My pathetic need for food to sustain my life caused me to miss This Changes Everything on Saturday morning, a documentary with Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, and other Hollywood actresses talking about #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein. Another documentary called Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War had some good information about poaching rhinos in Africa, but I didn’t feel it struck as deep as last year’s Trophy, and the tone was too much the same over its 133 minutes. I was impressed by Erik Bloomquist’s Long Lost, a psychological thriller about a young man (Adam Weppler) who goes to the Connecticut mansion of an older brother (Nicholas Tucci) whose existence he only discovered the previous week. Tucci (who does not appear to be related to Stanley Tucci) gives an excellent performance as a hypercompetitive creep with sexual kinks and a penchant for playing Beethoven naked at the piano in the middle of the night. The film has a trailer-ready line: “You had fun, right? Sure, somebody died, but that happens.”
The best documentary I saw during the festival was Rubén Blades Is Not My Name, about the politically conscious salsa-music legend. Blades makes an affable and down-to-earth guide to his own life, and even people familiar with his work and career might not know stuff like his serious hobby of collecting comic books. As someone not all that conversant with salsa, I found this film enlightening.
I missed The Sisters Brothers at the festival, but I’d already seen it three weeks before at AMC Grapevine Mills. Jacques Audiard picked a Western to do for his first English-language film, and the genre’s violence and beauty seems to suit him.
My Saturday concluded with another striking debut film, this one from Henry Dunham (as far as I can tell, no relation to Lena Dunham). The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a closet drama set in a Michigan lumberyard where seven members of a right-wing militia secretly meet in the aftermath of a mass shooting of local cops. Some missing ordinance clues them in that the killer is among them. The cast is full of recognizable faces whose names you probably don’t know: Chris Mulkey as the leader, Patrick Fischler as the group’s tech guy, and the underappreciated James Badge Dale as the ex-cop among them who’s tasked with interrogating his fellow members. The finger of suspicion points variously at different men, and Dunham might have done smoother at managing that, but this film shows some great talent behind the camera, especially in the writing.
The big-ticket item was Widows, a heist movie starring Viola Davis as as a woman whose husband (Liam Neeson) is killed with his crew of robbers, so she gathers together the other widowed women, who are all financially strapped, to get to the money that their husbands stole. I’m planning on reviewing the film next week when it comes out in regular theaters, but while there’s some great stuff in this crime thriller, I do think director Steve McQueen tried to pack in too much story material. Maybe that’s a function of this being adapted from a British TV miniseries. It’s still better than Ocean’s 8.
Concluding the festival was Green Book, a white version of Driving Miss Daisy whose every plot development I could see coming, even though I didn’t know the true story it was based on. The movie stars Viggo Mortensen as an Italian-American New York nightclub bouncer who’s hired to drive a black classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) through the Deep South on a concert tour in 1962. And they both learn something from each other. The festival crowd ate it up, but I didn’t, which is always an uncomfortable feeling. I wish the whole shebang had gone out on a higher note, but overall, I found the quality of the films I watched to be higher than last year’s fest. I’m looking forward to further improvement in future years.