Cinema Mill Valley

  • by David Lamble
  • Wednesday October 3, 2018
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The 41st edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival is loaded with award-season delights. They include the directing debut of acclaimed indie actor Paul Dano ("Wildlife"), an emotional memoir from Mexican master Alfonso Cuaron ("Roma") and a Bay Area-set life-and-death drama as a father battles to save his drug-addicted son ("Beautiful Boy").

"Wildlife" is drawn from a 1990 Richard Ford coming-of-age novel whose narrator is a teenage boy who witnesses the collapse of his parents' marriage after the family moves to Montana. The book begins, "In the fall of 1960, when I was 16 and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him."

Freshman director Paul Dano is known to savvy LGBTQ film-lovers as Howie, the suburban boy in sex predator trouble ("L.I.E."); as Dwayne, the teen who chooses to remain mute in the 2006 indie family drama "Little Miss Sunshine"; as a conniving boy preacher in the shattering oil-industry drama "There Will Be Blood"; co-starring with Robert DeNiro as a young man who meets his ex-con father while working in an East Coast homeless shelter in "Being Flynn"; and as Beach Boys lead man Brian Wilson in the 60s rock drama "Love & Mercy."

Festival spotlight, with actress Carey Mulligan and director/co-writer Dano appearing for a reception and post-film Q&A Friday (Sequoia, 10/5) and an additional screening (Rafael, 10/9).

"Roma" Fans of the Mexican gay-themed teen road comedy-romance "Y Tu Mama Tambien" should be thrilled that its creator, Alfonso Cuaron, is back with a melancholy film memoir. Cuaron puts us inside a Mexico City clan unsettled by a cheating dad while nurtured by an angelic servant, set against the backdrop of a bloody political uprising.

A genius at weaving tales where hopes for love and freedom are forever thwarted by a bleak and chaotic political landscape, Cuaron here provides a love letter to the country of his youth, the inspiration for more than a quarter-century of comedy, romance and struggle. In one highlight, a desperate mother wades into the ocean to save a child about to be swallowed up by heavy surf at high tide. B&W, Spanish with English subtitles. (Rafael, 10/8, with onstage director chat)

"Cold War" Best-known Stateside for the 2004 Yorkshire teen girls romance "My Summer of Love," Cannes award-winning director Pawel Pawlikowski salutes the European Communist-era relationship of his composer dad and singer mom with this drama in Polish, French and German, with English subtitles. (Rafael, 10/5; Sequoia, 10/8)

"Beautiful Boy" Filmed in San Francisco and Marin, and based on dueling father/son memoirs, "Beautiful Boy" depicts the painful journey taken by a son, Nicolas Sheff (a gut-wrenching performance from Timothee Chalamet) and a dad (Steve Carell) worried to death as they struggle over Nick's dangerous drug habit. With a North American debut at the Toronto International, there's real Oscar buzz here. (Rafael, 10/6; Sequoia, 10/8)

"Boy Erased" Rising star Lucas Hedges appears as a gay youth outed to his family (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe) by a malicious fellow student. Joel Edgerton's gripping drama is set in an American Baptist community. (Sequoia, 10/7, 9)

"Daughter of Mine" A Sardinian mom watches as her 10-year-old daughter bonds with her small village's femme fatale. Intense family drama, in Italian with English subtitles. (Rafael,10/7; Sequoia, 10/9)

"The Front Runner" Veteran helmer Jason Reitman ("Juno") returns with a timely political drama based on the spectacular debacle that was the 1988 presidential nomination campaign of Senator Gary Hart, played by Aussie charmer Hugh Jackman. With powerful supporting turns from Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmons, this one should generate some powerful buzz leading up to the 2018 congressional midterm elections. (Sequoia, 10/9, 10)

"Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives" In the 70s, it's doubtful that there were many politically conscious LGBT people who didn't either attend a Holy Near concert or own one of her albums. Director Jim Brown captures highlights from a 40-year career that had wildly improbable origins. (Sequoia, 10/7, followed by a live music event at Sweetwater; Rafael, 10/8)

"Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People" There's a pretty important prize given out in his name, but who was Pulitzer the man? Narrated by gifted indie actor Adam Driver, this film provides a valuable lesson in the value of journalism that afflicts the powerful. Preceded by the short "The Center of a Book" by UK directors Joshua Moore and Liz Payne. (Rafael, 10/5; Larkspur, 10/6; Sequoia, 10/9)

"Obey" This UK debut feature from Jamie Jones depicts a strife-torn London where protesters are up in arms about the police shooting of an unarmed black man. A London teen is drawn into a conflict where he's pitted against family and friends. (Larkspur, 10/5; Rafael, 10/8)

"What They Had" Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank heads a top-flight cast (Michael Shannon, Robert Forster) in dealing with her family's mentally failing matriarch (Blythe Danner). A debut film that mixes taut drama and offbeat comedy from first-time helmer Elizabeth Chomko. (Sequoia, 10/7)

"Widows" UK director Steve McQueen returns with Viola Davis starring in a Chicago-based drama about a group of women who struggle to repay a large debt left behind by their late hubbies. (Sequoia, 10/6; Rafael, 10/8)

"Yomeddine" In this Egypt-set drama, a resident from a leper colony embarks on a desert journey to locate the family that left him behind. By his side is a 10-year-old urchin nicknamed "Obama." (Rafael, 10/9, 10)

"I Am My Own Mother" This LGBTQ short from American director Andrew Zox is a highlight of Mill Valley's annual "5@5"; shorts programs. Part of "5@5 Coyote." (Rafael, 10/9; Larkspur, 10/10)

"Bias" Director Robin Hauser examines unconscious human feelings that lead to actions against others. (Sequoia, 10/7; Lark, 10/13)

"Free Solo" The terrifying feat of climbing a mountain without ropes is depicted in this high-in-the-sky doc from Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Their cameras follow Alex Honnold as he risks life and limb to be the first person to scale the awesome, 3,200-ft.-high El Capitan wall in California's Yosemite National Park without ropes or safety equipment.

Aside from breathtaking shots of one of our state's most impressive natural wonders, this 100-minute doc, rated PG-13 for some adult relationship content, rests on the youthful charisma of the 20something Alex, who got the climbing bug as a kid. Along the way, Alex's best friend and his spunky girlfriend confess their fears that this time they may lose their beloved boy-man. At one point doctors subject Alex to an MRI scan proving that there is something very different going on in his brain. (Rafael, 10/6; Sequoia, 10/8)


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