The 45th Mill Valley Film Festival kicked off on Thursday, October 6, and I’ve been so genuinely moved and inspired by the variety of stories being told on screen this year.

Check out my first roundup below, including some fun insights from a post-screening Q&A session.

Glass Onion (2022) | Directed by Rian Johnson

Opening night kicked off with Glass Onion: A Knives Out Murder Mystery, and I must say there’s nothing like watching a Knives Out whodunit in a theater. Sharing a laugh with fellow movie-goers is one of my favorite parts of the experience of watching these films.

As a huge fan of Knives Out, it was admittedly a little jarring to see Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) not bundled up and on the case in New England. That said, Craig steals the show as the renowned detective returns to peel back the layers of this latest murder mystery set in the beautiful locale of Greece. Being that the film is a mystery–I’ve decided to stay mum on plot details. What I will share is that the film is a worthy follow-up to the first film and just as much fun.

Writer-director-producer Rian Johnson seems to be having a blast with these films. He has a genuine skill for assembling a true ensemble featuring a stellar cast of actors (Craig, Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Dave Bautista, Madelyn Cline, and Jessica Henwick) that can take his script—packed with laughs—and tell a story that will have audiences glued to the screen until the very end.

Following the screening Johnson, Hahn, Odom Jr., Hudson, and producer Ram Bergman sat down with Pixar’s Pete Docter to discuss the film.

On following up Knives Out

“Part of it was knowing that I didn’t want to do a sequel to the first one,” explained Johnson. “I wanted to make the equivalent of a new Agatha Christie Poirot novel. So, a whole new cast, a whole new idea, a whole new tone–a whole new deal. I’m a very big fan of The Last of Sheila, which is a murder mystery. Fans know it, but it’s less known. It’s a movie that Stephen Sondheim wrote with Anthony Perkins, and it has the most seventies cast of all time. But it’s an incredible, fun seventies whodunit. … [James Coburn’s] character does a murder mystery game for his friends, and it’s set in a tropical locale. I’m also a big fan of Evil Under The Sun, the version with [Peter] Ustinov in it. And so the notion of doing tropical thing just seemed like, ‘Oh, this would be a fun thing to differentiate it from the first one.'”

On becoming an ensemble and working with Johnson

“It felt like we made this, like, crazy, beautiful little ensemble,” said Hahn. “Because of Rian and his knack for knowing what a good soul is, and for Ram and also Daniel Craig, just set a tone of being a decent person. We just were able to make this beautiful, playful atmosphere. We were all able to just make fools of ourselves and then rein it back in. It just felt–just really a safe container.”

“I think, too, Rian has a very particular laugh, right? And it was a very large set, so sometimes you’d be way over, like where you guys are (points to the back of the room), and Rian would be behind the camera, and you’d do something, and you’d hear the laugh,” shared Hudson. “It was like a cozy blanket going over you.”

On learning more about their character through other characters

“I think those first couple of weeks of shooting–I remember being on the dock, just trying to feel each other out,” said Odom Jr. “‘Who am I within this thing? How do I add to it? How do I support the work of the actors that are around you?'”

“The dock was really interesting,” added Hudson. “It’s funny, we haven’t really talked about that, but you bringing it up, that first week, we’ve done some rehearsals. We’ve done our screen tests, we’ve done our hair/makeup tests, and stuff. So, we felt our characters individually, but that was really our introduction to each other as our characters. And it was hilarious.”

Tár | Directed by Todd Field

Playing top maestro Lydia Tár, Cate Blanchett turns in a tour de force performance as a brash and unapologetic ambitious glass-ceiling-breaking composer-conductor who finds herself wrapped in controversy. Blanchett is surrounded onscreen by a number of talented cohorts, including Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, and Mark Strong.

Writer-director Todd Field’s storytelling is big and bold in moments where Lydia is in her element as maestro, yet it is also subtle and nuanced throughout. The way Hoss plays Sharon–a glance, a watchful, observant eye says so much about both Sharon’s partnership with Lydia and the behavior she’s aware of behind the scenes. 

Despite the two-hour and 38-minute runtime, Tár packs a punch with a superb score from Hildur Guðnadóttir as well as immersive sound design, and it leaves you with much to chew on long after the film ends.

Call Jane | Directed by Phyllis Nagy

Elizabeth Banks stars as a 1960s Chicago housewife, Joy, who may not survive her pregnancy due to heart failure and is in need of an abortion. In a moment of total despair, Joy sees a flyer to “CALL JANE.” What follows is a woman that finds community with a group of tenacious women and a worthy cause to rally behind. Directed by Phyllis Nagy and written by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, the film also stars Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, and Kate Mara.

Nagy’s depiction of abortion on film is honest and explicit without being graphic. Nothing is shown for shock value; it’s more to be informative. The film is straightforward about both the 20-minute procedure and how Jane has to run things without catching any unwanted attention.

Banks’ performance is strong, and I enjoyed seeing her in a dramatic role. Weaver is charismatic as ever as she leads a group of women to help their fellow women get abortion access in a safe environment.

Call Jane is the perfect companion piece to Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin’s documentary, ‘The Janes.’ Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and they couldn’t be more relevant as the fight for reproductive rights and body autonomy wages on 50-plus years later.

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