Telluride Film Festival Diary, Day 4

1 09 2014

9:30 A.M.: Nothing says “Happy Monday morning!” quite like a film on genocide in Indonesia!  Time for Josh Oppenheimer’s “The Look of Silence,” his follow-up to the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Act of Killing.”

11:40 A.M.: Well. That was heavy. Need something to cheer me up ASAP. Found “The Look of Silence” a more appropriate, solemn look at the massacre than “The Act of Killing.”

11:55 P.M.: Werner Herzog might have just cut me in line for lunch.

3:30 P.M.: After a nice Q&A with Oppenheimer, I dashed across Telluride on my bike to make the 3:30 showing of “The Imitation Game.” I’m going to be panting for the next 30 minutes, but it’s going to be totally worth it!

6:05 P.M.: Just got back in line at the same theater, now to see “Rosewater” (Jon Stewart’s directorial debut).

8:35 P.M.: And now it’s time for my final film at the festival, “Wild” (starring Reese Witherspoon!). I only got halfway through the book before coming here, so that’s going to be interesting watching the movie.

Also, “The Imitation Game” was solidly good, and “Rosewater” was a nice film if not particularly great.

12:59 A.M.:  Well, folks, that’s my first Telluride Film Festival in the books!  Closed out on a good note with “Wild,” which was a very pleasant surprise.  Depending on how you want to count, I saw roughly 15 films in 4 days.  So a lot of reviewing will be coming up in the next few days!





Telluride Film Festival Diary, Day 3

31 08 2014

8:30 A.M.: Up early to talk with Mike Leigh and then hit up one of my most anticipated films of the festival –  the Marion Cotillard-starring “Two Days, One Night.”

11:30 A.M.: Floored by “Two Days, One Night.” A fascinating look at the internal tussle between self-interest and self-sacrifice. Now headed to the noon panel!

1:00 P.M.: Ugh, nothing worse than having to leave an incredible panel that featured Jon Stewart, Gael Garcia Bernal, Bennett Miller (director of “Moneyball” and “Foxcatcher”), and Jean-Marc Vallee (director of “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild”). But now I’m about to see an obscure silent film with live accompaniment, which is certainly a cool thing. Even if the movie is a dud, it is certainly a unique experience to cross off the cinematic bucket list.

5:30 P.M.: Well, the silent film was a pretty neat thing to see. I was not entirely in the right mindset to watch that kind of a film, so I didn’t necessarily engage with it on a level I’d hoped.

Then we had student Q&A sessions with the Dardennes (who directed “Two Days, One Night”) and Morten Tyldum (who directed “The Imitation Game,” which I did even get to see). I told the French-speaking Dardennes bonjour, which was sadly all the interaction I had with them. I had a great question for them, but I didn’t get called on. The conversation with Tyldum was surprisingly interesting, considering that none of us saw the film.

Now, on to “Dancing Arabs,” an Israeli-Palestinian film that I know absolutely nothing about. And sometimes, that’s not a bad thing.

8:45 P.M.: GOT INTO “FOXCATCHER.” Festival = made. And James Gray, the director of my favorite 2014 film “The Immigrant,” is sitting two rows behind me!

Also, I ran into Ramin Bahrani, the director of “99 Homes,” while in line for the bathroom today. I told him how much I enjoyed the film, and he replied in astonishment that I was able to stay awake. I also chatted him up about Winston-Salem, where he filmed a short that played before the presentation last night. Pretty cool stuff!

Oh, and “Dancing Arabs” was mediocre, in case you were wondering.

12:11 A.M.:  Back from “Foxcatcher.”  What a cerebral, brooding film.  Definitely going to spend some time in deliberation on this one.  Reminds me of how I felt emerging from “The Master.”

Anyways, tomorrow is the day when the festival reprograms the films that had lots of turnaways – so wish me luck as I attempt to catch “Rosewater” and “Wild.”  So now I’m going to try to finish the book of the latter … which I doubt will happen.





Telluride Film Festival Diary, Day 2

30 08 2014

9:15 A.M.  Good morning from Telluride!  Looks like today is going to be an action-packed day of moviegoing and talking with filmmakers.  I had to be up for a discussion at the ripe hour of 7:15 A.M. today, which was just as much fun as a barrel of monkeys!

This morning’s festivities kick off with a screening of Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” which won the Best Actor prize at Cannes this year.  While you wait for my reaction, perhaps you’d like to see some of my pictures that I’ve been taking?!

12:15 P.M.: I’m at a panel right now that includes…

Mike Leigh
Wim Wenders
Werner Herzog
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Francis Ford Coppola
Ethan Hawke
Walter Murch

HOLY CRAP.

Also, “Mr. Turner” was quite good, too.

3:27 P.M.: So, where to begin on the past three hours. Getting to be in conversation with Francis Ford Coppola for an hour was insane. Hearing from the insanely normal and approachable Xavier Dolan was neat, too. Although it’s pretty hard to top getting to meet Leonard Maltin, whose movie guides were always on my bookshelf growing up. I told him how much those meant to me, and he was clearly very humbled to hear those words. Then we got to talk about film criticism for a few minutes … simply incredible.

3:45 P.M.: Not going to lie, I’m not the most excited for our next selection, some 40 year old German film called “Baal.” I should go in with more of an open mind, but knowing that I’m in here and “Foxcatcher” is out there…

9:45 P.M.: So “Baal” was awful and basically a waste of my time, as predicted. Then essentially none of my student group got into “The Imitation Game,” despite the fact that we were supposedly guaranteed seats more or less. Guess I’ll have to catch this flick that’s being hotly tipped for Oscars on Monday … add it to the list with “Foxcatcher.”

Bennett Miller, Channing Tatum, and Steve Carell

Bennett Miller, Channing Tatum, and Steve Carell

So now I’m in line for Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” a film starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon that premiered to acclaim in Venice this week. Of course, there was a free outdoor screening of “Foxcatcher” that just had to overlap with this screening by 15 minutes. But no, I guess I’ll just have to keep hanging…

P.S. – Celebrity sightings today include Laura Linney (just chilling solo outside a theater) as well as Steve Carell and Channing Tatum outside the “Foxcatcher” screening.

10:28 P.M.: Laura Dern spotted at “99 Homes.”

1:13 A.M.:  Back in bed still reflecting on and reeling from “99 Homes.”  Not that I don’t want to immediately post a review (because I could probably cobble my thoughts together now), but I desperately need some sleep and have a rare chance to get two full cycles.  Good evening (though it’s doubtful anyone is reading this live)!





REVIEW: Mommy

30 08 2014

mommyTelluride Film Festival

Fascination with portraying a particular kind of relationship on screen is not necessarily a bad thing – just look at how many compelling films Martin Scorsese has turned out about fathers and sons.  When that fascination turns to fixation, though, further exploration can just wind up being counterproductive.

That’s the case with wunderkind Xavier Dolan, releasing his fifth feature film “Mommy” at the ripe old age of 25.  It’s certainly an accomplished work with plenty to laud: namely, Dolan’s mastery of music and montage.  To those unfamiliar with his work, the film may come across quite unique and fresh.

Yet dig back into Dolan’s filmography to find his debut feature, “I Killed My Mother,” which is essentially the same film as “Mommy.”  Both put a dysfunctional mother-son relationship at their core and takes a look at the way each party drives each other towards insanity.

In “Mommy,” Antoine Olivier Pilon plays a foul-mouthed teen, Steve, who suffers from ADHD and other afflictions.  He clearly tries the patience of his mother, Anne Dorval’s Diane, who’s no angel herself.  Dolan sets their misadventures in an alternative Canadian reality where Diane could have Steve involuntarily committed to a hospital, and it’s clear that easy route is never far out of mind.

“Mommy” also introduces a third character into the mix (“I Killed My Mother” was essentially a two-hander), Suzanne Clement’s friendly neighbor Kyla.  She agrees to help homeschool Steve while his mom is out working, which results in her becoming somewhat like a regular family member.  What exactly Kyla adds to the mix – or what Diane and Steve want to take away from her – is never expressly clear, giving “Mommy” its sole bit of tension.

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Telluride Film Festival Diary, Day 1

29 08 2014

12:45 P.M.:  TGIF, everyone!  I’m headed into a packed day that will have me at some incredible events.  For all those who are really dying to know, here’s the schedule I’ve been given for the festival.

TFF Schedule

As far as I can tell, I will be at the world premiere of “The 50 Year Argument” (which is Martin Scorsese’s latest documentary) and the North American premiere of Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy.”  And then … a 35th anniversary tribute to “Apocalpyse Now” will have Francis Ford Coppola in person along with several below-the-line talent.  Incredible.  Geeking out so much.

1:00 P.M.: Ken Burns in the house!

1:49 P.M.: Only had about 20-25 minutes with Ken Burns, but he certainly had quite a lot to say! I’ll write up some of his profundities later. But meanwhile, I’m now at the 35th anniversary screening of “Apocalypse Now” with Francis Ford Coppola in the house!

2:00 P.M.: Spotted Mike Leigh at the “Apocalypse Now” screening.

5:30 P.M.: Left In stunned silence once again by “Apocalypse Now.” And learned so much about its construction and intention from FFC and gang.

5:50 P.M.: Now at the “feed” for the festival (basically a picnic for all badge holders, including talent). Free dinner and drinks. Plus sightings of Ken Burns again on a business call – and Chaz Ebert, Roger’s widow.

6:50 P.M.: Spotted Jon Stewart. Some people went to bother him in conversation, and apparently he was receptive enough to take a picture. I was not so bold, though.

9:22 P.M.: Just emerged from the Scorsese documentary on the New York Review of Books, “The 50 Year Argument.” Mike Leigh was sitting behind me, and after the film, he seemed to linger a tad bit when he heard me discussing the film with others.

This documentary is going to be broadcast on HBO in a few weeks, and I advise you to skip it. Or do laundry while you watch it. Unless you have a connection to the Review, you’ll probably find this self-congratulatory anniversary celebration a tedious and slow paced history lesson. (Still deciding whether or not I’ll give it a full review since it’s not made for a theatrical release.)

Anyways, back in line now for Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy.” Quite excited for this one, which took home the Jury Prize at Cannes this May.

12:45 A.M.: Wow, what a long and draining day. I must say, I did prefer “Mommy” when Xavier Dolan called it “I Killed My Mother” five years ago.





REVIEW: Birdman

29 08 2014

Telluride Film Festival

I hardly think it counts as a spoiler anymore to say that “Birdman” (sometimes also credited with the title “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”) is edited to make the majority of the film appears as if there are not edits.  This does not, however, mean the film is intended to give us the illusion of unbroken action.  Breaks in time and space are quite clear, yet the effect of the long take remains.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, as he would now have us call him, achieves the herculean feat of collapsing a timeline of roughly a few weeks into pure continuity.  He’s less interested in continuous action as he is a continuous feeling or sensation, an invigorating break from the oneupmanship that seems to come baked in with long-held takes.

Waiting for a cut or edit in a shot is like waiting for pent-up tension to be relieved, an indulgence Iñárritu refuses to grant.  (Leave it to the man who gave us the debilitatingly bleak “Biutiful” to make us writhe.)  “Birdman” follows Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson, a former blockbuster superhero star, attempting to win back his legacy in a flashy Broadway play.  He has struggles aplenty, both with his inner demons and the cast of characters around him, and the film certainly does not shy away from trying to replicate his anxiety in the viewing audience.

This is not just pure sadistic filmmaking, though; Iñárritu’s chosen form matches the content of the story quite nicely.  The film feels consistently restless and anxious, and not just because of the consistent drumming the underscores the proceedings.  These sensations are contributed to and complimented by Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography.

After his work on “Children of Men,” “The Tree of Life,” and “Gravity,” it’s a wonder Lubezki had any surprises left in store.  “Birdman” may very well be his most accomplished  cinematic ballet to date, though.  There’s an art and a purpose to every position occupied or every shot length employed.  Pulling off some of these constantly kinetic scenes must have required some intensely detailed blocking with Iñárritu and the cast, but the level of difficulty makes itself apparent without screaming for attention.

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Telluride Film Festival Diary, Day -1

28 08 2014

1:39 P.M.: Hello everyone! I’m typing this on my phone in a limo (read: dinky beat up van that calls itself a limo) somewhere in southwest Colorado on my way to the Telluride Film Festival! For those who don’t know, this small and intimate festival has been a launching pad for multiple Best Picture winners over the past several years. It’s a tightly curated selection that doesn’t release its program until the day before the festival (AKA today).

So I took a blind leap of faith coming here, not having a clue of what I would be seeing or doing. I’m at Telluride thanks to their Student Symposium, which selects roughly 50 students to come participate in a 4-day intensive of all-out cinephilia in the Rocky Mountains. (I’m also here thanks to the generosity of my parents and the flexibility of my teachers, who I’m sure couldn’t have been too thrilled with me peacing out from class after only one session.)

If you’re curious about what I have the opportunity to see, you can look at the program HERE. I’ve heard that apparently our staff screening tonight is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman,” which just premiered in Venice to rave reviews across the board. I won’t have too much choice in what I see, but hopefully I’ll be able to catch “Foxcatcher” and “Two Days, One Night.” Seeing “Wild” or “99 Homes” wouldn’t bother me either.

Anyways, that’s all for this first update. l’m going to try to give as close to live updates as possible via my festival diary. Unlike at my two years of Cannes, I have a much more definitive schedule as well as access to cellular data.

8:40 P.M.: THE STAFF SCREENING IS BIRDMAN. All strapped in to be one of the first audiences for a sure-fire Best Picture contender.

11:40 P.M.: Solid B, maybe a B+ for “Birdman.” Stylistically fascinating but characters needed some work.








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