Notes From the Modern Cinema Festival
Christopher Kelly’s Modern Cinema: Great Movies You Haven’t Heard of … Yet festival just concluded, and as usual, I found some of his picks to be excellent and others to be underwhelming. As always, it was a great appetizer for the upcoming fall movie season. Here’s my report on what I saw:
Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is a modern-dress version of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. Fiennes shows some talent as a director, but he really shouldn’t direct himself. His performance in the title role is over-the-top, one-note, and in the same vein as his villainous roles in Schindler’s List, Red Dragon, and the Harry Potter movies. The film has some nice supporting turns by Brian Cox, Paul Jesson, and James Nesbitt, but it still loses all momentum near the end.
In a much different vein, Drake Doremus’ autobiographical indie romance Like Crazy charmed the socks off everybody at Sundance last winter, but I’m afraid it left me uncharmed. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones play college students in L.A. whose love affair takes an unfortunate turn when the girl (who’s British) fatefully overstays her student visa. Doremus gets some good stuff out of the hurdles of long-distance relationships, but he deliberately inserts some big gaps into the storyline, and while it does give the film a different feel, it leaves out too much, especially concerning the lovers’ romantic dalliances with others (Jennifer Lawrence turns up at the guy’s girlfriend in L.A.). I feel like I don’t know enough about these characters to feel for them.
The secret screening turned out to be David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, a polarizing pick that left some people feeling like they’d spent two hours watching paint dry. I understand their reaction; this isn’t a movie where very much happens. I still found it interesting. It’s based on a Christopher Hampton play about Freud, Jung, and a female patient of Jung’s who winds up in bed with him. Keira Knightley gives a showy, twitchy performance as the patient, who’s been physically abused by her father and is horrified by her own masochistic sexual urges. She’s impressive, though I think I would have been more impressed if I’d seen her give that performance on the stage. In any event, Viggo Mortensen walks off with the acting honors, giving an understated performance as the overbearing but insecure and envious Freud. As someone who’s only passingly familiar with the basics of psychoanalysis, I found the concepts under discussion in the movie worthwhile. The film certainly isn’t for everyone, but I say it works as a movie of ideas. It also has scenes with Keira Knightley being spanked until she achieves orgasm. For those of you who are interested in that (and I know you’re out there), here you go.
The best thing I saw was El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, from whence the above photo comes. It’s a German-produced documentary, though of course its subjects speak mostly Catalan-inflected Spanish. Even more than last year’s Kings of Pastry, this film observes great chefs at work with a hushed, monastic reverence that makes their profession seem almost mystical. Of course, the wacky avant-garde cuisine of Ferran Adrià contributes much to this atmosphere, too. I have a feeling this movie will be going on my list of the year’s best documentaries. It certainly made me hungry for a vanishing ravioli chased with a cherry umeboshi. Where can I get those?