Telluride Film Festival 2013: Reviews from the Festival

Telluride Film Festival 2013: Reviews from the Festival

“Salinger”

“Salinger,” director Shane Salerno’s
comprehensive overview of the writer’s passions, intense creative drive
and troubled personal life through the accounts of many who knew him
well, provides a gripping opportunity to peek behind the veil of mystery
enshrouding Salinger’s career.

Beyond its obvious appeal to
anyone remotely affected by his writing, however, “Salinger” also
delivers a sensationalistic prelude to the tantalizing next stage in
attention to his work: In addition to hitting theaters in conjunction
with the release of an oral history co-authored by Salerno and David
Shields, “Salinger” concludes by setting the scene for a series of
posthumous publications of books Salinger wrote during the forty-odd
years when he refrained from publishing anything until his death in
2010.

Read more here.

“The Wind Rises”

Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has achieved status as one of the great
filmmakers of his time, with a distinctive visual sensibility that has
garnered comparisons to Walt Disney and a depth of imagination that
defies any classification other than Miyazaki’s own head. From “Princess
Mononoke” to the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away,” Miyazaki’s filmmaking
has no immediate parallel outside of the thematically complex and
visually audacious 2-D works.

Read more here.

“Tracks”

In 1975, a soul-searching young Australian woman named Robyn Davidson set
out to travel solo from Alice Springs across the vast, empty desert to
reach the Indian Ocean some 2,000 miles away. Aided only by a trio of
camels and her dog, Davidson eventually completed the voyage and wrote a
popular National Geographic article about her experiences with
photographs by Rick Smolan, who occasionally accompanied her. The
details of that expedition form the core of “Tracks,” John Curran’s
expressionistic adaption of Davidson’s voyage. True to the nature of the
experience, “Tracks” largely involves its protagonist trekking across a
vacant landscape with occasional stops along the way. While “Tracks”
certainly does justice to the splendor of the surroundings, it never
manages to justify the expansion of the material into a feature.

Read more here.

“The Invisible Woman”

Ralph Fiennes’ quasi-modern adaptation of “Coriolanus,” which marked the
actor’s directorial debut, was a sharply experimental take on the
source material. For his second effort behind the camera, “The Invisible
Woman,” the director has taken a more classical approach. Adapting
Claire Tomalin’s book about Ellen Ternan, the actress most famous for
her affair with Charles Dickens while nearly 30 years his junior,
Fiennes takes on the Dickens role and coaxes a fantastic performance out
of Felicity Jones as Ternan. Though suffering from dry patches and a
fairly mannered approach, “The Invisible Woman” eventually makes its way
to a powerful final third documenting an ultimately tragic romance in
deeply felt terms.

Read more here.

“Bethlehem”

First-time Israeli director Yuval Adler’s “Bethlehem” suffers to some
degree by its similarities to the expertly paced “Omar,” as it also
revolves around a conflicted young Palestinian man dragged into an
Israeli intelligence scheme against his will. On its own terms, however,
“Bethlehem” — which won 12 Israeli Oscars ahead of its North American
festival play — is a powerful debut that strips away the politics of
its scenario to get at the emotional conundrums beneath.

Read more here.

“Tim’s Vermeer”

Penn & Teller are generally known for their magic tricks and
prankish energy, but “Tim’s Vermeer” — a documentary directed by Teller
and produced by Penn Jillette — stands apart from the rest of their
oeuvre. A spirited look at the quest of an eccentric entrepreneur intent
on uncovering the cryptic technique of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer,
“Tim’s Vermeer” plays less like the sort of exposé of trickery one might
expect of Penn & Teller and instead focuses on the nature of
desiring answers to unsolvable mysteries.

Read more here.

“Gravity”

There’s an implicit irony to the title of “Gravity,” director Alfonso
Cuarón’s lost-in-space odyssey, because gravity rarely enters into the
equation. Almost entirely shot in a stunningly realistic but entirely
digital representation of space, the movie might be the most spectacular
two-hander of all time. Working from a script co-written with his son
Jonás, Cuarón follows astronauts Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) and Ryan
Stone (Sandra Bullock) on a space shuttle mission gone wrong and sticks
with them as they drift around the planet in peril for 93 minutes

Read more here.

“Starred Up”

Prison dramas tend to invite the expectations of intense, dangerous
scenarios filled with violent confrontations and vulgar spats. British
director David Mackenzie’s gradually affecting “Starred Up” has all
those ingredients but uses them for more precise means that merely
revealing the harsh nature of life behind bars. Mackenzie (whose
previous credits include “Perfect Sense” and “About Adam”) applies a
sharp kitchen sink realism to this haunting setting and directs it
toward an ultimately moving family drama that just happens to involve
vicious convicts.

Read more here.

“Prisoners”

A first-rate ensemble procedural with weighty themes to spare, Quebecois
director Denis Villeneuve’s tense kidnapping drama “Prisoners” revolves
around a familiar set of genre ingredients but lays them out with
expert precision. Similar to Villeneuve’s Oscar-nominated “Incendies,”
the director’s first entirely English language feature involves a high
stakes investigation and a generation-sprawling mystery only made fully
clear in its closing scenes, but the comparisons stop there. Before all
else, Villneuve’s grim chronicle of the fallout when two young girls
vanish in a small town succeeds at crafting one powerfully suspenseful
moment after another.

Read more here.

“12 Years a Slave”

Like countless movies before it, “12 Years a Slave” opens with a title
card announcing that its material is based on a true story. However,
Steve McQueen’s startlingly realized period drama justifies its
introductory note with each ensuing scene, recreating the experiences of
a free black man kidnapped and sold into bondage at the tail-end of
slavery in America so effectively that it’s almost not a movie in
traditional terms; instead, the plight of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel
Ejiofor) plays out like a poetic record of persecution.

Read more here.

“Under the Skin”

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.

Read more here.

“Palo Alto”

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.

Read more here.

“The Unknown Known”

Donald Rumsfeld stares straight at the camera and smiles a lot in “The
Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” the latest
single-interview documentary from Errol Morris, but his cheery demeanor
never manages to convince. Revisiting turf he last explored with another
portrait of a disgraced former defense secretary, the Oscar-winning
“The Fog of War,” Morris also retreads some of the same murky ground of
military corruption as his Abu Ghraib portrait “Standard Operating
Procedure.” In this case, however, the feature-length interview is largely
dominated by his eccentric subject’s meandering convictions, tenuous
regrets and bureaucratic doublespeak, resulting in a peculiar movie
seemingly at war with itself.

Read more here.

“Labor Day”

Described by the director at the movie’s Telluride premiere as “the
truest adaptation I will ever write,” the result indeed feels as if it
hails from a different author, in this case Joyce Maynard, whose 2009
novel provides the basis for Reitman’s script. Because it adheres to a
noticeably restrained literary style, “Labor Day” at times feels almost
too muted for its rather bizarre subject matter, which finds an escaped
convict falling in love with a woman he takes hostage and becoming a
surrogate father for her son.

Read more here.

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