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Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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While Allen’s new picture, "Magic In The Moonlight," isn’t even close to being a disaster (for that, see, well, "Scoop"), I don’t think it’s unreasonable…

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"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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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.

#121 June 27, 2012

Marie writes: It was my birthday June 25th. Unlike Roger however, I'm a Crab not a Gemini. So to celebrate and with my brother's help (he has a car), I took my inner sea crustacean to Barnet Marine Park on the other side of Burnaby Mountain... and where our adventure begins....

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Happiness is being on the road again

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By Roger Ebert November 16, 1986

Most people who are on the road all the time seem to be running from something. Willie Nelson seems to be looking for it. One of his best friends says Willie can't be happy for long unless he's going somewhere - by plane, car, train, bus, foot; it doesn't matter, just as long as he's in motion. One recent rainy day, Willie flew out of Austin, Texas, and spent some time in Chicago, and later that night laid his head to rest in New York City.

"I guess I'm just restless," he said here, stirring sugar into his black coffee in the middle of the afternoon. "It's difficult for me to stay in one spot for long. I really do like to get up and go somewhere, maybe because I've done it all my life. Billy Joe Schaffer has a line, about being so restless that moving's the closest thing to being free."

Nelson was wearing a trimmed-down version of the bushy beard he grew for "Red-Headed Stranger," his new movie, and he had his long hair in two braids -- he's letting it grow again, after cutting it short a few years ago. He was in Chicago to promote the movie, a labor of love that he filmed on his Texas ranch with the help of friends, neighbors, and a mysterious Boston woman who turned up one day with a check for $50,000. (The film's distributor has yet to book a Chicago area theater.)

He is a big star and he doesn't travel light. There must have been a half dozen business partners, assistants, publicists, movie distributors and old pals who checked into the hotel with him, but it was all so low-key I figured they took their tone from him, and he never seemed in a hurry about anything. I asked him if he still used the bus that was the co-star of "Honeysuckle Rose," or if he only used private planes now.

"I love the bus," he said. "You know you've been somewhere. Ham and eggs at dawn in some truck stop somewhere, if that's what you're hungry for. We live in the bus or in hotels a lot, and we like it. My life is very close to the autobiographical movies, `Honeysuckle Rose' and `Songwriter.' "

Those two movies demonstrated Nelson's strange ability, as a movie actor, to create a powerful character while scarcely seeming to raise his voice. Neither one was a box office hit; indeed, Willie Nelson's movie career has consisted of sleepers and lost films and projects producers lost interest in.

His first starring role was "Honeysuckle Rose," the 1980 saga of a hard-drinking country music star and the tug-of-war between his wife (Dyan Cannon) and girl friend (Amy Irving). Then came "Barbarosa" (1982), an offbeat Western about two legendary cowboys and their feud with a Mexican land baron. The studio didn't even want to release that one, even though co-star Gary Busey had recently won an Oscar nomination for "The Buddy Holly Story." Then in 1984 came "Songwriter," with Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in the story of a man determined to regain his independence from the pressures of the recording industry. And now here is "Red-Headed Stranger," inspired by Nelson's album of 11 years ago which tells the story of a preacher who tries t o tame an evil town, is abandoned by his wife, kills his wife and her lover, and then spends years in exile in the wilderness before riding back in to meet his fate in that same town.

Whatever it is that Nelson has as a movie actor, a lot of important directors have been attracted to it. The first movie was directed by Jerry ("Scarecrow") Schatzberg, the second by Fred ("Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith") Schepisi, the third by Alan ("Choose Me") Rudolph, and this one is the directorial debut of Bill Wittliff, who wrote the first two. In all of them, Nelson plays a recognizable version of himself, as a weathered, quiet, gentle man who gives hints of having suffered more than he should have, and being more cheerful than he has reason to be.

"The movie thing all started after a party one night in Nashville," Nelson said, remembering. "It was a fund-raiser for some ecological project Robert Redford was sponsoring, and the next day I found myself on the same plane with Redford, flying back to Los Angeles. He asked me if I had ever wanted to be in the movies, and I said, well, yeah, sure, I supposed so. I guess he already had me in mind for something."

That would have been Redford's "Electric Horseman" (1979), where Nelson's official film acting debut was short but unforgettable (he described a woman as being "able to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch"). Even after four starring roles, he said he's still not happy while he's making a movie: "It's difficult for me to sit in one spot for three months."

And it was difficult to make "Red-Headed Stranger," he added, because the role was so different from himself. "In the songwriter movies, I was basically just being myself. This one I had to stretch a little. But I wanted to make it. When I wrote the album for some reason I could see a movie being made of it. And I just felt like if it were to be made into a movie, I could probably play that character as well as anybody. I used to sing the song to my kids as a bedtime story."

It's kind of a grim story, with the preacher starting out with his high ideals and then murdering what he loved, and descending into self-destruction before he finally gets it together again.

"I think it shows how far down a person can go and then come back, regardless of who he is. And that even a preacher, who is a human being, can drop to that depth and then come back. The thing I wanted to avoid was just turning the movie into one long music video. There was plenty of music available, enough that we could put a song under every scene if we wanted to, but I fought with Wittliff over that. He wanted a lot of music. At first, I didn't want any music at all. I guess we met in the middle somewhere."

The result: an odd Western road picture, somewhat strangely cast (Morgan Fairchild plays Nelson's first wife, and Katharine Ross makes a rare film appearance as the widow who gives him new hope). Nelson spent years trying to finance the project. He described his troubles: "The movie calls for a raging black stallion and a dancing bay pony, and I bought them both when I started the project, but by the time I got the movie made, the dancing bay pony wasn't dancing too much and the raging black stallion wasn't raging too much."

Finally, he said, he and Wittliff pared the budget down to rock bottom and built the sets out back on Nelson's Texas ranch, and started shooting. One example of cutting corners: In the original script, the bad guys blew up the town's water tower, but in the finished version, they just open the tap and drain the water - saving the cost of a $40,000 explosion.

"To keep the thing going, we were writing hot checks at one point," Nelson said. "None of them bounced, though. I guess the people that got them just had enough faith to hold onto them until they figured they were good."

But you have a lot of money, don't you? You're rich and famous.

"Rich, I don't know about. I don't have that much money. I make a lot of money and I spend a lot of money. I have a lot of expenses. The music business brings the money in, and the ranches and various real estate that I have take the money out again. My ranch in Texas is not what you'd describe as a money-making proposition. I keep some pleasure horses there and I enjoy the hell out of it, but it's not a working ranch."

He poured himself some more coffee and smiled to himself.

"With `Red-Headed Stranger,' what saved us was the generosity of a woman in Boston named Carolyn Musar. I only mention her name because she hates it whenever I do. She happened to be a fan of mine, and she heard somewhere that we were short of money to finish this movie, and she told her lawyer, "Find out how much those guys need,' and she was on the set two days later with a $50,000 check as a loan. It came at just the crucial moment."

Nelson, who said he wasn't sure when the film would be released, said he was keeping busy. He was featured in a recent "Miami Vice" episode, he went to New York to be honored as "Man of the Year" by the Jewish United Fund, he was planning a tour, and he was still active on the follow-through for Farm-Aid (the fund- and consciousness-raising extravaganza he produced last summer in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.). All of this for a country singer who likes to call himself an outlaw. I asked him what "outlaw" meant to him, now that he was part of the establishment that had once rejected him.

"Freedom," he said simply. "Freedom to decide for yourself, whatever it is. I think that's why the term caught on so much with the public; it's not going the way someone tells you to go."

It also meant, for a lot of people during Nelson's earlier days, the wild-and-woolly lifestyle that he celebrated in "Honeysuckle Rose" (which was renamed "On the Road Again" for its TV and video reincarnation). In the movie, as - some said - in real life, Nelson and his sidekicks drank and partied their way from one stop to another, leaving a trail of empty bottles and broken hearts behind. But now the wild life has settled down considerably for many of country music's outlaws -- Nelson's pals Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings have all gone public with their decisions to stop drinking and/or drugging, and Hank Williams Jr. even wrote a song about how his rowdy old friends had mellowed. I asked Nelson if he would mind a question about his wild reputation.

"I'll answer any question."

Well, then, do you still live in the style that made "outlaw" famous?

"I drink less, much less. Moderation is the key. I used to overdo everything."

Is it hard to make the tours and live the life on the bus when you're cleaning up your act?

"I think it's important that you surround yourself with a bunch of guys who have the same head that you do, so you're all on a somewhat similar level, or when you hit the bandstand it's not gonna be right. The important thing is that we really do enjoy performing. Other people may call it work. I'm not happy for long unless I'm singing somewhere. Every show is different."

How do you write a song?

"The way it begins is in my head. A lot of things won't let you not write them. I don't actually write anything down for a long time, and so the test is, if I can remember it, it must be worth writing down. If I get out the pencil and paper, I'm already sold on it. But also, I have a belief that any song, if it was good once, it's still good. That's why I like to record a lot of other people's songs, standards, things like the `Stardust' album (a best seller from 1978)."

Did you get criticism in the country music world for recording "Stardust" and the other pop classics? Did people think that wasn't pure enough, from a country point of view?

"Not so much criticism as dubiousness. The `Stardust' album was not thought to be the greatest idea by a lot of people. But these were the songs I'd been playing all my life anyway. And in clubs, people would request `Stardust' and `Harbor Lights' and then turn right around and ask for `Fraulein,' `San Antonio Rose' or `Whiskey River.' People just like good music, a lot of different kinds of music. And I was singing `Stardust' a long time before I was singing country."

Somehow that doesn't fit the image.

"Oh, but it's true. I learned music from my grandparents, and they learned it by mail order from a place called," Nelson said, pausing, "I think the return envelopes said it was called the Chicago Musical Institution. They'd study under kerosene lamps every night. I watched them, they'd have their lessons out of the mail-order books, and then send them back through the mail, and finally they got their degrees. They were about 60 years old then. Sixty years old and still taking their lessons, still young enough to learn something. They had great spirit. I thought so.

"My granddad died when I was 6. He'd taught me some chords on the guitar. My grandmother played the piano and organ a little, but she was getting old and had arthritis. She taught my sister Bobbie how to play the piano, and I learned from her. I'd play guitar and she'd play piano, and that's when I first sang 'Stardust.' I learned it from her.

"I've been singing it since before I knew what it meant."

Did your grandmother live long enough to see you perform in public?

"Yes, she did. She would come to a place in Fort Worth called the Panther Hall Ballroom whenever I'd play there. She was in her 80s."

The afternoon was growing dark, and the rain was starting up again. Before long it would be time for Willie Nelson to head out for the airport again, and fly to New York. I asked him how it felt to be "Man of the Year."

"If they've named me that, there must be a few things they don't know about me," he said, and chuckled. "I guess I got it because of the Farm Aid thing, which is really one of the things I've done in my life that was a great thing. When I first got into the issue of family farms, I had no idea the problem was as severe as it was. I thought we'd do a benefit to call attention to the farmer thing, and Washington would say, `Oh, they're having a problem,' and the next day the whole thing would be worked out. But the problem is getting worse. Hundreds of farmers are going under every week."

Have you ever thought of running for office?

"Yeah. A long time ago. I was approached to run for senator from Texas, and I had to decide, and I decided not to. I'm an entertainer, and so the very fact that in order to become a politician you have to piss off half of the country didn't seem very smart. Why chop off half of your audience just so you could walk around and say, "I'm a senator'?"

And so that's how America lost its chance at the first outlaw senator. What about retirement?

"Yeah, I suppose I'll hang it up someday. Everybody does. But not this year or the next. When I do, I'd like to maybe buy me a little one-pump gas station somewhere in south Texas. You know, pretty far from town, and without much traffic."

If you're a Comcast customer, "Red-Headed Stranger" is streaming.

Some 200 of my TwitterPages are linked at the right. 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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#34 October 27, 2010

Welcome to a special Halloween edition of the Newsletter! Marie writes: the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, in addition to being the final resting place of many a famous name. From Édith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Chopin to Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Georges Méliès, the well-known sleep on the tree-lined avenues of the dead and which you can now explore in a virtual 360 degree tour...

ENTER Père-Lachaise

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Can a movie ruin a good review?

Here's a question for you: Can a movie ruin a good review? Conversely, can a review actually improve upon a movie? Sure, good criticism (whether positive or negative) should encourage you to see a film in new ways you may not have recognized before. Just as cinema itself is a way of looking at the world through someone else's eyes, criticism is a way of looking at movies through someone else's eyes. Yet, the movies themselves don't change -- only our perceptions of them (we'll put aside William Friedkin's "French Connection" Blu-ray for the moment). On the one hand, a piece of film criticism is kind of like an adaptation. It offers an interpretation of the original, but does not replace it. Other "versions" still exist, just as they always did.

I can think of several examples of criticism that I think is superior to the work being criticized, in the sense that the critic is writing about an idealized version of what's on the screen -- the movie we might wish was on the screen, rather than (or in addition to) the one that's actually there. A clarification: This has nothing to do with whether the critic is divining the filmmaker's intentions or not. It has everything to do with what the critic is seeing in, and getting out of, the film.

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De Palmania!

View image Look back in Angora: An Ed Wood moment between Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson in Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia."

In anticipation of Brian DePalma's "The Black Dahlia," which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to bi-polar reviews and opens in the US September 15, a number of sites are celebrating the modern master of the rapturous moving camera. (See De Palma a la Mod for all the latest on De Palma and the Dahlia.) Dennis Cozzalio has an excellent round-up of who's doing what at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and adds his own illuminating thoughts to the heady mix. (And don't forget to check out his Opening Shots submission for De Palma's "Femme Fatale" here at Scanners.)

Peet Gelderblom also has some good stuff about the "unofficial De Palma blogathon" at Lost in Negative Space. And I finally took the advice of That Little Round Headed Boy and caught up with De Palma's much-maligned "Mission to Mars," which has moments of astonishing beauty and suspense, despite being hobbled by a terrible script (original screenwriters joined by an ampersand; re-writer Graham "Speed" Yost tacked on with an "and") and one of the most lifeless performances I have ever seen from Connie Nielsen. (How could she not have been fired after the first day? She's heavier-than-leaden in almost every single moment she has on screen -- except the marvelous weightless dance sequence to [and you have to appreciate the humor] Van Halen. Other than that, like a Martian tornado she sucks.) De Palma is a terrific director of women (Margo Kidder, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, Amy Irving, Carrie Snodgress, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickinson...) but Nielsen is really Not of This Earth. (TLRHB also features some informative comments about "Mission to Mars," including a link to Matt Zoller Seitz's round-up of reviews, from pans to raves.)

I've said this many times before about De Palma, but give this guy a decent screenplay and he can work wonders. Look what he can do even when he doesn't have one. So, give the guy a good script, already!

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Opening Shots: 'Greetings'

The public and the private, the personal and the political: Although this isn't precisely the opening shot of "Greetings" described here, it's part of it, showing the same TV, the same book and the same coffee pot in the same apartment. Frame grabs to come...

Excerpt from my programme notes for a double-bill of "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom!" -- the first presentation in a Brian De Palma series programmed by R.C. Dale at the University of Washington, April 14, 1981:

.... "Greetings," De Palma's 1968 anti-military/anti-war movie mélange, was the first of his films to find an audience. In fact, it was so successful that "Hi, Mom!" was conceived as a sequel (originally to be called "Son of Greetings"). "Greetings" is an ebullient comedy, and a brazenly disturbing mixture of movie-movie acrobatics and American counter-culture politics in the manner of pre-l968 Godard. Critics have emphasized over and over De Palma's debt to filmmakers such as Godard and (especially over-emphasized) Alfred Hitchcock. In "Greetings," Michelangelo Antontoni's "Blow Up," another hip youth-cult film of the time, also looms large. But the filmmaker whose specter really presides over this film is that of Abraham Zapruder, the man who made the most famous home movie of the Kennedy assassination at Dealy Plaza. The first thing we see in DePalma's movie is a television set carrying a speech by President Johnson. In front of the set sits a book: "Six Seconds in Dallas." "Greetings," made five years after the assassination, is a picture of a nation obsessed with six seconds of 8 mm Kodak movie film. Right away, De Palma begins detailing the dissolution of the barrier between the personal and the political in American society; just as, in this and subsequent films, he will dissolve the barrier between the film and the audience, between horror and humor, between public and private.

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Tracing the image #2: The rebirth of 'The Descent'

Whenever you watch a movie, you're also probably watching just about every other movie you've ever seen. The images that flash by trigger associations in your brain -- some of them deliberately planted by the filmmakers, others not. Still, you've got all these images and memories banging around in your head and they're going to connect with something no matter what.

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As I wrote in my review of "The Descent" and subsequent postings, director Neil Marshall quite deliberately conjures up memories of other movies (especially, but not exclusively, horror movies) to evoke emotions and effects that have lingered in viewers' imaginations.

Take the "rebirth" of one character, who emerges from the ground coated in blood, like a baby from the womb. This image resonates with memories from a number of terrific movies. Before I get to a more detailed discussion, the usual **SPOILER ALERT** is in order -- not only for "The Descent," but several of its antecedents, including "Deliverance," "Carrie," "Evil Dead 2" and "The Third Man." OK, let's give these movies a hand!

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Happiness is being on the road again

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Most people who are on the road all the time seem to be running from something. Willie Nelson seems to be looking for it. One of his best friends says Willie can't be happy for long unless he's going somewhere -- by plane, car, train, bus, foot; it doesn't matter, just as long as he's in motion. One recent rainy day, Willie flew out of Austin, Texas, and spent some time in Chicago, and later that night laid his head to rest in New York City.

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