In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_abuse

Abuse of Weakness

An examination of power, greed, emotional manipulation and simple need that is gripping and powerful to behold even if you don't know the story behind…

Thumb_expendables_three_ver18

The Expendables 3

If you’re over 40, this is your “The Avengers.” As slavishly devoted to the old action films of Sly and company as any Marvel Universe…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

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…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

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…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Chaz's Blog Archives

Cast and Crew

* 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.

Thumbnails 9/22/2013

Primary_screen_shot_2013-09-22_at_4.39.45_pm

Inside the Kenyan mall massacre; the death toll of acetaminophen; that heartwarming story of the pastor who posed as a homeless man is a fake; one person who's really glad that Breaking Bad is ending; ten great movies set in museums.

Continue reading →

Bette Davis at 104: Still smokin'

Primary_youngbettecig-thumb-510x395-46458

April 5 would have been Bette Davis's 104th birthday. I was reminded of this interview I did with her in 1988, which appeared on my CinePad website 10 years later:

When my former Seattle Times editor called me, a few months after I'd moved to Los Angeles, to say he wanted me to interview Bette Davis, I wasn't as thrilled as I probably should have been. I realized it was a rare opportunity -- she was giving only three interviews to promote the paperback version of her book about recovering from her stroke -- but Bette Davis had never been my glass of lemonade.

I just never really got the whole Bette-Davis-As-Icon thing. To me, she was a movie star, a part of Hollywood history (I admired the way she took on the studio bosses when they -- and she -- were at the peak of their powers), but with the exception of All About Eve (where she really used her movie-star mega-wattage as part of the role), I hadn't regarded her as a great actress. I mean, she was no Barbara Stanwyck, who was equally adept as a screwball comedienne, a tragic heroine, or a femme fatale.

But of course, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to interview a screen legend; there just weren't that many of them left. I remember thinking it was kind of funny and appropriate that she was living on the outskirts of West Hollywood (in the Century House on Havenhurst), mecca to the gay men who really worshipped her. But why did they? Was she just a camp figurehead because her brittle, melodramatic style of acting hadn't aged well? Or was it that she was Larger Than Life, a tough broad who had survived? Probably some of both...

Well, I'll say this: She sure knew how to be Bette Davis. She was cantankerous and flamboyant, but I also thought there was an undercurrent of playfulness to her behavior. Not that I thought she was "performing," or putting on a Bette Davis Act; I think she was probably like this most of the time. But I also think she rose to the occasion, somewhat, because she liked the attention, and liked the feeling that she was communicating -- albeit through me -- to her public.

It was a stellar afternoon...

Continue reading →

Remembering Bukowski

Primary__20_20_20buk-thumb-350x421-23656

Charles Bukowski died on his day in 1994. His voice is open and fearless, romantic, honest. He probably has a whole generation of writers getting drunk and wondering why they can't write like that.

In Big Ed's during the filming of "Barfly." Left to right, Bukowski, Ebert, Faye Dunaway, visiting fireman Andre Konchalovsky.

My story about a day on location with "Barfly."

Tom O'Bedlam reads Bukowski's incomparable "Who in the Hell is Tom Jones?"

Bukowski sits in the back set of a convertible and gives a running commentary along Hollywood Boulevard.

Bukowski photos and a song by Johnny Cash

Bono reads "Roll the Dice" by Bukowski

Charles Bukowski Reads "The Fire Station"

Tom Waits reads Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart," Hanks version of Ecclesiates 7, 3 -12:

Continue reading →

Polanski's Chinatown: A dream analysis

Primary_chflaw-thumb-510x231-39976

WARNING: Big-time spoilers in the above video.

From the introduction to my fully explicated video, "Chinatown: Frames and Lenses," at Press Play, Chapter 4 in a week-long series: LIFE'S WORK: THE FILMS OF ROMAN POLANSKI:

Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is a Panavision color film noir--a ghost story, really--about flawed vision and the inescapable resurgence of the past, made in 1974 and set in 1937.  Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) thinks he knows what's going on, but as Noah Cross (John Huston) tells him, "Believe me, you don't."  We see what Jake sees, and it's invariably filtered or blocked--viewed from a distance through binoculars, or from outside through a door or window that obscures a more complete perspective. Photographs--snippets of time recorded on film, one of the tools of the detective trade--are potentially misleading because they don't--can't--capture what's going on outside of the frame, beyond the moment. 

This video montage is a hymn of praise to a film that had a profound effect on me when I first saw it as a 16-year-old in 1974, and that I've lived with, haunted, ever since. It's also an unabashed love poem to the desperate, damaged and determined Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). 

Like "close-up," which I did in 2007, it's a free-associative critical essay/dream sequence, based on themes and images (and sound and music) from the movie. Although, like a lot of creative pursuits, the process of assembling it (from pieces of film that were already floating around in my head) was largely unconscious, I now (at least in retrospect) think I understand why each fragment is where it is.

So, I thought I'd turn around and look back at "Chinatown" through the lens (or frame or door or window, if you will) of my video essay, using it as a way of translating the film's images into critical prose. Because, in "Chinatown," every image is loaded with meanings, associations, resonances. If you're familiar with the film, you'll immediately see that this reflection on "Chinatown" isn't structured chronologically. Scenes, themes, moments and images keep circling back in fragments... not unlike they do in the film, but in a more condensed and less linear form...

Continue reading →

Getting antsy for amazement

May Contain Spoilers
Primary_cannes_landcape_20x12-thumb-500x300-34350

As I approached the Festival Palais early this morning, a light breeze wafted down the fabric of the immense billboard-size banner of this year's festival poster over the facade. The glamorous photo of a leggy Faye Dunaway, by director Jerry Schatzberg from his 1970 film "Puzzle of a Downfall Child," was rippling and creasing in a way that made the sleek legs appear to be covered by a pair of ill-fitting tights. Little did I suspect that Faye's wardrobe malfunction was a bad omen for a seemingly promising day on which three out of the only four films by women selected for this year's Cannes competition were scheduled to screen.

British actress Tilda Swinton, who gravitates to daring roles, plays Eva, a conflicted New York mother "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. Eva's son Kevin is portrayed as having a deep animosity toward his mother, virtually from the moment of his birth. As an infant, he shrieks hour after hour when alone with her. As he grows, he exhibits a fierce, focused inclination to evil, and that bent will ultimately make him a Columbine-style killer. Kevin might have been a demon child in another kind of movie, but this is not a supernatural story. "We Need to Talk About Kevin," is a psychological drama centered on Eva's guilt.

For me, this was a one-note film. Kevin is thoroughly bad; Eva is thoroughly angry, self-hating and stoic. I longed for some shades of subtlety, but this is a story that relies on blood-red coding in dreams and flashbacks, and a soundtrack that emphasizes grating irritants. Ramsay, who acquitted herself very well with films including "Ratcatcher" and "Movern Callar," seems an ill match for an American setting, letting raucous bluegrass numbers and stereotyped characterizations of Eva's small town neighbors and co-workers stand in for insight.

Continue reading →

Days and nights of bottles

May Contain Spoilers

In the biochemistry class during my naive undergraduate years, the professor jokingly said the capability of metabolizing alcohol depends on our genetic makeup. Thanks to the variations in the genes, some people can produce more enzymes or more active enzymes to take care of alcohol in their body. They can be heavy drinkers, or the ones less susceptible to the hazards caused by alcoholism than their fellow drunks.

That may explain the existence of Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), the "laureate of American lowlifes" who lived a relatively long life despite many days and nights of bottles and women at the bars. As Stephen King says in his insightful book "On Writing," writing usually has no business with drinking ("Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn't drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it's what alkies are wired up to do."). Sometime there are exceptions like Bukowski. Drinking and writing always came together to him, and he had no problem with that.

Continue reading →

the Your Movie Sucks™ files

Gathered here in one convenient place are my recent reviews that awarded films Two Stars or less. These are, generally speaking to be avoided. Sometimes I hear from readers who confess they are in the mood to watch a really bad movie. If you're sincere, be sure to know what you're getting: A really bad movie. Movies that are "so bad they're good" should generally get two and a half stars. Two stars can be borderline. And Pauline Kael once wrote, "The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn't go at all."

"Just Go With It" (PG-13, 116 minutes). This film's story began as a French farce, became the Broadway hit "Cactus Flower," was made into a 1969 film and now arrives gasping for breath in a witless retread with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker. The characters are so stupid it doesn't seem nice to laugh at them. One star.

"Sanctum" (R, 109 minutes). A terrifying adventure shown in an incompetent way. Scuba-diving cave explorers enter a vast system in New Guinea and are stranded. But this rich story opportunity is lost because of incoherent editing, poor 3D technique, and the effect of 3D dimming in the already dark an murky caves. A "James Cameron Production," yes, but certainly not a "James Cameron Film." One and a half stars

"I Am Number Four" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Nine aliens from the planet Mogador travel across the galaxy to take refuge on earth and rip off elements of the Twilight and Harry Potter movies, and combine them with senseless scenes of lethal Quidditch-like combat. Alex Pettyfer stars as Number Four, who feels hormonal about the pretty Sarah (Dianna Agron), although whether he is the brooding teenage Edward Cullen he seems to be or a weird alien life form I am not sure. Inane setup followed by endless and perplexing action. One and a half stars

"Certifiably Jonathan" (Unrated, 80 minutes). Jonathan Winters deserves better than this. Jim Pasternak's mockumentary is not merely a bad film, but a waste of an opportunity. Nearing 80, Winters is still active and funny, and deserves a real doc, not this messy failed attempt at satirizing--what? Documentaries themselves? Lame scenes involving an art show, a theft and the "Museum of Modern Art" fit awkwardly with cameos of too many other comics, who except for the funny Robin Williams seem to be attending a testimonial. One star.

"The Green Hornet" (PG-13, 108 minutes) An almost unendurable demonstration of a movie with nothing to be about. Although it follows the rough storyline of previous versions of the title, it neglects the construction of a plot engine to pull us through. There are pointless dialogue scenes going nowhere much too slowly, and then pointless action scenes going everywhere much too quickly. One star.

"The Nutcracker in 3D" (PG, 107 minutes) A train wreck of a movie, beginning with the idiotic idea of combining the Tchaikovsky classic with a fantasy conflict that seems inspired by the Holocaust. After little Mary (Elle Fanning) discovers her toy nutcracker can talk, he reveals himself as a captive prince and spirits her off to a land where fascist storm troopers are snatching toys from the hands of children and burning them to blot out the sun. I'm not making this up. Appalling. And forget about the 3D, which is the dingiest and dimmest I've seen. One star

"I Spit on Your Grave" (Unrated; for adults only. Running time: 108 minutes) Despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film "I Spit On Your Grave." This one is more offensive, because it lingers lovingly and at greater length on realistic verbal, psychological and physical violence against the woman, and then reduces her "revenge" to cartoonish horror-flick impossibilities. Oh, and a mentally disabled boy is forced against his will to perform a rape. Zero stars.

"Life As We Know It" (PG-13, 113 minutes). When their best friends are killed in a crash, Holly and Messer (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) are appointed as joint custodians of their one-year-old, Sophie. Also, they have to move into Sophie's mansion. But Holly and Messer can't stand one another. So what happens when they start trying to raise Sophie. You'll never guess in a million years. Or maybe you will. One and a half stars

"Hatchet II" (Unrated, 85 minutes). A gory homage to slasher films, which means it has its tongue in its cheek until the tongue is ripped out and the victims of a swamp man are sliced, diced, slashed, disemboweled, chainsawed and otherwise inconvenienced. One and a half stars

"The Last Airbender" (PG, 103 minutes). An agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. Originally in 2D, retrofitted in fake 3D that makes this picture the dimmest I've seen in years. Bad casting, wooden dialogue, lousy special effects, incomprehensible plot, and boring, boring, boring. One-half of one star.

"The A-Team" (PG-13, 121 minutes). an incomprehensible mess with the 1980s TV show embedded within. at over two hours of Queasy-Cam anarchy it's punishment. Same team, same types, same traits, new actors: Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson. One and a half stars

"Sex & the City 2" (R, 146 minutes). Comedy about flyweight bubbleheads living in a world where their defining quality is consuming things. They gobble food, fashion, houses, husbands, children, and vitamins. Plot centers on marital discord between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth), a purring, narcissistic, velvety idiot? Later, the girls are menaced for immodest dress during a luxurious freebie in Abu Dhabi. Appalling. Sure to be enjoyed by SATC fans. One star

"The Good Heart" (R, 98 minutes). Oh. My. God. A story sopping wet with cornball sentimentalism, wrapped up in absurd melodrama, and telling a Rags to Riches story with an ending that is truly shameless. That fine actor Brian Cox and that good actor Paul Dano and that angelic actress Isild Le Besco cast themselves on the sinking vessel of this story and go down with the ship. One and a half stars.

"Kick-Ass" (R, 117 minutes). An 11-year-old girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), her father (Nicolas Cage) and a high school kid (Aaron Johnson) try to become superheroes to fight an evil ganglord. There's deadly carnage dished out by the child, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. A comic book satire, they say. Sad, I say. One star

"Nightmare on Elm Street" (R, 95 minutes). Teenagers are introduced, enjoy brief moments of happiness, are haunted by nightmares, and then slashed to death by Freddy. So what? One star

"The Bounty Hunter" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An inconsequential formula comedy and a waste of the talents of Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. He's a bounty hunter, she's skipped bail on a traffic charge, they were once married, and that's the end of the movie's original ideas. We've seen earlier versions of every single scene to the point of catatonia. Rating: One and a half stars.

"Cop Out" (R, 110 minutes). An outstandingly bad cop movie, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as partners who get suspended (of course) and then try to redeem themselves by overthrowing a drug operation while searching for the valuable baseball card Willis wants to sell to pay for his daughter's wedding. Morgan plays an unreasonable amount of time dressed as a cell phone, considering there is nothing to prevent him from taking it off. Kevin Smith, who directed, has had many, many better days. One and a half stars.

"The Lovely Bones" (PG-13). A deplorable film with this message: If you're a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they realize what a wonderful person you were. Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") believes special effects can replace genuine emotion, and tricks up Alive Sebold's well-regarded novel with gimcrack New Age fantasies. With, however, affective performances by Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan as the victim. One star.

"The Spy Next Door" (PG, 92 minutes). Jackie Chan is a Chinese-CIA double agent babysitting girl friend's three kids as Russian mobsters attack. Uh, huh. Precisely what you'd expect from a PG-rated Jackie Chan comedy. If that's what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. It's not what I was looking for. One and a half stars.

"Old Dogs" (PG, 88 minutes). Stupefying dimwitted. John Travolta's and Robin Williams' agents weren't perceptive enough to smell the screenplay in its advanced state of decomposition. Seems to have lingered in post-production while editors struggled desperately to inject laugh cues.Careens uneasily between fantasy and idiocy, the impenetrable and the crashingly ham-handed. Example: Rita Wilson gets her hand slammed by a car trunk, and the sound track breaks into "Big Girls Don't Cry." When hey get their hands slammed in car trunks, they do. One star. View the trailer.

"Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (PG-13, 103 minutes). Feuding couple from Manhattan (Hugh Grant and Jessica Sarah Parker) are forced to flee town under Witness Protection Program, find themselves Fish Out of Water in Strange New World, meet Colorful Characters, survive Slapstick Adventures, end up Together at the End. The only part of that formula that still works is The End. With supporting roles for Sam Elliott and Wilford Brimley, sporting the two most famous mustaches in the movies. One and a half stars.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (PG-13, 130 minutes). The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. The sequel to "Twilight" (2008) is preoccupied with remember that film and setting up the third one. Sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return in their original roles, she dewy and masochistic, he sullen and menacing. Ah, teenage romance! One star

"The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day" . (R, 21 minutes) Idiotic ode to macho horseshite (to employ an ancient Irish word). Distinguished by superb cinematography. The first film in 10 years from Troy Duffy, whose "Boondock Saints" (1999) has become a cult fetish. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are Irish brothers who return to Boston for revenge and murder countless enemies in an incomprehensible story involving heavy metal cranked up to 12 and lots of boozing, smoking, swearing and looking fierce and sweaty. One star. View the trailer.

"Gentlemen Broncos". (PG-13, 107 minutes) Michael Angarano plays Benjamin Purvis, a wannabe sci-fi Doctor Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Alas. the great man rips off the kid's book, just when get kid has sold the miniscule filming rights. All sorts of promising material from Jared Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite"), but it's a clutter of jumbled continuity that doesn't add up, despite the presence of Jennifer Coolidge. Two stars. View the trailer.

"The Fourth Kind". (PG-13, 98 minutes). Nome, Alaska (pop. 3,750) has so many disappearances and/or alien abductions that the FBI has investigated there 20 times more than in Anchorage. So it's claimed by this pseudo-doc that goes to inane lengths to appear factual. Milla Jovovich is good as a psychologist whose clients complain that owls stare at them in the middle of the night. One and a half stars. View the trailer.

21 and a Wakeup . (R, 123 minutes). A disjointed, overlong and unconvincing string of anecdotes centering around the personnel of an Army combat hospital in Vietnam. Amy Acker plays an idealistic nurse who is constantly reprimanded by absurdly hostile officer (Faye Dunaway). Plays like a series of unlikely anecdotes trundled onstage without much relationship to one another. One episode involves an unauthorized trip into Cambodia by a nurse and a civilian journalist; it underwhelms. One and a half stars. Visit the website.

"Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant". (PG-13, 108 minutes) This movie includes good Vampires, evil Vampanese, a Wolf-Man, a Bearded Lady, a Monkey Girl with a long tail, a Snake Boy, a dwarf with a four-foot forehead and a spider the size of your shoe, and they're all boring as hell. They're in a traveling side show that comes to town and lures two insipid high school kids (Josh Hutcherson and Chris Massoglia) into a war between enemy vampire factions. Unbearable. With Joh C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit, and other wasted talents. One star. View the trailer.

"Couples Retreat" (PG-13, 107 minutes). Four troubled couples make a week's retreat to an island paradise where they hope to be healed, which indeed happens, according to ages-old sitcom formulas. This material was old when it was new. The jolly ending is agonizing in its step-by-step obligatory plotting. I didn't care for any of the characters, and that's about how much they seemed to care for one another. Starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk. Two stars. View the trailer.

"Fame.". (PG, 90 minutes). A pale retread of the 1980 classic, lacking the power and emotion of the original. A group of hopeful kids enroll in the New York City School of the Performing Arts and struggle through four years to find themselves. Their back stories are shallow, many seem too old and confident, the plot doesn't engage them, and although individual performers like Naturi Naughton sparkle as a classical pianist who wants to sing hip hop, the film is too superficial to make them convincing. Two stars. View the trailer.

"All About Steve". (PG-13, 87 minutes ) Sandra Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle constructor who on a blind date falls insanely in love with Steve, a TV news cameraman (Bradley Cooper, from "The Hangover"). The operative word is "insanely." The movie is billed as a comedy but more resembles a perplexing public display of irrational behavior. Seeing her run around as a basket case makes you appreciate Lucille Ball, who could play a dizzy dame and make you like her. One and a half stars. View the trailer.

Continue reading →

In memory: Arthur Penn, master director

Primary_eb20100929people100929986ar

Arthur Penn, whose "Bonnie and Clyde" was a watershed in American film, died Tuesday night at 88. Gentle, much loved and widely gifted, he began life in poverty and turned World War Two acting experience in the Army into a career that led to directing in the earliest days of television and included much work on Broadway.

Continue reading →

A personal vision with international scope

Primary_eb20100426filmfestivals06100429982ar

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA -- Michael Tolkin, the writer-director of 1994's "The New Age," which played at Ebertfest on Thursday, surveyed the packed house from the stage of Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and said, "This now doubles the number of people who saw this film on its first release."

Continue reading →

Deep Focus: Freedom of (eye-)movementin eight of the greatest long takes ever

May Contain Spoilers

We tend to remember long takes that call attention to themselves as such: the opening shots of "Touch of Evil" or "The Player"; the entrance to the Copacabana in "GoodFellas"; all those shots in Romanian movies, and pictures directed by Bela Tarr and Jia Zhangke... And then there are the ones you barely notice because your eyes have been guided so effortlessly around the frame, or you've been given the freedom to explore it on your own, or you've simply gotten so involved in the rhythms of the scene, the interplay between the characters, that you didn't notice how long the shot had been going on.

For this compilation, "Deep Focus," I've chosen eight shots I treasure (the last two I regard as among the finest in all of cinema). They're not all strictly "deep focus" shots, but they do emphasize three-dimensionality in their compositions. I've presented them with only minimal identifications so you can simply watch them and see what happens without distraction or interruption. Instead, I've decided to write about them below. Feel free to watch the clips and then re-watch (freeze-frame, rewind, replay) the clips to see what you can see. To say they repay re-viewing is an understatement.

Continue reading →

Ebertfest: Synecdoche, Champaign-Urbana

Primary_eb20100324filmfestivals06100329992ar

Charlie Kaufman, the writer and director of "Synecdoche, New York" (2008), my choice for the best film of the decade, will appear after the screening of his masterpiece at Ebertfest 2010. The 12th annual festival will be held April 21-25 at the landmark 1,600-seat Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, and for the first time ever, all festival Q&A sessions and panel discussions will be streamed live on the Internet.

Continue reading →

"They're young, they're in love, and they kill people"

May Contain Spoilers

I remember the first time I watched "Bonnie and Clyde" like it was yesterday. I was seventeen years old and eager to broaden my knowledge in film. On weekends, I would go watch classic movies at my paternal uncles' who was a film buff himself. The only way to watch a movie uncut in Egypt was to purchase the video cassette from Europe or the USA and import it.

That is exactly what my uncle would do. His collection of UK video cassettes kept me busy for months. Every week I would visit him and we would watch one of Hollywood's classics together. It was there, at his living room filled with movie posters, that I was first introduced to such memorable characters as Norman Bates, Antoine Doinel, Tommy DeVito, Hal 9000 and of course Bonnie and Clyde.

Continue reading →

Comedy of Doubt

John Patrick Shanley's comical film of his four-character Pulitzer-winning play "Doubt" is a flamboyantly theatrical sermon on the virtues of conviction. It should be seen in conjunction with a reading of Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling "Blink" because, no matter what the dialog may tell you, it's more an affirmation of gut instinct than an exploration of the title commodity.

You can see why all the adult principals -- Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn, Amy Adams as Sister James and Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller -- have been nominated for Oscars (but is Hoffman's a supporting performance or the male lead?). This is juicy stuff, played to the hilt as you'd expect -- and as much for laughs as for melodrama (which I hadn't expected, but which came as a happy surprise).

If it remains more of a theatrical experience than a cinematic one (despite being photographed by Roger Deakins), that's probably because Shanley's ambitions are limited to delivering the "movie version" of his own hit play. I can imagine "Doubt" working more convincingly in the abstract setting of the stage (though I haven't seen it performed that way), where it sported the subtitle: "A Parable." But there's no doubt it's a bake-sale bonanza for the movie actors, who give overtly stylized performances in realistic settings, all goosed-up with stage flourishes -- thunderstorms and balcony-pitched arias and surprise entrances and exits timed to build tension and frustrate satisfaction. (It's said Shanley added some of these devices just for the movie -- which, if you think about it, is you might expect somebody with an intrinsically theatrical sensibility to do to "open up" a play for film.)

What I didn't expect was the outlandishly broad comedy of Streep's "The Devil Wears a Bonnet" performance. I think that is probably a compliment, and I don't think she's getting enough credit for how funny she is. "Doubt" may be a work that touches on Serious Issues (sex abuse in the church, the evils of gossip, the weighing of greater and lesser sins, the obligations of that come with intuition and experience -- and the paradoxes of doubt) but it's also by the guy who wrote "Moonstruck" and "Joe Versus the Volcano." Streep attacks it with sketch-comedy gusto, and there were whole scenes, memorably the inspection of Sister James' classroom and the high-voltage showdowns between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, when I couldn't stop chortling like a schoolboy. I don't believe my laughter was inappropriate:

Flynn: "Where's your compassion?"

Aloysius: "Nowhere you can get at it."

That's a doozy of a punch line, and Streep knows it. (If I'm wrong about that, then there hasn't been a performance this misconceived since Faye Dunaway in "Mommie Dearest.")

But where does the "doubt" come in?

Continue reading →

A teacher wins the Cannes film festival

Director Laurent Cantet accepts the Palme d'Or, surrounded by his cast.

For the first time in 21 years, a French film has taken the top prize at the Cannes film festival, and in a rarity for Cannes, the Palme d’Or was awarded unanimously. The prize could have easily been named “The Golden Apple” rather than the The Golden Palm since it went to “The Class” ("Entre Les Murs"), the Laurent Cantet film about a young teacher who tries to reach his class of primarily immigrant children in a school on the outskirts of Paris. Confronted with their apathy and sometimes outright hostility, he questions them in a Socratic fashion until they begin to ask themselves if perhaps an education might be relevant to them. This film moved me to tears and so of course I thought that, in the grand tradition of Cannes, it had no chance of winning the top prize.

Continue reading →

Dina Martina's Tried-and-True Oscarrific Recipe Blog-h'ors-d'oeuvres!

Dina sez: Taste and rate. Four stars! (photo by David Belisle)

- - CLIP-'N'-SAVE - -

Once again, it's that very annual Dina time of year, when it wouldn't be Oscar Time without Dina Martina and it wouldn't be Taco Time, either!

ANNOUNCING: The very first second Oscar Recipe Blog-h'ors-d'oeuvre (pronounced like "blog-a-thon," only more like "blog-or-derve"), hosted by Scanners and Our Lady of Perpetual Mojo, the World's Foremost Hostess-in-Absentia, Dina Martina! This Sunday, more than a billion people around the globe will be serving one or more of Dina's Governess's Ball's Recipe's... (below). And that means you. (For more Dina Martina Oscar Entertaining Party Hints, see above.) They are easy to make, easy to serve, easy to eat, easy to enjoy, and fully digestible. (And bloggorhea is rarely a problem, except in rare cases.) After it's all over and you have your Faye Dunaway moment, please return here to give us a report of how tickled you and your guests were to consume Dina's salacious gustatory delights! Or share your own family secrets! And, recipes. Did you embellish? Did you improvise? Did you remember ice cubes and condiments? Let us know: Now thru Monday, February 26, 2007 25, 2008!

* * * Dina Martina's all-new 2007 2008 Oscar Party Blog-h'ors-d'oevres * * * * * Serving Suggestions & Requirements * *

by Dina Martina

Dina's Academy Award Meaty-O-Rites

Ingredients:

3 lbs. Ground beef 1 can pitted black olives 1 can green olives 1 clove garlic 1 + tbsp. Worcestershire sauce oregano (to taste) 1 can Snack Mate cheese in a can

Continue reading →

Biggest Acting, Best and Worst: Over the top, Ma!

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.

Continue reading →

The Cinephiliac Moment

Enlarge image: "It's... It's a f- flaw... in the iris."

At his excellent movie blog, girish (aka Girish Shambu) savors those all-important "cinephiliac moments": ...these are small, marginal moments that detonate an unforgettable little frisson in the viewer. The important thing to remember is that these are not moments carefully designed to exert great dramatic effect—not that there’s anything wrong with those—but instead they are fleeting "privileged" moments writ small that we find ourselves strongly attracted to, perhaps even disproportionately so given their scale and possible (lack of) intention. I daresay an appreciation (enthusiasm? passion?) for such ineffably or uncannily wonderful moments -- the kinds of serendipitous just right touches (gestures, expressions, line readings, camera movements, framings) that Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy used to celebrate in "Moments Out of Time" at the end of each year in Movietone News and Film Comment -- is what characterizes a real movie lover. It's the so-called "little" things that mean everything; they transform the mundane into the extraordinary.

Continue reading →

Is Willy Wonka Wacko Jacko?

Primary_eb20050718editor50718002ar

Is Michael Jackson one of the not-so-secret ingredients in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"? Critics overwhelmingly see it that way, even if Johnny Depp and many moviegoers don’t.

Continue reading →

Movie Answer Man (12/30/2001)

Q. A reader from British Columbia wrote to you saying that the first reel of "The Man Who Wasn't There" was in color when he saw it and you answered: "A mistake so big that if it had been a postage stamp instead of a movie, collectors would be fighting for it." Looks like it's not so rare. When I saw it in Toronto, the first two reels were in color. I thought it was by design and wondered why no reviews mentioned that. (Serguei Oukladov, Toronto ON)

Continue reading →

Film lovers' treat

TORONTO -- I missed the first Toronto Film Festival. So did a lot of other people. I've attended every one since. The second was like a gathering of conspirators who raced from theater to theater on the rumors of screenings. But the festival has grown so steadily that its 25th anniversary event, which begins today, can safely be called the most important film festival in North America, and one of the top handful in the world.

Continue reading →