Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
* 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.
Jana Monji reports from WonderCon 2014, including details on The Maze Runner, How to Train Your Dragon 2 & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Omer M. Mozaffer champions Barkhad Abdi for Best Supporting Actor of 2013.
Marie writes: I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, dissatisfied in general with the poverty of imagination currently on display at local cinemas. As anyone can blow something up with CGI - it takes no skill whatsoever and imo, is the default mode of every hack working in Hollywood these days. Whereas making a funny political satire in the United States about a Russian submarine running aground on a sandbank near a small island town off the coast of New England in 1966 during the height of the Cold War - and having local townsfolk help them escape in the end via a convoy of small boats, thereby protecting them from US Navy planes until they're safely out to sea? Now that's creative and in a wonderfully subversive way....
A Civil Rights-era test to see if you're smart enough to vote; what you need to know about the situation in Turkey; the director of 20 Feet from Stardom, interviewed; new classical music suggestions for Hollywood villains; something about Like Clockwork; guess which critic wrote this un-bylined New York Times review?
Marie writes: Welcome to "Good Books", an online bookseller based in New Zealand. Every time you buy a book through them, 100% of the retail profit goes directly to fund projects in partnership with Oxfam; projects which provide clean water, sanitation, develop sustainable agriculture and create access to education for communities in need. To increase awareness of Good Books' efforts to raise money for Oxfam, String Theory (New Zeland based agency) teamed up with collaborative design production comany "Buck" to create the first of three videos in a digital campaign called Good Books Great Writers. Behold the award winning animated Good Books Metamorphosis.
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn has found another Hollywood auction and it's packed with stuff! From early publicity stills (some nudes) to famous movie props, costumes, signed scripts, storyboards, posters and memorabilia...
"Dear Mr. Spider;I am profoundly sorry to have taken you from your home in the woods, when I was picking Himalayan Blackberries on Monday afternoon. I didn't see you fall into my bucket and which was entirely my fault; I must have bumped into your web while reaching for a berry. Needless to say, I was surprised upon returning home with my bucket full, to suddenly see you there standing on a blackberry and looking up at me." - Marie
(photo recreation of incident)
"Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it, the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed." -- Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), "Batman Begins" (2005)
"Over the ages our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham we tried a new one: economics.... We are back to finish the job. And this time no misguided idealists will get in the way. Like your father, you lack the courage to do all that is necessary. If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them... and stab them in the heart." -- Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), "Batman Begins" (2005)
"You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other." -- The Joker (Heath Ledger), "The Dark Knight" (2008)
"Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country." -- Maximilien Robespierre, 1794
"I am Gotham's reckoning... I'm necessary evil.... Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die." -- Bane (Tom Hardy), echoing his former master in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)
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(You've seen "The Dark Knight Rises" by now, right? Good. I'm going to discuss a few things that I would consider spoilers, albeit mild ones, and then get to some pretty big spoilers later on, before which I will offer an additional warning, just in case.)
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The villains of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies don't think very highly of "ordinary citizens" (now popularly referred to as "the 99 percent"), whom they tend to view as mindless savages, slaves to fear who'll claw one another and the city of Gotham to shreds at the slightest provocation. The films themselves sometimes confirm that view (Gothamites get a little panicky in "The Dark Knight" when they fear that Batman is not keeping the crime rate down) and sometimes don't (they choose not to blow themselves up in the Joker's intricately planned ferry experiment). This isn't really a theme that's developed in the movies, but like most of the political and social references, it's something that's... there.
Marie writes: club member Sandy Kahn has found some more auctions! Go here to download a free PDF copy of the catalog.
Marie writes: I've never seen this done before - and what an original idea! Gwen Murphy is an artist who breathes new life into old shoes, transforming them from fashion accessories into intriguing works of art. Thanks go to club member Cheryl Knott for telling me about this. (Click to enlarge.)
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO THE EBERT CLUB!
I was floored by Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the first time I saw it, though (as is usually the case for me, even with movies that don't negotiate complex plots in slyly evasive/elliptical styles), I couldn't have told you exactly what happened. That didn't concern me at all, however, because like its central character George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the movie is so meticulously observant that I never felt I was missing out on anything important, even when I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. It kept me in the emotional moment, and I knew I could figure out the details later on.
The stories behind the relationships at the Circus (nickname for Britain's covert intelligence agency) were tangled -- and yet clearly delineated -- enough to deliver a cumulative emotional payoff. And the more I lived with the vivid memory of the movie (it has stayed with me, unshakably), and the more times I've seen it (thrice, so far), the more my appreciation of it has grown. It has slowly climbed up my list of 2011 favorites, and by the second time I saw it, I was absolutely sure it had eclipsed any other English-language movie I'd seen during the year.
(For gaffe squadders who enjoy those fits of righteous indignation that only award nominations can truly provide, let me suggest that the most egregious oversight in this year's Oscar batch is the lack of acknowledgment for "Tinker Tailor" in the categories of best picture, supporting actor (anyone), supporting actress (Kathy Burke), cinematography, art direction, editing, costume design, and so on down the line. Screenplay, actor and music -- all well-deserved, though.)
First-rate movies often inspire first-rate criticism, and it's been thrilling to read some of the year's best writing inspired by one of its best movies. Here's a sample of some of the finest stuff I've read (all of it after I saw, and wrote a little about, the movie -- so beware of spoilers), with links to the full pieces, which I strongly recommend you follow.
Here's a wonderful video essay written by Dipnot.tv film critic, Far-Flung Correspondent, House Next Door contributor, longtime Scanners commenter and International Man of Mystery Ali Arikan, and edited by writer/photographer and Press Play producer Ken Cancelosi. As far as I'm concerned, it makes the case -- and does so even without including my personal favorite scene from "Moneyball"! (I think he should have been nominated for supporting actor in "The Tree of Life," too.)
There is real mystery to Pitt's take on Billy Beane. He loves the game, but knows the game is changing. He knows he has to get wins in order to keep his job, and is more than willing to modernize for that reason. But he also knows there is something you can't calculate about the game of baseball. The scenes of Pitt driving to work or sitting in the locker room show a man who is constantly trying to figure out the odds and knowing deep down that there are some things you can't figure out.
... He brings to the role an assured quality on overzealous, yet understated, lust for ultimate success that was forged in the fires of years and years of failure. He's charming and cheeky and funny, and very good looking (despite the hideous early naughties' haircut and lumbering fashion sense). Pitt brings a subtle comedic take to what could have been a rather boring central role; his various dealings with other managers, his scouts and players, betray genius-level timing and mimicry.
OK, I really wouldn't mind seeing Gary Oldman win for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," either -- but this was Pitt's year.
Marie writes: my art pal Siri Arnet sent me following - and holy cow! "Japanese artist Takanori Aiba has taken bonsai trees, food packaging, and even a tiny statue of the Michelin Man and constructed miniature metropolises around these objects, thus creating real-life Bottled Cities of Kandor. Explains Aiba of his artwork:"My source of creations are my early experience of bonsai making and maze illustration. These works make use of an aerial perspective, which like the diagram for a maze shows the whole from above (the macro view) while including minute details (the micro view). If you explore any small part of my works, you find amazing stories and some unique characters." ( click to enlarge.)
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Complete list of 84th Annual Academy Award nominations announced Tuesday:
Two movies about the love of movies lead the field in the 2012 Academy award derby. Both look back at formative years for the art form. Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," about a young boy who makes a friend of the inventor of the cinema, led the field with 11 nominations. And Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist," set when Hollywood was making the transition from silent pictures to the talkies, placed second with ten.
I would never want to read a screenplay before seeing the movie based on it. As a critic, in fact, it would be a violation of my responsibilities (and ethics) to do that. The film has to be seen on its own, as a completed work; a critic shouldn't rummage through the drafts before experiencing the finished piece -- whether it's a movie or a painting or a symphony. I'm even ambivalent about reading certain books before seeing the movie versions, too, and for the same reason that I don't like to see trailers, particularly of films I'm likely to write about: I don't want to harbor preconceived ideas (even unconscious impressions) when I watch the picture. As we all know, it's hard enough to get a clean look at a movie after all the advertising and interviews and seasonal previews and reviews...
But if you want to gain some understanding of how movies are actually made (movies in general and any movie in particular) it's often enlightening to go back and take look at how the screenplay (or various drafts, re-writes, polishes) evolved into the movie that eventually wound up on the screen. Some filmmakers like Clint Eastwood often claim to simply shoot a script "as written" (though he and Dustin Lance Black did some re-working, including adding a voiceover, on the "J. Edgar" screenplay). But it can be fascinating to see how the writer(s), director(s) and editor(s) shape the material throughout the entire process -- and how moving (or removing) images and lines from one context and placing them in another changes their meaning. This is now easier to do than ever before, because so many screenplays are available online -- legitimately (For Your Consideration at studio sites) and otherwise.
Here's what you've been waiting for: Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy present their annual "Moments Out of Time" ("Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year's films") at MSN Movies. It's kind of like film criticism as haiku. But, you know, without haiku rules. They're short poems.
From RTJ's intro at his online movie magazine, Straight Shooting:
Kathleen Murphy and I first threw together a "Moments out of Time" feature for the year 1971. I'd had a brief go at it in 1969 for Seattle's premier counterculture rag The Helix, and pretty perfunctory it was--only a dozen or so films referred to, in lines like "The terrible beauty of The Wild Bunch...." The 1971 tribute ran to several pages of the first 1972 issue of Movietone News, the Seattle Film Society newsletter that, just about that time, turned the evolutionary corner en route to becoming a legitimate film journal. As for "Moments out of Time," it continued, and grew, each year through the decade MTN was published. Subsequently it appeared when and where opportunity presented--including one year in the early 2000s when our host was the spiffy German film mag Steadycam. For the past half-dozen years we've been graciously showcased by the Movies section at MSN.com, where editor Dave McCoy has patiently accommodated us as we (all right, I) send one e-mail after another, tweaking words and punctuation to get the lines to bump in the right place.
A dozen of my favorites:
-- "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy": Control (John Hurt), aced out of MI6 after the disaster in Budapest, announces, "Smiley is coming with me." Smiley (Gary Oldman), his back to the camera, tilts his head a millimeter -- surprise? acceptance? both?...
-- Upside-down shadows of kids at play on gray asphalt, swinging from the top of the frame in "The Tree of Life"...
-- "Midnight in Paris": the evolution of the expression on Gil (Owen Wilson) -- F. Scott Fitzgerald has just introduced him to Ernest Hemingway -- from gobsmacked to go-with-the-flow delight...
-- A drop of perspiration falling onto a café tabletop, fatally fracturing the fourth wall of a Hungarian "play" in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"...
"Would you believe in a love at first sight?" "Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time." "What do you see when you turn out the light?" "I can't tell you but I know it's mine." -- Billy Shears, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sometimes I can pinpoint the very moment I first fall in love with a movie. It may happen in the first shot (Bong Joon-ho's "Mother"; Michael Haneke's "Caché"), or may be clinched in at the very end (the terminal instant of Rahmin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart"), but in many cases there is an identifiable point at which I know that I am in love, even while the movie is unspooling, and by that time it's not likely there's any going back, unless the movie simply implodes.
Here are a few of those times from 2011 when I realized I was falling hard...
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
There's not so much snow as in director Tomas Alfredson's previous feature, "Let the Right One In," but it gets plenty chilly here, in Cold War London, Budapest and Istanbul. The emotional iciness sneaks up on you: by the end, as the strands of loyalty and betrayal unravel, leaving characters exposed to some very cold realities, I found it uncommonly moving. (Yes, I cried -- more than once.) Not unrelatedly, "Tinker Tailor" (no commas in this title) is one of the most hauntingly and imaginatively composed movies (both in terms of framings and shot sequences) that I've seen since... maybe the last Coen brothers picture. Early on, it catches you a little off-guard when, in the midst of a hushed, paranoid conversation in a musty apartment, there's a cut to a monochromatic, neo-Gothic Eastern European skyline (punctuating John Hurt's use of the word "Budapest" -- a word that will become code for loss, failure, disgrace).
A few weeks ago on Facebook -- that sly keeper of family secrets, whose memory seems to have increased incrementally with its new Timeline mumbo-jumbo -- an actor of some repute posted a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, as compiled by a wholly forgettable outlet. He had been placed relatively highly, and someone commented that it was a very subjective list. Apart from the fact that taking issue with "a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, lol" is by definition absurd, the statement presented a logical fallacy (I am fully aware of the irony of regarding a throwaway Facebook comment in such depth). All lists are subjective: that's why they're lists. Nonetheless, this fairly simple fact gets lost in the year-end frenzy as interested parties start calling for the list-maker's head, like angry villagers wielding pitchforks, if and when their favoured books, albums, films, etc fail to place on a given critic's compilation of the year's best.
(Picture the headline above in Comic Sans.) MSN Movies contributors have selected our Top 10 Movies of 2011. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies "the best"? Are they our favorites? Are they "movies we got to see before the deadline"? In my case, it's some combination of all three -- but I'm really quite happy with the aggregate results. As for my own contribution, as usual I hadn't seen everything I wanted to by the deadline ("A Separation," "Hugo," "The Artist," "Mysteries of Lisbon," "Midnight in Paris" among them), and still haven't, but them's the breaks. My lists will evolve in coming days (Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, indieWIRE Critics Poll, and so on), but I do want to say that I went all-in with my emotions. I picked these movies 'cause I love 'em, not because I merely admire them or appreciate them.
The Big List starts here; the individual lists start here.
Of course, as much as we love lists, the best thing about the MSN feature is that we have short appreciations of the top 10 movies, written by some very perceptive and eloquent people. And me, too. You will find the Group List, with excerpts and links to the full mini-essays, below -- and my personal ballot at the bottom. Let me know what you think -- and be sure to read the previous post ("Idiocracy and the ten-best trolls") for a good laugh:
Marie writes: Did you know that the world's steepest roller-coaster is the Takabisha, which opened earlier this year at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanash, Japan? The ride lasts just 112 seconds but is packed with exciting features including seven twists, blackened tunnels and a 43m-high peak. But the most impressive thing about Takabisha is the 121 degree free-fall, so steep that it's been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the steepest roller-coaster made from steel!
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)
"I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out." - from LIFE ITSELF
(click image to enlarge)
Marie writes: Once upon a time when I was little, I spent an afternoon playing "Winne the Pooh" outside. I took my toys into the backyard and aided by a extraordinary one-of-a-kind custom-built device requiring no batteries (aka: artistic imagination) pretended that I was playing with my pals - Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too - and that there was honey nearby; the bumble bees buzzing in the flowerbeds, only too happy to participate in the illusion. And although it didn't have a door, we too had a tree - very much like the one you see and from which hung a tire. A happy memory that, and which came flooding back upon catching sight of these - the animation backgrounds from the new Winnie the Pooh; thank God I was born when I was. :-)
(click to enlarge images)