April 26, 2012

There’s been a lot of buzz about the new HBO series Girls, created by Lena Dunham (who stars in the series and also writes many of the scripts and directs episodes) and produced by Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner.

The series is influenced by (and references) Sex and the City and, like the earlier series, centers on the friendship and romantic and professional entanglements of four twenty-somethings living in New York.

These are privileged women in transition who exhibit no recognition of that privilege, which reflects the self-absorption they share with the characters of Sex and the City.

The good thing and the bad thing about Girls is how authentic it all feels.  The show is entertaining and absorbing, frequently funny, and more often than all of that sad.

In the second episode, a physician testing the lead character for STDs says she wouldn’t want to be 24 years old again for anything.  I agree…and will keep watching these girls to see if they become women



April 22, 2012

It’s been several weeks since I’ve been to the movies.  Withdrawal!

There have been RiverRun screeners, a trip to Vegas for the Broadcast Education Conference/National Association of Broadcasters Conference, and lots of end of the semester stuff to do, but I did finally catch a matinee today.

My mother has been desperate to see Madonna’s film about Wallace Simpson and Edward the VIII, later the Duke and Duchess of Windsor because she grew up on magazine articles about their luxurious life in exile.  So, I took her to see W.E., which stands for Wallace and Edward.

Not as horrible as I feared – it has some moments – but not something I’ll remember save the occasional graceful image.

Narratives in Competition at RiverRun

April 13, 2012

One of the great things about having the RiverRun International Film Festival in the Triad is the opportunity the festival gives us to see films that otherwise might not be available to us — films that most viewers would be unlikely to hear about on their own.

This year the narrative features in competition are very strong, and eight of the nine originate from other countries including Belguim, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Russia, Norway, Hong Kong, and the UK.  Films like these put the “international” in RRIFF.

It’s no secret that I have a predilection for episodic, character-driven stories that unfold in a leisurely way but reel me into the story over time, and my three favorite films in this category are intimate dramas.

My top picks among the narrative features in competition at RiverRun are Elena, Found Memories, and Monsieur Lazhar.  In addition to pacing and tone, other things these three films share are superb cinematography, authentic performances that are understated but stirring, and a strong sense of place.

Elena is set in a Russian city, Found Memories is set in a remote Brazilian village, and Monsieur Lazhar takes place in a French-speaking province of Canada.  Despite the diverse locations, each of these films features characters in transition who face death by making choices framed by their situation as well as location.

Elena is an engrossing story about a woman whose wealthy husband of several years makes plans to limit her inheritance and cut her son from his will while holding his daughter from a previous relationship to a different standard.  Like the other two films on my list, every moment of Elena feels true and full of meaning.

Found Memories is less about what happens than how characters are revealed through image and word.  A young photographer shows up in a remote Brazilian village and her presence shakes things up a little.  The story develops slowly, and the images are beautiful.  This film may require some patience for viewers who want a strong plot and want the sequence of events to move along at a brisk clip, but I like the film very much.

Monsieur Lazhar was a nominee this year for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and I think it will gain wide popularity with audiences.  An Algerian immigrant gets a job at a French Canadian elementary school following the death of a popular teacher.  Although he has problems of his own, or perhaps because of them, Bachir Lazhar is able to help the students with the grieving process in this lovely and ultimately life-affirming film.

ONE NIGHT STAND Opens RiverRun 2012

April 8, 2012

You don’t have to be a fan of musicals (often a hard sell for me) to get caught up in the spirit of One Night Stand, the documentary opening the 2012 RiverRun International Film Festival on April 13.

One Night Stand clocks in at a brisk 74-minute running time and documents an ingenious benefit event:  four creative teams cast, write, and produce 20 minute musicals within a 24 hour time period.

First-time directors Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton capture the action and keep the pace moving by intercutting among the teams to demonstrate how tensions rise as the clock ticks toward opening curtain.

What might have been a pro forma, procedural doc is much more engaging than the topic suggests because of the opportunity viewers have to see familiar performers in unfamiliar circumstances.

The actors include familiar faces such as Rachel Dratch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cheyenne Jackson, Richard Kind, Tamara Tunie, and Alicia Witt.  It’s fun to see their fears, frustrations, and flubs, but also to see them jump into roles with little preparation and then shine onstage.