The final three days of the 36th Annual Starz Denver Film Festival comes to a close this weekend, but fear not there are lots of great movies still to go. There are still Red Carpet screenings of the big dramatic ensemble August: Osage County and the smaller scale parents and kids drama At Middleton. Carl Reiner will be feted with a brunch show where he will drop-in via Skype while the legend Harry Dean Stanton will be swinging by the Mile High city to talk about his movie career which seems to have spanned from silent film to today’s YouTube videos. Without further ado.
A Field in England – British director Ben Wheatley’s fourth film is a wild, black & white acid riff on rogue’s gallery of misfits who wander around fields during the English Civil War. Horror film” may seem a misnomer to those who equate the genre with splatter flicks, but the true meaning of horror addresses the crisis of identity, and A Field in England acknowledges this. For Wheatley, the essence lies in forming an impression rather than providing straightforward answers. Interpretations are relative.Sharing qualities with other notable films featuring “psychedelic” sequences (2001: A Space Odyssey, Altered States), the ambiguity in Field might leave viewers frustrated. Yet those who seek out films that engage the intellect will find the existential allegories here worthwhile.
Remote Area Medical – In their moving documentary Remote Area Medical, filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman focus on the tragic state of health care in America. Their film puts a human face on the problem in rural Tennessee. When Stan Brock, former Wild Kingdom co-host, started his charity of the film’s title, he brought much-needed medical care to the Amazon. Decades later, he realized that the working poor in America needed his help just as much. The film follows Brock’s team of dedicated doctors and volunteers to a NASCAR racetrack in Bristol, where they treat hundreds of people in desperate need of care at a makeshift pop-up “hospital.”
Doomsdays – Former critic Eddie Mullins’s first feature is destined to rank among 2013’s greater cinematic discoveries. Indie screen notables Justin Rice (Mutual Appreciation) and Leo Fitzpatrick (Kids) star as a set of itinerant home invaders who drift across a depopulated Catskills countryside during the tony resort region’s off season. A slacker comedy that shades toward the truly anarchic and countercultural,Doomsdays is even more extraordinary for the formal intelligence it displays: using almost exclusively highly choreographed long-take setups, Mullins works consistently within the frame, allowing the action or a punch line to develop on the edges of the image or inside a background plane.
The Great Beauty – Populated by the debauched, disenchanted, or simply disinterested elite of Roman society—that is, by a decadent and fading aristocracy, counterfeit art-world celebrities, and endlessly prattling priests—director Paolo Sorrentino’s latter-day Babylon revolves around Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a successful journalist and frustrated former novelist with an acerbic wit and irresistible charm. Jep and his social circle are joined first in a pulsing discotheque on the occasion of his 65th birthday, an event that is celebrated with exuberant group choreography and conspicuous kitsch. he Great Beauty remains a work of intoxicating stylization, with short lateral tracking shots and frontal framings joined by brisk montage. The film’s contrasting sacred and secular musical cues separately serve to bring out the contradictions of a Rome that is no less Sorrentino’s symphonic subject.
Wrong Time Wrong Place – In the moving documentary Wrong Time Wrong Place, director John Appel interviews victims of the 2011 massacre in Oslo and Utoya, Norway. Those who survived gunman Anders Breivik’s rampage question how the hand of fate kept them safe while so many others perished. Ritah, a Ugandan refugee who was two months pregnant, hid in the toilets when the shooting began and was spared. Tamta, a Georgian student at the island camp, says mere chance kept her alive while her best friend died. Harald, a government worker blinded by the Oslo explosion, calls it pure coincidence that he wasn’t killed. Appel makes a point of not mentioning the killer’s name in the film, but instead focuses on the victims and their families, who must journey back through grief and guilt. Each survivor speaks to the camera with honest and raw emotion.
The Golden Cage – In the socialist-realism tradition of Ken Loach, Spanish writer-director Diego Quemada-Diez uses his directorial debut to tell the story of three Guatemalan teenagers who head north in search of a better life. The film’s title is drawn from “La Juala de Oro,” a Mexican ballad about the despair of illegal immigrants who reach the United States only to find themselves exploited for their cheap labor as cooks, gardeners, and office cleaners. Quemada-Diez comes by his pedigree honestly, having worked as a camera assistant on Loach’s Carla’s Song, Land and Freedom, and Bread and Roses. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard portion of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Burning Bush – In 1969, 20-year-old student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, standing up against the demoralization of the people and complacency that had set in under the Soviet occupation. His suicide note promised that there would be other human torches if their demands for liberty were not met. In Burning Bush, we watch as defense lawyer Dagmar Buresova accepts the case despite intimidation by the secret police. She bravely brings to light that although many oppressors operated out of greed and thirst for power, many also feared retribution from the Communist regime. Ultimately the Czech dream of socialism wasn’t realized until 20 years later, with Palach serving as an icon of moral unification during national repression.
Cold Turkey – Peter Bogdanovich stars as Poppy, the low-key retired scholar and patriarch hosting the fated Thanksgiving gathering, who seems to partake in more and more white wine on ice as more and more of his adult kids plea for exorbitant sums of cash. Daughter Lindsay tries to escape via yoga, but no amount of Zen can tune out her family. Jacob, Poppy’s son by his new wife/ex-student, valiantly but futilely defends his Madre from his half-sisters’ gibes, but foolishly thinks buying vacation real estate in Nicaragua is a good idea. And family misfit Nina (Alicia Witt) has a memory like a sieve and has made pushing others’ buttons into a fine art. Add neighbors with secrets from the past, plus some hapless significant others, and chaos seems inevitable. But where most directors might end with the holiday gone awry, Will Slocombe continues with the aftermath of the following day and Christmas week, providing a very real and witty glimpse into changing family dynamics.
Here Was Cuba – That Americans know more about the Kardashians than about the Cuban Missile Crisis is a sad state of affairs. Why do we choose to shun history? Nuclear weapons are more numerous now than during the crisis, and owned by even more “hostile” nations. Apocalyptic science-fiction films have perhaps desensitized us to the concept of the end of the world, but in October 1962, Armageddon was a very real possibility. And until this technology is eradicated, it could be again. Directors John Murray and Emer Reynolds walk a fine line between documentary and thriller; archival footage intercut with shots of modern-day Havana, Moscow, and Washington erases the distance between then and now. We see the threat through the eyes of the past, and understand the existential fear of nuclear war. John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro are presented as real people, not just names in a history book.