~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Rated PG-13; 119 minutes
Leonard Maltin, IndieWire (excerpted)
Thor Heyerdahl made history by traveling nearly 5,000 miles on a balsa-wood raft in 1947. His book about the adventure sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, and his subsequent 1951 documentary earned an Oscar. Now two Norwegian filmmakers have created a compelling new drama about the voyage of Kon-Tiki.
Heyerdahl, as played by Pål Hagen, is a single-minded explorer and scientist who falls in love with Polynesia, and becomes convinced that it was discovered by South Americans who sailed there on the currents, following the sun. There’s just one problem: no one in the scientific community believes him. Undaunted, he gathers a disparate group to join him and sets sail from Peru, recreating the voyage of the sun god Tiki, on a raft built just like the one used 1,500 years ago.
Not every crew member is experienced, and the radio refuses to work; one conflict builds on another. The sailors put their faith in Heyerdahl’s belief that no steering will be necessary to reach their destination. They also pray that they won’t be eaten by sharks along the way. Kon-Tiki is a robust adventure yarn and a highly entertaining film.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Stories We Tell
Rated PG-13; 108 minutes
Gut Lodge, Variety (excerpted)
After two exceptional dramatic features, Away From Her and Take This Waltz, actress/director Sarah Polley appeared to be taking a left turn with a documentary on her own family. As it turns out, the alternately playful and elegiac Stories We Tell is wholly of a piece with her fiction work, and just as rewarding. A shape-shifting study of her late mother’s infidelities, sewn from the occasionally sparring firsthand accounts of loved ones, it’s another delicate, surprising reflection on intimate relationship politics from the young Canadian filmmaker.
The title may appear blandly noncommittal at first glance, but proves more telling as it becomes clear that Polley is less concerned with family history than with family narratives, and how oft-repeated untruths and assumptions can distort or even fabricate memories. Similarly, Polley’s own storytelling is deceptively artful in its orchestration: What seems a happy shuffle of freeform talking-head interviews is actually sequenced into a startling series of reveals. Meanwhile, through canny casting and filming, apparent homevideo footage emerges as wistful reconstruction, as the director underlines the pliability and artifice of all her contributors’ recollections — her own included.
Polley’s point may be that all family life, in retrospect and in the moment, involves an element of performance — though given that the actress-helmer hails from a thespian household, hers perhaps involves a little more than most. While Polley’s British-born father, Michael, is present as both interviewee and narrator (thus contributing two perspectives, one spontaneous and one manipulated), the focus is primarily on the one immediate family member not around to represent herself: her mother, Diane, a minor showbiz figure in Canada, who died of cancer before Polley (the youngest of Diane’s five children) hit her teens, leaving behind a tangle of personal secrets that remained knotted until 2007.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 85 minutes
Glenn Sumi, Now Magazine (excerpted)
Greta Gerwig plays an aspiring dancer/part-time dance teacher whose Brooklyn roommate/BFF Sophie (Mickey Sumner) moves to another apartment, leaving Frances with one more thing to figure out in an already cluttered life.
But with her clown-like grin and grab bag of ironic outbursts, she carries on, moving from place to place until she literally finds herself where she was before.
The movie's crisp black and white might recall Woody Allen's Manhattan, but the title character in Frances Ha resembles a semi-hipsterish, over-educated Annie Hall - it's even echoed in the syllables of their names.
Full of funny non-sequiturs and pointed observations Frances Ha is arguably director Noah Baumbach's (The Squid & the Whale) warmest film to date. It's a lovely, bittersweet ode to maintaining the romance of friendship while tentatively moving towards adulthood.
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 108 minutes
Brian Tallerico, Film Threat (excerpted)
Richard Linklater’s beautiful Before Sunset left viewers feeling romantic without really addressing the truth of what was happening – Jesse (Ethan Hawke) was leaving his wife and son for Celine (Julie Delpy). Nine years later, Before Midnight opens with a bittersweet reminder that even the great love stories have repercussions as Jesse bids farewell to his son Hank at the airport. Hank has spent his summer with Jesse & Celine, who are now married with twin girls. As the pair drive back from the airport the brilliant interplay of dialogue that has defined this trilogy begins.
Few films have ever captured the way two people love and hate in the same moment as completely as Before Midnight. People who have been together a decade know what to say to each other to lift them up and to push back when they feel up against the wall. There’s truth here that has rarely been found in any films about married life. It’s not only a film about those moments in which we consider the decisions we’ve made in the past but the moments that make us worry about the future.
Some say this the conclusion, arguing that this is one of the best trilogies of all time. I don’t want to close that door yet (and, yes, it is one of the best trilogies of all time). Linklater, Hawke, & Delpy have found a way to capture the wide-eyed romance of love in our 20s, the renewed optimism of lost passion in our 30s, and, now, the complex truth of married love in our 40s. There’s little reason to think they can’t do it again in nine years. Until then, let’s just enjoy this true gift, a masterful examination of life, love, regret, secrecy, passion, and the need for two people to retain personal identities along with their identification as a couple.