Based on a true story–Films at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

43 films screened over 4 days for the 45th Telluride Film Festival. 10 of those 43 were excellent documentaries, but another 12 were films based on true stories. The most Hollywood of these, First Man is the star-spangled story of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by the talented Damien Chazelle (La La Land). It was very well-received. Trail by Fire, directed by Ed Zwick  and driven by amazing performances by Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, was absolutely riveting. I’m so glad I saw it before it starts being dismissively described as the anti-death-penalty film. It deserves a wide audience.

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, directed and shot most of his autobiographical film, Roma. Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as “writing his personal story with a camera”, which seems quite apt. It’s a lovely black & white period piece revealing an upper-middle class family’s daily struggles through the eyes of their caring maid. Each scene is populated with so many details of their lives — we get to visit a turbulent time in Mexico City and in this young woman’s life. There’s so much drama and tension that the 2 1/2 hours flies by. I’m thankful that it’s a Netflix film and I’ll be able to watch it again.

Standing in the rain for an hour sharing an umbrella with a stranger was worth it to see The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery). It was a treat to see Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in person. They have delightful chemistry in this sweet film about a bank robber and escape artist who can’t retire from the thrill of the chase. Redford stated that this is indeed his last acting role, though he’ll still produce and maybe direct. That gave the film a lovely sentimental feel as there are photos of a younger Redford used to illustrate his character’s past. Casey Affleck is particularly good as the detective trying to catch the bank robbers who develops a rapport with the gentleman criminal.

If you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll to get a kick out of The Favourite. Queen Anne rules the 18th Century English Court but it’s her consort who’s making the real decisions. Played with petulance, emotional neediness and disdain, Olivia Colman is a powerful and fickle Queen. Vying for a place in her bed and in her court are the penniless lady, Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin to the powerful Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Great roles for three powerful performers and I enjoyed the wicked banter and court intrigue. There are many extended close-ups of Olivia Colman’s face and it’s amazing to watch the emotional storms sinking her sanity. I could’ve done without the showy camera flourishes as it took me out of the story but the costumes (Sandy Powell) are sumptuous.

My final film of the festival was Boy Erased. This family drama is based on Garrard Conley‘s memoir brought to the screen by another multi-hyphenate talent, Joel Edgerton. He directs the screenplay he wrote; he also has a starring role as the director of a religious gay conversion center.  Lucas Hedges, portraying another damaged young man (Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) gives another emotionally revealing performance. When he’s forcibly outed at college after a traumatic incident, his Baptist preacher father (a solid Russell Crowe) convinces his mother (Nicole Kidman) to admit him to the conversion center. The loving relationship between mother and son is sorely tested when she learns what’s happening as staff try to sublimate the sexual urges of the clients. It’s an emotional journey with another great Nicole Kidman performance as she reconciles her love for her son with her love and duty as a Baptist wife. I’m looking forward to seeing The Miseducation of Cameron Post for the female viewpoint (directed by Desiree Akhavan) on conversion therapy set in an earlier time but still dealing with this shameful practice.

More Telluride reviews coming soon…

“Corbin Dallas Multipass”

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Still looks amazing at 20!

A throwback film that feels FRESH and a current film that is full of references to the past but already feels STALE!

Today there’s a good chance you can catch a screening of The Fifth Element at your local cineplex. Fathom Events is releasing the film May 14th and 17th as the studio is getting out the press for the next Luc Besson film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

This has been a favorite film of mine for many years and I wasn’t worried that the special effects would look cheesy…I’ve seen it many times since that first awesome experience at the movie theater. I still found the story engaging, the cityscapes and costumes (Jean Paul Gautier!) fantastic and found myself on the edge of my seat at the ending with a tear in my eye. It was so fun to hear the crowd cheer at the end of the film and hear the exiting crowd exclaim at how well the movie still holds up.

In comparison, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 is a far weaker film. Yes, there are some wonderful set pieces and a few emotionally-resonant moments between the characters, but what was with that convoluted origin story? Wow, was I bored with the 70’s-themed side trip down memory lane, and any time the film stopped at Planet Ego, the story stalled. It made a gazillion dollars on Opening Weekend and will continue to gross the big bucks, but amid the flash and throwback tunes and the snappy dialogue, where was the story? Why did we care about the gold-dipped aliens and their plan for vengeance?

It felt as if they built all these cool sets and created all this cool SGI, and then added story elements to use them. How many scenes of battle till you create battle fatigue in your audience? The best moments on Guardians, were short scenes away from the action with our central characters…too brief to sustain any goodwill toward the overblown film.

Go see The Fifth Element instead. You’ll be glad you did.

Drinks Rating

Fifth Element: 4 cups of bad coffee (Corbin Dallas can’t get the coffee pot to work) out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2:  2 kiddie cups of bright-colored Kool-aid, a sugar rush but a let-down, out of 5