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Telluride Film Festival 2013: Reviews from the Festival

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 3, 2013 at 11:26AM

Here's a handy round-up of film reviews from the Telluride Film Festival 2013.
J.D. 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.

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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 Felicity Jones

"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.

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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.


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

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"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.


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.

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"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

"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.

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"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.

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"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.

This article is related to: News, Festivals, Telluride Film Festival, Reviews

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