Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
* 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.
Writer Peter Sobczynski responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
"Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era" is a remarkable collection of reviews and essays from critic Peter Rainer. This essay on film noir and neo-noir is excerpted from the book.
Netflix's move into television content has been bold and much-hyped. Can they get us beyond the old binary of comedy and drama that has dominated television for so long?
Seven women writers talk about their problems with "male feminism"; Wikipedia blocks U.S. senate for "vandalism" of Edward Snowden's page; Millikin professor killed family 46 years ago, and now we're finding out; what it's like to have your movie taken away from you by Harvey Weinstein; David Edelstein on 'The Spectacular Now'; Matt Damon on the state of modern Hollywood; David Lynch on "Twin Peaks"
All the movies Stanley Kubrick was known to have liked; the 25 most exciting young female filmmakers in cinema today; Skyler White is not a bitch; why Spike Lee doesn't need Kickstarter; reporter's account of watching her elderly parents getting arrested; scientists implant false memory in a mouse's brain; Paul Thomas Anderson directs Fiona Apple.
Female horror writers you should be reading; "Community" showrunner Dan Harmon reveals all (or some); why critics hate 'The Newsroom'; Jane Campion is tired of film; Britain legalizes gay marriage; Jean-Luc Godard in 3-D.
Scott Jordan Harris muses on the awful pleasures of the lowest-grossing film of 2012.
Marie writes: As some of you may have heard, a fireball lit up the skies over Russia on February 15, 2013 when a meteoroid entered Earth's atmosphere. Around the same time, I was outside with my spiffy new digital camera - the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. And albeit small, it's got a built-in 20x zoom lens. I was actually able to photograph the surface of the moon!
(click to enlarge)
I sure do miss David Lynch movies. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when he appeared as Jack Dall, the CBS late-night talk show producer and relative of his FBI man Gordon Cole, on a couple episodes of "Louie," and again when I read this piece by Roger Ebert about movies and meanings, featuring the fantastic interview clip (from the Japanese DVD of "Mulholland Dr."), below. Lynch hasn't made a movie since his deeply disturbing internal epic "INLAND EMPIRE" in 2006. Lynch works in multiple media, and in 2011 released his "debut solo album" with the delightful title of "Crazy Clown Time," the title song for which accompanied by a hellish video that would not have been out of place in "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" (the Road House after-party, perhaps), "Lost Highway" or any number of other Lynchian nightmares.
One of the readers of this blog asked a few days ago if audiences absolutely demand that movies be linear and realistic. The question came in the thread about "Cloud Atlas," which in fact is realistic, at least in the sense that we understand stories set in the past and in the future--although we don't often get six of them in the same film. There's nothing in the film we can't understand in the moment, although we may be hard-pressed to understand how, or if, they fit together. And if the actors play multiple characters of various races, genders and ages, well, we understand that too.
I'm posting this review of "Cloud Atlas" both on my web site and as a blog entry, because the blog software accepts comments and I want to share yours. At the end, I have added the post-screening press conference at Toronto.
Even as I was watching "Cloud Atlas" the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I've seen it the second time, I know I'd like to see it a third time--but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill's description of Russia, "it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." It fascinates in the moment. It's getting from one moment to the next that is tricky.
Everything reminds me of movies. And movies remind me of everything. My life has been divided into roughly three states of consciousness: the time I've spent awake; the time I've spent asleep (and dreaming); the time I've spent in-between, in the dark, inhabiting movie-worlds. They're all essential, holistic components of what you might call my Total Life Experience. And I find that in some respects they all run together, aspects of one seeping into another: images, patterns, metaphors... So, when I read this re-evaluation of the new Apple iPhone 5 -- the feel of the thing -- it struck me as also being about a quality of certain movies that we don't discuss very often.
Marie writes: the ever intrepid Sandy Khan recently sent me a link to ArtDaily where I discovered "Hollywood Unseen" - a new book of photographs featuring some of Hollywood's biggest stars, to published November 16, 2012."Gathered together for the first time, Hollywood Unseen presents photographs that seemingly show the 'ordinary lives' of tinseltown's biggest stars, including Rita Hayworth, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. In reality, these "candid' images were as carefully constructed and prepared as any classic portrait or scene-still. The actors and actresses were portrayed exactly as the studios wanted them to be seen, whether in swim suits or on the golf course, as golden youth or magic stars of Hollywood."You can freely view a large selection of images from the book by visiting Getty Images Gallery: Hollywood Unseen which is exhibiting them online.
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August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.
A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.
by Edward Copeland
"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."
OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.
I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?
Yes, but is it Art? Marcell Duchamp's famous "Fountain" aka urinal
"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is available for streaming/download on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Vudu and YouTube. In theaters March 2.
"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is a lot like "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!." They're both experimental video art posing as sketch comedy. In them you can see DNA from Ernie Kovacs, John Waters, the Kuchar brothers, Robert Downey, Sr., Tom Rubnitz, early Beck music videos, Damon Packard, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (and every other Adult Swim psychotic episode) and Harmony Korine, to name just a random few. But it's likely that actor-writer-directors Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim took inspiration from none of these freaks.
The duo's work seems to flow directly from three sources: Bad corporate promotional and instructional videos, absurd local TV programming and assaultive blockbuster films. Their collages of chopped-and-screwed sounds with spastic motion graphics and sloppy green screen don't seem much different (in effect, if not production values) from what's on cable any given Sunday. It's just that they put unattractive, demented-seeming people in front of the green screen instead of the usual telegenic emoters. They spout nonsense where platitudes and corporate messages usually go. When celebrities appear on the show, they flub and stutter like robot hologram versions of themselves. It's as if the show's editor was a spam bot.
Whether any of it is funny is almost beside the point. The creeping surrealism often takes away your ability to blink, especially, I suspect, when, like me, you have no history with the show.
"The Loving Story" premieres on Valentine's Day, February 14, at 9 p.m. on HBO (check local listings), and is available via HBO On Demand and HBO Go thereafter.
"The Loving Story" is as modest and taciturn as its subject, an interracial couple who, in 1958 rural Central Point, Virginia, just wanted to be left alone. For the most part, they were, and that was the problem as much as it was their fervent wish. When the local sheriff busted into their bedroom at 4 am and hauled them off to jail for violating the Racial Integrity Act, there was no national audience, in contrast to the fire hosings, bombings and other acts of racist terror that couldn't help but make the evening news at the time. The whole world was not watching. It's hard to fathom why after seeing the luminous 16mm footage uncovered in "The Loving Story." Documenting many pivotal moments in the case, it adds a dash of something rarely seen in the grand narrative of the American Civil Rights struggle: romance.
In the footage and iconic photographs, the Lovings appear to be deeply in love. Richard is a silent, barrel-chested Ed Harris lookalike; Mildred is shy and beautiful, the essence of poised intelligence. How could a story this simple and universal, with two photogenic romantic leads captured in a Life magazine feature, get lost in the Civil Rights shuffle?
The Loving case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, and all along the way, the couple insisted upon discretion and privacy. Only a small documentary crew -- filmmaker Hope Ryden and cinematographer Abbot Mills -- gained access to their home, but they made the most of it. The photography is as discreet but watchful as Mildred herself. When she, well, lovingly buckles her little daughter's suede shoe as they prepare for an outing, the camera isolates the mother's slender brown arm steadying her child's pale leg. In the film's context, as assembled by producer-director Nancy Buirski, moments like this one simply cry out, "Why on earth would a decent person want to disrupt this beautiful life?"
"Would you believe in a love at first sight?" "Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time." "What do you see when you turn out the light?" "I can't tell you but I know it's mine." -- Billy Shears, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sometimes I can pinpoint the very moment I first fall in love with a movie. It may happen in the first shot (Bong Joon-ho's "Mother"; Michael Haneke's "Caché"), or may be clinched in at the very end (the terminal instant of Rahmin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart"), but in many cases there is an identifiable point at which I know that I am in love, even while the movie is unspooling, and by that time it's not likely there's any going back, unless the movie simply implodes.
Here are a few of those times from 2011 when I realized I was falling hard...
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
There's not so much snow as in director Tomas Alfredson's previous feature, "Let the Right One In," but it gets plenty chilly here, in Cold War London, Budapest and Istanbul. The emotional iciness sneaks up on you: by the end, as the strands of loyalty and betrayal unravel, leaving characters exposed to some very cold realities, I found it uncommonly moving. (Yes, I cried -- more than once.) Not unrelatedly, "Tinker Tailor" (no commas in this title) is one of the most hauntingly and imaginatively composed movies (both in terms of framings and shot sequences) that I've seen since... maybe the last Coen brothers picture. Early on, it catches you a little off-guard when, in the midst of a hushed, paranoid conversation in a musty apartment, there's a cut to a monochromatic, neo-Gothic Eastern European skyline (punctuating John Hurt's use of the word "Budapest" -- a word that will become code for loss, failure, disgrace).
Marie writes: some of you may recall reading about the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. (Click to enlarge.)
Each of these astonishing "cinematoGIFs" (animated .GIF files) by Gusaf Mantel distills the essence of a cinematic moment into a living, breathing "movie still" -- an indelible moment preserved in time. Once you start gazing into them, you'll find it hard to stop...
Above: The apes and the monolith: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Stanley Kubrick, 1968).
Below: The tension of Travis Bickle, keeping his television perpetually balanced on the edge of smashing to the floor: "Taxi Driver" (Martin Scorsese, 1976).
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.
Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and other beings rise up before me. -- inscription at the head of "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
I am head-over-heels in love with "Uncle Boonmee."
Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is the kind of movie that big screens (theatrical and HD) and Blu-ray were made for. I can't think of cinematic worlds more "immersive" (in current 3D parlance) than Apichatpong's last three features, "Tropical Malady" (2004), "Syndromes and a Century" (2006) and "Uncle Boonmee" (2010) -- all of which I have only recently encountered. (They're all on DVD, and "Uncle Boonmee" is now opening in U.S. theaters and is available on Region 2 Blu-ray.)¹
Talk about blissful: Apichatpong's pictures (say that five times real fast) are awake and alive to the joy of existence like few others I've seen. Sorry if that sounds too, you know, giddily "life-affirming," but I feel like Joe's movies sharpen and expand my senses while I'm watching them -- not unlike the peak experiences/memories I've had in the garden, or walking in the woods with my dogs, when I feel I'm living more intensely, soaking up more of the life within and around me. And in the case of these movies, there's the added thrill of Joe framing it all! What can I say? Apichatpong movies make me very happy. (They're really funny, too.)
Few other films or filmmakers have stirred this kind of awe-mixed-with-happiness in me. Seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey" at age 11 was the first time I can recall. (Joe's last three films have reminded me of various sections of that movie, in which you feel you're experiencing something both primally human and alien at the same time.) Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" also explores what I called, upon first seeing it in the late 1970s, "the strange familiarity of unfamiliar places" -- that feeling of entering a/the world that's both new and intimately recognizable, uncanny and ordinary. I get it from the Coens sometimes -- in "No Country for Old Men" and "A Serious Man," especially -- and Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven," "The New World") taps into it occasionally, too. It has something to do with the light, the air, the shapes, the sounds, the extraordinary mythology of the everyday seen with new eyes (yours, through Joe's).
Chicago digital filmmaker Nelson Carvajal recently quoted the late Direct Cinema / Cinéma vérité pioneer Richard Leacock in a post at Free Cinema Now in which he defends -- for personal, aesthetic reasons -- the fashionable handheld camera technique known variously as the shaky cam, the queasy-cam and (when combined with chaotic cutting) the snatch-and-grab:
Anyone who knows my shooting style knows that I'm not a fan of tripods. To me, most static "pretty" shots that I see from other indie filmmakers represent an analogy for an elusive Hollywood-esque model of moviemaking. Ever been on a student film set and notice how much of the day goes to laboring over a shot that really doesn't grab you in the end? We go to the movies and are swept away by the big budget vistas and then for some reason we're convinced that our camcorder, a tripod and a light set will accomplish the same feel. And when it doesn't, we're surprised. But we shouldn't be. At the end of the day, it's all about the content of what we're trying to show, say or provoke in an audience. So instead of trying to mimic or recreate a sense of grandness without the necessary resources (like an outrageous Hollywood budget for example), why not create our own language for the cinema? Let Hollywood make "Sucker Punch." We'll instead focus on breaking away and discovering new ways to tell our stories.
I suppose this is why I embrace "direct cinema" filmmaking so strongly. I love grabbing the camera and just improvising as I go. It's a shooting style that liberates my senses; it awakens me.