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Goodbye to Language

Jean-Luc Godard's latest free-form essay film may be, more than anything else, a documentary of a restless mind.

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The Great Invisible

Winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, the film is strongest when it focuses on the micro rather than the macro. How the…

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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.

#124 July 18, 2012

Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn has found another auction, and this time it's all about Hollywood! Note: the spaceship on the cover is a screen used miniature from "Aliens" (1986). Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000

Go here to download a free copy of the catalog in .PDF

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#114 May 9, 2012

Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn discovered the following Danish designers "Monstrum" who make extraordinary playgrounds for children. I think they're the stuff of dreams, whatever your age. Indeed; behold the Rahbek kindergarten in Frederiksberg, Denmark, and Monstrum's first playground...

The Rocket and The Princess Tower! "Just like a set design, a playground must have an inspiring front that attracts children, and a functional backside with climbing, sliding and relaxing options. The idea of the playground is to combine a girl's mind with a boy's approach into one big common playground. The princess tower consists of three floors, and the rocket has two floors. From the top floor of the Rocket, you can slide down the 6 m long double slide together with an astronaut friend." (click to enlarge.)

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#91 November 30, 2011

Marie writes: Did you know that the world's steepest roller-coaster is the Takabisha, which opened earlier this year at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanash, Japan? The ride lasts just 112 seconds but is packed with exciting features including seven twists, blackened tunnels and a 43m-high peak. But the most impressive thing about Takabisha is the 121 degree free-fall, so steep that it's been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the steepest roller-coaster made from steel!

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#76 August 17, 2011

"I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan. I was an indifferent student except at subjects that interested me, and those I followed beyond the classroom, stealing time from others I should have been studying. I was no good at math beyond algebra. I flunked French four times in college. I had no patience for memorization, but I could easily remember words I responded to. In college a chart of my grades resembled a mountain range. My first real newspaper job came when my best friend's father hired me to cover high school sports for the local daily. In college a friend told me I must join him in publishing an alternative weekly and then left it in my hands. That led to the Daily Illini, and that in turn led to the Chicago Sun-Times, where I have worked ever since 1966. I became the movie critic six months later through no premeditation, when the job was offered to me out of a clear blue sky."Visit "I was born inside the movie of my life" to read the opening pages from Roger's forthcoming memoir to be published September 13, 2011.

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Getting Medieval On Your...

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● "Ironclad" (2011) ● "Black Death" (2010)

"Ironclad " is now available on DirecTV and other on-demand providers (check your service listings) and from Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) starting on July 26th. "Black Death" is available on Netflix (streaming, DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video.

When I was a kid growing up in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, WA (aka "The Gem of Puget Sound"), my parents did everything that good, sensible parents should do to shield their kids from violence, both real and reel. I remember being innocently intrigued by the furor over "Bonnie & Clyde" in 1967, but they would never have taken me to see it with them (to their credit, since I was only six). The same held true for "The Wild Bunch" in 1969, by which time the debate over movie violence had reached a fever pitch in our national conversation. Over the ensuing decades, that conversation has become a moot point as movie violence proceeded apace, from Sonny Corleone's death in a hail of Tommy-gun fire in "The Godfather" (1972), to the slasher cycle of the late '70s and '80s (when makeup artists Tom Savini and Rick Baker reigned supreme as a master of gory effects) and into the present, when virtually anything - from total evisceration to realistic decapitation -- is possible through the use of CGI and state-of-the-art makeup effects. That's where movies like "Ironclad" and "Black Death" come in, but more on those later.

If you're looking for a rant against milestone achievements in the depiction of graphic violence, you've come to the wrong place. To me, it's a natural progression. Movies and violence have always been inextricably linked, and once opened, that Pandora's Box could never be closed. A more relevant discussion now is how the new, seemingly unlimited gore FX should be used and justified. Horror films will always be the testing ground for the art of gore, and it would be a crime against cinema to cut the "chest-burster" from "Alien" (or, for that matter, Samuel L. Jackson's spectacular death in "Deep Blue Sea"). But it's the depiction of authentic, real-life violence -- in everything from the "CSI" TV franchise to prestige projects like HBO's "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" -- that pushes previously unrated levels of gore into the mainstream.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not praising this progression so much as acknowledging its inevitability. If you really love movies -- and especially if you've been lucky enough to make a career out of watching them -- you have undoubtedly seen a violent film that was unquestionably vile, unjustified and miles beyond the boundaries of all human decency. I've seen violent movies that earned my disgust because (1) the context of the violence was as abhorrent as the violence itself and (2) the intentions of the filmmakers were clearly indefensible. (Context and intention: More on that later.) Tolerances and sensibilities may vary, but every critic has seen a film that appeared to have been written and directed by sociopaths. Check out Roger Ebert's review of "I Spit on Your Grave" (the 1978 version) and you'll see what I mean.

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#65 June 1, 2011

Marie writes: Why a picture is often worth a thousand words...Production still of Harold Lloyd in "An Eastern Westerner" (1920)

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the Your Movie Sucks™ files

Gathered here in one convenient place are my recent reviews that awarded films Two Stars or less. These are, generally speaking to be avoided. Sometimes I hear from readers who confess they are in the mood to watch a really bad movie. If you're sincere, be sure to know what you're getting: A really bad movie. Movies that are "so bad they're good" should generally get two and a half stars. Two stars can be borderline. And Pauline Kael once wrote, "The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn't go at all."

"Just Go With It" (PG-13, 116 minutes). This film's story began as a French farce, became the Broadway hit "Cactus Flower," was made into a 1969 film and now arrives gasping for breath in a witless retread with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker. The characters are so stupid it doesn't seem nice to laugh at them. One star.

"Sanctum" (R, 109 minutes). A terrifying adventure shown in an incompetent way. Scuba-diving cave explorers enter a vast system in New Guinea and are stranded. But this rich story opportunity is lost because of incoherent editing, poor 3D technique, and the effect of 3D dimming in the already dark an murky caves. A "James Cameron Production," yes, but certainly not a "James Cameron Film." One and a half stars

"I Am Number Four" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Nine aliens from the planet Mogador travel across the galaxy to take refuge on earth and rip off elements of the Twilight and Harry Potter movies, and combine them with senseless scenes of lethal Quidditch-like combat. Alex Pettyfer stars as Number Four, who feels hormonal about the pretty Sarah (Dianna Agron), although whether he is the brooding teenage Edward Cullen he seems to be or a weird alien life form I am not sure. Inane setup followed by endless and perplexing action. One and a half stars

"Certifiably Jonathan" (Unrated, 80 minutes). Jonathan Winters deserves better than this. Jim Pasternak's mockumentary is not merely a bad film, but a waste of an opportunity. Nearing 80, Winters is still active and funny, and deserves a real doc, not this messy failed attempt at satirizing--what? Documentaries themselves? Lame scenes involving an art show, a theft and the "Museum of Modern Art" fit awkwardly with cameos of too many other comics, who except for the funny Robin Williams seem to be attending a testimonial. One star.

"The Green Hornet" (PG-13, 108 minutes) An almost unendurable demonstration of a movie with nothing to be about. Although it follows the rough storyline of previous versions of the title, it neglects the construction of a plot engine to pull us through. There are pointless dialogue scenes going nowhere much too slowly, and then pointless action scenes going everywhere much too quickly. One star.

"The Nutcracker in 3D" (PG, 107 minutes) A train wreck of a movie, beginning with the idiotic idea of combining the Tchaikovsky classic with a fantasy conflict that seems inspired by the Holocaust. After little Mary (Elle Fanning) discovers her toy nutcracker can talk, he reveals himself as a captive prince and spirits her off to a land where fascist storm troopers are snatching toys from the hands of children and burning them to blot out the sun. I'm not making this up. Appalling. And forget about the 3D, which is the dingiest and dimmest I've seen. One star

"I Spit on Your Grave" (Unrated; for adults only. Running time: 108 minutes) Despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film "I Spit On Your Grave." This one is more offensive, because it lingers lovingly and at greater length on realistic verbal, psychological and physical violence against the woman, and then reduces her "revenge" to cartoonish horror-flick impossibilities. Oh, and a mentally disabled boy is forced against his will to perform a rape. Zero stars.

"Life As We Know It" (PG-13, 113 minutes). When their best friends are killed in a crash, Holly and Messer (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) are appointed as joint custodians of their one-year-old, Sophie. Also, they have to move into Sophie's mansion. But Holly and Messer can't stand one another. So what happens when they start trying to raise Sophie. You'll never guess in a million years. Or maybe you will. One and a half stars

"Hatchet II" (Unrated, 85 minutes). A gory homage to slasher films, which means it has its tongue in its cheek until the tongue is ripped out and the victims of a swamp man are sliced, diced, slashed, disemboweled, chainsawed and otherwise inconvenienced. One and a half stars

"The Last Airbender" (PG, 103 minutes). An agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. Originally in 2D, retrofitted in fake 3D that makes this picture the dimmest I've seen in years. Bad casting, wooden dialogue, lousy special effects, incomprehensible plot, and boring, boring, boring. One-half of one star.

"The A-Team" (PG-13, 121 minutes). an incomprehensible mess with the 1980s TV show embedded within. at over two hours of Queasy-Cam anarchy it's punishment. Same team, same types, same traits, new actors: Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson. One and a half stars

"Sex & the City 2" (R, 146 minutes). Comedy about flyweight bubbleheads living in a world where their defining quality is consuming things. They gobble food, fashion, houses, husbands, children, and vitamins. Plot centers on marital discord between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth), a purring, narcissistic, velvety idiot? Later, the girls are menaced for immodest dress during a luxurious freebie in Abu Dhabi. Appalling. Sure to be enjoyed by SATC fans. One star

"The Good Heart" (R, 98 minutes). Oh. My. God. A story sopping wet with cornball sentimentalism, wrapped up in absurd melodrama, and telling a Rags to Riches story with an ending that is truly shameless. That fine actor Brian Cox and that good actor Paul Dano and that angelic actress Isild Le Besco cast themselves on the sinking vessel of this story and go down with the ship. One and a half stars.

"Kick-Ass" (R, 117 minutes). An 11-year-old girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), her father (Nicolas Cage) and a high school kid (Aaron Johnson) try to become superheroes to fight an evil ganglord. There's deadly carnage dished out by the child, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. A comic book satire, they say. Sad, I say. One star

"Nightmare on Elm Street" (R, 95 minutes). Teenagers are introduced, enjoy brief moments of happiness, are haunted by nightmares, and then slashed to death by Freddy. So what? One star

"The Bounty Hunter" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An inconsequential formula comedy and a waste of the talents of Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. He's a bounty hunter, she's skipped bail on a traffic charge, they were once married, and that's the end of the movie's original ideas. We've seen earlier versions of every single scene to the point of catatonia. Rating: One and a half stars.

"Cop Out" (R, 110 minutes). An outstandingly bad cop movie, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as partners who get suspended (of course) and then try to redeem themselves by overthrowing a drug operation while searching for the valuable baseball card Willis wants to sell to pay for his daughter's wedding. Morgan plays an unreasonable amount of time dressed as a cell phone, considering there is nothing to prevent him from taking it off. Kevin Smith, who directed, has had many, many better days. One and a half stars.

"The Lovely Bones" (PG-13). A deplorable film with this message: If you're a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they realize what a wonderful person you were. Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") believes special effects can replace genuine emotion, and tricks up Alive Sebold's well-regarded novel with gimcrack New Age fantasies. With, however, affective performances by Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan as the victim. One star.

"The Spy Next Door" (PG, 92 minutes). Jackie Chan is a Chinese-CIA double agent babysitting girl friend's three kids as Russian mobsters attack. Uh, huh. Precisely what you'd expect from a PG-rated Jackie Chan comedy. If that's what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. It's not what I was looking for. One and a half stars.

"Old Dogs" (PG, 88 minutes). Stupefying dimwitted. John Travolta's and Robin Williams' agents weren't perceptive enough to smell the screenplay in its advanced state of decomposition. Seems to have lingered in post-production while editors struggled desperately to inject laugh cues.Careens uneasily between fantasy and idiocy, the impenetrable and the crashingly ham-handed. Example: Rita Wilson gets her hand slammed by a car trunk, and the sound track breaks into "Big Girls Don't Cry." When hey get their hands slammed in car trunks, they do. One star. View the trailer.

"Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (PG-13, 103 minutes). Feuding couple from Manhattan (Hugh Grant and Jessica Sarah Parker) are forced to flee town under Witness Protection Program, find themselves Fish Out of Water in Strange New World, meet Colorful Characters, survive Slapstick Adventures, end up Together at the End. The only part of that formula that still works is The End. With supporting roles for Sam Elliott and Wilford Brimley, sporting the two most famous mustaches in the movies. One and a half stars.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (PG-13, 130 minutes). The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. The sequel to "Twilight" (2008) is preoccupied with remember that film and setting up the third one. Sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return in their original roles, she dewy and masochistic, he sullen and menacing. Ah, teenage romance! One star

"The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day" . (R, 21 minutes) Idiotic ode to macho horseshite (to employ an ancient Irish word). Distinguished by superb cinematography. The first film in 10 years from Troy Duffy, whose "Boondock Saints" (1999) has become a cult fetish. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are Irish brothers who return to Boston for revenge and murder countless enemies in an incomprehensible story involving heavy metal cranked up to 12 and lots of boozing, smoking, swearing and looking fierce and sweaty. One star. View the trailer.

"Gentlemen Broncos". (PG-13, 107 minutes) Michael Angarano plays Benjamin Purvis, a wannabe sci-fi Doctor Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Alas. the great man rips off the kid's book, just when get kid has sold the miniscule filming rights. All sorts of promising material from Jared Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite"), but it's a clutter of jumbled continuity that doesn't add up, despite the presence of Jennifer Coolidge. Two stars. View the trailer.

"The Fourth Kind". (PG-13, 98 minutes). Nome, Alaska (pop. 3,750) has so many disappearances and/or alien abductions that the FBI has investigated there 20 times more than in Anchorage. So it's claimed by this pseudo-doc that goes to inane lengths to appear factual. Milla Jovovich is good as a psychologist whose clients complain that owls stare at them in the middle of the night. One and a half stars. View the trailer.

21 and a Wakeup . (R, 123 minutes). A disjointed, overlong and unconvincing string of anecdotes centering around the personnel of an Army combat hospital in Vietnam. Amy Acker plays an idealistic nurse who is constantly reprimanded by absurdly hostile officer (Faye Dunaway). Plays like a series of unlikely anecdotes trundled onstage without much relationship to one another. One episode involves an unauthorized trip into Cambodia by a nurse and a civilian journalist; it underwhelms. One and a half stars. Visit the website.

"Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant". (PG-13, 108 minutes) This movie includes good Vampires, evil Vampanese, a Wolf-Man, a Bearded Lady, a Monkey Girl with a long tail, a Snake Boy, a dwarf with a four-foot forehead and a spider the size of your shoe, and they're all boring as hell. They're in a traveling side show that comes to town and lures two insipid high school kids (Josh Hutcherson and Chris Massoglia) into a war between enemy vampire factions. Unbearable. With Joh C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit, and other wasted talents. One star. View the trailer.

"Couples Retreat" (PG-13, 107 minutes). Four troubled couples make a week's retreat to an island paradise where they hope to be healed, which indeed happens, according to ages-old sitcom formulas. This material was old when it was new. The jolly ending is agonizing in its step-by-step obligatory plotting. I didn't care for any of the characters, and that's about how much they seemed to care for one another. Starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk. Two stars. View the trailer.

"Fame.". (PG, 90 minutes). A pale retread of the 1980 classic, lacking the power and emotion of the original. A group of hopeful kids enroll in the New York City School of the Performing Arts and struggle through four years to find themselves. Their back stories are shallow, many seem too old and confident, the plot doesn't engage them, and although individual performers like Naturi Naughton sparkle as a classical pianist who wants to sing hip hop, the film is too superficial to make them convincing. Two stars. View the trailer.

"All About Steve". (PG-13, 87 minutes ) Sandra Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle constructor who on a blind date falls insanely in love with Steve, a TV news cameraman (Bradley Cooper, from "The Hangover"). The operative word is "insanely." The movie is billed as a comedy but more resembles a perplexing public display of irrational behavior. Seeing her run around as a basket case makes you appreciate Lucille Ball, who could play a dizzy dame and make you like her. One and a half stars. View the trailer.

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#49 February 9, 2011

Marie writes: They call it "The Shard" and it's currently rising over London akin to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and dwarfing everything around it, especially St. Paul's in front. I assume those are pigeons flying over-head and not buzzards. Ie: not impressed, but that's me and why I'm glad I saw London before they started to totally ruin it.Known as the "London Bridge Tower" before they changed the name, when completed in 2012, it will be the tallest building in Europe and 45th highest in the world. It's already the second highest free-standing structure in the UK after the Emley Moor transmitting station. The Shard will stand 1,017 ft high and have 72 floors, plus another 15 radiator floors in the roof. It's been designed with an irregular triangular shape from base to top and will be covered entirely in glass. The tower was designed by Renzo Piano, the Italian architect best know for creating Paris's Pompidou Centre of modern art with Richard Rogers, and more recently the New York Times Tower. You can read an article about it at the Guardian.  Here's the official website for The Shard. Photograph: Dan Kitwood.

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The best films of the decade

"Synecdoche, New York" is the best film of the decade. It intends no less than to evoke the strategies we use to live our lives. After beginning my first viewing in confusion, I began to glimpse its purpose and by the end was eager to see it again, then once again, and I am not finished. Charlie Kaufman understands how I live my life, and I suppose his own, and I suspect most of us. Faced with the bewildering demands of time, space, emotion, morality, lust, greed, hope, dreams, dreads and faiths, we build compartments in our minds. It is a way of seeming sane.

The mind is a concern in all his screenplays, but in "Synecdoche" (2008), his first film as a director, he makes it his subject, and what huge ambition that demonstrates. He's like a

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IFC signs pact with devil Blockbuster

View image The site says "NC-17" but the box art says "R." Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" won the Venice Film Festival last year. But that's not the version Blockbuster carries. Would you have known you weren't seeing the version released in the US -- especially if you rented it based on the contradictory online info you see here?

IFC Entertainment has made a two-year agreement with Blockbuster® Video, giving the moribund sales and rental mega-chain "an exclusive 60-day rental window, including both the physical and digital rental distribution channels, for each title as it becomes available. During this period no title will be available on a retail basis in any format."

According to a joint press release, "After the 60-day period, the IFC titles will be available on a non-exclusive basis both for retail and digital distribution. However, Blockbuster will retain the exclusive physical rental distribution rights for IFC titles for three years after each street date." (You read that right: It's a two-year agreement with a three-year exclusive.)

Currently, some IFC Films, released on their First Take label ("Paranoid Park," "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 days," "Hannah Takes the Stairs," "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"), have been available via Comcast's On Demand service the same day they arrive in theaters. Will that still be the case?

The Weinstein Company made an "exclusive" four-year deal with Blockbuster that went into effect in 2007, although that hasn't prevented NetFlix or other competitors from renting or selling Weinstein movies under the "first sale doctrine." As the Dallas Morning News reported at the time of the Weinstein-Blockbuster agreement: "Under federal statute, companies such as Blockbuster and Netflix are able to rent out the movies they purchase without getting permission from anyone."

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Three kinds of violence: Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood

View image A figure in the shadows.

1. I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.

2. I hate most people.... I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need.

3. I want to rule and never, ever explain myself. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little.

Match the above comments to the character who speaks or writes them:

a) Anton Chigurh, "No Country for Old Men" b) The Zodiac, "Zodiac" c) Daniel Plainview, "There Will Be Blood"

(Answers at end of post.)

* * * *

NOTE: Spoilers lurk sinisterly below.

View image Daniel Plainview, "There Will Be Blood."

Three of the most admired and fervently debated American films of the year move inexorably toward a climactic confrontation with a killer -- or someone's conception of a killer. Only Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" actually culminates in a eruption of savagery, while David Fincher's "Zodiac" and Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" gradually steer their attention away from the assaults and into the psyches of the characters who are haunted by the brutality penetrating their lives.

View image Anton Chigurh, "No Country for Old Men."

View image The Zodiac, "Zodiac" -- or as close as we ever get to seeing him.

Much has been written about the violence in these movies, the darkness they find in the American landscape, and what some see as their bleak, fatalistic and/or nihilistic attitude. Does this somehow reflect the country's moral ambivalence about being mired in two bloody, confusing guerrilla wars on the other side of the world? A sense of No Exit hopelessness that the Vietnam nightmare is recurring? Mainstream (or art house) torture porn that allows us to vicariously groove on -- as we are simultaneously appalled by -- the crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? Dissatisfaction with the materialistic emphasis on the American Dream? A cynical exploitation of artfully staged killings for our (cathartic?) entertainment?

The popular press likes to talk about violence in movies with a superficiality that assumes all violence and all movies are the same, that blood is blood (and that gore and gunplay are automatically more sensational than depictions of beatings or other forms of physical and psychological abuse). But that Sunday feature-section approach ignores what it's like to watch the movies themselves, and the diverse contexts in which they present acts of cruelty and lethality. To say that "Zodiac," "NCFOM" and "TWBB" are all "violent films" tells you as much about them as saying they all use the color red.¹ I'd like to consider how the violence in these films conveys its own meaning, apart from any op-ed political parallels that can be drawn, however legitimately.

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Bergman and Antonioni: Commercial moviemakers

View image "Zabriskie Point" -- an Antonioni movie on the cover of LOOK magazine in 1969: "Had he violated the Mann Act when he staged a nude love-in in a national park? Does the film show an "anti-American" bias? As a member of the movie Establishment, is he distorting the aims of the young people's 'revolution'?"

Watching Ingmar Bergman's "Shame" (1968) over the weekend (which I was pleased to find that I had not seen before -- after 20 or 30 years, I sometimes forget), I recalled something that happened around 1982. Through the University of Washington Cinema Studies program, we brought the now-famous (then not-so-) story structure guru Robert McKee to campus to conduct a weekend screenwriting seminar. McKee, played by Brian Cox in Spike Jonze's and Charlie Kaufman's "Adapation." as the ultimate authority on how to write a salable screenplay, has probably been the single-most dominant influence in American screenwriting -- "Hollywood" and "independent" -- over the last two decades. Many would say "pernicious influence." (Syd Field is another.)

It's not necessarily McKee's fault that so many aspiring screenwriters and studio development executives have chosen to emphasize a cogent, three-act structure over all other aspects of the script, including things like character, ideas, and even coherent narrative. Structure, after all, is supposed to be merely the backbone of storytelling, not the be-all, end-all of screenwriting. But people focus on the things that are easiest to fix, that make something feel like a movie, moving from beat to beat, even if the finished product is just a waste of time.

The film McKee chose to illustrate the principles of a well-structured story that time was Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring."

"Shame" is another reminder that Bergman's movies weren't solely aimed at "art" -- they were made to appeal to an audience. Right up to its bleak ending, "Shame" is a rip-roaring story, with plenty of action, plot-twists, big emotional scenes for actors to play, gorgeously meticulous cinematography, explosive special effects and flat-out absurdist comedy. I don't know how "arty" it seemed in 1968, but it plays almost like classical mainstream moviemaking today. (And remember: Downbeat, nihilistic or inconclusive finales were very fashionable and popular in mainstream cinema in the late 1960's: "Bonnie and Clyde," "Blow-Up," "Easy Rider," "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...),

It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors -- who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form. (The Beatles, who in 1964-'65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after "A Hard Day's Night"!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood.

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Call him "Mr. Contrarian"

Latest Contrarian Week News:

In his New York Observer year-end wrap-up (and ten-best list), Andrew Sarris attempts to steal the thunder of one of his New York "alternative weekly" rivals.

Sarris writes: Fortunately, modern technology makes it almost impossible for a good movie to get “lost” because of end-of-the-year mental exhaustion. So, with the proviso that I still have a great deal of catching up to do, here are my considered choices for the various 10-best categories, and one of my patented 10-worst lists under the provocative heading of “Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t.” I am not at all deterred in dishing out my annual supply of negativity by the correspondent who informed me last year that he preferred all the films on my 10-worst list to all the films on my 10-best list. I have long ago become resigned to my fate as a reviled revisionist ever since my first column in The Village Voice in 1960 hailed Alfred Hitchcock as a major artist for "Psycho," and inspired more hate mail than any Voice column had received up to that time. That clinched my job at the ever-contrarian Voice, and I have simply gone on from there.So, how contrarian is the "reviled revisionist" 46 years later? Let's see:

"The Departed" as best film of the year. (Only in New York!)

"Blood Diamond" as #5.

Best Supporting Actresses: 1) Jennifer Connelly, "Blood Diamond" 2) Gong Li, "Miami Vice" 3) Maggie Gyllenhaal, "World Trade Center"

And then there's this: Other striking male performances were provided by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin and Anthony Anderson in The Departed; Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber and Toby Jones in The Painted Veil; Wim Willaert in When the Sea Rises; Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths in Venus; Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Inside Man; Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shido Nakamura in Letters from Iwo Jima; Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine; Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell in The Illusionist; Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Gregg Edelman and Ty Simpkins in Little Children; Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer and Dylan Walsh in The Lake House; Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena and Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center; Tim Blake Nelson, Pat Corley, Jeffrey Donovan, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson in Come Early Morning; Ryan Gosling and Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson; Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, and Danny Huston in Marie Antoinette; Matt Damon, Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Ivanir and Joe Pesci in The Good Shepherd; Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones and Ben Foster in X-Men: The Last Stand; Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Simon Abkarian, Sebastien Foucan, Jesper Christensen and Tobias Menzies in Casino Royale; Ebru Ceylan and Mehmet Eryilmaz in Climates; Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck and Bob Hoskins in Hollywoodland; Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Hinton Battle in Dreamgirls; Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Trevor Fehrman, Kevin Smith and Jason Lee in Clerks II; Justin Kirk and Jamie Harrold in Flannel Pajamas; Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Adrian Grenier in The Devil Wears Prada; Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hulce in Stranger Than Fiction; Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Sam Jones III and Brian Presley in Home of the Brave; Harris Yulin, Ty Burrell and Boris McGiver in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore and Nick Swardson in Art School Confidential; Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Alec Baldwin in Running with Scissors; Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Ciarán Hinds, Justin Theroux, Barry Shabaka Henley, Luis Tosar and John Ortiz in Miami Vice; Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam and Tim McMullan in The Queen; Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Anthony Mackie, Marlon Sherman and Clarke Peters in Freedomland; Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Raul Esparza in Find Me Guilty; Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley in Lucky Number Slevin; Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Chris Klein, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Cho, Tony Yalda, Sam Golzari and Willem Dafoe in American Dreamz; Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane in A Scanner Darkly; Adam Beach, Ryan A. Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, John Benjamin Hickey, Jon Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker and Robert Patrick in Flags of Our Fathers; Chow Yun-Fat in Curse of the Golden Flower; Sergi López, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo and Federico Luppi in Pan’s Labyrinth; Bill Nighy in Notes on a Scandal.Take that, A----- W----!

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Griffin Mill and 'The Return of the Player'

He's baaaaack. And he's miserable.

Michael Tolkin, who wrote the novel and screenplay on which Robert Altman's "The Player" was based, has published a sequel in which studio executive Griffin Mill, now 52, is trying to get out of Hollywood. Tolkin has this to say about the state of movies, in a New York Times interview: “The movies haven’t been very good the last three or four years, they really haven’t,��? he said. “Everybody knows that. At least that, maybe more. And what they were will never return.��?

The source of all this creative- industrial- complex angst is the death of what he both eulogizes and parodies: the classic journey-of-the-hero story structure, analyzed by Joseph Campbell in the 1940’s, popularized a generation ago by George Lucas through “Star Wars,��? spouted and shorthanded by studio executives ever since, and all but trampled to death, Mr. Tolkin said, by nearly every subsequent action movie and thriller that Hollywood has turned out.

Or as Griffin puts it: “Physics cracked the atom, biology cracked the genome and Hollywood cracked the story.��? What he's talking about, of course, is the ubiquity of screenwriting guru Robert McKee's story structure techniques, satirized in "Adaptation." with Brian Cox playing McKee.

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Cannes #1: Woody Allen gets sexy

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CANNES, France – Woody Allen is back. He hasn’t exactly been away, but not many of his recent films have stirred up the kind of excitement inspired here Thursday by “Match Point,” which is a thriller involving tennis, shotguns and adultery.

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Charlie Kaufman & Spike Jonze: Twin pleasures

I am engaged in a fierce inner struggle as I begin this article about the brilliant new movie "Adaptation." Part of me wants to write showbiz gossip. The other part wants to get serious and deal with the cinema of Spike Jonze, the inside-out screenplays of Charlie Kaufman, and the way Nicolas Cage plays twins you can tell apart even though they look the same.

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