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Favorite Films Screened at the 39th Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF)

Capsule Film Reviews

While SBIFF ended a few weeks ago, this is the first chance I’ve had to write about it. 200 films and shorts from around the world were premiered and obviously, I cannot review all of them.  However, I chose four that I particularly enjoyed and one that I absolutely detested.  These will be “capsule film reviews” chosen for their storyline, director, and cast.

MADU:  (United States, Nigeria, United Kingdom)

Opening night kicked off with the screening of MADU, an adventure that began when 12-year-old Nigerian teenager Anthony Madu made a video of himself dancing in the rain.  It went viral and eventually morphed into this new Disney Branded Television Documentary which tells the story of one young man’s dream to dance ballet.  This highly sensitive, quite lovingly shot film by Matt Ogens and Joel “Kachi” Benson is similar to the character in Billy Elliot, which starred Jamie Bell.  Like Elliot, Madu was born to dance, practicing every day on the streets of his hometown of Lagos.  In true fairy-tale fashion, he finds his dreams of dancing professionally are about to come true when he’s accepted into the prestigious Elmhurst Ballet School in England.  We see his arduous, sometimes discouraging training culminating in a powerful  performance.  This is a feel-good, charming film about the power of perseverance in the face of unending obstacles to achieving one’s dream.  Running time: 100 minutes. Streaming on “Disney +

                     ***

EZRA (United States),
This delightful dramedy centers on the 9-year-old autistic son of Max Bernal, a stand-up comic brilliantly brought to life by Bobby Cannavale, whose performance is stellar.  Although he is divorced from his wife, well played by Rose Byrne, they co-parent their son, who is playful and presses boundaries of behavior, resulting in him being tossed out of a regular public school with recommendations that he be put into a “special school.”  On top of that, the doctor wants to put him on impulse-control pharmaceuticals, to which Dad is totally opposed, and what ensues is Dad taking his son (who actually kidnaps him) on an exciting road trip.  Backed  by a wonderful cast including Vera Farmiga, Whoopi Goldberg, Rainn Wilson, Tony Goldwyn, and a delightful Robert De Niro, who plays Max’s father, a former chef, now a doorman.  EZRA is a heartfelt story about the challenges of autism and a parent’s unrelenting desire to protect his child from being swept into a bin of misfits.  William A. Fitzgerald as Ezra gives an unforgettable, engaging performance.  Directed by Tony Goldwyn, the running time is 100 minutes and is scheduled for wide release in May 2024 via Bleeker Street. 

POINT OF CHANGE (United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Indonesia)
This film is a compelling, gorgeously shot documentary directed by Rebecca Coley.  It is the intriguing story of two Australian surfers who travel the world in search of the “perfect wave.”  In their quest, they stumble across Nias, an obscure Indonesian island which boasts some of the biggest waves in the world.  The surfers quickly adjust to the local way of life on this peaceful, almost secret island, but before long, the word spreads, overburdening the island’s limited resources to accommodate the massive influx of surfers anxious to ride those enormous waves.  This once quiet, sleepy island is transformed into an unnatural tourism center, suffering the attendant negativity that comes with a once pristine location totally unprepared for the unexpected, burgeoning growth.  (Running time:  89 Minutes. No distribution information is available at this time.) 

WICKED LITTLE LETTERS (United Kingdom)

 This film is an outrageously hilarious story based on a real scandal that took place in 1920s England in Littlehampton, a charming seaside town.  Edith Swann, hysterically played by Olivia Colman,  is a duplicitous aging spinster living with her unpleasant father.  She is pious, prays day and night, and jumps through the mean-spirited hoops he puts before her.  The peaceful, pleasant existence of this storybook town is suddenly shattered by a series of notoriously profane letters that start appearing in the mailboxes of the unsuspecting, innocent townspeople.  The first person to be accused is Rose Gooding, a foul-mouthed, uncouth resident superbly played by Jessie Buckley.  What ensues is her trial and a madcap attempt to find the real guilty person led by Gladys Moss, a young, ambitious police officer immaculately played by Anjana Vasan.   The supporting cast of wonderful character actors, too many to list, add to the high-jinx activities speared on by Miss Moss.  Directed by Thea Sharrock, watch for this 102-minute, laugh-out-loud film distributed by Sony Pictures.

MUCH ADO ABOUT DYING (Ireland)

I love films from Ireland and always rush to see anything coming out of one of my favorite countries in the world.  But Much Ado About Dying, directed by Uncle David’s nephew Simon Chambers, is almost unwatchable.  It is the unappetizing story of a former Shakespearean actor, now in his twilight years.  He lives in abject squalor down to feces and urine either on the floor of his disgusting, tiny apartment or stuffed into plastic bags, making Grey Gardens look like a palace.  Every nook and cranny is crammed with other forms of  garbage.  For some reason, Simon feels  responsibility and assumes a caretaker role visiting his aging, verbose, highly dramatic uncle who, throughout most of the film, is naked from the waist up, and I assure you, this is not a pretty picture.  As I watched the film, and my creeping nausea, I kept wondering why the director/nephew thought there would be any interest in watching an aging, highly dramatic gentleman living in unthinkable conditions that almost defies description, but alas, it is described through the lens of his camera. I’m not sure if this is streaming anywhere, but if you do come across it,  don’t eat before you watch this unwatchable film, or bring your own barf bag—release date: March 22 – Laemmle Santa Monica 

Until next time, Happy Viewing to you.

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