Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Punches

The festival's last day started with Night Catches Us, a debut feature by Tanya Hamilton that's opening in selected markets around the country next month. It stars Anthony Mackie (from The Hurt Locker) as a former Black Panther who returns to his Philadelphia neighborhood in 1976 despite his fellow Panthers regarding him as a snitch who set up his best friend to be killed. He's there for his father's funeral, but he falls in love with said best friend's wife (Kerry Washington). I love the talent on display here, but the movie is indifferently paced, and the romance is boilerplate. If you're not fascinated by the history of the Black Panthers, this movie doesn't have much for you.

I caught the winner of the festival's documentary prize, and it's a good one. Sons of Perdition follows several Utah boys who either ran away or were kicked out of Warren Jeffs' polygamist community. Now they're all living in shelters (organized by a millionaire who himself was expelled from a polygamist sect). The film keeps careful tabs on the different ways these colonies brutalize boys and girls, and the troubles that the boys have adjusting to the freedom of the outside world. One boy's sisters repeatedly try to escape, and the rescue scenes feel like something out of an action film. There's one scene in which a 24-year-old cult member who has escaped (leaving behind her four children) celebrates her freedom by getting drunk. We see her lying face down on the floor and suddenly just start screaming. It's primal stuff. I wish the filmmakers had explored that a bit more, but this is still an important documentary that LSIFF can be proud to have.

The afternoon finished with Sideways, not the 2004 comedy starring Paul Giamatti but a remake of that film that's still set in California wine country but with all four main characters turned into Japanese people transplanted to America. It's one of those instances where the idea of the film is much better than the execution. The Giamatti character is less of a flaming wreck and more of an anally-retentive alienated Japanese guy, though he still reacts to professional frustration by chugging the contents of a winery spittoon. The English-language scenes are acted woodenly, and not just by the Japanese actors, either. The bright spot for me is Rinko Kikuchi (the schoolgirl from Babel) in the Sandra Oh role. I've had the chance to see her in The Brothers Bloom as well, and she has a great natural presence. It's an interesting exercise, to be sure, but it doesn't hold up on its own.

Final thoughts on the festival tomorrow. — Kristian Lin

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