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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Telluride Film Festival

Telluride taps Geoff Dyer as guest director

June 11, 2012 |  5:30 am

Geoff Dyer
The Telluride Film Festival has named Geoff Dyer guest director for its 2012 edition.

Dyer will select  a series of films to present at the festival, which will hold its 39th edition this year.

A British author of novels such as "The Search" and "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi," Dyer has also explored film subjects in his nonfiction work. He recently published "Zona," a look at the making and meaning of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 science-fiction film "Stalker." The author's jazz study "But Beautiful" won or was shortlisted for a number of literary prizes.

Dyer will curate a selection that will be announced at the start of the festival, along with the rest of the lineup.

Telluride has a history of choosing eclectic guest directors--in addition to more traditional choices such as Erroll Morris and Alexander Payne, it has also tapped Salman Rushdie and Stephen Sondheim in past years.

The festival, which takes place Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in the Colorado resort town, is often a platform for award-season contenders. In the past few years, movies such as "The King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Shame" got a boost at the festival.


Telluride: Jennifer Garner Spreads "Butter"

George Clooney Makes Waves with "The Descendants"

Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Geoff Dyer. Credit: Getty Images

Word of Mouth: Longshot campaign for underdog 'First Grader'

November 10, 2011 |  2:42 pm

The First Grader

When "The First Grader" premiered at last year's Telluride Film Festival, it became something of a festival sensation. The fact-based drama about an octogenarian Kenyan man enrolling in a public elementary school went on to finish second to "The King's Speech" in voting for the audience award at the Toronto International Festival, and was honored with similar recognition at smaller festivals.

But the film did not work at the box office, grossing just over $300,000. The film's producers, Richard Harding and Sam Feuer, blamed distributor National Geographic Entertainment for abandoning the movie. Now the two are mounting their own awards push for "The First Grader," bankrolling it themselves with the help of the new Shea Family Foundation, which seeks to support entertainment that promotes family values.

In this week's Word of Mouth column, John Horn looks at the unusual awards effort behind "The First Grader," and the long odds their campaign faces. Here's a video summary:


Word of Mouth: 'The First Grader' seeks Oscar attention

Movie review: The First Grader' gets high marks

True-life material proves irresistible at Telluride

-- John Horn

Photo: Oliver Litondo in "The First Grader." Credit: National Geographic Entertainment.


'Shame,' Fassbender ride hot, kinky buzz out of Venice, Telluride

September 5, 2011 |  6:00 am

If there’s one film coming out of this weekend’s film festival screenings in Venice and Telluride, Colo., with white-hot award season buzz — not to mention racy details sure to stir box-office interest and problems — it must be “Shame,” British director Steve McQueen’s sophomore film, starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a sexually obsessed man in New York.

Just when general audiences will get a look at “Shame” remains to be decided — it’s one of the hottest acquisition titles heading into this week’s Toronto International Film Festival, assuming it doesn’t get snapped up before then. When it does hit U.S. theaters, it seems almost certain the MPAA will stick it with an NC-17 rating. (Brandon’s workplace computer and his Manhattan apartment are jammed with porn, and within the film's initial minutes Brandon — with a courageous performance by a full-frontal Fassbender — has slept with a hooker and masturbated in the shower. And then things get really kinky.)

Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy says it’s amazing that it has taken Fassbender — who starred this year in “Jane Eyre” and “X-Men: First Class” in addition to having the lead in another festival title, playing psychoanalyst Carl Jung in “A Dangerous Method” — this long to be fully recognized.

“He’s got it all: Looks, authority, physicality, command of the screen, great vocal articulation, a certain chameleon quality and the ability to suggest a great deal within while maintaining outward composure, just for starters,” McCarthy said in giving a hearty review of “Shame.” “Whether he becomes a real movie star is another matter, but when it comes to pure acting skill and potential, it’s possible that Daniel Day-Lewis now has a young challenger.”

Oliver Lyttelton of IndieWire notes that Fassbender couldn’t be any more different in “Shame” — where he plays opposite Carey Mulligan — than in he is in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” which also explores sex and the psyche, albeit from a much more reserved, period viewpoint.

“While he was all stiff repression as Carl Jung, here he’s all id, constantly pursuing some itch that he can never quite scratch. Going by the idea of orgasm as ‘la petite mort,’ a brief taste of nothingness … [his character is] unable to link the idea of someone he genuinely likes to what he sees as the violence of sex, and the tension, the division is clear from Fassbender’s performance. But crucially, he’s deeply sad and deeply human, never shutting the audience out, which prevents the film from being as chilly as it could have been.”

Variety’s Justin Chang calls “Shame” a “mesmerizing companion piece” to McQueen’s 2008 debut, "Hunger," but says it’s “more approachable.” Like “Hunger,” it “fixes its gaze on the uses and abuses of the human body, as Michael Fassbender again strips himself down, in every way an actor can, for McQueen's rigorous but humane interrogation,” Chang says. He adds that “Confrontational subject matter and matter-of-fact explicitness will position the film at the higher end of the specialty market, but it's certain to arouse critical acclaim and smart-audience interest wherever it's shown.”

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks was equally enthusiastic: “This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie. There are glimmers of American Gigolo to its pristine sheen and echoes of Midnight Cowboy.”


Hot films Up for grabs at the Toronto Film Festival

Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley in 'A Dangerous Method'

 — Julie Makinen

Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender share a rare smile in "Shame." Photo: See-Saw Films.







Telluride 2011: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

September 4, 2011 |  5:15 pm

Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in Shame 
There’s no shortage of naked flesh in British director Steve McQueen’s “Shame” — the film is certain to receive the adults-only NC-17 rating — but it’s human emotions that are truly laid bare in the new drama about sexual compulsion.

“Shame,” which had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival a few hours after showing for the first time at the Venice Film Festival, stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a thirtysomething New York man obsessed with impersonal gratification. McQueen, who co-wrote the film with playwright Abi Morgan, said in a taped introduction to the screening that Brandon “has difficulties with his sex life,” which is a bit like saying the Titanic had difficulties with an iceberg.
Brandon’s workplace computer and his Manhattan apartment are jammed with porn, and within the movie’s opening minutes Brandon (with a courageous performance by a full-frontal Fassbender) has slept with a prostitute and masturbated in the shower. And then things get really kinky.

For all of his obsessions, Brandon somehow gets by. But when his troubled sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), crashes in his apartment, Brandon’s shaky grip on functionality quickly loosens. Sissy is a remarkable singer (proving that Mulligan can do everything except split the atom), but she has plenty of her own problems and needs, exacerbating Brandon’s impulses.

The independently financed feature arrived in Venice and Telluride seeking a distributor, and specialized film companies who like to court controversy (paging Harvey Weinstein!) should be drawn to the film. McQueen’s intense first feature, 2008’s “Hunger” (which also starred Fassbender), was incredibly well reviewed but grossed just $154,000 in domestic theaters.

"Shame” is not quite as hard to watch as “Hunger” (although a handful of usually intrepid Telluride guests walked out), but it’s nonetheless raw. “I’ve got nowhere else to go,” Sissy says to Brandon at one point in the film. Unfortunately, Brandon does — down, into some of the darkest places you’ll see in a theater.


Jennifer Garner Spreads "Butter" in Telluride

George Clooney Makes Waves with "The Descendants"

Glenn Close Gender-Bends in Telluride Film "Albert Nobbs"

—John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender share a rare smile in "Shame." Photo: See-Saw Films.



Telluride 2011: Jennifer Garner spreads 'Butter' at festival

September 4, 2011 |  8:07 am

Photo: Jennifer Garner in "Butter." Credit: The Weinstein Co. There’s no shortage of serious subjects at this weekend’s Telluride Film Festival, including new movies about obsession (“Shame”), infidelity (“The Descendants”), the death penalty (“Into the Abyss”) and climate change (“The Island President”).

But the lineup isn’t all grim, and one of this year’s sneak previews — Jennifer Garner’s “Butter” — is as broad a satirical comedy as Telluride has ever shown.

After not getting into this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the makers of the movie about backroom intrigue, sexual dalliances and sabotage at an Iowa butter carving competition fine-tuned their movie, bringing it to Telluride for its world premiere.

Garner, who also produced, plays Laura Pickler, who with husband Bob (Ty Burrell) eats, sleeps and drinks butter carving -- transforming massive blocks of the stuff into three-dimensional tableaux.

When Bob, whose prize-winning butter sculptures include depictions of Newt Gingrich on horseback, “Schindler’s List” and the Last Supper, is asked not to compete because he wins too often, Laura decides she will take up the family’s carving knives.

At first, Laura may remind some people of certain right-wing political candidates — she complains about “the liberal media” and says “I believe in America, I believe we’re the best” — but it’s swiftly apparent that she’s actually a bit nuts.

When she discovers that her husband has been sharing more than a lap dance with a local stripper (a heavily tattooed and nearly naked Olivia Wilde), Laura’s determination to churn up a killer butter carving grows a little too intense.

If Laura’s going to lard her trophy case with another carving prize, she must first defeat Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a 10-year-old African American girl whose butter work includes a staggering rendering of Harriet Tubman on a freedom train — complete with an all-butter cloud of smoke coming from its locomotive.

To help improve her chances, Laura enlists former boyfriend Boyd Bolton (Hugh Jackman) to launch some dairy damage against Destiny.

Unlike several of the new features debuting in this former mining town, “Butter,” whose release date hasn't been set by the Weinstein Co., doesn’t have awards aspirations. Its udder heart rests with what you smear on your toast, on a much larger scale.


Glenn Close Gender Bends in "Albert Nobbs"

George Clooney Makes Waves with "The Descedants"

Joshua Marston Heads for Farther Shores with "Forgiveness of Blood"

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Jennifer Garner in "Butter." Credit: The Weinstein Co. 

Telluride 2011: Joshua Marston heads for farther shores

September 3, 2011 |  4:48 pm

The first time that American writer-director Joshua Marston made a feature film, he shot a movie in Spanish and largely set in Colombia, 2004’s “Maria Full of Grace.” In his latest work, the Telluride Film Festival drama “The Forgiveness of Blood,” Marston has traveled to even more distant geographic and linguistic shores: Albania.

Set in a small, impoverished village in the southeastern European country, “The Forgiveness of Blood” focuses on a violent feud instigated by a seemingly innocent intrusion by one family onto another clan’s land. Caught in the middle of the dispute is Nik (Tristan Halilaj), a teen-age boy who longs to be with his girlfriend and open an Internet cafe, and his younger sister, Rudina (Sindi Laçej), forced to take over the family’s bread-delivery business.

Because Nik and Rudina’s family killed someone else, centuries-old Albania law and custom holds that the victim’s family can take another life in return. Nik is the obvious target, and must hide indoors unless the feud can be resolved. Despite the title, there’s not a lot of clemency on the horizon.

Cast with local, non-professional actors and written by Marston and Albanian screenwriter Andamion Murataj, “The Forgiveness of Blood” won the screenplay award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. After playing at Telluride over Labor Day weekend, the movie is due in theaters early next year from IFC Films.

After “Maria Full of Grace,” which brought star Catalina Sandino Moreno a best actress  Oscar nomination,  Marston flirted with making a movie about the dangerous lives of non-military, contract truck drivers in Iraq, but he and Warner Independent Pictures split over casting (he wanted Chris Cooper, the now-defunct label wanted Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise). “I got very frustrated with the studio system, and even the independent studio system,” Marston said after the screening.

After directing a number of television series, Marston came across the broad “blood feud” idea behind “The Forgiveness of Blood” in news stories. When he was unable to find backers for the film in Hollywood, he found a much more receptive market in Europe.

“It’s quite a pleasure,” Marston said, “to know that an Albanian-language film will get a release in the United States.”


Glenn Close Gender-Bends in Albert Nobbs

George Clooney's "The Descendants" Makes Waves

Telluride 2011: Who needs the English language anyway?


--John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Nik (Tristan Halilaj) in Joshua Marston’s "The Forgiveness of Blood." Credit: Anila Jaho. 



Telluride 2011: Who needs the English language, anyway?

September 3, 2011 | 11:29 am

Visitors to the Telluride Film Festival are used to going the distance for their cinematic pleasure — not only taking the better part of a day traveling to this isolated ski resort for the Labor Day weekend, but also spending very long pulls inside theaters, notably at this year's festival with Martin Scorsese’s 3½-hour George Harrison documentary, “Living in the Material World.”

But rarely has that Telluride commitment run as deep as it did Friday night, when the Brazilian movie “Passerby” started showing to about 150 festival attendees. As the audience quickly realized, the film’s distributor had sent the wrong print to Colorado, with the entire film playing in Portuguese with no English subtitles. The theater staff quickly spotted the problem, as did writer-director Eryk Rocha, who was said to be apoplectic.

The festival suggested to Rocha that his interpreter go on stage and offer a real-time translation for the two-hour-plus story about a 65-year-old man in Rio de Janeiro, but that idea was nixed. So rather than stop the showing, and explain what everyone could see was the problem, the projectionist kept playing the film — and hardly anyone left.

Rocha apparently has a DVD with subtitles that he might bring to later showings, because it would take several days for the proper print to travel from South America to the festival.

One person who stayed until the end said that because the story had minimal dialogue, it was not too hard to follow the plot. But name another film festival where the audience wouldn’t have stampeded for the exits.


Glenn Close Gender-Bends in "Albert Nobbs"

George Clooney's "The Descendants" Makes Waves

Tilda Swinton Begins Oscar Race With Telluride, Toronto Tributes

John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Scene from "Passerby." Credit: Telluride Film Festival

Telluride Film Fest: Glenn Close gender bends in 'Albert Nobbs'

September 2, 2011 |  8:15 pm

Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs 
The very first person you see in “Albert Nobbs” is Mr. Nobbs himself—or should that be herself?

The central conceit of the new movie starring Glenn Close, who first played Nobbs in a play nearly 30 years ago, is that Mr. Nobbs, as everyone calls the turn-of-the-century Irish waiter, is not what he appears. In fact, he’s not a man at all, but a woman (played by Close), passing as a man.

Loosely adapted from the short story “Albert Nobbs” by 19th century Irish writer George Moore (which became Close’s Obie Award-winning off-Broadway play “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs” by French playwright Simone Benmussa), the movie enjoyed its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday night.

The film, due out in December, raises an array of challenging questions about gender, identity and same-sex attraction.

Described as “such a kind little man” by another character in the film, Nobbs is in fact a very complicated bundle of conflicted and unrequited emotions and desires. While she struggles to preserve her disguise — a choice she made after a personal trauma, but also motivated by professional ambition— Nobbs simultaneously tries to resolve her naive feelings about desire while trying to escape an existence that is unsatisfying on several levels.

As one character played by Janet McTeer says to Nobbs in the film, “You don’t have to be anything but who you are.” But that simple statement raises countless corollaries.

Is Dobbs’ passing a temporary means to an entrepreneurial end? Has her deception fundamentally changed how she sees herself, other women and other men? And how does a century-old world handle same-sex relations, when gay marriage even today is for many an offensive concept?

It’s the kind of role that Close said she had to play before she died. And in recent years, gender-masking performances in other films have captivated audiences and awards voters, most notably Hilary Swank in 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry” and Jaye Davidson in 1992’s “The Crying Game.”

The 64-year-old Close, who has been nominated for an Oscar five times without winning, tried to bring the story to the screen for years, and even began scouting locations 10 years ago. While collaborating with director Rodrigo Garcia on 2005’s “Nine Lives” (the two also joined forces on 1999’s “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her”), Close decided she had found her filmmaker. Close also produced “Albert Nobbs.”

In addition to McTeer, the film co-stars Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”), Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass”) and Brendan Gleeson (“The Guard”).


Telluride Film Festival Lineup

Glenn Close likely to get Oscar push

George Clooney asks Telluride to lift photo ban

--John Horn, from Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs.” Credit: Patrick Redmond

Telluride Film Festival: George Clooney's 'The Descendants' makes waves

September 2, 2011 |  6:06 pm

Telluride Film Festival: George Clooney's 'The Descendants' makes waves

Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife in “The Descendants” is in a coma, the result of a traumatic brain injury suffered in a boating accident. Yet it is really King himself who is trying to wake up — he has been drifting through life, marriage and parenting, and his wife’s grave condition forces the real estate lawyer to disengage his autopilot.

The opening film shown at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, “The Descendants” is writer-director Alexander Payne’s first feature since 2004’s Oscar-winning “Sideways.” While the film on first blush may sound a bit like Clooney’s “Up in the Air” — the Jason Reitman movie that also had its world premiere in Telluride in the same slot two years ago — the films ultimately have little in common.
Adapted by Payne and screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel of the same name, “The Descendants” is set in Hawaii, where King is the sole trustee of a 25,000-acre parcel held in a family trust since the 1860s. King’s relatives want him to cash out for untold millions and yield to developers, but King has more pressing problems.

With his wife, Elizabeth, unlikely ever to regain consciousness, King has to figure out how to care for his two daughters. Ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) is despondent over her mother’s condition, while 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) is rebelling through alcohol, drugs and promiscuity. “I’m the backup parent, the understudy,” King says in a voiceover. All of a sudden, he’s onstage and doesn’t know any of the lines.

“You really don’t have a clue, do you?” his older daughter asks him at one point. It turns out, he really doesn’t.

King quickly finds out that Alexandra is acting out not because of her age but because she knows a family secret that has missed her father’s notice. So the three Kings (along with Alexandra’s boyfriend, Sid) set out on an inter-island road trip, trying not only to deal with the secret but also to figure out how to function as a family. At the same time, they have to confront their mother's mortality, which is both frank and moving.

Clooney said after the screening that it was “a weird thing” to be playing “such a schlub at times.” And if you missed Clooney in 1996’s “One Fine Day,” you may not have seen him playing a dad before — “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” doesn’t count. While it’s hard to make Clooney look bad, he’s no Danny Ocean in Payne's movie — the haircut isn’t tidy, the clothes scarcely stylish.

The same can be said for how Payne depicts Hawaii: This is not a tourism ad, and the island is filled with ordinary-looking people (some are fat, some use wheelchairs, some are poor) with some extraordinary problems. And yet, at the same time, the land anchors the story — it’s what ties these characters together, and may drive them apart. Said Payne: “I have never seen Hawaii in a movie like this.”

After playing in Telluride, “The Descendants” will travel to the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, where its critical and awards prospects could be cemented. Fox Searchlight will release the film Nov. 23. For audiences who have been waiting so long for Payne’s return to the movies, that’s less than three months away.


Telluride announces festival lineup

Clooney's 'Ides of March' premieres in Venice

Trailer for Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants' unveiled

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller in "The Descendants." Credit: Fox Searchlight

Tilda Swinton begins Oscar race with Telluride, Toronto tributes

September 2, 2011 |  5:35 pm

Tilda Swinton has always played ethereal, fantastical characters, from the White Witch in the first Narnia film to her gender-bending role in the Sally Potter movie "Orlando." This year she is embodying a much more relatable character--a grieving mother--in the upcoming release from Oscilloscope Pictures, "We Need to Talk About Kevin." In typical Swinton fashion, though, her character is no regular mother; she's one that every other woman is terrified to become, one who has birthed a child that's capable of evil on a Columbine massacre-esque level.

Swinton's performance, first seen in May, earned her high marks when the film from writer-director Lynne Ramsay debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. (Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote, "With a raw yet controlled performance that covers a wide emotional spectrum, Swinton has to be an early favorite for the festival's best actress award.")

Swinton is now to be featured center stage at both this weekend's Telluride Film Festival and next week's Toronto International Film Festival when "Kevin" will screen for North American audiences for the first time. Each festival is also honoring the 50-year-old Swinton with special tributes to her career.

Says New Yorker critic Hilton Als of the actress in the Telluride program: "Swinton projects emotional realism in stories that are rooted in the fantastic. She knows that emotions, minimally expressed, amount to a grammar we all understand." Her tribute will be held Sunday evening.

And Noah Cowen of the Toronto Film Festival writes this about Swinton: "We know that a Swinton performance will give us an uncomfortable glimpse into our own frailty, and she has been richly rewarded for her honesty as an actor with multiple accolades, including an Academy Award for 'Michael Clayton.' " Swinton will participate in a Q&A on Sept. 11 in Toronto.

Whether this particular performance will reach all the way to the Oscars remains to be seen, but Swinton acquiescing early to publicity requests may be an indication that the Oscar winner is eager to take home another gold statuette.


Telluride Film Festival Lineup

Cannes 2011: Everyone feels the need to talk about 'Kevin'

Cannes 2011: 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' is triumphant return for a festival stalwart

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Tilda Swinton. Credit: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times


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