Saturday, August 1, 2015

Film Fest Day 9

Final day ushering at Event Cinemas, Queen Street. It's my favourite theatre to usher. Only one entrance and two big trashcans. Really important when there's only one volunteer holding down the fort. 

The End of the Tour
I have a copy of Infinite Jest in my bookshelf. It's been there since 2013.

James Ponsoldt is one of the best American filmmakers working today. The Spectacular Now, his last effort, was one of the highlights of the 2013 NZIFF lineup, and his latest, The End of the Tour is definitely one of the highlights of this year.

Ponsoldt's latest tells the true story of David Lipsky's (Jesse Eisenberg) road trip/interview with novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) during his book tour for Infinite Jest. Based largely on audio recordings of Lipsky's interviews, Ponsoldt and his performers build upon this unconventional framework to chart the pair's tentative relationship as interviewer and subject.

There is an empathy and nuance to Ponsoldt's characters which, for me, makes his work so involving. This has the knock-on effect of making his narrative trajectories harder to predict and dramatically satisfying. In Ponsoldt's work, there is nothing pat or easy, no moralising or obvious plot contrivances to restrict his character's progression. 

Ponsoldt's understated approach extends to the performances.

What makes Jason Segel's work as Wallace so great is that it dodges all the cliches you would traditionally associate with a name actor playing a real life character. In The End of the Tour, there are no grandstanding moments, no signature schtick of his real-life alter ego for Segel to trot out and hang his performance on. Partially that has to do with the real Wallace lacking an identifiable physical tick (beyond the bandana). But mostly I think Segel's understated performance just reinforces the overall tone and intention of the piece -- there is no need for showboating here. Wallace's whole point throughout the interviews is that he does not want to come off as something he is not. Ponsoldt, Segel and Eisenberg do a masterful job of serving Wallace's wishes.

One of the best movies I've seen this year.

Mommy
A harrowing Canadian drama (directed by Xavier Dolan) about a single mother's uphill battle to rebuild a life with her ADHD-afflicted son, Mommy is not an easy watch.

Shot in a claustrophobic 1x1 aspect ratio, we as viewers are forced to experience Diana's (Anne Dorval)'s struggles up close and (extremely) personal. Our perception of her life is as restricted as hers is, and we ultimately feel as helpless she does in trying to curb her son's behaviour.

Performances from the three principles are excellent. These people feel queasily real, and fully realised as individuals capable of actions both selfless and self-serving. Even the son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), is not a one-note obstacle -- he is as tortured by his outbursts as those around him.

Mommy is a brave addition to the festival. In the end, it reminded me of Wrinkles -- specifically in its willingness to take a difficult subject and show it without sentimentality or pat solutions. It's strong stuff,but definitely worth a look.   

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