Mill Valley Film Festival preview, Part 1

The Mill Valley Film Festival doesn’t just screen new movies that haven’t yet played in the Bay Area. It includes a few classics, as well. So, I’m splitting this report between classic and new films.

Oddly, five of the six films below have some connection to the 1960s and ’70s. The outlier, however, is the best of the six.


Both of these films come from the early 1970’s, and celebrate the hippy ethos.

A- Harold and Maude

This 1971 comedy fit the late hippy era as perfectly as Pink Floyd and the munchies. At a time when young Americans were embracing non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and a woman four times his age made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helped considerably. But I do wish that screenwriter Colin Higgins had found a better ending. Read my full discussion.

Harold and Maude screens once at the Festival, at the Rafael on Wednesday, October 11, 3:00.


By splitting its time between the music on stage, the hippies in the audience, and the townspeople, and by creatively using split screens to fill the wide screen, the ultimate hippy movie turned a concert into a historical epic. Much of its power has seeped away over the decades; today the crowds look less idealistic and more self-indulgent. Another problem: The original three-hour version has been entirely replaced by the nearly four-hour director’s cut, which is just too long. And yet, the music is amazing, and although the audience sequences no longer inspire, they catch the moment like a bug in amber.

The single screening is at the Corte Madera, Saturday, October 7, 6:00. There will be an intermission.

New Films

In Syria

I hope that this film is the closest you’ll ever get to being a civilian in a warzone. An extended family – including a young married couple with a baby – are trapped in their once-comfortable apartment as war rages around them. Snipers, looters, and rapists threaten everyone. Leaving the apartment is extremely dangerous, but staying isn’t much safer. The suspense never lets up, and it’s not the fun sort of suspense you expect from Hollywood. This is an extremely difficult film to watch, but it’s one that every adult should see.

  • Sequoia, Friday, October 6, 9:00
  • Rafael, Monday, October 9, 1:30

A- Wonderstruck

Writer Brian Selznick and director Todd Haynes create a very special kind of magic in this story about two deaf kids – living 50 years apart from each other – running away to New York City and gravitating to the Museum of Natural History. In 1977, the newly-deaf Ben (Oakes Fegley) sets out to discover the father he never knew. In 1927, Rose, born deaf (Millicent Simmonds), searches for her missing mother. Each will find something important in the museum. Haynes uses color and black and white, muted sounds, and even puppets to tell this enchanting double story.

The single Festival screening, at the Rafael on Friday, October 13, is sold out. That’s hardly surprising; director Todd Haynes will be there in person for Q&A. but rush tickets may be available. The movie will have a regular theatrical release after the Festival.

Tip of My Tongue

A group of fifty-something’s gather in a New York home for a weekend and talk about their memories. No, it’s not The Big Chill, but a documentary. Most of them talk about major events, from Kennedy’s assassination to Occupy Wall St., and how they remember them. A few tell stories that are much more personal. Much of the talk is fascinating, but not all of it. Director Lynne Sachs works hard to keep the movie visually interesting, but sometimes she goes too far in the unique framing, leaving you wishing you could just watch the face of the person talking.

C+ On The Sly: In Search of the Family Stone

In a few short years, Sly Stone created some of the best, most joyful, and danceable music ever played. His band, Sly and the Family Stone, rocked Woodstock like no other act. Then the drugs kicked in and he became unreliable. He dropped out of the business and disappeared. It’s a great story, but director Michael Rubenstone thinks that his own attempt to interview Stone is just as interesting. It isn’t – by a long shot. When the movie focuses on Stone’s legacy and the people who worked with and loved him, it’s fascinating. But when Rubenstone focuses on himself, and that’s a lot of the film, it’s self-indulgent. He should have cut himself out of the movie entirely, and filled in the extra time with musical performances.