More reactions have come in from the Venice Film Festival, and starting with Philomena, the consensus seems to be that director Stephen Frears (of countless good movies over the years, including Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Pretty Things and The Queen) is back in form with the heartwarming story of an old woman who teams up with a journalist to find her long lost son. Judi Dench delivers a knockout performance (of course) and is likely to get her seventh Oscar nomination, while Steve Coogan charms with a script he co-wrote. The crowdpleaser is slated for limited release by the Weinstein Co. on Christmas Day, but set to expand nationwide in early January. I'd watch out for this one, because the Oscars have a long history of embracing feelgood, funny, yet emotional movies that will make you laugh and cry, and this seems to fit that slot this year.
"Coogan and Pope's script tenderizes you with keenly judged comic asides before landing its big, emotional body-blows...This is a heartbreaking story- how could it not be? But Frears' film breaks your heart and then repairs it." (Daily Telegraph)
"Frears gives the story a slick makeover, blending melodrama and comedy with brisk professionalism and a hearty helping of schmaltz. But Dench and Coogan sell it well." (The Atlantic)
"Its main focus is the sparky, shifting relationship between its two protagonists and its trump card the startling chemistry between its two main stars. 'Philomena' is an ongoing, confounding delight of a film." (The Guardian)
Meanwhile, Under the Skin debuted to very divisive reaction (half the audience booed) but early reviews indicate rapturous reception from some critics at least. Jonathan Glazer has been polarizing before (his last film was 2004's creepy Birth), but this one is drawing comparisons to the surreal images of artists like David Lynch. Starring Scarlett Johansson, it's based on the novel by Michael Faber, where an alien in the body of a woman comes to Scotland to hunt men for dark purposes. Oscar seems unlikely to go for this, given the weirdness of it, but I'm sure curious.
"Glazer's astonishing film takes you to a place where the every day becomes suddenly strange, and fear and seduction become one and the same. You stare at the screen, at once entranced and terrified, and step forward into the slick." (Telegraph)
"It's an intoxicating marvel, strange and sublime: it combines sci-fi ideas, unusual special effects, and a sharp atmosphere of horror with the everyday mundanity of a woman driving about rainy Scotland in a battered transit van." (Time Out)
Finally, the arrival of The Wind Rises came with some sad news for fans of the great Hayao Miyazaki, who announced his retirement practically concurrent with the film's premiere. His last feature seems to have received respectful but fairly muted reaction so far, so we'll have to wait until further screenings have occurred to get a handle on the response. Still, there are some admirable notices of this first Miyazaki film set in the real world (in this case, pre-WWII Japan) which dramatizes, in partly fictionalized fashion, the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed the A6M Zero, one of the deadly fighter planes used in the second World War. Unfortunately, the film's subtitled release will only be seen in NY and LA this December, while Disney re-dubs the film for wider release some time next year.
"There are visual flights of fancy here as glorious as anything Miyazaki's studio has created, but the story is rooted in a country trudging towards its own destruction...the real love story here is between a creator and his creations, which Ghibli's team of animators render in head-spinning detail." (Telegraph)
"The ambitious 'The Wind Rises' is something of a special case that will divide audiences into two camps, those who find it an unforgettably beautiful and poetic ode to life, and those who tune out to its slow moving second act, which can wear down the patience of even the well-disposed." (Hollywood Reporter)