The 23 Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival continues through Sunday, November 23 with a diverse feast of films on offer. Cinema St. Louis' programs organized under the theme "Race in America: The Black Experience" include one of my all-time favorite films: director Martin Ritt's 1972 narrative feature "Sounder" starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield.
The 23 Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival kicks off Thursday, November 13 and continues through Sunday, November 23. The 389 films offered in 239 programs include 89 narrative and 76 documentary features, plus 224 short films. I'm most impressed that 69 countries are represented in the fiction and nonfiction, live action and animation selections.
Television news director Nina Romina asserts the cliché "If it bleeds, it leads" to her ambitious stringer Louis Bloom regarding video footage he's submitting. Lou takes it to heart and pushes beyond the boundary of legalities and good taste in "Nightcrawler." But what's more disturbing than Jake Gyllenhaal's pitch-perfect, unnerving performance is that Nina speaks the truth about our media.
The themes are universal and familiar cinematic fare: family and children, hope and love, loyalty and betrayal. Their presentation is anything but routine in director Christopher Nolan's intense "Interstellar," written by Christopher and brother Jonathan. Given half a chance, their two hour 49 minute audiovisual extravaganza delivers an exhilarating and exhausting science-fiction trip through space and time.
Early on June 21, 2009, Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari was awakened at his mother's home in Tehran, charged with espionage, and placed in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Covering the 2009 Iranian presidential election for Newsweek, Bahari documented protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor with 62% of the vote, his nearest rival, Mir-Hassein Mousavi reported with 34%.
Efficiently working through the mystery/murder genre's obligatory twists and turns, "Before I Go to Sleep" proves the importance of solid acting to engage the audience. And engage they do when the actors are Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. Equally up to the challenge of adapting S.J. Watson's novel is screenwriter/director Rowan Joffe.
Relationships in "The Blue Room" are complicated, in this case, more than usual. Julien and Esther, married but not to each other, carry on a passionate affair that soon results in two deaths. The question of who murdered whom and how drives the narrative, jumping forward and back in time with relevant events inferred rather than explicitly delineated.
Representing, respectively, Palestinian and Israeli interests, Mosab Hassan Yousef and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben, Yitzhak recount in detail their conflicting roles in "The Green Prince." Yousef is a prized informant because his father Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a well-known leader and Hamas founder, was imprisoned on several occasions by Israel.
At their best, innovative, experimental films offer thoroughly astonishing cinematic experiences. And director Alejandro González Iñárritu provides exactly that in "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)." Following middle-aged Riggan Thompson trying to jump-start and salvage his acting career with a Broadway play, Iñárritu unspools a tour-de-force of technical distinction and spectacular performances.
The mystery of a wife's disappearance is the catalyst for "Gone Girl," but that unknown doesn't drive director David Fincher's film. There are no spoilers here since early in the film the woman in question--Amy Elliot Dunne--begins to narrate her point of view. An intriguing back and forth follows, more ingenious than a whodunit.