Cold as the proverbial witch’s titty here, it’s hard to believe I was recently sweating under the Mexican sun at the third annual Los Cabos International Film Festival (November 12-16). The place, so recently ravaged by Hurricane Odile, is still in a state of recovery. Piled onto that, the night I arrived, opening night festivities were delayed by the nationwide demonstrations staged in response to the horrendous massacre of 43 students by a drug gang in the town of Iguala.
Cabo’s small, accessible, and super-friendly boutique of a festival carried on indomitably, regardless, and it was a fun, fiesta-fueled four days of films, schmoozing, and deal-making in this balmily welcoming resort of lovely beaches, populated by get-away Californians and about a million peddlers stalking the sand (“No, I don’t want a silver turtle, señor. Gracias.”)
Typical of the easy intimacy of the event was one night when, having missed the transport to a gala site and desperately hungry, I got some gelato from a little health food store and sat down to eat it at a table across from the director Atom Egoyan, who was being honored with a career tribute at the festival and had chosen the same place to chill out before being fêted. We had a lovely talk, not about film so much as the healthful benefits of swimming in salt water.
Our chat, then, did not prepare me for the riveting drama of Egoyan’s new film “The Captive,” which was being screened. The story of a child’s kidnapping, which leads to the exposé of a pedophile ring, the film is Egoyan’s response to a real events in a Canadian town where numerous people came forward to say they had been abused by prominent figures, including judges, police, and priests. Canada’s most costly and lengthy public investigation followed, but, when no definitive conclusion about the matter was reached, it was maddeningly allowed to drop.
The enduring Mexican love of cinema was evinced in a beautiful exhibit of photographs detailing the career of legendary cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa — who spanned “Maria Candelaria” (1944) with Dolores Del Rio, from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, to Hollywood productions like “Night of the Iguana” and “Kelly’s Heroes.”
Looking forward to the future of Mexican cinema, the festival hosted school kids at daily screenings free of charge. It was startling to see 10-year-olds at films like Ana Lily Amirpour’s bloodily erotic “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” or Alex Ross Perry’s challengingly literate “Listen Up Philip.” Joshua Blum, who produced “Listen Up,” told me how adorable the kids were at the Q&A after his film, having sat respectfully through it and coming up with queries like, “How do you deal with someone as obnoxious as Philip?” The film’s release platform entailed direct-to-video, Blum said, so it will not be eligible for the screenplay Oscar nomination it so richly deserves — as well as one for Elisabeth Moss’ beautiful performance.
Celeb attendees included Reese Witherspoon, who introduced the opening night attraction, the grueling “Wild,” which has her hiking the perilous Pacific Coast Trail; luscious Rosario Dawson, who’s in “The Captive” and proudly cited her Latin heritage at the film’s screening; hunky Diego Luna; and eminent Canadian director Denys Arcand with his latest, “An Eye for Beauty,” a classy adultery drama, which I was told had a scabrous reception in his homeland. I rather enjoyed it.
French Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” was the most impressive feature screened and one could well see why it was honored at Cannes. It’s sparked by electrifying performances, as mother and son, by Anne Dorval and Antoine Olivier Pilon, who prove that the most psychotic characters, when performed with such incendiary charisma, can be as enchanting on the screen as they are to be avoided in real life. At the film’s screening, mariachi music wafting in from the nearby marina drove Dolan a little crazy. Having, several years ago, been subjected by him to one of the more obnoxiously egotistical interviewing experiences of my life, I couldn’t help but feeling a tiny bit of Schadenfreude. Some of the journalists in Cabo who dared to engage this undeniably talented enfant terrible told me he’s gotten better.
If any one film was worth going to Cabo for, it was Arturo González Villaseñor “All of Me.” This documentary about Las Patronas, a group of women who take it upon themselves to feed poor male migrant workers who pass through their village on the Beast, a speeding train taking them to jobs far away from their families, was so emotionally affecting it gave me one constant lump in the throat. You hear about the ladies’ hard lives, as well as those of the men, and everything — their stories and the footage of the food being prepared — builds to the exhilarating sight of them ecstatically throwing bagged meals up to the desperately lunging men as the train rushes by. It’s pure cinema, all the more thrilling for being fact not fiction.
Back in Manhattan, it really has been all about 54 Below recently. On Halloween, an irrepressibly energetic Jeremy Jordan made his solo cabaret debut and impressed with his glorious voice — probably the finest male pipes in the biz — on a variety of songs, including some very tasty original compositions of his own. Admitting how daunting he found it to be performing as himself rather than a character, he credited his wife Ashley Spencer with making him less neurotic these days. He meltingly sang with her, as well as with guest star Laura Osnes, his so-called “partner-in-crime” and “Bonnie and Clyde” co-star. Throughout, Jordan exhibited the very healthy ego of a young Frank Sinatra — refreshing after the “aw shucks-who me?” act so many stars pull when they do cabaret. His pose is entirely warranted when backed up by so much sheer talent.
Top theater director Jack O’Brien celebrated his 70th birthday on November 8 with “I’ve Still Got My Health So What Do I Care?,” stepping in front of the footlights again and dazzling me with his persuasive crooning and hilarious, even though fully expected wit. Smashingly shaped and directed by the invaluable Scott Wittman, in its pure sophistication, the show was redolent of Noël Coward in Vegas — a juicily showbiz insider affair, attended by Marsha Mason, Jerry Mitchell, Patricia Conolly, Kathy Najimy, David Rockwell, and William Ivey Long, all roaring their affectionate approval. The presence of O’Brien’s long-time best friend, jazz great Bob James, who rocked the 54 piano keyboard as never before, added luster to the party, which ended with everyone being given champagne for a communal toast. When was the last time a cabaret performer bought you a drink?
Film Forum is hosting a special showing of the “The Band Wagon” on December 1, introduced by Adam Green, the son of Adolph Green who wrote it with his brilliant partner, Betty Comden (209 W. Houston St.; filmforum.org). This 1953 Vincente Minnelli musical is one of the unquestioned best of all time, and just served as the basis for a glorious, revamped revival at Encores! Its scintillatingly varied score by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz percolates in any form. The film has gay West End icon Jack Buchanan superbly hamming, singing, and dancing with debonair panache; a sparkling Nanette Fabray in the joyous “Louisiana Hayride” number; and Cyd Charisse, unhinging her endless legs for the lyrical “Dancing in the Dark” and Mickey Spillane parody “Girl Hunt Ballet.”
It was all shot with the signature Minnelli verve, vibrantly saturated color, and exquisite design sense. Best of all, it has Fred Astaire radiating in his full, mature glory. Much as I enjoyed the Encores! production, the only thing it lacked was a reasonable facsimile of Astaire, for Brian Stokes Mitchell, as great in his own way as he is, sang gorgeously, but could never begin to fill a cutaway and dancing shoes as did the greatest movie musical man of all time.