It has been a long time between drinks here at Funerals & Snakes but that doesn’t mean that I have been idle. I continue to write and broadcast for RNZ (filling in for At the Movies on RNZ National and writing for the Widescreen channel on the website) and since the beginning of 2019 have tried to post at least a couple of reviews a week.
My deal with RNZ means I can’t repost that work here but there is no reason why I can’t start running summaries and highlights for my many ‘fans’. I’ll probably try and restart the newsletter, too, although what form that might take is still to be decided.
Rancho Notorious will be back in some form in 2020, too.
There has been much discussion in the circles in which I move about the quantity of films released to local cinemas. Not only are there too many films coming out every week – too many for each one to generate much heat at any rate – but the ones that are coming out aren’t always the right ones. Smaller distributors are pushing everything they have into the system regardless of their potential and some of the majors – with bigger marketing budgets and overheads to worry about – are ditching their arthouse and mid-range titles and pushing them straight to home video.
[pullquote]Who says Americans can’t do Shakespeare? Nonsense.[/pullquote]At the same time, multiplex screens are full of big budget commercial gambles, with box office estimates based on local history and the hope that Twilight-like lightning might strike twice. See which ones in the list below fit into which category. (Clue: if your film has no hi-res English language poster available online and your only official website is in Japanese, maybe you can’t really support it in NZ cinemas.)
Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen goes behind the scenes of Louis XVI and – more specifically – Marie Antoinette’s court during the dark days of the revolution as the régime tottered and fell. We see these events from the point of view of Her Majesty’s book reader, a young servant played by Léa Seydoux. Initially besotted by the Queen (Diane Kruger), her faith is shaken by the revelations of corruption, waste and – intriguingly – Antoinette’s relationship with the duchesse de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).
It’s now Saturday morning in NYC and Telluride already seems like old news. Venice has just announced its prizewinners (The Master obv. – or not so obv.) and Toronto is in full flow. Still, I have one more day of my Telluride Film Festival experience to record and I’d better get it down before I forget.
The Monday of Telluride is a catch-up day. Most of the celebrities and honourees have departed and a lot of the programme is announced the night before, extra screenings of popular titles (or at least the films that most people were turned away from. This is an excellent plan and I was able to fill in quite a few of my gaps (though not all).
Telluride Volunteer Fire Station.
The first screening was the Q&A session for Sarah Polley’s new documentary Stories We Tell, a film that had generated quite a bit of buzz over the weekend. Polley – with gorgeous six-month-old daughter in harness – briefly introduced a film that at first intrigues, then surprises and finally delights. She has done a marvellous job of making what might have been an indulgent piece about her own personal dramas into something universal. I sincerely hope this gets a decent New Zealand release so I can review it at more length but I’m also going to hold back the details of the story so readers without access to Google might come to it as unsullied by spoilers as possible.
Saturday dawned early and I was grateful that the first screening of the morning was at the Chuck Jones’ in Mountain Village, barely a fifteen minute shuttle from my accommodation. Time to grab a coffee and then wait in line for an 8.30am repeat of the Roger Corman Tribute from the night before. This time the host and interrogator would be Leonard Maltin (familiar to all New Zealanders of a certain age, I think) instead of Todd McCarthy.
A fairly representative picture of Mountain Village architecture.
Before Mr Corman was invited on stage, we got to see an excellent documentary on his life and work, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. After that, Corman entered the stage to a standing ovation and we were treated to insights and stories from an exceedingly well-educated and thoughtful entrepreneur and artist for almost an hour. The surprise for me was hearing about Corman’s liberal politics and how he might have steered his filmmaking in that direction if it hadn’t been for the commercial failure of The Intruder (1962, starring William Shatner as a white supremacist).
The past 12 months have offered us two Westerns that are as good as any of the last 30 years: The Assassination of Jesse James and James Mangold’s homage to the classic 3:10 to Yuma which opened in Wellington last week.
Yuma is a story (by Elmore Leonard) with great bones: poor, honest, rancher Christian Bale is suffering because of the drought and for $200 takes on the desperate task of escorting captured outlaw Russell Crowe to Contention City, where he will catch the eponymous train to the gallows.
But Crowe’s gang are on the way to liberate him and Bale’s support is dwindling to nothing. The tension rises as the clock ticks towards three o’clock.