Over the River and Through the Woods…Is It Worth the Trip?

Would you make the drive to Montrose (an hour and 15 min on mountain roads) on Christmas Day to see a movie? What if you didn’t have a way to pre-purchase tickets and you knew there was a good chance your film was going to sell out? What if there was snow in the forecast? If you’re crazy about the movies like I am…the answer is YES!

Arriving 30 minutes prior to show time, the line snakes out the door at the San Juan movie theater. There are two small theaters in Montrose, Colorado. The Fox Cinema has three screens and was playing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, and Spies in Disguise (an animated film voiced by Will Smith & Tom Holland). The San Juan Cinema was screening Jumanji: The Next Level and Little Women. As I approached the 20-deep line full of families and older couples, I heard a Mom say, “I can’t believe it’s sold out! And so is Star Wars!” My heart sank. Was it MY screening that was Sold Out? No, it was Jumanji. Turns out, if you only have two screening times on Christmas, both in the evening, there’s a good chance that you’re going to disappoint some people.

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters

On the plus side, even some of the families with kids decided to forgo Jumanji to see Little Women. Good choice. Skip the sequel and see the film that may very well become the new Classic. THIS Little Women will now be the definitive version of the Louisa May Alcott novel. Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), referred back to an older version of the novel to create the two plot streams following the sisters from adults back to their impoverished but loving upbringing as young girls. Shooting the childhood scenes in golden tones with the talented young actresses in long tresses and colorful dresses, then cooler tones and more muted costume choices for the young women helps the audience navigate the time shifts. Already a feminist manifesto, subtle changes to the dialogue have allowed Greta Gerwig to align the film to reflect what Alcott could not change in her time. As Jo March (the luminous Saoirse Ronan) is told by her editor (played by Tracy Letts), “if you write anything with a young woman, have her married by the end…or dead” and “If insist on ending your delightful novel with a spinster, it will never sell”. There wasn’t an audience for entertainment that featured single successful women.

Little Women begs for multiple viewings. I love this discussion of one scene, “Notes on a Scene” by Vanity Fair. The scenes are staged with overlapping dialogue as the girls act like typical siblings. They roll about on the floor, squabble and act like tomboys; racing around each other with the camera following to capture every poignant moment. The casting is brilliant. Laura Dern as Marmee, the mother of this brood of very different young ladies, is warm and wise but the camera follows her to show her sadness and anger that she hides from her girls. Meryl Streep is the perfect fussy older Aunt, lording her influence over the family but also trying in her way to bring financial stability to a family of women who keep falling in love with impoverished men.

The casting of Timothee Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan as Laurie and Jo is perfect as they already have such a comfort level with each other from their previous film (Lady Bird) and they’re both well-suited to their roles. All the Marsh women are well-cast. It’s great to see Emma Watson as the sister who marries for love. She gives Meg’s journey from giddy debutante to mother and wife an honesty and believability. Florence Pugh as the spoiled outspoken Amy is a standout as she realizes that her beauty is her only true talent but knows she must utilize it to land a wealthy husband. I hope this film introduces her to audiences who don’t know her other outstanding work (Midsommar, Lady Macbeth). It was also wonderful to see Chris Cooper in a wonderful role as Mr Laurence.

I’m not the only one swooning over this film. NYTimes’ AO Scott gave it a rave review and there’s a great critical look at Gerwig’s adaption that I love by Alissa Wilkinson of Vox. One of my favorite exchanges in the film is between Amy (Pugh) and Jo (Ronan) and reflects a continuing struggle today to get men to value stories that feature women. Jo is trivializing her little stories of “domestic struggles and triumphs” saying that writing about it doesn’t elevate it.

“Writing doesn’t confer importance,” Jo says. “It reflects it.”

But Amy disagrees. “Writing things,” she says, “is what makes them important.”

I would say that is the same with regards to filming that story. So bring your whole family, and especially the men folk. This is not just a story of domestic struggles. This is a great family film about finding and trusting your voice…and telling your story.

Drinks With Films rating: 5 glasses of Civil War Era wine (out of 5)

Festival buzz–Telluride

Destroyer/Can You Ever Forgive Me conversation

Director Marielle Heller, Melissa McCarthy –“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Nicole Kidman, Director Karyn Kusama –“Destroyer”

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache

Director Pamela E Green, “Be Natural”

Robert Redford, Director David Lowery, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck,  writer David Grann

Writer David Grann, Director Ed Zwick, subject Liz Gilbert, Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell

Patima Tungpuchayakul, Tun Lin, Jeffrey Waldron, Shannon Service, “Ghost Fleet”

The wonderful thing about film festivals is the discoveries…the films you haven’t heard anything about and filmmakers that can share their stories in person. Kicking off the fall festival season, most of us can’t afford to travel to Venice and Toronto Film Festival can be overwhelming. Telluride is a trek — but you don’t need your passport! Here in this tiny mountain town, film lovers begin to build the award season buzz.

It’s challenging to try to see as many films as you want, often you’re too far back in line or there’s a limited amount of seats. That builds an excitement over which films to try to see and everyone seems to have a strategy. As you stand in line with filmmakers, film fans and festival lovers, the one question asked is “What’s been your favorite film?” This year at Telluride, the buzz was for First Man, Can You Ever Forgive Me and Roma. The smaller films that were getting high praise were Shoplifters, Cold War and Girl.

There was talk of this being Nicole Kidman’s year. She has two disparate roles; as the Baptist wife with tall blond hair and lacquered nails in Boy Erased and unrecognizable as the drab damaged detective in the dark L.A. noir, Destroyer. Melissa McCarthy was also almost unrecognizable in person; til she smiled. She’s lost a lot of weight and was a charming guest which made her performance as the hard-drinking forgery artist all the more impressive. The New Yorker writer David Grann was in many conversations as two films, The Old Man & The Gun  and Trail by Fire were based on his articles. The many conversations and interviews, in the park and after the film screenings, add to our enjoyment of the films by revealing layers of meaning and interesting anecdotes shared by the filmmakers.

Two documentaries that I had the pleasure of seeing made my top 10 list. Ghost Fleet, about slave labor in the international seafood industry, stars the heroic Patima Tungpuchayakul. She started a human rights organization to protect children in Thailand from forced labor but she and her husband have spent the last few years traveling to sea in the attempt to free the captives on commercial fishing boats. Many never leave the ships and die at sea but thousands have been rescued and returned home.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache is a fascinating documentary with inventive effects and title sequences that move the story at break-neck speed. Director Pamela E. Green has been researching the first woman filmmaker for more than 10 years and her film uncovers amazing details and reconnects many of her contemporary ancestors. A must-see for anyone interested in this forgotten trail blazer of cinema. Alice Guy-Blache directed thousands of films in France and the United States and even ran her own movie studio. Be Natural is a resounding call to rewrite our history to restore Alice Guy-Blache to her rightful place as the first woman filmmaker.

What films made your Top 10 at Telluride? What films will build audience anticipation as the Fall Festival Season continues…we shall see.

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…