Tis the season to festival and what a season it has been! Pivoting nicely from a series of events focused on more genre specific titles, I was thrilled to join the Nashville Film Festival that is currently going on through October 6. Individual tickets for in person films and quite a lot of virtual screenings are available now — check the Film Guide for more info.
With a mission to celebrate the filmmakers and artists in its home state as well as around the world, there is also a focus on building the immediate community that is so vibrant and constantly producing dynamic work. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the city, hear the music, and eat the food so I can vouch for the richness present. I was also excited by the range of programming offered so let’s hop into the first of two review batches that will come out of the week long event.
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road
Truth be told, I was a little surprised to find a documentary on Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys not so very long after Love & Mercy went over so well back in 2014. While not the de facto one and done story of his life, it dealt with a lot of the same information provided in this documentary. Of course, BRIAN WILSON: LONG PROMISED ROAD, the doc by Brent Wilson (no relation), has the man himself and that’s what certifies this as a must-watch if you have any interest whatsoever in the history of not just Wilson or The Beach Boys, but pieces of the music scene during the time of their ascent to fame. Wilson is an agreeable subject, but an interesting interview, and it takes Rolling Stone writer Jason Fine (a trusted favorite of Wilson) driving the genius musician around in a car to lunch or to locations that spur memories to get him to open up and talk about his life. It’s totally fascinating to watch how Wilson can be moved to speak on hard subjects based on the music he’s listening to or places he’s visiting and it’s a tribute to the director and Fine that they’ve found a respectful way of coaxing that out of him. It’s not completely warts and all but you know what, does it have to be? Wilson appears to be a man that is content and doesn’t want the burden of holding on to negativity…so why include that in a lasting testimony to his contributions to music where dozens of legendary musicians sing his praises?
All together now, Jena Malone is an actress that has never gotten the full credit she deserves. Wait, you don’t know that tune? I’ve been singing it for years and watching PORCUPINE only made me sing it louder. In writer/director M. Cahill’s stark but ultimately sanguine drama, Malone is Audrey, a pixie-haired woman that finds herself without a job, friends, or companionship but possessing far too much skill and grace to keep it all to herself. While not necessarily a “screw-up”, she marches to the beat of her own drummer and tense phone calls with her mother hint at a child that went left when her parents believed she should (or could?) have veered right. Watching endless viral videos to keep herself company, she sees an ad for adult adoption and decides to look into it, eventually being matched up with Sunny (Emily Kuroda) and her brusque German husband Otto (Robert Hunger-Bühler). The spouses have their own issues to work out but Audrey’s presence begins to, if not soften, loosen up Otto from a controlling grumbler to a more appreciative but still complicated husband and father to his two adult children. While Kuroda and especially Hunger-Bühler put forth strong work, it’s Malone’s show and her subtle performance made up of gentle quirks is what brings this one home. By not making Audrey some flighty doodle-head and instead giving her a backbone and hard-nose with a warm heart, Malone opens us all up to seeing that strong willed independence doesn’t negate the need for communion with others.
I have to say, it’s so odd to watch movies released where people are wearing face coverings and talking about the pandemic and COVID-19. I’ve caught a number of these over the past few months at festivals, but I feel as if AYAR is the first narrative feature to say it outright and also have it such a part of the story. Maybe that’s why I was so uncomfortable for the first 1/3 of the movie, meeting the titular character (Ariana Ron Pedrique) living at a motel and about to start working as a maid for an upper-class family in hopes of reuniting with her daughter currently being cared for by her mother, Renata (Vilma Vega.) Renata won’t let Ayar near her granddaughter because of the COVD-19 restrictions which is a good enough reason for now but that can’t last forever. Right when you think you know where AYAR is headed, one of the motel guests having a conversation with Ayar refers to the audience watching the movie they are in and everything changes. Yes, that’s right…we, the audience get brought into the feature and it’s part of an intriguing gear shift devised by the two leading actresses who wrote the film with their director, Floyd Russ. I won’t say more but even if the concept doesn’t fully come together and lock into place, it’s a bold move that almost (almost!) works. What does work are the performances from Pedrique and Vega and here’s hoping the twist they’ve implanted in their film gets talked about enough for the right people in the industry to see this and call them up.
Queen of Glory
(reprinted from my Tribeca coverage) I’m a sucker for a lived-in NYC tale and QUEEN OF GLORY, from first-time feature director #NanaMensah (who also writes and stars), has its authenticity certified gold almost from the beginning. I’m not quite sure how Mensah sets the mood so quickly other than using a lot of real people and interesting/rarely used location shooting, but working with 75 minutes of story the multi-hyphenate star is able to bring audiences right into the world of Sarah, a daughter of Ghanaian-American parents that’s set to graduate with a doctorate from Columbia University and move to the Midwest where her married lover is about to start work. Then, her world caves in and she inherits a Christian bookstore in the Bronx (and its parolee employee) after her mother unexpectedly dies. With new responsibilities and new relatives to worry about, not to mention neighbors, friends, and lovers to juggle, Sarah has to find a strong foothold if she wants to regain balance. Mensah has been in several movies/tv projects that I’ve liked her in and tailor-making this role for herself leads to success in all the right ways. It’s not a vanity project in so much as the wealth of funny/dramatic scenes are spread around for a memorable supporting cast and the technical achievements are high. It feels like a pilot of a television series, if I’m being honest, but it’s a show I’d want to see more of.
a-ha: The Movie
(reprinted from my Tribeca coverage) Viewers don’t have to wait too long into A-HA:THE MOVIE, director Thomas Robsahm’s engaging documentary on the Norwegian pop band, to hear the song they became best known for but they may be surprised at how long Take On Me had been bouncing around within the minds and riffs of the musicians before it achieved ear worm status. That’s just one of the many behind-the-scenes bits of information Robsahm presents in this doc that thankfully is more focused on the drama involved with the music than anything else that might have been pulling at the three-member team over the past five decades. I liked that while Robsahm finds a healthy number of individuals to interview as he charts the band’s timeline, only the men themselves are ever shown responding to questions in the present day. I can’t say I was a big enough fan to keep tabs on them above and beyond their #1 chart topper and their evergreen tune for the 007 film The Living Daylights (though I loved hearing about their tempestuous relationship with John Barry!), but I’m happy to have watched A-ha get their moment.