Imagine Rain Man meets Humphrey Bogart and you’ve got the eccentric gumshoe character that Edward Norton plays in Motherless Brooklyn, a film he starred in as well as wrote, directed and produced and which has the prestigious Closing Night slot of the 2019 New York Film Festival. Norton adapted his film from Jonathan Letham’s 1999 novel of the same name, changing the book’s gritty 1999 New York setting to a painterly 1950’s New York setting – an impressively ambitious if dubious decision (on an indie budget).
Including Top Ten Broken-Marriage / Divorce Movies. So: Marriage Story, a stylish romantic comedy written and directed by Noah Baumbach with an all-star cast led by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver and featuring top-notch talent such as Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Wallace Shawn, opened as the centerpiece of the 2019 New York Film Festival. Helen Highly Loathes this movie. I think perhaps I wouldn’t loathe it so much if everyone else wasn’t loving and lauding it so much. Sigh. Something about the gushing acceptance of this film into the “canon” of broken-marriage and/or divorce-themed movies creates a feeling of outrage in me – a feeling much deeper than any inspired by the self-consciously sentimental moments in the film.
NYFF2019 Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, “Cinema is the domain of freedom, and it’s an ongoing struggle to maintain that freedom. It’s getting harder and harder for anyone to make films of real ambition anywhere in this world. Each and every movie in this lineup, big or small, whether it’s made in Italy or Senegal or New York City, is the result of artists behind the camera fighting on multiple fronts to realize a vision and create something new in the world. That includes masters like Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodóvar and younger filmmakers coming to the festival for the first time like Mati Diop and Angela Schanelec.” The 57th NYFF has announced its Main Slate lineup.
We have a special program to thank for two excellent indie films in the past two years – “Lucky Grandma,” by Asian-American filmmakers Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng, and “Nigerian Prince,” by young, Nigerian-American filmmaker Faraday Okoro. Both films were winners of AT&T Presents: Untold Stories, which is an alliance between AT&T and the Tribeca Film Institute. Now in its third year, the program awards a $1 million cash prize, mentorship and distribution to under-represented filmmakers with a story to tell. Helen Highly Recommends both “Lucky Grandma” and “Nigerian Prince.” Helen also Highly Contemplates the benefits and drawbacks of corporate sponsorship in filmmaking and in Pride parades.
A common criticism often heard in reviewing documentaries is “it’s more of Dateline segment than a movie;” even good investigative journalism does not in itself make a movie. Sometimes “advocacy documentaries” can be forgiven their school-bookishness because the subject is so urgently relevant; their social or political importance overrides their artistic mediocrity. But how do you justify “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” written and directed by Aviva Kempner? This documentary, in theaters now, is more of an answer to a Jeopardy question than it is a movie. Or maybe it’s an entire Jeopardy episode – as chock full of rapid-fire bits of quirky trivia as it is.
It’s Gay Pride month, and we’re coming up to July 4th and Independence Day, so HelenHighly discusses three new documentaries whose hearts beat the drums of freedom, passion and change, and how in each film, art is the catalyst that brings those concepts to life. Helen Highly Recommends “A Night at Switch n’ Play,” “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes,” and “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation.”