Heaven Is for Real
Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.
* 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.
As a companion piece to our reassessment of "At Long Last Love," Peter Bogdanovich recalls the film's orgins, its forgotten pleasures, and the studio-mandated tinkering that turned it into a box office bomb. He also recalls turning down an offer of help from Gene Kelly, casting Burt Reynolds, and a remarkable encounter with Roger Ebert.
Marie writes: And so it begins! A new year and another season of Film Festivals and Award shows. The Golden Globes have come and gone and in advance of quirky SXSW, there's Robert Redford's Sundance 2013...
The only Polish actress ever to become a major Hollywood star, Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec), lived a life as exciting as the movies she graced with her presence. Born in a small Polish town of Lipno in 1894 (while the country was still under a triple occupation by its neighbors), she climbed her way up: first to the theatre stages of Warsaw and then to the budding movie business. After a successful crossover to the much more sophisticated German film industry -- and a happy pairing with its finest director, Ernst Lubitsch -- she starred in the international smash-hit, "Madame Dubarry" (1919). It was Lubitsch's ticket to Hollywood -- as well as Pola's.
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?
Andrew Sarris, who loved movies, is dead at 83. He was the most influential American film critic of his time, and one of the jolliest. More than anyone else, he was responsible for introducing Americans to the Auteur Theory, the belief that the true author of a film is its director. Largely because of him, many moviegoers today think of films in terms of their directors.
Marie writes: Okay, this is just plain cool. This is clearly someone using their brain, in combination with "what the hell, let's just go ahead and try it..."
Dr Julius Neubronner's Miniature Pigeon CameraIn 1903, Dr Julius Neubronner patented a miniature pigeon camera activated by a timing mechanism. The invention brought him international notability after he presented it at international expositions in Dresden, Frankfurt and Paris in 1909-1911. Spectators in Dresden could watch the arrival of the camera-equipped carrier pigeons, whereupon the photos were immediately developed and turned into postcards which could be purchased. (click images to enlarge.) - from The Public Domain Review. Visit the site to see even more photos.
Matt Zoller Seitz devotes his final Friday Night Seitz slideshow at Salon (he's starting as New York Magazine's TV critic Monday -- most deserved congrats!) to a list of his "Movies for a desert island." His rules: ten movies only, plus one short and one single season of a TV series, for a total of 12 titles. "Part of the fun of this exercise," he writes, "is figuring out what you think you can watch over and over, and what you can live without."
Matt's titles include "What's Opera, Doc?," Season One of "Deadwood," Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz," Terrence Malick's "The New World" (surprise!), Terrence Davies' "The Long Day Closes" (my #1 film of 1992), Joel & Ethan Coen's "Raising Arizona" (a movie I like, but consider among their lesser efforts) and Albert and David Maysles' "Salesman." Click here to see the complete list and Matt's comments.
OK, I'm game. So, the challenge, as MZS sets it up, is not just to pick "favorites," but to choose pictures that will stand up to repeated viewing since nobody is going to get you (or vote you) off the island and "It is assumed that you'll have an indestructible DVD player with a solar-recharging power source, so let's not get bogged down in refrigerator logic, mm'kay?"
Marie writes: It occurred to me that I've never actually told members about the Old Vic Tunnels. Instead, I've shared news of various exhibits held inside them, like the recent Minotaur. So I'm going to fix that and take you on a tour! (click image to enlarge.)
Please remember to check the official CIFF website for ticket information, updates and schedule changes.
Marie writes: I attended three different elementary schools; St. Peter's, Our Lady of Mercy (which was anything but) and finally St. Micheal's; where I met my Canadian-Italian chum, Marta Chiavacci (key-a-vah-chee) who was born here to Italian immigrants. We lost touch after high school, moving in different directions til in the wake of a trip to Venice and eager to practice my bad Italian and bore friends with tales of my travels abroad, I sought her out again.We've kept in touch ever since, meeting whenever schedules permit; Marta traveling more than most (she's a wine Sommelier) living partly in Lucca, Italy, and happily in sin with her significant other, the great Francesco. I saw her recently and took photos so that I might show and tell, in here. For of all the friends I have, she's the most different from myself; the contrast between us, a never-ending source of delight. Besides, it was a nice afternoon in Vancouver and her condo has a view of False Creek...smile...
(click images to enlarge)
Take a breath and be brave. Very, very brave.... smile....Behold the "Willis Tower" in Chicago (formerly the Sears Tower) - the tallest building in North America and its famous attraction, The Skydeck. In January 2009, the Willis Tower owners began a major renovation of the Skydeck, to include the installation of glass balconies, extending approximately four feet over Wacker Drive from the 103rd floor. The all-glass boxes allow visitors to look directly through the floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below. The boxes, which can bear five short tons of weight (about 4.5 metric tons), opened to the public on July 2, 2009.
"Beware of artists - they mix with all classes of societyand are therefore most dangerous." ~ Queen Victoriastencil by Banksy, British graffiti artistAnd who inspired a recent film about art...
"The images that surround us today are worn out, they are abused and useless and exhausted. They are limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution." -- Werner Herzog
Dogme 09.8 has the expressed goal of countering "certain tendencies" in the cinema today. In the spirit of Lars Von Trier's "The Five Obstructions," it acknowledges a fundamental truth -- that new constructive discipline is needed in filmmaking.
Dogme 09.8 is a rescue action!
In 1995 enough was enough. The movie was dead and called for resurrection. The goal was correct but the means were not! Dogme 95 proved to be a secondary ripple that washed ashore and turned to muck. Purity turned to laziness. Obstacles became crutches. Babies were thrown out with bathwater. It was fun but very silly, and the results, filtering into every aspect of filmmaking worldwide, have been counterproductive and deadening.
To Dogme 09.8, cinema is individual!
Andrew Sarris -- dean of American film critics, leading proponent of the auteur theory in America, author of the essential The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (and equally praiseworthy review and essay collections such as Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969, Politics and Cinema and The Primal Screen), senior critic of the Village Voice for decades, co-founder of the National Society of Film Critics -- has reportedly been let go by cut from the staff of The New York Observer.
UPDATE: Dave Kehr has a clarification from Sarris's wife, critic Molly Haskell: "Andrew, along with a dozen other writers at the rapidly sinking weekly, was taken off staff on Monday, but he will continue to write on a freelance basis, exactly as Rex Reed does currently. Not great news, but -- particularly in the current context -- not a catastrophe. Andrew's day job, teaching at Columbia University, is not in danger."
Sarris, who turned 80 last October, was along with Pauline Kael the most influential film critic of the 1960s and 1970s. He was also the titular target of Kael's infamous attack on auteurism, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris" (1963) -- ironic, since Kael was patently an auteurist through-and-through, even if she failed to recognize herself as such. No one has done more than Sarris to make the case that "Hollywood movies" were worthy of serious critical attention, every bit as much as "art films," no matter where they're made.
If you do not have a copy of The American Cinema -- from which, coincidentally, I just quoted a few indelible paragraphs a couple days ago -- do yourself a favor and buy it now. It's the best guide to approaching American movies that there is, beginning with Sarris's celebrated "pantheon" directors (some of whom were not, strictly speaking, "American" -- though they all worked in the US at some point): Charles Chaplin, Robert Flaherty, John Ford, D. W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Max Ophuls, Josef von Sternberg, Jean Renoir and Orson Welles. (Later he added Billy Wilder to the pantheon.)
Glenn Kenny simply quoted Jean-Luc Godard on Orson Welles: "All of us will always owe him everything."
Q. In your review for "The Dark Knight," you say that the Joker is a product of his father's poor treatment, but that's just one story he uses to explain his scars. Another is that he did it for his wife, and Batman interrupts before he offers a -- most likely -- different story. I think the point was that he doesn't have a cause. Who's wrong here?
Martin Scorsese has an Oscar in his hand. It's his Oscar.
For the first time in 30+ years, Roger Ebert watched the Oscars from home instead of from backstage. He writes about the experience here.
Meanwhile, I spent my Oscar night writing a deadline piece for the Chicago Sun-Times, which had to be filed about 45 minutes before the show was over. Here's the (unedited) final version for the web: The cops-and-mobsters thriller "The Departed," which director Martin Scorsese described as the first movie he's ever done with a plot, took the jackpot prize at the Academy Awards last night. For Scorsese, this was supposed to be a genre picture, not Oscar-bait like "The Aviator" and "Gangs of New York," but it turns out that, even at the Oscars, sometimes you can come out ahead when you don't look like you're trying so hard.
Even though there were several "surprises" during the ceremonies, it still felt kind of like the Acada-"meh" Awards. Since none of the Best Picture nominees inspired much passion (don't expect a "Crash"-lash" this year), and none stood out as a Timeless Achievement in Cinema, one winner was pretty much as good as another. And so, the Academy decided to spread the statuettes around.
Of course, the evening's big disappointment was that Martin Scorsese did not join his fellow great directors -- Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang -- who never won an Oscar in competition. Instead, he joins Norman Taurog, John G. Avildson and Sam Mendes as one of the immortals whose name will always, from this moment on, be preceded by the term "Academy Award-winning" as if it were a prefix. (I kid.)
Now, future generations can look back at Oscar history and say... "What!?!? The director of "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "King of Comedy" and "GoodFellas" won an Oscar for "The Departed"?!? Wasn't that the inferior American remake of "Infernal Affairs"?" Well, look at it this way: John Ford, famous for great American Westerns like "Stagecoach," "My Darling Clementine," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "The Searchers" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," won four Oscars for direction, and not one of them was for a Western. Rest of story at RogerEbert.com
The cops-and-mobsters thriller "The Departed," which director Martin Scorsese described as the first movie he's ever done with a plot, took the jackpot prize at the Academy Awards last night. For Scorsese, this was supposed to be a genre picture, not Oscar-bait like "The Aviator" and "Gangs of New York," but it turns out that, even at the Oscars, sometimes you can come out ahead when you don't look like you're trying so hard.
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?
EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.
Warning: What you are about to read may thrill you, may shock you, it may even… horrify you.
PARK CITY, Utah--Good films but no great films. As the Sundance Film Festival heads into its final weekend, last year's exhilaration fades into a kind of contentment: We've enjoyed ourselves, we've seen films of originality and quality, but where is this year's equivalent of "Memento"? "The Deep End"? "In the Bedroom"? "Waking Life"?