Sunday, September 4, 2011

Half Way Mark/Day Three/Sunday's TBA Sked/ Albert Nobbs/Butter/The Artist


As I get ready to set out for the third day of the 38th Telluride Film Festival I have theses observations:
1) It's much more difficult to get in as many films as you want when you're also doing peripheral tasks...
2) I haven't yet been bowled over by any thing at this point...liked "Descendants" liked "Albert Nobbs" liked "The Artist."  haven't really loved any title yet.  And then there's "Butter"...mmmm...I didn't actively hate it, that good.
3) Heading to the Opera House this morning for the first time this year for "Le Havre."  Cannes scuttlebutt was good, but it was a long time in finding a distributor...
4) Day Two celeb sightings: Glenn Close, Jennifer Garner, Tilda Swinton, Penelope Ann Miller (said hello to her), Ty Burrell and Fisher Stevens who appears to be here as a regular film goer...


My hope today is that I get in "Le Havre" "A Dangerous Method" and "Shame."  The Chief Executive and I have dinner reservations for tonight and then depending what's happening and our energy level, we might try to get in one more film.  Right now, the plan is to get "Kevin" in on Monday.

SUNDAY'S TBA/SNEAK SKED (from the TFF website):

TBAs • Sunday September 4, 2011

• 11b We Need to Talk About Kevin P/ Sun 12:15 PM
Lynne Ramsay (RATCATCHER, MOVERN CALLER) reminds us that pregnancy
doesn’t always turn out for the best, as Eva, an American travel
writer (Tilda Swinton), copes with terrible deeds committed by her
son. Told both in present day, with Eva a recluse abused by people in
the street, and in a flashback past, as a wealthy wife and mother of a
nasty and manipulative boy. Ferociously powerful, with a gut-wrenching
portrayal of emotional devastation from Swinton, KEVIN features an
astonishing range of dazzling images. (U.K., 2011, 112m)
In person: Rory Kinnear, Lynne Ramsay, Tilda Swinton


• Crazy Horse S/ Sun 11:30 AM

From mental institutions to ballets to boxing gyms, Frederick Wiseman
excels in revealing the mechanics of our institutions. This
refreshingly positive portrait of Paris’s glamorous Crazy Horse
Cabaret, “the best chic nude show on earth,” captures the directors,
dancers, costume designers, wig-makers, lighting technicians, and even
the janitors. Using mesmerizing visual spectacle (silhouettes,
chiaroscuro, and blocks of color) Wiseman recontexualizes the dancers’
exquisite bodies in surprising and beautiful ways. CRAZY HORSE begins
with shadows on stage—an allusion to the magic lantern, one of
cinema’s precursors—and ultimately celebrates the play of light and
movement that is the essence of cinema itself. (U.S., 2011, 134m)

• Butter Q & A P/ Sun 9:00 PM
An edgy satire, set during the Iowa State Fair.
In person: Ty Burrell, Jennifer Garner, Jim Field Smith

• 12 The Artist S/ Sun 4:30 PM

• 31 The Island President M/ Sun 3:45 PM

• 42 Great Expectations N/ Sun 6:15 PM
In person: actor Vlad Ivanov

• 43 Calling Cards C/ Sun 11:00 PM

• I Tropic├ília B/ Sun 2:15 PM


Sunday, 12 noon, Elks Park

Documentary’s Narrative Strategies: As nonfiction filmmakers draw from
a more expansive toolbox, how is our understanding of reality

Werner Herzog, Joshua Marston, Wim Wenders, Michel Hazanavicius




Glenn Close Reveals Herself by Hiding as “Albert Nobbs”

“Albert Nobbs” gives us Glenn Close in a performance that seems destined to earn her a sixth Oscar nomination and perhaps her first win. It would be well deserved. The film has had a lot of pre-festival buzz about her performance but it’s much more than a one woman show. “Albert Nobbs” is an engaging, entertaining and enlightening piece of work that is richly dramatic and is underscored by moments of wry, quiet humor. Solid, sometimes incredible supporting performances, an able script that cleverly avoids hackneyed plot turns and sure handed direction from Rodrigo Garcia combine to make it a film well worth seeing. “Albert Nobbs” mines a rich vein of personal identification to slowly earn its emotional resonance.

Central to the film is the class structure of the time and place. Garcia gives us a 19th century Ireland that is rigid with class distinctions. Every soul has her or her place that has been prescribed by the station at birth. Escape from one’s station is virtually unheard of. This is the tableau against which the plot of the film is set.

In the film Close plays a woman who is passing as a man, the Albert Nobbs of the title. She does this in order to survive and, perhaps, through careful planning, find a way to fulfill her closely held dreams and better her place in the harsh Irish society. She’s butler in a Dublin hotel, the Morrison. Albert is precise, quiet, and as would be expected of a butler, almost invisible. She’s frugal too; saving up money over the years with a goal of buying and running her own tobacco shop.

Two events occur almost simultaneously that propel the arc of the story forward. The hotel’s owner hires a painter and when he needs to spend a night to finish the job he’s assigned to room with “Albert”. Obviously Albert is afraid that her gender will be discovered. At nearly the same time a young handyman who has been fired from his position at another Dublin hotel scams his way into a job at Morrison’s. He, too, may pose a threat to Albert’s identity and dreams for the future.

But Close’s performance isn’t the only selling point of the piece. We also glimpse the lives of the rest of the hotel staff. These co-workers have dreams of escape too. Of course we see the “other half” as well, the hotel owner, the well-to-do-guests, some lower level royalty that occasional while away a day or two in the establishment. These characters are also crucial to establishing the social strata and feel of the period and Albert’s environs.

So, yes, the film has a lot more going on than just Close’s highly anticipated performance but it would be ridiculous to suggest that her performance isn’t the core of the film. She creates a male character that is so honestly convincing that you find yourself forgetting that you’re looking at Glenn Close in reverse drag. It is an exquisitely detailed performance that audiences are not likely to forget. She pays infinite attention to creating Albert fully from facial and physical details to his posture and the way that he walks. Close manages to do one of the most difficult things to do on film and that is to convey emotion that is hidden by repression. What makes that portrayal all the more difficult and intriguing is that the nature of the character as a quiet, reserved butler, a profession in which the ability to “blend into the woodwork” was a prized asset. It provides Close with immense challenges that she meets again and again. It’s a remarkable immersion of actor into character.

As mentioned earlier, the supporting cast is excellent headlined by Brendan Gleeson as an in house hotel doctor, Mia Wasikowska as a hotel maid and Janet McTeer who shines the most in support as a visitor to the Morrison Hotel.

The film was shot in present day Dublin but you’d never know it from the look and feel of the cinematography, costuming and set design. Dublin in the 1800’s has been rendered authentically and beautifully. The makeup, which plays a huge role in transforming Close from a woman into a man, is spectacular. Music takes a back seat in the film. Its infrequent use may be as a result of the fact that the screenplay is based in part on the stage play of the same title that Close starred in back in the early 1980’s

Much has been made of Close’s passion to turn the play into a film. That’s evident from her position as producer and co-writer of the screenplay. She has been actively pursuing the notion of “Nobbs” as a film for the last 15 years. Her commitment to the story and character may well pay off come Oscar time. Other members of the Albert Nobbs crew could also enter the conversation about nominations: makeup, costuming, art direction, cinematography. Janet McTeer should get some notice for a supporting actress nomination. In all of the buzz about Close’s performance, we haven’t heard much about McTeer who has made her name primarily as a stage actress and on British television but the Academy should take note. McTeer matches Close scene for scene when they’re on screen together.

“Albert Nobbs” is likely to get a good boost from the Telluride presentation owing to its excellent acting and finely drawn technical work and it should. It should also burnish Glenn Close’s reputation as one of the finest actresses working in film. It is a film that you should not miss this fall. [A-]


This Butter Churns and Churns But Doesn’t Produce Cream

“Butter” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival Saturday night to a sold out house. Not a spare seat to be had. That being the case, you know that a comedy is in serious trouble when the place is jammed and there are long stretches of the film’s running time where no one laughs. That’s what happened with “Butter.” Another sign your comedy is in trouble: when veteran comedian Rob Corddry gives the most fully developed performance. No knock on Corddry but he’s in a film with other actors who have given better performances in the past but who seem helplessly trapped here. You’d expect better from Jennifer Garner (who also produced) and Hugh Jackman.

“Butter” has that feel of trying to glue too many concepts together without the singular vision to take those separate concepts and form them into a unified whole. It wants to be political satire, a sex comedy, a quirky character study, a send-up of the over-competitiveness in our society, a commentary on race and heart- warming. Oh, does it ever want to be heart-warming. It doesn’t succeed at melting those concepts together and, unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed at any of those concepts individually either.

“Butter” is set in the world of the Iowa State Fair competition for butter carving which apparently really does exist. 15 time champion Bob Pickler is prohibited from seeking the crown a 16th time. Determined to keep the butter carving dynasty in the family, and perhaps parlay the fame and fortune that comes from the butter championship into a political career, Bob’s wife Laura (Garner) enters the contest on her own. She is unexpectedly challenged by a 10 year old African American girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) whose butter carving talents are unformed but evident. Destiny is a foster child who has recently been placed with a new white foster family. The film’s slim plot focuses on the twists and turns that occur on the road that these characters must navigate to qualify for the state butter carving competition.

Across the board there are acting problems. Garner is rigidly one dimensional which could work if the film didn’t want to turn that on its head suddenly in the third act. The jarring shift has no context to provide believability. Jackman is wasted. His Boyd Bolton character is an old Laura Pickler flame and she uses him to advance her own evil ends. He’s in two scenes and struggles to maintain the dialect that he used for his run years ago in “Oklahoma” on Broadway. Ty Burrell plays Garner’s husband and who is engaging as Phil Dunphy in television’s “Modern Family” gives us the very same character here. Alicia Silverstone is serviceable as Corddry’s wife and Destiny’s new stepmom. The young Shahidi also suffers from problems with character dimension. She’s flat and often seems lifeless. Olivia Wilde appears as a stripper with vengeance on her mind in a subplot that stretches the limits of credibility from the moment her character is introduced. Ashley Greene is similarly lost in the script’s shuffle as the Pickler daughter.

The film’s director is Jim Field Smith who has one other feature film credit (She’s Out of Your League) and a slew of British television credits to his name. The screenplay was written by first timer Jason Micallef. Both men have to own a good deal of responsibility for this the mess that is this film.

All this isn’t to say that there aren’t some moments of humor along the way. Corddry and Shahidi share a memorable scene in the family car just outside the Moose Lodge where butter carving entries are being taken. Corddry’s foster father character challenges Destiny to overcome any fears she might have by imagining the worst that could happen. Their interchange as they explore various worst case scenarios is truly funny and actually comes close to earning the kind of audience empathy that the film wants to get at by the time the credits roll. There are also some nice comic moments from Kristen Schall (The Daily Show) as the leader of the Bob Pickler fan club and Phyllis Smith (The Office) as a county butter carving official but they come few and far between.

“Butter” was added to the Telluride lineup as one of the two films that the organizers will “sneak” over the Labor Day weekend. Last year “sneaks” included “Black Swan” and “127 Hours.” “Juno” was a “sneak” here in 2007. With that track record, festival patrons were anticipating great things from “Butter” but because the film can’t seem to decide what it wants to be and what it wants to say those expectations were not met. [C-]


Quick note or two...some moments are genius...the opening sequence, dream sequence.  Great performances from Jean Dujardin and  Berenice Bejo.  Nice support from John Goodman and Uggy the dog.  Maybe a shade over long.  Audience ate it up. [A-]

OH...and the blog passed its 20,000th view Saturday.  Thanks to all!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Artist pales in comparison to the genius of Pierre Etaix.

Did you see any of the rep programming? If not, a shame.