Monday, June 8, 2015

Cinetopia diary

My weekend at Cinetopia began with three films Saturday. The first, Beside Still Waters, a 2013 Michigan made film by director Chris Lowell, is a direct rip off (sorry) of Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 The Big Chill. In that earlier film a friend’s suicide brings a group of - yes - University of Michigan - alum together. In this, the death of the lead character, Daniel’s (Ryan Eggold) parents, whose friends didn’t have the decency to attend the funeral, show up. Set in northern Michigan near Petoskey the friends gather in the spacious cottage where they’d spent so many earlier summers. But this meeting is fraught with personality collisions and emotional reveals. Despite its startling similarity (absent the Motown music) to The Big Chill, Lowell’s low budget effort draws some good acting from the participants, including a couple of veteran TV stars. The film, at Cinema Detroit, drew an audience of perhaps 15 people, a worrying omen on the festival’s second day…..Next up Saturday afternoon was Miss and the Doctors (2013) by France’s Axelle Ropert. This film’s improbable premise is of a medical practice run by a couple of doctor brothers (Cédric Kahn and Laurent Stocker) who interview and diagnose patients at the same time, like virtual Conjoined twins. Trouble ensues, however, when they both fall for the same child patient’s beautiful mother (Louise Bourgoin). She reciprocates affections to only one of them. The film is interesting to a point. For example, the subtle acting is good. But it harps on the cliché of the lonely single male. And there’s hardly a smidgen of drama. The film also screened at Cinema Detroit, located in the Cass Corridor, and only four             people attended - one who walked out during a particularly vapid lull.                                                     I started to wonder if attendance at this festival was going to be a bust…..The third movie was an evening film, again at Cinema Detroit, and to my delightful surprise was well attended. It was 2015's Best of Enemies (picture above), Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s (20 Feet from Stardom) take on the William F. Buckley Jr. - Gore Vidal 1968 US Presidential election debates. I was either too young or had no access to US television at the time so was not aware at all of how apparently earth-shattering these debates were - especially for then low-rated ABC News - and for setting the future of political discourse generally. The film explores the personas of these two great debaters of the political right and left. And it wasn't for show, these guys really hated each other, eventually suing and counter suing for on air comments with bitter ramifications the rest of their lives. (I was embarrassingly wrong in my last post thinking there was some sort of private friendship there.) Like 20 Feet this doc is taut and information-filled without being boring, and for many in the Baby Boomer audience no doubt a trip down nostalgia lane….Then last night, at the Maple Theater, I attended my most eagerly anticipated film, Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language which split the 2014 Jury Prize at Cannes with Quebec’s Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. This pic, however, was exceedingly disappointing and almost laughably poorly made - a pastiche of images (the director’s signature jump cuts throughout) with commentary and character conversation spewing supposed philosophical profundities amidst repeated 3D jarring images of dayglow flowers, Godard’s dog as a kind of omniscient being, a tourist boat docking in Lake Geneva, and a man shitting in a toilet. Yes, we’ve heard the line before about poop making us all equal. Otherwise we get references to Solzhenitsyn, Hitler, fascism. But it’s all been said by others and with more elucidation and depth. And without, thank goodness, the tedium. This film clocked just 70 minutes and I must have looked at my watch seven times. Sometimes I think Godard is the film world’s greatest charlatan, dazzling, alas, easily impressionable pseudo intellectuals….Goodbye to Language, like Best of Enemies, was also well attended, showing that despite a paucity of bodies for certain Cinetopia offerings, people will show up in droves for other films, likely drawn by subject matter and big names.

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