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Dear White People

You could make a (film geek) party game out of guessing director Justin Simien's influences, but his vision seems to spring directly from what's up…

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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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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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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.

Bronson: Coming of age in Scoop Town

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By Roger Ebert

I met Charles Bronson in New York City, where he was working once again with Michael Winner Winner, who also directed him in "Chato's Land," "The Stone Killer," and "The Mechanic." The new movie was "Death Wish," about a middle-aged New York architect who is repelled by violence until his own daughter is raped and his wife murdered. Then the architect becomes an instrument of vengeance. He goes out into the streets posing as an easy mark, and when muggers attack, he kills them.

"Death Wish" was being shot in New York in late, bitterly cold February night, and for openers I observed that the character seemed to have the same philosophy that's been present in all of Bronson's work with Winner: He is a killer (licensed or not) with great sense of self, pride in his work, and few words.

Bronson had nothing to say about that "I never talk about the philosophy of a picture," he said. "Winner is an intelligent man, and I like him. But I don't ever talk to him about the philosophy of a picture. It has never come up. And I wouldn't talk about it to you. I don't expound. I don't like to over talk a thing."

We are in the dining room of a Riverside Drive apartment that is supposed to be the architect's home in the movie. Bronson is drinking one of the two or three dozen cups of coffee he will have during the day and, having rejected philosophy, seems content to remain quiet.

Could it be, I say, that it's harder to play a role if you talk it out beforehand?

"I'm not talking in terms of playing a role," Bronson said. "I'm talking in terms of conversation. It has nothing to do with a role at all. It's just that I don't like to talk very much."

He lit a cigarette, kept it in his mouth, exhaled through his nose, and squinted his eyes against the smoke. Another silence fell. All conversation with Bronson has a tendency to stop. His natural state of conversation is silence.

Why?

"Because I'm entertained more by my own thoughts than by the thoughts of others. I don't mind answering questions. But in an exchange of conversation, I wind up being a pair of ears."

On the set, I learned, he doesn't pal around. He stays apart. Occasionally he will talk with Winner, or with a friend like his makeup man, Phil Rhodes. Rarely to anyone else. Arthur Ornitz, the cinematographer, says. "He's remote. He's a professional, he's here all the time, well prepared. But he sits over in a corner and never talks to anybody. Usually I'll kid around with a guy, have a few drinks. I think there's a little timidity there. He's a coal miner."

Later in the day, Bronson is sitting alone again. I don't know whether to approach him; he seems absorbed by his own thoughts, but after a time he yields. "you can talk to me now. I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't want to talk. I'd be somewhere else."

I was wondering about that.

"I had a very bad experience on the plane in from California yesterday. There was a man on the plane, sitting across from me, and they were showing an old Greer Garson movie. He said, Hey, why aren't you in that? The picture was made before I even became an actor. I said, Why aren't you? I think I made him understand how stupid his question was.

"When I'm in public, I even try to hide. I keep as quiet as possible so that I'm not noticed. Not that I hide behind doorways or anything ridiculous like that, but I hide by not making waves. I also try to make myself seem as unapproachable as possible."

More silence. Phil Rhodes, the make-up man, is leafing through a copy of Cosmopolitan. Suddenly he whoops and holds up a centerfold of Jim Brown.

"Will you look at this," he says.

"Would you ever do anything like that, Charlie?"

"Are you kidding?" Bronson said. "What a bunch of crap. Look at that. Old Jim. People are so hung up on sex."

And, inexplicably, that sets Bronson talking "I've been trying to make it with girls for as long as I can remember," he says. "I remember my first time. I was five and a half years old, and she was six. This was in 1928 or 1929. It happened at about the worst time in my life. We had been thrown out of our house . . ."

The house was in Ehrenfeld, known as Scooptown, and it was a company house owned by the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke Company. When the miners went out on strike, they were evicted from their homes, and the Buchinsky family went to live in the basement of a house occupied by another miner and his eight children. "This would have been the summer before I started school," Bronson says. "I remember my father had shaved us all bald to avoid lice. Times were poor. I wore hand-me-downs. And because the kids just older than me in the family were girls, sometimes I had to wear my sisters' hand-me-downs. I remember going to school in a dress. And my socks, when I got home sometimes I'd have to take them off and give them to my brother to wear into the mines.

"But, anyway, this was a Fourth of July picnic, and there was this girl, six years old. I gave her some strawberry pop. I gave her the pop because I didn't want it; I had taken up chewing tobacco and I liked that better. I didn't start smoking until I was nine. But I gave her the pop, and then we . . . hell, I never lost my virginity. I never had any virginity."

He remembers Ehrenfeld well, and has written a screenplay with his wife Jill Ireland about life in the mining towns. He worked in the mines from 1939 to 1943, and getting drafted, he says, was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him: "I was well fed, I was well dressed for the first time in my life, and I was able to improve my English. In Ehrenfeld, we were all jammed together. All the fathers were foreign-born. Welsh, Irish, Polish, Sicilian. I was Lithuanian and Russian. We were so jammed together we picked up each other's accents. And we spoke some broken English. When I got into the service, people used to think I was from a foreign country."

Five boys in his family were drafted into the Army. An older brother, the one who took him into the mines for the first time, was part of the European invasion. "He was a Ranger, and he won a medal," Bronson said. "He was under fire constantly. And he said he'd rather do that than go into the mines again."

Bronson would not talk about his hometown screenplay, called $1.98, except to say it was fundamentally a love story with a mining town as the environment, but the next afternoon he met with two VISTA workers to discuss possible locations in Appalachia for the film. The towns he had scouted, he told them, looked too good. There were streets, there were lawns where things grew . . .

"I remember the old company towns. There was no neon, except for the company store. Nothing was green. The water was full of sulphur. There was nothing to put a hose to. There were unpaved streets covered with rock and slag. You had the rock dumps always exploding. They were always on fire, down inside, and if it rained for a long enough time, the water would seep down to the fires and turn to steam and the dump would explode."

The VISTA volunteers asked if Bronson's movie would deal with black lung disease.

"No, it's a love story. But it will be . . . beneficial to the miners, I hope. Right now it isn't a finished script. There are too many empty, dull places. And it's naive. But it will be accurate about mining. You had a feeling about mining. It was piecework; you didn't get paid by the hour, you got paid by the ton, and you felt you were the hardest-working people in the world.

"When I worked, the rate was a dollar a ton. You spent one whole day preparing so you could spend the next day getting it out. The miners felt bound together; they knew how much they could get out, how much they could do. And they worked. With the new machines, it's easier. Not more pleasant, but easier. But in those days, that was pure work. It wasn't a man on a dock with a forklift or any of that bullshit. It was pure work."

After the war Bronson went back home, but not to the mines. The veterans were given three months, he recalled, to decide if they wanted their old jobs back. Bronson did not. He picked onions in upstate New York, and then got his card in the bakers union. He worked on an all-night shift at a bakery in Philadelphia and took art classes in the evenings. He decided he knew more about drawing than the instructor did. He dropped the classes and quit his job (he still holds cards in both the miners and bakers unions), and went to New York City with the notion that he might try acting. Why acting?

"It seemed like an easy way to make money. A friend took me to a play, and I thought I might as well try it myself. I had nothing to lose. I hung around New York and did a little stock-company stuff I wasn't really sure at that time if l even wanted to be an actor. I got no encouragement. I was living in my own mind, generating my own adrenaline. Nobody took any notice of me. I was in plays I don't even remember. Nobody remembers. I was in something by Moliere - I don't even know what it was called.

"I have no interest in the stage anymore. From an audience point of view, it's old-fashioned. The position I've been in for the last eight years, I have to think that way. I can't think of theater acting for one segment of the population in just one city. That's an inefficient way of reaching people."

After New York, he tried the Coast. Spent some time at the Pasadena Playhouse. Got his first movie role in You're in the Navy Now because he could belch on cue, a skill picked up during Ehrenfeld days. He worked for years as the heavy, the Indian, the Russian spy. He had two TV series, "Man with a Camera" and "Meet McGraw." And he was getting nowhere fast, he decided, so he went to work in Europe, where they didn't typecast so much and he had some chance of playing a lead or getting the girl.

His first great European success was in "Farewell, Friends," opposite Alain Delon. That made him a lead, and then movies like "The Dirty Dozen" and "Rider on the Rain" made him a star. Although he worked for years in Europe, he refused to live there; he always maintained his home in America. He met Jill Ireland on a set in Germany in 1968, three years after her separation from David McCallum and a year after her divorce. And now, he says, "I don't have any friends, and I don't want any friends. My children are my friends." And in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, he is said to be the top box-office draw. "One of the ironies," he observed, "is that I made my breakthrough in movies shot in Europe that the Japanese thought were American movies and that the Americans thought were foreign."

That night in New York, the "Death Wish" company gathered to shoot a scene outside a grocery store on upper Broadway. Bronson said that, since he was here anyway, he would do some shopping. He began with a box of cookies. An old man, a New York crazy, was berating a box of Hershey bars because it wouldn't open. "What the hell's going on here? "he shouted at the box. Bronson opened it for him. The man hardly noticed.

While the location was being prepared, Michael Winner drank coffee across the street and talked about his enigmatic star.

"It's unnecessary for him to go into any big thing about what he does or how he does it," Winner said, "because he has this quality that the motion-picture camera seems to respond to. He has a great strength on the screen, even when he's standing still or in a completely passive role. There is a depth, a mystery - there is always the sense that something will happen.

I mentioned a scene in "The Stone Killer" in which Bronson has a gunman trapped behind a door. The gunman fires through the door, and Bronson, with astonishingly casual agility, leaps to the top of a table to get out of the line of fire.

"Yes," said Winner. "His body projects the impression that it's coiled up inside. That he's ready for action and capable of it. You know, Bronson is, as a human being, like that. That's not to say he goes about killing people. I'm sure that he doesn't"

A pause. "That's not to say he hasn't, in his day. Now he seems to have gotten a reputation for blowing up and hitting people on pictures. In my experience, he's not like that. He's a very controlled and reasonable person." Pause. "But there is a great fury lurking below."

The next afternoon, Bronson taped an interview for exhibitors with some people from the publicity department at Paramount. Bronson described the character he plays in "Death Wish:" "He's an average guy, an average New Yorker. In wartime, he would be a conscientious objector. His whole approach to life is gentle, and he has raised his daughter that way. Now he has second thoughts, and he becomes a killer."

Did you prepare for this character in any special way?

"No, because to play him I draw upon my own feelings. I do believe I could perform this way myself."

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The best feature films of 2010

David Fincher's "The Social Network"is emerging as the consensus choice as best film of 2010. Most of the critics' groups have sanctified it, and after its initial impact it has only grown it stature. I think it is an early observer of a trend in our society, where we have learned new ways of thinking of ourselves: As members of a demographic group, as part of a database, as figures in...a social network.

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The American: Watching and waiting

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Above and behind. That is the dominant position for watching, for following, for shooting, for f***ing, in Anton Corbijn's "The American." Corbijn, the Dutch photographer and director best known for his music videos (U2, Nirvana, Depeche Mode) and his Joy Division biopic "Control," places his camera high in the sky, looking straight down at the landscape that resembles an intricate maze or a mosaic; or behind the central character Jack (George Clooney) as he walks through the crooked cobblestone streets of the medieval mountain village of Castel del Monte in the Abruzzo region of Italy; or in front of him, positioned so that we can glimpse behind him what he senses but can't see: that he's being observed...

"The American" (with a few last-act lapses) locks us into the justifiably paranoid state of mind of Jack (who's also known as Edward, Signore Farfalle and plain old Mr. Butterfly), a man on a mysterious and deadly mission. We don't know what the mission is, we just watch him wait, and watch him watch, and watch him go through the process of whatever it is he's doing. The obvious comparison is to Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samourai," in which Alain Delon plays an ascetic hit man. But I would consider "The American" a virtual remake of Jim Jarmusch's "The Limits of Control," starring a major international movie star instead of Isaach De Bankolé. Both mine the aesthetics of 1960s and 1970s European art films (notably Melville, Antonioni, Bertolucci) -- and it's no wonder that the mainstream American audiences who made it the top-grossing picture of the weekend (I saw it at a jam-packed Labor Day matinee) hated it.

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I have lunch with the mayor

May 20, 2009-The premiere of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" will likely dominate the international press for days. The screening itself was a bit less than a crazy event than I had been expecting. After experiencing the wild, all-out adoration of Tarantino fans at a special Cannes screening of "Kill Bill I and II" some years ago, in which the audience consisted largely of French locals, I was prepared for anything.

The guards opened the Grand Theatre Lumiere a half-hour early, and even though I arrive at 7:55 am for the 8:30 am screening, it was already half full. Mild excitement was in the air, some cheers and applause were heard as the lights went down, and another smattering of applause when Tarantino's name appeared on the screen.

I was waiting for some kind of massive reaction at the end, but there really was nothing out of the ordinary. I've never been overwhelmed by Tarantino's films, although the crazed eclecticism of his work is a lot of fun. "Inglourious Basterds" worked for me as a satisfying whole better than most of his other films. He pulls together everything in his arsenal: action, extreme violence, misogyny, film history, pop music and pop culture, and a plot based on a wild premise that rewrites history.

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Opening Shots: Le Samourai

From Brandon Colvin, Out 1:

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The opening shot of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 noir masterpiece “Le Samouraï” establishes the tone of Melville’s contemplative crime film, defines its amoral protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon), and introduces the connections between Costello, a hired assassin, and the concept of the Japanese samurai, particularly the ronin, or masterless samurai. The nearly three-minute shot maintains a simple but wonderfully expressive composition throughout, remaining within the drab gray-blue confines of Jef’s apartment.

Jef lies stiffly on his white mattress with black polka dots in the bottom right corner of the frame. Two windows, overflowing with soft light, balance the composition by providing visual anchors in the center of the frame. Jeff’s pet bird chirps away in his birdcage, resting on a table centered between the two windows. Chairs and dressers crowd the outskirts of the frame, completing the layout of Jef’s ascetically simple, disciplined apartment. For minutes, the only sound is the constant drizzle of rain outside the windows and the intermittent whooshing of cars on the street below, punctuated by the light cries of Jef’s bird. Jef’s lights a cigarette and when he puffs, the smoke floats up softly, stagnating in the light of the windows, rolling around as if trying to escape. The completely still shot seems as if it’s attempting to emulate the frozen camera of Ozu. Jef lies with solemnity and his imprisonment in his dreary apartment is analogous to the situation of his caged bird.

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Following the credits, text appears in the top right corner of the shot. The text reads, “There is no greater solitude than that of a samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle . . . perhaps . . .” The quote is attributed to Bushido (Book of Samurai), which Melville fabricated for the film, and illustrates the connection between Jef’s disciplined isolation and the social exile experienced by great warriors, like samurai. Particularly interesting is the connection between Jef and ronin, or masterless samurai. Ronin are noted in Japanese storytelling for their lack of morality and existential listlessness, caring for themselves above all and feeling no loyalty to exterior forces. Jef exemplifies this sort of selfish existence, which, as with the ronin, fates him to a sense of dread and, ultimately, death.

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Michael Clayton and the case of the three horses

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Q: In response to the Answer Man item about the significance of the horses in the field of "Michael Clayton," the reason Clayton stopped at the horses and the tree was because this was a significant image in the red book his son had given him to read -- the book he couldn't find time for. The image of the tree and the horses gave Clayton reason to pause and ponder his son and his life, which ultimately saved him, since it removed him from the vehicle.

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Is it anti-American to like non-English movies?

View image Alain Delon as Jef Costello in Jean-Pierre Mellville's "Le Samourai." How un-American!

Edward Copeland, mastermind and organizer of the online ""Best" non-English language films poll, reports that Danny Leigh at the film blog at The Guardian (UK) is wondering about our motives ("The view: Is Hollywood America?"): Naturally it's nice to see this kind of attention lavished on some of history's finest yet lately neglected films; but between Copeland's poll (coming after The Guardian's similar exercise earlier in the year) and the surging popularity of foreign movies in the UK, I can't help wondering how much of the current enthusiasm for what was once known as world cinema is purely that - and how much a rejection of Hollywood at a time when the wider America is so reviled. In other words, is George Bush responsible in some odd tangential way for the rediscovery of Jean Renoir and Fassbinder?

If so, it's clearly a phenomenon with differing degrees of enmity; few US bloggers are likely to share the anti-Americanism of many British audiences. And yet in both cases there may be an underlying notion of Hollywood as a tool of a cultural imperialism that, however murkily, reflects the actual imperialism of US foreign policy. Follow that logic far enough and Hollywood flicks aren't just dopey time-killers - but sermons straight from the bully pulpit. I see his angle regarding Hollywood hegemony, but to attribute anti-American (or, rather, anti-Bush) motives to this particular project is stretching things quite a bit.

When it comes to Hollywood movies, I thought we had the British (Robin Wood, Raymond Durgnat) and the French (the Cahiers du Cinema crowd) to thank for originally helping us see the artistic worth of American studio pictures once dismissed as "dopey time-killers."

On the other hand, according to the incessant drumbeat of Fox and the rest of the far-right media, "Hollywood" is America's greatest enemy (since Ronald Reagan left town, anyway) -- especially its outspoken movie stars and Jewish singers! Their favorite targets are Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Barbara Streisand... So, in this climate, if we really wanted to appear "anti-American" (by their definition) wouldn't we actually align ourselves with "Hollywood"?

But this effort to showcase films that aren't in our native tongue (including non-British films, if you want to put it that way) has nothing to do with contemporary politics. It has to do with looking beyond the English-speaking film-world to... the rest of the world and the diversity of movies beyond the five government-selected nominees for the annual Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and the like.

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Scorsese at his best: "The Man Who Set Film Free"

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While I was gone, the New York Times printed a magnificent appreciation of Michelangelo Antonioni written by Martin Scorsese, called "The Man Who Set Film Free." This piece, which begins with Scorsese recalling the profound effect of seeing "L'Avventura" for the first time in 1961, is so moving, and so perceptive, that I think it ranks with the best work Scorsese has ever done in any medium. Reading it brings tears to my eyes -- like a great film does.

Scorsese traces how the film keeps redirecting, reshaping, and dissolving the narrative before our eyes. Is it an "adventure" or an intrigue, as the title suggests? Or a missing-person mystery? Or a detective story? Or a love story? Or a betrayal/revenge story? But right away our attention was drawn away from the mechanics of the search, by the camera and the way it moved. You never knew where it was going to go, who or what it was going to follow. In the same way the attentions of the characters drifted: toward the light, the heat, the sense of place. And then toward one another.

So it became a love story. But that dissolved too. Antonioni made us aware of something quite strange and uncomfortable, something that had never been seen in movies. His characters floated through life, from impulse to impulse, and everything was eventually revealed as a pretext: the search was a pretext for being together, and being together was another kind of pretext, something that shaped their lives and gave them a kind of meaning.

The more I saw “L’Avventura” — and I went back many times — the more I realized...

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