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The film builds its case piece by shattering piece, inspiring levels of shock and outrage that stun the viewer, leaving one shaken and disturbed before…


Do Not Resist

A furious and often terrifying documentary about the militarization of US police.

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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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* 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.

Go gentle into that good night


I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

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Thumbnails 2/19/14


Jimmy Fallon begins his tenure on the Tonight Show; Five modern films that should be turned into literature; An extended take on the extended version of The Counselor; "Dream Projects" turned disasters; Reviews of seasons 2 of House of Cards.

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#203 January 22, 2014

Sheila writes: The polar vortex has been on everyone's minds, for obvious reasons, and I came across a site with startling gorgeous shots of Chicago in a deep freeze. I used to live in Chicago and became accustomed to the brutal winters, and the lake freezing over, but I never saw anything like this during my time there. These pictures are amazing!

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Thumbnails 7/2/2013


Why copyright law is a "total train wreck" on the Internet right now; 10 Westerns that are NOT racist toward Native Americans; the day the Lone Ranger lost his mask; Pixar's not losing it, people.

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Pray for Rosemary's Baby

May Contain Spoilers

You may find it disturbing to see audiences laughing while watching "The Exorcist"(1973), but you will probably not see any problem in having some laugh with "Rosemary’s Baby" (1968). It goes without saying that they are two of the most chilling modern horror films, but, while the former unsettles us with its utmost solemnness parodied many times since it came out, the latter has a spooky sense of humor immune to parodies. How can you make an effective parody to undermine a horror film if it already has a devilish tongue slyly placed on its dark cheek?

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In the meadow, we can pan a snowman


You better watch out You better not cry You better have clout We're telling you why Two Thumbs Down are comin' to town We're making a list, Checking it twice; Gonna find out whose movie was scheiss. Sandy Claws is comin' to town. We see you when you're (bleeping), We know when you're a fake We know if you've been bad or good So be good for cinema's sake!

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#83 October 5, 2011

Marie writes: I love photography, especially B/W and for often finding color a distraction. Take away the color and suddenly, there's so much more to see; the subtext able to rise now and sit closer to the surface - or so it seems to me. The following photograph is included in a gallery of nine images (color and B/W) under Photography: Celebrity Portraits at the Guardian."This is one of the last photographs of Orson before he died. He loved my ­camera - a gigantic Deardorff - and decided he had to direct me and tell me where to put the light. So even in his last days, he was performing his directorial role perfectly, and ­bossing me around. Which was precious." - Michael O'Neill

Orson Welles, by Michael O'Neill, 1985

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The way to a man's heart is through his stomach

First posted in 2011. Reposting now in response to this story.

As an aficionado of industrial design, I find the G-tube admirable. A small tunnel is opened above the belly button and leads directly into the stomach. Food passes through the tube. I dine. No fuss, no muss. In earlier years I would have found this idea horrifying. Not so much now that I need it to stay alive. Invention is the child of necessity. In this invention, common sense was more important than genius. The Egyptians first hit upon the notion of tubes for feeding people centuries ago.

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Does anyone want to be "well-read?"

"Death disports with writers more cruelly than with the rest of humankind," Cynthia Ozick wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic.

"The grave can hardly make more mute those who were voiceless when alive--dust to dust, muteness to muteness. But the silence that dogs the established writer's noisy obituary, with its boisterous shock and busy regret, is more profound than any other.

"Oblivion comes more cuttingly to the writer whose presence has been felt, argued over, championed, disparaged--the writer who is seen to be what Lionel Trilling calls a Figure. Lionel Trilling?

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Video games can never be art

Having once made the statement above, I have declined all opportunities to enlarge upon it or defend it. That seemed to be a fool's errand, especially given the volume of messages I receive urging me to play this game or that and recant the error of my ways. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say "never," because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.

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Nil by mouth

I mentioned that I can no longer eat or drink. A reader wrote: "That sounds so sad. Do you miss it?" Not so much really. Not anymore. Understand that I was never told that after surgery I might lose the ability to eat, drink and speak. Eating and drinking were not mentioned, and it was said that after surgery I might actually be able to go back to work on television.

Success in such surgery is not unheard of. It didn't happen that way. The second surgery was also intended to restore my speaking ability. It seemed to hold together for awhile, but then, in surgeon-speak, also "fell apart."

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The New Yorker. No, The New Yorker.

The most perfect cartoon caption I've ever seen was created by James Thurber, and ran in the New Yorker in 1932. It showed two fencers. One had just sliced off the other's head. The caption was: Touche! You may know some that are funnier. What bothers me is that I will have written none of them. I have entered the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest almost weekly virtually since it began, and have never even been a finalist. Mark Twain advised: "Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for." I have done more writing for free for the New Yorker in the last five years than for anybody in the previous 40 years.

It's not that I think my cartoon captions are better than anyone else's, although some weeks, understandably, I do. It's that just once I want to see one of my damn captions in the magazine that publishes the best cartoons in the world. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I'm too oblique for them. The New Yorker's judges seem to live inside the box, and too many of their finalists are obvious--even no-brainers, you could say.

Example. An executive is seated at a desk, interviewing a giant lobster. Winning aption: "And why did you leave your job at Red Lobster?" I mean, come on! That's level one. It's obvious. It's not even funny. Let's work together on this. Let's try lateral thinking. A perfect caption should redefine the cartoon, and yet seem consistent with it.

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Perform a concert in words

But don't forget: you and I reached this conclusion nearly 50 years ago, in the Union, over a cup of coffee, listening to the chimes of Altgeld Hall. So we beat on...

That cup of coffee in the Union cemented one of my oldest friendships. Bill Nack was sports editor of The Daily Illini the year I was editor. He was the editor the next year. He married the Urbana girl I dated in high school. I never made it to first base. By that time, I think he may have been able to slide into second and was taking a risky lead and keeping an eye on the pitcher. We had a lot of fun on the Daily Illini. This was in the days before ripping stuff off the web. He insisted on running stories about every major horse race. We had only one photo of a horse. We used it for every winner. If it was a filly, we flipped it. Of this as his editor I approved.

After college, I was out of the basement of Illini Hall with its ancient Goss rotary press, and running up the stairs. I immediately sat down right here and started writing this. Nack went to Vietnam as Westmoreland's flack and then got a job at Newsday. On Long Island, he and Mary raised their three girls and a boy. One year at the paper's holiday party he jumped up on a desk and recited the names and years of every single winner of the Kentucky Derby. Bill told me:

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No Country for Old Literalists

View image Something dark and shapeless approaches in "No Country for Old Men."

"Adapted from what is generally considered a minor Cormac McCarthy novel, 'No Country for Old Men' is a very well-made genre exercise, but I can’t understand why it’s been accorded so much importance, unless it’s because it strokes some ideological impulse."

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Here's where I agree with Jonathan Rosenbaum on the Coen brothers' new movie: 1) it is based on a ("minor") novel by Cormac McCarthy; 2) it is a very well-made genre picture; and 3) Rosenbaum does not understand why it has been accorded so much importance. When Rosenbaum says the only way he can account for the critical response to "No Country for Old Men" (and "The Silence of the Lambs" before it) is to assume it's "because it strokes some ideological impulse," I believe he means what he says even though I don't know what he thinks he's trying to say. [Rosenbaum responds, in comments below that "the core of my argument [is] the occupation of Iraq and the daily killings and torture that we simultaneously support and strive to ignore."]

His review is based on the assumption, stated in the third paragraph, that "No Country For Old Men," is a "psycho killer" movie like "Silence of the Lambs," which it most emphatically is not. It is a genre movie, but Rosenbaum gets the genre(s) wrong. It's a noirish crime thriller and a western and a detective story. (The Library of Congress catalogues the book under "drug traffic," "treasure-trove," "sheriffs" and "Texas.") But the motives of Chigurh (Javier Bardem's character) have nothing to do with the psychology of a serial killer like Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates or Michael Meyers. There's no psychologist on the scene to explain him ("What does he seek?," as Lecter puts it), because he is not compelled to kill and he derives no pleasure from it and he does not choose his victims or his methods according to some profile or pattern.

Chigurh is out to retrieve a MacGuffin (briefcase full of cash), and he simply eliminates anything or anyone that gets in his way, using whatever means are available to him. The plain fact that he favors an efficient tool for quickly dispatching cattle (something not uncommon in Texas ranch country) reinforces how little emotion he attaches to the killing of most of his victims. He'll just as soon strangle them or shoot them. Or maybe he won't, if he has nothing to gain. He doesn't fit Rosenbaum's profile any more than he fits the ones Law Enforcement initially tries to impose upon him in the movie.

As for Rosenbaum's confession -- "I can’t understand why it’s been accorded so much importance, unless it’s because it strokes some ideological impulse" -- I can only wonder what that ideological impulse might be, but it's clear Rosenbaum does not succumb to it. Do those who accord the film importance even know that their response is based on an ideological impulse?

I remember writing something similar about "Rambo: First Blood Part II" and "Back to the Future" in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan presented us with "Morning in America," which meant that the way to face the present and the future was to return to an idealized fantasy version of the past. Heck, it wasn't even too late to retroactively win in Vietnam! (Never mind that John Rambo was a psychologically disturbed Vietnam vet in the first movie.)

Rosenbaum compares Chigurh to the Misfit in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," which is an illuminating comparison, though not necessarily for the reasons he gives: In O’Connor’s vision, perfectly captured in a mere 16 pages, the Misfit is an emblem of religious despair, but in the less considered genre mechanics of Cormac McCarthy and the Coens, religious despair is nothing more than an alibi for violence. It’s invoked as a way of covering all the bases, tapping into fundamentalist fatalism without really buying into it."Religious despair"? "Fundamentalist fatalism"? Loaded terms, but they reflect a very limited reading of O'Connor and McCarthy and the Coens, of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "No Country for Old Men." Perhaps if Chigurh needs to be reduced to an "emblem" of something, it's ruthless, indifferent force in the single-minded pursuit of any goal (religious, financial, political, genocidal). Some people would define that as the nature of "evil."

I've read two or three other bewildered reviews of "No Country for Old Men" that concentrate on the plot and/or Javier Bardem's haircut, or how the stuff they think is supposed to be funny isn't funny to them. And everybody -- even those who really don't approve one bit -- want to assure their readers that the Coens and DP Roger Deakins are technically proficient, which tells us almost exactly nothing except that they think it has "beautiful cinematography" or something equally meaningless. But, fine, if that's what somebody feels the need to write about in response to this movie, then that is evidently what they have to say about it, and that's that.

I have more to say, but I would like to refresh my memory of the movie, which I saw once last September near the beginning of the Toronto Film Festival. Here's something from my initial (preemptively defensive) response back then: "No Country for Old Men" is one of those movies I think provides a critical litmus test. You can quibble about it all you like, but if you don't get the artistry at work then, I submit, you don't get what movies are. Critics can disapprove of the unsettling shifts in tone in the Coens' work, or their presumed attitude toward the characters, or their use of violence and humor -- but those complaints are petty and irrelevant in the context of the movies themselves: the way, for example, an ominous black shadow creeps across a field toward the observer ("No Country" has a credit for "Weather Wrangler"); or a phone call from a hotel room that you can hear ringing in the earpiece and at the front desk, where you're pretty sure something bad has happened but you don't need to see it; or the offhand reveal of one major character's fate from the POV of another just entering the scene; or... I could go on and on. To ignore such things in order to focus on something else says more about the critic's values than it does about the movies. It's like complaining that Bresson's actors don't emote enough, or that Ozu keeps his camera too low.Those words were written in the thrall of the movie, and I stand by them. Rosenbaum begins his review with a quote from George Orwell:The first thing we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.So... "No Country For Old Men" should be pulled down because it is a cinematic concentration camp? What of those who don't recognize a good wall when they see it, and mistake it for something it is not? What if they think they're pulling down a concentration camp wall, but it's actually a New Orleans levee and there's a hurricane on the way? What if they think it's a terrorist outpost and they bust down the walls only to discover it's really the home of an Iraqi family? What if the sturdy walls and magnificent arches of the Mezquita de Cordoba are left standing after the Moors are vanquished and the Christians build an elaborate Baroque Cathedral smack in the middle of the mosque?

Enough word games. More later...

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