MVFF39 Spotlights: The Eagle Huntress/The Architect/A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet/Love is Thicker Than Water/Moonlight

by Carrie Kahn on October 9, 2016

The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival, showcasing over 200 films from more than 50 countries, opened last Thursday evening, and runs until this Sunday, October 16th. The Festival is screening some titles already garnering Oscar buzz: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, which opened the Festival (and will open widely this fall), the stunning Manchester by the Sea (which already received deserved acclaim back in January at its Sundance premiere), and Loving, the Jeff Nichols historical drama that closes the Fest.

With a full week to go, there is still plenty of time to head over to Marin to catch some great new films. Below we spotlight five Fest titles you may want to check out. Full schedule, tickets, and more information are available here.

The Eagle Huntress
(UK/Mongolia/USA 2016, 87 min. In English and Kazakh with English subtitles.)

Young Aisholpan hopes to defy tradition and become an Eagle Hunter.

Young Aisholpan hopes to defy tradition and become an Eagle Hunter.

If Donald Trump’s recent barrage of misogyny has you feeling down, do yourself a favor and – Dads especially – take your daughters to see Otto Bell’s terrific first film, which is without a doubt the most uplifting piece of inspired girl power you’ll see on screen this year. Bell’s film focuses on 13-year-old Aisholpan, a Kazakh girl living with her family high in the Altai Mountains in rural Mongolia. Aisholpan comes from a line of Eagle Hunters, men who capture and train 15 lb. wild eagles to hunt foxes. Aisholpan, despite her youth, proves herself a natural at the difficult skill, and the film chronicles her journey to become the first female Eagle Hunter in the region, despite the protestations of many conservative community elders. Two parts Hoop Dreams and two parts Whale Rider, Bell’s film will transport and immerse you into a culture steeped with tradition, love, and pride. Appropriately and dramatically narrated by Daisy Ridley, portrayer of a more famous but equally kick-ass heroine, The Eagle Huntress will grab you from its opening moments, and you’ll find yourself alternatively cheering and weeping. A wonderful tale of strength, courage, dedication and the power of family, Bell’s film should be required viewing for all middle school kids and their parents. The absolutely breathtaking cinematography by Simon Niblett also makes the film a definite must-see

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Monday, October 10, 12:45pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
– Friday, October 14, 12:00pm, Lark Theater, Larkspur

The Architect
(USA 2016, 95 min)

Drew (Parker Posey) and her husband Colin (Eric McCormack, center), meet with seemingly brilliant architect Miles Moss (James Frain) to plan their dream home.

Drew (Parker Posey) and her husband Colin (Eric McCormack, center), meet with seemingly brilliant architect Miles Moss (James Frain) to plan their dream home.

Writer/director Jonathan Parker’s new film is being billed as a “comedy/drama,” which may have been the publicity team’s attempt to turn the movie’s tone problems into a positive. With some scenes that play like broad comedy and others that feel like menacing psychological drama, Parker’s picture about a well-to-do Seattle couple (the always excellent Parker Posey and Will and Grace’s Eric McCormack) who hire a pretentious architect (James Frain, Orphan Black) to build their dream home starts promisingly, but then flounders toward the end, as the picture struggles to avoid clichés and maintain narrative interest. Parker seems to have wanted to make a darker, more nuanced version of the classic Tom Hanks ‘80s comedy The Money Pit, but even a strong performance by Posey as a conflicted wife and artist can’t save the picture from mostly feeling silly and predictable. Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Svetlana Cvetgo, the movie at least benefits from some exceptional postcard worthy shots of Seattle landscapes.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Thursday, October 13, 7:00pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Friday, October 14, 2:30pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet
(USA 2016, 93 min)

Fresno poet Larry Levis as a young man.

Fresno poet Larry Levis as a young man.

Literary lovers and California history buffs alike will enjoy Michele Poulos’s documentary about the California poet Larry Levis, who died at age 49 after years of struggling with depression and addiction. The son of a grape grower, Levis grew up in the small San Joaquin town of Selma, and attended Fresno State in the ‘60s, where he embraced the counter culture and kept company with some of the most notable artists and writers of the time. Deeply influenced by his upbringing, Levis wrote a “poetry of witness” that won him many accolades and awards, none of which, though, were able to tame a chaotic personal life that included three marriages. Featuring haunting original music by Iron & Wine, Poulos’s picture explores the artistic temperament in all its shades, while also giving us a humanizing portrait of a brilliant, complex, and tortured artist and man.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Saturday, October 15, 8:00pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Sunday, October 16, 11:15am, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

Love is Thicker Than Water
(United Kingdom 2016, 101 min)

Arthur (Johnny Flynn) and Vida (Lydia Wilson) share a happy moment.

Arthur (Johnny Flynn) and Vida (Lydia Wilson) share a happy moment.

If you’re a sucker for soapy romantic melodrama, then look no further than Emily Harris and Ate de Jong’s first co-directed pictured (de Jong also wrote the screenplay), which follows the trajectory of the relationship between Arthur (Johnny Flynn) and Vida (Lydia Wilson), two 20-something London-dwellers facing family and class differences. The picture, which integrates animation and lots of pop music into the story, has sort of a Juno-quality, only slightly more twee and precious. Arthur comes from a working class mining family in Wales; Vida is from an upper crust, academic London family. Can they make it work? Do we care? The angst is thick as London fog as a series of conveniently coincidental family emergencies drive a wedge between our star-crossed lovers. The secondary characters – especially Vida’s father and Arthur’s mother and half-brother – are infinitely more interesting than our protagonists, so at least when the former are on screen, our attention is briefly held. Otherwise, unless you have a voyeuristic interest in watching a couple fight, make up, and fight again, I’d pass on this one.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Saturday, October 15, 2:00pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Sunday, October 16, 8:00pm, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

Moonlight
(USA 2016, 110 min)

Little (Alex R. Hibbert, l.) learns to swim from Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who becomes a mentor and protector.

Chiron, AKA Little (Alex R. Hibbert, l.) learns to swim from Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who becomes a protector and mentor.

Bay Area film fans may remember Medicine for Melancholy, the 2008 San Francisco-set film that put director Barry Jenkins on the map. Eight years later, Jenkins is back with Moonlight, another picture in which the setting itself almost becomes another character. Taking place in ‘80s Miami, Moonlight tells the story of young Chiron in three acts (Chiron is played by three different, equally fine actors as the movie progresses). Raised by a drug-addled single mother in a rough part of the city, Chiron struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in a world where, as a young, urban, African-American male, he feels the weight of societal and social pressures trying to define him. More than just a coming of age tale, Jenkins’s film is a story about identity: who we are, who we want to be, and whom we present as. Gorgeously filmed with a muted color palette, the picture is hauntingly lovely and wholly unique. With limited dialog, the film says more in its weighty silences than in any exposition; phenomenal performances by all three actors who play Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) and Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother make these moments authentic and powerful. I wouldn’t be surprised if Moonlight picks up a number of nominations come awards season.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Monday, October 10, 7:45pm, Cinéarts Sequoia Theater, Mill Valley
– Thursday, October 13, 11:30am, Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

Carrie Kahn

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

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