August 2013 - Posts

Telluride Film Festival Review: 'Starred Up' Is a Moving Father-Son Drama Masquerading as a Brutal Prison Exposé

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. The material comes from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser, who drew from his experiences as a prison psychologist to craft a detailed portrait of the U.K. prison ecosystem that traps each of his characters, including the staff. Though a soft-spoken analyst does emerge in the plot, he's hardly a panacea for thuggish new inmate Eric (a tightly wound Jack O'Connell). After being incarcerated on relatively minor charges, he...
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Telluride Film Festival Review: Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal Carry Denis Villeneuve's Tense Kidnapping Drama '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. Closest in terms of precedents to the patiently told crime sagas of David Fincher, with shades of "Se7en" and explicit nods to "Zodiac," "Prisoners" alternates between two modes: an investigative thriller and a intense tale of crime and punishment. From the opening shot, it's obvious that the movie intends to tackle big ideas, as...
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As Bullets Fly to Celebrate the Release of 'I Declare War,' Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League Looks to the Future

There's a bullshit romanticization concerning childhood, as if it were a lovely period of wonderment and innocence before the world grinds us all down with heartbreak, crap jobs, health issues and any other number of disillusioning, grown-up realities. But looking over the painful, egg-sized, bright purple welts on my chest and legs—courtesy of rascally Texas youth armed with paintball guns and shouting "old-timer" epithets, I'm thinking that Sartre had it wrong: Hell is other kids. After last summer's "Klown" canoe misadventure, I'm back in Austin for another outdoor screening and promotional event, this time for "I Declare War," a rollicking Canadian action-comedy that takes place entirely during a forested, daytime capture-the-flag game between two teams of 12-year-olds. Co-directed by first-time collaborators Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson, the film seamlessly blends the interpersonal dynamics of these pint-size warriors (led by teen star Gage Munroe as the cool, charismatic...
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Telluride Film Festival Review: Steve McQueen's '12 Years a Slave,' Anchored By Brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor, Is a Slavery Movie For the Ages

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. Initially a settled family man living in New York, Northup eventually faces one bleak reality after another like an accidental war journalist dropped into the center of the trenches, and we're right there with him. Based on Northup's 1853 bestseller, "12 Years a Slave" owes much to Ejiofor's knockout performance. But it's a particularly noteworthy advancement in McQueen's already impressive filmography, as it funnels the cerebral formalism of his earlier...
Posted by Indiewire

Vote for Project of the Week! Will It Be 'Deal,' 'Dark,' 'Who' or 'Track'?

Vote below for this week's Project of the Week. The winning filmmaker will receive a digital distribution consultation from SnagFilms and will become a candidate for Project of the Month. That winner will be awarded with a creative consultation from the fine folks at the Tribeca Film Institute! The four projects up for the prize:  "The Deal," "Dark," "Who's Changing" and "Off Track." We got a late start on voting this week, so voting will end on Tuesday September 2, at 11AM Eastern. Note:  First, make sure you have cookies enabled in your browser.  Votes are confirmed by email.  After voting, please look for an email from Poll Daddy and confirm your vote.  (If it doesn't show up in your inbox, check your spam folder.  The emails often end up there.)  Indiewire nor PollDaddy use your email address after the confirmation, but if you do want to sign up for our newsletter, why DON'T you mosey on over here and do so! <a...
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Telluride Film Festival Review: Scarlett Johansson's Craziest Performance In Jonathan Glazer's Totally Nuts Alien Seductress Tale '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. In the grand tradition of "The Man Who Fell to Earth," Glazer's movie drops us right into the thick of the alien's experiences without a modicum of exposition to explain her arrival or intent. A...
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The 10 Most Touching Episodes in the Surprisingly Poignant Seven-Season Run of 'Futurama'

Over its erratic seven-season lifetime, one that's spanned over a decade, multiple networks and a few direct-to-DVD movies, "Futurama" has presented some brilliantly strange jokes ("death by snu-snu" on the planet Amazonia), unexpectedly complicated mythology (Fry is his own grandfather, and because of that is able to save the universe from evil brains) and an animated character for the ages in the hard-drinking robot Bender Bending Rodríguez. But as the Matt Groening creation approaches a sure-to-be moving finale on September 4, its chief legacy may be its ability to insert not just emotionally resonant but sometimes downright wrenching moments into episodes about seemingly silly sci-fi pastiche storylines, the shifts in tone making them all the more effective. "Futurama" may be the only series capable of turning a half-assed "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" spoof into an ending that's an absolute tear-jerker. As we prepare to say goodbye to "Futurama" forever -- again --...
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Watch: 'To Wong Foo' Director Explores Our Digital Life in Exclusive Clip for TIFF Doc 'InRealLife'

Beeban Kidron, who has had an eclectic directing career from "To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar," "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," and the Jeanette Winterson adaptation "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit," is back with her new documentary "InRealLife," which will screen as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Mavericks section. "InRealLife," a reference to the popular phrase, sometimes shortened to "IRL," that signifies offline life, explores the impact of online communication on the world's teenagers, so-called digital natives. According to TIFF,  here's the description of the film: After observing the immersive behaviour of her own teenagers, director Beeban Kidron set out to answer the question: What exactly is the internet, and how is it changing us? She talks directly to teens about how technology shapes their expectations of friendship, their cognition, and their sexuality. She interviews experts including Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, writer Clay...
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Truly Divine: John Waters's Muse Divine Gets a Retro at BAM

Harris Glenn Milstead AKA Divine, the actor that provided John Waters with inspiration for some of his boldest films, such  "Pink Flamingos" and "Female Trouble," is getting a retrospective of films at BAM.  Divine also plays the mother of Tracy Turnblad in "Hairspray," a role reprised by John Travolta in the movie musical adaptation of the film.   The series includes those three films, the Waters' film "Polyester," Joseph Losey's "Boom!," a film that inspired Waters and Divine throughout their tenure together, and the New York premiere of Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary "I Am Divine." Here's the retro's lineup: Film Descriptions and Screening Days, supplied by BAM Boom! (1968) 113min Directed by Joseph Losey. With Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Noel Coward.  According to John Waters, “It’s the best failed art film ever. It’s a ridiculous re-title of the Tennessee Williams play The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore with Elizabeth Taylor as the richest woman in...
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Telluride Film Festival Review: Gia Coppola's 'Palo Alto' Turns James Franco Short Stories Into Solid Portrait of Teen Angst

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. The movie's mainly valuable for the discovery of its talent, and that extends beyond its director. Coppola isn't the only figure involved with the production who hails from a famous household. One of three central protagonists, conflicted stoner Teddy, is played with a mixture of frustration and confusion by newcomer Jack...
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Watch: James Franco Seduces Emma Roberts in Stylish 'Palo Alto' Trailer

Having just screened earlier today at the Telluride Film Festival, an official trailer for "Palo Alto" has now made its way online. Based on a short story by James Franco that was featured in his published collection of stories entitled "Palo Alto Stories" (of which he is continuing to try and raise money to make more film adaptations of), the film features Franco himself as a soccer coach who takes a liking to one of the girls on his team, played by Emma Roberts. Also included in the trailer are a plethora of other young kids who are seen rebelling and causing a ruckus in and around the central California town. The film was directed by Gia Coppola, the daughter of the late Giancarlo Coppola, who was the brother of Sofia Coppola, and it very much seems that Gia is mining the same kind of stylish disaffectedness that her Aunt Sofia loves to explore in her work as well. 
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Telluride Film Festival Review: Donald Rumsfeld Stumbles Through Half-Truths In Errol Morris' 'The Unknown Known,' And So Does the Doc

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. There's no doubting Morris' presence in "The Unknown Known," both as the aggressive interrogator behind the lens and through the darkly witty aura of mystery he uses to enshroud Rumsfeld's testimonies. Aided by a typically first-rate score by Danny Elfman, the...
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New York Film Festival Adds Steve McQueen's '12 Years a Slave'

Another film has been added to the New York Film Festival's slate:  Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave."  The film has gotten a stamp of approval from Film Comment Editor-in-Chief and NYFF selection committee member Gavin Smith. In a statement, Smith says, "Film Comment is delighted to be able to champion 12 Years A Slave at the New York Film Festival. This is a powerful work about a subject that remains vital and I have no doubt that it’s one of the year’s most important films.” McQueen's follow-up to his two Michael Fassbender flicks "Hunger" and "Shame" is summed up by the NYFF in the following synopsis: Steve McQueen’s courageous new film takes an unflinching close-up look at a subject that has rarely, if ever, been confronted with such unvarnished directness in American cinema. The film is based on the memoir of freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who was abducted in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and delivered to slave trader James Burch (Paul Giamatti),...
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Watch: Kids Play With Guns and Lay Out the Rules of Engagement in the First Five Minutes of 'I Declare War'

A friendly game of capture the flag turns much darker in "I Declare War," released today in theaters, iTunes and VOD by Drafthouse Films. The video below, featuring the first four and a half minutes of the film, establishes the "rules of war" in the kids' world onscreen.  Rocks = Grenades.  Trees = Control towers.   Sticks = Submachine guns. You get the idea. Even though it's all make believe, it's still unnerving to see the young actors carrying actual pistols, machine guns, crossbows and even a bazooka. Looks a little "Lord of the Flies" to us. Directed by Robert Wilson and Jason Lapeyre and written by Lapeyre, the film is sure to prompt discussion about kids and violence.  Check out the video below:
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7 Tips from Silicon Valley on Giving Confidence to Potential Investors

While he's taking off for the Labor Day holiday, Colin Brown from Slated Editorial Director has shared with Indiewire an old -- but valuable -- post from the Slated Filmonomics blog:  it's a list of seven tips for filmmakers to keep in mind as they try to look for funding from investors, ripped from Silicon Valley's own tips for investors.   In The Wall Street Journal, Slated was described as “Soho House for film financing, due to the requirement that you must be invited to be a member.” Another point of reference could just as easily have been AngelList. For those unfamiliar with this game-changing website, AngelList is a powerful funding vehicle that connects startups with a who’s who of early stage venture capitalists, high-net-worth individuals and angel investors. Simply put: AngelList is to Silicon Valley what Slated is to the film industry. The parallels are close enough that AngelList serves as an instructional laboratory for anyone wanting to...
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