Heaven Is for Real
Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.
* 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.
Matt Zoller Seitz on why Philip Seymour Hoffmann mattered.
Remembrances of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Git on up in here! Dennis Cozzalio is our host for the second annual Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule Movie Tree House -- and you're invited, too. Join returning Tree Housers Dennis, Jason Bellamy, Sheila O'Malley and me, and welcome Simon Abrams and Steven Boone to the lofty branches, where we have been discussing such life-and-death matters as...
The art and science of year-end list-making (from Dennis):
As of January 2012, it's a chore for me to recall anything but fragments of images from The Tree of Life beyond that wonderful sequence in which the oldest boy's growing up amongst his two younger siblings is compressed into a beautiful visual essay about the way a child might see the surrounding world. It seems to me it is with this gaze that Malick most clearly relates. Unfortunately, a child's focus is also all over the map, and that too is a feeling I get from "The Tree of Life." So am I crazy in having to admit that I have higher regard for "Your Highness" or "Captain America: The First Avenger" or "Troll Hunter" or "Contagion" than I do for "The Tree of Life"? You tell me.
In compiling my list for the year I also had the strange experience of having my expectations for how that list might look at the end of the year scrambled and significantly altered by three very different movie experiences, two of which I just happened to have on the same night less than two weeks ago....
The acting! (from Sheila):
I would never want to read a screenplay before seeing the movie based on it. As a critic, in fact, it would be a violation of my responsibilities (and ethics) to do that. The film has to be seen on its own, as a completed work; a critic shouldn't rummage through the drafts before experiencing the finished piece -- whether it's a movie or a painting or a symphony. I'm even ambivalent about reading certain books before seeing the movie versions, too, and for the same reason that I don't like to see trailers, particularly of films I'm likely to write about: I don't want to harbor preconceived ideas (even unconscious impressions) when I watch the picture. As we all know, it's hard enough to get a clean look at a movie after all the advertising and interviews and seasonal previews and reviews...
But if you want to gain some understanding of how movies are actually made (movies in general and any movie in particular) it's often enlightening to go back and take look at how the screenplay (or various drafts, re-writes, polishes) evolved into the movie that eventually wound up on the screen. Some filmmakers like Clint Eastwood often claim to simply shoot a script "as written" (though he and Dustin Lance Black did some re-working, including adding a voiceover, on the "J. Edgar" screenplay). But it can be fascinating to see how the writer(s), director(s) and editor(s) shape the material throughout the entire process -- and how moving (or removing) images and lines from one context and placing them in another changes their meaning. This is now easier to do than ever before, because so many screenplays are available online -- legitimately (For Your Consideration at studio sites) and otherwise.
"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)
"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review
"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review
"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism
"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹
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In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.
So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²
Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.
Marie writes: this past Monday, the Chicago Sun Times updated "Movable Type" - a program used to create blogs. Roger's journal for example. Other newspapers might use "Word Press" instead; same idea though. Any-hoo, it's hosted on the "new" server at the Sun-Times and as is customary, you have to login to use it. It's online software. Meaning you're totally at the mercy of any freakiness that might be going on.I mention this because there was indeed some weirdness earlier (server choked) and that, plus the fact Movable Type does things differently now, put me behind schedule. So I don't really have anything for the front page. I can go look, though! Meanwhile, just continue reading and if I find anything interesting, I'll let you know....Ooo, clams...
List of the 78th annual Oscar nominations announced Tuesday in Beverly Hills, Calif., by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:
While the winners won't be announced until March 5, you can cast your vote now.
Chicago’s film critics Monday named "Crash" as their No. 1 movie of 2005, beating out tough contenders "Brokeback Mountain," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "A History of Violence," and "King Kong" (2005).
The National Society of Film Critics has chosen "Capote" as the best film of 2005, and Philip Seymour Hoffman best actor for his work in the title role.
Directors Guild (DGA)Producers Guild (PGA)Screen Actors Guild (SAG)Writers Guild (WGA)Updated January 5, 2006 -- Because the membership of the motion picture guilds -- the Writers Guild (WGA), Directors Guild (DGA), Producers Guild (PGA), Screen Actors Guild (SAG), etc. -- largely overlaps with the branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who select the Oscar nominees in their categories, you can infer a lot about the Oscars based on the guilds' awards. It's rare indeed that a movie can actually win an Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, or major acting awards without at least a nomination from the corresponding industry guilds -- or that it can win the Best Picture Oscar without first getting a nod from the PGA, DGA or WGA.
"I don't think Capote knew exactly what he was setting himself up for," Philip Seymour Hoffman said. "He said later if he'd known what was going to happen, he would have driven right through the town like a bat out of hell."
TORONTO – It was like I had moved to a city where only movie people live. I wandered Toronto on Saturday, from screening to party, and on the busiest day of the 30th annual Toronto Film Festival there were more stars, as MGM liked to say, than in the heavens. Amazing: I ran into Deborah Kara Unger, Ed Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Martin, Anthony Hopkins, Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal without even trying to, just because they were right there on the sidewalk or in the hotel lobby.
TELLURIDE, Colo. – When I first came to the Telluride Film Festival in 1980, screenings were held in Quonset huts and city parks, the old Nugget theater on Main Street, and in the faded glory of the tiny Sheridan Opera House, built when this was a boom town in mining days. The 2005 festival, which will be held over Labor Day weekend, still uses the opera house, but has added so many state-of-the-art theaters, some of them constructed inside the old Mason's Hall and the school gyms, that it feels like the most happening art movie town in America.
TORONTO, Canada -- One week after the gross-out comedy "There's Something About Mary" reached No. 1 at the box office, here's Cameron Diaz back again in an even grosser movie - one that makes "Mary" look positively tasteful by comparison."Very Bad Things," which had its world premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, tests the limits of what a general-audience picture can contain. Although my review will wait until the movie opens, word will be quickly spreading from a capacity crowd that was urged by writer-director Peter Berg to shout at the screen: "Hit it back! It can take it!"Diaz has a supporting role, as a 27-year-old who is focusing obsessively on her upcoming marriage. Most of the movie involves a Las Vegas bachelor party and its aftermath, as her fiancee (Jon Favreau) is joined by his buddies (Christian Slater, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern and Leland Orser) in a wild booze-and-drugs orgy that ends with them burying bodies in the desert. And that's only the start of the very bad things.It's not the story that's startling, really, but the gruesome, violent tone. The events in "Very Bad Things" could occur in lots of different kinds of movies, but Berg seems intent not only on pushing the envelope but slashing and burning it.The question occurs: Is Hollywood going to get involved in a race to outgross itself? There were those who were offended by "There's Something About Mary," but at heart it was a romantic screwball comedy, and it got away with murder because it was really, truly funny. A movie doesn't climb to the top of the box-office charts in its eighth week unless the word of mouth is extraordinary: Moviegoers are obviously telling their friends about it, and taking them to see it at theaters that shake with laughter.If laughter can redeem borderline subject matter, one wonders how much laughter it will take to redeem "Very Bad Things," which involves mayhem so gruesome it upstages the previous record-holder, "Shallow Grave," especially in the vivisection and burial department. There are racial themes sure to make audiences uncomfortable (two of the victims are black and Asian; several of the heroes talk much of their Jewishness). And although the later stages of the movie relax into somewhat more conventional slapstick, the Vegas scenes seem inspired by gore and slasher movies more than by comedy.Will this mixture work at the box office? I heard a lot of laughter and some applause at theToronto premiere. But, less obviously to be sure, I sensed that many audience members were watching in thoughtful silence.What a contrast was "After Life," the new film by Japan's Hirokazu Kore-Eda, whose "Maborosi" was one of the best films of last year. The new film has a premise that sounds simplistic, but the film reaches surprising emotional insights.It's about a way-station between this world and the next, where the newly deceased are asked to choose one memory that they wish to preserve. The memory is then re-enacted and filmed by the way-station staff, and after viewing it the visitors move on to the next level of the afterlife, with only that one memory left to them.What will the newcomers choose? What will it mean? How will their choices affect the staff members? The movie takes its seemingly sentimental premise and uses it to examine how memory works selectively to interpret our loves to ourselves."I expect the total transformation of their lives the moment they get on the bus," declares a Manhattan tour bus guide named Timothy (Speed) Levitch, in a weirdly infectious new documentary by Bennett Miller named "The Cruise." Levitch clears about $200 a week improvising into the microphone as he conducts tours, or "cruises," informing and amazing his Gray Line passengers with such information as, "You are five blocks from where Dorothy Parker died of alcoholism and despair."Levitch is a cast-iron original, with his adenoidal voice, blinding sports coats, unruly mane of curly hair and flat-footed gait. He seems utterly confident about who he is and what he does, but an oddness creeps in, and we suspect there's more to the story. He seems to be projecting his entire psyche onto the city and the tour.Here he is on architecture: "I identify with the anger and inferiority that some of the smaller buildings feel." Louis Sullivan's terra cotta Manhattan skyscraper is, he feels, orgasmic, and he describes its sex life in detail. Of the Brooklyn Bridge, he says, "Eleven people have jumped off this bridge and survived. One of my cruising dreams would be to get those people together on a cruise."He became a tour guide, he explains, "to meet and seduce women." That's why he rebels at the requirement that he wear the Gray Line's official uniform, a red shirt: "You are not ever gonna get lucky in a red shirt."