As Above, So Below
It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…
* 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.
Why DiCaprio doesn't get lucky at the Oscars; Atheism in Hollywood; Famous rejection letters; Wes Anderson as an advertiser; Auteur theory and Kent Jones.
Odie Henderson champions Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Best Actor of 2013.
Erik Childress analyzes the impact of the recently-awarded BAFTAs on the Oscar race.
Links to all the essays about our picks for who deserves Oscars during this week-long event. Updated daily.
The Oscars race has hit a holiday lull. It's a good time to pause and take stock of nominations.
"Tower Prep" was cancelled because it was too girl-centric; the year's 10 best movie quotes; the year's worst movie titles; the real sins of the Welfare Queen; the aptly named Wiseman speaks.
Alyssa Rosenberg considers the women on the big screen and the small screen in the past year.
Omer Mozaffar reflects on "12 Years a Slave."
Alan Zilberman looks at the move to minimalism in musical scores, and how those scores shape our emotional reactions.
That a film as searing and necessary as "12 Years a Slave" is having trouble drawing large audiences is a testament to the power of denial. That so few mainstream films have been made about slavery in America is also a testament to the power of denial.
Dan Callahan looks at the career of Alfre Woodard.
"12 Years a Slave" and "The Butler" are part of a valuable subgenre of American film that dramatizes the fallacy of "Black respectability"—the notion that if African-Americans will only speak, dress and behave in a certain way, discrimination won't affect them, and they'll reap the American dream.
Saturday night is party night at the Toronto International Film Festival, when all the celebs and journalists float from soiree to soiree promoting or being promoted at.
Four standout performances by black actors make the Oscar Best Actor race more interesting this year.
Marie writes: As the dog days of summer slowly creep towards September and Toronto starts getting ready for TIFF 2013, bringing with it the promise of unique and interesting foreign films, it brought to mind an old favorite, namely The Red Balloon; a thirty-four minute short which follows the adventures of a young boy who one day finds a sentient red balloon. Filmed in the Menilmontant neighborhood of Paris and directed by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, The Red Balloon went on to win numerous awards and has since become a much-beloved Children's Classic.
Marie writes: Last week, in response to a club member comment re: whatever happened to Ebert Club merchandize (turned out to be too costly to set up) I had promised to share a free toy instead - an amusement, really, offered to MailChimp clients; the mail service used to send out notices. Allow me to introduce you to their mascot...
I had the privilege of watching Mischa Webley's curiously entertaining first film, "The Kill Hole" (2012), at the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago. This carefully crafted movie has begun winning awards at festivals across the country, and rightly so. Its director and producer Zach Hagen is congenial and it is a very good movie. It keeps leading you in one direction, in order to sneak up on you in the other.
Chaos Cinema Part 1 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.
Matthias Stork, a German film scholar now based in Los Angeles, has created a most stimulating two-part video essay on a subject near and dear to my heart: "Chaos Cinema." At Press Play, it's given the sub-head "The decline and fall of action filmmaking," while an analysis at FILMdetail considers it from the angle of technology: "Chaos Cinema and the Rise of the Avid." Stork, who also narrates his essay, describes his premise this way:
Rapid editing, close framings, bipolar lens lengths and promiscuous camera movement now define commercial filmmaking.... Contemporary blockbusters, particularly action movies, trade visual intelligibility for sensory overload, and the result is a film style marked by excess, exaggeration and overindulgence: chaos cinema.
Chaos cinema apes the illiteracy of the modern movie trailer. It consists of a barrage of high-voltage scenes. Every single frame runs on adrenaline. Every shot feels like the hysterical climax of a scene which an earlier movie might have spent several minutes building toward. Chaos cinema is a never-ending crescendo of flair and spectacle. It's a shotgun aesthetic, firing a wide swath of sensationalistic technique that tears the old classical filmmaking style to bits. Directors who work in this mode aren't interested in spatial clarity. It doesn't matter where you are, and it barely matters if you know what's happening onscreen. The new action films are fast, florid, volatile audiovisual war zones. [...]
Most chaos cinema is indeed lazy, inexact and largely devoid of beauty or judgment. It's an aesthetic configuration that refuses to engage viewers mentally and emotionally, instead aspiring to overwhelm, to overpower, to hypnotize viewers and plunge them into a passive state. The film does not seduce you into suspending disbelief. It bludgeons you until you give up.
It seems to me that these movies are attempting a kind of shortcut to the viewer's autonomic nervous system, providing direct stimulus to generate excitement rather than simulate any comprehensible experience. In that sense, they're more like drugs that (ostensibly) trigger the release of adrenaline or dopamine while bypassing the middleman, that part of the brain that interprets real or imagined situations and then generates appropriate emotional/physiological responses to them. The reason they don't work for many of us is because, in reality, they give us nothing to respond to -- just a blur of incomprehensible images and sounds, without spatial context or allowing for emotional investment.
Marie writes: you've all heard of Banksy. But do you know about JR...?(click to enlarge image)
The Grand Poobah writes: "be there or be square...."(click to enlarge)
Phillip Noyce's (and definitely Angelina Jolie's) lean and unpretentious "Salt" is proof positive that dumb summer thrillers don't have to be stupid. That is, it revels in absurd implausibilities that are as outrageous as in the movie playing the next auditorium down the hall (and the one next to that), but it never breaks a sweat trying to convince you that it's anything other than what it is. The difference between "Salt" and most ludicrous trying-too-hard action movies is a matter of grace under pressure: a veteran director with a firm command (and respect for) the integrity of screen space; a stripped-down screenplay that gives you just enough exposition to create suspense and keep you guessing about what's going on (What's she doing? Why is she doing it? Does she know why she's doing it?); and an iconic leading lady whose poise is exceeded only by her stubborn resilience.
And then there's her face, which is the real subject of the film. You won't find a more thrilling moment in summer movies than the shot -- "Queen Christina" via "The Scarlet Empress" -- of Jolie's Evelyn Salt, wearing a Russian fur hat and wrap, standing on the Staten Island Ferry, with Ellis Island in the distance. The camera moves in on her from behind, causing the distant silhouette of the Statue of Liberty to sweep across the horizon from right to left, then swings around her into a breathtaking close-up profile. The whole movie is contained in that shot, from a far shot of the abstract Lady Liberty, into a close-up of another statuesque lady of questionable loyalties. (I couldn't help but think of Truffaut dollying around the stone bust of the Greek goddess with the serene, unreadable expression in "Jules and Jim" -- Jolie's Eve(lyn) being as mysterious and even more deadly than Jeanne Moreau's Catherine who, after all, was not CIA.) The shot has nothing to do with the plot; it just serves to get Salt to a rendezvous with a Russian sleeper cell. But it's a great movie-star moment, the kind of image you could imagine being built around Garbo or Dietrich or Ingrid Bergman.
Q. After watching the Criterion edition of Bergman's "The Silence" (1963), I read your Great Movie review and was puzzled by one sentence: "The doorway between their rooms is the portal through which they stage their rivalry, and only Johan passes back and forth thoughtlessly."
Based on his show-stopping speech at Saturday night's Independent Spirit Awards, if Mickey Rourke wins an Oscar on Sunday night the Oscarcast is going to be a lollapalooza. As his comeback film "The Wrestler" won for best film, male actor and cinematography, Rourke brought the show to a halt and the audience to its feet with an acceptance speech that was classic Mickey. The Indie Spirits are telecast live and unbleeped, which added considerably to the speech's charm.
David Mamet's recent "Redbelt" is an example of a kind of movie that needs a name. It's not precisely a thriller, or a suspense picture, or a police procedural, and although it occupies the territory of film noir, it's not a noir. I propose this kind of film be named a Twister, because it's made from plot twists, and in a way the twists are the real subject.
By Roger Ebert