Film and TV

Denver Film Festival's Halloween Debut (and The Favourite) a Treat, Not a Trick

Denver Post veteran Dylan Owens was easily the best-dressed person at the 2018 Denver Film Festival's opening night.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Denver Post veteran Dylan Owens was easily the best-dressed person at the 2018 Denver Film Festival's opening night.
The excitement over the massive program for the 41st annual Denver Film Festival was tempered by a largely unspoken concern over opening the twelve-day movie feast on Halloween.

It's a day when most people don't go to movies — and those thinking about doing so this year were probably planning to go to one called, appropriately enough, Halloween.

But fears about an empty house turned out to be unfounded. The October 31 opening-night presentation of The Favourite at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House was declared a sell-out, and the film itself turned out to be an enjoyably twisted if somewhat scattershot affair that managed to affix smiles to millennial cinephiles and society bluebloods alike.

This year, the fest's star power has been dialed down a notch or two. With a handful of exceptions (including the planned appearance of Jello Biafra, Al Jourgensen and Groovie Mann at the November 9 screening of Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story), special guests are dominated by directors, writers, producers and other folks whose celebrity isn't visible to the typical naked eye.

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Don't know who these guys are.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Which is another way of saying I have no idea who any of the people are in the red-carpet photos accompanying this post. Not a damn clue. And I only found out that the ghostly beret wearer at the top was Denver Post veteran Dylan Owens after he figuratively unsheeted his identity.

Still, the participants' traditional outside-the-Ellie march before a phalanx of press armed with cameras, smartphones and microphones went a lot more smoothly than seemed possible about twelve hours earlier, when snow and cold slapped the Mile High City with a dose of reality following a long stretch of unseasonably warm temps (except for that October 14 Broncos game I covered at the near-expense of several toes).

No dignitaries were harmed in the making of the event.

Inside, one corridor was jammed with bejeweled and bedazzled attendees eager to find the best possible seats and apparently unaware that other entrances were much less crowded. That's the Denver Film Festival equivalent of sticking it to the 1 percent.

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Photo by Michael Roberts
After the rows filled and the lights dimmed, Denver Film Society director Andrew Rodgers took the podium armed with a slew of jokes about Halloween sweets; he was so focused on delivering comic requests for Milk Duds from the audience that he didn't notice when one person chucked a piece of hard candy at him from about thirty yards away, narrowly missing his ankle in the process.

But Rodgers had other news, too. He touted the growing attendance at the Sie FilmCenter — he said six of the ten most popular films at the facility to date were screened over the past year — and a recently announced grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies that's expected to boost the organization's efforts, including its energetic young filmmakers education program, in numerous ways.

Then, after the annual sponsorship film, a CSI-type satire that was roughly three times as long as it should have been (can't wait to see it five or six more times over the course of the next week or so), Denver Film Festival director Britta Erickson stepped into the spotlight. Don't know if she had already started pre-gaming for the opening night party that followed the main event, but she seemed ultra-relaxed while touting other fest fare before sharing the remarks with which director Yorgos Lanthimos introduced The Favourite at the Telluride Film Festival earlier this year: "I'm Greek. This is an English period piece. I did no research. Enjoy."

Here's the trailer for The Favourite.

Erickson promised that Lanthimos's latest offering was more accessible than 2016's The Lobster, the supremely arch and bizarre flick that was, until now, the best known entry in his canon among American viewers, and she was right.

But the director's eccentricities remained on proud display throughout the tale, which focuses on the fight for the affection of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) waged by her longtime companion, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and conniving newcomer Abigail (Emma Stone, who came to the Denver Film Festival in 2016 to hype La La Land, for which she subsequently won the Best Actress Oscar).

The plot suggests an eighteenth-century variation on All About Eve, with Weisz the equivalent of Bette Davis's aging Broadway star and Stone taking on the Anne Baxter role as a seemingly benign presence turned usurper. But the material is a lot more bawdy. The moment that Stone wanders down a hallway muttering "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck" seemed downright tame after the vigorous use of a certain word that starts with the letter "c" and was once described by CU Boulder president Betsy Hoffman as a term of endearment.

There are also anachronisms aplenty, as in a dance scene that essentially mingles waltzing and twerking, plus moments of physical comedy, highlighted by a quasi-tryst between Abigail and a paramour highlighted by the moment she leans in for a kiss before kneeing him in the not-so-happy place.

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Him? Hell if I know.
Photo by Michael Roberts
And that's not to mention the ways both women endear themselves to Coleman, a figure of pure id given to screaming hysterically when something displeases her. When Queen Anne compliments Abigail's tongue, she's not talking about Stone's serviceable but occasionally wobbly English accent.

Subtle it's not: Lanthimos uses so many fishbowl lenses to underscore the absurdity of the action that the film is destined to become a favorite of aquarium-dwellers everywhere, and the wigs he plops on the heads of actors such as the very amusing Nicholas Hoult look like escaped Muppets.

True, the film moves in fits and starts rather than flows, with some scenes serving merely as arty interludes sans clear purpose. That's particularly true of the movie's final act, which meanders toward a quizzical conclusion that opts for head-scratching over laughter. But these random demerits aren't enough to undermine The Favourite, which kicked off the festival in a particularly tasty way.

Chocolate not included.