Monday, April 11, 2016

More reviews from the 2016 Florida Film Festival

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 3:44 PM

Orlando Weekly has already offered you reviews of 19 of this year’s features (here and here), in addition to a summary of some of the best short films. But there’s so much more to see. Here’s a sampling:

click to enlarge Love & Friendship
  • Love & Friendship
Love & Friendship (3 stars on our zero-5 scale), set in England in the 1790s and based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, is among the most highly anticipated of the “Spotlight” films. Directed by Whit Stillman, this is the saucy and amusing, if slight, tale of a widow (Kate Beckinsale) who is but one step removed from a Covent Garden nun and twice as conniving in her quest to secure wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter. Indeed, she’s not above random giblet joining if it both tickles her fancy and helps wrest her future from destitution.

Conveying a lively understanding of the plot is unnecessary here, as comprehension of the particulars is pointless. This is style over substance, but what fun the style! Particularly enjoyable is the hilarious Tom Bennett as Jane’s pudding-headed Jerry sneak.

If you missed this period comedy ereyesterday, you regrettably won’t be able to view said magic lantern show overmorrow either, as it is making just one appearance at the faire. But look for it in general release within a pair of fortnights.

You can put away your 18th-century dictionaries now, as the rest of my reviews will embrace modernity (awesome, modern, kick-ass shit).
click to enlarge Louder Than Bombs
  • Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs
(3 stars), another Spotlight film, may not live up to its lofty expectations for some moviegoers, thanks to its methodical pacing, non-linear structure and almost experimental use of voiceover narration. But if you’re in the right mood, you may come to embrace its Ordinary People feel.

Directed and co-written by Joachim Trier (distant relation of Lars von Trier) in his English-language debut, the film portrays a father (Gabriel Byrne in one of his strongest performances) and his two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) struggling to communicate with one another following a family tragedy.

Calm and bloodless almost to a fault, the story feels like it’s both nothing and everything simultaneously, as if the characters are walking through life shell-shocked. That numbness – especially when combined with the screenplay’s time jumps – robs the film of forward momentum and energy, but the film’s originality and maturity end up shining through. Louder ultimately succeeds because it has the courage to be quieter.

Shorts program No. 1 (“Changes”) isn’t as memorable as either program No. 2 (“Ashes to Ashes”) or the documentary shorts (6 x Real: “Where Are We Now?”), but more than half of i
click to enlarge Zelos
  • Zelos
ts films are still worth viewing.

Most impressive is Zelos (4 stars), which takes the familiar sci-fi subject of clones and turns it on its ear. The Seamstress (3 stars), about an aging Chinese woman struggling with work and family, is also solid. More challenging thematically and stylistically is Peacock Killer (3 stars), which addresses man’s strange habit of tackling his guilt by taking revenge on things that never harmed him.

Stylistically different but no less dramatically impactful is Verbatim: The Ferguson Case (3 stars), which presents, in re-enactment form, the word-for-word testimony of the police officer and a witness in the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And for a lighter, but no less enjoyable, touch, there’s Sundae (also 3 stars), about a mom on a very serious mission that may or may not end up in her son enjoying ice cream.
Shorts No. 1 plays for the final time April 12, at 7 p.m., at Regal Cinemas Winter Park Village 20.

The least enjoyable shorts program, at least for my taste, is No. 4 (“Modern Love”), which lives up to its name and then some, as many of the eight films contain graphic discussions and depictions of sex. One even contains a brief clip of real intercourse. So please heed the festival’s warning that the program is for adults only.

Though the program is for an 18-and-over crowd, I hesitate to say it’s for a mature one, as a couple of films would be better suited to the Midnight Shorts program. Instead of challenging us aesthetically or emotionally, most of the shorts instead exist only to shock or insult our intelligence. Even worse, they think they are something greater, a noble attempt at honesty or avant-garde cinema, when they really are just one step above pornography (albeit really well-shot porn).

Profoundly annoying is Bad at Dancing
click to enlarge Dinner With Family
  • Dinner With Family
(0 stars), which seems to be making a statement about beauty, friendship, jealousy and societal conventions regarding personal space, but stumbles badly on its tedious cinematic mini-odyssey. Especially grating is its use of the song “Red River Valley.” Not even the cowboy who loved you so true could love this film.

With that admittedly harsh criticism out of the way, I must confess that the festival programmers succeed on one level: They make the experience profoundly uncomfortable, especially when we are forced to listen to our fellow audience members laugh nervously and fidget, while other viewers walk out.

As disappointing as most of the selections are, two deserve praise. Too Legit (3 stars) is a clever though clunky commentary on rape, while Dinner With Family With Brett Gelman and Brett Gelman’s Family (4 stars) is one of the best shorts of the entire festival. Tackling just about every nightmarishly dysfunctional family issue you can think of – and framing those issues in a breathtakingly twisty and metatheatrical way – the film, directed by Jason Woliner and starring Patti LuPone and Tony Roberts, is exactly what the rest of this program wanted to be: provocative, uncomfortable, funny and boundary-pushing.

If you’re brave, horny or simply don’t trust my recommendations (you wouldn’t be the first), the program plays for the final time on April 14 at 9 p.m., at Regal Cinemas Winter Park Village 20.

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