The Philadelphia Film Festival heads into its first weekend
For the next two weekends, the Philadelphia Film Festival floods the city’s theaters with high-toned product (as well as inspired sleaze). Oscar buzzers are everywhere, as are diamonds in the rough. Here are some worth penciling into your schedule during its first few days.
‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’
Steve Coogan’s film on his most famous creation — the ego-soaked and epically oblivious radio host Alan Partridge — has been gestating for over a decade. The final product couldn’t live up to expectations, nor does it appear to try to. But it is funny. A hostage situation crops up at his small town station, and Partridge — who once lost a TV show after accidentally shooting a guest in the heart — tries to milk it to get back in the spotlight. The satire stops well before it draws blood, but Coogan and company know their way around a gag, and even a mellowed Partridge can still fire off unfortunate one-liners about Neil Diamond being “the real King of the Jews.” Sat., Oct. 19, 7:45, Ritz East (Matt Prigge)
‘Blue is the Warmest Color’
A pair of lengthy, graphic sex scenes have dominated the press for this year’s Palme d’Or winner. For the record, they’re integral to understanding the relationship, between a bi-curious high schooler (Adele Exarchopoulos) and a blue-haired twentysomething artist (Lea Seydoux). Theirs is a union that starts off in carnality and cools into something a touch too comfortable. Filmmaker Abdellatif Keciche (“The Secret of the Grain”) sticks his camera in their faces, but this is the least tumultuous brutally honest look at love in memory, one that traces a couple that have no hope of working long-term, yet one that still leaves scars. Sun., Oct. 20, 2:20pm, Ritz East (M.P.)
Although he has a paralyzed leg, Grigris (Souleymane Deme) dances impressively at a local nightclub. He catches the eye — and appreciation — of Mimi (Anais Monory), a beautiful prostitute. When he can’t earn enough money to support his hospitalized uncle, Grigris asks Moussa (Cyril Guei) if he can help smuggle petrol. However, after a few risky efforts, Grigris claims to have been robbed, and incurs Moussa’s wrath. This engrossing drama by Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun may be a familiar tale of love and crime, but Deme is terrific — pure poetry in motion, especially when he dances — and the film’s finale really packs a wallop. Sun., Oct. 20, 4:50 pm, Cinemark (Gary M. Kramer)
Set in Singapore during the 1990’s financial crisis, “Ilo Ilo” is an absorbing domestic drama about a family in crisis. Mom (Yann Yann Yeo) is pregnant and often called away from work to deal with her son, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) who gets into trouble at school. Meanwhile, Dad (Tian Wen Chen) is trying to keep his smoking and job loss a secret. When the family hires Terry (Angeli Bayani) a Filipino maid, each character comes to realize their self-worth. Thankfully never sentimental, and wisely resisting an easy, happy ending, “Ilo Ilo” is a surprisingly satisfying import. Sat., October 19, 12:05 pm, Ritz East (G.M.K.)
Director James Gray (“We Own the Night,” “Two Lovers”) makes heavy, classical films that seem to nod to an era of cinema that never existed. His first period film dwells on a Polish woman (Marion Cotillard) who slips into 1920s New York, only to be exploited by a low-level pimp (Joaquin Phoenix). Darius Khondji’s musty cinematography (on film) adds to a claustrophobic mood, where city life turns everyone desperate, even as surprising pockets of humanity abound. Sat., Oct. 19, 12pm, Ritz East (M.P.)
‘A Touch of Sin’
Filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke tends to make deadpan, minimalist quasi-documentaries about China’s mistreatment of the working class. More traditionally filmed, “A Touch of Sin” boasts actual narrative. But it’s not that different. Here, he tells four tales of laborers driven to the brink, each offering insight into how the social divide has produced a nation always on the verge of tiny failures. Sun., Oct. 20, 6:50pm, Ritz East (M.P.)
’12 Years a Slave’
The current Best Picture lock may actually deserve it. Telling of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) — a free black man in the North who was kidnapped in the South — recreates the pitiless machinery of an institution that stripped humanity from all. Director Steve McQueen’s cameras counter with a pitiless dead gaze, while Ejiofor supplies the anguished emotion. Sat., Oct. 19, 8:30pm, Perelman Theater
‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’
Japanese director Sion Sono has carved out a niche making dense, breathlessly inventive, relentlessly silly narratives that never seem like they’ll end. (“Love Exposure” runs some four hours and never lets up.) His latest runs only two hours and change, but it’s suitably exhausting, with a gang of young DIY filmmakers gradually crossing paths with dueling actual gangs, including a former child star turned seductive thug. Get this guy the “Arrested Development” movie. Fri., Oct. 18, 11:59pm, Cinemark (M.P.)
Also worth your attention:
‘August: Osage County’: Meryl Streep and great actors as far as the eye can see litter the latest Tracy Letts adaptation.
‘Blue Ruin’: The latest much-loved indie horror finds a vengeful man entering a cycle of violence.
‘Caucus’: Documentarian A.J. Schnack (“Kurt Cobain: About a Son”) takes on last year’s Iowa Republican primary.
‘Stranger by the Lake’: Quasi-experimental filmmaker Alain Guiraudie examines desire at a popular gay cruising site overrun by a murder case.
‘The Unknown Known’: Having done Robert McNamara, Errol Morris tries to get Donald Rumsfeld to open up. (Spoiler: He doesn’t much.)