Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I promise: only one more day of non-mp3-related postings. It's time for me to get all NPR on your ass as I offer my opinionated takes on the more noteworthy films I just saw at the 33rd Annual Telluride Film Festival:

Day Night Day Night (2006) An intensely focused young woman of indeterminate geography prepares--with highly ritualized precision--for a mysterious task, the purpose of which only becomes clear in the story's final act. Director Julia Loktev's skills as a video installation artist and documentary filmmaker serve to heighten the mystery and tension of her polarizing first feature film. Winner of the Prix Regards Jeune (Directors' Fortnight) at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

Babel (2006) From the team who brought us Amores Perros (screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu), this wide-reaching story revolves around a random, almost accidental, act of bloodshed, connecting three disparate lives in Tokyo, Morroco and Mexico. A sprawling meditation on prejudice, communication and loneliness.

Severance (2006) All the conventions of slasher films are dutifully enacted and toyed with, as a UK office of employees embark on a weekend retreat of “team-building" excercises, getting picked off one by one by an unseen predator in an onslaught of pitch black humor. Director Christopher Smith's comedic gore-fest will have you hiding your eyes while howling with laughter.

Little Children (2006) Two emotionally and sexually frustrated spouses embark on a secret affair, with harrowing results. The long-awaited follow-up to Todd Field's acclaimed debut In The Bedroom.

Ten Canoes (2005) Longtime Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer weaves Aboriginie folk tales and magical realism in his 11th feature film (winner of a special jury prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival), the first shot entirely (save for the narration) in an Aboriginal language.

Playtime (1967) This densley-packed comedy from Jacques Tati reveals fresh insights with every screening, but especially the two times I've been lucky enough to catch a rare 70mm print. While much is made of the film's pointed commentary on the encroachment of soulless modernism, I have always found the final thirty minutes or so (about the time the Royal Garden restaurant descends into gleeful anarchy, showing how humanity can overcome stilted physical barriers) to be some of the most uplifting storytelling in cinematic history.

Civic Life (2004) Filmmakers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor allow their camera to gently swoop in, around and above the tableaus they arrange within various middle-class neighborhoods in the UK, reacting to and commenting on the suburban space surrounding the non-actors placed amongst the well-rehearsed chaos.

Remorques (1941) A rugged tugboat captain is forced to face the consequences after neglecting his long-suffering wife while finding himself falling for another woman. Stars the always-wonderful Jean Gabin, among many others.

The Lives Of Others (2005) Quite possibly the only film every audience enjoyed unanimously, screenwriter/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's feature debut explores the effects of East Germany's sinister Stasi brigade as they conduct secret surveillance on citizens while struggling against a smothering totalitarianism.

Time didn't permit me to see The Page Turner (2006), Passio (2006), Dodsworth (1936) and The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (1987). Instead, I wasted my time watching Infamous (2006), which tells roughly the same story as last year's excellent Capote, but relies more on making the diminutive author the butt of one obvious joke as he minces and sashays amongst the Kansas townspeople for the first third of the story. I felt as if I'd walked into an episode of the unbearable Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. While the 2005 film emphasized the somber, empty landscapes of the plains--mirroring the somber empty landscape of a killer (or a heartless conniving writer)--this forthcoming feature concerns itself more with getting laughs from Capote's kitschy bitch-queen theatrics. The most disappointing film I've ever seen at Telluride by far.

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