escape from the troubles surrounding their lives. The film features original music by Carney and cuts by The Cure, Duran Duran, A-Ha, The Clash, Hall & Oates, Spandau Ballet and The Jam. With their themes of freedom from home and school realities, it would be a great double feature with MICROBE & GASOLINE. Technically a spring release but it has returned for limited theatrical engagements.
SONG OF LAHORE – The city of Lahore was a center of culture until the Taliban invaded and silenced the especially vibrant music scene. As the oppression started to lift a businessman, Izzat Majeed brought together master musicians to play with the idea of mixing their traditional Eastern sound with Western jazz. Their performance of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” went viral on the Internet and captured the attention of Wynton Marsalis. They were invited to Jazz at Lincoln Center for two concerts with Marsalis’ orchestra. Carrying their classical old instruments — tabla, sitar, wooden flutes, and a box accordion — the musicians make the journey to the strange world of New York, mixing with the masses in Times Square where they encounter Spiderman and “Naked Cowboys”. Talk about culture shock! As rehearsals start the high expectations of this project become a reality. Will they be up to the task? One musician must be sent home and a replacement found with only a few days until the show. The performance is a success and the joy of their music will have you tapping your feet and smiling to the end. You might call this a Pakistani “Buena Vista Social Club.”
TICKLED– When the New Zealand journalist David Farrier accidently discovered online competitive endurance tickling he was curious to learn more about it. What was going to be a short entertainment TV piece becomes a detective story that brought him to America where he uncovered online harassment, blackmail and intimidation. Farrier was threatened with lawsuits and bullying by what appeared to be several producers of these events but we soon learned the dark truth. The film progresses from being very funny to extremely creepy as Farrier and his co-director get in deeper than anyone could have imagined. The film ends a bit too abruptly, feeling like there must be more to the story. But maybe they had enough. It was time to go home.
TIME TO CHOOSE -Charles Ferguson (INSIDE JOB, NO END IN SIGHT) once again puts a sharp focus on an issue that must concern us all. This time it is climate change. The film is both a warning and a message of optimism, setting it apart from the stream of similar-themed documentaries since Al Gore’s AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. Filmed on five continents with stunning images, both beautiful and shocking, the visuals are narrated by Oscar Isaac. The director lays out the problems we face, both familiar and with some surprises. There are three sections: “Coal and Electricity,” “Oil and Cars,” and “Land and Food” that detail the issues and show us ways to a future with hope. I think everyone will cone away having learned information that will be conversation starters.
WEINER – You probably know this is a documentary about the New York politician Anthony Weiner (unfortunate last name) who, in his seventh term as a Congressman, was caught in a “sexting” scandal that included sending pictures of his genitals to his Twitter followers. After denying it, he came clean and resigned. We feel bad that a passionate crusader for his constituents has let them down. Not to mention his family. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, Hilary Clinton’s longtime aide, stands by him and somehow rises above the media trash. It isn’t long before Weiner decides to run for Mayor of New York and defies the pundits by leading the polls—until a new set of photos become public and a publicity-seeking porn star says they had phone sex, as often as five ties in a day. What was he thinking? That nobody was watching?
The other question we are asking ourselves over and over is “Why did they let the filmmakers record even their most private and often embarrassing moments?” In fact both the directors and Weiner ask that very question on camera. Do we get an answer? That is for you to find out. As is often the case with documentaries, “truth is stranger than fiction” and we are torn between laughter and embarrassment, often experiencing a combination of these reactions. Somehow his wife and closest staff members stay loyal against all odds of winning (and I would want them on my team—though I can never understand why anyone would want to be in public office). We sympathize with them as Weiner self-destructs and finally goes limp. In our current campaign season where the media is looking for even the slightest hint of scandal, WEINER is essential viewing.
I have not yet seen these but hope to catch up with them soon somewhere.
JIA ZHANGKE: A GUY FROM FENYANG
THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS- Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble
Gary Meyer started his first theater in the family barn when he was twelve years old. He directed a monster movie there, and wanted to show it on the set. It became The Above-the-Ground Theatre, where over 250 films were screened, along with live productions, workshops and the publication of a literary/arts/satire zine, Nort! and a film newsletter, Ciné. After film school at SFSU, his first job as a booker for United Artists Theatres was a “grad school” that prepared him to co-found Landmark Theatres in 1975. It was the first national arthouse chain in the US focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on many projects, including Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas; created the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games; and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007-2014. He founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in April 2014, and is preparing the EatDrinkFilms Festival for Summer, 2016 with a national tour to follow. A day of food films will be presented as part of Food Day on October 24 in San Francisco.