Decline and Fall

I really want to read Robert Koehler‘s thoughts about the gradual dilution of The Artist Known As Terrence Malick, but I have to subscribe to Cineaste in order to do so. The short answer (which I’ve repeated ad infinitum on this site) is that Malick needs a Bert Schneider-type producer who will read him the riot act and slap him around when his flake tendencies go into overdrive, and instead he’s been enabled to death by producers who’ve never said boo.

Calm Down On Prisoners

If you ask me Denis Villenueve‘s Prisoners (Warner Bros., 9.20) has been a little bit over-hyped by critics. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a moody, riveting, well-crafted thriller by a director who’s obviously a cut or two above the norm and is into complexity and adult stuff. Set in the grimmest, coldest, rainiest part of Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania you’ll ever not want to visit, the story (written by Aaron Guzikowski) is about the kidnapping of two young girls and the efforts of a lone-wolf cop (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the girls’ vigilante-minded dads (Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard) to find them. Although not in synch, of course.

Aimed more at critics than ticket buyers, Prisoners is one of those thoughtfully murky, atmospheric, densely plotted thrillers that’s more about the journey than than the destination. Because when you get to the end it’s like “uhm…wait, what?” That was my reaction, at least. (more…)

Philomena Raves, Intrigue

So Stephen FrearsPhilomena is a huge Venice wow, but Telluride audiences won’t catch it on Monday due to Toronto programmers strongly protesting this. HitFix‘s Kris Tapley reported Friday that he;d been told that Weinstein Co. “had Stephen Frears’ “Philomena” all lined up for a sneak preview on Monday, fresh off its Venice bow, [but] this didn’t sit well with programmers at the Toronto Film Festival, incensed that yet another of their big North American debuts was going to drop here.”

Ambiguous Ending of Lost

The fascinating ending was the first topic broached by moderator John Horn during yesterday’s post-screening discussion of All Is Lost with director-writer J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford. They don’t spoil anything so no worries. I wanted to catch it again to see if it played as strongly as it did in Cannes, and it definitely did that. Anyone who sees this film and goes “yeah, not bad, decent” needs to get his/her pipes cleaned. All Is Lost is landmark, classic, world-class stuff, and most definitely a metaphor for the struggle and the loneliness that comes with late-period aging.

Prisoners Wake-Up

After unforgivably programming Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years A Slave against Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners last night (everyone I spoke to was pissed about this), the Telluride guys are offering a Prisoners follow-up screening this morning at 8:30 am at the Palm. Wait…the widely-hailed pic runs 153 minutes? Okay, I’ll get out at 11:15 or thereabouts. Oh, right — they never start films on time and they always spend 10 minutes on introductions so make it a little past 11 am.

I’m especially intrigued by the opening of Kris Tapley’s HitFix review: “They simply don’t make thrillers like Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners at the studio level, and yet here it is. Glacially paced, bloated to a 158-minute running time, stingy with details as its mystery unfolds — it goes against most every convention for a film like this. (more…)

Masterful American Epic

My 12 Years A Slave tweets, tapped out on dark streets between the Galaxy and 221 South Oak, failed to mention likely Best Supporting Actress contender Lupita N’yongo and Hans Zimmer‘s dynamic, impacting, non-period score. Cheers also to supporting players Michael Fassbender (whose performance as a plantation owner makes Simon Legree look like Shirley Temple), Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano (whose beating scene is ten times more satisfying than all of the posturing payback scenes in Django Unchained) and Alfre Woodard, among others. Make no mistake — Slave is Steve McQueen‘s high-water mark, his grand slam.

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The Impossible

There’s too much happening to file. 12 Years A Slave begins in 50 minutes. My video files of the Redford-Chandor interview are still converting to mp4 so I have to leave the computer at the inn. A possible interview with Blue Is The Warmest Color girls might happen around 10 or 10:30 tonight…maybe. I’ll just have to file stuff late.

Slow On Lost Pickup

I’m enraged…okay, irked to hear that people at yesterday’s screening of J.C. Chandor‘s incontestably brilliant All is Lost were giving it three stars out of five. Or were going “yeah, pretty good but not amazing” or words to that effect. “I think some people just weren’t prepared for it,” a cinematographer friend told me last night. She means they were a bit thrown by the almost total lack of dialogue and the fact that it’s all Redford, all the time — i.e., no other characters. There hasn’t been a more or less dialogue-free film that has delivered this effectively in I don’t how long. (The Artist doesn’t count — different animal.). Trust me, All Is Lost is not falling short at the Telluride Film Festival — it’s the audiences. But what can you do? You can’t get out the stick and order people to be more perceptive. Their aesthetic dispositions are their own affair. They either get what they’re seeing or they don’t.

Some Get Stoned, Some Get Strange

Film buffs who go to festivals like Telluride have been more or less trained like poodles to sit up on their hind legs and go “yap! yap!” whenever a new Coppola comes along and makes a film. Gia Coppola, director-writer of the occasionally irksome but mostly decent Palo Alto, is the latest recipient of this largesse. My attitude is that talented filmmakers deserve respect and allegiance, even if their paths have been paved by family connections. And it has to be acknowledged that The Latest Coppola has delivered a pretty good film here. Or at least one that I felt more or less okay with when it ended.

I talked things over with three or four colleagues after it ended, and we were mostly agreed with Gia Coppola shouldn’t be penalized for being the granddaughter of Francis because her work is certainly above-average.

Based on producer and costar James Franco’s same-titled short story collection, it’s basically about a demimonde of Northern California teens revelling in vacant nihilism and coping with the tug of nascent adulthood. In that sense it sometimes feels boring as shit because most teenagers — hello? — are boring as shit to hang with. I knew that when I was 17 even and I really know that now. Teenage males, in particular. All but worthless, not into anything, hormonal dogs, booze-swilling, to some extent self-destructive…go away and come back when you’re 29 or 30.

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800 Pound Gorilla

Everyone hates the Telluride Film Festival slotting of Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years A Slave, which screens today at the Galaxy at 7:30 pm. That’s because this 134-minute must-see film (i.e., journos can’t skip) is interfering with so many other screenings. It kills attending the 6:30 pm T-Bone Burnett and Coen Bros. tribute. It kills seeing Jonathan Glazer‘s Under The Skin at 7:15 or whatever. It kills seeing Prisoners at 6 pm at “the Zog.” It kills seeing The Past at 9 pm. If I was a Telluride programmer I would fix it so that the films that everyone really wants to see (as opposed to those films that people kinda want to see) don’t fight with each other so much.

Unknown Known

Perhaps I need to see Errol Morris‘s The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld once or twice more, but my initial impression was one of muted fascination and at the same time vague disappointment. I feel I know Rumsfeld pretty well from his innumerable interviews and press conferences during the Bush years so I went in wanting to know him a little better. I’m not sure that I got that from Morris’s film, although I was certainly engaged start to finish.

The doc is an examination of who and what Rumsfeld is by way of his “snowflakes” — i.e., thousands of memos he dictated over the decades. But when one of the flakes exposes some chink in the armor, Rumsfeld shrugs and grins and throws up his hands and spins it around in his usual way.

For me the most interesting aspect was the straight biographical stuff.

Here’s what I texted to a friend last night: “Efficient, engaging, chilly, a bit frustrating. The obvious similarity to The Fog of War makes it feel deja vu-ish, but that 2004 Oscar winner was a haunting cautionary fable that stayed with you. And it was more emotional than the Rumsfeld doc, or for me it was. The Unknown Known boils down to being an exercise in the study of denial and spin and revelation and doublespeak. Perhaps the man is impenetrable. I know there’s no catharsis in the film. It’s a good intelligent work that didn’t knock my boots off.”

Soccer, School, Nihilism

It’s 8 am in Telluride — less than an hour to get to the 9 am Palo Alto screening at “the Zog.” The upside is that it won’t be too crowded and I can “get it out of the way,” as I’ve been saying from time to time since I arrived here two days ago. 11:05 am update: I saw it this morning, tapping out a response now. I really hate watching teenage nihilism. There’s no aesthetic beneath it. I guess I’m really saying that teenagers are deathly boring as dramatic protagonists. They’re anxious, uncertain, confused, withdrawn…later. Give me protagonists who are fighters, schemers, lovers, poets, politicians — anything but teenagers.

Andrew Wyeth Moment

Toward the end of Thursday’s Patron’s Brunch Blue is The Warmest Color star Adele Exarchopoulos and costar Jeremie Lahuerte (with whom I had spoken briefly and taken a shot of) strolled out into a nearby field and savored a moment. Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone took this pic while waiting for the shuttle. She was hardly violating their privacy — dozens of others were checking them out as they also waited for a ride back to town.

Shagged, Fagged, Fashed

Today, the first full day of the 2013 Telluride Film Festival, was one of no small expenditure. A 6:30 wake-up and 2 and 1/2 hours of writing. Picked up festival pass and waited in line for a full hour to get on the bus to the Patron’s Picnic. Enjoyed brunch for about 90 minutes, give or take. Uploaded photos to HE, barely made it to 2:30 pm screening of Labor Day at Chuck Jones. Learned on gondola that volunteers are referring to Werner Herzog cinema as “the Zog.” Back down to village, wrote scattershot review of Labor Day, just made it to 7 pm screening of Inside Llewyn Davis at Galaxy. Had to leave 25 minutes before it ended to make 9 pm screening of Erroll Morris‘s The Unknown Known, his Fog of War-ish Donald Rumsfeld doc. Decided against attending 11:45 pm screening of Jonathan Glazer‘s Under The Skin — too whipped. It’s now just after midnight and I need six. Up again tomorrow at 6:30. (more…)

Reitman’s Film Doesn’t Work

Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day (Paramount, 12.25) is a decently crafted, amber-lighted period drama, based on the 2009 Joyce Maynard book and set during the Labor Day holiday of 1987, about…well, it’s pretty hard to put into a succinct sentence. It begins as a kind of home invasion situation that isn’t quite a hostage or kidnapping thing. It’s a family love story of sorts mixed with a criminal-hiding-out-in-the-home-of-a-single-neurotic-mom-and-her-son story. A spin on a yarn that sinks in every so often. It has a current of sincerity. It tries to do the right thing.

But Labor Day is also about how a 13 year-old boy (played by Gattlin Griffith) can, in a movie like this, turn into a slightly larger alien with CG eyes when he turns 16 or 17, and then reverse course and shrink into Tobey Maguire when he reaches maturity. It’s a horrible third-act miscalculation, and already I’ve been called a dick for mentioning this.

Josh Brolin is the convict and Kate Winlset is the mom. But it’s clear early on that Brolin is the gentle nurturing type who’s looking for a little love (and who isn’t?) and that Winslet misses the company of a good man. So before long the film has turned into Escaped Convict Knows Best (And He Sure Can Cook A Pie!). But it’s one of those films that are driven by a backstory that happened in the past, and that kind of thing irritates me. Or it did today at least.

Brolin delivers his best performance since No Country For Old Men, but — I’m sorry but this has to be said — Reitman’s movie isn’t very satisfying. It doesn’t get it. It’s not a catastrophe but it felt to me like a sensitive humanist misfire.

There was a vibe in the room as Labor Day ended at the Chuck Jones Theatre. The vibe said “hmmm…okay, that happened.” If people like a film they stay in their seats and watch the credits and smile and share their enthusiasm in the lobby. I noticed a lot of people in my area of the theatre bolting as soon as it was over and people generally avoiding conversation and/or talking about stuff other than the film.

But the real truth always comes out on the gondola ride down. Everybody in my gondola was down on Labor Day. And yet every person in Sasha Stone‘s gondola was fairly happy with it. So my gondola just happened to be filled with mean, snarly, judgmental shitheads and Sasha’s just happened to be filled with generous-hearted alpha people who wanted only to understand and “get it” and show the love. Do we pick our gondola-ride partners? Do people say, “I want to ride with that group over there because I didn’t like the film and it looks like they didn’t either”? Or do gondola-riders lie a little bit about how much they liked or were okay with a film? I think my gondola crew was being more honest than Sasha’s, but let’s see how it shakes out.

Everyone’s Catching Reitman’s Labor Day

The first screening of the 2013 Telluride Film Festival is Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day at 2:30 up at the Chuck Jones. It’s actually a patrons-and-press-only screening so if you’re not on the list catch the 3pm screening of All Is Lost — you’ll be in good hands. It took forever to get to the Patron’s Picnic (slow buses) but it was serene shooting the shit with every heavyweight and sharpshooter in town. Everyone was there — Robert Redford, Werner Herzog, Adele Exarchopoulos, Errol Morris, Francis Coppola, Gia Coppola, Bruce Dern, J.C. Chandor, Alexander Payne — plus all the usual cool kidz from the distribution and journalistic ranks. If I don’t leave right now for the Chuck Jones I’ll miss the 2:30 screening so I’m shining the captions for now. Later.

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Most Tolerable Sirk Film?

I observed three and half years ago that Douglas Sirk was mostly dismissed by critics of the ’50s and early ’60s for making films that were no more and no less than what they seemed to be — i.e., emotionally dreary, visually lush melodramas about repressed women suffering greatly through crises of the heart as they struggled to maintain tidy, ultra-proper appearances. I said this in a short piece called “Respectful Sirk Takedown,” but only because I felt that the cultists had taken things too far. I respect the bright fellows who claim that Sirk’s films deliver covert social criticism along with the trademark grandiose emotional sweep (or whatever you want to call it), but that ’50s soap-opera vibe sends me into spasms and I really can’t stand spending much time with the older, drearier versions of Lana Turner or Jane Wyman.

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Great Camerawork!

After arriving in Telluride around 4pm I checked into the Mountainside Inn — the only poor man’s hotel in this almost oppressively upscale resort community — and watched two or three hours of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. A deeply moving occasion in many ways. I was half-watching and half-writing, but I somehow began to melt when one of the MSNBC guys played this tape of Peter, Paul and Mary. There’s something so touchingly innocent and open-hearted and Llewyn Davis-y about this song, and the way they sing it. Especially Mary Travers. I didn’t even know she’d passed. Complications from lukemia in 2009.