Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Business of Strangers

Two women, one older and recently made a CEO, the other younger and full of spitfire, spend an eventful evening at a hotel while dealing with a layover at the airport. This was getting billed as an In the Company of Men “but for women!” Whatever.... It’s nicely shot (by the same D.P. as in Scotland, PA, (see below), and is interesting as both a character study and a piece on what it means to be a woman in a man’s world, but it never quite breaks out of feeling like a chamber piece.

The Endurance

Highly acclaimed documentary about the Shackleton expedition. Not to be confused with the recently released silent-film footage, South, that just screened at DIFF and IFS. This is a more thorough look that splices actual footage along with re-enactments and shots of the vistas that plagued the crew. Soon to be a mini-series and, frankly, it’s somewhat stunning to think that Hollywood hasn’t bastardized the story yet.

Home Movie

Another hour-long documentary. This one the latest from the makers of American Movie. The subject this time around hinges on five different eccentrics and their homes: An alligator wrangler and his make-shift house boat. A couple that has made a home out of a missile silo. An old lady that lives in a beautiful tree house in a remote valley in Hawaii. A couple that has turned the house into a full-out cat habitat (and as a cat owner I had to scratch my head and ask “what’s so strange about that?”). And then there’s the guy who’s waaaaay into gizmos — so much so that his house is like a space ship with rotating floors, motorized chairs, and sliding panels pretty much everywhere you go. Anyway, if I could I’d love to couple this doc along with The Natural History of the Chicken — both fit the same mold and have similar appeal.

Lift

This big-city drama looks at a black woman’s experiences dealing with her difficult mother, impending motherhood, and a career of five-finger discounts at the department store where she works. She gets in with the wrong crowd and plans a big score... but things go wrong. This is passable entertainment with a promising life on cable, but it doesn’t do anything new to merit the big-screen experience.

L.I.E.

The title stands for Long Island Expressway — an area that anchors a wide variety of denizens. Mainly there’s a teenage kid who can’t get over the death of his mom. But the secondary character ends up being a surprisingly sympathetic pedophile played, with great nuance and depth, by Brian Cox. Nothing ever gets too out-of-hand, but stuff bordering on the taboo gets skirted enough times to make the less hardy viewer cringe.

The Natural History of the Chicken

A fun and wholesome, one-hour long documentary that the whole family can enjoy, from Mark Lewis, the creator of Cane Toads. This time around the filmmaker decides to focus on chickens... or is it people and their chickens? One chapter has an old lady gamely re-enacting the story of how she brought one of her frozen pet chickens back to life by applying mouth-to-beak resuscitation. There are several other chapters, equally entertaining (including one about Colorado’s very own, Mike, the Headless Chicken). This is fun stuff that will make viewers switch over to free range eggs, if they haven’t already.

Nobody’s Baby

This film was aiming for the barn-wall of quirky comedies along the vein of Raising Arizona, and instead blows a watermelon-sized hole in its own feet. The only reason to see this is for Gary Oldman’s eye-raising transformation into a white-trash, no class, con man. Otherwise, ineptitude reigned both in front and behind the camera (the boom mike pops into screen twice despite proper framing). It’s a mystery to me how such a crass feature with obvious commercial appeal but little artistic merit got into Sundance, but it does serve to illustrate the difference between this festival and Telluride (which is much more selective).

Scotland PA

Another dark comedy, but this one loosely (very loosely) based on Macbeth and taking place in the ‘70’s. It takes a while to warm up, but I actually ended up enjoying it. Of course, it stars Christopher Walken, and I would pay money to watch him play with a microwave — so I’m admittedly very biased. This reminds me that I ran into the D.P. of The Tao of Steve just a few days before watching this film, and he’d recently also shot The Opportunists, which featured Christopher Walken. During that film I guess the continuity editor tried to tell Christopoher that his pose was not matching the previous pose, and Christopher lost it and went off on some diatribe about how “Repetition is the death of cinema! If I never repeat the same shot again it is too soon!” And so on... Sigh. My hero.

Wendigo

This is the latest film from Larry Fessenden, who brought us Habit a few years ago. Whereas Habit was a refreshingly realistic take on vampirism, Wendigo tackles an altogether new mythological creature — a force of nature that takes on the shape of a deer-like creature. Shot on super 16 and blown up to 35, the film itself looked great (I actually thought it was shot on 35). Like Habit, the story had a very relaxed pace that allowed the actors room to make everything seem believable, and was subtle enough that an argument could be made for the fantastic elements to be inside people’s heads rather than really “out there.” C.U. Film Studies alumni Dayton Taylor makes an obvious contribution with one of the special effects scenes that provides a frozen-moment panorama, something people are starting to see more often now that The Matrix has made it popular.