Final SFIFF Spotlights: Alex of Venice/Begin Again

by Carrie Kahn on May 10, 2014

Spinning Platters brings you two final spotlights from the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), which closed on Thursday with Chris Messina’s film Alex of Venice at the Castro, with many of the cast there for a fun Q&A. You can check out the Festival award winners here, and be sure to keep your eye out for many of these films as they are released throughout the year.

Alex of Venice
(USA 2014, 87 min)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina in Alex of Venice.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina in Alex of Venice.

The Mindy Project’s Chris Messina makes his directorial debut with this emotionally rich drama about the dissolution of a marriage. In the Q&A following the film, Messina cited Kramer vs. Kramer, Hannah and Her Sisters, and All the Real Girls as influencing his picture, and, indeed, all the best tonal elements of those films can be felt here. Strong performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as workaholic environmental attorney Alex, Katie Nehra as her more free-spirited sister, and Don Johnson as their actor father on the verge of a health crisis solidly anchor the film. Messina, as Alex’s unhappy husband George, and young Skylar Gaertner as Alex and George’s son Dakota round out the cast nicely, with Gaertner’s portrayal just as nuanced and sensitive as Justin Henry’s in Kramer vs. Kramer. A side story about Alex’s father appearing in The Cherry Orchard is a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor, but that’s just one small quibble with an otherwise excellent first feature.

Alex of Venice producer Jamie Patricof, actress and cowriter Katie Nehra, actors Don Johnson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, director and actor Chris Messina, and SFIFF Director of Programming Rachel Rosen onstage at the Castro on the final night of the 57th International Film Festival.

Alex of Venice producer Jamie Patricof, actress and cowriter Katie Nehra, actors Don Johnson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, director and actor Chris Messina, and SFIFF Director of Programming Rachel Rosen at the Castro Theater on the final night of the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival.

• No release date announced yet.

Begin Again
(USA 2013, 101 min)

Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley share some music in Once 2.0, AKA Begin Again.

Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley share some music in Once 2.0, AKA Begin Again.

If you loved Once, John Carney’s well-received 2006 music-infused romantic drama, you’re sure to enjoy his newest film, since it’s essentially the exact same story, just told in a different city with slightly different characters. Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a down-on-his luck New York City music producer who spots Keira Knightley’s Greta in a small club and somehow thinks that her wispy, virtually inaudible voice is going to be the Next Big Thing. Dan is separated from his wife (the always terrific Catherine Keener), and Greta’s relationship with her successful musician boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine, actually very good) is on the rocks. As in Once, an unspoken attraction develops between the two as they spend time recording a new album outdoors all over the city. What will happen? Will they kiss? Do we care? If you think you might, go see this movie.

• Opens widely on July 4th.

 

 

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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