Thursday, April 16, 2009

'Skills' is poised to become a Denver hit

This looks to be a banner weekend for Denver filmmaking with two Denver-based films playing at the Starz FilmCenter.

"Skills Like This" -- which opens Friday -- was directed by Monty Miranda, who worked in Denver and studied film at the University of Colorado, but has since moved to Los Angeles. Having made a variety of national commercials, Miranda came to the attention of the indie film world when "Skills," his first feature, won the audience award at the 2007 South by Southwest Film Festival. The movie, which recently opened in New York and Los Angeles, is expected to become a major hit at the Starz FilmCenter, and any success that accrues to "Skills" certainly won't hurt the chances of other aspiring Denver filmmakers.

The movie's Denver ties go deep: It was shot in Denver with a lots of Denver crew; its most prominent comic role is played by Brian Phelan, who grew up in Denver and attended East High; and the movie's producer is Denver's Donna Dewey, Brian's mom and an Academy Award winner for her short film, 1997's "A Story of Healing." Brian's father, Jim Phelan, is also a Denver-based filmmaker, and a guy I'm working with on a variety of film projects. Yes, I know many of these folks, and, therefore, have recused myself from reviewing chores.

"Skills," a hit at last year's Starz Denver Film Festival, tells the story of a failed playwright (Spencer Berger) who tries his hand at bank robbery. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, critic Janet Catsoulis, said "'Skills Like This' gazes indulgently on 20-something aimlessness and the comfort of assigned roles. In Mr. Miranda’s hands sloth can be more appealing than you might think." Catsoulis also called Phelan's performance "terrific."

If "Skills" doesn't satisfy your hunger for Denver-based filmmaking, you may want to try Jamin Winans', "Ink," a movie that demonstrates what can be done locally even when a movie doesn't shy away from high-impact visual expression. Eerie and sometimes frightening, "Ink" has a high fantasy quotient, but also deals with issues of loss and reconciliation. (The movie has been doing brisk business at the Starz FilmCenter for the last six weeks.)

I've long contended that it's going to take a home-grown indie success to put Denver on the filmmaking map. You can head to the Starz FilmCenter this weekend and cast your vote. Will one (or both) of these films be the start of something big? Stay tuned.

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