Reviews of August Evening, The Cake Eaters and Eden at Ashland Film Festival

Ashland Fil Festival

This is the first year I have lived in Ashland that I’m actually in town for the Ashland Independent Film Festival or AIFF as they like to call it.  It’s a nice down shift from the fun of SXSW.  Ashland is a far cry from Austin.  But we do have some good movies playing this year.

One issue I have to bring up is that the local Varsity Theatre, whom I give credit for creating the event, needs some serious organization help.  Keep in mind that this is a small theatre, so I don’t think I have seen more than 100 people in lines for movies.  But it’s a semi-controlled chaos every time I go there.  I didn’t buy a membership  because I wasn’t sure I’d be in town.  So I grabbed tickets I could for shows ahead of time.  I go down to the theatre, and no one seems to know what’s going on.  I had three different guys in red shirts telling me to go to three different lines.

Then there is the projecting.  One of the bigger issues I have been working on in my life is tolerance.  Eric Weiner pointed out in his great book that intolerance is one of the leading paths to unhappiness.  So I have been trying to let the small things go.  The waitress is slow…no problem.  The store clerk rings me up wrong…so what?  Medford Oregon TV stations are too cheap, or stupid to broadcast in HDTV…okay, that grinds my gears, but I try not to dwell.  There are people in this world that have much bigger issues than not being able to watch CSI in Hi-Def.  But the fact that the employees at the Varsity can’t seem to master the simple art of projecting the picture onto the screen is amazing to me.  Each time I go there it’s like they have never used this machine before.  The picture is 25% of the screen.  Then there is the fact that the screens just don’t seem to ever fit the full projection, so you always have about 5% of the picture off the screen.  Most movies you’re just not able to make out the actors haircuts, but this morning I sat down to watch a movie with sub-titles and the sub-titles were off screen!  Thankfully the fixed it by cutting off the tops of heads again.

Okay, now that I have that little rant out of my system, let me share some info about the movies I saw today.

Line for The Cake Eaters at the Ashland Film Festival

August Evening Review

August Evening is an amazing, beautiful film directed by Chris Eska.  The film centers around an older Mexican farm worker Jaime (Pedro Castaneda) living (without papers) in Texas.  He and his wife are empty-nesters with the exception of their daughter in law Luna, who lost her husband 4 years earlier.  Even though Jaime and his wife have grown children, Luna is more the child they never had.   The story takes place after the death of Jaime’s wife, and chronicles the struggles the two have weathering the storm together.

I loved the movie because it dealt with many issues gracefully.  Immigration, a loss of Mexican culture that occurs when children are raised Americans, the economic hardships of aging workers and moving on after the loss of a spouse.

Pedro Castaneda, star of August Evening directed by Chris Eska

The films two stars, Pedro Castaneda and Veronica Loren are incredible.  According to IMDB this is Castaneda first movie (or anything), but he was nominated for a 2008 Film Independent Spirit Award.  Pedro Castaneda simply owns this role.  I cannot think of a moment that I didn’t 100% buy him as this character, which is also in large credit to Eska.

And Veronica Loren, also a new face, is superb as Luna.  She handles a complicated character who is at times strong, at times fragile, and in the end misunderstood, with seemingly ease.  She pulls this off extremely well, and without turning the character into a cliche, which again credit is shred with Chris Eska.

August Evening is an amazing film that you should see as soon as you get the chance.  I’m going to try to rate each of these movies on a scale of 1 to 5, and August Evening is easily a 5.  The best reason to bare subtitles since Life is Beautiful.

The Cake Eaters Review

I mentioned Eric Wiener and the lessons learned from his book about happiness.  Well it turns out one of the keys to happiness is low expectations, and I think that may be the problem I had with The Cake Eaters.  I went into this film with high expectations, and in the end it fell a little short.

The Cake Eaters is a film directed by Mary Stuart Masterson (who I loved in Some Kind of Wonderful) that follows the story of a father, Easy (Bruce Dern) and his two sons, Beagle and  Guy, after the death of the boys’ mother.  We follow the relationships of these characters as they each deal with romantic issues while still carrying the fresh wounds of their recent loss.

Easy continues with an affair he had been having for years before his wife’s death.  Guy tries to reconnect with the girl he proposed to, and then left for 3 years, without even a goodbye.  And Beagle begins a relationship with a 15 year old disabled girl with a short life expectancy.

Where I think the movies succeeds is in showing the pain of the characters through the relationships they maintain, try to re-establish and enter, respectively.  Easy feels the guilt and shame of not just carrying on an affair, but also not being the man he admires in his son for taking care of Easys’ wife.  Guy feels his own guilt over the abandonment of his girlfriend and mother, and feels the full consequence when he realizes that both are beyond reach of reconciliation.  And Beagle, whom I think it the best character in the film, shows incredible complex issues that I can’t put into words.  But the fact he was the primary care giver to his dying mother, and now enters a relationship with a girl whose dying, says volumes.

Where I think the film fails is in the more granular level of the relationships.  Aside from the relationship between Beagle and Georgia, the relationships of the film are never fully developed in the story.  We are required to fill in historical context, but never given a scene where we witness the emotional connection of the relationship.  And that goes for the family as well.  There are a couple attempts at voicing out the internal issues of the remaining family, but they don’t really fill in the blanks enough.  I feel like there is a missing part of this movie on a cutting room floor somewhere.

I do want to make mention of the cast in this movie.  Bruce Dern delivers the goods as expected for an actor of his experience.  He carries more than a couple scenes in this movie with his smile and swagger.  I love Dern most in the HBO show Big Love, but he brings his A game here as well.

Masterson made a great choice in Aaron Stanford playing Beagle.  Stanford has been a rising star ever since his Tadpole debut,    He brought the character to life.

I also get the distinct feeling we will be seeing a lot more of Jayce Bartok.  It’s not like he doesn’t work a lot now, but the camera likes this guy a lot.  To be honest I’m not sure he was the exact fit for the role he plays, Guy, but there is a real star like presence to him.

Kristen Stewart, star of The Cake Eaters in photo from Into The Wild with Emile Hirsch

And speaking of future stars…Kristen Stewart.  I’ll be honest, she didn’t jump out at me in The Safety of Objects (great A.M. Homes book by the way), or Panic Room.  And movies like Cold creek Manor and The Messengers don’t really interest me enough to watch.  The first time I noticed Stewart was in In The Land of Women, where I thought she delivered the best performance of the film.  I noticed her enough there that she immediately jumped off the screen in Into the Wild, where I think she seriously should have been given a supporting actress nomination.  And then seeing her in Jumper made me immediately want a sequel to a movie that I thought was so-so, simply because having her character be a jumper or paladin in the sequel would be awesome.  And now, not to sound crass, but she has pulled off the obligatory disabled role that all great actors seem to need.  Stewart pulled of not only physical requirements of the role with obviously difficult contortions and mannerisms, but also the emotional complexity of the character.  She pulled off dialogue that frankly I think would have been a bit clumsy in the hands of a lesser actress.  There is no doubt in my mind that Kristen Stewart is an oscar winning actress waiting for the right role, and I’m guessing that wait will be short.

I want to make one more small note on this cast, specifically Jesse L. Martin.  Two words – under used.  In my opinion Jesse L. Martin was the leading performance in the Rent movie.  He is a tremendous talent whose career is developing painfully too slow for me to watch.  He has now broken away from that mediocre at best TV show Law & Order and is moving on to bigger and better things.  The fact that Martin is going to be taking on the role of Marvin Gaye in the upcoming movie Sexual Healing is great news.  One of the best casting decisions since the cast of the new Get Smart movie was announced.  As for Martin in this movie, I think it’s a shame we didn’t see more of him.  I know this would have completely blown the flow of the film, but I would love to have seen a longer scene with Martin and Stewart.  The relationship of those two characters interested me.

In summary of The Cake Eaters, this is a good movie.  Dealing with this issue is difficult.  I immediately think of the train wreck of a film that stemmed from the masterpiece book, Bright Lights, Big City.  Keeping in mind that this is Mary Stuart Mastersons directorial debut, it’s pretty damn impressive.  I will be in line for her next film.  I give The Cake Eaters a 3.75 out of 5.

Eden Movie Review

The last film I saw this evening was the German film, Eden.  Thankfully the Varsity theatre was able to get the sub-titles on the screen, because my German is much worse than my Spanish.

Josef Ostendorf, star of German film Eden

Eden centers around the new relationship between a critically acclaimed, and obese chef, Gregor and a married waitress, and mother of a disabled child, Eden.  The plot is deceptively simple.  Gregor falls for Eden, Eden loves Gregor’s food.  Eden’s husbands an ass.  But as simple as this formula sounds, this is not a typical American rom-com.  There is a lot or intelligent and dark humor in this film that really turns it into something special.

As special as it is, I can’t think of much to say about it.  The cast did an exceptional job, especially Josef Ostendorf.  What I would say I liked most about Eden is the way it never takes the relationship for granted between Gregor and Eden.  Throughout the film you don’t really know if these two will, or even should end up together.  That’s a nice change of pace to the absolutes provided in most American films.

Please don’t interpret the shortness of my review of Eden as a lack of enthusiasm for the film.  I simply don’t have the proper words to explain this movie, so I will just say it should be seen.  I give Eden a 4 out of 5.

[tags]ashland independent film festival, aiff, the cake eaters, august evening, eden, kristen stewart, jesse l martin, mary stuart masterson, chris eska, pedro castaneda, veronica loren, jayce bartok, aaron stanford, amy homes, a.m. homes, safety of objects, bruce dern, josef ostendorf, big love, hbo, marvin gaye, sexual healing, marvin gaye movie, varisty theatre[/tags]


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