VENICE - It may not have received ecstatic reviews across the board, but when the dust settles on this year's Venice Film Festival, one of my personal highlights is still likely to be "Tracks," John Curran's classical, visually resplendent true-life tale of Australian explorer Robyn Davidson's 1700-mile trek across the Outback desert. Judi Dench may have all the Lido buzz right now for "Philomena," but were it up to me, "Tracks" lead Mia Wasikowska would be the leading contender for Best Actress at this point in the fest.
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Miyazaki-san is going out on his own terms, when he chooses to, and he seems like he's been building to this decision for a while now.
There were rumors before about him wrapping up his film career, but each time, the rumors were dispelled when he eventually went back to work, and in the last few years, he's managed to keep his voice and his spirit intact in his films, something that not every filmmaker can manage. I came to his work mid-career, when "Princess Mononoke" was announced for US release and Neil Gaiman was hired to write the adaptation script for the English dub. I was at Ain't It Cool and I was given the chance to meet Hayao Miyazaki to discuss that film and his earlier work… none of which I'd seen by that point. I ended up going to UCLA because they were showing a marathon of his films, and I saw "Kiki's Deliver Service," "Castle In The Sky," "Nausicaa In TheValley of Wind," "Porco Rosso," "My Neigbor Totoro," and "The Castle Of Cagliostro," and immediately, I was head over heels, smitten with what I'd seen. The interview we did was one of my favorites of my entire career so far, and he ended up drawing a very happy Totoro for me, something I still treasure.
VENICE - If I wasn't surprised by the news today of Hayao Miyazaki's retirement, it's not just because he's made several preliminary remarks to this end over the last few years. Rather, as I noted in my review last night of the Japanese animator's apparent swansong "The Wind Rises," it seemed to me that he indirectly made the announcement in the film itself.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - Usually I'm winding down on Sunday at Telluride, but this is the first year I'll be staying until Tuesday, meaning a full day tomorrow of casually catching up on things I missed. So today, a much-needed respite: I slept in. After Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics' separate soirees for their films and talent last night, and particularly after a ride like Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," it didn't hurt to charge the batteries a little more.
Cuarón's film had its North American premiere last night at the Werner Herzog Theater with the director and his son/co-screenwriter Jonás on hand. Probably the most eager crowd of the fest so far, given the raves that burst out of Venice upon the film's world premiere last week, were thickly lined up well in advance. Before the screening, Jonás said that the intent was indeed to produce a roller-coaster ride, and boy is it ever. But something that struck me while experiencing this one-woman-show was how much of a powerful double feature it would be with J.C. Chandor's "All is Lost," also programmed at Telluride this year.
VENICE - As we near the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, it's comforting to know that he died surrounded by so many attractive people. Cold comfort, admittedly, if indeed we still require any consolation at all for a moment in history that, however rupturing, has by now been amply processed -- both on screen and elsewhere.
But it's pretty much all I gained from Peter Landesman's vapidly exploitative take on the events of November 22, 1963, as experienced by the sundry agents, doctors, servicemen and civilians who played a tangential but first-hand role in the unhappy day. Like Emilio Estevez's similar but marginally more redeemable "Bobby," it reveals nothing about the tragedy that you didn't already know, bar that which you certainly never needed to know in the first place. "Hey, there's Jackie! I think so, at any rate: looks nothing like her. Anyway, how did the nurse feel about it all?"
At this point, I think the "Fast and Furious" franchise has become the coolest job for an action star in town. Sly Stallone can try his very best to convince us that the new "Expendables" won't suck as much as the first two, but no matter how many movie stars they add, those films remain nigh unwatchable, while it feels like each new "Fast and Furious" gets better at what they do.
I'm excited to see what James Wan does with the series for several reasons now. First, I think Wan has reached a new level of sophistication and polish as a filmmaker, and while he's done a great job with horror, it's good to see him trying something else completely. I think it's important for good filmmakers to be able to work in any genre they want to work in, but Hollywood doesn't always feel the same, and it's easy for someone to get stuck doing something just because they've done it well in the past.
VENICE - Is it a bird? Is it a plane? At several points in Hayao Miyazaki's frequently dazzling new feature "The Wind Rises," the answer might as well be both. Studio Ghibli devotees could be forgiven for scratching their heads a little when the news broke that the Oscar-winning animator -- hitherto a merchant of extravagant, culture-fusing fantasy -- was set to make a biopic of influential Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi. Engineering biography, however sexy a genre on its own terms, isn't known for its abundance of flying eel-dragons or midnight cat-buses.
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
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The Pitch: "House, JD"
Quick Response: It's hard to figure the exact percentage of the early appeal of "House" that rested on Hugh Laurie, but I think that "Rake" requires at least as much of star Greg Kinnear, who is playing a lawyer wacky enough for a David E. Kelley dramedy, but also screwed up enough for something much darker. We're introduced to Kinnear's character asking a hooker to perform oral surgery on him (not in a sexy way) and the show dives deep into the muck to introduces us to his world of seedy clients -- Denis O'Hare is a hoot in a role that I'd wager will become the "Rake" equivalent of Dylan Baker's constantly-in-trouble character on "The Good Wife" -- cross-dressing pimps, amiable henchmen, probably racially problematic associates and potentially dangerous adversaries. After only one viewing, I'd say that Sam Raimi's directing efforts on the pilot are surprisingly anonymous on an aesthetic level -- This isn't like the terrifically distinctive work Bryan Singer did on the "House" pilot -- but in the place of pyrotechnics, Raimi does something more important for the long-term future of "Rake": He sets the tone of the universe and the tone feels like a good piece of comedy-infused hard-boiled fiction, not quite on the level of an Elmore Leonard or a George Pelecanos or a Dennis Lehane (when those guys are trying to be funny), but in that aspirational range. So I'm relatively able to ignore that Kinnear's character only sometimes seems as charming or as brilliant as people keep suggesting he is. I'm relatively able to overlook that there are a lot of "types" among the supporting characters, but no fully developed characters. And I'm not appreciably worried that the legal shenanigans in the pilot are wicked silly and unbelievable. Liking Kinnear helps a lot in ignoring those failings and he does what is asked, starting by over-accentuating the goofy side of his character, but then showcasing the self-destructive side that makes this guy suited for an hour-long drama-type-thing rather than a comedy. This could almost be an FX show, which I mean in a good way. By the end, I was actually surprised by how the story had pulled me in and how involved I became. But boy oh boy they're gonna have to make better use of Miranda Otto and John Ortiz and the rest of the supporting cast as the show progresses. The pilot is close to a one-man show, with other objects just ricocheting off of Greg Kinnear. And it's not like Greg Kinnear is universally loved.
Desire To Watch Again: It's not there yet, but of all of the network pilots I watched this year, "Rake" is perhaps the one with the greatest upside, because I really can see how it could become another "House" or how it could come to feel like a West Coast spin-off from "The Good Wife." Other than "S.H.I.E.L.D." (and, I guess, "The Originals," which doesn't count) "Rake" is the drama that I can most easily imagine myself watching every week. "American Idol" has no drawing power anymore, but I still like that FOX is *trying* to give "Rake" a launching pad, because I might want this one to stick around.
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'Mom'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Lucky 7'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Dads'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Super Fun Night'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Welcome to the Family'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'The Millers'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'The Goldbergs'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Ironside'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'We Are Men'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Almost Human'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Back in the Game'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Sean Saves the World'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'Reign'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'The Crazy Ones'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Enlisted'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Betrayal'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Blacklist'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'The Tomorrow People'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'Hostages'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Sleepy Hollow'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Trophy Wife'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Michael J. Fox Show'
All of my 2012 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2011 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
1. Miley Cyrus: She twerked her way to top headlines this week. Whether people found her VMA appearance appropriate or repugnant, her single sales increased 50%. And the sale of tongue increased 1000%
2. VMAs: Whether it was for Lady Gaga, the ‘N Sync reunion or Miley Cyrus, people tuned in to MTV’s annual fest to the tune of a 66% ratings increase over 2012.
3. Eminem: “MMLP2” will drop Nov. 5 and it looks like Em’s not just looking backward with the album title, but with the samples. First single< "Berzerk," samples both Billy Squier and Beastie Boys.
4. Robin Thicke: Sure, he got overshadowed by Miley at the VMAs, but no one can top him when it comes to the Billboard Hot 100. “Blurred Lines” has been No. 1 for 12 weeks—or to put it in perspective, it’s been on top of the chart for more than 1/3 of the calendar year.
5. Imagine Dragons: “Radioactive” celebrates a full year on the Billboard Hot 100, only the second song, following Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep,” to achieve the feat. And it’s still in the top 5!
6. Lorde: The New Zealand singer tops Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart with “Royals,” making her the first solo woman to top the chart in 17 years... or in other words, one year before Lorde was born.
7. Michael Jackson: Timbaland is working on a project that combines his music and Jackson’s voice. We want a duet with Justin Timberlake.
8. George Strait: The cowboy may be riding away when it comes to the concert trail, but Strait just signed a new deal with MCA Nashville for five more albums. He already has 60 No. 1s... how many more are coming?
9. Jack White: He tweets a photo of his Dead Weather bandmates, saying they were back in the studio. Guess we’ll have to wait a little bit longer for the follow-up to “Blunderbuss.”
10. Paul McCartney: With no advance notice, McCartney drops “New,” a track that sounds anything but. It rings with a Beatlesque innocence and charm.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - The truth is I don't quite know how I feel about the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" yet. A number of people have asked me, "How can you not know how you feel?" This is, after all, a film embraced almost unanimously at Cannes and now here in Telluride.
I don't quite know how to put it, so I want to wait and see how it resonates. At first blush it feels somewhat minor, but I want to think more about what's going on thematically. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that the Coens are independently making a film about a folk musician struggling against the constraints of commercial music after coming off their biggest box office hit to date, for instance. For now, though, I'll just concentrate on what sticks out as immediately worthy of praise: Oscar Isaac's absolutely pitch-perfect performance as the eponymous Davis.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - Fox Searchlight was smart to get into business with filmmaker Steve McQueen two years ago when, not long after screening his last film, "Shame," here at the Telluride Film Festival, they acquired it for distribution. Further dividends will be paid in the sterling accomplishment of "12 Years a Slave," to be sure.
It wasn't just the sound of sniffles but open bawling that could be heard throughout the Werner Herzog Theater today at the second screening of the film. It is every bit as emotionally devastating as you've been led to believe so far and it is a knock-out awards contender, firing on all cylinders with nominations to be expected across the board.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - Given the Coen brothers' catalog of great American films, they would have been perfectly suited to a tribute unto themselves at this year's 40th annual Telluride Film Festival. But when you consider Telluride's connection to music via the annual Bluegrass music festival held in June, the Coens' collaboration with T Bone Burnett over the years and particularly how that collaboration has reached a peak with this year's "Inside Llewyn Davis," honoring them together made way too much sense.