Friday, September 4, 2009

FSLC's First Run Features fest, a very GOOD DICK and the terrific SIN NOMBRE

TrustMovies is remiss in his late coverage of the Film Society of Lincoln Cen-
ter's festival of films from FIRST RUN FEATURES -- long one of our best sources for indepen-
dent film and documentaries. The series began on August 30 and closed today with the two-time showings of Matteo Garrone's THE EMBALMER and -- ooops -- Radley Metzger's THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1978). Though I had already seen almost all the films in this series, I'd somehow managed to miss the Metzger movie, so I trekked into Manhattan
to the Walter Reade for a sample.

was Metzger's (a 70s-soft-core specialist: Therese & Isabelle, The Lickerish Quartet) try at updating the creaky 1930s play by John Willard into a classy, star-studded production. Good luck. Mr. Metzger has never shown much movie-making talent, save putting pretty girls in the front of the camera and offering up gay and lesbian characters as, alternately, villains or sacrifices (this was quite a popular ploy back in the day).

Beatrix Lehmann, left (who died soon after the film was completed),
emotes, as a stern Wendy Hiller observes in Metzger's melange.

Still, there's some fun to be had via the diverse cast, which includes the likes of Ms Hiller, Daniel Massey, Edward Fox, Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte, Honor Blackman, Olivia Hussey and Peter McEnery -- plus a couple of then-popular Americans tossed in for good measure: Carol Lynley and Michael Callan. Everyone is slumming but they all more than rise to the mostly feeble occasion at hand. If you pay attention to the film's pre-title beginning, you will probably outguess the outcome; the final credits are charmingly handled and there are a few decent, even intentional, laughs along the way. The film is available for rent via Netflix -- as is the 1927 filmed version of the play -- and for sale via FRF, so if I've piqued your interest, you know how to satiate it.


Last year, after I'd interviewed French filmmaker Audrey Estrougo, this talented young woman emailed me about the movie by a friend of hers that was about to open in New York. I missed the one-week run of GOOD DICK at that time but caught up with it this week, as it made its DVD debut. Audrey's right: this is a terrific little film, with a bunch of good performances and a wonderfully open/screwy look at sex and love and how -- maybe -- they might work together. Written and directed by one of its two stars, Marianna Palka (shown below), it's an extremely open and highly sexual movie but one that absolutely merits that enormous sexuality, offering up in return a bracing, thought- and feeling-provoking experience.

The movie also sports yet another terrific performance from a young actor -- Jason Ritter -- who seems poised to become one of our very best -- if the three films I've seen him star in so far are any indication: The Education of Charlie Banks, the upcoming Peter & Vandy, and now this one. Mr. Ritter (shown at bottom on the poster above) could hardly be more different, or believable, in each of the films. He's alternately funny and moving (or scary in Charlie Banks), always real and -- maybe most important -- charismatic. Ms Palka is very good, as well, but whether by her generosity or his bulldozing talent, this is Ritter's movie. The ending is too easy, but so wrapped up in these two are we by this point that the feel-good is not a deal-breaker. Try Good Dick, but be prepared to wince, laugh and swallow hard.


It is not as though SIN NOMBRE, the spectacularly good first full-length film by Cary Fukunaga (shown below), hasn't already garnered its share of raves. But I've got to add my own -- with the suggestion that the folks at Focus Features, the film's distributor, start the Best Film campaign now, should they not have begun same already. If a highly flawed piece of feel-good entertainment like Slumdog Millionaire can walk away with last year's award, why not an independent film like this that manages to reach a mainstream audience? Sin Nombre is an expert thriller/chase/road movie that plays fair with both its characters and its audience.

Why might the movie not have a chance at awards times? In a nutshell: Because Sin Nombre deals with the immigration to American of Hispanic illegals -- a hot button issue unlikely to garner heaps of good feelings from much of our country. Whereas Slumdog gave us those lovable (or nasty) East Indians -- who didn't seem to be threatening our jobs (except from afar, of course) -- this one has us identifying with the "other" in ways we can't avoid. (La Misma Luna did this last year, but in a much more feel-good manner.) I'm not saying that the movie is my choice for Best Film, mind you. But I'd damn sight rather see something like this -- a true independent, rich and polished in its own way, and full of talent -- take top honors for a change. If you haven't seen Sin, go for it, as the movie has just now appeared on DVD.

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