“Chef”–cooking up a few misconceptions?

Two films that I didn’t get around to watching till recently, both featured Twitter.  One film, Frank, featuring Micheal Fassibinder in a plaster of paris head (why would you cover that man’s gorgeous head?), used Twitter as a way for the least-talented band member to create a buzz and a following for the band.  Chef,  written and directed by the lovable Jon Favreau, uses it as a central plot device.  The Chef loses his job over a tweet that he assumes is private but instead goes viral.  The social media tool is used to build a connection between father and son and Twitter also magically drums up business for their new food truck.  I say, magically, because the young son played realistically by Emjay Anthony, manages to create a fan base, send out map coordinates for where the food truck is traveling and posts professional photos all while the young man is learning to be a cook!  It’s an interesting time when the last three movies I’ve seen, all feature social media prominently in their story lines.

Chef is a lovely fairy tale of film.  A work-obsessed man loses his job and must learn to love his son and reinvent himself.  Hardly ground-breaking but setting the action on a food truck and featuring some wonderful actors that aren’t frequently given good roles makes for an enjoyable ride!  John LeguizamoBobby CannavaleSofía Vergara and Oliver Platt all give wonderful performances and it’s fun to see Dustin Hoffman in a juicy part.  My issue with the film is that it is a fairy tale.  Money magically appears to finance the venture, one character quits his job after just being promoted so he can make sandwiches with the chef and love blossoms when you follow your heart.

A friend, and divorce coach, had some good advice to families that might watch this film together.  Mandy Walker writes about Wish Fulfillment in children from separated parents.  And hopefully, anyone who loses their job won’t think that transforming your life doesn’t generally end with an enemy with a pocket-full of cash offering to make your dreams come true…

And can someone tell me what role Amy Sedaris played?  I sure missed her!

Rating: 4 beers, but don’t share them with your son

Bechdel Rating: passes

“Men, Women and Children” — technology and our place in the cosmos

Sneak peek screening

I love preview screenings.  Especially for a film that will be at the Mill Valley Film Festival for Opening Night when those of us who work don’t usually get in to see the films!

Jason Reitman’s new movie, Men Women & Children is an alarmist’s view of how technology is damaging all of our interpersonal relationships.  There are some stand-out performances by the teenagers in the cast, particularly Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever as our central pair of technology-crossed lovers.  But I found the casting to be a problem.  Emma Thompson is one of my favorite actors but in this film, we only get to hear her voice.  Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner are cast against type, and although it’s nice to see actors seeking challenges, the film suffers.  The characters would have been better served had they been portrayed by actor’s with less star power and the weight of audience expectation.

The film goes back and forth trying to show today’s world as inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe at large.  It does so, ponderously, with lovely shots of planets and a tale of the Voyager satellite and a Carl Sagan quote.  The focus is on the relationships of three families and how technology is driving them apart (gaming, online porn, looking at a phone or through a camera instead of being present) and how important small moments of engagement can be.  Earth is a tiny dot but our connections to one another create our world.

It’s an important message–but the characters behave in ways that stretch credibility.  Men Women & Children posits that teens are vulnerable and they make poor choices, but that parents act just as irresponsibly.  We’re all struggling to find ways to connect, to be intimate and to protect our families.  The orchestrated child-in-peril plot is used for optimal dramatic impact but the hyperbole is justified if Men Women & Children gets conversations started between parents and teens!

Jason Reitman and Kaitlyn D

Opening Night MVFF 37

Update: I did get to hear the Q & A for this film at MVFF!

Jason Reitman was like a hip teenager teasing Kaitlyn Dever in the lobby by imitating what she’d sound like if she was in a video game. They had a fun rapport and she later joked that she had to teach him what Snapchat was all about.  “This film is about intimacy, not about the internet” and “I had no idea there were websites to teach you how to be anorexic!” were among the director’s funny comments. It was also interesting to hear about all the work (and expense!) that went into creating the fake porn sites and clickable faux internet for the characters to surf.  We also learned of the extended masturbation scene that was cut so as to not encourage teen boys to try putting whip cream inside a football and warm it in a microwave… There were some grumbles from the exiting festival crowd about the predictability of the dramatic ending and a few people seemed to agree with me with the miscasting (particularly Adam Sandler) but overall, they seemed to have a lot to talk about.  And that’s what good films do…create conversations!

Some good tips on Teens and Social Media from Dave Taylor featured on Christian Toto’s Blog

Rating: 3 Jameson on the rocks, ordered from a hotel bar where your spouse may be cheating on you

Bechdel test: Passes, and hip hip hooray for the rock in the window at the end!

“Love is Strange” and the rating system is even stranger!

There are films that you forget the moment you leave the theater.  There are movies that linger in your mind for days.  And occasionally, there are lovely pieces of cinema that leave you quietly weeping in the theater and make you want to invite everyone you know to Go See It!

But for Love is Strange, you can’t.  Because this tale of love separated by Catholic hypocrisy and the trails of one family trying to cope with a lack of privacy (and the greater problem–a lack of communication) is rated R.  Only in America would a scene of two men in a loving marriage sharing a bed and a few chaste kisses warrant a protection from teenagers seeing it alone!  Please, go enjoy wanton violence and destruction in Transformers (PG-13!) but stay away from films that might increase your understanding of gay love.


Stepping down off my soap box.  Please take your teens to see this.  There is a subplot involving a moody teen that will interest them with an amazing performance by the young Charlie Tahan.  His scene at the end of the film will break your heart.  This quietly affecting story of long-term love; a partnership that has survived the test of infidelity but now must face homelessness, is a far-better life lesson than the teen soap operas The Fault is in Our Stars or If I Stay.  John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are endearing and Marisa Tomei is the working mom who must try to navigate this challenging situation.  Beautifully-acted with no need for car chases or mysteries, director Ira Sachs has crafted a wonderful movie.  Love is Strange deserves to be seen by a wide audience.

Rating: 4 glasses of wine

Bechdel Rating: passes

Why Telluride Film Festival is now my favorite…

I’ve been working film festivals for 20+ years and this year, I finally made it to the Telluride Film Festival.  Why, oh why, did I not make it sooner?!!The Show--TFF41

The scenery is phenomenal.  The program is extraordinary.  The comradery between staff and volunteers is so congenial as to be contagious to attendees…and did I mention the glorious sunsets and the STARS?  Both the literal ones that sprinkle in the deep black of night, and the world-famous (members of the Film Legend Club) walking casually down the streets of Telluride.  There is something about the brevity of the festival (only four days this year!) and the numerous screening venues that all movie-goers must trek to (gondolas, bicycles, a leisure stroll down the main street) to view the amazing films that adds an intensity to the experience.  I had read that there was a controversial announcement that Toronto International Film Festival wouldn’t screen ANY film that had it’s festival premiere elsewhere (ie @ Telluride, which opens the week before TIFF!) but one of the festival favorites was at both: The Imitation Game.


Show Locations

There is no way any film lover can see ALL the films at Telluride but the festival staff does try hard to make the most popular films accessible by having repeated screenings.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing that there was one more day…maybe two…to make it to a few more screenings!  But isn’t it better to be left wanting more?

Films I missed that I really wanted to see: Dancing Arabs, Red Army, ’71 and Wild Tales

Films I could have missed: The Homesman (Why, Hilary Swank, why?), Foxcatcher (why, Steve Carell, Why?)

And my favorites: the thrilling Imitation Game, the surprisingly-good Birdman and the gripping Look of Silence!

TBA Schedule

“Foxcatcher”–the problem of casting against type with large noses

Foxcatcher still

This photo says it all: two actors cast against type and sporting large prosthetic schnoozes!  There was some buzz about Steve Carell’s amazing performance in Foxcatcher, but with an exaggerated speech pattern and stilted performance as a wealthy wrestling enthusiast, he’s almost a comic book character.  As his obsession (and lover?), Channing Tantum sports a companion fake nose and a comically-stiff walk with so little dramatic range, that his character is hard to root for or to even find like-able.  In contrast, Mark Ruffalo (even in a bad hair piece) gives a restrained performance and exudes the only warmth in the film.  His performance comes off as natural and even though he looks nothing like his supposed brother, there is a warmth and chemistry with Channing Tantum.  He is the only true thing in this over-blown, messy film.

Rating: 1 bottle of beer — with no line of coke as a chaser

Bechdel Rating: Fails


Director: Bennett Miller


Was it really only FOUR days? Telluride Film Festival 41

So many remarkable things happened in such a short period of time during my trip to Telluride, that it felt as if I’d been gone for weeks rather than days!  Beginning with the amazing setting and incredible weather that left me wandering dazed along the mountain paths reluctant to even venture indoors–and ending with warm embraces from people who’d been mere acquaintances days ago!

I really lucked out with my assignment: concessions at the lovely Sheridan Opera House.  Suzanne Cheathers was the manager and, in her first year in the position, a total delight to work with — it was a tiny staff in a tiny venue and we quickly all became close (in both proximity and spirit!).  Hearing of my white-knuckle drive late at night to my B & B in Rico, Suzanne invited me to stay with her instead!  Working in such a small venue, the screenings had an intimate feeling and many of the shows were once-in-a-lifetime occasions: restorations, silent films, documentaries with filmmakers in attendance.  I enjoyed seeing Too Much Johnson, Joyful Laughter and Ed and Pauline (directed by Christian Bruno & Natalija Vekic) about Pauline Kael!  And the documentary that Gina Leibrecht finished after Les Blanks’ death called How to Smell a Rose.The Sheridan Opera House

There is no way to see all the films you want to at the Telluride Film Festival but I was so glad I stayed for the late screening of The Look of Silence, the companion film to Joshua Oppenheimer’s extraordinary The Act of Killing.  This film is unlike anything in the documentary world in it’s exploration of truth and consequences.  Listening to Joshua speak about his filmmaking crusade, a journey years in the making and hearing how he put himself at risk was extraordinary.  Then to watch Adi, the subject of the film, struggle with tears and deep despair, try to explain his motivation in being in the film–wow, what a remarkable experience.

The buzz of the festival surrounded a few films: Wild Tales, Dancing Arabs, Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater and my favorite of the festival: The Imitation Game.  Two films with big stars drew mixed reviews: Foxcatcher and Homesman and sadly, not many seemed to like Wild.  An oft repeated joke was “I wasn’t wild about Wild”,  I found the panels, free to attend and outdoors in the park, one of the highlights.  Packed with talent and star-power, it was a gathering of people that you’d never see together at any other event: national and international directors and stars chatting away about their influences and inspirations!  Ethan Hawke was so impressed with the array of talent on the panel he sat on, that he could barely talk about his film–he kept saying how overwhelmed he was! 2014-08-30 12.36.09 2014-08-31 12.45.18 2014-08-31 12.45.35 2014-08-31 12.45.58

The program was not just remarkable, it was also unusual in it’s presentation.  Key films with expected audience-draw (and often star-studded) played in the larger venues but the additional screenings of each film were driven by attendance.  A surprise hit like Wild Tales (a darkly-comic film of six stories from Argentina) was moved from a small venue to a larger one and even replaced Birdman, which has more star power!  Additional screenings were added on the last day of the festival — left deliberately open for To Be Announced Screenings — that were driven by how packed the first screenings.were and how many people had to be turned away.  Saturday, two films had repeat screenings in the packed slate of films, Sunday, there were 10 films with repeated screenings and Monday was almost entirely, repeated screenings of some of the most well-attended films…

Telluride is not an easy place to travel to.  There’s a tiny airport with expensive flights, nearby towns are still a mountain-drive away and festival passes sell out quickly.  This keeps attendance to a manageable size and provides a certain cache to the festival.  Press have to buy passes to attend and paparazzi are discouraged.  Jon Stewart felt comfortable walking around town talking to visitors.  Screenings are packed with filmmakers such as Ken Burns, Mike Leigh and Francis Ford Coppola and you may find yourself sitting next to Leonard Maltin or Werner Herzog!  Staff return to favorite positions year after year and form a team of volunteers that are fiercely proud of the festival and protective of it’s reputation as a world-class event.  Telluride Film Festival is an amazing event in an amazing place made possible by the generous patronage of some well-heeled cultural icons and the dedication of a hard-working crew of hundreds.The Show--TFF41