Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
* 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.
A recap of the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival.
A list of films and special events to check out when attending this year's Chicago International Film Festival.
A celebration of actresses Jane Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg in anticipation of an upcoming series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in NYC.
A recap of some of the films shown at the 37th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Cuba.
An in-depth look at the extraordinary film career of 100-year-old actor Norman Lloyd, currently starring in Judd Apatow's "Trainwreck."
A report from Cannes 2015 on "The Measure of a Man," "Cemetery of Splendor" and "Marguerite & Julien."
Roger Ebert's essay on film in the 1978 edition of the Britannica publication, "The Great Ideas Today."
Our most anticipated films of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
A recap of the awards winners of the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival.
Marie writes: Behold a living jewel; a dragonfly covered in dew as seen through the macro-lens of French photographer David Chambon. And who has shot a stunning series of photos featuring insects covered in tiny water droplets. To view others in addition to these, visit here.
(click images to enlarge)
"All Together," or "Et si on vivait tous ensemble?" (97 minutes) is available via VOD on various cable systems, and on iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu.
The cinema of 2012 is brought to you by Viagra, or so it seems. The year has been chock full of movies about horny old people. Sure, the characters still complain, have aches and pains, and deal with moments both senior and regrettable. But Nana's also out to prove she's still got the ill na na, and Gramps is in the mood like Glenn Miller on an endless loop. Films like Dustin Hoffman's "Quartet," with its randy Billy Connolly, and the main characters of Stephane Robelin's "All Together" dispel the myth that once you go gray, the sex goes away. These folks are reclaiming "bitch and moan" from its grumpy origins, and turning the phrase into a cause-and-effect relationship.
Marie writes: It's no secret that most Corporations are evil - or at the very least, suck big time. And while I have no actual proof, I'm fairly certain there is a special level of Dante's Hell reserved just for them. (Map of Dante's Hell.)That being the case, when my younger brother Paul wrote me about a cool project sponsored by Volkswagen, I was understandably wary and ready to denounce it sight-unseen as self-serving Corporate shyte. As luck would have it however, I was blessed at birth with curiosity and which got the better of me and why I took a look. For what I found was nothing less than extraordinary....
Marie writes: It's that time of the year again! The Toronto International Film Festival is set to run September 6 - 16, 2012. Tickets selection began August 23rd. Single tickets on sale Sept 2, 2012. For more info visit TIFF's website.
Marie writes: As some of you may know, it was Roger's 70th birthday on June 18 and while I wasn't able to give the Grand Poobah what I suspect he'd enjoy most...
Siskel & Ebert fight over a toy train (1988)
Marie writes: In a move which didn't fail to put a subversive smile on my face, works by the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy began to appear recently in Hollywood as Academy Awards voters prepared to judge Exit Through the Gift Shop, which is up for best Documentary. (Click to enlarge.)
The most controversial thus far was painted on a billboard directly opposite the Directors Guild of America HQ on Sunset Boulevard. A poster advertising The Light Group (a property, nightclub and restaurant developer) was stenciled over with images of a cocktail-guzzling Mickey Mouse grasping a woman's breast. As it was being removed, a scuffle broke out between workmen and a man claiming the poster was his "property" - presumably triggered by the fact that an authentic piece by Banksy is worth thousands. To read more visit Banksy targets LA ahead of Oscars at the Guardian. And to see more pictures go HERE.
Marie writes: Each year, the world's remotest film festival is held in Tromsø, Norway. The Tromsø International Film Festival to be exact, or TIFF (not to be confused with Toronto.) Well inside the Arctic Circle, the city is nevertheless warmer than most others located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This likely explains how they're able to watch a movie outside, in the snow, in the Arctic, in the winter. :-)
Remembering Robert Altman (February 20, 1915 - November 20, 2006). This piece, revised and expanded from a Scanners post, was published in the German film magazine steadycam in a 2006 tribute issue, "Der Spieler Robert Altman: Zocker, Zyniker, Provokateur, Bluffer, Genie."
Well, we must be doing something right To last... two hundred years! -- Haven Hamilton, "200 Years"
It begins with a cheesy, hyper, K-Tel-style TV commercial for itself, segues into a libertarian political spiel by the presidential candidate for the Replacement Party, and then into a rousing Bicentennial anthem sung by a toupeed country-western singer in a white rhinestone-studded outfit.
The color of blood: a study in scarlet
View image Bright, thick, almost waxy blood: Brian DePalma's "Sisters" (1973).
View image Thinner, but still alarmingly bright: Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (1994).
"Yellow... is the color of caution." -- Opal from the BBC (Geraldine Chaplin) in Robert Altman's "Nashville"
Red is the color of alarm. Perhaps because it is the color of blood. Over the years, that color has changed, along with our taste in blood. In movies, I mean. What was once alarmingly "realistic" now looks either stylized (if it's a good movie) or fakey (if it's not so good). When Neil Sedaka and Elton John sang about "Bad Blood" in 1975, maybe that's what they really had in mind (because, after all, who knows what "Doo-ron, doo-ron, dit-dit-dit-di ron-ron" was supposed to mean? Apart from the reference to the Crystals).
Near-black: The Coens' "No Country for Old Men" (2007).
Before the late '70s, blood was generally (and, remember, these are generalizations -- there are certainly exceptions) bright red and opaque, like nail polish or latex paint. It was often compared to ketchup, which in many cases it was. Since then, our taste for blood runs darker, anywhere from ruby red to almost black. It's a bit more transparent than it used to be, and appears somewhat shinier and stickier -- perhaps because, as we now know, the effects folks have supposedly hit upon the magic formula for photogenic blood made from Karo corn syrup (in some cases the high fructose variety, the same ingredient used in... almost everything that doesn't use a low-cal sweetener). The shade changes with the lighting, the thickness (a smear or a puddle?), and the surface on which it is splashed. The blood splashed on Samuel L. Jackson's Jheri Curled hair naturally appears darker than the blood all over the upholstery of the back seat, or the blood splooshed on the back window as daylight streams through it.
(Red Alert: Possible bloody spoiler text and images ahead for "Heroes" [Season One], "There Will Be Blood," "Deep Red," "The Conversation"...)
My favorite documentary of 2007 (which I haven't had a chance to write about yet) is Gary Hustwit's "Helvetica," a look at a ubiquitous typeface. It's the kind of movie that helps you to see the world around you anew, freshly attuned to all the fonts in your world. Me, I'm a Helvetica guy. I hate fonts that call attention to themselves, and Helvetica is so clean and strong and elegant you can do almost anything with it just by varying sizes, colors, weights, spacing and placement. Our good friend Larry Adylette, the superlative movie and music and pop culture blogger formerly known as The Shamus (and, before that, That Little Round-Headed Boy), has a few words on Helvetica (and "Helvetica") over at his new blog, Welcome to L.A. -- which is also the title of Alan Rudolph's funny-peculiar 1976 debut feature, starring Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, Harvey Keitel, Sissy Spacek, Lauren Hutton, Geraldine Chaplin, Viveca Lindfors and Richard Baskin. (A parenthetical time-out to say: "Hello, Larry!," as they used to remark on NBC for a very short time in 1979-80 after McLean Stevenson left "M*A*S*H," thus providing Garry Shandling with a great network-meeting joke in an early episode of "The Larry Sanders Show.") Larry writes: Just like film bloggers who parse every frame of "No Country For Old Men," these font fanatics have obsessed about every curve and dimension of Helvetica. To them, Helvetica is either a perfect, easily readable form of mass communication or something akin to Anton Chigurh with a coin and an air-tank gun. They are an argumentative, often hilarious bunch...I have no idea what he's talking about.
But that's not really the reason for this post. It's about an entirely different (serif) font, Trajan, which as Kirby Ferguson of Goodie Bag details in the above movie, has become the movie font. "Trajan is the movie font," he says -- and then goes on to show you so many examples your head will spin. In the end, though, like me, he's a Helvetica guy. Look at those end credits. Not Trajan. Helvetica. I'll write more about "Helvetica" later, because I'm fascinated with it (the font and the movie) and I already want to see it a third time.
(tip: Ali Arikan)
P.S. Karsten (in comments below) offers an explanation for the film-font phenomenon with a link to this animated murder mystery, "Etched in Stone." (link opens new browser tab/window)
View image Belén Rueda revisits "The Orphanage" of her youth. Or is it the orphanage that's revisiting her?
As I was leaving the theater after watching Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Orphanage," still in the movie's thrall, I thought for a moment that maybe I'd seen my favorite of the festival. It was only the second film I'd seen (and the movies ahead included the Coens, Cronenberg, Rohmer, Herzog, De Palma, Rivette, Greenaway, and who knows how many other big names), but I figured this had to be a good omen. Because in that moment I believed it to be possible -- and if movies mean anything, they renew and inspire hope for the medium itself.
Guierrmo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" was my favorite film of last year's fest -- and, as it turned out, my best picture of 2006. "The Orphanage," produced by Del Toro, isn't the seamless masterpiece that movie was, but it's another strong, dark fantasy-fable and horror movie about mothers and children -- that is absolutely made for adults and not for children. I'd venture to say there are more goosepimply moments and well-earned jolts in this picture than in your average year's worth of commercial shockers. And yet, it's also the only horror film in recent memory that brought me to tears. (The last one may have been Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" -- but that was nearer the beginning of the movie.)
View image Child's play.
"The Orphanage," as the title suggests, is an Old Dark House ghost picture (haunted by "The Haunting" and other shadowplays), with "Peter Pan" at the center and the specter of Roman Polanski repeatedly glimpsed around the edges, as if in tricks of peripheral vision. A ghastly face contorted into a permanent scream invokes "The Tenant" (and the open jaw will return in another horrifying image); a woman alone in rooms that play tricks on the mind, recalling "Repulsion"; a shot peering around a corner that, like the famous moment from "Rosemary's Baby," had me leaning to see what was in the blackness around the bend.
The revealing camera movement, in which you anticipate the sight of something (awful) beyond the edge of the frame, is the film's signature. You know Bayona has gotten under your skin when Laura watches a 16mm silent home movie of what we're told is a boy with a deformed face. We see the child from behind in an underlit room, studying at a desk. The hand-held camera slowly moves up behind him, but all we can see is the back of his head, so that we both dread the reveal and can't wait for it. That's the essence of suspense, and it's a standard trick in the thriller repertoire. It just happens to be exceptionally well done here. And although I've touched on a half-dozen movie references already, it's not because "The Orphanage" goes through the usual motions of offering shout-outs to its influences. They are well-absorbed here. (Oh, and did I mention "The Descent or "Dead Calm" yet? Think of the mothers driven to psychological extremes in those movies...)
Laura (Belén Rueda, from "The Sea Inside") plays a fiercely devoted mother, raised in the institution of the title, who returns to the decrepit building with her husband and son. The boy begins to draw away from his parents in favor of new imaginary playmates he discovers in and around the house -- and the beach cave beneath the lighthouse that can be seen from his bedroom window. Or, maybe, it's they who discover him.
All due respect to "The Sixth Sense" (which I think is a nifty movie), but this isn't exactly, "I See Dead Children." "The Orphanage" takes its characters to the deepest, darkest places imaginable and dares them to fight their way back. There's a distinctively Spanish/Mexican sensibility at work here, in which the gruesome realities of loss and death and decay are acknowledged in the open, a part of life as it is lived, and there are no guarantees of a fairy-tale Happy Ending for anyone. That's because, as these cultures understand in their bones, the genuine, non-Disnified fairy tales don't necessarily have happy endings.
Rueda's performance is fearless and ferocious. Laura's own orphan past returns as a deadly children's game, a test to see how far she's willing to go, how much she'll risk, for her child. In some respects, her journey is not unlike the otherworldly plunge JoBeth Williams' character takes in "Poltergeist," to reclaim her daughter from the Other Side. There's a scene with a psychic (a pale and spectral Geraldine Chaplin, looking like a Day of the Dead Catarina skeleton in Victorian dress) that also quite deliberately conjures up "Poltergeist."
To describe this mother's descent into the underworld as "bone-chilling" is not hyperbole. It's just a starkly accurate description.
+ + +
An afterthought: Why are the sing-song rhymes and games of children so spooky? (One, two, Freddy's coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door...)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy's early cameo appearance in "Nashville," at Lady Pearl's Old Time Picking Parlor.
Please consider this my initial contribution to Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon -- happening all weekend at No More Marriages!
View image Inside Pearl's Parlor: Red, white and bluegrass. Kenny Fraiser (David Hayward) enters from behind the flag at center.
How can two critics see (or remember) the same movie, and have such contradictory interpretations of how it works and what it means? And what better case-in-point than Robert Altman's 1975 "Nashville" -- now being remembered in the wake of Altman's death last week, and seen through the prism of Emilio Estevez's recent release about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, "Bobby"?
View image Lady Pearl: "The only time I ever went hog wild, 'round the bend, was for the Kennedy boys. But they were different."
From two reviews of "Bobby":
View image "... and the asshole got 556,577 votes."
Watching the movie, I kept thinking of "Nashville." And not just because Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece remains the most politically and psychologically astute big-ensemble/where-America's-at movie ever made (it's got a presidential campaign and ends with a beloved public figure gunned down, too). There's a minor character in it, played by Barbara Baxley, who's a Kennedy-loving Yankee married to a country music star. In one boozy monologue, she expresses all that was both hopeful and delusional about what the dead Kennedys represented for progressive citizens. I've never forgotten that speech, while the more simplistic and diffuse "Bobby" is already starting to fade from memory.
-- Bob Strauss, LA Daily News
View image Alone at Mass.
Despite its reputation as an exuberant classic, "Nashville" knows zip and cares even less about country music or the city of Nashville (where it was shot) -- which doesn't prevent it from heaping scorn on both. It even ridicules a dowager who tearfully reminisces about John and Bobby Kennedy, and it shamelessly encourages viewers to share its contempt for the rubes. The relentless cynicism that Nashville brandishes as proof of its hipness ultimately gives way to glib, high-flown rhetoric in the climactic repeated shots of an American flag filling the screen while a nihilistic pseudocountry anthem, "It Don't Worry Me," builds to a crescendo, asserting the concert audience's unembarrassed cluelessness.
-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
First, I want to point out the obvious: Bob Strauss is right even when he's wrong (I don't think Baxley's character is minor or a Yankee) and Jonathan Rosenbaum is wrong even when he's right (Altman admitted he wasn't interested in making a movie about the real Nashville or country music; after all, he let the actors write their own songs). Rosenbaum's preoccupation with his own perception of "hipness" (which he deems extremely uncool) appears to have obscured his view (or his memory) of what's happening on the screen in Altman's movie. As I said in a comment over at The House Next Door, using "Bobby" to bash "Nashville" makes as much sense as using "Neil Simon's California Suite" to bash "Short Cuts" -- or "The Towering Inferno" to belittle "Playtime." Yes, there are superficial similarities (as Bob points out), but in terms of ambition, complexity, vitality and sheer movieness, there's no comparison.
"Nashville" 25th reunion. (photo by Jim Emerson)
When the doctor says you're through Keep a'goin! Why, he's a human just like you -- Keep a'goin!
-- Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) in "Nashville"
View image 24 of your favorite stars.
Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally
-- Kurt Cobain, "Pennyroyal Tea"
It's true that all the men you knew were dealers who said that they were through with dealing every time you gave them shelter
-- Leonard Cohen, opening lyrics for "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"
View image "Nashville" 25th reunion. Note gigantic Oscar at right; Altman got his own, regular-sized one six years later. (photo by Jim Emerson)
"However, the cortex, which is dwarfed in most species by other brain areas, makes up a whopping 80 percent of the human brain. Compared with other animals, our huge cortex also has many more regions specialized for particular functions, such as associating words with objects or forming relationships and reflecting on them. The cortex is what makes us human."
-- John J. Ratley, M.D., "A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain"
I'm not sure what, if anything, meaningfully connects these fragments to the passing of Robert Altman -- or his films, as alive now as they ever were -- but they were all things I encountered during a day spent thinking about Altman and, to my surprise, not wanting to speak out loud about him to anyone. I talked to my mother on the phone. She asked hesitantly, "Have you heard any news today?" "Yeah," I said, and changed the subject. What can I say that isn't trivial? (Rhetorical question, please.)
In this state of grief, nothing I'm writing or thinking about Altman is adequate, or even makes much sense, in large part because a whole moviegoing lifetime of engagement with his movies (beginning at age 15) has so profoundly shaped who I am and how I experience the world. Like hundreds, thousands (millions?) of cinephiles and cinephiliacs, I found life (and, paradoxically, shelter) in Robert Altman's movies. "Nashville" is my church, to which I return again and again for joy, insight, inspiration and sustenance. (I haven't written about it for years, but I also know that I'm almost never not writing about "Nashville.")
To this day, I am in some deep but irrational sense convinced that the characters in "Nashville" (even though I know they're played by 24 of my very favorite stars!) continue to exist outside the parameters of the movie itself. I've met and interviewed, for example, Ned Beatty, but there's Ned Beatty the actor and then there's Delbert Reese, who is someone else entirely. Delbert exists, imaginatively independent of the great actor (one of my all-time favorites) who inhabited him in "Nashville." (This is most unlike the other most-influential movie in my life, Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," made just the year before "Nashville," which is as "closed" a film as "Nashville" is "open." "Chinatown" ends so definitively that, "Two Jakes" aside, any life beyond the final frame is unthinkable.)
Right now I just want to share another fantastic memory: In 2000, I heard there was going to be a 25th anniversary reunion screening of "Nashville" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. I'd moved back to Seattle by this time, but I bought tickets the moment they became available (for five bucks apiece) and went to LA for the event: My favorite movie, in a pristine print, in one of the finest movie theaters in the world, with most of those 24 favorite stars in attendance. It was... transplendent (as a Shelley Duvall character once said). I'll post an update with IDs later, but for now, see if you can identify the people onstage (taken with a now-primitive, but still beloved, Canon Digital Elph)
Pauline Kael's famous, ebullient review of "Nashville" here reminds us how exciting and innovative the movie was in 1975.
Principal population of "Nashville" after the jump:
When Lillian Gish arrived at the Armour Mansion in Lake Bluff for her role in Robert Altman's “A Wedding”, one of the first people she ran into was Dina Merrill, the actress whose mother was Marjorie Merriweather Post, the famous socialite.