Link to the Google+ post
We were shocked to see that it was on the schedule, Telluride was smartly keeping it quiet but they were once again unable to sneak it past Ms. Franklin’s lawyers. It’s not what is in the doc but rather some issue of compensation – this is what we’re told anyway. All seems rather crazy at this point. Maybe next year?
Still, an amazing line up of films. Telluride has a knack for showing the eventual Oscar Best Picture winner. Could be “Manchester By the Sea” though that film didn’t premier here. “Sully” will probably be nominated, that might be why it played at the festival even though it was opening in theaters on the day after the festival closed. When this sort of thing happens the film is usually billed as a ‘Sneak Peak’ rather than a regular film in the festival. “Sully” was not a Sneak Peak.
Tom Hanks plays Sully (airline Captian Sully Sullenberger who saved 155 lives by landing a disabled plane in the Hudson river – you remember) but Tom Hank’s is no Sully, when he needed to cross our line as we were standing, waiting to get into “La La Land”, he asked if he and his companion could get through. “No, you can’t do that.” was my answer. But I was only kidding. Ten minutes later when the director of the Telluride Film Festival asked some folks to move down one seat so that the movie’s director could sit there on the aisle the answer was again, “No” but it wasn’t me saying it and the people weren’t joking. They were a bit unhappy at having to sit so close to the screen. Indeed, from where we were sitting the view was more than a little distorted, I’ll have to see “La La Land” again. Glad to in fact, it was terrific.
If you are thinking of going to this awesome weekend in the mountains, get your pass early. The passes are selling out regularly these days and it is happening earlier and earlier.
It always seems there is a theme or themes going in the films at a festival. In this case there was more than one father-daughter relationship. Also some flirtations with alternate realities and the nature of opportunities and powerful people. Also the role of the ‘Trickster’ was in a couple of films we saw. I mention some of the places those themes emerged in the reviews below. The reviews are kind of in the order of my favorite to least-favorite but I put “Sully” up front since it is already in theaters.
(as always photos from the festival are by Ray Keller who also contributed to the reviews, thanks Ray!)
Everyone at the festival was surprised that this film was playing at Telluride since it was due to open in theaters the week after. Probably it played the festival as a favor to help its Oscar chances (the Best Picture Oscar has gone to films that debuted at the Telluride festival for the last six years running). Since Tom Hanks (who portrays America’s favorite pilot Sully) and Clint Eastwood (director) were there at the first showing, there was no shortage of demand to see the film.
The other surprise though was that this movie exists at all. What’s the story beyond the harrowing 3 minutes or so between the bird strike that took out two engines of US Airlines Flight 1549 and the emergency water landing in the Hudson river? The movie opens with those minutes and repeats them a few times but the primary ‘story’ is the Nation Transportation Safety Board examination of the events and the possible implication that Captain Sullenberger made the wrong choice. What if he could have made it back to LaGuardia? The film does a good job milking this premise for all it’s worth, even though it’s a pretty thin (if true-ish) plot point. Nonetheless, the shear emotional impact of what this guy did and the gratitude that everyone, especially the passengers of course, feels for him gives the movie an emotional wallop that is hard to ignore. Expect an Oscar nom for Messrs Hanks and Eastwood and the film itself.
Trigger warnings are all the rage these days so I’ll offer one here – as Captain Sullenberger contemplates or has nightmares about what might have happened, he imagines his plane flying into New York skyscrapers. If it is indeed what he dreamed about then by all means it belongs in the film but to me this image has become too common, too easy to throw into a movie.
This film was presented as part of a Casey Affleck tribute. Casey Affleck? Yes indeed. This Affleck will be on the short list for Best Actor and this film for Best Film. It first made news back in January at the Sundance Film Festival when Amazon paid the unheard of sum of $10m for it. Turns out they knew what they were doing. The movie was so popular there it was impossible to get into.
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me: (director), “Analyze This”, “Analyze That”, “Gangs of New York”) it centers on Affleck’s character Lee Chandler who returns to the town of Manchester by the Sea after early death of his brother from congestive heart failure. The death was expected to happen but Lee does not expect to be named legal guardian of his nephew, Patrick. In spite of his love for his nephew, Lee has some deep reasons for rejecting the assignment, or if he takes it on, moving Patrick back to Boston. This idea seems particularly tragic for a high school kid with plenty of friends and a lot going on. Lee’s reasons are revealed throughout the film so I won’t go into them any more.
This is an eight-hanky movie (scale is 1-10 though I think I gave some movie 15 once, not sure what that was). Michelle Williams is not on screen much as Lee Chandler’s wife but a scene with her and Casey Affleck contribute seven and a half of those hankies all at once. She is so good. I don’t know if she’s on screen enough to get an Oscar nomination for this role but she still deserves it. Mathew Broderick has a small part, almost a cameo, which caused a little surprise in the audience but his acting quickly moved us back to the story line.
Overall the plot and emotional effect resembles the great 1996 movie “The Spitfire Grill” which I also recommend – when you are in the mood for a tear jerker.
There has been Sci-Fi at Telluride off and on over the years. “Gravity” was a big one of course, the 2013 movie “Under the Skin” with Scarlett Johansson is a gem that seems to have been forgotten. “Arrival” won’t suffer that fate. A big-budget Hollywood production starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”, “Prisoners”, “Sicario”) who has become a Telluride favorite, you’ll hear about this one again.
Every review you will read and most every conversation you might have about will mention the similarity to “Contact”. See it anyway (in theaters Nov 11). It’s different enough and let’s face it, aliens showing up is an intriguing premise and if it happens, there’s gonna be an issue with communication. That is the focus of “Arrival”. Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a world expert in languages, called upon to help decipher the noises and smoke-like writings of the Alien’s ship which has landed in Montana. Similar ships have landed in countries all over the world and they don’t all benefit from Dr. Banks expertise. There is an attempt for world-cooperation that only goes so far. Is that what the aliens are here to teach us? Actually, it seems to be much more than that. The eventual non-cooperation between humans drives the action in the film but it’s not a ray-gun type of Sci-fi. It’s one to make you think, and is very well done.
We saw this film as part of a tribute to Amy Adams. This woman so deserves such a tribute. She tends to go unnoticed while playing the pinch-hitter in major movies: The friend that brings Joaquin Phoenix back to humanity in “Her”, the unfeeling grifter in “American Hustle”. How different are those roles!? Here’s what the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman said in Vanity Fair’s tribute to Adams: “She purposely keeps a little mystery about herself. It’s why you’re able to be surprised by her and taken in by her. She becomes the part she’s playing.”
This was the film that Telluride chose to show at a press and patrons only screening as the festival was getting underway, it is another Oscar contender. Oh, and it’s a musical. We heard during a panel interview in the park during the Labor Day picnic that the script was in development for years – writer-director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) was working on this long before “Whiplash”. Upon seeing this film it’s clear that Hollywood would not extend its resources to such a project without having considerable confidence in the director, the confidence was earned with “Whiplash”. Now Chazelle gets to follow his dream.
Oh, following your dream is what the movie is about. “La La Land” is of course another term for Los Angeles, movie and dream capital of the world. Emma Stone plays barista Mia, attending audition after audition and being continually rejected, receiving a quick “Thank you.” (ie, “You are dismissed.”) even after giving an incredibly moving rendition of a small set of lines. Maybe it was because she was interrupted by an assistant knocking on the door. It’s not that Hollywood doesn’t care, they just don’t notice that you’re there. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meanwhile, is having a similar problem in that he loves jazz, has dedicated himself to it. In this case, even when they notice that he’s there, they don’t care. The final thorn in his side is that the legendary jazz club that he wants to save is converted to a Tapas and Samba bar.
The couple’s first meeting is on an LA freeway (where else?), right after the 10 minute, continuous shot, Bollywood-style dance number that opens the movie. When the dancing is done, it’s back to traffic jams and horns, the meeting doesn’t go well. This is similar to their later encounter at a piano bar where, unable to stomach playing straight ahead Christmas music, Sebastian (Gosling) launches into a beautiful improvisation instead. This gets him fired and leaves him a bit too agitated to absorb the praise that Mia (at the same bar purely by chance) is moved to convey. Eventually things go better between the two of them and they each become instrumental in the success of the other. The movie is longish and there is more darkness in it than your typical episode of “Glee” (for instance). But it will leave audiences feeling good and for those who care to, there is something to contemplate about the very nature of opportunity, success and what it means to help others.
Only Steve Martin’s great “LA Story” comes close to “La La Land” as a tribute to, postcard from and love letter for Los Angeles. It’s hard to say which of these films loves LA more but “La La Land” does cover more of the town. A scene on a fishing pier with a purple sunset background was the pinnacle, but long before that the dance number in the park below the Griffith Observatory (this is the one used on the movie poster) lets you know where you are and that LA is a character in the film. As befitting a postcard, the colors in “La La Land” are luscious. The film opens with a banner proclaiming that it was filmed in Cinemascope 55. Not totally sure what that means in this digital age but it worked.
In Telluride’s less famous but equally majestic park, we heard director Damien Chazell say that he sees the couple, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as an ongoing Tracy and Hepburn sort of pairing, playing opposite each other in film after film, evolving the relationship each time. He hopes to help make this happen, their first pairing was in 2011’s “CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE”. At a different point in the panel interview Emma Stone conveyed how Ryan Gosling practiced piano for four hours a day in the months before shooting. This was his own idea, not at the behest of the director. Thus all of the shots of piano playing in the movie are genuine, no close-ups of someone else’s hands.
This one will release in the United States in December. You will not regret seeing this one.
Seems like there are more and more celebs coming to Telluride, in this case it was Richard Gere. He introduced the movie right before taking off back to New York. He, like the lot of them, was bowled over by the town and festival and he couldn’t believe that he had never been there before. He went on to say that the character of Norman was one of his all-time favorites and as we watched the movie we could see why.
Norman (Gere) is an aging, single man who has spent his life accumulating names and phone numbers. Taking advantage of the ability to meet people (business men, celebrities, dignitaries, rabbis) on the street as can only happen in New York, he arranges meetings.. “Do you know so and so..? I’m good friends with him/her. In fact, I’m going to dinner there tonight.. do you want to come? It’s no problem, I know them well.. my wife used to babysit.. etc”.. In this way facilitates deals and meetings, gaining in reputation, if not financially, along the way. Of course, many, if not most, see through his game and the reputation he gains is usually not favorable. Still, he plies his technique with diligence and it pays off big-time when he spends an afternoon with the man who eventually becomes the Prime Minister of Israel.
The film masterfully alternates between the halls of power and the streets where Norman operates. The physical distance between those locations is small but getting from one to another is nearly impossible, this film really makes you feel that. The work that Norman does in spite of it all is only the first way that we see how much heart he has.
There are no car chases in this movie, no guns, no explosions, no fisticuffs, no romance or sex scenes. And it is one of the most compelling films to watch that I can remember. The construction, scene to scene and as the plot unfolds is a wonder to behold. It is interesting to watch Steve Buscemi as a man-of-the-cloth.. hee hee. Seems like casting against type but while I said there were no fisticuffs – his character does get a rather agitated at one point, he is perfect for the role. Director Joseph Cedar’s previous film was “Footnote” an equally fun and politically connected movie about Talmud scholars in Israel.
It seemed like after each movie we saw I had a new favorite for the festival, it happened with “Toni Erdmann”. “Toni Erdmann” is an invention of the character Winfried (Peter Simonischek), father of Ines (Sandra Huller). Toni is a necessary invention because this father and daughter have grown apart. The modern German economy employs Ines as a business consultant, requiring her constant presence on the phone. This could be a source of pride for a parent but Winfred really wants to connect with his daughter he’ll either have to hire a surrogate or he’ll have to go where she goes, to where she works. Toni’s fright-wig and Austin Powers style fake teeth are just the ticket to any power lunch or business gathering. As Toni shows up again and again, the ways in which the consulting business asks Ines to be false appeal to her less and less.
This film is a whopping two hours, 42 minutes but the near constant laughter and occasional tears carried the audience right through. This is an old school art house movie, oh how I’ve missed these. The lighting is casual, in everyday locations, the story proceeds slowly, acting is paramount and the themes are things that we all deal with. In an interview director Maren Ade said that she tried to shorten it but felt that it lost its complexity when she did so.
There is a complexity here. The story is primarily about the father and daughter but it is also about the generations. Winfried’s generation fought hard for freedom but somehow that translated to unrestrained capitalism that has consumed his daughter. How can he free her again? Also, this is a German-Austrian production filmed primarily in Romania. The current relationship between capitalist Germany and emerging-from-socialism Romania is one of consulting, coaching. But what do these consultants tell the Romanians exactly? Not much they don’t already know. Perhaps they simply serve as an excuse for being ruthless… “the consultants said we have to make some cuts..”. Toni Erdmann’s guise is that of providing coaching for business executives. When pushed for what exactly he coaches them on.. “Um, not so clear.” In the Q&A the film was described as being somewhere between Bergman and Borat. Brilliant.
Even the business of making this movie spanned these worlds. They had 56 shooting days, more than twice what is normal for low budget films these days (or even big budget – “Wakefield” was shot in 20). This luxurious production schedule translated to an unhurried feel in the final product.
Based on the stage play “Blackbird”, about a young woman confronting her abuser (sexual). This is the sort of rough subject Telluride festival goers have become accustomed to but perhaps these movies just stick in our minds more.
The stage play is confined to a conference room where Una (played in the film by Rooney Mara), having surprised Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) at his place of work, confronts the man who seduced her as a child and shaped her adult life. The last time they saw each other: 15 years earlier when Ray left his teenage neighbor in a hotel. The movie spends a lot of time in the conference room but also shows us the past and Una’s life as it is now as well as Ray’s. The confrontation takes place throughout.
What really makes the movie (and the play I presume) is not the pure anger over abuse but the complexities of the relationship. It’s such a difficult subject as the fragility of the 13 year old’s developing psyche and sexuality have to be the main factor in the feelings in that ‘relationship’. Una’s quest to make sense of that, to sort it out, are what’s behind her actions now. The director, Benedict Andrews, (who had previously directed “Blackbird” on stage) and actors fearlessly dive into this material.
Another fearless movie adapted from a stage play, in this case, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”. In this case it’s not people being sexually abused, rather they are abused because of their sexuality. In the African-American community of Miami, teenage boys are mostly about proving their toughness. So there’s not much tolerance for a young homosexual black boy trying to figure things out. Throw in the illegal drug based economy, drug addicted or absent parents, the prison pipeline….how do people survive?
“Moonlight” covers all of this territory with a life-spanning narrative like “Brokeback Mountain” or “Beaches”. These kinds of films always get to me, seeing how someone turns out, with all of their childhood or other early experiences shaping them later just makes me emotional. That certainly happened here.
The performances are all first rate. The life we are following is Chiron’s, starting from about age 10 with his mother – played powerfully by British actress Naomie Harris (Ms. Moneypenny in “Spectre” and Eve in “Skyfall”) addicted to crack cocaine. Chiron is able to find some comfort with Teresa (singer Janelle Monáe) as a mom-away-from-home. Teresa, it turns out, is the wife of a drug dealer. You can see where this is going but that is really only the opener in this tightly woven, life long story.
The thing we don’t see much of on the typical movie screen is black men being affectionate with each other – or anyone it seems like. That is the revolution and this movie is trying to start it.
Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a man whose marriage and career have grown stagnant. Coming home one night, a power outage has him arriving at his house well after dark. A raccoon greets him then runs into the garage. The chase leads Howard to the attic room above the garage where he ends up sleeping the night. Once he’s had this taste of being away from his family, from his life, he wants more. Based on the EL Doctorow short story first published in the New Yorker.
Spoiler alert – the movie is very true to that short story. In the Q&A after the film writer/director Robin Swicord said that she felt that she was able to expand the theme a bit into the nature of marriage itself but otherwise just followed what Doctorow had written. Swicord is an established Hollywood writer, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one you might have heard of. This film is her second attempt at direction, the first being “The Jane Austin Book Club”. She thought in this case that the premise was too delicate to simply hand it off to another director.
Indeed it is uncomfortable to watch, even when we feel we understand why Howard Wakefield hides out, abandons and then spies on his own family, it’s hard to root for him. There is much narration by Cranston to help explain the ‘why’. Of course, once he’s been gone from his family’s life for even one night there is no good explanation that he can offer to his wife, all the more so with each passing day. So, the times when he does want to return to what he had presents a rather unsolvable dilemma which drew me in at least somewhat.
Regarding the “how”, how does Howard Wakefield manage to not get caught just 50 feet away from people who are desperately looking for him – there’s quite a bit of comedy around that with narrow escapes and surviving by scavenging food from his family’s and the neighbor’s garbage, competing with the other scavengers (animal and human) who do the same.
All in all the challenge of the material, the basic act of abandonment that creates the story, makes it difficult to like the main character of this movie. It is done well, with both serious and comic tones and while it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, there is a reason for that. The movie, like the short story it came from and like the short story that that one came from, is asking the viewer or reader to ponder their own life and what fulfills them. The original “Wakefield” was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1835 and it ends with an invitation: “If the reader choose, let him do his own meditation; or if he prefer to ramble with me… I bid him welcome.”
Pablo Neruda was a lifelong poet, starting at the age of 10. He occupied many diplomatic positions within his home country of Chile, including that of Senator for the Chilean Communist Party. In 1948, the new president of Chile outlawed the party and wanted to arrest its charismatic leader Neruda. This and Neruda’s subsequent flight from the country and eventual return, where he died (probably, was killed), are prominent parts of the history of that country. This film deals primarily with the flight from Chile.
Actor Gael Garcia Bernal is central to the film as the cop assigned to track down Neruda as he attempts to flee. The misgivings he has about his mission, apparent only very late in the chase, are a key part of the poetry of this film. The fact that Neruda was a poet and senator, with the country hanging on his words, begging him for more poetry about the politics of the time is simply an extraordinary circumstance in human history. I think the timing, just after WWII and before the advent of television are the enabling factors that allowed this to happen. This in itself brings a certain fascination to the movie but as a whole it doesn’t hang together well. I’d like to see it again, especially for the beautiful shots of a snowy mountain pass in Chili and Argentina but mostly to see if I could follow what I think is an attempt at some sort of poetic narrative, trying to make the film itself echo poetry.
Indeed, the theme of creativity under the shadow of facism is central to this movie as well as to “No” and “Tony Manero”. The director calls the collection of these three films his “Dictatorship Trilogy” and they were all featured in a tribute to director Pablo Larraín at the festival.
A couple of clips from the upcoming film “Jackie” were also shown at the tribute. Larraín was picked by Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) to direct the upcoming film about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There is more to the film but in these clips the focus was on the time immediately after the assassination. Rough stuff to watch.
Director Mia Hansen Love has become a favorite of Telluride though I saw her previous film at Sundance. That film “Eden” was modelled on the life of her brother who had led the club-existence for all of his adult life, DJ’ing, partying, forming a band, repeat. Thus that movie could only be described as a big slice-of-life, with music. With “Things to Come” it’s a more petit slice and this time with philosophy.
Isabelle Huppert plays a philosophy professor (Nathalie) in Paris. That in itself might be enough to get some to see the film as it is a rather appealing proposition. When she undergoes a series of difficult events: mother passing, husband leaving, career sliding, she handles the changes without much difficulty. It is her philosophic studies and the fulfilment she feels from the academic life that enable her to do so we are told. I found this unfulfilling as a viewer though. I would have liked to have seen a little more struggle so that I could have gone along with her. If it was all of her study for all of the years beforehand that put her in the position she was in, I would have liked to have seen flashbacks showing me that. As it is, we get a slice of this life without much flavor to it.
There is a little bit here and perhaps I’m missing the point(s). When Nathalie’s mother dies, she inherits the cat, Pandora. An intriguing name to be sure and there are some moments with the cat when I almost thought there would be some emotion. And the cat seems to be a marker for when Nathalie is truly able to move on. Still, the inner life of this person is not apparent on the screen.
From the French pair Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon whose previous film, “The Fairy”, was a festival favorite a few years back. Fiona plays Fiona, a Canadian yokel who receives a letter from her aging Parisian aunt, asking for Fiona to come and help care for her. The aunt is played joyfully by Emmanuelle Riva. Riva’s last screen performance was profound, as the stoke-victim and wife in Amour, here she still suffering from a similar age-related affliction, dementia, but is as happy and silly as Dom (Dominique Abel) and Fiona.
Fiona begins her Paris adventure by falling backwards off a bridge while posing for a photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her enormous backpack is lost in the Seine then found by the homeless ‘Dom’ who, of course, later runs into Fiona while wearing her sweater. Shenanigans ensue to say the least.
The festival’s blurb for this movie described it as ‘slapstick’. I’m not sure that’s the right word, it’s just silliness, ala Inspector Clouseau or more precisely the French comic performer Jacques Tati. If you know Tati, you’re a rare bird, and you’ll love this. Others may or may not, sort of depends on your desire to laugh as the silliness tends to draw out a little past the initial chuckles it induces. That drawn-out quality is actually part of the joke(s) I believe, but perhaps it appeals more to the French. All in all this one does not quite live up to “The Fairy” which had more of a story. Still, in real life and in the movies, Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon are having way more fun than most anyone else so I recommend keeping up with whatever they put out.
That’s if for the feature movies we saw! Yes it’s grueling weekend. At the Labor Day Picnic the panel interview (from left to right) was “Bleed for This” director Ben Younger, Annette Insdorf, “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone. Ben Younger told the amazing story of having written his movie, based on the life of boxer Vinny Pazienza, who was paralyzed by a car crash, told he could not walk, then came back to win boxing championships. Younger managed to get his script into the hands of Martin Scorsese but, with no real prospects of getting the movie made was working as a bar tender in Costa Rica when he got a call from Marty..”This is the greatest story never told!”, “How did I now know about this!?” and most important, “How can I help you make your movie?”. A good day.
A just-before-press addition, Secrets festival photographer Ray Keller got to see “Frantz” and appreciated it, much like everyone else that I was able to talk to about it. Here’s his review:
In post World War I Germany, young Anna mourns for her deceased fiancé, Frantz. On the way to Frantz’ grave she spots Adrian, a Frenchman, as he puts flowers on the grave. She follows him and eventually Adrian tells her he and Frantz were friends in Paris before the war. As she gets closer to Adrian she learns there are many things about him and her betrothed that she didn’t know.
“Frantz” examines war’s aftermath, its prejudices and looks into the nature of grief and recovery.
The cinematography is beautiful. It is mostly in black and white, but in certain scenes it slowly shifts into color, then back. The effect is so subtle that some watching the film didn’t notice.