Monday, May 9, 2011

Film Round-Up May 2011

In this edition of the Film Round-Up, another local filmmaker does good, two documentaries (one meh, one great), and a pretty enjoyable foreign film.

I don't have anything else to really say here, except that I'm so sorry these weren't posted sooner. I've been knee-deep in freelancing assignments, including one for a magazine that has required daily trips to New York City.

The move to PA hasn't cost me a step. I'm not bewildered by tall buildings. I can still swipe a Metrocard. I don't gawk at the young woman loudly berating her boyfriend on a cell phone. I'm still a badass.

As always, these reviews previously appeared in the April issue of "ICON" and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)


L'Amour Fou (Dir: Pierre Thoretton). After legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008, his longtime lover and business associate, Pierre Bergé, put their valuable art collection up for auction. As Bergé prepares to part with the objects, he reminisces about Saint Laurent, whose quest for creativity led to self-destruction and isolation. You would think the art would serve as some kind of symbolic motivator, a metaphor for two slowly separating lives, but debut director Thoretton ignores that possibility as well as others: Why is Bergé so eager to sell the collection? What's it like emerging from someone's shadow after decades? Hell, it'd be neat just to meet the potential buyers of these works, or to explore the particular difficulties of packing and shipping a Picasso. Bergé and Saint Laurent's tumultuous life together (and apart) is entertaining; after all, who doesn't like to learn more about the fabulously wealthy? But to focus on oral biography when so many tantalizing options remain unexplored—well, it's puzzling to the point of distraction. ** [NR]

Lebanon, PA (Dir: Ben Hickernell). Starring: Josh Hopkins, Rachel Kitson, Ian Merrill Peakes, Samantha Mathis, Mary Beth Hurt. Following the death of his estranged father, a brusque Philadelphia ad exec (Hopkins, ABC's Cougar Town) heads to quiet Lebanon, PA for the funeral and to settle affairs. His weeklong visit gets extended after he develops a bond with his 17-year-old distant relative/neighbor, pregnant, college-bound CJ (Kitson), and develops feelings for her married, dissatisfied teacher (Mathis). Complicating matters is that after years of tunnel vision and city life, the town's simple ways look awfully appealing to the young man. Writer/director/editor Hickernell's carefully paced, insightful character study covers familiar topics (teen pregnancy, finding yourself) but uses them to deliver universal truths: All small towns aren't destinations for spiritual rebirth; the intimacy there can embrace and suffocate you. A little heavy-handed in spots, but it's definitely worth watching. Hickernell, who also works as a freelance producer and director of photography for Philadelphia media companies, is a Haverford College graduate. Kitson is a theater major at Temple University. *** [NR]

Dumbstruck (Dir: Mark Goffman). Wonderful documentary focuses on five ventriloquists of various skill levels whom we initially meet at the annual Vent Haven Convention in Ft. Mitchell, Ky. Dylan is a 13-year-old who sheds his shy demeanor when giving voice to his wise-racking dummy; Kim, a former beauty queen, dreams of ascending to the next level—cruise ships; Dan, a respected veteran, struggles to balance family with his non-stop work schedule; and Bucks County resident Wilma, shunned by her family and behind on her taxes, views ventriloquism (and its community of practitioners) as her salvation. Then there's Terry Fator, who after 20 years of professional failure, became a Las Vegas sensation after winning TV's America's Got Talent. To his everlasting credit, debut director Goffman treats his subjects with compassion and respect, which prevents Dumbstruck from becoming a feature-length spoof on overzealous kooks: It's really a stirring, poignant look at the difficulties that arise when someone tries to make their dream come true. **** [NR]

The Princess of Montpensier (Dir: Bertrand Tavernier). Starring: Mélanie Thierry, Grégoire Leprince Ringuet, Gaspard Ulliel, Lambert Wilson. In 1567 France, the beautiful Marie de Mézieres (Thierry) gets hearts aflutter as the Huguenots and Catholics battle. Marie is forced to marry the Prince of Montpensier (Ringuet), a man of substance but lacking the flashy qualities that would enchant a young lady. She's madly in love with Henri de Guise (Ulliel), a dashing swordsman whose scars only enhance his brooding sex appeal. Helping to navigate her way through the tumult is the prince's right-hand man and mentor, Chabannes (Wilson), who in tutoring Marie about the ways of the world develops a dangerous affection for her. Takes a while to get going, but director/co-writer Tavernier's shifty focus—the movie doesn't invest all its attention on one character—and the emotional maneuvering keep you involved. The Princess of Montpensier is an intelligent romantic drama that never settles for pat answers—a rare find these days. *** [NR]

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