"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.
* 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.
David Cronenberg's "The Fly" (1986) is among a very few movies that give me a sense of hesitation as soon as the credits appear. I've owned a couple of home video versions since its release twenty some years ago, according to the technology in favor, but I doubt I've played them more than a handful of times (including that for the purpose of this review). For such a well made and entertaining movie this is particularly odd but among the great horror flicks (it certainly fits the bill) this one hits you a little bit below the belt for enjoyment's sake."The Fly" deals with Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), an eccentric inventor who meets reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a science convention and (somewhat unwillingly) spills the beans about his latest creation, one that will "change the world as we know it". The contraption in question is a teleportation system for inanimate objects, which is basically the same concept used for getting characters on and off the Starship Enterprise in "Star Trek". With Veronica alongside him to document his progress Seth is able to take the next step, giving his invention the ability to transport live beings. After a failed attempt (that's putting it mildly!) with a baboon that should have given him some pause, Seth unwisely decides to rush testing the system with himself as passenger, unaware that a seemingly innocent house fly has hitched a ride alongside him (at least they weren't joined by that other baboon!). After the initial apparent success, an oblivious Seth will find himself gaining incredible agility and strength but will progressively become a mean, selfish, stench-filled and tragic individual, illustrating in the process the nature of those insects in much higher detail than we would ever want to learn. By film's end we'll end up seeing these creatures in a very different light and Seth will not be able to regret enough the fact that he did not provide his device with an UNDO command.Much like he previously did in "The Dead Zone" (1983), Cronenberg creates a very convincing couple for the audience to identify with before tragedy strikes. The difference in "The Fly" is that he doesn't show them the slightest bit of mercy (the fates of Christopher Walken and Brooke Adams in "The Dead Zone" amounted to a happy ending in comparison). This doesn't necessarily make one movie better than the other (though "The Dead Zone"'s conclusion is truly sublime). Both entries were treated correctly according to their very different subjects but the ending in "The Fly" is not quite as easy to appreciate. The audience here is even taunted for a while with the possibility that the experiment's results are going to be for the best and that makes the lead's fate all the more painful. What can you say about a movie in which the villain of the piece (Davis' egotistical and sexist boss played by John Getz) suddenly finds himself becoming the hero? Perhaps that Getz' initial evil was no match for the enormity and wrongness of the situations in this movie."The Exorcist" (1973) aside, I can't think of another horror film as
If we said there was a clear throughline from "Bonnie and Clyde" and Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie," you'd say we were crazy, right? Get ready to eat your words as we prove once again that showbiz works in mysterious ways.
Marie writes: The late John Alton is widely regarded as being one of greatest film noir cinematographers to have ever worked in Film. He perfected many of the stylized camera and lighting techniques of the genre, including radical camera angles, wide-angle lenses, deep focus compositions, the baroque use of low-level cameras and a sharp depth of field. His groundbreaking work with director Anthony Mann on films such "TMen" and "Raw Deal" and "He Walked by Night" is considered a benchmark in the genre, with "The Big Combo" directed by Joseph H. Lewis, considered his masterpiece. John Alton also gained fame as the author of the seminal work on cinematography: "Painting with Light".
The Big Combo (1955) [click to enlarge]
• As told to Roger Ebert
Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin walk into a hotel room, and that sounds like the set-up for a joke. It's more like a long-delayed punchline. These guys have been stars for more than 40 years, but until "Stand Up Guys," they've all three never been in a movie together. Arkin and Pacino were in "Glengarry Glen Ross" together, and Walken and Pacino were both in "Gigli," but that's as far as it goes.
I mention they go way back.
"Yes, absolutely," Walken says. "I've known Al for decades, from New York and from, you know..."
"He didn't know I was an actor," Pacino says, "until we did this movie. He'd just see me around the street a lot."
Marie writes: Kudos to fellow art buddy Siri Arnet for sharing the following; a truly unique hotel just outside Nairobi, Kenya: welcome to Giraffe Manor.
Happy New Year from the Ebert Club!TRAILERS
Marie writes: Christmas is almost upon us, and with its impending arrival comes the sound of children running free-range through the snow, while grown-ups do battle indoors in the seasonal quest to find the perfect gift...
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn has found another Hollywood auction and it's packed with stuff! From early publicity stills (some nudes) to famous movie props, costumes, signed scripts, storyboards, posters and memorabilia...
Marie writes: The ever intrepid Sandy Khan shared the following item with the Newsletter and for which I am extremely glad, as it's awesome..."Earlier this year, the Guggenheim Museum put online 65 modern art books, giving you free access to books introducing the work of Alexander Calder, Edvard Munch, Francis Bacon, Gustav Klimt & Egon Schiele, and Kandinsky. Now, just a few short months later, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has launched MetPublications, a portal that will "eventually offer access to nearly all books, Bulletins, and Journals" published by the Met since 1870."
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn came upon the following recipe and wisely showed it to me, so that I might share it in turn with all of you. Behold the morning chocolate cookie - a healthy breakfast treat loaded with good stuff; like fiber and imported French chocolate.
"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)
While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.
This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.
Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.
Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:
"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"
"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"
One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:
Marie writes: Not everything is what is seems...(Click images to enlarge.)
Marie writes: Behold a truly inspired idea...Age 8: Eileen's pink creature It started with a simple idea: to make a recognizable comfort toy for her 4 year-old son Dani, based on one of his drawing. His school had asked the children to bring in a toy from home; an emergency measure in the event of a tantrum or crying fit. Fearing he might lose his favorite, Wendy Tsao decided to make Dani a new one. Using a drawing he often made as her guide, she improvised a plush toy snowman. Five years later, Wendy Tsao has her own thriving home-based craft business - Child's Own Studio - in which she transforms the imaginative drawings of children into plush and cloth dolls; each one handcrafted and one-of-a-kind. She receives requests from parents all over the world; there's 500 people on waiting list. Note: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for submitting the piece.
A professor at my department who studied neuroscience, once told us something you have probably heard elsewhere: If you think you're crazy or getting crazy, that means you are not crazy because crazy people do not know that they are crazy. This sounds like the famous dilemma in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." I thought it was useful advice for students who had to deal with lots of pressure and stress in the academic process. It could also be good advice for the hero of "Take Shelter" (2011), because he thinks at first something is wrong with his head, but cannot ignore what disturbs deeply him. He tries to quell his mental turbulence as much as he can, but is transformed into a more disturbed man obsessed with visions attacking him every night. It is possible that he himself is the threat to the family he wants to protect, not the catastrophe of epic proportion he fears.
David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) is my favorite adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Some parts from "The Shawshank Redemption" are terrifying in a different way, and are better classified in other genres. I'm also fond of some of the other films his works have inspired. "Carrie" and "The Shining" were mostly outstanding, but the casting of adults as teens in the first and the absence of an everyman feel to the lead protagonist in the second are the main reasons why I place "The Dead Zone" above them. The latter films were made by exceptional directors (DePalma and Kubrick), but Cronenberg's taste for the unusual, turned out to be a more adequate fit for King's material.
During the 1970s and 80s the typical Clint Eastwood vehicle was heavier in plot than characters. In most cases, he simply played another variation of his usual loner, with a different name and leading lady. The female role was barely relevant, came well in second place to Clint's and was nothing more than a plot resource. It didn't really matter who ended up playing her but for a while Sondra Locke got the part repeatedly.
Marie writes: Gone fishing...aka: in the past 48 hrs, Movable Type was down so I couldn't work, my friend Siri came over with belated birthday presents, and I built a custom mesh screen for my kitchen window in advance of expected hot weather. So this week's Newsletter is a bit lighter than usual.
From the Grand Poobah: Netflix is great, but they don't have everything and seem to be weak on silent films. Here's a pay site streaming a large and useful selection of high-quality films, world-wide....
Marie writes: when Roger told me about this place, I signed-up to see if I could watch one their free movies? Yup! I can stream MUBI in Canada; though content will vary depending on where you live (that's also case with Netflix Canada) and so nothing new there. And after looking through their current catalog, I can report that they do indeed have some rare movies - stuff I've never found anywhere else. I even read that Martin Scorcese is a member.
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...
Introducing The Kolb Report, a new feature clandestinely linked to my blog. It features the daily findings of Larry J. Kolb, Internet Spy.
Marilyn Chambers, star of "Behind the Green Door," "Insatiable," "The Resurrection of Eve," David Cronenberg's "Rabid" (opposite Christopher Walken) and millions of Ivory Snow detergent boxes has died at age 56.
At Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams writes:
As an aspiring model in San Francisco in 1972, she answered an advertisement for a role in a new film being made by strip club owners Jim and Artie Mitchell. The movie was "Behind the Green Door," a hardcore odyssey involving the abduction and ultimate sexual transformation of a young woman.
It was the same era that "Deep Throat" (1972) and "The Devil in Miss Jones" (1973) were radically reinventing the culture of adult entertainment. Porn was no longer just for creepy guys in seedy theaters -- it was something grownups could admit to watching, enjoying and, later, discussing. "Behind the Green Door," with its taboo-shattering interracial cast, was a benchmark, but it was the revelation that Chambers had appeared on the Ivory detergent box, clutching a baby in a beatific, 99.44 percent pure tableau, that cemented her fame. That such a wholesome, smiling girl could be the assured, adept centerpiece of all manner of exotic acts was fascinating. The ultimate madonna/whore of her era, she represented a dichotomy that perplexes, intrigues and infuriates still.
View image Looming large.
I believe it was Gordon Gecko who proclaimed: "Ham is good!"
The "Wall Street" supervillain (superhero?) was not advocating violation of any dietary laws, of course, but simply stating a fact: Sometimes Big Acting can be quite enjoyable. Other times, of course, it can be cringe-worthy, irritating, risible, embarrassing. Only you can decide which is which. For you.
Take for example the story of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" -- she of "No wire hangers!" and "Eat your meat!" (both precursors of "I drink your milkshake!"). Pre-release publicity reports claimed that Dunaway was giving a serious dramatic performance. But from the very first screenings it was painfully (yet fasciatingly) clear that somebody was going off her rocker -- but which actress was it: Crawford or Dunaway?
Performances pitched at the balcony, or the moon, always take the risk of falling somewhere between "tour-de-force" and "trying way too hard," virtuosity and showboating. And opinions may very about where they come down. (See "A Journey to the End of Taste," below.) You may wince at the Method nakedness displayed by Marlon Brando or James Dean in some of their most intense emotional moments ("You're tearing me apart!"). Or you may rejoice at even the most outré dramatic and/or comedic efforts of Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson, Klaus Kinski, Will Ferrell, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Nicolas Cage, Ben Stiller, Tyler Perry, Owen Wilson, Gene Wilder... while others find them excruciating, overwrought or unintentionally campy.
The bigger the performance, the bigger the risks. Or maybe not. Just look over the history of Oscar nominations for acting.
Q. I just watched "Cloverfield" and found the shaky-cam ruined the movie for me! I know it was supposed to give the feeling of being there, but I felt the director took it WAY too far. As you noted in your review, Hud "couldn't hold it steady or frame a shot if his life depended on it." Not only did it make me ill, but it ruined the whole movie for me.
List of DVD Spoilers (Updated March 16, 2006)
TORONTO – I have another few movies to see, and the awards are still to be announced, but Toronto 2005 is basically history, and now what remains is for its many wonderful films to find their audiences. There’s general agreement that this will be an autumn to remember among those who care about good films.