Philadelphia Film Festival: What to See

From terrifying rubber to terrifying limb removal

If you have not yet seen any movie in this year’s 19th Philadelphia Film Festival, go now. From the wicked, beautiful, near brilliant Black Swan — with Natalie Portman’s sure-to-be performance of the year — (My Grade: A) to the flawed but charming I Love You Phillip Morris (My Grade: B-), there have been films for almost any taste.

The festival will continue through this Sunday, October 24th. Here are just a few of my recommendations for this weekend. Visit the festival’s website for up-to-date show times, complete film listings, and ticket information. Note: Many screenings will sell out fast!

And, you never know, the filmmaker may be in attendance for an impromptu Q&A (like Daren Aronofsky at the opening night screening of Black Swan).

127 Hours
Did you ever wonder what it would feel like to be trapped in a ravine for days on end? Did you ever wonder would it be like to watch your thumb gangrene? What about getting to a point where cutting off your arm, with a dull blade, was the only viable solution? Well, in 127 Hours, you get to experience this in every agonizing, excruciating detail.[SIGNUP]

The film, the latest from Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, tells the amazing true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), the hiker whose arm was trapped by a fallen boulder for five days. It is a high-adrenaline, surprisingly humorous (at times) movie about survival. Over half of the film is spent with Franco in one spot. Yet using different film, camera angels, flashbacks, and hallucinations, the film never feels stationary.

While the movie does not feel as complete or successful as Slumdog (or 28 Days Later or Trainspotting), the film is nonetheless a fascinating examination of human duress and endurance. This has everything to do with Franco, who appears in nearly every scene. He’s charming, fearless, and makes us accept and dread that moment when he begins to cut off his arm. And be forewarned, you experience every second of it! My Grade: B+

October 23rd, 7 p.m. at Prince Music Theater (closing night ceremony)
October 24th, 7:20 p.m. at Prince Music Theater

Night Catches Us
Don’t miss this feature debut from Tanya Hamilton that explores the atmosphere of Philly during the ’70s as neighborhoods clash with police. Starring Anthony Mackie (Hurt Locker) and Kerry Washington (Ray).

October 22nd, 7:30 p.m. at Prince Music Theater
October 23rd, 12:30 p.m. at Ritz Five

Part of the Festival’s Graveyard Shift, the film follows Robert, a murderous tire with psychokinetic powers, of course, as he (it?) goes on a bloody rampage. Seriously.

October 23rd, 9:55 p.m. at Prince Music Theater

The documentary tells the story of Juan Pujol, the Spanish-born double agent (Garbo) who was key to the misinformation campaign against WWII Germany. The subject matter is riveting — the reason I suggest it — but the doc is filled with extraneous, overly long, interstitial film clips that ultimately detract from the narrative. My Grade: C+

October 22nd, 5 p.m. at Prince Music Theater
October 23rd, 10:10 p.m. at Ritz Five

Ricardo Darrin (star of the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes) is a lawyer who works for the Foundation, an agency who brokers auto accident insurance frauds. One night he meets a beautiful doctor and decides to leave the business. Unfortunately, the Foundation won’t let him go. It’s a thriller that delivers car-crunching crashes and many, many broken bones. My Grade: B

October 23rd, 10:15 p.m. at Ritz Five
October 24th, 7:40 p.m. at Ritz Five