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?"
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.
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.
VENICE - The unhappy case of Philomena Lee, we are told throughout Stephen Frears’ outwardly stoic but not-so-secretly mallow-centered “Philomena,” is far more than a ‘human interest’ story. That phrase, frequently used here as a catch-all for manipulative, exploitative ‘soft’ journalism short on both sincere humanity and interest, is first contemptuously uttered by disgraced political journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) when Lee’s daughter approaches him about looking into her mother’s agonized search for a long-lost son. “It’s a human interest story,” he brusquely informs her, helpfully adding that such stories are written both for and about the “weak-minded, vulnerable and ignorant.”
TELLURIDE, Colo. - After its premiere screening at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival Friday evening, it goes without saying that no narrative film or TV program has ever depicted the sheer brutality and horror that was American slavery as Steve McQueen's "12 Years A Slave" does. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, "12 Years" is a powerful drama driven by McQueen's bold direction and the finest performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor's career.
TELLURIDE, Colo. - It's interesting seeing Robert Redford receive a tribute at the Telluride Film Festival. With Sundance so ingrained in his blood and his being the face of an entire institution, his presence here -- albeit in a completely warranted capacity -- feels like a touch of infidelity. But it's too good an opportunity to pass up for a fixture of Hollywood history who this year delivers an absolutely amazing, sure-fire Oscar-contending performance in J.C. Chandor's "All is Lost."