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Same Kind of Different as Me

It can be hard to disagree with the heart and events of this true tale, except for when the movie reveals itself to be mighty…

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Geostorm

God knows how many millions of dollars and hours of manpower went into making and remaking Geostorm but it turns out to have been all…

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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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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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Liza, when all was still ahead

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I met her so very long ago, in 1967 "You get all kinds, Liza Minnelli said. "A couple of days ago I was interviewed by a guy from the Los Angeles underground press. He didn't exactly ask me what I ate for breakfast. He came in with this tape recorder, and the funny thing was, he kept stopping the machine every time he'd ask a question and then start it for my answer. So it must have sounded like a long speech by me, babbling away about the universe."

What about the universe?

"A large topic," Liza grinned. "No, what he did ask was, how could I justify appearing on the Hollywood Palace since I was a member of the Movement."

The Movement?

"The Movement," Liza said. "I guess my last album gave the Movement the idea I was a recruit. So he asked, in which direction is the Movement moving? So I said it's moving toward Truth. He started his tape recorder and looked happy.

"But I really wasn't in his bag. I'm afraid of LSD, for example - scared to death of it. I don't particularly care what other people do, although these 14-year-old kids saying they've found essential reality is, well, a little frightening. I don't want to live in a world of high. And then, suppose you took LSD and found out horrible things about yourself? Some people should keep those doors closed . . . "

Liza is a small, bright, pleasant girl with astonishingly appealing eyes. The eyes remind you of her mother, Judy Garland, and some of her singing style comes from that quarter as well. But not too much. She has nurtured her own talent since, at age 15, she played Anne Frank in a company touring Israel. She had an off-Broadway debut at, 17, won a Tony at 19, was an established concert star at the same age, and now at 22 is receiving warm reviews for her role in Albert Finney's new movie, "Charlie Bubbles."

She will give a concert next Saturday night in the Auditorium Theater, but that was not the reason for this Chicago visit.

She came for a long weekend with her husband, Peter Allen. He and brother Chris, arriving from Australia like two jolly swagmen a few years ago, are having a considerable success at Mister Kelly's. So she watched their act ("Listen to this key change," she whispered during "We're Off to See the Wizard") and then jumped in a cab with Peter to dance at Maxim's between shows. "We think it's important to be together as much as possible," Liza said.

All the same, she confessed, there will probably never be an act featuring Peter, Chris and Liza, "We've tried singing together a couple of times, but our voices aren't compatible," she said. "We sound like the Sons of the Pioneers."

The chance to appear in "Charlie Bubbles" was a surprise. She was singing in London a year ago and met director Karel ("Morgan") Reisz. He recommended her to Finney who picked her for the movie "and now supposedly I'm a dramatic actor," she said. "Isn't that crazy? When I wanted a dramatic role, everybody kept coming up with musicals. So new I've finally played a dramatic part, and I want to do a musical, and everybody has more straight roles."

What kind of a musical?

"I have an idea. Just an idea. You could do 'The Fantasticks,' only do it outside, out in the fields in Italy or Spain, maybe. Do it strangely, the way it's written. Maybe steal from the style of Fellini's 'La Strada.'"

That makes it sound like a different breed from the MGM musicals her mother made famous: "The Wizard of Oz," "Till the Clouds Roll By," "Easter Parade" and all the others.

"Yes, I guess so," Liza said, "But mother doesn't give me any advice, all the same. She doesn't believe in it. She says she trusts me. That's a good feeling."

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Pogo says it for the very first time

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Walt Kelly remains in my mind the greatest of all creators of daily comic strips. Yes, greater than Charles Schultz, because Pogo's Okefenokee Swamp was considerably larger than the Peanuts landscape, his characters were sometimes wicked animal versions of politicians, and his drawing was so delightful.

Pogo has become immortal for a single line:

And here's an example of one of the many theoretical and philosophical conversations that went on in Pogo's neighborhood. [ Click to enlarge ]

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Joni MItchell: "Big Yellow Taxi"

And when she was very young:

Joni Mitchell in Canada 1965 Uploaded by . - "Big Yellow Taxi" is quoted in my blog entry about loneliness.

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How to be alone

Here is my blog entry on loneliness.

Internet and Needy Photo Scout: Larry J. Kolb, ex-CIA. Recent Needy Photos, with your captions, are linked at the bottom of the right column. 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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Will Rogers on unemployment

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The Platters perform "The Twist"

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These are The Platters Featuring Monroe Powell, live in concert on 8/27/2010 at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks. Michigan. Monroe Powell is last of the survivors who sang lead with the earlier group. He's on the left above; the others are Kenni Jaye, Inez Zak and Don Gloudé. (photo: Ebert)

You have to reflect that some of the dancers in this video have been doing The Twist for almost 50 years. That's why they're so good at it.

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"Chanda Mama" around the world

A folk song from Chennai, India, performed by musicians from around the world.

In Krishna Vamsi's Bollywood movie "Chanda Mama"

As a children's lullaby from the Bollywood movie "Vachan" (1974)

Moon uncle will visit the moon in an air plane Moon uncle will visit the moon in an air plane Will play hide-and-seek with the stars The play will satisfy my moon uncle Happily my moon uncle will return home

Moon mother from far, will cook puye made of boor (sweets) Moon mother from far, will cook puye made of boor You will eat on a thali, moon uncle in a cup You will eat on a thali, moon uncle in a cup Moon mother from far....

The cup broke and mon uncle became angry The cup broke and moon uncle became angry Will bring a new cup by clapping Will bring a new cup by clapping We will please moon uncle with milk and malaayi The moon from far ... You will eat .... The moon from far ...

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The helpful Robert Benchley

Once long ago, when theaters were not so obsessed with turning over their audiences, a feature film might be accompanied by a cartoon, a newsreel, and a Selected Short Subject.

The short might be a Robert Benchley lecture. At the time such shorts were enormously popular; a little murmur of anticipation might run through the audience. In Benchley's case they fit nicely with his writing career for The New Yorker.

Benchley became so popular that he sometimes made guest appearances in featur films, sich as "The Sky's the Limit" (1943) with Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie:

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