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78/52

Testament to the power and mastery of a movie that, nearly 60 years on, still feels as modern, complex and cutting-edge as any film released…

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Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

A timely affirmation of feminine power—of the ways in which female wisdom and strength can charge hearts and minds, influence culture and inspire others to…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Jason Reitman in conversation

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Jason Reitman is not only a gifted director, but a forthright and thoughtful one. After three features ("Thank You for Smoking," "Juno" and "Up in the Air"), he has achieved, at the age of 34, firm standing on the A List.

He visited Chicago on Jan. 29 to appear on the Oprah program, and stopped off at my house on his way to the airport. Having only just discovered the video capability of a new camera, I took these videos. They are hand-held, shaky and need editing. But what Reitman says is perceptive and worth sharing.

Also in the room: My wife Chaz, off camera to the left. Reitman's wife, the actress Michelle Lee, to his right. Chicago publicist Janet Hillebrand on the sofa in front of the windows. The voice on my MacBook is sometimes heard.

The sculpture is "Warrior Woman," which Chaz and found in a London gallery that holds an exhibition called "Not in the Spring Exhibition," for works not accepted in the annual show of new works by the Royal Academy of Arts. In other words, Refuseniks. Jason and Michelle are standing in front of an abstract by the British expressionist Gillian Ayres. RE • • •

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"As Penny Chenery's youngest son..."

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I received this comment on my blog entry about "Secretariat" the movie, Secretariat the horse and the discussion about Andrew O'Hehir's review of the film at Salon.com. It appears under the blog, as do comments by O'Hehir and Bill Nack, author of the Secretariat biography that informed the film. But it is so well-worded and wise that I wanted to call particular attention to it. RE

October 9, 2010

As Penny Chenery's youngest son, I am fascinated by "Secretariat's" reception by critics, and the dialogue between Ebert and O'Hehir is to me the most interesting so far. Rather than taking sides about whether the movie is "good" or "bad" (I am far too close to evaluate its merits), I want to comment on the value I see in both reviewers' perspectives. From their conflicting angles, each shines a light on something I believe to be true about both the movie and the events that gave rise to it.

I understand O'Hehir's perception of something relentlessly, indeed forcedly, upbeat about the story, perhaps masking a troubling reality underneath. The movie does, indeed, glamorize and improve on my family's situation in the early 1970s, as it sanitizes the cultural context of that era. In real life, we Tweedys were more riven and frayed by the large and small conflicts of the time, and by the pressures of celebrity into which we were suddenly thrust. The wars between our parents were more bitter, the marriage more broken, and we kids were more alienated and countercultural than the movie depicts. During the pre-race CBS broadcast at the Belmont, Woody Broun interviewed my dad, my siblings and me, asking Jack whether he was the "power behind the throne." He gamely (and for me now, poignantly) replied that he was proud of his wife, his kids, "and the horse." Mom had wanted us to be all together for that interview, but away from the cameras we were each living in a separate world. The movie navigates this terrain with a combination of erasure, gentleness, and tact, and from the point of view of my family's privacy, I am grateful.

But Ebert is right that there is something more -- and something better -- at work in the movie than simply airbrushing over painful truth. My mother has always known that the "Secretariat story," and her role in it, filled a deep cultural need. While the country was convulsed by feminism, Watergate and Vietnam, Penny took pains to present as a wife and mother, offering a wholesome, western, maternal female image that paired beautifully with the heroic, powerful male icon that Secretariat was becoming. Our President may have been a Machiavellian liar, our soldiers denounced as baby-killers, and our fathers excoriated as chauvinist pigs as they commuted grimly to work. But here came Secretariat, deeply male, muscular and graceful, his chest lathered with sublimated sex. And on that day in June 1973, when he blew away the field in the Belmont Stakes, he transcended argument, rivalry, even transcended sport itself. In that moment Secretariat gave my family, and gave the public, something like grace.

Now we are again in a cultural moment of war and dissension. My sense is that the movie's creators didn't feel the need to portray the convulsions of the early 1970s, in part because today's audiences carry the burdens of our current convulsions into the theaters with them, hoping to escape briefly to a world they can believe in and admire. I think the movie is offered to satisfy the old hunger for a kingly male and a queenly female, who together strive for something beyond themselves, who seek victory, and achieve grace. Disney has long been in the business of telling this kind of story. The best such films rise to the level of archetype, while lesser ones sink into the mire of cliche, or worse. Whether "Secretariat" succeeds in this mythic leap is for critics to argue, and for audiences to decide. Personally, I'm enjoying the ride, as well as the critical dust it's kicking up.

John Tweedy

Here is my blog entry, Secretariat was not a Christian. My original review of "Secretariat." Andrew O'Hehir's article in Salon.com. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

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Walt Kelly, an immortal

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The creator of "Pogo" died on this day in 1973.

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A Labor Day concert

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☑ Photo of Pete Seeger's banjo by Roger Ebert; taken at the Weavers reunion at the Toronto Film Festival in 2004. All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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I have no arms and I must play

This is Mary Goffeney and here is his website.

Thanks to readers Brian Ford, natalie, JessicaEve and jojo for identifying the guitarist as Mark Goffeney. (The link is to an article about him in Abilities magazine.) And thanks to Moncef Gridda for sending me the first video link. His YouTube clips do not include his name!

☑ All of my special pages are linked under the category Pages for Twitter in the right margin of this page.

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We are part of all worlds

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By Mark Hughes on October 20, 2010 6:40 PM

A singularity, tiny beyond comprehension, burst forth with power and energy. In seconds, the foundation for reality and existence in our universe were created. Only Hydrogen and Helium existed as elements. They formed stars.

Eventually, those stars died. Some collapsed and became black holes, singularities working in the reverse of the one that raptured outward to form our universe, instead gobbling up all reality around them. Other stars broke down and exploded, hurtling their essence further into the universe that still grew and expanded and changed around them.

That essence, that dust from the stars, contained new elements, elements formed within the heart of the stars. This star dust, these new elements, formed everything else in the universe. Planets formed, rocks formed, water formed.

And life formed. Life composed of elements born in the heart of the first stars, stars themselves formed from the birth of our universe.

Life no doubt formed all around our universe, including probably on a planet in the Gliese 581 star system. And of course, life formed right here on Earth. Microbes, multi-celled organisms, complex organisms, in the oceans and then crawling out onto land and evolving into all manner of living creatures. On a planet changing radically over millions of years, struck by massive impacts from asteroids and comets, one so large it knocked part of the planet loose and formed our moon.

Life here evolved and became self-aware, stood on hind legs, grunted and then spoke. Looked up into the sky at night, saw the stars, and wondered about our own origins.

We were born out there among the stars, starting in that first instant when the singularity expanded and birthed stars that birthed everything else that became life that looked up into the sky and that finally understood. From a single point to a universe, from stars to stardust to life. From simple life to complex self-awareness.

And meanwhile, still out there, those stars that fell into themselves and formed black holes? They feed on this universe's leftovers, filling up one side of a singularity that many researches now strongly suspect opens up and spits back out that energy and mass into brand new universes just like our own. The laws pass from one to another, the first stars form again and then in their hearts form the ingredients for the rest of the universe, and once more forming life that will some day look up and understand it all.

Our singularity was probably born that same way, the back door so to speak of a singularity in some universe that already existed long before our own was formed. Our universe was fed by that older universe, the laws passing through to us.

Universes form, inherently forming stars that inherently form the rest of what is needed for a universe, and those stars explode sometimes and collapse other times. And some of the collapsed ones form new singularities birthing more universes, birthing more stars to birth more universes, on and on. Each time, too, some stars birth life. Life that eventually must become self-aware and must eventually comprehend these basic concepts -- the simple law of averages says life will exist, and some of that life will understand.

Life is sort of the consciousness of the universe, the way a universe can be aware of its own nature, it's own past, and you might even say it's own "purpose" -- to reproduce, to make more, to keep understanding.

Think about the odds, the complexity, the beauty and perfection in this. A singularity, a universe, stars, stardust, life, a black hole, a new singularity, a new universe, new stars, new stardust, new life, forever and ever. And we sit here able to understand it, to tell others about it, to look up into the night sky at the stars and know "That's where we came from, that's where we'll go some day, and there are other living things looking up into their own night sky out there around those stars right now thinking the same thing."

We don't have to look up and feel insignificant -- we are more significant than we can ever probably truly appreciate, as the consciousness of all that exists. We are part of it, part of not only this world but all worlds.

Now tell me -- what miracle could be more awe-inspiring than that?

Knowing and believing these things, the idea of a God having made everything would actually be a let-down, wouldn't it?

This comment was posted on my blog entry here.

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Freddie Mercury vs. the Platters & Wayne's World

Freddie Mercury was born today, Sept. 5, in 1946 in India.

☑ All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin.

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Portrait of the critic at home

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Here I am at home with Foss the Cat and a steaming cup of Lapsang Souchong tea. Chaz is in our cozy cottage kitchen, preparing our breakfast in The Pot. She promises us stone-ground oatmeal with raisins and a fresh peach cut up in it. There will be fresh cream on top from our faithful cow Pauline. My bowl and spoon stand by at the ready. If Foss is a very good cat and doesn't leap on the table, she will be allowed to lick the saucer clean.

Drawing by Kestutis Kasparavicius

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Keanu thought his two years were running out

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• Roger Ebert / April 7, 1996

In an age when young movie stars are famous for their clothes, their homes, their cars and the clubs where they hang out, Keanu Reeves is famous for his suitcase. He's been living out of one for nearly three years, occupying hotel rooms in the cities where his movie career takes him.

In the cold winter of 1996, it brought him to Chicago, to make a movie named "Chain Reaction." One day in February he was inside a vast old warehouse over near Lake and Paulina, shooting a scene with Morgan Freeman, about a conspiracy to suppress a new source of low-cost energy. Reeves and Freeman are both on Hollywood's A-list these days, and the movie is a big-budget production with heavy names attached: The producer is Richard D. Zanuck, and the director, Andy Davis, is still hot after his hit with "The Fugitive."

Davis has shot almost all of his films in Chicago--he uses locations here better than any other filmmaker ever has--and that's why the movie, which could be set anywhere and partly takes place in an underground bunker, was being filmed here. We were in the bunker right now, in fact, for a confrontation between Reeves, as a young man who knows of a sensational breakthrough in energy, and Freeman, as a man who heads a foundation that allegedly supports such breakthroughs but may, in fact, be a front for efforts to contain them.

The bunker set was large and sleek and glossy: Lots of glass, steel, marble, wood, suggesting a wealthy and powerful organization. We were allegedly hundreds of feet underground, somewhere near the Argonne National Laboratory. Reeves and Davis had just finished a low-key script conference at the organization's board table, and now there was a break while the cinematographer lit the scene. Reeves was costumed in jeans and a scruffy flannel shirt, open over a T-shirt.

He has been acting for nearly 10 years, often in roles that required him to be sensitive, poetic, doomed or romantic, but it was his hard-charging action role in "Speed" that made him a box office factor, a "bankable" lead for a major production like this one.

So are you still living this peripatetic life? I asked him. Living out the legend we've read in the magazines, that you exist out of two suitcases in hotel rooms and don't own a house and....

"Yes," he said. "Sounds quite bohemian and gypsy-like, doesn't it?"

And very simple.

"It's getting simpler. I'm down to one bag now, and smaller rooms in hotels. Yes, I am."

He twinkled. I think. Maybe he was serious. He was right in between somewhere.

Yeah, I said. In your business, why have a house, when you're not home for months on end...

"Hopefully, if you're working," Reeves said. "Hopefully you're working to buy a house and put furniture in it if you want to."

Can you sort of walk around a strange city and not have people asking for your autograph?

"Sure."

Do you have little tricks that you do?

"I don't need them. I kinda look like a normal guy, so...."

Truman Capote, I said, walked down Fifth Avenue once with Marilyn Monroe, and she said, "Watch this." And for one block she wasn't Marilyn Monroe and for the next block she was and he couldn't see what she was doing but for the first block she was totally ignored and the second block she caused a riot.

"Truman Capote was great."

So what do you travel with? Books, a computer....

"I don't have a computer. Books and a couple of things of clothes."

When you finish reading a book, where does it go?

"Piles up. I have a nice little pile in my hotel room."

But at some point you move hotel rooms and then what happens?

"They go to my sister's house. She's got all my books from the past year, all in different boxes. Just recently, I'm missing a lot of my belongings. I miss some of my clothes, some of my books. It was nice to have them around when I did have a house, you know. It's nice to come home. But..."

That may be a pre-house buying feeling that you're experiencing.

"I've gone looking for houses but I could not find one that I liked and could afford. The ones I like I can't afford."

You mentioned the word bohemian, which is a nice old word.

"Yes, it is a nice old word. Like existential."

He smiled. Is this lifestyle, I asked, almost a way of maintaining your balance, because you've had transition into this weird existence of being known as a movie star?"

"I don't really feel that movie star thing. I don't think I......from the response that I've gotten workwise..."

You could choose to feel that way if you wanted to.

"I think of Morgan Freeman as a movie star, you know. My perception from the feedback that I get from the street, the feedback that I get from the people I work with, roles offered and all that sort of thing and the attention, it's just.....you know, I've been lucky enough to work in some films that have, you know, been good, and people have gone to see but I don't think movie star is quite...I'm not on that level."

Maybe this peripatetic lifestyle is part of protecting against that. Because the moment you live in a house you have a staff of people helping you and they're all treating you in a certain way...

"Maybe or maybe not; you never know. I think that term, movie star, is a label that's concocted that really kind of is trying to encapsualize so many things that aren't real, really, except they exist in print. They exist in journalism and to a certain extent they work as in cinema in the sense of being able to draw a certain amount of people, I guess..."

As we're talking, grips are moving furniture around and lighting guys are dangling wires overhead, and the cinematographer and director are peering through their lenses and trying to visualize the shot, and Morgan Freeman is walking back the forth in the big board room of the secret organization, perhaps thinking about the scene, perhaps not. And of course there are a lot of people on cellular phones.

Keanu Reeves. To look at a list of his roles is to wonder how the directors of half his movies could have visualized him in the other half, and vice versa. This is the actor who made two of the most harrowing films of all time about teenage angst, "The River's Edge" and "Permanent Record." And the same actor who played one of the key predecessors of the dumb-and-dumber movement, in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey." The same actor who was an average, if troubled, teenager in "Parenthood" and an 18th-century rake in "Dangerous Liaisons," and a male hustler in "My Own Private Idaho."

He was even in an action movie before "Speed." It was titled "Point Break," it was made in 1991, and it combined surfing, sky-diving, bank robbery and Zen. I liked it.

When you made "Speed" in 1994, I said, the industry said it showed that you could make an action picture. (Hollywood has a minute attention span, and had already forgotten "Point Break.") Is this an action picture, too, or is there another dimension?

"I think Fox wants it to be an action picture, and Andrew Davis and I and Morgan and everyone are trying to make it a little more than an action picture. It's not a classical action picture; I would say it's more drama with some action bits thrown in for fun."

Did the success of "Speed" give you more leeway in terms of career choices?

"Yeah, it did for two years. It's kind of over now. I mean, I got to do 'A Walk in the Clouds.' I got to do a film called 'Feeling Minnesota.' It hasn't come out; we just finished it, with Vincent D'Onofrio, Dan Ackroyd, Cameron Diaz. That got made because I was in "Speed," you know. The producers said, 'Okay, we'll give you $7 million, go make your film,' you know. Not (ital) just (unital) because I was participating, but that was the last thing that pushed it over."

So your two years...

"Have run out. Now I have to do something. I don't know if this will be a hit or not but--this is going to be a tricky film."

Richard Zanuck was just saying as he was looking at you, "He's a man now. He's not a boy anymore."

Reeves looked slightly impatient. "Well, who knows about that. I don't know if just how you look makes you a man or not. You could say he looks like a man, maybe."

I suppose that you're beginning to get into an age where you can go either way. You have a little more freedom; you're not just stuck in one age group.

"I hope so. I wanted to have long hair in this because they wanted me to be younger, you know, like 20, say. I'm 31 years old so I thought if I had long hair it'd make me look younger and stuff. But yeah, I mean, hopefully in "Feeling Minnesota," I'll look my age, whatever that may be."

You've been working here with Morgan Freeman, and in "A Walk in the Clouds" you were working with Anthony Quinn. Not many people would put them on the same list, but to me they are both very dynamic and vital people.

"Amazing actors. And people."

But coming from totally different traditions. I mean, Anthony Quinn is a traditional Hollywood movie star who has been around for 50 years in the studio system, and Morgan Freeman is stage trained and really only started acting for movies at a later stage in his life. Do they have different ways of working?

"Well, they've had certainly different lives. I mean, Anthony Quinn's is almost Byzantine. I called him Zeus. But they do actually, more than differences, have similarities. Their technique. The way they love the camera. The way they can embody a moment. Their freedom, their specificity. They can take a scene and make anything in it seem important and they can take any moment and make it light or heavy or the control and who they are. They're similar in that sense."

How did you learn to be a movie actor?

"A movie actor? By doing it, and watching other people do it."

You said they love the camera. How does one love the camera?

"It's a direction of energy. I've seen Morgan and Anthony, even if you're in the scene with them, if the camera's over here, they'll play to the camera. And as an actor in the same environment, you'll ask, well, what are they doing? But to play it just to me, would not be playing the scene, really. Because it would cut off the camera's connection to it. The way they do it, they (ital) make (unital) it a scene."

What could somebody learn from you? You say, 'I watch other actors.' Somebody might be watching you. What are they learning?

"I don't know. There's a few things, I guess. I mean, it's kind of a weird thing to say, 'Well, if you watch me in this film, you could learn this'."

I don't mean for you to sound egotistical but just as a pragmatic sort of thing.

"Technique and stuff?"

Or whatever.

"I think I did some good naturalistic acting in 'River's Edge,' some broad comedy and timing in 'I Love You to Death,' and 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.' I think that there's some good inner work in 'Little Buddha.' I think that there's some good combination of naturalism and style in 'My Own Private Idaho.' There's some classicism in 'Speed'..."

When you think of those pictures, you can't really find the line connecting them. It's like they're all points of a star. It's hard to get from "My Own Private Idaho" to "Bill & Ted."

"A lot of people don't take the time, actually, to think about that," Reeves said, "but what can you do?"

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