Here are the last five films I’ll be previewing for this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. Two documentaries, three narratives, and not a bad one in the bunch. As usual, they’re in order of quality.
A Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo
This is one of the best documentaries about a movie star I’ve ever seen…probably because of Trejo’s willingness to discuss his troubled past. A heroin addict at 12, he was robbing stores at gunpoint until he was caught and went into prison. Once outside, he turned his life around and stayed sober. He almost accidentally fell into the movie business, where he got bigger and bigger roles, mostly as scary Mexicans. Eventually, he got better and less stereotypical roles. Well-made and inspiring, and the movie clips are a lot of fun.
- Rafael, Sunday, October 6, 2:30.
A- Marriage Story
This funny, heartwarming, and yet deeply satirical film should be called Divorce Story. You know from the start the marriage is over. The only question left is who gets the kid. The actress wife (Scarlett Johansson) wants to go home to LA and take the boy with her. The husband (Adam Driver) has an important career in New York. Soon both are burning a fortune on divorce lawyers – played by Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta. And yet, they still have just a little bit of affection for their soon-to-be exes.
- Rafael, Saturday, October 12, 6:30. It’s sold out, but you may be able to get tickets at rush.
- Sequoia, Sunday, October 13, 11:00am
- The film will open theatrically in December
B+ Thousand Pieces of Gold
This low-budget Chinese western succeeds in making you feel good, while reminding you how badly Asians were treated in 19th-century America. A young Chinese woman (Rosalind Chao) is sold by her father and shipped to America. She lands in a small mining town in Oregon, where she’s essentially a slave. Slowly she gets on her feet and becomes her own person, thanks to her own willpower and the help of a few new friends, the main one played by Chris Cooper. The low budget is easily visible, but it doesn’t really hurt the story. Based on a true story.
Unlike the other films I’ve been previewing here, Thousand Pieces of Gold isn’t new. It opened in 1991. What is new is the 5K digital restoration.
The revelry is understandably forced in this well-made but low-key drama about mortality. Frankie, the family matriarch (Isabelle Huppert, in a beautifully subtle performance), has cancer and probably won’t survive the year. She’s vacationing in Sintra, Portugal with her husband, her gay ex-husband, her adult son, a stepdaughter planning to leave her husband. and a teenage girl who seems more mature than anyone else in the hotel. They also run into a friend, whose boyfriend wants to direct. It all takes place in one day. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, and Greg Kinnear.
- Lark Theatre, Sunday, October 6, 12:00 noon. At rush.
- Sequoia, Thursday, October 10, 6:00. At rush.
- The film will open theatrically, probably in November.
B The Story of Plastic
This film will almost certainly make you feel guilty. If climate change is our biggest environmental threat, garbage, and especially single-use plastic, is a big second. Using interviews from people from all over the world, Deia Schlosberg’s documentary explains everything from fracking (in order to get the basic materials out of the ground), to the oxymoron of plastic recycling, to clogged rivers and oceans, to poisons in the air. The film is very preachy, and it’s sometimes repetitive, especially near the end.
Note: I saw a rough cut, not the final film.