Film Reviews: Side By Side; The Awakening; Beloved; Goats
Frontiers Staff

Side By Side
Starring Keanu Reeves, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas
Opens Aug. 17

Side By Side measures the transformation of cinema as it moves from celluloid to digital filmmaking, and asks, “Is this the end of film?” Reeves interviews cinematographers, editors, visual effects specialists and filmmakers about their experiences—from composing and framing with light to shooting on RED and Alexa cameras to manipulating images through color timing. Many industry types agree that digitally made films, like Denmark’s The Celebration, gave directors a way to create huge emotions on smaller budgets with more creative control and freedom. And there are excellent examples of editing two shots in Lawrence of Arabia that could not be done digitally to a sequence in 28 Days Later that could not be accomplished traditionally. Side By Side has an impressive collection of talking heads—Scorsese, Lucas and others—who weigh in on whether this is, in fact, a good thing. Reeves also shrewdly asks if all the digitally made CGI unreality feels real, getting at the heart of the struggle between emerging technology and art. It’s an interesting debate that can, at times, be a bit too ‘inside Hollywood,’ but for anyone in the industry or interested in the craft, it validates what they must think—or think about. 4/5 stars —Gary M. Kramer

The Awakening
Starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton
Opens Aug. 17

Somewhere between The Others and The Orphanage, this period piece about a haunted boarding school delivers a couple of jolts in between the tedious waiting-for-something-to-happen-and-requisite-third-act-twist. Making his feature debut, British TV director Nick Murphy quickly establishes his protagonist, Florence (Hall), as a professional debunker of spiritual and paranormal phenomenon. When approached by a boys’ schoolmaster, Robert (West), to come and investigate what may be a child’s ghost or elaborate prank, she accepts with typical dubiousness. It’s clear that Florence is repressing something—actually, a few things, including her sexuality—and so begins the drawn-out process of her investigation and personal revelations. This shit is just dull, derivative and above all lacks panache and enough scares and narrative developments to keep us engaged. Hall was great in comedies Please Give and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but carrying a 1921-set ghost film just isn’t her station in life. Staunton, as the school’s matron, is always a pleasure to watch, but like us is stuck watching and waiting for the reveal. Better to spend these 107 minutes amongst the living. 1/5 stars —Lawrence Ferber

Starring Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Paul Schneider
Opens Aug. 17

The ambitious Beloved is a mind-boggling, globetrotting endurance test. This two-and-a-half-hour musical opens in 1964 Paris, with Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) stealing a pair of Roger Vivier pumps. Her shoes prompt a stranger to think she’s a whore. She sleeps with him, then Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic), a handsome Czech doctor, who knocks her up and whisks her to Prague, where she is when the Russian tanks invade. Cut to 1978 Paris, and then to 1997 London where Madeleine’s daughter Véra (Mastroianni) has a fabulous dance scene in a nightclub. She catches the eye of Henderson (Schneider, miscast), an American drummer and former veterinarian, who flirts with her before disclosing he’s gay. While Clément (Louis Garrel) loves Véra, she pines for the indifferent Henderson, whom she can’t have. Meanwhile, Madeleine (Deneuve, as the adult Vera’s mother) is remarried, but having an affair with Jaromil (played by filmmaker Milos Forman). Beloved is all about not being able to love the one you’re with, or live without the one you love. Alas, writer/director Christophe Honoré greatly overreaches, cramming AIDS, the 9/11 tragedy and a suicide into this peculiar melodramatic musical. The tunes are not very catchy, and the performers try, but they can’t make Beloved sing. 2/5 stars —Gary M. Kramer

Starring Graham Phillips, David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga
Opens Aug. 10

Goats is one of those quiet indie films that doesn’t fully work yet you’re pulling for it all the same. Starring Graham Phillips (The Good Wife) with supporting turns from David Duchovny and Vera Farmiga, the film’s an attenuated coming-of-age tale set in a New Age-y enclave in Tucson, Ariz., and an East Coast prep school. Fifteen-year-old Ellis (Phillips) leaves his self-involved mother (Farmiga) and her scruffy gardener Goat Man (Duchovny) to attend the same East Coast school where his estranged father (Ty Burrell) matriculated. And that’s the general gist of it—the small moments of Ellis forging a relationship with his Dad and negotiating his mother’s emotional tempests. Superb actress that she is, Farmiga’s role defeats her—she’s a series of ticks and vacillations with one great moment during primal scream therapy towards the very end. Duchovny’s solid as Goat Man, the pothead gardener who seems to be the only adult who truly cares about Ellis on his journey to manhood. And Burrell and Phillips are nearly heartbreaking as the father and son working towards reconciliation. The film is a blip with too many eccentricities, yet I was held by a few performances, and grateful for its serenity in the middle of the summer onslaught. 2/5 stars —Dan Loughry

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