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John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

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Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children, without explaining…

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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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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.

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The love and sex Gore Vidal dared not speak; critic Sam Adams is a (James) Franco-phile; the national conversation about sexual assault; a brilliant pop culture quiz; eleven Colorado counties angling to secede.

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A little black dress makes the world go round

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With the passing of Andy Williams, I keep imagining his golden tenor singing Henry Mancini's "Moon River." The song talks about crossing life in style. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is all about fashionable cafe society and love; in an adult fairy tale, you can have both even if you are two drifters.

The director Gregory Nava once commented, "Whenever any question of style or taste in dress comes up, I simply ask myself, 'What would Fred Astaire have done?'" Audrey Hepburn is Astaire's female equivalent: sophistication mixed with fizzy fun.

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Black designers show the French a thing or deux

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For those of us who missed our calling as jet setters, socialites or fashion models along comes the edifying, spritely documentary "Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution" to show us how much work it is to be spontaneously fabulous.

Nearly 40 years ago, in late November of 1973, something rather momentous happened at the Opéra Royal on the grounds of the King's old digs outside Paris. In the course of a fashion show that Women's Wear Daily dubbed "The Battle of Versailles," boldly assertive American runway models -- many of whom were what we now call African-American -- wore sporty, comfortable American designer clothes with such, well, panache that the absolute supremacy of French haute couture was dented for good.

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#62 May 11, 2011

Marie writes: allow me to introduce you to Travel Photographer, founded by Chris and Karen Coe in 2003 and their annual contest "Travel Photographer of the Year".After years spent working in the travel industry as a professional photographer and finding it was mostly conventional images making it into print, Chris decided to create a way to showcase great travel photography and broaden people's perception of what it can encompass - namely, that it can be much, much more than a pretty postcard image.The contest is open to one and all; amateur and professional photographers compete alongside each other. Entrants are judged solely on the quality of their photographs. There's a special competition to encourage young photographers aged 18 and under; Young Travel Photographer of the Year. The youngest entrant to date was aged just five, the oldest 88. The competition is judged by a panel of photographic experts, including renowned photographers, picture buyers, editor and technical experts.And the 2010 winners have now been announced. Here's a few random photos to wet your appetite - then you can scroll through the amazing winners gallery!

Enal is around 6 years old and knows this shark well - it lives in a penned off area of ocean beneath his stilted house in Wangi, Indonesia. Photo: James Morgan, UK (Portfolio Encounters: Winner 2010)  [note: click images to enlarge]

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#48 February 2, 2011

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.

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The helpful Robert Benchley

Once long ago, when theaters were not so obsessed with turning over their audiences, a feature film might be accompanied by a cartoon, a newsreel, and a Selected Short Subject.

The short might be a Robert Benchley lecture. At the time such shorts were enormously popular; a little murmur of anticipation might run through the audience. In Benchley's case they fit nicely with his writing career for The New Yorker.

Benchley became so popular that he sometimes made guest appearances in featur films, sich as "The Sky's the Limit" (1943) with Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie:

☑ All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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Final shots: In dreams... and waking up

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Looks like people still feel like discussing "Inception" and its relationship to other Christopher Nolan movies... Among the observations most frequently made in the hundreds of comments here (and they're still coming in) are those to the effect that the dreams in the movie aren't supposed to be particularly dreamlike because: 1) they're controlled, architecturally designed experiences; 2) not everyone has the same dreams; and, 3) they are supposed to be "realistic," so that the dreamer doesn't know he's dreaming.

Now, I've only seen "Inception" once, and I suppose all of these suppositions may be valid, given the world Nolan has created for the film, but rather than mollify my reservations about the movie, they only deepen my sense of dissatisfaction. Why would Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) guide their new architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) through such nifty surreal dreamscapes as the exploding neighborhood cafe, the origami Paris and the Escher staircase if she's not allowed to create any such environments herself? Why would Nolan intentionally stick the movie's most tantalizing images up front, instead of saving them for when the real action gets underway? Wouldn't it have made for a better story (and better showmanship) if the dreams got more spectacular as the movie went along? Wouldn't a chase through the streets of a folded city be more dazzling than, say, regular old gridlock (even if somebody does throw a runaway locomotive into the middle of it)?

This is what @dcairns gets at in a most illuminating Shadowplay post:

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Michael Jackson, transformer

I saw "The Wiz" (1978) and I saw "Captain EO" (1986) and I never saw Michael Jackson the movie star. For the longest time, it seemed, he was supposed to grow up to become one, but it didn't happen that way. Not long after 1982's Thriller he began transforming into something almost unrecognizable, unphotographable -- something that allegedly had to do with Diana Ross, hyperbaric chambers and, perhaps, the Elephant Man's bones. Whether an illness or a form of self-mutilation, it was a shame. The appealingly handsome young man on the cover of Off the Wall and Thriller morphed (as in the famous "Black or White" video) into a synthetic science-fiction construction that could only have inhabited an artificial universe like those of his two best-known big-screen appearances. He still worked for large crowds on stage, but -- for cosmetic and psychological reasons we may never understand -- close ups came to seem like a very bad idea.

As alien and unreal as he presented himself by the mid-1980s, the one thing that seemed genuine about him was his damage. His music became as polished and mask-like as his visage, and equally devoid of mature emotion. It may have been pop music for theme parks, but it wasn't for adults -- and he didn't seem to want to be thought of as one.

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Having a wonderful time, wish you could hear

It hardly ever happens this way. I get a DVD in the mail. I'm told it's an animated film directed by "a girl from Urbana." That's my home town. It is titled "Sita Sings the Blues." I know nothing about it, and the plot description on IMDb is not exactly a barn-burner: An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. Uh, huh. I carefully file it with other movies I will watch when they introduce the 8-day week.

I get an e-mail from Betsy, my old pal who worked with me on The News-Gazette. "Did you see the film by the mayor's daughter?" This intrigues me. The daughter is named Nina Paley. I do a Google run and discover that Hiram Paley was mayor from 1973-1977. I am relieved. This means the "girl" probably didn't make the film as a high school class project. In fact, by my rapid mathematical calculations, she may have been conceived in City Hall. I used to cover City Hall. Worse things have happened there.

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Roger's little rule book

We critics can't be too careful. Employers are eager to replace us with Celeb Info-Nuggets that will pimp to the mouth-breathers, who underline the words with their index fingers whilst they watch television. Any editor who thinks drugged insta-stars and the tragic Amy Winehouse are headline news ought to be editing the graffiti on playground walls. As the senior newspaper guy still hanging onto a job, I think the task of outlining enduring ethical ground rules falls upon me.

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Thank you for smoking

This stamp honoring Bette Davis was issued by the U. S. Postal Service on Sept. 18. The portrait by Michael Deas was inspired by a still photo from "All About Eve." Notice anything missing? Before you even read this far, you were thinking, Where's her cigarette? Yes reader, the cigarette in the original photo has been eliminated. We are all familiar, I am sure, with the countless children and teenagers who have been lured into the clutches of tobacco by stamp collecting, which seems so innocent, yet can have such tragic outcomes. But isn't this is carrying the anti-smoking campaign one step over the line?

Depriving Bette Davis of her cigarette reminds me of Soviet revisionism, when disgraced party officials disappeared from official photographs. Might as well strip away the toupees of Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart. I was first alerted to this travesty by a reader, Wendell Openshaw of San Diego, who wrote me: "Do you share my revulsion for this attempt to revise history and distort a great screen persona for political purposes? It is political correctness and revisionist history run amok. Next it will be John Wayne holding a bouquet instead of a Winchester!"

The great Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski took one of the most famous portraits of Davis. I showed him the stamp. His response: "I have been with Bette for years and I have never seen her without a cigarette! No cigarette! Who is this impostor?" I imagine Davis might not object to a portrait of her without a cigarette, because she posed for many. But to have a cigarette removed from one of her most famous poses! What she did to Joan Crawford in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" wouldn't even compare to what ever would have happened to the artist Michael Deas.

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Words and music

View image Movement, music & lyrics: Fred Astaire with George & Ira Gershwin.

Over a wet, grey Seattle weekend, I immersed myself in Wilfred Sheed's delightful book about the architects of the American popular song, "The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty." (This is one of the big reasons I love Seattle: There's nothing better on such a day, when the leaves are just starting to pop yellow orange and red against those dark slate skies, than kicking back with such a book and the Sunday New York Times, and spending the day quietly and cozily soaking it all in.)

Sheed's memoir/survey is an idiosyncratic/anecdotal appreciation of the greats -- Berlin, Gershwin, Arlen, Carmichael, Ellington, Kern, Porter, Rodgers, and others who are included in his canon only if, by his estimation, they have published more than fifty standards "by which I mean in this case more than fifty tunes that are still popular enough over fifty years later for most cocktail lounge pianists to have a rough idea of them, and for their copyrights still to be worth fighting for." Or, perhaps, if he happens to have met them.

To me, film is just music set to light. Yes, once "talkies" became the technological standard, the "lyrics" increased in importance, but the dialogue and the stories it help to tell were never so much about the words. They were about the music -- of motion and stasis, shadows and light, gestures and expressions....

Sheed describes his view of music and lyrics this way, and I see parallels to the relationship between movie and script: There's musical genius and then there's verbal genius. To match the explosion of melody [in the early 1920s] came a river of light verse that turned up everywhere, from the largest magazines to the smallest local papers, and it seeped into the most minor songs, guaranteeing some wonderfully literate and accomplished lyrics.

But -- and here some readers and I may split -- the tunes were still the big news. "Didn't they write great lyrics back then?" is a common question I've heard, to which I have two Yes, but... answers, one being Yes, but it's my impression that they still do. [...]

My second answer is Yes, they wrote some great lyrics but they also wrote some lousy ones. The standards didn't care. There have seldom been dumber words to anything than those of the young Ira Gershwin's "Lady Be Good" and "The Man I Love," while the Ellington-Strayhorn gem "Take the 'A' Train" barely has a lyric, only an address you wish would change from time to time.

On the other hand, there has never been a standard without a great tune -- not even a great funny standard. Surf the Cole Porter songbook and you will undoubtedly find some great comic poems still waiting for the right tune to drive them off and make them rich and famous. But although Cole could have dashed off another two hundred choruses of "You're the Top," he couldn't have written a second tune to save his life. And without those magic tunes, his light verse was as unsalable as most poetry.

This doesn't mean the right lyric can't make all the difference. A lyricist is a musician too, one who arranges tunes for the human voice so that you can "hear" them for the first time. But once the lyrics have done that, and made you laugh or cry two or three times at most, they fade in importance. Again and again, people will request a favorite song while knowing only its tune. I don't think anyone would dispute that it's possible to make a good movie from a pretty bad script, or that it's possible to make a lousy movie from a really good script -- but a good script greatly improves one's chances of making a good movie. It's just as hard to make a bad movie as it is to make a good one, yet the odds decisively favor the former over the latter.

Are some movies terrific primarily because of the script? Probably. Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder come to mind. But the script wouldn't work unless it had been acted and directed well. I've heard recorded arrangements of "Night and Day" that made me cringe. Likewise, I've seen actors and directors (and editors and composers) butcher a scene or a sequence that could have been great if they knew how to play it. (Remember, however, that if a scene doesn't work, it's probably least likely to be the actor's fault. Choosing the wrong takes and/or assembling them poorly can make the greatest actor in the world look like a grade school thespian.)

Quotable dialog -- epigrams, witticisms, punchlines -- can be fun, but they don't make a good movie any more than they make a good song. "Here's looking at you, kid" is an immortal line, but it could have been a howler. You wouldn't remember it without the music of Bogart's voice and the look in his eyes. I will never quite understand how "You can't handle the truth!" entered the public domain (however briefly it may remain there) because, although Nicholson sells the hell out of it in "A Few Good Men," it's not a particularly memorable moment. Although both these lines are often used jokingly, acknowledged as clichés when used in casual conversation, one affectionately acknowledges a classic while the other includes an element of sarcasm or satire of the movie itself (almost like "No wire hangers!").

When the words and music seem inseparable, as if one could not exist without the other, that makes for greatness. And in song, and in film, it's a matter of composition -- but also performance and orchestration, whether it's Sinatra singing "So make it one for my baby/And one more for the road," or Walsh (Joe Mantell) intoning those famous last words, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown."

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Leonard Maltin: Still "Movie Crazy"

It's a newsletter and a web site!

Nobody does a better job of reminding us that movies are always in the present tense, no matter how long ago they were made, than movie historian, critic, and (above all) enthusiast Leonard Maltin, who's celebrating the fifth anniversary of his own, personal movie-zine, "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy" ("A Newsletter for People Who Love Movies"). That's right -- it's a newsletter. As in, printed on paper and snail-mailed to you. The "Collector's Corner" of the most recent issue (which just arrived in my mailbox today), appropriately features some vintage promotional envelopes -- one from RKO studios, and one "Direct From Location" in Old Tucson, AZ, for Wesley Ruggles' "Arizona," starring Jean Arthur. I love Jean Arthur. Almost as much as Barbara Stanwyck.

Though he also has a web site (and writes a "Journal" -- not a blog!), I love that someone of Leonard's stature still puts out a good, analog-style newsletter. (Could we consider it "artisanal"?) But, of course, it's also perfectly in character for Leonard, someone whose passion for movies has always been deeply personal as well as professional. (I take pride in getting Leonard on the web in the first place. He used to fax his weekly columns to me at Cinemania Online, which was a bit "klugey," as we used to say. So, I went to his house and set him up on e-mail in 1996 or so. Leonard was an ebay early-adopter -- for his astounding collection of movie memorabilia, of course -- and once he discovered e-mail, he took to it like a sprocket to celluloid.)

The new issue features an interview with 92-year-old Leslie Martinson, a television director and former MGM script supervisor who worked for Vincente Minnelli, John Huston, Sam Wood, Rouben Mamoulian and others, and who has plenty of stories to tell -- including anecdotes about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. "Long before I had any real awareness of directors and their careers, I knew the name Leslie H. Martinson," Leonard writes, recalling his days as a budding auteurist. "No one who watched television in the 1950s and '60s could have avoided seeing that name. It was emblazoned on countless TV shows, ranging from "Topper" and "The Millionaire" to every Warner Bros. show imaginable, when that studio dominated the airwaves..." Martinson directed episodes of such series as "Maverick," "Hawaiian Eye," "77 Sunset Strip," "Mannix," "Mission: Impossible," "ChiPs," and "Dallas" -- and some movies, too ("Lad: A Dog," "PT 109," the 1966 feature "Batman," based on the hit TV show).

The cover story, "Grade B -- But Choice," is devoted to an obscure 1934 musical called "Young and Beautiful," featuring "budding starlets, grade-A character actors, grade-B musical numbers, a pair of vaudevillians, a look behind the scenes of Hollywood, bogus appearances by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and a script by Dore Schary" [later famous as a producer of films such as "Crossfire," "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," "They Live By Night" and "The Red Badge of Courage"].

Maltin describes "one of the most bizarre musical numbers ever staged, in which actors wearing full-face masks of major stars appear on stage together," along with the WAMPAS girls, beauties selected by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers -- an organization that, between 1922 and 1934, chose an annual list of promising "Baby Stars," which included Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Fay Wray, Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Lupe Valez, Jean Arthur (!), Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart.

These stars were not on display in "Young and Beautiful," however. (Betty Bryson, anyone? Dorothy Drake? Hazel Hayes? Lucile Lund? Neoma Judge?) Imagine this: At first, youre not sure whether or not to believe your eyes; many of the caricature masks are quite good. Some of the performers adopt the actors' body language, and appear in costumes from the stars' most recent roles: John Barrymore as he appeared in "Reunion in Vienna," Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa from "Viva Villa," George Arliss as "The Iron Duke," Joe E. Brown in uniform from "Son of a Sailor," Eddie Cantor in costume from "Roman Scandals," along with Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier, Adolphe Menjou, Jimmy Durante, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. After an introductory sequence, the bogus stars participate in a kind of elaborate parade with the WAMPAS lovelies.If that doesn't sound tantalizing, I don't know what will.

Believe it or not, "Young and Beautiful" is still available on VHS from Turner Classic Movies.

Thanks, Leonard! Here's to five -- or 55 -- more years of film fanaticism. You're right: "We movie nuts have to stick together..."

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Singin' 2: Electric Boogalooing in the Rain

OK, now they've done it. They've shown that they really can take performances from old movies and re-animate them to make new scenes the original actors never did. And make it look pretty convincing. Take a gander at this astonishing UK ad for the VW Golf GTI ("The original, updated."), in which Gene Kelly does a whole new kind of singin' and dancin' in the rain. Sacrilege or marvel? Whatever you make of it, at least it's a hell of a lot better made than the infamous 1997 Dirt Devil spot with Fred Astaire and the vacuum cleaner, based on the famous "dancing on the ceiling" bit from "Royal Wedding"...

(tip: AS)

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Nothing spoils a 'Million Dollar' movie

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Q. I read your review of "Million Dollar Baby." As a huge Clint Eastwood fan, I thought to myself I might take my children, even though they are a little young. So I consulted another critic, Movie Mom, and was quite upset when the plot was revealed. I've been robbed! Tom Brandenburger, Madison State, S.D.

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We're not in Texas anymore... are we?

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Q: I had to laugh at elements of your review of "Friday Night Lights." You wrote: "Certainly there are countless citizens in that Texas town who lead happy and productive lives and are fulfilled without depending on high school football." Obviously you've never lived in Texas. I've lived here for five years now and I can attest that in a small town like Odessa, high school football IS everything. You mention that the Odessa stadium is "larger than those at many colleges." True. Our high school north of Austin recently completed a $20 million, 11,000-seat capacity stadium complete with AstroPlay synthetic turf and a Daktronics Prostar scoreboard. In Texas, the school funding debate rages on like it does everywhere, but they can't let the kids play on a shabby field, can they? Doug Matheson, Austin, Texas

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Brando letter makes the grade

Q: I couldn't let Marlon Brando's passing go by without telling this story. Over 20 years ago when I was just starting out as a teacher in Chicago, I had a student who loved Brando. As a writing assignment, I'd promised to find addresses for the stars the kids liked, so they could write to them and see who answered.

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AFI list is full of talent but empty of meaning

As part of its ongoing national effort to lead the nation to discover and rediscover the classics, the American Film Institute (AFI) today announced the 50 greatest American screen legends - the top 25 women and top 25 men naming Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart the number one legends among the women and men.

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