Knife launches weekend film series to coincide with DIFF

Arianna 5

Knife chef John Tesar is a big movie buff, and when he opened Knife in The Highland, one of the programs he started was a monthly outdoor movie screening. (Appropriate, since the film Chef somewhat mirrored his own experience with a local critic.) The 2016 features the films of Dallas-bred director Wes Anderson — it started last month with Bottle Rocket, and will pick up on May 15 with Rushmore, then continuing with The Royal Tenenbaums (June 26), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Sept. 18), Moonrise Kingdom (Oct. 23) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Nov. 13). But interrupting that series this weekend will be his tribute to the Dallas International Film Festival, which gets underway today (and it the cover story in Dallas Voice tomorrow).

The series of dinners starts tomorrow at 7 p.m. with a tribute to Arianna (pictured) — a gay-themed movie at the festival set in Italy, with the cuisine of the country featured. Next is Saturday’s Halfway with a 7:30 p.m. dinner featuring lamb and veal, and concluding Sunday at 7 p.m. with the film Mr. Pig, which features — of course — pork. If you can’t make any of these special dinners ($125/person), there will be special three-course dinners throughout the festival (until April 24), which takes place just across the street at the Angelika.

And pick up Dallas Voice tomorrow to read all about DIFF and the USA Film Festival. Cheers!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Crime and punishment: ‘Trumbo,’ ‘Secret in their Eyes,’ ‘By the Sea’

secret-in-their-eyes-S-004_SITE_07318R_rgbYeah, The Hunger Games wraps up its arc this week. Big whoop. There are also smaller films opening this week, and while not all are impeccable, they offer more insights into the human condition than you’ll find in all of Panem.

Somehow, American adaptations of films set in foreign countries often don’t fit right. Martin Scorsese won his only Oscar for directing The Departed, a dandy crime thriller adapted from the Hong Kong actioner Infernal Affairs, but despite the Boston setting, it still felt like someone else’s movie. The same director, George Sluizer, made both the American and original Dutch version of his film The Vanishing, but the changes to the remake felt tacked on — a betrayal of its source material. And it never seemed authentic.

Secret in their Eyes, the new adaptation of the Oscar-winning Argentine film El Secreto de sus Ojos, suffers from a similar fate. The original was a disturbing, violent portrayal of obsession; this version, while well-acted, feels false.

The broad strokes of both films are the same: In 2015, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former FBI agent, thinks he has tracked down a man who disappeared 13 years earlier, the chief suspect in the murder of his then-partner Jess’s (Julia Roberts) daughter (seen through multiple flashbacks). The man slipped through the system before, and fell off the grid; Ray wants the new D.A. Claire (Nicole Kidman) to reopen the case, and bring justice and closure finally to Jess. But Ray’s return is tinged by the unrequited love between him and Claire.

There’s a lot going on in this movie, and while it felt artsy, even ethereal, in Spanish, now it just seems unfocused and overwrought. The system of flashbacks seems like it’s intended to add psychological layers, but comes off more as a shell-game — how much can we hide, and how sympathetic can we make the characters before you learn some truths about them? Ray, for instance, is a dogged cop, but as we soon learn, not a very good one. The script relies repeatedly on him flying off the handle, or doing shoddy police work. (How many times does he have to shout at the suspect from 30 feet away, “Hey! You!” before he thinks to sneak up on the guy instead?) Police procedurals are tricky in a culture weaned on Law & Order, and this one seems like it was written for a 1950s audience. (It’s also fraught with silly coincidences, cliches and functional characters that don’t feel real.) The PG-13 rating also softens much of the more dire and shocking aspects of the original. There’s less meat on the bones.

Even so, the acting is solid, especially from Roberts as a shaken, broken woman. There’s a hollowness in her eyes and her largely un-made-up face. When Ray says, “You look about a million years old,” you realize, yes, the Pretty Woman can play character parts, too. Too bad she’s not in a better movie.

TR_01117.dngIf Secret is about seeking justice, Trumbo is about its perversion. During WWII, the U.S. and the Soviets were aligned; within a few years, however, the Cold War was heating up and the Communists who had once been our allies were now our enemies. That meant any American liberals who sided with Marxist philosophies (such socialistic ideas as The New Deal, collective bargaining and free speech) were labeled as undesirables, if not outright unpatriotic. A single instance of spying by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg painted everyone of their ilk as terrorists and enemies. (Sound familiar?) And some of the first tainted by the sobriquet “disloyal” were Hollywood liberals … especially the writers, who came up with the ideas and put them on the page.

The blacklist (and the HUAC hearings that caused it) is one of the most shameful betrayals of American ideals of the 20th century. So tense was the political atmosphere that Americans and their leaders willingly turned on the First Amendment in favor of witch hunts. And the biggest target was slapped on the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). Trumbo was an outspoken Communist, an intellectual floating in a sea of morons. He was the studios’ highest-paid wordsmith, and seen as indispensable. He wasn’t. When he refused to “name names,” he was sent to prison and banned from writing for a decade. To pay the bills, he uses “fronts,” other, less controversial people who could sign their names to his screenplays and share the fees. He won two Oscars that way … though others’ names appeared on the statuettes.

The blacklist is an inherently cinematic and thrilling era to bring to life, so it’s a shame that Trumbo lacks the scope and ambition it needs to be great. It’s directed by Jay Roach, whose feature films are marked by the Austin Powers comedies but who has tackled politics in several well-received TV movies for HBO (Game Change, Recount). His style is more suited to the small screen than the big; everything about Trumbo seems pre-digested and safe — a perfectly adequate way to spend your Sunday watching television, but not bold enough to bring you to the theater.

Cranston is a star on the small screen, but blown up to 30 feet and carrying a film, he feels overly broad and one-dimensional. His Trumbo is confident to the point of smugness; the entire role reminds you of the haunting line from Anne Frank’s diary that people are essentially good, even as their most evil natures are about to destroy you. “Do you need to say everything like it’s going to be chiseled in a rock?” asks one of Trumbo’s frustrated colleagues (Louis C.K., who also shouldn’t be allowed free reign to act in features). Cranston just grins obliviously behind a cloud of smoke. (If they gave an award for Best Supporting Cigarette Holder, Trumbo would win.) The story is compelling, but the film never rises about predictable. Dalton Trumbo would never write a film as ho-hum as this one.

It’s time we all acknowledge that Angelina Jolie Pitt (as she’s now known) is a damn gifted filmmaker — probably better at writing and directing than acting. Her first feature, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was a gripping portrait of survival in the Bosnian War; her second, last year’s Unbroken (which she directed only) proved that women other than Kathryn Bigelow know how to tell a brutal story of war with smarts and understanding. She goes in an entirely new direction with By the Sea, a new chamber character study starring Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt. The style and setting is a woozy throwback to the artsy indie and European films of the 1960s and ’70s. Roland (Brad) is an acclaimed novelist looking for inspiration in a remote seaside village in France; his wife Vanessa (Angelina) is moody and remote. There’s something wrong with their relationship (we suspect an infidelity), but we can’t quite tell. They never talk about it.

Vanessa becomes obsessed with their neighbors in the hotel, two newlyweds whom she’s able to spy on through a hole in their common wall; she watches them have sex and argue. Eventually, Roland joins her, and their relationship seems reborn by their voyeurism. But everything has to end.

By the Sea has no chase scenes, no lurid sex (though a fair amount of nudity), no melodramatic excess (at least until the end, which doesn’t quite work). Instead, it’s a study not of people, but of a marriage. It revels in mood and style, like The Happy Ending or Rachel Rachel or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; you could imagine Roman Polanski making it with Catherine Deneuve in a parallel universe.

I suspect, though, that many people won’t appreciate its retro qualities, its seamlessness or its thoughtful, leisurely pace, and merely look for insights in what it says about two movie stars married in real life; others will dismiss it as a vanity project for an actress who, admittedly, can often project a self-satisfied hautiness. That’s too bad. Taken on its own, By the Sea is a dreamy romantic drama, the kind nobody makes any more.

All films are now playing.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Andrew Scott: The gay interview

PRIDEBy Chris Azzopardi

Editor’s note: If you’ve seen Andrew Scott in the BBC miniseries Sherlock, you already know (1) he’s a hottie; (2) he’s scary as hell as Sherlock’s insane nemesis Prof. Jim Moriarty. But you might also have seen him in the new film Pride, which, sadly, closes today after a brief run at the Angelika. Our Chris Azzopardi chatted with the recently-out 38-year-old Irishman.

Dallas Voice: For you, how does it feel being part of a movie that’s moved so many people in the gay community?  Andrew Scott: It’s extraordinary, really. We’re all completely blown over by it. The response we’re hearing from cinemas across the country, where people are standing up at the end and they’re clapping — it’s just very unusual for me. I’ve certainly never been in a film before where that happens.

People just feel very inspired by it, and they have very passionate feelings toward it. So yeah, I’m thrilled about that — thrilled [it’s being embraced] not just by the gay community, but by a lot of different audiences. We kind of really hoped that the gay community would embrace it, but we keep saying that it’s not just a gay movie. The message — the idea of solidarity — isn’t just for a gay audience. All of us are more similar to each other than we think we are.

Pride demonstrates strength in numbers, which seems especially relevant now that the gay rights movement is in full swing and more straight allies are standing up with us. As the fight for equality marches on, what do you see as the relevancy of this story right now?  Being gay isn’t something in and of itself that’s a virtue any more than being straight is, but the attributes that gay people develop as a result of being gay – mainly empathy toward other people, and compassion and tolerance — those are things to be proud of. It’s a real message that I find really heartwarming. To segregate people is very dangerous in the struggle for gay rights for people across the way. Inclusivity rather than exclusivity. We must celebrate our differences, and we must celebrate our humanity as well as our sexuality.

You recently spoke out against the notion of “playing gay,” which is obviously something you feel strongly about.  You can’t. It’s absolutely impossible to play that as an actor. If someone were to play me in a film about my life, I would hate for just gay actors to audition for the role, because I think I could potentially have attributes as much in common with a straight actor as I could with a gay actor.

You can really make a general wash of people’s sexuality [and say] that people are exactly the same. But the attributes I possess as a human being could be represented by anybody with human sexuality, really, if they have the chief attributes that an actor needs, which are empathy and imagination. So, I do think it’s very important that those things are mentioned, that a human being is made up of a whole range of things and sexuality is, of course, one of them, but it’s not the sum total.

Which straight actor would you want playing you in a film?  Oh, I have no idea! That thought terrifies me! The fact that I can’t even get an audition for that part terrifies me even more.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Ernest and Celestine’

ernest_hires1In the pencil-drawn, Oscar-nominated animated feature Ernest and Celestine, the world is divided into Us and Them: Above ground, the bears, who fear  mice; below, the mice, who fear bears. Their lives still have to intersect, however, as the entire rodent society is powered (a la Monsters, Inc.’s harvesting of children’s screams) by bear teeth, forcing child labor to explore the surface and gather dentures.

Celestine, though, doesn’t believe that bears are bad. She draws pictures of them in repose, and fantasizes that they may not be as bad as she’s been told. Enter Ernest, a good-natured bear who strikes up a begrudging friendship with Celestine: He helps her gather teeth, and then both are labeled criminals by the others’ culture.

Charming and predictable, E&C is a great kids’ movie that also has a notable moral: That of accepting others’ differences. Near the end, when Celestine plaintively declares that all she wants is to live with Ernest forever, you’ll get a lump in your throat, confronted with the bravery it takes to express a love not deemed “normal” by society. In light of the movement toward same-sex marriage, it’s a message that really resonates.

Playing at the Angelika Mockingbird Station in English and in French with subtitles at alternate screenings.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: ‘Omar,’ ‘The Wind Rises’

The Oscars are this Sunday, and you have a chance to see two of the nominees beforehand at the Angelika: The Wind Rises (nominated for best animated feature) and Omar (nominated for best foreign language film). Both are worth your time.

THE WIND RISESThe Wind Rises is the latest from Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese anime expert of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. To be honest, I’ve always found Miyazaki’s style a bit strained and abstract, not always in good ways. But The Wind Rises may be the culmination of his union of fantasy and realism. Set during the 1930s and ’40s, it tells the true story of Jiro Horikoshi (dubbed in English-language versions by Joseph Gordon-Levitt; it’s also shown with subtitles), an aeronautics engineer who designed Japan’s Zero fighter, the revolutionary long-range aircraft responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor. That’s a fact never mentioned in the film, and probably for good reason: Romanticizing the architect of the nastiest assault on America until 9/11 might not play in the heartland, but like Das Boot (the film that showed a sympathetic side to German U-boat inductees), it paints a human portrait of an artist.

Yes, artist, because in Miyazaki’s world, anyone committed to perfection the way Jiro was deserves respect for putting his soul into his work. Jiro, physically incapable of flying himself, lives in the air vicariously through his planes. It makes for a touching portrait of a man who, like Robert Oppenheimer and the folks with the Manhattan Project, did something with passion without regard for what it would ultimately be used for.

The style of the artwork, in traditional anime, is detailed and mostly hand-drawn — a throwback to the pre-Pixar days. After what we know CGI can do, it takes a few minutes to become accustomed to the rich simplicity of the style, but that’s part of the joy in discovering a movie like this.

37Omar (Adam Bakri) is handsome young Palestinian, radicalized by the oppressive occupation by Israelis. When Omar and his friend Tarek plan an attack that kills an Israeli soldier, Omar gets captured and — through the kind of offensive legal trickery that should anger most Westerners (where “I won’t confess” is legally the same as a confession) — he’s conscripted into spying on his friends.

Omar is a political thriller, a cat-and-mouse drama and a love story that balances all of its components masterfully. The scenes of torture are amazingly brutal and even more unjust, the tender moments palpably loving and the twists and turns complex but exciting. Director Hany Abu-Assad, whose 2005 film Paradise Now was also nominated for an Oscar, knows how to stage foot chases like he’s auditioning for a Bourne sequel, but it’s the humanity of the film, and Bakri’s focused, passionate performances, that makes it more than just a genre picture.

Both now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“Tinker”ing with a classic. One strategy: A cheat sheet for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

My full reviews of several movies — including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which has some sneak previews tonight and opens formally Wednesday — will be in the week’s print and online editions starting late tomorrow, but I wanted to give a head’s-up about one of the new releases: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is a throw-back to the Cold War thrillers of the 1970s, both in tone, topic and look, but what’s really interesting (aside from a subtle gay subplot you should be on the lookout for) was something not on the screen, but in your hand.

At the press screening last night, attendees were presented a “dossier” (above), a slickly-produced fold-out intended “for your eyes only,” but really an almost-necessary cheat sheet to the plot of the damn thing! As any fans of John Le Carre know, Tinker, Tailor was originally produced as a seven-part miniseries in the late 1970s, which gave the labyrinthine plot room to breathe. The filmmakers do a good job concentrating on the major points and telling a complex but cogent story, but the existence of the dossier made me feel they didn’t really trust audiences to give themselves over and figure it out for themselves.

Or maybe they just didn’t trust critics. I’m not sure if the “dossier” will be available at all screening when it opens at the Angelika Friday, but let me know! It certainly is a fun little novelty if nothing else.

And until then, don’t miss Dragon Tattoo!!!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie Monday: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Restless’ at the Angelika

Get a little Restless today

Any other director would almost certainly have turned Restless into a maudlin tearjerker (even the disrespectfully crass Judd Apatow made the mawkish disaster Funny People). But Van Sant operates on about two settings: Crazy genius (Milk, To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy) and disastrous boondoggle (his misguided Psycho remake) …. though he throws some impenetrable art films in as well (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). Restless is really none of those, though it is very good — a lighthearted look at death that never seems off-beat for its own sake.

Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Starring Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska. 95 min. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

‘Hold Your Peace’ Dallas premiere tonight at Angelika

Free movie? Yes, please

When Southern Methodist University alum Wade McDonald set out to make his debut feature film, the one thing he didn’t want to do was make a “typical” gay film: No naked boys as the selling point, no ridiculous gay-angst drama, no coming-out story. McDonald loves romantic comedies and wanted to make his own — just with men.

His plan worked. The result, Hold Your Peace, seems to have resonated with audiences.

Read the entire article here.

DEETS: Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane. Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. Free (passes at Buli or Skivvies). HoldYourPeaceMovie.com.

—  Rich Lopez

QUEER CLIPS: USAFF Short Film Showcase

Hello Caller: A suicidal woman calls a help line only to find the man on the opposite end (gay filmmaker Tom Lenk, pictured, who produced and wrote the script) seems not to understand the situation. A gem of a comedy with very dark undertones and a great twist.

Clara’s Carma: A psychiatrist (Dallas native Stephen Tobolowsky of Glee) deals with a flaky patient and unexpected expenses on his new car.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Short Film Showcase plays April 29 at 9:15 p.m. with short film awards presented May 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  John Wright

From Broadway to broadcast: London staging of musical ‘Fela!’ comes to Angelika screens tonight

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

When Stephen Hendel first approached out choreographer Bill T. Jones about directing Fela!, Hendel’s hoped-for musical about the life and work of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, Jones had absolutely no experience on Broadway.

But that was OK — neither did Hendel.

“I’d never produced a musical — not any theater show — before. And this was the first time [my wife] Ruth and I had lead-produced before, though Ruthie is a Tony voter. And the show was out of left field from the mainstream fare on Broadway,” Hendel says by telephone from New York.

This week, the culmination of their efforts will be seen by the largest audience ever, as Fela! airs as part of the National Theatre Live series of stage productions filmed for moviehouses opens at the Angelika, starting tonight.

The path was one of mutual enthusiasm by relative novices. Hendel was put in touch with Jones through a mutual acquaintance. Hendel had already spent several years trying to generate interest in his idea for a non-narrative musical overloaded with dance and tribal rhythms. And Jones was very interested.

“I could see he was really, really brilliant and that many of the themes — of an artist in society, of being a political artist and being a black man — were all issues will had spend him career exploring and living. We agreed when and if I got the rights [to the music and story], Bill would direct and choreograph the show.”

It took nearly a year for that to happen. In the interim, Jones got an agent who secured him choreography duties on an off-Broadway play called Seven. One of the hopefuls was not cast, but Jones loved his energy. He would eventually originate the role of Fela on Broadway.
Jones, for his part, made an impact as well, winning an Tony Award for choreographing Spring Awakening and becoming a hot property in the theater community. And Hindel got him started. (Hendel himself has continued his theater work, co-producing American Idiot, another outside-the-box, Tony-nominated musical from last season.)

The journey from New York stage to London stage to, this week, movie screens across the world, was a surprisingly natural progression.
“We opened on Broadway and got amazing reviews, and the National Theatre [in England] came to see it. Nick Hytner, their artistic director, called me to talk about bringing it to the Olivier Stage in London, so we created a production for the National,” Hendel says. He then learned that the National was beginning its second season of broadcasting stage works from its and other London stages to movie theaters across the world.

Hendel was in. The version airing this week at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano was shot with nine cameras at the London shortly before Fela! closed its original Broadway run earlier this month. That means the broadcast is the only way an American can see the show for the time being.

“It’s like having the best seat in the house every minute, only you get things you can’t see sitting in a Broadway house,” Hendel says. And it is just one more way people in the U.S. can experience a musician Hendel has long loved but most people have never heard of.

“People thought we were crazy [doing the show] — who’s ever heard about Fela Kuti and would want to see a show about a Nigerian they’d never heard of?” he says. “It has been a big challenge making audiences aware of what it’s about and why it’s so entertaining and important. We want people all over the world the see the show and why we’ve spent eight or nine years working on it. It’s been a total joy and a total thrill.”

Still, Hendel says the cinema version does not replace seeing it live, which he hopes will happen; he is planning to announce soon a U.S. and international tour to start mid-2011.

Until then, though, the Angelika’s the place to be.

Fela! airs at the Angelika Mockingbird Station Jan. 19 and 20, and at the Angelika Plano Jan. 22 and 23, at 7 p.m. Visit AngelikaFilmCenter.com for details.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones