The Reel Dad: New York Film Festival celebrates the best of movies

Thank goodness for the New York Film Festival.

Each fall this annual event takes us to wonderful worlds where movies travel. Through its curated collection of films, the Festival celebrates what we cherish, challenges what we consider and confirms our hopes of what movies can be. And we’re just up the road from Lincoln Center where it all happens.

Check out three of the films that will highlight this year’s festival starting September 28.

 

Last Flag Flying

Three years ago, filmmaker Richard Linklater captured the hearts of moviegoers with an innovative, touching story of boyhood that he titled, naturally, Boyhood.

This year, Linklater opens Last Flag Flying, an adaptation of Darryl Ponicsan’s novel from 2005 that was a sequel to his 1970 novel, The Last Detail. The Oscar-nominated movie from that book, directed by Hal Ashby, involved two soldiers taking a third to prison with lots of laughs along the way. The new film promises more.

 

Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying.

Bryan Cranston, fresh from his Oscar nomination for playing Dalton Trumbo, is Billy L. Buddushky, the character Jack Nicholson played in the earlier film. Just as in real life, some 30 years have passed in the reel lives of Buddushky and his buddies since that road trip. Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne play these Vietnam veterans who reconnect after one of their sons dies fighting in Iraq.

This material sounds ideal for Linklater, a director known for finding the humanity in any story, savoring the authenticity of every emotion. As he recently said, “I like the idea of three guys getting back together and what that means, what that reveals about you in relation to them but also in relation to yourself. It seems like a good mirror.”

 

Wonderstruck

Two years have passed since filmmaker Todd Haynes dazzled the festival with his study of women confronting the challenges of love in Carol.

With each film, Haynes confirms his instinct to explore what people feel as they face situations they may not understand, revealing how they wrestle unconventional feelings during conventional times. He bravely looks at any time period through a contemporary lens, respecting the past while exposing its flaws. And he uses a film’s visual look to reinforce its emotional core.

These moviemaking gifts should be well suited for Wonderstruck, an adaptation of the novel by Brian Selznick, who co-wrote the screenplay. They explore the parallel journeys of people trying to solve emotional mysteries, a young man hoping to meet his father and, fifty years before, a young woman hoping to find a new life. How these two stories evolve, and ultimately connect, gives Haynes the chance to explore what people can share, and hide, over decades.

As New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones observes, “Todd Haynes and Brian Selznick have pulled off something truly remarkable here—a powerful evocation of childhood, with all of its mysteries and terrors and flights of imagination and longings.”

 

Wonder Wheel

Some 52 years ago, filmmaker Woody Allen first brought his unique blend of comedy and humanity to the screen in What’s New, Pussycat.

Since then, actresses Diane Keaton, Cate Blanchett, Dianne Wiest, Penelope Cruz and Mira Sorvino have all won Oscars for playing complex women in Allen’s films. This puts Kate Winslet in good company as Allen opens Wonder Wheel, a story set in New York City in the 1950s, as the closing feature of this year’s Festival. This is Allen’s first film to be so honored.

“I’m not quite sure what I expected when I sat down to watch Wonder Wheel,” says Kent Jones, “but when the lights came up I was speechless. There are elements in the film that will certainly be familiar to anyone who knows Woody Allen’s work, but here he holds them up to a completely new light. And at the center of it all is Kate Winslet’s absolutely remarkable performance — precious few actors are that talented, or fearless.”

Allen sets the new film in Coney Island, a location familiar to many a Woody fan as the home for Alvy Singer in the Oscar-winning Annie Hall. Will we see and hear that famous roller coaster again?

For tickets to the 55th annual New York Film Festival, go to filmlinc.org. The event runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 15.

 

Todd Haynes revisits past shadows in Carol

 

by Mark Schumann

The Reel Dad

 

Two years ago, Todd Haynes was the talk of the New York Film Festival with his feature Carol much as many expect this year when his Wonderstruck plays the event.

That rainy evening in 2014, when Carol was center screen, offered memorable moments.

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in Carol.

A well-dressed woman walks into a department store in search of the perfect gift for her daughter. As she scans the displays for possible items, she notices a captivating woman, a lady of such engaging expression that the shopper forgets, for a moment, why she came to the store. Suddenly the task to purchase becomes less important than the opportunity to engage. After all, how often do people get the chance to redefine their lives?

As he did with Far From Heaven in 2002, director Todd Haynes explores the shadows of forbidden relationships in the remarkable Carol. While the earlier piece revisits the glossy late 1950s – in the lush style of director Douglas Sirk – Carol creates a darker view. Instead of decorating the drama with picture-perfect panoramas of a New England village, Haynes explores a darkened Manhattan trying to find its rhythm after the tension of World War II. As if anticipating what his daring characters will face, Haynes pictures a stark environment where people search for ways to connect while the world anxiously observes.

A stylish woman trapped in a cardboard marriage, Carol dreams of meeting someone she can unconditionally love. That she searches for this relationship among the women of Manhattan conflicts with a time period when people cannot freely express such romantic aspirations. As the women begin to explore how they care for each other, Haynes’ camera acknowledges how others may not be prepared for what they see. The sun never shines on his world – defined by its shadows – as the women try to define what they can mean to each other in a world that refuses to permits such a relationship to flourish. Against all odds they try to play by their own rules. But, in the 1950s, people who reach beyond tradition can get caught.

Such rich characters offer two actresses many opportunities to shine. We expect Cate Blanchett, in her second award-worthy performance this year, to excel at a character of such rich layers. While this portrayal may initially seem a careful variation of other roles she has played, including Blue Jasmine for which she won an Oscar, we soon realize how subtle a transformation she maneuvers. With each glance, Blanchett creates a sense of mystery, telling us little about what this woman thinks, and forcing us to discover what happens inside her mind and heart. As the object of Blanchett’s affection, Rooney Mara is perfectly pitched as a lady who may be less timid than she suggests. With her bright eyes and broad expressions, she captures the essence someone who hopes that danger will enter her life. And she’s not disappointed.

For Haynes, the film is another triumph in his independent march to cinema honors. Rather than look at the tensions of an earlier time through a contemporary lens, he examines how people of a long-ago period would react to complexity. By refusing to let the characters express themselves with words of 2015, Haynes recreates a time when people can say so little about what they really feel. This tension makes Carol worth seeing. And impossible to forget.

Much as, for many at the New York Film Festival, Wonderstruck may be, too.

 

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