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40th Telluride Film Festival – 2013

2013 September 7
by profwagstaff

Frankly, this has to happen.

This year, I knew that I had to go back. After missing five years, it was time. I left one job behind and just got made permanent at my current job. I had to get back to that little box canyon in southwestern Colorado.

I had to go home.

I gotta tell you, that’s what it felt like. I only know a few people at the festival, but the folks I do know made me feel like I had never left. I took a friend with me and they made him feel at home, too.

Oh yeah, and I saw a few movies, too.

A mini-theme throughout the festival was definitely Man Against Nature. These first two films really push that theme home.
all_is_lost

ALL IS LOST (2013)

Directed by: JC Chandor
Written by: JC Chandor

Robert Redford is very nearly 80 years old.

Let me say that again: Robert Redford is very nearly 80 years old.

He’s starting to get the old man shuffle. He’s kept a fairly low profile lately, only directing a few films and starring in fewer, but he’s certainly going to be showing up in a big way next year with the new Captain America movie. I can only hope that that makes him a household name again. (I told a couple of younglings that I saw him this last week and they looked at me with a blank stare. Jesus, I’M not 80!)

Here’s the amazing thing: All Is Lost is an incredibly physical film and it stars ONLY Robert Redford. There is no other actor in the film. There are about three lines of dialogue and most of that is Redford’s unnamed character reading a letter that he wrote to…his family? Friends? Business partners? It’s never really told who this guy is or why he came to be on a boat in the middle of the ocean all alone.

What’s more is that it’s perfectly fine that we don’t know anything about Our Man (as he’s credited on IMDb). We get to know him well enough from the way he reacts to the storm that is raging around him. We know that this storm reflects the feelings of self-doubt and regret that rage inside of him. We know that he’s an old man who left for reasons that are best left to him.

All Is Lost is certainly not a fun film. It’s intense and kind of hopeless. Like a Jack London story, you know that nature will most likely prevail. That doesn’t stop you from hoping that he’ll manage his way out of this predicament. Our Man obviously knows what he’s doing. At least he’s read a lot of books on the subject and is doing everything pretty much right. (Although, most of his equipment is brand new, so maybe he just learned about it before he took off. Is that his sin?)

While I don’t think the movie is perfect (the music is intrusive and probably should not exist at all), I did actually like it a lot. It’s not for all tastes. There were a lot of people who were bored by it or just thought that it was passable. I’ll give it a better grade than that if only because I love seeing Redford rail against the wind again. If ever there was a movie meant for a man like him, it’s this one. I will not be surprised if the Academy notices him one more time. If they do, I will not be unhappy. Between him and Bruce Dern (we’ll get to him later), there were plenty of 70s icons being great again, putting in their 10th performance of a lifetime.

Redford was the recipient of a Silver Medallion and got a tribute, which I only saw a little bit of. They also, very appropriately, showed Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid at the Abel Gance outdoor theatre.

We’ll see more of Mr. Redford in a bit.

TRACKS (2013)

Directed by: John Curran
Written by: Marion Nelson
Based on book by: Robyn Davidson

When a anyone decides that they’re going to walk 2000 miles in the Australian desert all alone but for four camels and a dog, it’s news. When it’s 1975 and it’s a woman, you’d better believe that it’s HUGE news. Huge enough that National Geographic was interested and Davidson’s book is still in use in some college classes.

Curran’s film of this book is a real slow starter. For about the first hour I didn’t understand why Robyn (Mia Wasikowska from Alice In Wonderland and Jane Eyre) would bother doing something like this. It just sounded like a suicide mission. Slowly, though, her reasons became a bit more apparent and almost made sense. That’s when the movie became really, really good. The performances were great all across the board (although Adam Driver as the near love interest/NG photographer was a bit doofy–we’ll see more of this guy later) and I began to identify with Robyn in a way that I didn’t think that I would.

Throughout the film, I kept thinking of another Aussie desert film, Wake In Fright. That was a much more visceral experience (although this one had its moments), but the two films have a lot in common besides the superficial desert scenery. Both take place in approximately the same time period (WIF was the beginning of the 70s, this was the end), and both show what the roles of the sexes were at the time…and apparently still are in Australia to an extent. Especially in the small desert towns, the women are meant to be seen and not heard…and very often not even seen. When Robyn proposed this, everyone wanted her to either give up or take a man with her. Even the Aborigines were skeptical, although they were eventually won over. One important scene involving the gutting of a kangaroo showed that they were never completely forward thinking.

Tracks is a very good film that shows a young woman overcoming quite possibly the harshest world known to man. It’s inspiring and sad, but ultimately a film that shows the strength of convictions that most movies can only hint at.

For a bit more Man Against Nature, here’s an older look at how you can die.
portrait of jennie

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

Directed by: William Dieterle
Written by: Paul Osborn/Peter Berneis/Ben Hecht/David O Selznick/Leonardo Bercovici
Based on book by: Robert Nathan

In the early 40s, David O Selznick was king. He made hit after hit after hit, many of them the biggest hits of their time. He brought Hitchcock over the Pond and helped/hindered him to make three of his best films: Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious. Of course, the two didn’t get along at all. That’s why Hitch dressed Raymond Burr up as him in Rear Window.

David Thomson, film historian extraordinairre, was on hand at this screening to give us the lowdown on this little known film that destroyed Selznick’s career. How could one film do that? Well, it mostly had to do with his star/lover, Jennifer Jones. She had minor talent and was pushed into “sexy” roles that didn’t suit her. Then came this over-budget yet simple film that no one went to see, although Luis Bunuel called it one of his favorite films.

Joseph Cotton (one of my favorite semi-unsung actors) stars as Eben Adams, an unsuccessful artist who pays his rent with either art or odd jobs around the building. He manages to make friends with an art dealer (Ethel Barrymore), but only because he compliments her, not because she really likes any of his current art. She thinks he has promise, though.

One night, while walking aimlessly through Central Park with his portfolio, he meets a young girl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones). She seems a little weird to Eben, but he doesn’t know kids, so he doesn’t think too much of it, until she mentions that her parents are performers in a circus that shut down many years ago. Gotta be pulling his leg.

He keeps running in to Jennie and strange things keep happening. His career also picks up as he starts to sketch her. The love is coming back to his work. But who is this strange girl? And why does she seem to age every time he meets her?

I can’t really say that this movie was predictable if only because it was so weird for a movie made in the 40s. I could see where it was going for most of the film, though. I can, however, say that it was very much an influence on Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In fact, the Thomson called this program This Movie Is Not Vertigo: Portrait Of Jennie. He went on to explain how similar the two films are: love with a woman who may or may not be dead, nuns (including one played by Lillian Gish), a tall tower, dangerous water, an obsessed man and, of course, the color green.

Oh yeah, this is a black and white film that’s in the typical aspect ratio of the day (Academy Ratio). Then, all of a sudden, the film turns to widescreen color in a very frightening scene on an island.

Even though Portrait Of Jennie is not a great lost film, there was much to love here. Joseph Cotton, of course, was awesome. The story was a lot of fun. It was stranger than so many films of its time. But it would have been better if the dialogue was tuned up a bit, if Jennifer Jones had been a better actress (she wasn’t bad, just not all that great) and if the score had been turned down a notch or two.

Definitely worth checking out, though.

Now let’s see how a film can die.
jodorowskys_dune

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013)

Directed by: Frank Pavich

Holy mountain, holy shit.

I recently watched the first three Alenjandro Jodorowsky films (Fando & Lis, El Topo and Holy Mountain) and…they’re definitely interesting. Some of the most surreal films ever made, these movies are the epitome of “love it or hate it.” Either you’re into the crazy symbolism that borders on comedy (sometimes spilling over that brim into outright slapstick) and understand what messages he was trying to convey, or you think that it’s all a bunch of pretentious bullshit that is ultimately meaningless. There really are no in-betweens. To me, these are the films that Matthew Barney wishes he could make, but can’t because he lacks any real talent. At all.

In 1974, Jodorowsky set out to make his masterpiece. It was going to change cinema and the world. He hired some of the best minds of their generation (Dan O’Bannon, HR Giger, Chris Foss) and some of the most interesting actors (Orson Welles, David Carridine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier…Salvador Dali!) and took them down the road to…well…nothing. He and producer Michel Seydoux put together a giant scrap book for the studios to get them interested and each of them passed on it. No bites at all because no one wanted to trust this crazy man with a $15 million budget for what could have been a 12-20 hour flop of a film.

Instead of making a movie, though, they ended up creating the most influential movie never made and Pavich’s film gives us all the lowdown and even gives us glimpses into that giant book.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is one of the best films about filmmaking I’ve ever seen. It will make you tear up for the loss, but joyful at the absolute optimism that Jodorosky still shows for this project. He knows that he will never make it, but someone else may pick it up in the future and make something out of it. He also sees that influence it’s had over the years…all the way up to movies made just a few years ago.

There’s really not much to dislike about this film. It’s fast-paced, covers the entire subject, makes you love a guy who put his young son through hell training to play Paul Atreides and makes you pine for a film that, really, never could have been made.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in filmmaking should see this film. Hell, even if you don’t care about filmmaking, it’s pretty fascinating and makes you feel strangely good at the end. Best film of the festival.

How about some Man Against Man?

A SIMPLE CASE (aka, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, 1930)

Directed by: Vsevolod Pudovkin/Mikhail Doller
Written by: Aleksandr Rzheshevsky/Mikhail Koltsov

I’m going to make two confessions here: I don’t know nearly enough about silent film as I really should. I want to see more, but there are so many more sound films that beg attention. I also don’t know hardly anything about Russian film, and that’s a real shame. We Americans had the world on comedy, melodrama and action, but the Russians really knew how to edit and set up a shot. Every Russian film I’ve ever seen that’s over 30 years old has been absolutely beautiful. A Simple Case is no different.

The film starts off with one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve ever seen put to film. A man is standing, defiantly, and we only see pieces of him: his shoulder, his beard, his feet, his back. The man is a soldier and he’s coming home. Finally, he picks up his knapsack and starts walking towards the horizon. Then there’s a woman. She sees him from far off and begins running. The long shot of her running is strobed with a close-up shot of her face. The man continues walking, but his pace is picking up. Finally, the two come together and they hold each other. She pulls her back and looks at her and says, “You’ve gotten older, my woman.” She smiles and buries her face in his chest. All of this is shot slightly up to make them huge in the frame.

It’s amazing and it made me love the film from the start.

The two go home and see their son. They wake him and, for some reason, watch him bath. This made me confused about the film.

Then, everything changes. Suddenly, we’re in a war and none of the same people seem to be involved at all. Maybe they are, but they look completely different. Is the rest of the film a flashback? I have no idea. Apparently, neither did anyone else because no one I’ve talked to has been able to explain the story at all.

What’s interesting is that it probably doesn’t matter, especially not to modern audiences. At the time, a Russian audience may have connected to it (although, the film bombed and has been considered a footnote in the director’s career), but there’s nothing to latch onto except the visuals.

Really, that’s enough, though. The visuals are fucking amazing. Even funny at times! At one point, a woman says, “I will be sorry to leave you.” The next shot is of the guy’s crotch as he gets up. Another scene involves a soldier trying to get a cat to come to him. He has to control something since he can’t control the war. Eventually, he yells at the cat to get out of the room. As the cat very calmly walks in front of the man out the door, it stops to stretch a little bit. “You can’t control me, dude.” it seems to say.

That’s really what makes this film worth seeing. Little moments like this and some perfect shots that you just don’t see anymore. Even if the movie itself wasn’t all that great, it needs to be seen.

Movies like this really make me realize that there is not enough time left in life to see everything that I want to see. Even if I had started as a child, there wouldn’t be enough time.

Speaking of doing time…

LABOR DAY (2013)

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman
Based on book by: Joyce Maynard

Jason Reitman has made us laugh plenty while making us love characters and feel their pain. Now he wants to make us cry.

Adele (Kate Winslet) suffers from pretty deep depression and agoraphobia. She leaves the house occasionally, but it’s very difficult and she gets very nervous. Her young son, Henry (the awesome relative newcomer, Gattlin Griffith), is just about her only support group. He helps her with everything and the two have an ok, if not altogether comfortable life together. Meanwhile, his father (Clark Gregg) is clueless with his new wife and family.

During their monthly shopping trip, Henry runs into Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped con who is bleeding and limping. He needs help and forces Henry and Adele into it. But is Frank as bad a guy as the cops think he is? What’s his story? And what happens when Adele makes a connection that maybe she shouldn’t?

Even with its leaps of logic (Frank does odd-jobs around outside around the house and no one sees him?), I really kinda loved this movie. The whole thing is told from the point of view of Henry (narrated from the future by Tobey Maguire) and it turns into not just a love story, but a really good coming of age movie, too.

Oh yeah, and that love story. My God. Even if it seems unrealistic that Adele and Frank would fall in love under the circumstances, this is one of the best love stories I’ve seen in a long, long time. Imagine if Nicholas Sparks was good. Then make it better. That comes close to Labor Day.

A bit of Reitman’s humor shows through at times (especially through the little gothy girl that Henry meets), but this is a heart-ripping love story first and foremost. I guarantee that you will tear up at least once.

Your taste-buds will be excited, too. Frank’s an awesome cook and makes quite a few amazing looking dishes throughout the film…just to satisfy both hungers.

If you want to watch some characters who won’t make you cry…or feel much of anything but anger…check out…

PALO ALTO (2013)

Directed by: Gia Coppola
Written by: Gia Coppola
Based on stories by: James Franco

Pretty much anything James Franco does, I’m at least interested in. I’m not sure that I understand all of the shit he gets. He’s a pretty decent actor, he’s dabbled in directing (haven’t seen any of that yet), he writes, he has, like, 15 degrees and he does performance art on soap operas. What’s not to like? The guy’s a weirdo who does whatever strikes his fancy and, even if he’s not good at it, he’s at least interesting at it. Hell, I’d probably be the same way. You got the money and the freedom? Why the hell not?

So, when I heard that he had written some short stories and that Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford, daughter of Gian-Carlo Coppola) had used them to make her first film, I was interested. When I found out that it filled a hole in my schedule, I was doubly interested.

Unfortunately, the movie just doesn’t live up to the sum of its perceived parts. What it ends up being is a bunch of “woe is me” teenagers in California richie land lamenting their privileged lives, but not really giving a shit about anything at all. They have friends, but those friends seem to be perfunctory. They use their phones a lot, but probably not as much as real kids use their phones. They have a lot of sex and talk about it constantly.

There are good performances here and there. Emma Roberts is very good as April who drifts through life pining for Eddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), but really doesn’t care about much else. Her “love” for Eddy and his “love” for her are just about the only real emotions throughout the film…that and the jealousy that they feel when he gets a bj from “the blow job queen” and she is seen making out with another guy. Kilmer is sometimes great and sometimes absolutely awful. Val, on the other hand, is great in a small role as April’s pothead step-dad. Well…more funny than great, honestly.

Actually, Eddy’s “best friend,” Fred (Nat Wolff), is probably the best actor in the group of kids. He also has the most to work with. He’s a hothead who does anything to get a reaction out of people. By the end you get a sense of why he acts out so much.

Oh, and there’s Franco himself as April’s young soccer coach. All the girls want him, including April. And he’s not creepy at all. No, siree.

Watch for Don Novello (Father Guido!) in a really strange role as the art teacher. “I’m not Bob.”

The idea was good. Show how thoughtless and without real love the current generation is and show it for what it is: the fault of an older generation who say they care, but they really don’t. Not on any real level, anyway:

“Are you ok?”
Yeah, I’m just tired. I’m gonna go lie down for a little bit.”
“You know, you look tired. You should rest.”
“I just said that.”

The problem is that if the characters don’t seem to care if they live or die, it’s really hard to me to care if they live or die. By the end of the film, I would have been quite alright if any of them had died, talked about how much they loved fucking virgins or been on a mission to give everyone they slept with AIDS.

Yep. If you thought Kids was nihilistic, you should check out Palo Alto. Just be ready for some wooden bits that make you want to hit someone.

All that being said, this was Gia’s first film. As far as that goes, she did a fine job. She just needed better material.
Under_the_Skin_poster

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Written by: Walter Campbell/Jonathan Glazer
Based on book by: Michel Faber

Allow me to be a hornball for a brief moment and tell you that a LOT of people want to see this movie because it’s the first time that Scarlett Johansson has been naked on screen. I’ll just get this out of the way right here: Yes, she looks just as good as you would hope.

Ok. Done.

It’s hard to know what I should or shouldn’t tell you about this movie. There’s a big reveal at the end that the synopsis in our guide told us about. It’s bad to give away the ending of a movie but, honestly, the movie would have made zero sense if they hadn’t. The ending would have been completely out of nowhere and we still wouldn’t have really known what the fuck was going on. We could have guessed…maybe…but not really.

Here’s the premise without giving it away: Scarlett Johansson is an unnamed young woman who drives around Scotland day and night looking for young men. She asks them directions, seduces them into her van and then takes them to a creepy location. This leads to some of the few truly cool scenes in the film: we’re led to believe that she has sex with them…or at least makes them think that they’re about to have sex. Then they slowly sink into black ooze. She walks back over where they disappeared and it’s completely solid again. As she lures the men, she peels off bits of clothing. They peel off all of their clothing.

As a music video or an artsy short, this works really well. It’s a great way to convey sex as a weapon and it’s actually kind of sexy.

The rest of the movie is kind of a jumble of nearly silent driving, inane chit-chat with stupid, horny young men and the occasional money shot from the young Ms. Johansson. Why is she killing these men? What was up with the first scene of the film, which was some sort of 2001-esque weirdness that eventually turns into an eyeball? Why does she suddenly lose the ability to speak? Who are these guys on motorcycles who clean up after her? And why the FUCK is the score basically one note played on a violin for approximately 42 minutes?

Glazer has directed a great movie before. Sexy Beast is awesome. He’s also directed a bunch of cool music videos. Under The Skin is really more music video than it is movie. It has a fairly interesting premise (although, it’s been done to death), but it doesn’t do much more than confuse and try for an artsiness that comes off as incredibly pretentious. It would have made an amazing 25 minute short.

Johansson does do a great job, though, and handles a British accent better than you would think. Not better than I would think, because I think she’s really talented. Definitely better than you’d think, though.

BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL (aka WINTER ROSE, 2013)

Directed by: Philippe Claudel
Written by: Philippe Claudel

The French have an interesting way about marriage. They don’t seem to be built on communication so much as just being together and growing old together…without much actual talking.

That, to me, was the central theme of Before The Winter Chill, the third film by novelist Phillipe Claudel.

Paul (French institution Daniel Auteuil) is a brilliant brain surgeon who is happily married to Lucie (Kristin Scott Thomas). His best friend and partner, Gerard (Richard Berry) is not so secretly in love with Lucie, but he’ll never do anything about it.

One day, Paul meets Lou (Leila Bekhti), a former patient. He doesn’t remember her, but she insists that he was kind to her, so she remembers him from her childhood. He leaves the bar very quickly. Soon after, he begins receiving bouquets of roses at home and at work. There’s no note, but he’s sure that they’re from Lou. Confrontation turns to friendship turns to more confrontation turns to…not really what you would think.

The set-up is very thriller-esque. You expect a boiling bunny at some point, but there’s much more to this. Because of Paul’s refusal to actually talk to his wife (eventually, he just calls her a pain in the ass), things get worse for him. Because of his refusal to talk to Gerard, things get worse there. Because of his refusal to talk to his son…you know the drill. (And, by the way, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.)

The movie is slow, but rewarding with an ending that you don’t see coming at all. It’s one that you need to pay attention to every detail to put all of the pieces together. Maybe that’s why I liked it better than a lot of other folks did. (Of course, I also missed a few things that they didn’t. Go figure.)
prisoners

PRISONERS (2013)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski

With so many movies like Taken floating around, why would you bother with another movie about a family whose kid is taken and the father goes crazy searching for her? Maybe because this one is actually fairly realistic…character-wise, anyway.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is your all-American lower middle class father. He runs his own handyman business and hopes to leave it to his teenage son someday (Dylan Minette, who was also in Labor Day for a bit). His wife (Maria Bello) is your typical American mom and their little girl is just an adorable little girl. Their neighbors and best friends are played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis basically the same way. They have a teenage daughter and a little girl the same age as the Dovers.

When the little girls are both abducted from their neighborhood at the same time, everything explodes. The cops send in Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has never had a case he couldn’t solve. Their first suspect is the driver of an old RV that was nearby when the girls were kidnapped. Alex Jones (Paul Dano–and, no, he’s not playing the famous conspiracy theorist), unfortunately, is most likely a dead-end since he has the IQ of a 10 year old, lives with his aunt and, generally couldn’t kidnap two little girls in broad daylight and make them disappear within an hour or two. His aunt (Melissa Leo) has raised him and says that he barely even speaks to her.

Keller doesn’t take the news that Alex is being let go very well. He takes some…drastic…measures.

This movie could also be called “101 Ways To Fuck Up A Case.” Everyone fucks up. Dover does that drastic thing that I won’t tell you about. Loki doesn’t follow leads and contributes to another horrible thing happening. Basically, everything that happens leads to something worse happening, and the characters may find it hard to dig themselves out of the hole even after the movie’s over.

That, however, didn’t make me dislike the movie at all. It’s actually a very good character study of different personality types and how they take this sort of ordeal. Keller becomes violent. His wife become desolate and nearly immobile. Loki fumbles the ball a lot (which makes me wonder about his hot-shot status). Terrence Howard becomes a beta male while Viola Davis sees an ugly side to herself.

It also helps that the film is FULL of twists that you don’t really see coming. Every time you think you have something figured out, new evidence comes from old information and the story goes in a different direction. Pay attention to everything. (The director actually told us not to go to the bathroom until we see Terrence Howard talk to a horse. Then we have two minutes to go. It’s the only unimportant scene in the entire film. Everyone was waiting for a horse to show up.)

Not a perfect film, but a good one that, despite its 2 1/2 hour runtime, goes by pretty quickly. It’s intense, pretty torturistic and full of great performances. Jackman and Gyllenhaal, especially, shine as men taken so far over the edge that they may never get back again.
StarredUp

STARRED UP

Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Jonathan Asser
Based on book by:

The British prison system doesn’t seem to be too different from our own. It’s run as a money making scheme built to create more criminals and more prisoners, not actually rehabilitate the ones who are there.

Starred Up was written by a prison psychologist who did his best to change the system at the prison he worked at. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure…but he no longer works there.

Eric (Jack O’Connell) is a young punk who has just been transferred from juvie to the adult prison. Why, no one really seems to know. All we know is that he’s a fucking terror. When he’s given a chance at rehab by the psychologist (Rupert Friend), he spits in its face. He beats the shit out of people when there’s no reason to. (One was an accident, but then he just started beating on everyone in his path…for some reason?)

On the other side of the cell is Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), a man who has spent most of his adult life in prison. He rules the roost, as it were, with an iron fist. He’ll kill you if you get in his way. This new punk worries him, partly because he reminds him of him as a young man and partly because…well…he’s his son.

(Why they would put both of them on the same block, I dunno.)

It took just about an hour to finally wrap my brain around the heavy accents running throughout this movie, but you can pretty much get what’s going on without understanding all of the dialogue. What got me was just how unsympathetic these characters were. Until about the last 15 minutes, I wanted both of these guys (and more) to get the shit kicked out of them (and more). They’re horrible people who deserve to be locked up because they don’t want to be helped.

Then you start to realize just how locked into their lives they really are. The psychologist is trying his hardest, but everyone is against him. As soon as someone starts to show some promise in group therapy, the brass comes in and fucks everything up. It’s sad and it’s wrong, but it’s all for the almighty dollar, really. They won’t admit it, but that’s what it is.

It’s almost hard to recommend Starred Up, but it’s also not right to say, “Don’t bother.” It is a very interesting story with some great acting all around. Just don’t expect to like any of the main characters until maybe the last 15 minutes.
Nebraska

NEBRASKA (2013)

Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Bob Nelson

Alexander Payne is pretty much the consummate American filmmaker these days. No, he’s no John Ford or Frank Capra, but he catches the mid-west American experience perfectly and shows us men breaking down on a road trip, trying to hold their families and lives together. They always find out some secret and then spend the rest of the film trying to figure out what it means or get around it to the heart of the matter. That’s why I love his films.

This time out, the two men at the center of the story are Woody and David Grant (Bruce Dern and Will Forte), a father and son who are a little bit distant from each other. Woody is slowly going senile and now thinks that he’s won a million dollars from a Publisher’s Clearinghouse sort of scam. David isn’t doing so hot at his stereo sales job and just lost his longtime girlfriend. When Woody decides to start walking to Lincoln, Nebraska from his home in Billings, Montana to collect his “winnings,” David drops everything (eventually) and goes on the Payne Road Trip.

Along the way, David learns more about his father’s past than he ever could have known, especially after they hit his hometown, Hawthorne, NB.

Every performance is pitch perfect here, especially June Squibb as David’s caustic and feisty mom. She’s fucking amazing. Bob Odenkirk is also very good as David’s older brother.

The only issue I had was actually Will Forte. I just can’t make the decision to call him a good actor. He’s pretty wooden and stilted, possibly over-enunciating his lines a bit. I’m not sure. I just now that I don’t really like his style. He doesn’t destroy the film, though. Everyone else lifts him up.

The other amazing link is Bruce Dern. It’s always nice to see older actors who have basically disappeared out of peoples’ consciousness come out of “nowhere” to put in an amazing performance like this one. Woody is heartbroken and heartbreaking, even when he’s funny as hell. His mind is going along with his body, but he just has to keep moving and doesn’t want to give up. It’s a beautiful performance that will hopefully be remembered for a long time.

Also beautiful is the black and white photography by Phedon Papamichael, who has shot many of Payne’s films. The landscape is stark and the black and white makes it that much more stark.

Watch for the scenes where David, Woody and all of the menfolk watch tv. I’ve had those exact same days with my family in Wisconsin. Awkward and strange, but still kind of loving.
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HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924)

Directed by: Victor Sjostrom
Written by: Carey Wilson/Victor Sjostrom
Based on play by: Leonid Andreyev

Lon Chaney made many, many films. Unfortunately few still survive. Unfortunately fewer have been seen by me. This is now one of them.

Chaney stars as a scientist who is betrayed by a woman and a friend. He is about to give a speech about his new theories to a board of scientists. His friend makes a joke of him and slaps him in front of everyone. He is disgraced.

What’s a disgraced scientist to do but join the circus? He becomes a clown (known as HE to his friends) who is slapped by a parade of other clowns as he gives new theories, changing them to win their approval. He becomes one of the most famous clowns on the circuit, but it all starts to fall apart when he sees his ex-friend in the audience. That man is now putting the moves on one of the acrobats, who in turn is in love with acrobatic partner. Also, HE is in love with the young lady, but knows that he can do nothing about it.

Chaos ensues.

He Who Gets Slapped was directed by Victor Sjostrom, a huge directorial star in his native Sweden. The biggest in Sweden until Igmar Bergman, actually. (Bergman cast him in his own Wild Strawberries years later.) His move to the US was only going to be temporary, but the success of his first feature, Name The Man, kept him here at least long enough to make this film with Chaney.

According to the TFF program, this film is an exercise in “emotional masochism.” As a teenager, that’s what we all are: wallowing in self pity. Chaney already did that, but put him with this particular Swedish master and the emotion gets taken up about 11 notches. Not only does HE relive his awful story every night (and probably twice on Saturdays), but he bears the cross of unrequited love on top of it. It’s a lot of heartbreak to keep track of, but the story’s not too complicated. MUCH easier to follow than A Simple Case. And Chaney is perfect as the broken man. It makes me want to see more of his films.

Visually, there’s a lot to work with. Imagine miles and miles of clowns. And not just regular Bozo type clowns. These are the super creepy olden days clowns. I think there are 60 of them in the film. GAH! One of the words I heard bandied about was “unsettling.” Maybe that wasn’t true in 1924 when people saw those kinds of clowns all the time, but it certainly fits now.

The Alloy Orchestra, as always, added a great score to the proceedings. I’ve heard that they get it wrong occasionally, but I have yet to hear that, so I’ll keep believing that they’re perfect.

This isn’t a silent film for everyone. (People who are really creeped out by clowns should probably stay away.) But it is a very good one and will hopefully find some respect in an age where film lovers are really coming back around to older films.

If you want more Sjostrom, check out The Phantom Carriage from 1921. It’s incredibly complex for such an early film and ends up being a very good morality play with some creepy effects.
inside_llewyn_davis

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (20130

Directed by: Joel Coen/Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen/Ethan Coen

Every time I see this title, I think Inside Desmond Llewelyn. I would watch that movie, ’cause that guy had to be interesting.

Anyway, NEW COEN BROTHERS MOVIE!!!

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folksinger. That’s all he’s ever wanted to be and it’s all he’s really capable of. His sister (Marisa Tomei) thinks he needs to settle down. The couple that he stays with occasionally (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake)…well, one thinks he’s a talented singer and guitarist who just needs a break and the other hates his guts. (She has a reason.) His upper-class friends (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) think the world of him. Unfortunately, he’s kind of an asshole and he pretty much self-destructs anytime something might go in his favor.

The movie is basically Llewyn wandering around 1961 New York (and, briefly, Chicago) trying to get a recording contract and keep the friends that he has, mostly by abusing them and being depressed. It works like a charm.

It’s also a nearly perfect rendering of the early 60s pre-Bob Dylan folk scene of Greenwich Village. You can almost draw correlations between many of the characters and real figures of the time. Llewyn is pretty much Dave Von Ronk, a musician who influenced Dylan quite a bit, but never gained any real acclaim outside of the people who knew him at the time.

Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is almost another character in the film. The NYC that he captures is one that no longer exists except in the memories of those who lived in it. There are no huge, sweeping shots of The Bowery or anything like that, but you get the grunge and meanness of the winter and the strange homeyness that exists in NYC, more so then than now.

The music by T-Bone Burnett (his fourth collaboration with the Brothers) is perfect. Llewyn’s songs are beautiful and they really make you wonder why this guy wouldn’t have been huge at the time. (I mean…if he was real.) There’s also a hilarious song that he does with Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.

The only problem, I think, that people might have with the film is that Llewyn is pretty unlikeable. He’s an asshole. He has his reasons (which come out as the movie goes along), but you still kind of feel like he just needs to calm the fuck down. But, as much as you may not want to hang out with the guy, you can probably either identify with him or think of someone in your life who is a lot like him. And you like that person, right? So, suck it up and see the movie.

At times beautiful, at times aggravating, Inside Llewyn Davis may not be among the Coen’s best work, but it is certainly a damn fine film that is worthy of the name “Coen.”

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (2013)

Directed by: Ralph Fiennes
Written by: Abi Morgan
Based on book by: Claire Tomalin

Merchant-Ivory used to make some amazing costume dramas from the mid-80s until the mid to late 90s. Maurice, A Room With A View, Howards End and Remains Of The Day are all great. The Invisible Woman reminded me of some of their films, even if it wasn’t as good as the best.

The Invisible Woman in question is Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones). She was the young lover of Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) around the time that he was writing Great Expectations. The two meet when she is probably about 16 and fall instantly in some manner of British lust, but they do nothing about it for a while. Dickens is married with about 459 children, but it’s a loveless marriage (with lots of fuckin’ for a while, apparently!) and Dickens is looking for some on the side. Nelly is much more traditional, even if she is the youngest of a family troop of actresses. (Her mother is played by Kristin Scott Thomas, also in Before The Winter Chill.)

I liked the film quite a bit, but a couple of things bothered me. First off, as soon as the two main characters are introduced, everyone in the room seems to know that they will fuck. Everyone. There’s no indication, really, that this will happen. Yes, Dickens looks at the girl, but not really in a way that says, “I’m gonna touch you, little girl!” Yes, she looks at Dickens, but it seems to be more of a “He’s my favorite author” way than a “sexy old man” way. Why would you make everyone see something that probably wasn’t there from the moment they saw each other?

Second, there’s a framing story of sorts. Nelly is married with children, Dickens has recently died and everyone knows that she knew him when she was “a child.” One man is trying to figure out how well she knew him. These scenes are intercut throughout the film, sometimes to comment on what’s going on in the actually interesting story of the affair. Unfortunately, they forgot to make Felicity Jones up to look any older than her 17 year old self, so it’s a little bit hard to tell when these framing scenes pop up. She would be nearly 40 in the framing story. Why does she not look any older?!?!

This is Ralph Fiennes’ second directorial effort and he looks to be a pretty damn good director. I haven’t seen Coriolanus, but I’m more interested now that I know that he can pull great performances out of people (Jones is especially good) and that he can put together a story in an interesting way. (I actually really did like the framing story. I just wish that I could have always told which scenes were which.)

Speaking of Jones, she was pretty amazing. Her character goes from a young, traditional girl to a worldly, modern woman and the transition is believable…if only her makeup had been.

Certainly not the most memorable film of the festival, but it was quite good and worth a watch, especially if you like either of the leads or are a big fan of Dickens.

As always, there were a few programs and shorts that were noteworthy. The biggest one was Pierre Rissient’s selection of films.

MUSCLE BEACH (1948)

Directed by: Irving Lerner/Joseph Strick
Written by: Edwin Rolfe

Pierre Rissient is the ultimate film geek. He’s lived through most of film history and seems to have absorbed just about all of it. You will never beat him. Stop trying.

But you’ve probably never heard of him. I don’t actually know what his claim to fame is but that’s fine. He has a theatre named after him at the Festival, so he’s better than you. But he’s French, so it evens out.

I KEED, I KEED!

The Festival has allowed him to program one slot in the schedule. It’s called Pierre Rissient, Carte Blanche. He can show anything he wants to.

This year, he chose a couple of short films that focus on the writers. The first was Muscle Beach, a nine minute short from 1948 that basically just shows a bunch of folks (mostly dudes) working out on Muscle Beach. The writer in question is Edwin Rolfe, a poet who tried and failed at movies. This is his poem (recited and sung by Edwin Robinson) about what you can do when you go down to Muscle Beach for the day.

The poem is pretty tongue-in-cheek as are many of the images, but I think it went on a little bit too long.

THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR: A PIECE OF THE ACTION (1962)

Directed by: Bernard Girard
Written by: Alfred Hayes
Based on story by: Oliver HP Garrett

No, this is not the silly third season gangster episode of the original Star Trek. This is a pretty killer episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour from 1962 that stars a little known actor named Robert Redford. It’s also the second film in Pierre’s block of time. This time, the writer is Alfred Hayes, a novelist who has been all but forgotten until fairly recently.

This episode is about a gambler (Gig Young) who is trying to quit in order to keep his wife. His kid brother (Redford) doesn’t know what he does, but has fallen into the life himself. It’s up to Gig to teach him a lesson.

The dialogue is great and the acting is just as good. It really made me want to see more of these old Hitchcock shows. I’ve seen a few, but not nearly enough.

I actually saw quite a few shorts during the festival, but really only one stood out to me. That was:
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GET A HORSE! (2013)

Directed by: Lauren MacMullan
Written by: Lauren MacMullan

Disney has always been a paragon of animation, although they’ve fallen into hard times in the last decade or so. No one really remembers anything they’ve done if it didn’t also have the word “Pixar” somewhere in the credits. (Wreck-It Ralph is almost an exception, but that was done mostly by Pixar folks.)

Lauren McMullan is hopefully going to do something about that. She was told by Ralph’s director, Rich Moore, that Disney was looking for new Mickey Mouse ideas. She went with it.

In Get A Horse, Mickey is taken back to his 1928 roots. We see Mickey taking some hay somewhere in a carriage drawn by his old friend Horace Horsecollar. They meet up with Minnie and the three of them take a fun ride through memory lane.

Then their old nemesis (and longest running Disney character) Peg-Leg Pete shows up to steal the cart. He punches a hole in their reality, sending Mickey and Minnie into…3D land? The rest of the film is a madcap adventure with Mickey, Minnie, Horse, Clarabelle Cow and the cart going in and out of 1928 style hand drawn black and white animation and modern CG 3D animation. It’s one of the most imaginative things I’ve seen come out of Disney in years and hopefully a harbinger of what’s to come.

Not only does the opening animation style harken back to the olden days, but all of the voices are archival recordings of the original voices, including Uncle Disney himself as Mickey.

If this is where Disney is going, I’m willing to follow them. No question about it. Watch for Get A Horse to play before their next feature, Frozen.

That’s really it for Telluride this year. Hopefully, I won’t be taking another five year break from it.

See you next year, Box Canyon.

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