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15th Sacramento French Film Festival and a moviebriefs roundup

Sacramento French Film Festival

This year marks the Sacramento French Film Festival’s 15th season and the Festival is spreading its wings, with 3 of its 24 screenings at the Esquire IMAX Theatre for the first time and the opening night reception at the Grand Capitol Plaza Ballroom. All other screenings and events remain at the Crest Theatre.

The Festival’s Executive & Artistic Director Cécile Mouette Down described this year’s 14 premiere screenings as follows: “The feature film premieres selected for this year’s Festival include the most prominent 2016 César (French Academy Award) winners; two major 2015 Cannes Film Festival winners; as well as the best of recent French cinema, including comedies, dramas, romances, thrillers, and a magnificent documentary.”

As well as showcasing works never before seen locally, the Festival, which runs from June 17-26, continues two other popular traditions, with darker, late night Saturday screenings and in-depth, post-film discussions led by Sacramento State Professor and President of the Festival Board Kevin Elstob. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in many of these discussions over the years and they add layers of depth to the experience that one can’t achieve simply by watching the films, either alone in a theater or months later at home.

The Sacramento French Film Festival is an event that is recognized and celebrated far beyond Sacramento, as evidenced by the 2013 appointment to the prestigious order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres of Mouette Downs by the French Government for her work promoting French film and culture via the Festival.

For full program information, multiple venue details, and links to Festival passes and IMAX ticketing, visit the Festival website or subscribe to their social media websites at the same location.

Moviebriefs

The Sacramento Press film column has been on hiatus for a few weeks due to vacation travel, a partially detached retina and new kittens (#firstworldproblems), and so here are several moviebriefs of current releases in an attempt to play a little catch up on what we’ve missed along the way:

This weekend’s “Warcraft” is the movie adaptation of the popular video game and has been received far more positively by audiences and game fans than by most film critics. That said, I thought it was surprisingly coherent for an adaptation of this kind and enjoyed the CGI renderings of the invading Orcs. Artistically it looks a little like “Game of Thrones” as imagined by a rock album cover collecting apprentice of Thomas Kinkade as we tour the human planet the orcs so desperately want, having destroyed their home world through dark magic of course. The Orcs have a leader that even they can’t stand (great fun in the midst of a rancorous election cycle) and only “Vikings” Ragnar Lothbruk (Travis Fimmel) and a young wizard-school dropout (Ben Schnetzer) can save humanity. Certainly not the worst fantasy adventure I’ve ever seen.

Two sequels I could have lived without were “X-Men Apocalypse” and “Now You See Me 2.” I preferred the former, which considers a scenario in which an ancient mutant, previously worshipped by mankind, is resurrected after several thousand years of dormancy, challenging the modern day mutants. It’s an interesting premise and I normally enjoy origin type stories about superheroes discovering their powers, but this seemed like it might have been better suited to the more mature lineup of X-Men than the primarily teenage newbies. Somehow, having the menace controlled by mutants who aren’t even sure of their own capacities yet made it altogether less menacing. “Now You See Me 2” is fun purely as eye candy but it’s hard to care too much about the story. It’s another magic-based movie that expects to excite us with scenes that one can never take too seriously as it’s entirely likely somebody will pop up later and tell us we didn’t actually see what we thought we saw. In short, The Four Horsemen are back battling corporate corruption via their viral sensation showmanship and the greatest misdirection of all seems to be in making a bad movie and convincing people they’re seeing a good one.

The Tower Theatre has an interesting and exclusive lineup of fairly enjoyable films. “The Lobster” is a surrealistic take on a world in which being in a relationship is so expected that if you can’t find a mate, you have to become an animal (of your own choosing). Colin Farrell plays the lead in a deadpan manner and it’s the kind of film that earns laughter from the audience as the premise plays out but a mixture of silence and boos for its abrupt ending. Co-writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos won a Jury prize for the film at last year’s Cannes Film festival. Kate Beckinsale leads the cast of “Love & Friendship” adapted and directed by Whit Stillman from Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan.” Beckinsale plays a delightfully catty and manipulative socialite, maneuvering for position and fortune for her and her daughter through Austen’s England. Susan Sarandon plays “The Meddler,” a widowed mother who avoids dealing with her own pain and problems by immersing herself in the lives of others, primarily her long suffering daughter played by Rose Byrne. Unfortunately, while entertaining, all three films have stronger first halves than second halves, at their best while establishing characters and premises and diminishing when dependent on the established narrative to carry the film.

To some extent, the same is true of “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” which isn’t surprising coming from Andy Samberg and a team more associated with some of the funnier short film produced within “Saturday Night Live.” Samberg plays an ex-member of a boy band who turns his back on his bandmates and their creative influences, before crashing and burning with his second solo album. Think of an idiot version of Justin Timberlake (who has a cameo in the film) with the worst habits of Justin Bieber , as told by TMZ and you get the idea. But it manages to carry itself quite well for a mockumentary, which is a tricky genre, and on balance is a funny take on celebrity and fame.

One movie that surprised me recently was the sophomore “Neighbors” outing “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” and it’s still largely sophomoric humor. But underneath all the broad college-Greek-house-next-door shenanigans, that’s still present, is a thoughtful deconstruction of the first movie’s sexism and machismo. This time around it’s a sorority renting the house next door to the young couple (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) and there’s significant commentary about the ways that young women and sororities are treated differently than young men and fraternities. The film also attempts to make amends for previous anti-gay slurs and related content by having Dave Francos’s character from the first film be gay in one of the most remarkably upbeat such portrayals in recent films. His sexuality isn’t played for laughs and his relationship is viewed positively by all involved, including the returning lead bro’s bro and his best friend, played by Zac Efron.

Probably the best film still playing locally, from the missed crop of the last few weeks, is “The Nice Guys,” in which Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play two only partially competent private detectives, investigating the death of a 1970s LA pornstar. Their onscreen chemistry is fun and it seems likely that there would be a desire for a sequel, if budgets and schedules allow – which is often tricky with such A-list talent. There’s also a wonderful supporting performance by young Angourie Rice, as the daughter to Gosling’s character, who at times is reminiscent of a young “Paper Moon” era Tatum O’Neal, albeit armed with less material. It’s a neat film that’s worth finding, and laughing through, and I hope that Rice’s work in particular is remembered many months from now when the awards nominations start rolling out.

 

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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