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Telluride Update: Buyers Lining Up for Divisive ‘Under the Skin,’ Strong Debut ‘Palo Alto’ and Provocative ‘Starred Up’ (TRAILER)

Telluride Update: Buyers Lining Up for Divisive 'Under the Skin,' Strong Debut 'Palo Alto' and Provocative 'Starred Up' (TRAILER)

Reviews and acquisitions are heating up at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival, which kicked off yesterday. 

Three notable acquisitions titles debuted Thursday night: “Under the Skin,” “Starred Up” and “Palo Alto.” I saw the latter, the impressive debut of young filmmaker Gia Coppola (Francis Ford’s granddaughter, born six months after her father Gio’s accidental death) which will also play Venice and Toronto. Yet another dark high school drama in “Kids” mode centered on a group of teens with a penchant for finding trouble, “Palo Alto” is adapted from a book of short stories by James Franco, who produced and stars as the predatory coach of a girl’s soccer team. Gia Coppola has a strong visual eye for telling details and handles her young stars well, among them a poised Emma Roberts, who holds the screen, and Jack Kilmer, son of Val, who also plays a distracting cameo, along with her mother Jacqui Getty, great aunt Talia Shire and grandpa Coppola, who provides some narration. The adults are not as authentic and convincing as the kids. 

Early reviews are upbeat: 

Gia Coppola proves to have quite the eye, if not quite the natural storytelling instinct of her cinematic kin, serving up a remarkably assured feature debut with “Palo Alto.” Drawn from James Franco’s short story collection… this group portrait of disaffected Northern California teens goes to impressive lengths to develop the characters and shape their experience into something meaningful without ever quite cracking how its various vignettes should function as a whole.

The best feature film directed by someone named Coppola in a number of years, “Palo Alto” is a dreamy looking, unsensationalized portrait of badly behaved residents of a notably affluent California town… creatively, it’s almost the polar opposite of something deliberately confronting and self-consciously provocative like Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers.” Commercial prospects are modest but it’s a very creditable first feature.


Borrowing liberally from the likes of “Kids” and “Elephant,” first-time feature director Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto” is a largely familiar portrait of teen angst, but it’s also a fairly accomplished one. Loosely adapting James Franco’s collection of short stories, Coppola (the 26-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford) assembles a fairly watchable, scattershot ensemble drama carried by naturalistic performances and artful restraint. Though it lacks a cohesive means of fusing together its interlocking vignettes, “Palo Alto” effectively showcases the despair and sophomoric rebellion of teen life with a mature eye that clearly establishes a new filmmaker to watch. 

There was no doubt that Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” would polarize critics upon its Telluride premiere late Thursday night. Starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form on the prowl in Scotland, this is Glazer’s long-awaited followup to 2004’s equally divisive “Birth.” Loosely based on an acclaimed 2001 novel by Michael Faber, “Under the Skin,” which also plays Venice and Toronto, had top buyers Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions, Sony Pictures Classics and others lined up at the Palm in Telluride Thursday night. Glazer’s third film since 2000’s “Sexy Beast” was financed by FilmNation overseas. Here’s what the critics are saying so far:

More reviews and “Palo Alto” trailer are below:


Michel Faber’s 2000 science fiction novel “Under the Skin” follows an alien tasked with kidnapping earthlings and selling their bodies for consumption back home. Adapting the material into his first feature since 2004’s “Birth,” music video director Jonathan Glazer only borrows half that premise, following the extraterrestrial seductress (a virtually unrecognizable Scarlett Johansson) as she repeatedly nabs hapless male victims, but leaves her motives entirely offscreen. A totally wacky head-trip with midnight movie sensibilities and a daring avant garde spirit, Glazer’s movie is ultimately too aimlessly weird to make its trippy narrative fully satisfying, but owes much to Johansson’s intense commitment to a strangely erotic and unnerving performance unlike anything she has done before. 


Glazer has always been longer on atmosphere and uncanny moods than on narrative, but the fatal flaw of “Under the Skin” isn’t that not much happens; it’s that what does happen isn’t all that interesting. The world as seen through alien eyes, it turns out, looks much like the world as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic  (“Repulsion”), a paranoiac (Lodge Kerrigan’s “Keane”) or a sociopath (Cristi Puiu’s “Aurora”) — which, if it’s Glazer’s point, is one he makes early and often, Johansson doing her best to convey varying degrees of blankness and incomprehension at her own actions and those of others.


Glazer may be the visionary behind “Under the Skin” cinematic highs, but it must be noted that this film lives and dies on Johansson’s incredible turn. Johansson’s dialogue is mostly limited to her pickup lines as she scours the city for new meat. Even though a majority of her scenes are silent the 28-year-old actress still finds a way to bring a distinct dramatic arc to her character. Johansson has shown signs before, but even her harshest critics will have to recognize she’s clearly grown into a world class actress.

Also courting buyers at Telluride is David Mackenzie’s provocative, heavy drama “Starred Up.” Eugene Hernandez tweeted:
Buyers settling in for 1st Telluride screening of David Mackenzie‘s “Starred Up“. Roadside, Sony, Searchlight in the house.
According to one viewer, the film is a sort of sequel to David Michod’s 2010 Oscar-nominated Australian crime saga “Animal Kingdom.” Mackenzie is no stranger to controversy, as his 2003 Tilda Swinton and Ewan McGregor starrer “Young Adam” got the NC-17. In “Starred Up,” also starring Ben Mendelsohn of “Animal Kingdom,” a troubled and violent teenager (Jack O’Connell) is transferred to adult prison where he finally meets his match in a man who also happens to be his father. Early reviews remain M.I.A. but here are a few notable tweets. One buyer was concerned about the film’s possible NC-17-level cuss words.
Mark Cousins, director of “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”:

Feel like ‘s new film Starred Up grabbed me by the throat tonight. spikey and beautiful.

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There's a mistake : Jack O'Connell is playong the young teenager in Starred up and not
Ben Mendelsohn .

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