Are the biggest films from the Mill Valley Film Festival worth the watch?

Devin Bosley

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The red carpet has been laid, the tickets have been sold, the popcorn has been popped and the Mill Valley Film Festival is ready to begin. For the first two weeks of October, Oct. 3 to Oct. 13, theaters around Marin participated in the festival, showcasing films either exclusive to the festival or before their larger, theatrical release. Of the movies shown over the ten days, this review covers three of the festival’s largest releases. 

 

Viewers shuffle into the screening of “Knives Out.”

Knives Out:

4 out of 5 stars.

A refreshing whodunnit with strong comedic timing, “Knives Out” is a pleasant deviation from the tired genre. The plot leads with the 85th birthday of wealthy mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christoper Plummer), which brings the Thrombey family together to celebrate at his large estate. The next morning, Harlan is found dead, and detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired to investigate his apparent suicide. No one in the family is safe from suspicion.

The cast is stellar, including big names like Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis. Harlan’s nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), is a standout as the film’s protagonist. However, with such a large and notable cast, most of the actors, and their characters, were not utilized to their full potential. Most of the family was purely for the set up of the mystery, and only made appearances in the beginning rather than being well integrated into the plot. 

The mystery itself was compelling and modern. As a murder mystery, it could have easily fallen into the moodier style of Agatha Christie, or the complete opposite, a pure comedy like “Clue” that mocks the genre. “Knives Out” is a perfect blend of the two; it contains heavy comedic elements but it is well balanced with the dramatic tones as to avoid turning into a parody. 

At an almost two hour run time, it is surprisingly fast paced, the plot lagging only slightly in the middle. Overall, the film is a fun-filled, satisfying viewing experience I would highly recommend going to see in theaters when it releases this Thanksgiving. 

 

After “The Report,” a moderator introduces the real Daniel Jones.

The Report:

3 out of 5 stars.

“The Report” presents a complicated and obscure nonfiction story in a comprehensible and compelling lense. However, the information-heavy narrative is ultimately the film’s downfall. The film recounts an investigation following 9/11 into the CIA’s torturous methods to obtain information on future terrorist attacks. Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), a Senate staffer, is assigned to uncover the ineffectiveness and brutality of the CIA’s tactics, and create a report which may never see the light of day. 

The direction of writer-director Scott Z. Burns was nothing special, and felt like something I had seen before. Specifically, his choice to include, in certain scenes, the shakiness of the camera was more distracting than stylistic. Style changes, along with the heavy dialogue, made it difficult to concentrate on the film which required full attention to not miss important information. 

Though it is a difficult story to tell, “The Report” is successful for an educational purpose, as it does not require prior knowledge to follow. However, as the movie was extremely focused on telling an accurate story, it failed to make the protagonist relatable or well developed. 

Adam Driver is best known for his role as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars Franchise, in which he displays his impressive acting range. In “The Report,” Drivers’ performance was lacking, and was clearly not a role that served his talent justice. 

While stylistically I found problems with the film, I would still recommend it for an enriching, intellectual experience. “The Report” enters theaters Nov. 15.

 

A full house awaits the start of “Ford v Ferrari.”

Ford v Ferrari

4.5 out of 5 stars. 

The closing night of the Mill Valley Film Festival went out with a bang, ending with what I believe to be the best film I saw: “Ford v Ferrari.” Set in the 1960s, the film centers on the rivalry between Ford Motor Company and Enzo Ferrari, inspiring the entrance of Ford into the racing sphere. Ford recruits Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former race car driver turned race car designer, and Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a mechanic with a true talent for racing, in order to produce a car fast enough to defeat Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. 

Aware that some of their audience holds no interest in racing, “Ford v Ferrari” tells a narrative that is character based. If the story had purely been about racing or the mechanics behind the making of the fastest vehicle, it would not have been as compelling or easy to follow. Instead, it highlighted who Miles and Shelby were outside of racing, and how that impacted their mentalities on the track.

It is a longer film at around two and a half hours, yet every scene felt important. The length was noticeable, but the racing scenes were so alive it was hard not to marvel and get lost in them. The races were so energetic and visually transportative I felt the communal exhilaration in the theater. 

However, even at its long length, the movie still felt like some things were missing. Both leads, Damon and Bale were spectacular, but Damon’s character in particular still had some unused potential. While the protagonists grew over the film, more emotional moments between the two would have also made the characters less two dimensional and superficial.

“Ford v Ferrari” is not a perfect film, but it is a joy I encourage all to watch when it hits theaters Nov. 15.