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The best thing about Victoria isn’t actually its technical prowess—it’s the lead performance from the mesmerizing Laia Costa as the title character.


Knock Knock

As a piece of social satire, Knock Knock winds up being not just toothless but anticlimactic.

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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…


Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

Mamet's Spector of reasonable doubt


"I believe he's not guilty."

"Are you sure?"

"No, but I have a reasonable doubt."

The last words spoken in David Mamet's HBO feature film "Phil Spector" are "reasonable doubt." The first words appear in white letters on a black screen:

This is a work of fiction. It's not "based on a true story." ... It is a drama inspired by actual persons on a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.

I'm not quite sure what that means (beyond "Don't sue us") -- but it sounds a little like one of Mamet's nonsensical latter-day post-right-wing conversion rants. (Read Mamet's 2008 Village Voice essay, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'" and see if you can figure out how he went from an unthinking, ignorant knee-jerk lefty to an unthinking, ignorant knee-jerk conservative. It has something to do with NPR, but what was he listening to? "Car Talk"? He doesn't say -- only that he believes in choosing one's political positions and convictions the way you would choose a sports team to root for, based on your affection for a place and whatever colors you feel are the most flattering this season.)

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Larry Sanders: The show behind the show


August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is Part 2 of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here.

"Unethical? Jesus, Larry. Don't start pulling at that thread; our whole world will unravel." -- Artie (Rip Torn)

by Edward Copeland

Unravel those threads did -- and often -- in the world of fictional late night talk show host Larry Sanders. On "The Larry Sanders Show," the brilliant and groundbreaking HBO comedy that paid attention to the men and women behind the curtain of Sanders' fictional show, the ethics of showbiz were hilariously skewered.

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What is a "rape joke," anyway?


What's worse than finding a hair in your soup? Being raped.* -- @AntiJokeApple, June 2, 2012

"I was raped by a doctor... which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl..." -- Sarah Silverman, "Jesus Is Magic" (2005)

Seriously, what is a rape joke, why do you tell one, and how do you apologize for one? I empathize with comedians who get up on stage, alone, and develop new material, often without knowing where their minds and mouths are going to take them (or their audience). It's a semi-disciplined, stream-of-consciousness high-wire act without a net, and as any comic will tell you, they frequently fall. (See Patton Oswalt's remembrance of a bad performance in the early 1990s and the "Magical Black Man" who haunted and helped him.) But no matter what they say or do, they're still accountable for saying or doing it -- and, more than ever before (thanks to blogs and social media and video smartphones), they are held publicly accountable. So, when I heard that Daniel Tosh of Comedy Central's top-rated "Tosh .0," was in hot water for telling a "rape joke," the first thing I wanted to know was: What was the joke? That has to be where it all starts, don't you think? What did he actually say?

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Adam Sandler's house of cruelty


"Through my films I'm eventually trying to one day tell the truth. I don't know if I'm ever going to get there, but I'm slowly letting pieces of myself out there and then maybe by the time I'm 85, I'll look back and say, 'All right, that about sums it up.'" -- Adam Sandler, interview clip used in the 2012 Oscar broadcast

What if those schlocky Adam Sandler movies that you either think are funny or you don't really aren't just schlocky Adam Sandler movies that you either think are funny or you don't? What if they don't have much to do with movies at all, but are more like leveraged derivative instruments (I don't actually know what those are) or synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) transactions, devised by accountants to provide maximum returns with minimum effort -- that promise investors profits for next-to-nothing? Ultra-low-budget production values and minor league actors, writers and directors (except for Sandler himself, who gets $25 million-plus up-front plus a heavy chunk of the gross), subsidized by egregious product placements, make for maximum risk minimalization.

As a moviegoer and a critic, all I care about is what's on the screen -- or isn't. But there's so little on the screen in Adam Sandler movies, that I confess I'm bewildered at what some claim to see in them. So, if you're curious about, say, how the production cost of the average Adam Sandler comedy jumped from about $30 million to about $80 million overnight... well, just keep reading.

The so-called " flop" of "That's My Boy" this past weekend (Sandler's second after "Jack and Jill" -- almost a trend!) has been greeted with schadenfreude in some quarters, but it disregards the likelihood that financial arrangements have long been in place that ensure a Sandler movie has to really, seriously tank before it winds up actually losing money.* Who knows -- there may be the equivalent of credit default swaps that protect Sony and Happy Madison from disappointing returns. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are investment devices that allow the backing companies to actually make money by placing wagers predicting the underperformance of a given movie, just to hedge their bets. Everybody wins, right?

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#109 April 4, 2012

Marie writes: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for finding this - as I'd never heard of the Bregenz Festival before, despite the spectacular staging of Puccini's opera Tosca and which appeared briefly in the Bond film Quantum of Solace; but then I slept through most of it. I'm not surprised I've no memory of an Opera floating on a lake. Lake Constance to be exact, which borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria near the Alps...

Tosca by Puccini | 2007-2008 - Photograph by BENNO HAGLEITNER(click to enlarge)

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#71 July 13, 2011

Marie writes: Once upon a time when I was little, I spent an afternoon playing "Winne the Pooh" outside. I took my toys into the backyard and aided by a extraordinary one-of-a-kind custom-built device requiring no batteries (aka: artistic imagination) pretended that I was playing with my pals - Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too - and that there was honey nearby; the bumble bees buzzing in the flowerbeds, only too happy to participate in the illusion. And although it didn't have a door, we too had a tree - very much like the one you see and from which hung a tire. A happy memory that, and which came flooding back upon catching sight of these - the animation backgrounds from the new Winnie the Pooh; thank God I was born when I was. :-)

(click to enlarge images)

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#69 June 29, 2011

Marie writes: Allow me to introduce you to Bill and Cheryl. I went to Art school with Bill and met his significant other Cheryl while attending the graduation party; we've been pals ever since. None of which is even remotely interesting until you see where they live and their remarkable and eclectic collection of finds. (click to enlarge images.)

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Misinterpreting the Tomatometer


Last week Slate ran a story about the "Hollywood Career-o-Matic," which claimed to use data from Rotten Tomatoes to chart the trajectories of Hollywood careers. Interactive feature: Just enter the name of an actor or director and it will instantly generate a graph showing that person's critical ups and downs.

For example, here's one for M. Night Shyamalan, with each dot representing the Tomatometer score for the features he has directed:

Slate concludes that, according to Rotten Tomatoes data, the Best Actor in movies is Daniel Auteuil, with John Ratzenberger the best American actor, since he's voiced a character in every Pixar movie. Best Actress: Arsinée Khanjian. Worst Actress: Jennifer Love Hewitt. Best Director: Mike Leigh. Worst Director: Dennis Dugan (veteran of Adam Sandler movies such as "Happy Gilmore," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" and "Grown Ups").

Yes, this is all so silly that the mind boggles, but let's start with the premise itself: What is the correlation between reviews and careers in Hollywood? Adam Sandler and Michael Bay wouldn't look much more impressive than Shyamalan if you looked only at reviews. And the Slate piece is riddled with misconceptions about the Tomatometer:

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Into the Great Big Boring


When I was a child I was taught that it was unacceptable to call something -- a movie, a song, an activity -- "boring" because: 1) it doesn't make sense (a thing can't be boring, unless perhaps it is a drill bit; a person feels bored); and 2) it's indefensible, since the quality of "boringness" cannot be isolated or identified as an element of the thing itself; it's a feeling and it is yours).

So, saying something is "boring" is not exactly like saying something in a movie is "funny" or "moving" -- though, again, I'd prefer to place the responsibility for a response on the "feeler" rather than on the object -- because at least you can describe how something is presented or intended to be received as humorous or touching, even if you don't think it is. (Yes, there are exceptions to that, too.) I mean, a joke or a gag or an emotional situation can be objectively analyzed, but there are no agreed-upon cultural standards for evaluating "boring."¹

"Boring," I believe, is more like the word "entertaining" -- too vague to be of much use in a critical vocabulary. So, I might say I found something about a movie "tedious" or "engaging" or some other thesaurus word, but I'll attribute the emotion to myself and my taste, and even then not without a serious attempt to describe what I'm talking about, and to give at least one specific example.²

But now, "boring" is hot, at least in overheated Interwebular film criticism circles, since the publication of Dan Kois' New York Times Magazine piece called "Eating Your Cultural Vegetables," in which he says:

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#66 June 8, 2011

Marie writes: the ability to explore an image in 360 degrees is nothing new, but that doesn't make these pictures any less cool. In the first of a series, the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore introduces spectacular interactive 360-degree panoramic photographs of Britain's architectural wonders. "You are put in the middle of a space, and using your computer mouse or dragging your iPad screen - you can look in any direction you choose: up, down, sideways, diagonally, in any direction in full 360 degree turn, in three dimensions."

Go here to explore St Paul's Cathedral, London, built 1675-1711.

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