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Telluride Update: Buyers Lining Up for Divisive 'Under the Skin,' Strong Debut 'Palo Alto' and Provocative 'Starred Up' (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Ryan Lattanzio | Thompson on Hollywood August 30, 2013 at 4:29PM

Reviews and acquisitions are heating up at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival, which kicked off yesterday. Three notable acquisitions titles debuted Thursday night of which I saw one, "Palo Alto," the impressive debut of young filmmaker Gia Coppola (Francis Ford's granddaughter, born six months after her father Gio's accidental death) which will also play Venice and Toronto. Yet another dark high school drama in "Kids" mode centered on a group of teens with a penchant for finding trouble, "Palo Alto" is adapted from a book of short stories by James Franco,
Starred Up
Starred Up


Michel Faber's 2000 science fiction novel "Under the Skin" follows an alien tasked with kidnapping earthlings and selling their bodies for consumption back home. Adapting the material into his first feature since 2004's "Birth," music video director Jonathan Glazer only borrows half that premise, following the extraterrestrial seductress (a virtually unrecognizable Scarlett Johansson) as she repeatedly nabs hapless male victims, but leaves her motives entirely offscreen. A totally wacky head-trip with midnight movie sensibilities and a daring avant garde spirit, Glazer's movie is ultimately too aimlessly weird to make its trippy narrative fully satisfying, but owes much to Johansson's intense commitment to a strangely erotic and unnerving performance unlike anything she has done before. 


Glazer has always been longer on atmosphere and uncanny moods than on narrative, but the fatal flaw of "Under the Skin" isn’t that not much happens; it's that what does happen isn't all that interesting. The world as seen through alien eyes, it turns out, looks much like the world as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic  ("Repulsion"), a paranoiac (Lodge Kerrigan's "Keane") or a sociopath (Cristi Puiu's "Aurora") -- which, if it's Glazer's point, is one he makes early and often, Johansson doing her best to convey varying degrees of blankness and incomprehension at her own actions and those of others.


Glazer may be the visionary behind "Under the Skin" cinematic highs, but it must be noted that this film lives and dies on Johansson's incredible turn. Johansson's dialogue is mostly limited to her pickup lines as she scours the city for new meat. Even though a majority of her scenes are silent the 28-year-old actress still finds a way to bring a distinct dramatic arc to her character. Johansson has shown signs before, but even her harshest critics will have to recognize she's clearly grown into a world class actress.

Also courting buyers at Telluride is David Mackenzie's provocative, heavy drama "Starred Up." Eugene Hernandez tweeted:

Buyers settling in for 1st Telluride screening of David Mackenzie's "Starred Up". Roadside, Sony, Searchlight in the house.
According to one viewer, the film is a sort of sequel to David Michod's 2010 Oscar-nominated Australian crime saga "Animal Kingdom." Mackenzie is no stranger to controversy, as his 2003 Tilda Swinton and Ewan McGregor starrer "Young Adam" got the NC-17. In "Starred Up," also starring Ben Mendelsohn of "Animal Kingdom," a troubled and violent teenager (Jack O'Connell) is transferred to adult prison where he finally meets his match in a man who also happens to be his father. Early reviews remain M.I.A. but here are a few notable tweets. One buyer was concerned about the film's possible NC-17-level cuss words.

Mark Cousins, director of "The Story of Film: An Odyssey":

Feel like 's new film Starred Up grabbed me by the throat tonight. spikey and beautiful.

This article is related to: Telluride Film Festival, Palo Alto, Gia Coppola, Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Mendelsohn, David Mackenzie, Starred Up , Festivals, Reviews, News

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.