NYFF 2010: The Rest of the Fest

As the New York Film Festival wore on, I started going less and less. This had nothing to do with the quality of the films, and more to do with my increasing festival fatigue. Also, my monthly pass from Connecticut to New York ran up at the end of September. It was getting harder and harder to get up really early and go to movies all day – especially since I knew most of the really worthwhile stuff (like the new Mike Leigh joint, ‘Another Year’) would be out in fairly wide release by the end of the year. So the chunk of movies I wanted to see at this year’s festival wasn’t quite as big as I’d hoped. But I still saw some stuff. Read on to find out what stuff!

The Tempest (Julie Taymor, USA)

The centerpiece film for the festival turned out to be, for me at least, its biggest headache. Director Julie Taymor, who had staged the Shakespeare play a couple of times for the theater, absolutely botches the job here. I’m no Shakespeare scholar, but I do know what works about adaptations of the Bard and what doesn’t – and this doesn’t. It’s an angry mishmash of disparate elements that never quite reconcile themselves, a curious mixture of oddball casting, visuals that are at times both sparse and overwhelming, and a unifying mantra that more-is-more-is-never-enough.

The biggest divergence from the play is changing the gender of hellbent sorcerer Prospero. Now it’s Prospera, played by Helen Mirren. This is kind of a fascinating decision. The relationship between mother and child (the adorable Felicity Jones from ‘Cemetery Junction‘) is an intriguing one. But all-too-often, Mirren is subjected to histrionics or – worse – sidelined for one of the less interesting plotlines. Russell Brand and Alfred Molina engage in a tournament of “Who can overact the most?” as two wayward drunks who’ve washed ashore on Mirren’s island habitat. (The victor, it must be said, is the woefully miscast Brand.)

Spending a couple of weeks thinking about this movie has made it sour even further in my mind. The grinding, awful score by Elliot Goldenthal, the horrible visual effects, the realization of Ariel (Ben Whishaw), which includes one of the most laughably embarrassing screen transformations in recent memory – the whole thing is like a huge traffic accident, deadly but unavoidable. You try to look away but you can’t. It’s one of those “If I didn’t have to write about it, I probably would have left halfway through” movies.

Boxing Gym (Fredrick Wiseman, USA)

Of two documentaries I saw at the festival, this was not my favorite. Wiseman, who is something of a legend in documentary circles for his unblinking eye and his complete lack of interest in shaping a narrative out of real life events, documents a tiny boxing gym in this reviewer’s home town of Austin, Texas.

The film’s loosey-goosey, “The camera isn’t really here,” fly-on-the-wall observation is engaging at first. But when stretched to a feature length running time, my interest began to decidedly wane. The phoniness of Wiseman’s central conceit also betrays itself. How so? Well, everyone is going to see the camera and react to it (even if it’s just one camera). Wiseman definitely chooses which elements of the film he wants to highlight. (Unlike his earlier works, this one doesn’t stretch on for days.) All that said, I felt that the boxing gym and the guy that runs it are kind of sad and boring. I’m sorry if I’m being unfair (and making fellow bloggers’ claims that I’m a “movie snob” seem unwarranted), but I couldn’t have cared less.

Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, USA)

Ferguson, director of the best, most clear-eyed documentary about the war in Iraq, ‘No End in Sight,’ brings that same kind of analytical straight-forwardness to the current economic collapse. It’s bracing, brilliant stuff.

The narration by Matt Damon breaks down the often mind-bogglingly complex financial ins-and-outs, and makes them totally palpable for a mainstream audience. Ferguson has done an unparalleled amount of research, and the movie contains a ridiculous amount of interviews with top tier people in the financial sector. The way he tells it, the financial collapse was a very deliberate and methodically plotted catastrophe that took years to engineer and enact. This isn’t some far Left conspiracy shit, either. It’s very plainly (and publicly) worked out.

This is a movie that every American should seek out and see. By the end of it, you’ll be broiling with righteous indignation, and will be rocked by the sheer skill of the documentary filmmaking on exhibit here.

The Hole (Joe Dante, USA)

Yes! Finally! Ever since this movie showed at Toronto last year, it has languished without a stateside distributor. I have been DYING to see it. This only intensified when, a couple of months ago in ‘Film Comment’, Dave Kehr implored someone (ANYONE) to pick up the movie and get it out there. This is, after all, Joe Dante’s first feature-length film since the regrettable ‘Looney Tunes: Back in Action’ (of which Dante said, in the post-show Q&A, “I wasn’t happy with it and the studio wasn’t happy with it”). Now he’s back firmly entrenched in his comfort zone of spooky-funny horror.

My enthusiasm was rewarded, mostly. The movie is about some kids who move from the city to the suburbs and find the titular void in their basement. Well, things start to pour out of the hole – very scary things indeed. It’s up to the kids to discover how to defeat the stuff before it engulfs them all. Oh, and it’s all in very throw-back-y 3-D!

For much of ‘The Hole,’ the movie is a fun, jaunty, reach-out-and-scare-you little rollercoaster. You quickly glance over profound leaps in logic because you’re having such a good time. But by the time you actually get down into the hole, much of the tension (and the core of the movie) is dissipated, never to return. Still, it’s great to have Joe Dante back – and at the prestigious New York Film Festival, no less. I would have no problem recommending this movie to anyone, especially those who like to have fun more than just getting freaked out.

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