The Three Rivers Film Festival closes this weekend with more than a dozen selections, several with strong local ties (and sometimes accents). See accompanying schedule for full list.
A sampling of reviews:
2 1/2 stars = Average
When you're just 14 years old, movies such as "Super 8" and "Ginger & Rosa" are period pieces.
In the former, Elle Fanning played a girl living with her troubled father in an Ohio steel town in 1979. In the latter, being shown today and Friday as part of the Three Rivers Film Festival, she's Ginger, a red-haired teen in 1962 London.
She becomes obsessed with the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, even as her home life is imploding. All of Ginger's safe harbors -- best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) and parents (Christina Hendricks and Alessandro Nivola) -- are part of the personal powder keg about to blow.
Ginger and Rosa have been linked since birth; both were born on the day Hiroshima was bombed. They ditch school, smoke cigarettes, hitchhike with abandon, practice and then employ their kissing skills, join the ban the bomb movement and rebel against their parents.
In Ginger's case, that means going to church to see what it is like, even as her free-thinking dad labels the notion of life after death a superstition. "The only life is the one we have now. Why not seize it?" When he practices what he preaches, the consequences are shattering.
Writer-director Sally Potter ("Orlando") vividly recalls being 13 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and she channels that welter of emotions here. She explores themes she describes this way: friendship and betrayal, freedom and responsibility, the politics of love and the love of politics and how we're all connected to historic events on the world stage.
Elle, who was just 13 when the movie was shot, is a natural at conveying conviction, giddiness, heartbreak or hysteria, often accompanied by tears. She gives the standout performance in a movie that drops in characters played by Annette Bening, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt without adequately exploring them.
In the end, it feels somewhat heavy-handed and unfinished. Or maybe it would work better as a stage play where killing the lights and lowering the curtain would provide a dramatic punctuation point rather than leaving a trail of thorny questions for filmgoers.
3 1/2 stars = Very good
If ever a Brit deserved the "Sir" now attached to his name, it's Nicholas Winton.
In 1938, he was a stockbroker who swapped plans for a ski holiday in Switzerland for a trip to Czechoslovakia to visit Jewish refugee camps, to witness the seeds of Hitler's ambitious malevolent plans and to think about how he could get the children there out of harm's way.
"I have a motto that if something isn't blatantly impossible there must be a way of doing it," he says in this documentary-drama hybrid. It might have seemed impossible to free nearly 670 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, provide transport by train and ship to Great Britain and Sweden, place them with loving foster families and find the money to finance all of this.
Now 103 years old, Mr. Winton has been called Britain's Oskar Schindler, and he is interviewed as are two dozen of the rescued children who now have grandchildren of their own. The joy at their survival is tempered, of course, by the grief from losing a mother who wept uncontrollably at the train or a father who asked his daughter to be his "brave, cheerful little girl" and promised to see her soon.
In the truest spirit of charity, the retired businessman kept this secret for 50 years (his wife eventually found a scrapbook and passed it along to a historian), but the story of his ever-growing family related by birth and by beneficence deserves to be told and retold.
("Nicky's Family" had two showings in March at Pittsburgh's annual JFilm Festival. This review first appeared then.)