A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Three Rivers Film Festival

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Over the past couple years, I’ve made it out to this smaller film festival, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where I live). My first year, I saw the amazing performance of the Boston Alloy Orchestra, perform their original score to the 1927 silent era movie, UNDERWORLD – a gangster movie/love triangle thriller – and the “what is reality” movie, THE NINES, with Ryan Reynolds and written/directed by John August (BIG FISH, along with numerous other Tim Burton movies). Both of these movies I saw in the suburban theater in Regent Square. It’s small, and the sound system is made up of two medium sized speakers in the front of the auditorium. It seats about 300 people, and usually these showings are pretty packed.

The festival itself, tends to mix a portion of more mainstream fare – if only in the sense of “festival-movies” being mainstream. THE NINES, was not a mainstream movie, but it’s also bigger than something locally produced by unknown talents – a good assortment of foreign-language movies, and the locally produced stuff that probably doesn’t stand too much of a chance of being seen outside of it’s region of production. The festival presents it’s movies distributed throughout the city in three different neighborhoods, and theaters. But, for what seems like a pretty small-scale event, it seems to do pretty well.

I didn’t get out to see anything last year – that I can remember – even though there was a screening of the apparently brilliant silent movie, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, with the Boston Alloy Orchestra, again. And this year, I’m going to try and remedy that by making it to their performance of THE BLACK PIRATE, written and starring Douglas Fairbanks. The movie that initially gave us the spectacular stunt of a buccaneer, sliding down a sail using a little knife. I imagine it’s going to be amazing!

So, this weekend, I managed to get out and see two movies (luckily it was a double-feature type format, which made it easier). After forgetting that the festival was going on, I missed the opening night showing of both PRECIOUS and THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS. Then I had planned on seeing one of the two showings of BRONSON (missed them) and then it was only on my way out the door that I saw that after one showing of BRONSON was a screening of Chan Wook Park’s latest movie, THIRST. Something about a priest turning into a vampire, or something totally and completely screwed up.

Anyway, determined not to miss the last movie that I really wanted to see, THE MESSENGER, I headed out. The movie playing afterwards, I hadn’t heard of before, but my roommate knew of it and wanted to see SERIOUS MOONLIGHT. So, that’s my double feature.

THE MESSENGER is the new movie starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, who are soldiers in the Army, who are assigned the duty to notify the next of kin, when a soldier is killed. It’s a procedural on how to present yourself, the language to use and most of all how to try and distance yourself from the atrociousness of the job. The movie is co-written and directed by Oren Moverman, who has written the screenplays for JESUS’ SON and I’M NOT THERE, the Bob Dylan bio-pic/fantasy. The other screenwriter is Alessandro Camon, who has mostly been a producer, associated with movies like AMERICAN PSYCHO, the new BAD LIEUTENANT movie with Nicolas Cage and Warner Herzog.

The story follows Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster), who after being injured in combat is sent home to serve his last few months in the motor pool, and is also given the task of handing out condolences. He’s introduced by an extreme close-up on his eye, which has a large scar underneath it, as he’s putting eye drops in. Then we meet what seems like his girlfriend, who they quickly jump straight into having sex and then go have dinner. The girlfriend, Kelly (played by Jena Malone – all grown up, when did that happen?!), is actually engaged to someone else, and we see that this is sort of meant as a goodbye present.

His introduction and orientation by Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson), leaves Montgomery cold, and not too fond of his superior officer, who is a little too fond of the term “head case” and might actually be one. Their first notification is to a family, who when they get there, they’re forced to deal with one of their rules – “We don’t wait. If the person isn’t there, we come back later.” – because the soldier’s mother isn’t home, but his pregnant girlfriend (but technically not family) is, and she wants to know whether the guy is in trouble or not. Once the mother shows up, the screaming and denial of the women is primal and ridiculous in how devastated they are; but it’s absolutely heart-rending and believable. (I can’t imagine worrying about sounding silly when told your son has just died.)

Stone and Montgomery spend their nights drinking, screwing (girls, not each other) and talking, either over the phone or at the bar. Stone asks if Will “IM’s”, but Will doesn’t have a computer. We get a couple more trips out to deliver bad news to family members, and then we meet Olivia Pitterson, who is hanging laundry when the guys come to tell her, her husband was killed. As opposed to everyone else we’ve seen react to this news, she thanks them, shakes their hands and says how hard it must be for them to tell her this. Shocked, Stone mentions that he’s never seen anything like that before. For whatever reason, Will becomes entangled with Olivia (played wonderfully by Samantha Morton – SYNECDOCHE, NY and MINORITY REPORT). He gives her and her son a ride home from a mall, checks out her car, and attends her husband’s funeral – from a distance.

This is where the movie gets a little side-tracked. Stone disappears for a while. While this strange domestic-like situation develops, to a sad moment where they both realize that they’re not really ready for the road they’re going down. This then leads us back to Stone, who advocates some time off and a trip to the country. There’s girls, booze, fights and party crashing.

The performances are all fantastic. Foster, who has been pretty amazing in everything I’ve seen him in; from the psycho cowboy, Charlie Prince, in 3:10 TO YUMA. The deranged, vampire-scout in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and even his tiny role in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, where he played the character, Angel and only appeared in a strange sub chapter in the movie. And despite the praise that Foster is getting for this movie, I have to say the screen belongs to Harrelson here.

Looking him up, Woody Harrelson, after taking a break from acting between 1999 to about 2005, has had around 3 projects a year since then. And 2009 has seemed to be his major breakout year. He’s irascible in ZOMBIELAND, completely off his rocker in 2012 – and possibly in his headlining role in the yet unreleased superhero movie DEFENDOR; but here he’s funny, but subdued. He gets to show that he’s portraying a fully-fledged character and not just a caricature, as he pretends to be in certain parts of the movie.  We see him talk about women, he gives a great homage to APOCALYPSE NOW, and at the end is completely shattered. It’s a great, great performance.

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT is a little lighter in it’s subject matter, even if it’s heritage is not. The movie was meant as the follow-up to writer/director Adrienne Shelly, who had made a splash with the movie WAITRESS. Tragically, she was killed by someone who was robbing her apartment. I haven’t seen WAITRESS, nor any of the other smaller movies that she’s written, or even acted in (that I can tell by her IMDB page). But, after seeing this movie, I see that it was a great loss and am sad that there won’t be any more stories from this person’s perspective.

Which, actually, makes the subject matter in this movie a little more prescient and sad in that it’s about a married couple (portrayed by Timothy Hutton and Meg Ryan), who run into each other at their country home, the day before either of them was supposed to be there. Ian (Hutton) has come to the cabin in preparation for a night of bliss with his mistress before leaving a note telling his wife that he’s leaving her, and taking off to Paris. His wife, Louise (Ryan), arrives and sees the flowers and romantic setting and thinks that it’s meant for her. So, when she finds out that her husband is planning on ditching her – with part of his note dictating to feed the fish – she does what any normal person would (wish) to do. She knocks him out, and ties him to a chair. In an effort to win back his love.

The movie is the directorial debut of actress/comedienne Cheryl Hines (CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and in a bit of synchronicity with the previous movie I talked about, THE GRAND, with Woody Harrelson – among many others). She does a fine job in handling the humor and drama of the story. I think that there are some missteps in wedging in some weird flashback sequences, but the best part is the ambiguity of the ending/certain events that happen.

What happens is, Louise ties Ian up to a chair. He wakes up, screams that he hates Louise, then says he loves her so she’ll cut him free. When he gets free he tries to escape and leads Louise to knock him out again, and this time tying him to the toilet in the bathroom, since that was also part of his ploy to get loose before. Louise, then says she’s going out to buy stuff for a romantic dinner and while she’s gone a guy shows up (played by Justin Long, AKA the Mac guy), who at first is mowing the lawn. Then sees Ian banging his head off the window in the bathroom. He goes inside, see Ian tied up and decides to rob the place. Louise gets home, and she winds up getting knocked out and tied up in the bathroom along with Ian. To then add insult to injury, the mistress shows up (played by Kristen Bell), and also winds up tied up in the bathroom.

There’s discussions, there’s escape attempts and ultimately there’s the choice that Ian has to make when faced with both women in his life. The movie in total is pretty cute, very funny and has some fairly tense moments. The tension works, because the movie flies by the seat of it’s pants and you’re not really sure if the movie will go “there”, in regards to violence or other areas.

The performances are a little over the top, probably with Bell’s young, “other woman” character being the most grounded and realistic. Meg Ryan, probably turns in one of my favorite roles of hers here. It’s sort of like the movie ADDICTED TO LOVE, where she’s obsessed with an ex, only this is a much more mature (strange to say) role. But, she does a great job, at being believable as the woman that just won’t accept that her marriage is over. Timothy Hutton (from the tv series LEVERAGE) does great, with the little he’s allowed to do – literally, as he’s tied up for nearly the entire movie.

I guess this movie is scheduled for release in December, so I’d say check it out; or see if it’s playing at some kind of film festival by you.

And the website for the Three Rivers Film Festival, can be found here: www.3rff.com

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