TELLURIDE: ‘Never Let Me Go,’ ‘Tabloid’

Posted by · 1:16 am · September 4th, 2010

On the first day of this year’s fest, things are off to an interesting, up and down start. I would bore you with an intro, but it’s late and I’m fading. Let’s get to the reactions…

“Never Let Me Go” (**)

I went back and read Guy’s summation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel “Never Let Me Go” after seeing the film tonight (I’ve never read it and knew nothing of the story’s plot going in). He wrote of a “discussion of mortality and the human condition” in an emotional context that, for a filmmaker like Mark Romanek (who knows from visual emotional storytelling — just look at the video for Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”), seemed a perfect marriage of material and artist.

Shockingly, however, Romanek’s adaptation kept me at arm’s length from frame one. There is a distance here, a cold sense of removal from what would otherwise be an extremely moving narrative. I wanted desperately to feel for the characters and their plight (I won’t hazard particulars for fear of spoilers). But I felt nothing…at all. I wanted them to rage against their circumstances and show an ounce of the spirit they in one instance even set out to prove they have, but there was, again, nothing.

Perhaps that’s a subtle point of the piece.  If so, I just can’t say it works for me. In his feature work, Romanek seems to have David Fincher’s tendency toward coolly registered emotional tones. And it does him no favors here. Of the cast, I was most responsive to Carey Mulligan’s nearly catatonic state of inward consideration and turmoil, but Keira Knightley gets plenty of time to shine, while Andrew Garfield develops a unique character that nevertheless remained elusive when a sense of connection was sorely needed.

Rachel Portman’s gorgeous score, by the way (perhaps the film’s best bet on the Oscar circuit), plays to an emotional level that’s not there until it’s too late, while Adam Kimmel’s camera lingers on the characters observationally and, at times, quite beautifully. But I was left entirely unaffected by the mixture.

“Tabloid” (***1/2)

It’s a great year for documentaries at this year’s fest and Errol Morris’s latest is right at the top. “Tabloid” tells the twisted story of beauty/tabloid queen Joyce McKinney who, in 1977, was accused of kidnapping her one-time Mormon sweetheart, Kirk Anderson, sequestering him in a cottage in rural England, tying him to a bed and “raping” him for days. The case set UK tabloids alight and was dubbed “The Mormon sex in chains case.”

It sounds too sensational to believe, but it is, every bit of it, absolutely true. And McKinney makes for as fascinating a subject as Morris has ever documented, a deranged, somewhat monstrous woman who you find yourself loathing and pitying with equal measure. And just when the story seems to have been fully unveiled, Morris takes us in a completely different direction in a “wait, it gets better” sort of denouement.

It’s masterful work with Morris’s trademark sense of humor splattered all over it. The filmmaker, as always, chimes in at just the right times for clarification or further questioning. He’s clearly as dumbfounded as we are every step of the way, but he maintains a commendable sense of respect for his subject, even when he’s clearly having a laugh with this cutaway or that graphic. This is one of his best films in years (and the second Telluride debut of his career).

That’s it until tomorrow, which will bring one of the festival’s “secret” sneak peeks: Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours.” Boyle will be here along with James Franco and, a real treat, Aron Ralston himself.

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79 responses so far

  • 1 9-04-2010 at 11:07 am

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Hooray! I wonder how many films Weir has left in him.

  • 2 9-04-2010 at 11:43 am

    Nick Davis said...

    I don’t understand why Mr. Gittes’ perfectly credible observation needed to be slapped down as a “dumb comment,” even conceding your reasoning, Kris. The potential exclusion of the Weir film from the 2010 release schedule is obviously as much an awards season “story” as is an instantaneous reaction to Never Let Me Go, which is about to open anyway. The fact that so many of us looked for Way Back reviews this morning and couldn’t find any is proof that anyone who’d had the gumption to favor the Weir on opening night – an artistically justifiable choice, and a way of making a point to the way the scheduling tide has turned against the film – would have had an eagerly waiting readership, and could have risen above the din of everyone’s inconclusive responses to the Romanek.

    Why not help shape the awards conversation in a different way, rather than automatically following a path that publicists and schedulers have mostly shaped on your behalf? Or at the very least, why the rude retort to your own readers? You admit your own version of Mr. Gittes’ line of thinking in your previous comment, but then immediately call his comment “dumb” for saying essentially the same thing?

  • 3 9-04-2010 at 11:50 am

    Nick Davis said...

    (I should clarify: it’s because I think IC does often go out of its way to shape parts of the awards-season convo as best you can, and because you’ve publicized the weird situation around The Way Back‘s scheduling and distribution so well, that it just seemed like a weird break in form to be so curt or flabbergasted.)

  • 4 9-04-2010 at 12:18 pm

    JJ said...

    I wonder if – 2010 release date aside – people just felt like seeing ‘Never Let Me Go’ rather than a ‘hard sit’ (however great it may be) in ‘The Way back’ on opening night.

    Or, I have no idea what I’m saying, cause I’m not there. Just kicking around ideas.

  • 5 9-04-2010 at 12:29 pm

    JJ said...

    make that 2011 release date

  • 6 9-04-2010 at 1:31 pm

    Duncan Houst said...

    Wow, I think this has been the most heated argument I’ve seen on this comment board for a while.

  • 7 9-04-2010 at 1:41 pm

    Hero said...

    Did you read the Black Swan trailer comments?

    Also, Kris has tweeted that The King’s Speech is excellent. I can’t wait for his full report!

  • 8 9-04-2010 at 2:03 pm

    JJ said...

    Ditto. The King’s Speech is a highly anticipated one for me.

  • 9 9-04-2010 at 2:11 pm

    Matt King said...

    So Never Let Me Go is this year’s Bright Star (a movie that Kris, who I respect him very much, similarly was left cold by, but moved me immensely)? I’m now even more excited. Though that also means it will be completely ignored during the awards season.

    I hope this doesn’t sound mean or rude or disrespectful or anything. I don’t think it will, but the internet changes things (like words).

  • 10 9-04-2010 at 2:30 pm

    Danielle said...

    Kris, what do you feel are its awards prospects now? Do you think Carey and/or Keira stand a chance at nominations?

  • 11 9-04-2010 at 2:32 pm

    an said...

    127 hours twitters buzz is extremely positive, i have only seen one mixed comment

  • 12 9-04-2010 at 3:35 pm

    MovieMan said...

    I would say Keira’s been in two good movies: “Love Actually” (which was only okay) and “Domino” (which is underrated).

    I hope that this film doesn’t turn out to be like “Atonement.”

  • 13 9-04-2010 at 3:45 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Pride & Prejudice is magnificent, and superior to both of those disgraces.

  • 14 9-04-2010 at 3:54 pm

    Matt King said...

    If it turned out to be like “Atonement” that’d be awesome.

  • 15 9-04-2010 at 4:16 pm

    James D. said...

    MovieMan, you have the strangest choice in movies I have ever seen.

  • 16 9-04-2010 at 5:16 pm

    MovieMan said...

    The Other James D.: I have not seen “Pride & Prejudice,” so I can’t comment. I’ve heard it’s fabulous, though. And I am definitely one of the biggest fans of “Domino” you’ll ever find. Loved it.

    Matt King: Not for me. I was left unmoved by “Atonement.”

    James D.: Well, thank you. Doesn’t matter whether that was compliment or not, because I’ve already taken it as one. :)

  • 17 9-05-2010 at 7:11 am

    dave said...

    I definitly see knightely and mulligan being nominated

  • 18 9-05-2010 at 7:41 am

    Ash said...

    “But I felt nothing…at all. I wanted them to rage against their circumstances and show an ounce of the spirit they in one instance even set out to prove they have, but there was, again, nothing.”

    That’s exactly why I hated the book. HATED.

  • 19 9-05-2010 at 8:01 am

    kel said...

    kris – will NLMG be this year’s ATONEMENT and slip in because it is a “weak” year?

  • 20 9-05-2010 at 8:03 am

    Hero said...

    You know, some of us like Atonement.


  • 21 9-05-2010 at 8:28 am

    The Other James D. said...

    As some of us should, Hero, considering it’s a superb film.

    Plus, Kel, that argument doesn’t hold any water whatsoever, given that 2007 is widely considered one of, if not the, strongest year of the past decade. (Note: Not by me. Hi there, 2008 & 2006!) While the acting categories were a hot tranny mess, the BP noms were very agreeable…with the exception of the exclusion of Once, of course.

  • 22 9-05-2010 at 8:29 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nick: It was “slapped down” because of the dubious thought process involved. I didn’t just “want to be in the conversation” as it pertains to NLMG. It simply was a priority because it was officially in the race this year, where as Weir’s film is not, as of yet. Simple. I don’t like having my intentions stated to me.

    And FYI, I never have and never will consider IC a place that “shapes the awards season.” That’s not my job.

  • 23 9-05-2010 at 10:01 am

    Nick Davis said...

    Well, okay. Apologies for being presumptuous, but given how many places you’ve now stated yourself that you wished you’d gone to the Weir instead, I was just surprised by the tone of the rebuke. Obviously your prerogative.

    I am interested, more neutrally, in the fact that you don’t see your site as helping to shape the awards convo. I don’t mean editorially playing favorites, and I understand that you don’t aspire to be preferential in your coverage. But in lots of ways, I think IC does shape conversations in its way: bringing attention to “tech” categories and artists that otherwise wouldn’t get it, tracking buzz, reminding folks of early-year work that deserves to be remembered… Even keeping a running tally of contenders, leading and otherwise, seems like a clear way to augment perceptions of who’s pulling ahead or falling behind, if we’re forced to think of this as a horse race. Isn’t it impossible to “cover” buzz without influencing or participating in what that buzz is? These all seem like ways of “shaping the conversation,” in a helpful way.

    Obviously your sense of where you and your site “fit” within awards season is more informed than what we imagine as your readers, but it seems like a lot of publicists, marketers, and voters take note of what IC has to say. I imagine that even now, having published such a glowing notice for “The Way Back” and publicly wishing a distributor would have gotten behind it (or could still get behind it), you see yourself as calling attention to work that deserves consideration. Not necessarily saying it deserves to win, but that it deserves a shot. But I’m just a reader and don’t know. Is that not actually how it works? Should I not imagine that there’s an edge of advocacy behind what you do? I’m asking because I’m truly interested.

  • 24 9-06-2010 at 12:44 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That regret has drifted in as the days have gone by, really. Not something that was there immediately. I have a responsibility is all. Gittes knows I wasn’t trying to be arbitrarily dismissive (at least I hope he does).

    As for the rest, I appreciate that there are those who may think we shape the race here. I’ve always been ambivalent of it because once you make yourself aware of that, it becomes tricky. I know when a film needs a boost and I’ll do my part, I suppose, but I don’t want to put too much on that because ultimately I just want to call things as I see it, be it film reactions, award predictions or whatever.

    And that list of contenders may augment perception, but I can only speak to its intention: to reflect how I think the race COULD go at every turn.

    It’s a back and forth, truly. I don’t want to come off like I’m trying to be pure. Inherent in passion for films is a sense of advocacy, so sure, we call attention to things and I imagine publicity takes note (and takes note of how it might manipulate our coverage as well).

    You don’t have a skewed perception on things, though. I get what you’re saying. I’m only trying to state my intent, and actively, that is nothing more than forecasting and reacting. The rest is a byproduct, and yes, I recognize it.

  • 25 9-06-2010 at 8:44 am

    Holden said...

    Never Let Me Go must actually be pretty good. I saw the trailer, and I nearly cried at how laughable it all looked. Nothing stuck out for me, but maybe it will be all right.

  • 26 9-06-2010 at 9:08 am

    Ryan said...

    I just think its a shame that things(so far) arent faling into place for The Way Back. First…the programmers pit it against NLMG/Tabloid…next screenings its up against the world prem. of 127 Hours…then like Kris said a “massive” outdoor screening last night…and zero reactions so far. And here we are on the last day of the only festival that Weir’s bringing his film too and we’ve got what like 3 substantial reviews? And even with them being great reviews, there seems to be such little buzz happenin for the film. Sad and suprised cause i looked at this film as being THE ONE to see here.