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Transcendence

"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.

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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.

#64 May 25, 2011

Marie writes: There's a glorified duck pond at the center of the complex where I live. And since moving in, my apartment has been an object of enduring fascination for Canadian geese - who arrive each Spring like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission in France, to run a sweeping aerial recon my little garden aka: playhouse for birds... (click to enlarge)

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Young Haven Hamilton: A Poem by Henry Gibson

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Here's the late, beloved Henry Gibson on my favorite sitcom, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," in 1966. (When I grow up, I still want to be Rob Petrie.) On "Laugh-In" (1968-1971), he was known for his recitations, which began with him holding a large artificial flower (he himself was only 5'3") and announcing: "A poem... by Henry Gibson." This particular poem, originally penned by a guy named Frank Stanton circa 1920, later became a song by Gibson and Richard Baskin, performed by Haven Hamilton at the Grand Ole Opry (and sponsored by Goo Goo Candy Clusters) in Robert Altman's "Nashville" (1975). Full lyrics to Haven's inspirational anthem below:

(via Robert C. Cumbow, >Richard T. Jameson)

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Star-struck: Movie criticism or astrology?

View image Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars...

"One of the most genuinely confounding films to come along in years... This is not a film occurring in an alternate or imaginary reality; rather, it is a film of no reality, that is, a picture that changes the rules of its universe strictly according to its creators' whims. Hence, the film is likely to inspire even more heavy thinking on the part of cultural theorists than 'The Matrix' did."

* * *

"A lot of fluorescent, 7-Eleven-tinted images flash by, any of which could easily be removed or re-arranged without significantly disrupting the film's continuity, because it has none. If you can determine the spatial relationship between Speed's Mach 5 (or Mach 6) and any other race car for more than a few consecutive seconds, then good for you. As on the TV series, the pictures don't seem to move so much as repeat -- movement with no momentum."

* * *

"'Speed Racer' is not a feature film in any conventional sense... Whatever information that passes from your retinas to your brain during 'Speed Racer' is conveyed through optical design and not so much through more traditional devices such as dialogue, narrative, performance or characterization."

* * *

"Alas, this radicalization of film language, while certainly impressive to behold, yields heretofore un-dreamed of levels of narrative incoherence, but hey, not every experiment succeeds."

* * *

"One of the more blatantly anti-capitalist storylines to come down the cinematic pike since, I dunno, Bertolucci's '1900.'"

* * *

""Speed Racer" is a manufactured widget, a packaged commodity that capitalizes on an anthropomorphized cartoon of Capitalist Evil in order to sell itself and its ancillary products."

* * *

Three of the above quotations are taken from a three-star review of "Speed Racer." The other three are from a one-and-a-half-star review. Can you tell which is which? Perhaps the tone gives something away, but the descriptions of the movie, what it does and how it works, are strikingly similar. Clearly both of these critics saw the same movie, although one found the experience less daring, less exhilarating, than the other.

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More sex, please. We're American.

A synchronistic cartoon from Peet Gelderblom at Lost in Negative Space.

What the hell is wrong with the studio risk-management -- er, movie -- business these days? I share some of my own modest ideas for improvement in an "Open Letter to Hollywood" at MSN Movies.

Now, some people say everything is just fine, and that we've even had a better-than usual crop of summer pictures this year: "Knocked Up," "Ratatouille," "Superbad," "The Bourne Ultimatum"... On the other hand, there's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Hostel Part II," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"... These, I submit, are conscious or unconscious cries for help.

None of my prescriptions is a panacea, but among the measures I suggest Mr. and Ms. Hollywood might want to consider are: more nudity (way more nudity); less emphasis on pain and torture as a form of entertainment (bad for concessions sales, for one thing); better recycling of stars who have fallen out of fashion (like John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction"); watch HBO and learn about sex, violence, character, and storytelling; don't keep making sequels until the original audience hates you for it (even the last installments in "trilogies" tend to range from disappointing to insulting); stop wasting time and depleting resources fighting protracted, losing battles against technologies that have always proven to make you more money in the end: "The future arrived the day before yesterday and you're still pretending it's due next week."

An excerpt: ...[Why] why do adults in Hollywood movies still behave as if they're on "The Dick Van Dyke Show"? (Nothing against "The Dick Van Dyke Show," which is one of the great achievements in television history, but you know what I mean: Rob and Laura not only slept in separate twin beds but they always wore pajamas.)

Sex in the movies seemed like it was going somewhere in the '70s, with "Five Easy Pieces," "Last Tango in Paris" and "Don't Look Now." In 1993, the great Julianne Moore played out a full-frontal scene -- an argument at home with her husband -- in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," and it wasn't the nudity that was shocking, it was the physical and emotional reality of the scene. Do you know people who pop out of bed after sex sporting underwear? Who's in such a blasted hurry to get dressed?

The best special effect in the history of movies is the human face, with the human body coming in a close second. Use it. You think torture porn sells? The audience for porn-porn is exponentially larger. (Have you heard of this thing called the World Wide Internets? It revolutionized a whole lucrative section of the movie industry -- mostly the one located beyond Warners, Disney and Universal in the farther reaches of the San Fernando Valley.) Read the full "letter" here.

Got any advice for "Hollywood" yourself?

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The comical jocularity of humorousness

The Sunday New York Times Magazine devoted itself to comedy this weekend -- and you know how funny the New York Times Magazine can be. Actually, there's a very good article by A.O. Scott on the art of the pratfall in which he explains why some of the greatest modern comedy (from "Little Miss Sunshine" to "Borat") is of the well-executed physical variety. (Not to be confused with what Chris Farley used to call, with an undertone of dismay, "Fat Guy Falls Down" -- a desperate stunt that may elicit knee-jerk laughs, even if it's not inherently funny.)

As part of its comedic survey, the Times Mag asked some 22 comedians, well-known and not-, to name five of their favorite "Desert Island Comedies" on DVD. I don't like any of the lists much (while agreeing wholeheartedly with a few individual choices) -- but I salute David Cross (somebody I've long thought is really funny) for the humor inherent in choosing "Homer and Eddie" and "Rent."

To paraphrase an old David Steinberg routine: There are those who say... (that's the end of my paraphrase) that to analyze comedy is anti-comedic. I could not disagree more strongly. I say if you don't understand why you're laughing, when you're laughing, then you don't appreciate the comedy and you may as well not be laughing at all, since any old reaction is probably comparably appropriate for you. You could be crying or sneezing and it's probably the same thing. But let's put that aside for the moment and concentrate on some lists of very personal, very funny movies.

I suppose I could choose the great movies that have made me laugh the most -- the first that come to mind, such as: a Keaton ("Sherlock, Jr." or "Steamboat Bill, Jr."), a Fields ("It's A Gift" or "The Bank Dick"), a Marx Bros. ("Animal Crackers" or "Duck Soup"), a Sturges ("The Lady Eve" or "Miracle of Morgan's Creek"), and, let's say, a classic comedy (preferably starring Cary Grant or Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Arthur, and written and/or directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder or Mitchell Leisen, like "Trouble in Paradise" or "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) or "Bringing Up Baby" or "His Girl Friday" or "The Major and the Minor" or "Some Like It Hot" or "Easy Living" or "Ball of Fire"...). But those are all 50-75 years old, and I haven't even mentioned my modern-era favorites, like Luis Bunuel ("The Exterrminating Angel," "Simon of the Desert," "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty"), Monty Python ("Life of Brian" -- greatest comedy of the last half-century), Christopher Guest & ensemble ("Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show") or the Coen Bros. ("Barton Fink," "The Big Lebowski"). So, I thought I'd just offer up a few relatively obscure, underappreciated or, at least, off-the-beaten-path comedies that I think are hysterically funny and invite you contribute some of your own:

"I Was Born, But..." (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) I know it's an acknowledged masterpiece by one of the greatest directors in movie history, but how many of you have actually seen it? Two boys, big belly laughs. Some of this material was re-worked in "Ohayo" ("Good Morning") in 1959.

"The President's Analyst" (Theodore J. Flicker, 1967) I love this movie -- the perfect paranoid Cold War 1960s espionage satire companion to "Dr. Strangelove" and James Bond, with James Coburn in the title role. Who is writer/directorTheodore J. Ficker, anyway? Well, according to IMDb, he directed episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E., "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Night Gallery" and "Barney Miller."

"Taking Off" (Milos Forman, 1971) You couldn't find a better time capsule for 1971 -- which Forman has captured with his characteristically uncanny ease and naturalness. Buck Henry "stars" as a father whose daughter has run away to some sort of "hippie" musical audition -- probably in the Village. The whole thing feels spontaneous and improvised -- but it was written by Forman, Jean-Claude Carrierer ("The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty," "Birth"), John Guare ("Atlantic City," "Six Degrees of Separation") and Jon Klein. One of the late, great Vincent Schiavelli's finest moments: teaching a group of uptight, wealthy parents with missing kids how to smoke pot. Early cameos by Kathy Bates, Carly Simon and Jessica Harper, among others. (Long unavailable, this recently showed up on the Sundance Channel, which I hope means it will soon be released on DVD.)

"How to Get Ahead in Advertising"(Bruce Robinson, 1989) Robinson's equally brilliant and demented "Withnail & I" is the official masterpiece (and object of obsessive cult veneration in the UK), but this is Richard E. Grant's finest hour. He's a London advertising executive so sick with self-loathing that he grows a foul-mouthed boil on his neck. How's that for a premise?

Coldblooded" (Wallace Wolodarsky, 1995) In some ways, this is a precursor to "Dexter." Jason Priestly is magnificently deadpan as an empty young man who is recruited to become a hit man -- and turns out to be mighty good at it. Co-starring Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia (getting ready for "Lost Highway"), and Jay Kogen -- who, along with writer/director Wolodarsky, wrote some of the classic early episodes of "The Simpsons."

"Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" (Kelly Makin, 1996) Critics were mostly bewildered or repulsed, but this movie gets funnier every time I see it (and I've seen it at least a dozen times). It plays GREAT on the video screen -- better, I think, than any of the TV shows. A drug company speeds a new anti-depressant to the market, only to find that the insanely popular Gleemonex has a troublesome side effect: It puts people into comas of happiness. Each of the "Kids" has at least a handful of indescribably (but not inexplicably) funny moments. Including: "Cat on my head! Cat on my head!"; "I'm an elephant rider!"; "Tasty"; "How pleasing!"; and "Just... a guy." Should be seen alongside the great documentary, "The Corporation."

I cheated. That's six. But, OK, I've left out hundreds of great titles. Your turn. And the more obscure/underappreciated the better, please.

P.S. Anybody else remember the rest of the sentence from that David Steinberg bit?

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It's a God! It's a Man! It's Super-Jesus!

Kal-El descends to Earth in his Super Jesus Christ Pose

The figure responsible for last year's so-called Hollywood slump may just be be the savior of this year's summer grosses, according to some biz types. Yes, we're talking about Jesus Christ. Mel Gibson's blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ" attracted so many people who don't ordinarily go to the movies in the spring of 2004, that it made the revenues for 2005 look out of whack in comparison. But this year, JC helped inspire "The Da Vinci Code" to a miraculous opening (despite generally bad reviews -- a miserable 24% on the TomatoMeter). It's been the top grosser for five weeks overseas, where Box Office Jesus has trumped all the X-Men's superpowers combined. Next, the King of the Jews is poised to take on "Forrest Gump," making "The Da Vinci Code" the biggest Tom Hanks movie ever. Holy Fool!

(Second) Coming Soon: "Superman Returns." He's been away, but now he's back. Just like You Know Who....

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