MVFF38 Spotlights #1: The Automatic Hate/Second Coming/The Girl in the Book/You’re Ugly Too

by Carrie Kahn on October 8, 2015


The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival, showcasing over 200 films from more than 50 countries, opens today, October 8th, and runs until next Sunday, October 18th. The Festival is screening some titles already garnering Oscar buzz: Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, with Eddie Redmayne in the true story of Lili Elbe; Truth featuring Robert Redford as Dan Rather, and Suffragette, with heavy hitters Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep. This year, the Festival also hosts special evenings with Mulligan, Sarah Silverman, Brie Larson, and Sir Ian McLellan.

Here at Spinning Platters, though, we thought we’d start the Festival by spotlighting some of the lower profile films that risk being overshadowed by movies already getting their fair share of press. Full schedule, tickets, and more information are available here, and be sure to stay tuned to Spinning Platters for more updates throughout the Fest.

The Automatic Hate
(USA 2015, 97 min)

Long-lost cousins watch an old family film together.

Movies about family secrets can often lend themselves to melodrama if directors aren’t careful, and while writer/director Justin Lerner often comes close to soapy angst, he’s able to avoid overwrought excess with crisp pacing, matter-of-fact dialogue, and nuanced performances by his cast. Joseph Cross plays Davis, whose world is shaken when he learns he has family he never knew existed: three female cousins and an uncle – his father’s brother (the always excellent Ricky Jay). As Davis finds himself drawn to his cousin Alexis (Adelaide Clemens), the story behind their fathers’ rift unfolds, with consequences affecting Davis, Alexis, and Davis’s girlfriend Cassie (Deborah Ann Woll). Although some scenes strain credulity, others are particularly well-crafted and sharp, such as a brutal family dinner that will make your dysfunctional family meals seem normal by comparison. Psychologically rich and emotionally astute, Lerner’s film is as smart as it is disturbing, and always affecting.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Thursday, October 15, 8:45pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Saturday, October 17, 2:15pm, Lark Theater, Larkspur

The Second Coming
(United Kingdom 2014, 105 min)

Jackie (Nadine Marshall) and Mark (Idris Elba) discuss family matters.

Award-winning British playwright Debbie Tucker Green makes her feature film debut with this story about a Caribbean immigrant family living in London. The film has shades of magic realism and biblical allegory, as it concerns a woman who finds herself unexpectedly and implausibly pregnant, but Green never delves too deeply into this premise, instead expecting us to just accept the conceit and embrace the story. The picture works better as a drama about a strained marriage and as a portrait of British working-class life; Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba are exceptional as the lead couple. That superb casting may actually be Green’s fatal flaw: any film that asks us to buy that a woman would resist sleeping with Idris Elba is hard to take seriously, after all. The picture could also benefit from subtitles, as the accents are often difficult to understand, and many times lines are spoken off camera, a combination that puts a strain on viewers trying to follow the already sparse dialogue. Young Kai Francis Lewis, as the couple’s 11 year-old-son JJ, is another reason to watch, though; he delivers a remarkably mature, sensitive, intelligent performance.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Tuesday, October 13, 8:00pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Wednesday, October 14, 11:45am, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley

The Girl in the Book
(USA 2015, 88 min)

Young Alice (Ana Mulvoy-Ten) is mentored – and worse – by writer Milan (Michael Nyqvist).

Michael Nyqvist, who viewers may know best as the heroic Mikael from the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films, is no hero in writer/director Marya Cohn’s new movie. Instead of helping a young woman, here Nyqvist’s Milan takes advantage of one, and the results are often hard to watch. Young Alice (Ana Mulvoy-Ten) is 15 when she is befriended by writer Milan, a client of her literary agent father. In a series of flashbacks, we can tell that Milan’s overtures of mentorship are about to cross boundaries, and the picture quickly devolves into Lolita-esque territory. In the present day, 15 years later, the adult Alice (Emily VanCamp), a struggling literary editor, must confront her past when her brusque boss assigns her to work on the re-issue of Milan’s acclaimed novel, which, of course, just happens to be about her. While often bordering on movie-of-the week melodrama, the picture is a terrific vehicle for VanCamp and Mulvoy-Ten, who are both exceptional at showcasing Alice’s confusion, anger, and emotional devastation, especially in solid scenes with Alice’s equally unlikable, domineering father (Michael Cristofer) and concerned best friend (Ali Ahn). Nyqvist has a difficult role, and the fact that he never makes Milan more than wholly unsympathetic is to his credit.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Saturday, October 10, 4:45pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Monday, October 12, 8:15pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Thursday, October 15, 11:15am, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley

You’re Ugly Too
(Ireland 2015, 81 min)

Uncle Will (Aidan Gillen) shares an ice cream with his niece Stacey (Lauren Kinsella).

Unlike Second Coming, which actually could use them, English subtitles accompany this film by Irish writer/director Mark Noonan, even though the Irish brogues aren’t that thick, and understanding the dialogue is never a problem. Beautifully shot in the Irish midlands, Noonan’s film tells the story of Will Hogan (Aidan Gillen), recently released from prison on a “compassionate leave” to care for his spirited 11-year-old niece Stacey (Lauren Kinsella, another fine child actor) after her mother’s death. The film takes its time revealing exactly why Will was in prison, but savvy viewers may be able to surmise the reason based on the subtle hints Noonan provides. Gillen and Kinsella are outstanding together, and their scenes are easily the best in the movie. An achingly honest meditation on the power of family, this naturalistic, lovely film is not to be missed.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Wednesday, October 14, 5:15pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Friday, October 16, 4:15pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Sunday, October 18, 11:45am, Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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