REVIEW: Foxcatcher

12 11 2014

FoxcatcherTelluride Film Festival

In the opening minutes of “Foxcatcher,” a quietly quotidian montage details the routine of Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz, a wrestler living and training modestly in spite of winning gold at the 1984 Olympic Games.  The sequence concludes with him stepping behind a podium to address a less than captivated audience of elementary school students, and he begins with the line, “I want to talk about America.”

This opening remark appears to be a harbinger portending a film where director Bennett Miller will talk at us about America.  Ramming any sort of message down our throats, however, seems the last thing on Miller’s mind.  The deliberately paced and masterfully moody “Foxcatcher” provides a trove of discussion-worthy material about the dark underbelly of the world’s most powerful nation.  What Miller actually wants is to talk with us about America.

Miller works deftly within the framework of E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s script, which itself feels beholden to no convention or genre. They slowly parse out information on the characters of the film, providing disturbing details and abnormal actions that do not lend themselves to easy explanation. “Foxcatcher” thrives on small moments that do not seem incredibly consequential as they occur, though their cumulative effect is quite the knockout.

The film crafted by Miller is not one of conventional capital-A “Acting.” It’s performance as being, not as much doing. While the talented trifecta of Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo still has plenty of events to live out, they function best as the shiniest components of a larger tonal machine. Miller expertly employs them to highlight the sinister undercurrents running beneath the eerie, brooding surface of “Foxcatcher.”

His proclivity for cutaways and long-held takes has a tendency to turn the characters into specimens, but such an approach also solicits active examination.  The film’s co-leads, Tatum and Carell, each carry themselves in an unconventional, magnified manner that invites peering past their appearances.  What lurks beneath are truly tormented men, each seeking a symbolic meaning system to bring them fulfillment.

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REVIEW: Rosewater

10 11 2014

RosewaterTelluride Film Festival

It is fairly common for a director to choose a protagonist that they identify with to some degree – after all, why devote years of your life to telling someone’s story if you cannot connect to them?  Thus, Christopher Nolan directs films about obsessive heroes, David O. Russell has recently been looking at characters trying to reinvent themselves, and Woody Allen devotes movie after movie to sexually tense intellectuals (just to name a few).

At first glance, few similarities appear between Jon Stewart, the director of the film “Rosewater,” and its subject, Maziar Bahari.  Stewart is, of course, a wildly popular satirical newscaster who has left an indelible mark on American political discourse.  Bahari, on the other hand, is an Iranian-Canadian journalist who dared to document the tense 2009 elections in his home country.  They did happen to somewhat cross paths, though, as Bahari appeared on a segment for The Daily Show.

This humorous interview was entertainment for Americans and evidence for the Iranian government, which was looking to clamp down on dissidents in the wake of former President Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election.  Bahari spent nearly four months in jail there, much of it in solitary confinement, while being interrogated ruthlessly as an enemy of the state.  “Rosewater” may very well exist as a film to placate the guilt in Stewart’s soul for his small role in causing this pain.

Yet self-absolution is far too simplistic an explanation for the film, as Stewart clearly identifies a kindred spirit in Bahari.  They face remarkably different circumstances and stakes in their line of work, obviously, but Stewart and Bahari both speak truth to power by relying on principles of logic and reason.  In the face of resistance, neither is afraid to use to ridicule the institutional folly.  Whether Bahari actually embodies these characteristics is anybody’s guess.  It is not hard, however, to imagine Stewart standing in the holding cell delivering his lines.

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REVIEW: Two Days, One Night

1 10 2014

Two Days One NightTelluride Film Festival

In 1999, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne arrived on the world stage of cinema in a big way with “Rosetta,” a film that won them the Palme d’Or at Cannes as well as global renown.  That story, which they both wrote and directed, followed its eponymous 17-year-old protagonist as she battles for self-survival in an unfeeling Belgian capitalist system.  In spite of all the setbacks she faces, however, Rosetta always summons the strength from within to get back on her feet and scrounge around again for a job.

Two Days, One Night” arrives from the brothers 15 years later, who once again take an out-of-work female as their subject.  Marion Cotillard stars in the film as Sandra, a struggling factory worker who learns she has one weekend to convince 16 coworkers to relinquish a bonus in order for her to stay on the company’s payroll.  Such a daunting task would seemingly shock anyone out of lethargy and into tenacious survival mode.

Yet when the Dardennes first introduce Sandra, she lies motionless on her side and is content to simply let an important phone call ring until it gets forwarded to voicemail.  Throughout the film, Sandra appears to believe that going to fight for her job is a futile waste of her time and energy.  Most of the push to continue the journey, in fact, comes from her rather saintly husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione).

Much of Sandra’s lack of confidence is explainable by her personal struggles with depression (that might be a generalized description of the specific condition afflicting her, which seemed to resemble bipolar disorder).  To focus solely on the personal, however, diminishes a whole world of social commentary in “Two Days, One Night.”  This is the second time that the Dardennes have placed the imminent possibility of joblessness in front of their central character, and the response that follows has shifted from powerful pugnacity to alarming apathy.

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REVIEW: Salvo

24 09 2014

SalvoCannes Film Festival – Critic’s Week, 2013

In my second year at the Cannes Film Festival, I told myself I would expand my viewing beyond the Official Competition to enrich my experience.  (For those who might not know, the festival also has two officially recognized sidebars that boast impressive selections of their own.)  I feared I had run out of time to check out a film from Critic’s Week but noticed that, in a small pocket of freedom, I could catch a repeat screening of the winner, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s “Salvo.”

Perhaps seeing the high expectations surrounding a newly crowned champion are to blame for my intensely negative reaction.  Or maybe I was just fatigued given that this was my fourth film of the day.  But I don’t think I had a more miserable viewing experience at that festival than “Salvo.”

The filmmakers commit themselves to minimalism, which is certainly not an immediate cause for dismissal.  But the reservedness does not draw us in further or illuminate the characters.  It’s the case where nothing just means nothing. “Salvo” has an interesting enough plot – an Italian mafia hitman has a crisis of conscience when faced with the prospect of having to whack a blind girl – but it’s executed with such an excruciating lack of urgency that it renders the final product practically unwatchable.  D / 1star





REVIEW: The Imitation Game

8 09 2014

Telluride Film Festival

As if the subject of “The Imitation Game” – a tender British soul misunderstood as an incompetent and bumbling fool – weren’t enough to draw comparisons to “The King’s Speech,” the film seemingly invites the parallel in its opening credits.  It’s only faintly discernible, but audio from none other than King George’s climactic speech at the dawn of World War II plays diegetically in the background.

To those who might recognize the snippet, it serves as a perfect barometer for the ambitions of “The Imitation Game.”  With maybe a dash of brash mathematical genius of “A Beautiful Mind,” Morten Tyldum’s film is very much this year’s “The King’s Speech.”  For those unaware of the construed meaning of 2010’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, that means the film is an engaging and entertaining biopic made with high production values all around yet does not aspire to anything groundbreaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Maybe I can only give such an unabashed endorsement of the film from my privileged subject position of being one of the first audiences to see the film or because I saw it before the glut of prestige films later in the fall.  Indeed, I can already see myself holding truly great movies against “The Imitation Game” and wondering how on earth anyone could think so highly of it.  At least for the moment, however, I choose to see the film as it is: a quality piece of cinema that is not trying to reinvent the wheel.  It’s simply trying to turn some wheels in my head, and I thoroughly enjoyed it on those terms.

Certainly a film has some merit if it can collapse a two-hour act of viewing into feeling like an experience lasting half that duration.  “The Imitation Game” flew by, largely because of how engrossed in the story and the characters I became.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns in inspired work bringing the film’s subject, Alan Turing, to life.  His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

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REVIEW: The Look of Silence

7 09 2014

Telluride Film Festival

When I was in eighth grade, I had the remarkable opportunity to hear a Holocaust survivor recount his experiences surviving the cruelty of the Nazis.  After his speech was over and the whole room was crying, he stood at the front of the room and received hugs and other warm gestures from anyone who wished to embrace him.  No gesture of kindness could erase all the pain he endured, but it somehow felt like the only possible way to end the session.  The hug became a sort of promise to bear witness moving forward.

I had never seen anything like it again until I left my screening of “The Look of Silence” at the Telluride Film Festival, which the documentary’s protagonist, Adi Rukun, attended.  After a brief Q&A following the film, the crowd somberly filed out (appropriately, in silence).  And when the bright sunlight entered my eyes, I noticed a sight both moving and surprising: a queue had formed to embrace Adi.  One man seemed to clutch him firmly for well over a minute.

“The Look of Silence” is the kind of film that can inspire such a deep outpouring of emotion with its brutally pared-back power.

The Look of Silence

In the film, documentarian and humanitarian Joshua Oppenheimer revisits the subject of the 1960s Indonesian genocide that made him an Oscar nominee last year with “The Act of Killing.”  That film, as profound an impact as it had upon release, rubbed me the wrong way as it allowed (at least in my audience) repeated instances of laughter at the excesses of men who took joy in murdering large quantities of people.  “The Look of Silence,” its companion piece, thankfully operates under the appropriate sense of solemnity and reverence that is rightfully due to the victims of the extermination and their families.

The narrative journey Oppenheimer fashions in his second take on the subject is assuredly less flashy and entertaining.  It moves slowly and episodically towards its conclusion, never quite signaling where it will eventually deposit us.  “The Look of Silence” occasionally frustrates with its gentle, slow pacing, yet the periodically interspersed revelations more than redeem any plot sluggishness.

To elaborate on Adi’s travails in any great detail would only rob you of experiencing the intellectual and emotional impact of the film.  With Oppenheimer’s help, he embarks on a dangerous and painful quest for answers about the killing of his brother, Ramli, at the guns of a death squad.  What the two uncover is far more than just textbook examples of the social construction of morality or the banality of evil.

That the killers boast of their exploits is hardly news to anyone who saw “The Act of Killing,” but “The Look of Silence” still finds new ways to explore how that past continues to loom large over the present in Indonesia.  The perpetrators continue to perpetuate their revisionist narrative of history, not only by making ludicrous claims as “some of the communists wanted to be killed,” but also through more insidious means of controlling thought and expression.

Ultimately, the film is not about the killers, though; it is about Adi – and subsequently every other Indonesian citizen in his position.  Oppenheimer frequently circles back to a scene of Adi watching a video of two military men detailing how they committed Ramli’s murder.  The camera often lingers on his calm gaze, which contains so much more than merely the look of silence.  The same subterranean power gives haunting resonance to every moment in “The Look of Silence” on the whole.  B+3stars





REVIEW: Dancing Arabs

6 09 2014

Dancing ArabsTelluride Film Festival

NOTE: This film has since been retitled “A Borrowed Identity,” a moniker somehow both more generic and indicative of the content.

Dancing Arabs” begins with some profound quote musing on the nature of identity that flashed on screen far too quickly for me to transcribe accurately.  But it seemed to foreshadow a profound discussion on the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for that reason, I was quite intrigued.

What unfolds over the subsequent hour and 45 minutes never really fulfills the intellectual depth promised before the action even begins.  With the exception of a tacked-on, unearned conclusion, “Dancing Arabs” remains squarely in the realm of entertainment.  Any statement it tries to make about larger issues feels rather obvious or uninspired.

While the collaboration between Israeli director Eran Riklis and Palestinian screenwriter Sayed Kashua is certainly a commendable step towards reconciliation and understanding, their film does little to further their mission.  “Dancing Arabs” is a disjointed middlebrow drama, comprised of two essentially separate narratives tenuously tied together by a single character.  Riklis never provides any dramatic escalation, either, so the whole enterprise lands rather flatly.

The forbidden romance of protagonist Eyad, an Arab living within the state of Israel, with his Jewish schoolmate Naomi comes across as a slightly more serious retread of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  Their relationship dominates the first half of the film, and then “Dancing Arabs” inexplicably forgets Naomi nearly altogether.  The focus shifts towards Eyad and his friendship with muscular dystrophy-stricken Israeli teen Jonathan, whose deteriorating condition is not entirely bad news for Eyad.

Perhaps each would be more interesting or enlightening if given feature length to develop.  But their loose connection and juxtaposition makes for an dissatisfying union.  In the words of “Parks & Recreation” scene-stealer Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things.  Whole ass one thing.”  C+2stars





REVIEW: Mr. Turner

5 09 2014

Telluride Film Festival

When I spent last fall in London, I often found myself wandering the halls of art museums (largely since they boasted free admission).  Quite often, I would walk past a painting on the wall without giving it much thought, admiring its remarkable craft but feeling rather unmoved emotionally.  One painter whose work struck me on a deep and profound level, though, was J.M.W. Turner, whose work with light and shadow predated the renowned Impressionist movement.

I was hoping that Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” a film who places J.M.W. Turner in the subject position, would stir me similarly.  Unfortunately, I can’t really say that I felt the same pull to Leigh’s film as I do to Turner’s paintings.  But simply because I did not respond deeply to it does not mean the work is entirely void of merit.  I simply appreciate it more than I like or enjoy it.

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner

With the exception of 2011’s “Another Year,” I seem to be rather immune to being swept away of Mike Leigh’s uniquely derived products.  (For those who don’t know, Leigh formulates his screenplay in tandem with the efforts of his actors in a lengthy, laborious rehearsal process.)  The characters all seem well-formed, and the dialogue always feels quite natural.  It just never feels exciting to watch.

In a sense, though, that’s kind of the point.  “Mr. Turner” is a biopic in the sense that it covers the life of J.M.W. Turner, but Leigh resists all the clichés and conventions we are normally conditioned to expect from a movie about a true-life creative mind.  Turner has no flashes of mad inspiration, nor does every word he utters ring with capital-I “importance.”  In fact, we rarely get to see his creative process at all.

Leigh uses “Mr. Turner” not to show how his subject is extraordinary, but rather the many ways in which he is ordinary.  It’s a biopic hiding inside an ensemble drama where Turner happens to have the most screen time.  Timothy Spall, a consummate character actor perhaps best known for his turn as Peter Pettigrew in the “Harry Potter” series, certainly makes the most of the attention given his grimacing genius Turner.  It’s a physically committed, emotionally potent performance that gives him a much-deserved moment in the spotlight.

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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.

Sophie Barthes and Ramin Bahrani

Sophie Barthes and Ramin Bahrani

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!

IMG_7257.JPG





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.