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Sunday, September 23, 2018

FILM | Hamptons International Film Festival, 5-8 October, 2018

East Hampton, September 23, 2018–Alice and I have signed up to see the following movies at the  Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), 5-8 October. 

We are posting comments after we see the movies. So far, after seeing seven movies, we like Watergate, The Public, and And Breathe Normally, with 4/5 for each.  We think Ghost Fleet and Wild Nights with Emily are  worthy (3/5), but the biggest winners we think are Capernaum, followed by Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow (both 5/5).

Friday 5 October

11:30 am Watergate, Guild Hall (both of us attended). Program (East Hampton Star), p. 28. One-time special presentation, 4 hours and 20 minutes including a 15-min. intermission. 2018. Director/Screenwriter Charles Ferguson. Interviewees: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, John McCain, Dan Rather, Elizabeth Holtzman, et al.
✭✭✭✭ (4/5, two votes) This was a four-hour (plus intermission), worthwhile movie. It is great to have the full record of this harrowing period of American history. I stayed awake through it all, but then I lived through it and knew the characters. As the movie graduates from a film festival's dedicated movie-goers to the broader movie-going public, it may be a challenge for those who know the names of only a a few of the charcaters. It might be cut in half, either by making it into a television mini-series or just chopping half of it and adding some more devices for keeping track of the plot and the characters. There are a hundred characters and we see some of them twice, from contemporaneous clips and then later, commenting on what happened more than 40 years ago. This is like a genealogy that takes us through several generations of intrigues and spans four presidential terms, two of them interrupted – JFK, JFK-LBJ, Nixon I and Nixon II-Ford. It explains well the connections between the Vietnam War moratorium, Watergate break-in, the Pentagon Papers, and other revelations that at first did not appear to relate to one another. It also explains well how Nixon got reelected, even after the Watergate break-in was public knowledge. In comparison with today's presidential crisis, in Nixon's day there was more consensus in Washington about how a President should behave. This movie would have a bigger audience if it was dramatized not just in pieces but the whole way through. Analogies are inescapable to contemporary investigations of White House actions. Charles Ferguson, the Director/Screenwriter, deserves credit for sticking to the actual words from the infamous tapes in his dramatizations. However, it might be hard to use this formula to turn the movie into a fully dramatized production.
5:15 pm The Public, United Artists Cinema, East Hampton, Theater 1 (John). Program, p. 22. East Coast Premiere. 2018. A library prepares to close on a wintry evening and homeless patrons refuse to leave. The police arrive in riot gear along with newspaper reporters. A standoff between haves and have-nots. A microcosm of Now. Director and Screenwriter is Emilio Estevez. Produced by him and three others. Cast includes him, Alec Baldwin, and four other actors. 119 minutes.
✭✭✭✭(4/5 one vote) The Public attempts the impossible, to portray in one Ohio library examples of what is wrong with America, the homelessness, hopelessness, and heedlessness, while offering a neat solution to wrap up the show. The confrontation between police and homeless is broken, not to spoil the ending, by the equivalent of a flower in the gun of the National Guard at Kent State. Good theater, some fine characters. Alec Baldwin makes a contribution to the evolution of the plot largely by being an influential, involved observer who is slow to act. There are a few threads that don't go anywhere but the overall effect is powerful.
6:00 pm Ghost Fleet, UA4 (Alice). Program, p. 44. 2018 documentary on slavery in the Thai fishing industry, featuring sailors who are children indentured for several years at sea. Some escape and are hunted. Human rights activists have sought to rescue them. Directed by Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron. 90 minutes.
✭✭✭ (3/5 one vote) Ghost Fleet shows how slavery and indentured servitude persist. Young people who are kidnapped or sold into slavery work on small Asian fishing boats that bring their catch to mother boats that provide them food in return. Some desperate indentured sailors jump off and live in the jungles, but mostly they have no choice. The challenges facing NGOs seeking to rescue them are acute. The people enslaved under horrendous work conditions and beaten mercilessly, often killed, were mostly in their 20s when ensnared. The focus is on heroic rescuers, who win a Nobel Peace Prize. Heartbreaking. Moves slowly, painfully. A fine portrayal of dreadful abuses of human rights; but in its documentary format the movie has trouble keeping the viewer's interest for 90 minutes. Another case where interest in the stories of the individuals in the movie is hard to sustain without more character development.
Saturday 6 October
1:30 pm The Hate U Give, Guild Hall (both of us got tickets and both of us decided not to use them). Program, p. 21. 2018 movie. 16-year-old black teenage girl is torn between middle-class school life and her working-class neighborhood. An encounter with the police forces her to make choices. Directed by George Tillman, Jr. Screenplay by Audrey Wells, based on novel by Angie Thomas. Four producers, six actors. 129 minutes.
(0 votes, Skipped by both of us.) We read some early reviews, which were neither damning nor excited. There are several movies attempting to do what this movie does, and the reviews clearly report that other ones do it better. We decided to save some of our waking hours...
4:30 pm Capernaum, UA2 (Alice). Program, p. 20. US Premiere, Arabic movie, 2018. In Beirut, 12-year-old Zain is abandoned and becomes sole caretaker of an abandoned toddler. In the movie he sues his parents for neglect. Sure to be talked about. Directed by Nadine Labaki, written by her and four other screenwriters. Five non-professional actors. 120 mins.
✭✭✭✭✭(5+/5, one vote). This is the best movie by far of the first four we have seen. It is the story of a young man in a desperately poor Arabic family. His pre-teen sister is being traded by his parents for some chickens so that they can survive on the eggs that the chickens will produce. The son works for money to migrate to Sweden. He is given charge of an infant. The story is billed as entirely true, with real people instead of actors. It reveals the desperations of all sides. Early on, we form critical views of many of the people in the movie. As we learn more, we realize how few choices they have. Evil is just another word for what you have to do to get by. Alice was blown away by this story. It gets every star, and then some. This movie deserves to be a runaway critical and box-office hit. (It is not giving away much of the story to say that the young man at the center of the story has succeeded in emigrating to Sweden.)
Sunday 7 October
10 am Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow, UA2 (both). Program, p. 35. On the eve of its 60th Anniversary, Academy Award®-nominated director Rory Kennedy charts the history of The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with a look at its myriad contributions to space exploration and its continued work investigating the effects of climate change throughout the world. Touching on both the many epoch-defining moments created throughout NASA’s history and the intensely personal commitment required by the men and women who made them possible, Kennedy has crafted a consistently inspiring tribute to an organization that reminds us of the infinite reach of the human spirit.
✭✭✭✭✭(5/5, two votes). Another winner. The photography is stunning and the fact that some of the footage is moving makes it superior to the various Hubble picture books that are out there. It is not just beautiful but it contains several important messages without being unduly propagandistic:
  • NASA studies the air, land, and water. Its explorations in space have enabled it to improve its measurements to an extraordinary degree of precision and readability.
  • Its observations of planets that have died allows NASA to understand the life cycle of planets using measures such as carbon dioxide.
  • Through its understanding of the stars and planets, it is able to predict the future of the planet earth based on some key indicators such as the death of coral.
  • NASA has used the importance of water for life of any kind to look for hospitable planets, and finds planet earth is special in the Universe as a hospitable place for living creatures.
  • NASA's scientists are deeply concerned about the pace of climate change since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the rapid increase in carbon dioxide during this period in parts per million (from 275 to 400).
The overall message is that NASA has a lot to say about climate change. While threatened cuts in the budget for NASA have not occurred, expenditures within the agency may be being politicized and the movie is a red flag about what NASA's contribution to the climate-change can be and should be. Rory Kennedy took questions from the audience after the movie. An important cinematic event, which will be broadcast on the Discovery Channel this Saturday, October 13.
4:45 pm Wild Nights with Emily, UA1 (both). Program, p. 49. Literary icon Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) breaks free from her public persona as a famously prudish spinster and claims her status as a vibrant lesbian hero. Balancing raucous humor with tender romance, Shannon establishes Dickinson as a spirited artist who drew inspiration from her passionate, lifelong affair with her secret lover, Susan Dickinson (Susan Ziegler). In the delightfully irreverent Wild Nights with Emily, writer/director Madeleine Olnek refreshingly upends the false narratives that have historically dominated the poet’s life and work, and examines the way we as a society choose to write and remember our powerful women. Starring: Molly Shannon, Amy Seimetz, Susan Ziegler, Brett Gelman, Jackie Monahan. Director and Writer: Madeleine Olnek. Length: 84 minutes.
✭✭✭ (3/5 average, two votes, 2/5 from Alice and 4/5 from John). The writer-director, Madeleine Olnek, spoke appealingly at the beginning and end of the movie about the break in the image of Emily Dickinson that her movie represents. But we must assess the movie on its own merits, not what the director said about it. Alice found its opening scene jarring, where Emily and her sister-in-law Susan Dickinson fall into each others' arms behind a sofa; she found a continuing disconnect between Emily Dickinson's sensitive poetry and the movie's slapstick comedy. John doesn't mind the slapstick but thought the evil character of Mabel Loomis Todd was annoyingly overplayed. (The most wholesome character in the movie was the young Emily.) Todd was genuinely committed to promotion of Emily Dickinson's poetry, even if she methodically sought to reduce the importance to the poet of her brother's wife Susan Dickinson by erasing Susan's name from the pencilled poems. The movie gives only back-handed credit to Todd for establishing Emily Dickinson posthumously as a poet of the first rank. The Dickinson Museum presents a more balanced view of Todd. Personally, I think that Mabel Loomis Todd and her Atlantic Monthly friend did make Emily Dickinson more acceptable for the audience of their time. And Madeleine Olnek did the best that she could to spice up Dickinson's life. She would have so much easier a time with Elizabeth Bishop and Edna St Vincent Millay, whose poetry was at least as popular and whose well-known sexual appetites were more consistent with slapstick humor. 
6:30 pm And Breathe Normally, UA3 (both). Program, p. 29. The disparate paths of a struggling Icelandic single mother and an asylum-seeking Guinea-Bissauan woman interweave in Ísold Uggadóttir’s award-winning first feature. Though they are initially divided by political and cultural discord, the two women gradually form an unlikely bond outside of the pre-ordained paths expected from their socio-political realities. Akin to the social-realist work of Ken Loach and the Dardennes Brothers, And Breathe Normally is a sharply observed and unsentimental exploration of the migration crisis, and confirms Uggadóttir’s status as a rising star of Icelandic cinema.
✭✭✭✭ (4/5, two votes) Another uplifting story, about someone regretting that her job as a newbie border officer on probation led her to mess up the life of a women passing through Iceland (not clear to either of us why she was in Iceland; possibly because of a cheap airline ticket). Both of the two mothers in the movie are desperate to get by. Their handling of the young boy and his cat is a study in itself. The border patrol officer pulls off a favor that offsets the misdeed that derails the African woman's life, without any apparent cost to her job. Appealing characters, believable interactions. Well acted. The problem for both of us viewers is that the plot depends on too many coincidences, and as they piled up, our credibility was not just suspended but was attached to a bungee cord. This movie should nonetheless get a following in art theaters and we are likely to see more work from the director.
Monday 8 October
1:30 pm Of Fathers and Sons, UA3 (John). Program, p. 29.
✭✭✭✭ (4/5, one vote) Another worthy movie.