Saturday, April 7, 2018

SFIFF 61: Day Two


A perfectly serviceable documentary about Hal Ashby, which wins one over through the force of clips from his best movies (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Being There). The film focuses intently on the art, and on the process of making that art (long, marijuana-fueled sessions in the editing room), with only a glimpse here or there of biography. The 1980s output is mostly left out of the story, acting as a source of frustration leading up to Ashby's untimely death. The presentation is largely conventional, with many talking heads, but a few touches stand out, particularly the use of clips from his movies to illuminate passages from his letters. In the end, one is left with the intense desire to revisit these films again (hopefully on the big screen).

First Reformed

Writer-director Paul Schrader returns, yet again, to the themes of Taxi Driver in this stark tale of a priest searching for something, anything, to hold onto. Ethan Hawke, as the priest, is magnificent. And the formalism of the film is something to behold: shot in the nearly-square 4:3 format, the framing of every scene fits its subject perfectly, while leaving the audience on-edge. As a statement about the state of the world today, the film is not entirely successful. But considered on its own terms, it's a gripping and visceral treat.

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