Despite the title line, it's still weirdly quiet here: My cabbie this morning said that there's a little less press and industry present but what's notably absent is the corporate presence -- no free giveaway bags this year -- and the gawkers on Main Street. And it's true -- you can drive up Main without running over a paparazzi or two, as is usually the case. So while the business is still here (and the movies, of course), the hype appears to be taking the year off. I could get used to this.
Well, true, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz were in town last night for the premiere of "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire." I caught up with it this morning at a press screening and was unexpectedly moved: Lee Daniels' has taken an Oprah-ready story and turned it into a real film. Most affecting is Gabourey Sidibe (in photo above) as Precious, the kind of character most movies would run screaming from or turn into a cartoon: a hulking, inarticulate mountain of a Harlem 16 year old with an emotionally abusive mom (Mo'Nique), sexually abusive dad (Rodney Bear Jackson), one child, and another on the way. The movie skirts being a chamber-of-horrors melodrama and an agenda-driven inspirational movie (once Precious lands in an alternative writing class headed by Paula Patton), but the script, the performances and especially Daniels' smart, alert direction, grounding the film in real reactions, real speech patterns, keeps it honest. Mostly. Kravitz plays a male nurse in a few scenes and I was two-thirds of the way into a sequence where Precious visits a drab Noo Yawk social worker before I realized it was Carey. She's surprisingly good (no, "Glitter" still isn't forgiven) and Sidibe is better -- an unforgettable presence as the kind of kid most of us look past on the street but who increasingly glows with inner life.
The best film I've seen yet at the festival, though -- so far -- is "Rudo and Corsi," the feature directing debut of Carlos Cuaron (Alfonso's brother and writer of "Y Tu Mama Tambien"). The new movie reunites Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna from "Y Tu Mama," casting them as country bumpkin half-brothers who both become huge soccer stars and then, each in his own special way, fall spectacularly to earth. Carlos isn't a visual stylist like his brother but he's a good writer with a great idea -- the brothers are a bonehead comic/sad metaphor for Mexico itself -- and the two stars have a wonderful time skewering macho dreams of glory. A very funny but very spiky film and one that should do well when Sony Pictures Classics releaases it later this year.
Both Cuarons were at last night's screening -- Alfonso produced the film -- as was producer Guillermo del Toro (director of "Pan's Labyrinth"). But the screams were for Bernal, who came out and charmed the pants off everyone without even saying anything particularly funny:
Diego Luna was in Mexico City working on a play and couldn't attend. Other movies? "The Missing Person" gives a welcome starring role to actor Michael Shannon (the saving grace of "Revolutionary Road") as a Humphrey Bogart-style private investigator in the modern day. Yes, that old trick, but writer/director Noah Buschel has the sardonic dialogue right and gets sharp performances from Amy Ryan, Margaret Colin, and John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco from "The Sopranos," very funny here as a New York cabbie transplanted to Los Angeles). Unfortunately, Buschel has no visual sense to back it up: "Person" lacks a pictorial and pacing snap that would really bring it to life. The plot's 9/11 angle feels tacked on, too. But Shannon gives his line readings a deceptively lazy spin that gives you paper cuts; more starring roles for him, please.
And more for Stella Schnabel, the twenty-something daughter of painter-director Julian, who makes the downtown angst of "You Won't Miss Me" worth watching. Ry Russo-Young's movie is, on the face of it, a standard New York coming-of-age movie about a standard messed-up New York kid. But her direction -- ultra-low-budget, ragged, pinwheeling through any number of film and video formats -- manages to stay on this side of forced. (Occasionally, as in a scene at dusk by the South Street Seaport, it's breathtakingly lovely.) Schnabel resembles her dad, which is to say she's a big-boned juggernaut, and she plays her character, Shelley, with all the helpless obnoxiousness that certain privileged and out-of-control young women can have. But she also shows you why Shelly's manic ego renders her beautiful, in a wild way, as well as hellbent for breakdown. The movie leaves you pondering whether a "normal" Shelly would be a loss. Here's Schnabel talking about where the character came from after the late screening last night:
Big buzz is beginning to settle on such documentaries as "Big River Man" (which I'm missing right now) and "Burma VJ"; virulent buzz-kill has settled on the cop drama "Brooklyn's Finest," directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") and starring Richard Gere. Last night's public screening sent audiences out in an angry funk, including one journalist I know who hoped he could find a way to purge the entire film from his memory. Scratch that one off my list, I guess.
About Movie Nation
ContributorsTy Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.
Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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Look for new reviews by Ty Burr and Wesley Morris at the end of each week in multiple formats.