Film Reviews

00:00 September 30, 2011
By: David Vicari

New orleans Film & video Festival

The 22 nd Annual New Orleans Film Festival will be held from October 14th to the 20. This film lovers event will take place at various venues across the New Orleans Metropolitan Area, including The Theatres at Canal Place (333 Canal St.), Prytania Theatre (5339 Prytania St.), The Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St.), Harrah's New Orleans (8 Canal St.), The National World War II Museum (945 Magazine Street) and Chalmette Movies (8700 West Judge Perez Dr.) to name a few.

Here is just a taste of the movies that are scheduled to play at the fest:

The Artist—The rise of the talking pictures may destroy a silent movie star's career.

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[Courtesy of IFC Midnight]

New Orleans regular John Goodman co-stars.

The Big Fix—A documentary on the BP oil spill.

Brawler—This locally-produced feature concerns two brothers competing in an underground fight circuit. New Orleans native and Mad Men actor Bryan Batt co-stars.

Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)—An obsessed fan of the first Human Centipede movie starts sewing people together.

I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, The Mad and the Beautiful—Beginning a few months after Hurricane Katrina, filmmaker Jonathan Demme follows Lower Ninth Ward resident

Melancholia

Carolyn Parker as she struggles to rebuild her home over several years. Demme is scheduled to attend.

Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story—A documentary about the legendary LSU basketball coach (1972-1997). Director Patrick Sheehan and Dale Brown are scheduled to attend.

Melancholia—This is the film that got director Lars von Trier banned from the Cannes Film Festival when, during a press junket, he went on a "I understand Hitler" rant. Anyway, the movie stars Kirsten Dunst and is about a wedding gone awry while, at the same time, a planet named Melancholia is on a collision course with Earth.

Besides showing a wide array of movies, the NOFF has workshops and panel discussions, as well as the "Best of the Fest" awards ceremony which honors narrative films, documentary, Louisiana films, animated and experimental films.

For a complete schedule of events as well as ticket information, please visit www.neworleansfilmsociety.org

Higher ground

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[Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics]

Vera Farmiga is one of my favorite actresses working these days, and if her directorial debut, Higher Ground, is any indication of things to come, she may become one of my favorite directors working today. For her first foray behind the camera, Farmiga didn't pick light, fluffy material, but something rather deep - an adaptation of Carolyn S. Briggs' memoir "This Dark World" about a woman questioning her religious upbringing. Farmiga stars in the film as well, playing Corinne (Taissa Farmiga, Vera's real-life younger sister plays the teenage Corinne), a Christian woman who feels she is losing her faith. This shocks her husband (Joshua Leonard) and shakes up their close-knit Christian community. Higher Ground's main point isn't antireligion but rather a personal story of an individual finding their way in life. Farmiga's film isn't condescending to people and their religious beliefs, yet at the same time it does question the existence of God and the validity of organized religion. The movie isn't perfect, for occasionally it feels rushed, and moments of Corinne having fantasies of a sexual nature feel odd and misplaced. Still, when it comes to its main focus, Higher Ground is well balanced.

Higher Ground opens October 14.

Moneyball

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[Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing]

Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball" is not cinematic. It's a good read, but so much of it is devoted to statistical concepts that it didn't seem like a natural fit for a movie. But director Bennett Miller (Capote) does a terrific job of turning it into a film. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the cashstrapped Oakland A's. He's desperate to compete with teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, who can outspend him by $100 million a year.

He meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale grad and stats nerd who has new ideas on how to evaluate players the rest of the league undervalues. Even if you're not a baseball fan, the film is accessible (a friend who's not into baseball enjoyed it). Pitt and Hill have good chemistry and their scenes generate a lot of laughs. Like Friday Night Lights, Moneyball does a good job of showing how sports is a journey that usually ends in heartbreak, as only one team wins a championship each year. And it also is an excellent illustration of how original thinkers with different ideas (in any field, not just baseball) are often mocked and ostracized before everyone else ends up co-opting their ideas. Whether you're a baseball fan or not, Moneyball is definitely worth seeing.

Straw Dogs

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[Courtesy of Screen Gems]

Unlike most of these throw away remakes (Fright Night, anyone?) that are being churned out for the sole purpose of a good weekend gross and nothing more, Straw Dogs has a gifted filmmaker behind it who is passionate about the project. This remake of Straw Dogs is a surprisingly solid thriller that has psychological depth as well as strong performances. In this adaptation of Gordon Williams' novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm, actress Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) returns to her hometown of Blackwater, Mississippi (Actually Shreveport, Louisiana successfully standing in) with her intellectual Hollywood screenwriter husband, David (James Marsden), in tow. Soon, Amy's ex-boyfriend, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), and his red-neck buddies begin to pick on David in sly little ways. Eventually, things escalate, and in the end it all explodes into violence. This new version doesn't hold back. It is just as violent and unsettling as the original, but key moments, like the shocking rape scene, have a different psychology behind them. The 1971 original stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, and is directed by Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch), who injects his conservative views into the movie. Film critic-turned-filmmaker Rod Lurie, a liberal, actually made this new version as an angry answer to Peckinpah's original. Not only is it an interesting experiment, but Lurie's film is also extremely well-made and effective.

Drive

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[Courtesy of Film District]

Movies about doomed heists or stoic professional criminals are nothing new. But Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is able to bring new life to the genre with his stylish thriller Drive. Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway car driver for heists. After forming a bond with a neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, he finds himself taking a job to help her recently paroled husband repay a debt to mobsters. Naturally, everything goes wrong. Even though the plotting is familiar, the execution is always strong. Gosling manages to be a commanding presence even though his character doesn't say much. The comedian Albert Brooks does a terrific job as the chief villain, a former movie producer with underworld connections. The action scenes are first-rate, too, with real stunts and no CGI effects. One note of warning: while Drive is not frequently violent, the film takes its violence seriously and features some of the more gruesome deaths in recent years. It's not for the squeamish. But for anyone else, Drive is a beautifully shot, expertly constructed thriller.

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