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Thread: Mill Valley Film Festival 44 (Oct. 7-17, 2021)

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    Mill Valley Film Festival 44 (Oct. 7-17, 2021)

    Mill Valley Film Festival 44 (Oct. 7-17, 2021)

    GENERAL FILM FORUM

    CAPSULES OR REVIEWS:
    ANIMA (Jinling Cao 2021) X
    BECOMING COUSTEAU (Liz Garbus 2021)
    BERNSTEIN'S WALL (Douglas Tirola 2021) X
    JOCKEY (Clint Bentley 2021) X
    JULIA (Julie Cohen, Betsy West 2021) X
    MOTHERING SUNDAY (Eva Hussan 2021) X
    MY DEAD DAD (Fabio Frey 2021)
    THE RESCUE (Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vasarhelyi 2021)
    THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (Todd Haynes 2021)


    X = Capsule review only for Mill Valley

    JULIA (Julie Cohen, Betsy West 2021)
    All about Julia Child, author of the seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking and an icon who taught generations of Americans how to take the kitchen and food seriously. Full of bubbly joie de vivre, just like Julia, this film does her justice.

    BECOMING COUSTEAU (Liz Garbus 2021)

    A conventional and somewhat offical portrait but a richly illustrated one of the immensely famous Frenchman whose "Undersea World" TV series eventually led to his early, intense petitioning of the world to stop polluting the sea, his early alarms of global warming that made him important at Rio 1992.

    THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (Todd Haynes 2021)

    The most beautiful music documentary I've ever seen, a pure work of art. Use of split- and multiple-screen is a delight to the eye, elegant, and packs in a lot of visual information. But still leaves room for future docs about this seminal but under-documented sixties band with more detail about the music and the emotional clashes and the later accomplishments of the band members.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2021 at 01:21 PM.

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    BECOMING COUSTEAU (Liz Garbus 2021)

    capsule for Mill Valley:

    LIZ GARBUS: BECOMING COUSTEAU (2021)



    From adventurer to ecologist to prescient profit of doom

    Liz Garbus is a frantically productive doc maker known for among others Bobby Fisher Against the World (2011) and What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) Made in collaboration with the Cousteau Society and co-produced by Cousteau’s widow Francine and children Diane and Pierre-Yves, this documentary could risk feeling like a whitewashed, official version of Cousteau’s life, a work that aims "to burnish a legend" rather than "explore ... personal depths" (The Wrap;"). But his failings are here, and this is, however conventional, a richly illustrated depiction of an immensely important man in his time whose clarion cries are more relevant than ever today.

    Why do I feel sometimes, though, that I've been fed most of this information before? Because I saw it thoroughly rehearsed in dramatized form in Paris in the film L'odyssée (Jérôme Salle 2016), starring the excellent Lambert Wilson and Pierre Niney, which I saw a second time in the Rendez-Vous at Lincoln Center in 2017. No matter: this is the authoritative, authorized documentary version, with access to the wealth of lifelong film documentation that's available. "Je m'amuse," Cousteau says in one of the many recordings. "I'm having fun." And it is fun and inspiring to watch him, even when he is saddened and his vision turns dark.

    Cousteau got a Pathé camera at age 12; it helped conquer his shyness. Later a very bad car accident that broke 12 bones led him to swim: it helped him heal. Then he started to dive, and to photograph, and the rest is history.

    He was a naval officer, hence "Captain Cousteau." At first he began diving with two others. The "three musketeers of the sea" ("Les Mousqemers") fellow naval officer, Philippe Tailliez, Maurice Fargues. they were reduced to two when they started going deep and Sept. 17 1947 one of them, Fargues died going down 120 meters, using the new aqualung to set a world record for diving depth; they had not yet learned (one would have liked more about this whole process) that at such depths consciousness is affected and a diver can endanger himself without knowing it (undersea high).

    His documentary film The Silent World (1957) was immensely popular. His show on ABC "The Undersea world of Jacques Cousteau" (1966-1976) became one of the most popular television shows of all time. An important aspect of the success was this quintessentially French guy's and his sons' ability to function fluently in English. `The show, which was managed to be both popular and urgently important, unveiled the wonders of the sea, and, gradually, its unmaking. The Cousteau family were and are formidable defenders of this huge underwater part of planet Earth. Jacques was early in recognizing that the sea had been trashed; the fragility and importance of coral reefs; the disintegration of icebergs. He saw how the planet's climate hinges on the condition of Antarctica: he saw it all, forty years ago, global warming, droughts in the United States, famine in Africa.

    Calypso (rechristened no doubt) was "basically a mine-sweeper;" they got it in 1950 art a bargain price with a grant from a wealthy conservative British supporter, Thomas Loel Guinness. "It's a person not a boat," Cousteau said. It became the heart of his world as an explorer, impresario, filmmaker: The Life Aquatic with Jacques Cousteau. Their first voyage had "le partum de l'aventure, de la nouveauté, l'iréel" (the fragrance of adventure novelty, the unreal).

    Calypso was an empire, Jacques-Yves the king. His sons Jean-Michel (more a manager) and Philippe (an explorer like their father) were also part of the world. His wife Simone was a manager, wedded not to the sea but to the boat, always on board, Jeanne-Claude to his Christo, the only women on board, avoiding being in the films, but in photographs plainly having a good time, and said to have been a good diver.

    Cousteau seemed about to sell out to the petroleum industry - he did discover major oil in the Persian Gulf - but he saved himself from such a sellout by beginning his ABC television show "The Underwater World," in 1968. "On January 8, 1968, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" debuted on ABC. The show is vintage Cousteau, featuring the French adventurer-slash-scientist wearing a red cap, a skimpy bathing suit, and smoking like a chimney." (He and his two sons wore red caps and black outfits, their uniform. He had lean dash and dazzle, pearl-gray swept-back hair, flashing teeth.) Chris Higgins: "If you've seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and you haven't seen the Cousteau films, you're in for a treat."

    When Cousteau began on American television he was 58, and he did not look young. Who was this old French guy? The audience soon learned. And then Cousteau became a crusader for ecology, for saving the ruined, trashed sea. And he founded The Cousteau Society. He claimed 160,000 members in the late seventies; now it has 50,000. Perhaps it is outstripped by son Jean-Michel in 1999.

    He was devastated by the death in a private seaplane crash of his son Philippe at 39 in 1979. He blamed himself for allowing his son to fly, and declared that his punishment would be that he would work to the end. It's said he aged ten years, and became more pessimistic about the future of the sea. We learn that ABC dropped Cousteau's specials in the late seventies "because he was getting too dark."

    He was fed up with the cult of his own personality and more and more hopeless about saving the planet, which he thought was too late. "We spoil the planet every day, more and more."

    At this point the film introduces Cousteau's second wife, Francine, a 41-year-old French woman diver who married him when he was 80, a year after his wife Simone died of cancer at 71. But wait! His two children with Francine were born in 1980 and 1980, long before his wife Simone died. The relationship with Francine was not talked about, but everyone knew about it. On board. But Simone kept secret how sick she was and went on a last Calypso voyage when she was dying, with widespread cancer. She said theCalypso was the reason why she was alive. The young kids whom Francine had when Cousteau was 70 may have revived his smile. They are vibrant kids - divers, of course.

    The film ends on a triumphal note against the odds. Cousteau is successful in getting a multi-nation treaty to leave Antarctica intact for 50 years. He is a major figure at Rio 1992, the earth conference, the only one standing as an equal of heads of state. He is heard expressing optimism about mankind's ability to learn. And he gets a funeral at Notre Dame cathedral. His eighties were spectacular. he had an impressive old age. Let's hope his optimism is validated, not his pessimism. The film ought to have ended on a stronger, more honest note; it would have been fairer to the man's legacy of intense eco-awareness to do that. But he wouldn't even have liked the title. He was insistent that his work was not about him.

    Becoming Cousteau 91 mins., debuted at Telluride Sept. 2, 2021, showing also at Toronto Sept. 11, Camden, Hamptons ,London and Mill Valley in October. Us release Oct. 22, 2o21.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-20-2021 at 10:28 PM.

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    THE VELVET UNDEERGROUND (Todd Haynes 20210

    TODD HAYNES: THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (2021)



    STILL OF LOU REED FROM THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

    A beautiful look at the short-lived but seminal rock band

    This is one of the most visually stunning music documentaries I've ever seen, and it concerns a band that, though little publicized, is considered by some as influential as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan, but about which there's never been a film before. In a 2013 YouTube review of the band's first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico , Anthony Fantano, "internet's busiest music nerd," calls the four LP's the band issued from 1967 to 1970 "one of the most influential discographies in rock music - ever." (For details of the making of the first album, go here.) No wonder this mew film debuted at Cannes and is one of the doc stars of the year.

    The exquisite visual quality this film maintains, even within a conventional music documentary format, reflects some of the dash and originality Haynes put into his six-actor cubist Bob Dylan portrait I'm Not There (NYFF 2007). This time the striking look may partly arise from the need to compensate for an almost total lack of live concert footage of the band. (Where were all Warhol's cameras when we needed them?) The solution is extensive use of split-screen, which continues through the entire film. That includes highly effective use of Warhol's "screen test" portrait, his 100-foot-reel 16mm static B&W Bolex movies of people at the Factory just staring into the camera. Haynes' opening fifteen minutes or so are dazzling. He has clips from "I've Got a Secret" where John Cale was brought in for his having performed a John Cage composition in which a single page of musical notes had to be played over 800 times leading to an 18-hour performance.

    Oddly, Haynes spends more time on Cale than lead singer/song writer Lou Reed for the first forty minutes. He appears to want to depict the band as more avant-garde, as Cale was, than rock n' roll, as Reed was. (And Cale was available to interview now and Reed is gone.) Haynes uses the expressionless Warhol-filmed screen test face of young Lou Reed in split-screen-flanked by shifting random archival footage to illustrate a voice-over from his sister about his suburban childhood.

    There are contrasting split screens of monochrome film clips toned in solid colors throughout. All through, the handsome use of split-screen makes this look like an art film, a museum piece. Bit split-screen is also a way to pack in two or three times as much visual information and still make it look good on the screen. Haynes's editors, Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz, deserve credit for how well this works to tell a story as well as delight the eye.

    The elegance is most welcome in a usually tired genre. But it means room has been left for future, more dogged docs on the band. Missing here are details of the unique drumming style of Maureen Tucker ("Moe"), not to mention more about the complex emotional dynamics of the group that led Lou Reed to "fire" Andy Warhol and soon after John Cale and then walk away from the band himself.

    We do get the band's beginnings, when its name got changed constantly because they were so bad at that point they had to hide who they were to get hired. When they become the Velvet Underground, with Reed, Cale on viola, keyboard, and other instruments, Moe Tucker on drums, and guitarist Sterling Morrison, it was after being seen at Cafe Bizarre that they were invited to Warhol's Factory and became its house band. Warhol brought in the German model and actress Nico, who had appeared in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, to sing with the band, which Reed didn't like, but which worked.

    It's okay for this to be for a while yet another Warhol doc because it shows how the Factory, as Cale says, "was all about work." Warhol's collaboration led to his traveling multimedia show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable developed (from the sound of it one can't say "refined") at the Dom hall in St. Mark's place (1966–1967), a touring silver balloon and sound and light show incorporating the band. It feels as though these Dom multimedia performances, attended by society people and where Nureyev and the whole New York City Ballet came and danced, represented a high point in the band's life.

    The tour took them to the West Coast, not a positive story. As Moe the drummer recounts, and others mention, the Velvet Underground hated hippies: instead of giving flowers to people, Moe says, they should find them places to live. Even if the Velvet used drone sounds, their style was mostly very hard-edge. California didn't seem to get them. (According to John Waters, neither did Cape Cod.) When they performed at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, Graham openly wanted them to fail. Nonetheless their sound-and-light show proved far more sophisticated than his. West Coast light shows, it's said, consisted of projecting an image of the Buddha on a wall.

    There is a softer side to the band. Anthony Fantana's discussion of "Sunday Morning" sung by Nico revels in its warmth and gentleness. Reed too could sing or chant in a very gentle voice. The complexities of the Velvet Underground's style aren't something this film fully unpacks for us.

    In addition to being aggressive and hostile in person and an unreliable hard-drug user, Reed was also sexy and creative, recognizing the unity of writing as an activity, whether fiction, poetry, or song lyrics. What he brought to rock n' roll, David Bowie is heard saying here, was a mindset close to the French poètes maudits, to Baudelaire and Rimbaud - a literary sensibility a step beyond even the sophisticated song lyrics of Bob Dylan. And Reed was always writing. It's he who explores the sexualities of The Factory; the life of a prostitute; the experience of being a heroin addict who decides to "nullify" his life; and what it's like waiting for your dealer.

    Warhol's connection with the band was obviously central, making them like the Factory "superstars" famous, but famous also in the service of Warhol. Allen Ginsberg, notably visible in the opening of the 1967 Pennebaker film about Bob Dylan Don't Look Back, also appears here as a Warhol cohort, reminding us how in the sixties American cultural (or "countercultural") figures were like a little band of brothers. Ginsberg nods also to the Lithuanian-born Jonas Mekas, who appears here as a talking head. He was the founder of Anthology Film Archive, godfather of American avant-garde film," and a major organizer of art events who died before this film was released at the age of 97. Warhol toured with the band, doing nothing as "producer" of their first album but get it produced through his celebrity and provide the 'banana" album cover. But he got them the album, and he gave them a lot of encouragement.

    Personal antagonisms had been heightened by the pressures of the California tour. On the road there was increased use of speed, resulting on the focus of the White light/White Heat album and the in-fighting when it was being made back in New York after they found the Dom taken over by Bob Dylan.

    The band is already disintegrating even though this is only the second of four albums. The gradual decline of a band is a familiar trope even Haynes's stunning visual stylishness can't make very original. But the film's imagery does some typically snappy stuff to evoke an amphetamine high. There is an explosion of split- and multiple-screen archival images at the end showing multiple careers post-Velvet for Reed, Cale, the others, and the 1990s temporary reunions of Reed and Cale, including their collaborative musical narrative portrait of the then late Andy Warhol,Songs for Drella.

    The Velvet Underground, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes out of competition Jul. 7, 2021, and is included in some other major festivals, including Telluride, Zurich, New York, Chicago, Woodstock, BFI London. In reviews it has met with very high praise (current Metascore 88%). US release in theaters and on the internet Oct. 15, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-14-2021 at 10:16 PM.

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    MY DEAD DAD (Fabio Frey 2021)

    FABIO FREY: MY DEAD DAD (2021)


    PEDRO CORREA IN MY DEAD DAD

    TEASER TRAILER

    A laid back West Coast coming of ager with a knack for bro talk

    Fabio Frey and his Peruvian-American lead actor Pedro Correa did the writing and they have a knack for bro talk, which the young actors know how to deliver. They are skateboarders, including old pal Kieffer (Booboo Stewart), and not-very-bereaved son Lucas (Correa) is back in the LA of his youth, from Reno, to deal with the unwanted inheritance of said dead dad's apartment complex. Lucas, like the actor presumably, is half Latino (on his father's side) but he says he guesses you wind up looking like the parent you spent most of your time with, and that in his case was his mother. He is blond and can't speak Spanish.

    Beside the smooth capture of youthful attitudes the other thing that won my approval early on is the handsome cinematography, which makes LA tackiness look gorgeous and richly colored without seeming touristy or kitsch.

    The action, well, that isn't very urgent. There is a girl, whom Lucas thinks of taking away from her older boyfriend whom, unconscionably, she is about to marry. Lucas is also going to be dealing with the building manager/janitor Frank (vet Raymond Cruz) and his uncle Tommy (vet Steven Bauer), whose willingness to help him sell the place with a dubious lawyer seems to be due to money troubles. He has to decide if he is going to sell the place, and this decision will be affected by his evolving understanding of who his father was and what he was like. It's a kind of coming of age by understanding the estranged father.

    They're not quite as good at doing some of the non-'bro people (in the writing; the veteran actors can't be faulted). An adorable old Asian lady (Shu Lan Tuan)seems a bit concockted. Her purpose is to show what a nice guy Lucas's dead dad was as others are there to show how much he cared about him, a fact concealed from the boy due to his mother's misguided protectiveness. As Frank, Cruz subtly oscillates between kind and disapproving, and as Uncle Tommy, Bauer conveys a wired desperation.

    Lucas, who is disdainful of the whole situation at first, thinks selling the building is a no-brainer. But it's not like he has another more interesting set of things to do back in Reno. The trajectory will be toward seeing things as more complicated.

    Temporary plumbing and automotive crises aside, none of Dead Dad's action seems particularly urgent, but that's the beauty of it. The girls says Lucas is super-intense, but nobody else really is and the movie itself never strains. These guys give the impression of knowing what they're doing as filmmakers from minute to minute , and their strength is their being relaxed about whatever it is they're trying to prove. Everyone is well cast. Everybody tends to seem nice without being saccharine, which, when you think about it, is another rare accomplishment. The aim is not to put Lucas in harm's way but to gently wake him up.

    A nice beginning; an enjoyable watch. I would like to see more by Frey and Correa.

    My Dead Dad, 133 mins., debuted at Woodstock Oct. 1, 2021 and Mill Valley Oct. 17. It has also been selected for Austin.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2021 at 01:19 PM.

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    BERNSTEIN'S WALL (Douglas Tirola 2021)

    DOUGLAS TIROLA: BERNSTEIN'S WALL (2021)


    THE PERPETUAL CIGARETTE

    A film that satisfies and frustrates in equal measure

    On the one hand there is urgent need for documentary films about one of the greatest figures in 20th-century classical music and so Bernstein's Wall, with its wealth of visual information and its constant running narration in the voice (or voices) of Leonard Bernstein himself, is very welcome. On the other hand, what is needed is not just a very good movie, which this is, but a searching, original, brilliant, and beautiful one, which this is not. Evidence of a certain lack of real depth, or bravery, is revealed in the relatively timid treatment of the subject's homosexuality. The lack of beauty is shown in the ugly, out of focus, badly exposed image of the man talking to the camera that starts things off. This is not what Todd Haynes would do, as his exquisite Velvet Underground film shows: it is beautiful from the first; it cares how it looks. Wouldn't Lenny?

    That treatment (of the homosexuality) subtly and rather cleverly begins - but unfortunately also ends - with unvoiced on-screen printouts. They show excerpts from letters - from and to Aaron Copeland and to and from Bernstein's Chilean wife Felicia. There is delicacy in this. After all he was, essentially, closeted, and the topic and the behavior were taboo in the forties and fifties, when our story begins. But The film stops there, with nothing ever on the sound track, treating gayness by implication, now in the 21st century, like Wilde's "love that dare not speak its name": the facts are never voiced, and details readily found in books and the Wikipedia article on Bernstein are omitted.

    Okay, maybe Lenny never spoke on film or tape about this topic.( Or did he?) In any case there could have been lots more printouts, and other images. There was a gay mafia of music just as there was a Jewish mafia of music, and therein doubtless lie many tales worth telling, and material for other documentaries.

    The complexity of Bernstein's immense being, and contribution, lie in his embodying the ultimate mainstream American celebrity of his time, one who could kiss Jackie Kennedy dramatically on a stage in Washington and hobnob (to great notoriety and exploitation by the malicious right wing wit Tom Wolfe) with Black Panthers in his Park Avenue apartment. He could further the anti-Vietnam War cause simply by landing his celebrated name. He could conduct Beethoven's Ninth in West Berlin and East Berlin on successive days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he could write a musical about Latinos and a radical, controversial, epic mass (discussed with disgust by Haldeman and Nixon on a White House tape; the film's other villain is Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg, who attacked Bernstein mercilessly). He could conduct beloved televised Young People's Concerts and quibble amicably but firmly in public with Glenn Gould about tempos in a Brahms concerto (this is omitted from the film but important to me, as it was to them). He could be a full-on gay man (as Wikipedia says; Tirola doesn't) and have a wife and three kids. (The wife died young; the marriage is fraught; the kids give their blessing to this film, but the film tells us too little about them or their mother.)

    All this could happen in one man because he was essentially an outsider, a Jew (and a gay man) who knew Hebrew, whose father, an emigrant from a Russian shtetl, wanted him to enter his successful beauty supply business - after he graduated from Harvard; because he was a genius, but had a common touch, recognized by construction workers on his passing. He was a man who lived intensely, who felt a lot, emoted a lot, smoked so constantly his whole life that it killed him, probably ate and drank too much and undoubtedly loved too much; Owen Gleiberman in Variety calls him "a fierce hedonist." All (or most) of this is mentioned, illustrated by this film, and recounted by Lenny, but needs the extra depth that would probe the full richness of irony, contradiction, and excess that define this man whose greatest gift is how he made these qualities accessible to millions by becoming the dominant superstar of American high culture.

    Instead, there is so much (enjoyable, astonishing) information that little emerges profoundly and one wishes for a film that focused and went into depth. Possible films doing that might zero in on, to name a few topics for specialized films: Lenny the conductor (a topic blurred here by "feverish" editing); Lenny the composer; Lenny the celebrity; Lenny & Beethoven, Lenny & Vienna - and last but not least, gay Lenny.

    To anyone who grew up in the fifties and sixties Leonard Bernstein was an inevitable figure, first associated with the New York Philharmonic, though one learns here that he resigned from that and became free-floating, never going back to being the official conductor or music director of any one orchestra (unless of Tanglewood? Another topic underrepresented here). What emerged to me later through Seiji Ozawa, whom he influenced (as he did several other San Francisco Symphony leaders), was the fluent, joyous, showy, dance-y conducting style. And there was something schmaltzy and kitsch about him. But not too much for him to give the prestigious Norton Lectures at Harvard. Those of us who dreamed or fantasized about being a conductor, were probably thinking primarily of Lenny, the joyous, hammy celebrant, or of Von Karajan, the forbidding, exultant commander.

    A must-see, if you're interested in classical music and half a dozen other subjects. It's a place to start.

    Bernstein's Wall, 100 mins., previewed at Tribeca Jun. 2021 and had its premiere at Telluride Sept. 2021, showing at Mill Valley, the Hamptons and San Diego in Oct. Nice review by Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com) written at Telluride.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-20-2021 at 11:41 PM.

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    ANIMA 莫爾道嘎 (Cao Jinling 2020)

    CAO JINLING: ANIMA 莫爾道嘎(2020)

    \
    QI XI IN ANIMA

    Inner Mongolian drama set in an eighties lumber camp

    Set in Inner Mongolia in the 1980s, when China launched economic development programs that resulted in widespread clear-cutting of old growth forest, this is a passionate but overbearing and unduly gloomy debut that combines fraught love conflict with a message about threatened ethnic minorities and planetary degradation. Anima focuses on two Evenki tribe brothers and their rivalry over a pretty and very resourceful "wild woman" widow; but it is really about the death of their traditional way of life, and of our planet.

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