Tastes, Styles and Cultures Convene at New York Film Festival

By James Miller, Staff Writer

For many New Yorkers, the official start of the fall movie season is the New York Film Festival. Held every year by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the NYFF is the platform for new releases, ranging from domestic and mainstream to foreign and independent, to find a distributor or to incite awards buzz. This year’s festival, the 48th, premieres new films by David Fincher (“The Social Network”), Clint Eastwood (“Hereafter”), Julie Taymor (“The Tempest”) and Jean-Luc Godard (“Film Socialisme”). Here are a few of the films that launched the festival, which runs until Oct. 10. 

 

“The Social Network” (PG-13) – In theaters Oct. 1

Property of the Social Network

Anytime a new technology is invented or an old one is reformed, there is bound to be somebody who asks if the change is necessary. I expect many will ask that question when they leave “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s terrific dramatization of the creation of Facebook. They won’t be pondering so much about their relationship with the website as they will about the impact it has on the characters. As written by Aaron Sorkin and played by a remarkable ensemble of rising stars, the young entrepreneurs are personable figures whose lives are damaged by their unpredictably successful product.

Facebook is only a MacGuffin in the story, existing as the characters’ device for profit, spite, anarchy and unrequited connection. The website’s possibilities are what facilitate the drama between creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), financier Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and spokesperson Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Their conflicting ideas on how to approach the product and why begin the string of betrayals and inspiration that built Facebook’s worldwide status. In the fashion of capitalist stories like “Citizen Kane,” the characters fail or corrupt their personal goals and are left with their new wealth. The website Zuckerberg created to improve his image on campus stamps out the only friends he had.

 

“LENNONYC” (NR) – Airing on PBS Nov. 22

Illustration Courtesy of Kurt Strazdins

Falling upon the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death in 1980, this documentary by Michael Epstein chronicles the last nine years of Lennon’s life. It begins with his and Yoko Ono’s move to New York in 1971 and covers topics like his activism, his immigration struggles, his substance abuse and his family life. Photos, archival footage (some of which is presented in high definition for the first time) and interviews with Ono, friends and colleagues present the information in this funny, informative and affecting movie.

One may question whether another documentary is needed after films like “Imagine: John Lennon” and “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” have supposedly covered his life as thoroughly as possible. I cannot answer that question since I am not a Lennon fan and have only seen two of those documentaries. What I can say is that this new movie is sure to entertain both learned fans and curious novices. There is new material to savor here, including recording session outtakes for albums like “Double Fantasy.” The interviews are casual yet respectful, keeping the tone from swaying too much between light and serious. It all adds up to an entertaining portrait of a prolific artist.

 

“Robinson in Ruins” (NR)

Where the leaves had fallen from the chestnut trees, and the ruins could be seen more clearly. (Courtesy of Patrick Keiller)

The third in a series of “landscape essays” by English filmmaker Patrick Keiller, this movie is a series of shots documenting the English countryside, particularly in and around Newbury. Like Keiller’s earlier two films, “London” (1994) and “Robinson in Space” (1997), the film presents the records of a fictional researcher named Robinson (his remarks are spoken by Vanessa Redgrave). The narration covers various topics from Robinson’s studies of the area, including historical landmarks and the effect of recent economic downturns on the United Kingdom.

“Robinson in Ruins” has a plentiful supply of lovely scenery. Every English location is shot naturally and without saturation to focus on its innate beauty (I especially loved a shot of a mist-enveloped train track). The average shot length gives the viewer time to gaze over each detail in the frame. Unfortunately, the movie’s deliberate pace spoils the effect. There is no music at all, so shots without narration or any other sound drag on for what feels like minutes. Also, the scholarly narration with only trace amounts of humor becomes tedious despite a few interesting visual pairings (one instance of Redgrave recounting the economic decline is matched with a spider closing the center of its web). “Robinson in Ruins” is ultimately a pleasant but monotonous package that might be better, or at least shorter, as a National Geographic article.

 

Stay tuned to my review blog, Movies Now and Then (movies-nowandthen.blogspot.com), for more NYFF reviews.