MVFF38 Spotlights #2: Truth/Yosemite/Suffragette

by Carrie Kahn on October 19, 2015


The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival closed Sunday, October 18th, but if you weren’t able to make it out to Marin these past ten days, never fear: many of the titles – both big and small – will be widely released, and available to you soon at your local theater. To wrap up our coverage, Spinning Platters takes a look at three of these films, one of which actually opens this Friday.

(USA 2015, 121 min)

The 60 Minutes investigative team (played by, from left, Elisabeth Moss, Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace, and Dennis Quaid) tries to find the Truth.

Have you ever made mistake at work so big that you’ve thought to yourself, “I’m either going to get fired, or I should just quit now and avoid the fallout”? If the answer is yes, then make yourself feel better by going to see this new film by first-time director (and, of all things, Amazing Spider Man screenwriter) James Vanderbilt, which details a workplace screw up so devastating that its consequences have national, international, and political ramifications. Suddenly, your missed deadline isn’t looking so bad. Vanderbilt’s film focuses on the 2004 “60 Minutes” segment about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. CBS News staff — including producer Mary Mapes, and, infamously, anchor Dan Rather — relied on documents of dubious, unverified origin to support their assertion that Bush pulled strings to get into the Guard. Vanderbilt wisely never lets on if he thinks the investigative team is right or wrong, but allows the viewer to first watch the team construct the story, and then witness its unraveling, thus creating a journalism tale on par with All the President’s Men. The way the word “truth” is bandied about sometimes feels a bit heavy-handed, but top-notch performances from Cate Blanchett as Mapes, Robert Redford as Rather, and Dennis Quaid and especially Topher Grace as the report staffers more than compensate for the film’s didacticism. A must-see for political and news junkies.

Future screenings:
– Opens this Friday, October 23rd, at Bay Area theaters.

(USA/France 2015, 82 min)

Phil (James Franco, center) and his sons Alex (Troy Tinnirello, l.) and Chris (Everett Meckler) feel some unease in Yosemite.

Produced by James Franco and based on stories in his 2014 collection Palo Alto, Yosemite, in which the writer/actor also appears, feels like a vanity project, though it’s able to maintain some credibility by virtue of being written and directed by French filmmaker Gabrielle Demeestere. Set in the fall of 1985, this atmospheric coming-of-age film presents three stories connected by overlapping characters, 5th grade boys living in Palo Alto (Franco’s home town). A through line about a mountain lion on the loose sets a tone of vague foreboding that works better in some of the episodes than others. Some scenes evoke similar (but better) pictures like Stand By Me, but the performances by the young actors here are uniformly excellent. Of particular note is Henry Hopper (yes, Dennis’s son), playing a young man who befriends one of the boys; his motivations aren’t always clear, and Hopper does a superb job conveying this disquieting interest. The opening vignette (with Franco as one of the boy’s fathers) may also be compelling to local viewers — it was beautifully shot on location in Yosemite Valley.

Future screenings:
– Will be widely released this coming winter.

(United Kingdom 2015, 106 min)

Women (including Carey Mulligan’s Maud, center) rally for the vote in 1912 London.

Fans of British period dramas will like this story of the women’s suffrage movement in London circa 1912, told in a rare but welcome picture that’s both directed and written by women (Sarah Gavron and Abi Morgan, who also penned the Meryl Streep Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, respectively). Carey Mulligan stars as a working-class laundress who is at first reluctantly drawn into the increasingly violent suffrage movement, but who eventually comes to whole-heartedly embrace and fight for the cause. Based on real events, the picture benefits from strong performances not only by Mulligan, but also Helena Bonham-Carter, as a fellow determined suffragette, and Brendan Gleeson, as an increasingly conflicted lawman trying to reign in the activists. The film has received some criticism for prominently featuring Meryl Streep in its trailers; in reality, she has a bit part, and is on screen for only a few minutes. Streep fans may be disappointed, but don’t let that keep you from seeing this film about a critical, and, unfortunately, still all-too-relevant episode from history seldom portrayed on screen.

Future screenings:
– Will open at Bay Area theaters on Friday, October 30th.

Carrie Kahn

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

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