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Author: J. Don Birnam

TIFF Film Review: LOVING

Great American stories of triumph over adversity, of rising above circumstances, beg to be made into sprawling epics. But too often filmmakers give into temptation and turn bombastic even the mundane, overblowing the ordinary into Hollywood-style spectacle for the benefit of ticket sales or award nominations. Made amid this cacophony, the crowning achievement of Loving is its steadfast refusal to thread into extravagance or to resort to stately speeches and grand pronunciations to capture its audience. Loving, released at Cannes and caught by us at TIFF this week, is instead a modest movie about quiet suffering and determined resistance, about...

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43rd TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL Introduces Oscar Hopefuls

Over Labor Day weekend we had the chance to attend the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival, staged in the idyllic Colorado mountains. Here is a bit of what we observed and learned about this year’s films and awards season (you can find some of my reviews elsewhere on the page). On opening night the biggest surprise was the world premiere of Clint Eastwood’s Sully. The film was produced by one of Telluride’s favorite sons, Frank Marshall, leading many to speculate that it had been selected for that reason alone. Having seen the film I have to agree—it is neither...

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Telluride Film Festival Review: SULLY

When two lions of 1990s filmmaking team up you can expect solid popcorn entertainment. In Sully, Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood deliver that and then some, proving again they are masters at their game. But the film is nevertheless a straightforward paint-by-numbers exercise, with clearly defined heroes and villains, both peppered on top of straight-forward exposition, climax, and resolution. And like many of its type, the protagonists’ motivations in Sully are not always clear. They are instead cast aside for the sake of story-telling. But, hey, at least it’s good story-telling. You know the main contours of the plot:...

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Telluride Film Review: LA LA LAND

Girl meets boy, girl stalks boy, and they live happily ever after. Or something like that. The upcoming musical La La Land is not the archetypical romantic story, but it nonetheless harkens and pays tribute to the Hollywood of old at every turn. Suffused with nostalgia, you will be dazzled, you will be enamored, and you may even be moved to tears. You may also be left wondering if the entire point of the movie was simply to have one big argument with itself. The film is directed flawlessly by Damien Chazelle, who directed indie-hit Whiplash. With an ebullient...

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Telluride Film Review: ARRIVAL

It is an oxymoron to say that sci-fi is the future of film; Aliens have landed on Earth for as long as the silver screen has existed. What Hollywood execs do hope, and what devoted fans of the seventh art desperately need, is sophisticated space movies to legitimize the next chapter of film history, to save the species, mostly from itself. Denis Villeneuve’s new analytical thriller Arrival is a viable contender to set us in the right direction. (The following review does not spoil the crucial plot twists and points of the film, but it does discuss the general...

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