May 19, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 11 October 2012 10:38
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week, our critic looks at new films premiering at the New York Film Festival through October 14 at Lincoln Center in the city.
Each year, the New York Film Festival brings the best of creative cinema to moviegoers in our part of the world. This year’s 50th edition has offered a wide collection of interesting film surprises. Two of these films remind us how even stories that sound familiar can surprise when in the most creative hands.
At first glance, a documentary about the movie business may sound routine. After all, how many visits do we need to Hollywood to see what happens behind the silver screen? How often have we, over the years, watched documentaries about those who make movies? Leave it to master documentarian Tom Donahue — in the wonderfully entertaining Casting By — to find a fresh story, frame it with famous faces, and focus on a less familiar dimension of the film world.
When we go to the movies, we travel to new worlds filled with people. While we may think that actors simply arrive on the set, behind-the-scenes professionals make those casting decisions. Of the people doing this work, most consider the late Marion Dougherty the queen of the profession who, according to many, created this line of work. With roots in theater and early television, Dougherty brought a shrewd eye for talent and a keen insight for material to some of the most famous casting decisions in Hollywood history.
Consider, for a moment, how Dustin Hoffman shined in The Graduate, how perfect Robert Redford and Paul Newman were as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or how beautifully cast we consider every Woody Allen film. With great care, Dougherty brought fresh thinking to every project she pursued, a tradition that endeared her to such legendary directors as Martin Scorcese and Clint Eastwood and others.
What makes Casting By so entertaining is how Donahue tells his story through the eyes of Hollywood legends including Bridges, Travolta, Hoffman, Redford, Midler and Eastwood, as well as Dougherty herself in an interview conducted before her death. The director beautifully uses their commentaries to personalize the casting director’s achievements as well as to ask a reasonable question, “why does the Academy refuse to honor these professionals with annual Oscars?” Hopefully, the film will reopen this discussion.
The Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson returns to the screen in a most surprising genre — the disaster film. Who would have thought that a horror film about a people-eating parasite could be so entertaining? Leave it to Levinson to reinvent himself, and this type of film, with a highly creative approach to what could have been a most familiar movie.
Here we are on a holiday weekend at a tourist destination on the water (remember Jaws?) All of a sudden people begin to suffer the impact of parasites who have grown to amazing proportions in the nearby bay (thanks to pollutants from a greedy chicken producer). When a television reporter accidently stumbles on the story (think The China Syndrome) a race against time begins. And Levinson never lets the excitement slow.
Shooting in a documentary style, the director uses many types of visuals — from digital cameras to iPhones to Skype — to keep us on the edge of our seats. While the logic behind the story may be questionable, its effectiveness as a movie entertainment is clear. Levinson never tries to make sense of what happens but he does make sure that we feel every possible thrill and chill. As with his most effective films, he makes us feel we live through the entire adventure.
How lucky we are to be such a close distance to the many movies the New York Film Festival showcases each year. For details and tickets for all the remaining offerings, go to www.filmlinc.com/NYFF or call 212-875-5601. This year’s festival concludes Sunday, Oct. 14.
Casting By, running 89 minutes, has been acquired by HBO for presentation. The Bay, rated R for violent content, bloody images and language, runs 84 minutes, and will open in theaters in November.
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Each week, the Reel Dad looks at what is easily available on broadcast television and cable to help you make nutritious choices for what you and your family watch. Take a look!
Choosing what movies to offer your family is a lot like planning what meals to serve. You want to savor something that you enjoy, and at the same time to nourish the mind, heart and body. Here are a few nutritional movies available this week on television for you and your family.
Headlining this week’s menu in the Best Picture of 1964, My Fair Lady, showing Saturday, Oct. 13, at 1:30 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies. Starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, this classic musical introduces us to Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl in London, who wants to improve how she speaks. Her teacher, phonetics expert Henry Higgins, helps her learn how to believe in herself as well as clearly express herself. With delightful musical numbers by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, and a script adapted from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, My Fair Lady serves its musical delights in great Hollywood style. And if the film seems a bit slow, and runs a bit long, just remind yourself that they don’t make movies like this any more. So savor it.
Another offering from the musical vault is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific to be broadcast Saturday at 3:15 p.m. on Encore. This classic show, based on the Broadway original that won the Pulitzer Prize, introduces several themes that rarely find themselves in musical comedy. With a collection of rich characters, Rodgers and Hammerstein dare to consider how racial prejudice may influence how people think and act. Starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi, the film may be overproduced (with an odd use of color filters in some sequences) but beautifully captures the magic of the classic score.
Alexander Payne’s The Descendants — showing Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO — explores how people grieve in different ways. Any time we confront a loss in our lives — a friend, family member, home or job — we do what it takes to accept and begin again. And, when we can finally close the door on the hurt, we let ourselves feel the fresh air of a new beginning. The air freely blows in this remarkable film but little in a positive direction for a man who faces many dimensions of grief. As Matt King’s wife lies in a hospital bed in a coma after a boating accident, he copes with the challenges of taking care of his two daughters while facing a critical decision to sell a beautiful piece of untouched land to real estate developers. Starring George Clooney in his Oscar-nominated performance, The Descendants reminds us that, when we grieve, we only experience that fresh air once we confront what really hurts. And if, like Matt, we are deprived of the final conversation, all we can do is move forward with what we would have said had we been given the chance.
Like any great meal, Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia — a comedy about a woman’s obsession with chef Julia Child — leaves you wanting more. Meryl Streep is an absolute hoot as Child, so much so that you sit in the audience wishing the film had simply been called Julia and that the marvelous Ms. Streep could own every moment. While Ephron overfills the plate with a dull-by-comparison counter story featuring Amy Adams as a blogger with a Julia complex, the distraction doesn’t really matter. Meryl is simply magic. She demonstrates, again, why we wait with bated breath for her next screen appearance. Julie and Julia airs on the Style Network at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.
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