NYFF Diary Part Five: Movies About Music and Foreign Lands 

miles aheadThis is the fifth and last entry in my New York Film Festival diary. I ended up watching about twenty movies at this year’s Festival, and it was -without a doubt- a great experience. Here are my thoughts on the last three films I saw at the Festival.

Wednesday, Oct. 7

Brooklyn (directed by John Crowley)
This tale of a young Irish woman (played by Soirse Ronan) who immigrates to 1950s New York hoping to start a better life for herself is as old fashioned as it gets, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I would have appreciated if it had been even more old fashioned in its visual presentation. The sets, costumes, the colors, event he dialogue suggests classic Hollywood Romance, which is far more effective and idiosyncratic than the hand-held camera that attempts to bring certain “modernity” to a movie that does not need it.

Brooklyn comes in a familiar package, but it doesn’t mean the gift is less valuable. There are two fantastic things about the movie: First, Ronan herself. She’s the perfect heroine for this movie, and proves captivating as a performer who has gained full control of her physicality, and who can do wonders with her unique face and big blue eyes. The other, is the little bits of truthfulness captured in the movie’s treatment of a person whose love and life is divided between two different countries (each representing a different life). Be warned that is is an earnest movie that does not shy away from its emotions. If you let it work on you, you will be moved.

Thursday,  Oct. 8

Junun (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
I’m currently taking a class on the political and ethnographic ramifications of documentary filmmaking, so my mind couldn’t help but wander into the possible Eurocentricism of a movie in which Radiohead guitar player Jonny Greenwood went to India to record an album and the Orientalism that may or may not be present in the movie’s depiction of the country. But when you get right down to it, this is just an unassuming 54 minute making of video that just so happens to be directed by one of the most prestigious film directors in the world.

Greenwood has worked as composer in Anderson’s last three films, so he invited the director to record the recording process for is latest musical project. The music that resulted out of these recording sessions (composed by Shye Ben Tzur) is actually pretty great, so it was fun enough to just watch these talented men and women perform for an hour. Other than that, however, I don’t think there’s anything particularly special or innovative about the project. It looks surprisingly similar to what I would have produced had I been the one to go record my friends’ recording sessions (and had I have Anderson’s resources). I guess it’s nice to see that a genius like Paul Thomas Anderson isn’t that different from us after all.

Saturday, Oct. 10

Miles Ahead (directed by Don Cheadle)
The festival’s closing film is the directorial debut of actor Don Cheadle, who also stars as legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. The press materials suggested this movie would focus on the enigmatic period between 1975-1980, when Davis didn’t release a single record. This turns out to be be only partially true. We do begin with a depressed, drugged-out Davis who can’t get himself to release his latest recordings despite his label’s pressure to fabricate a “comeback” narrative for the musician, but that’s only half of the movie. The other half takes us back to Davis’s tumultuous and ultimately doomed marriage to dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzi Corineadi).

The movie Miles Ahead reminded me the most was Saving Mr. Banks, which also had two story-lines. The “making-of-Mary-Poppins” narrative, in which Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers had to deal with each other’s egos; and the hokey flashbacks to Travers’s childhood in Australia. Similarly, the 1979 part of Miles Ahead, turns out to be a sort of buddy-action movie, in which Miles has to deal with a nosy reporter (Ewan McGregor) and the disappearance of one of his valuable new tapes. The flashback narrative, however, is a boring and familiar musical biopic of the kind we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Cheadle does cleverly interlace the two narratives in the movie’s climactic moments, and he indulges in some exciting -if a little corny- visual and narrative tricks that keep the movie going at a good pace, but I’m afraid Miles Ahead is only half of a good movie.

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5 comments

  1. smilingldsgirl · October 10, 2015

    I haven’t heard of any of these. Your description of Miles Ahead intrigues me because I LOVE Saving Mr Banks but the buddy action movie doesn’t sound good. I love Miles Davis music though. Interesting. Don Cheadle is always good and has such a range. What’s the movie you liked best at the festival?

    • Conrado Falco · October 10, 2015

      My favorites were Carol and The Lobster, but there were lots of good stuff.

      I’d also recommend Son of Saul, Brooklyn, Microbe and Gasoline, and that’s just scraping the surface.

      • smilingldsgirl · October 10, 2015

        Cool! I’ll have to reread those reviews and check them out. It seems like there weren’t any that you’ve hated or totally skunked. Maybe I’m forgetting something?

      • Conrado Falco · October 10, 2015

        You’re right, I didn’t hate anything. Although there were some real bores like Journey to the Shore and Don’t Blink.

      • Conrado Falco · October 10, 2015

        The Walk was also pretty bad.

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