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The Last of Robin Hood

A title as good as "The Last of Robin Hood" deserves a better movie. In fact, it deserves a good movie.

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As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

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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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* 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.

#83 October 5, 2011

Marie writes: I love photography, especially B/W and for often finding color a distraction. Take away the color and suddenly, there's so much more to see; the subtext able to rise now and sit closer to the surface - or so it seems to me. The following photograph is included in a gallery of nine images (color and B/W) under Photography: Celebrity Portraits at the Guardian."This is one of the last photographs of Orson before he died. He loved my ­camera - a gigantic Deardorff - and decided he had to direct me and tell me where to put the light. So even in his last days, he was performing his directorial role perfectly, and ­bossing me around. Which was precious." - Michael O'Neill

Orson Welles, by Michael O'Neill, 1985

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Apes and allegories: What is the meaning of this?!

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A horror or science-fiction movie without subtext is like Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory without electricity. The inner metaphor is what gives it life and resonance. Otherwise, it's just a story about stitched-together people parts. Or take David Cronenberg's "The Fly," a riveting, poignant horror/science-fiction/romance about an ambitious scientist who accidentally gets his DNA mixed up with that of a housefly. Everything about the movie is first-rate, from the direction to the performances to the effects. But what really grabs hold of you is the universal theme: We are all Brundlefly, sentient, self-aware beings whose bodies are going to decay and die. In 1986, a lot of people assumed the subtext was AIDS; Cronenberg later said he was thinking in more general terms about the process of aging. It doesn't matter. The movie works on those levels.

Cronenberg is particularly ingenious at making the word flesh, and the ways he develops his ideas are often even scarier than the explicit horrors: "The Brood" is a masterpiece about the psychosomatic effects of rage turned inward, and about the legacy of emotional abuse passed down from one generation to the next; "Videodrome" is about technology as an extension of the body and the brain; "Dead Ringers" is about mutant forms of psychological and sexual intimacy; "Naked Lunch" is about a writer who has to internalize his own sexuality before he can create art.... Cronenberg is an organic, visionary thinker, storyteller, filmmaker. His movies have meat on their bones. Other filmmakers whose work strikes me as insubstantial lack this ability to flesh-out their pictures with compelling, animating ideas. Their plots are meticulously plotted, but they're skin-deep and there's nothing to sink your imaginative teeth into.

Which brings me to this summer's hits, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," neither of which I have much interest in seeing. Instead I'm intrigued by a few things I've read about them -- specifically about their subtext, or lack thereof. In a piece about the racial themes of "The Help" ("Why Can't Critics Just Get Along?"), David Poland writes:

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#45 January 12, 2011

Marie writes: I love cinematography and worship at its altar; a great shot akin to a picture worth a thousand words. The best filmmakers know how to marry words and images. And as the industry gears up for the Golden Globes and then the Oscars, and the publicity machine starts to roll in earnest, covering the Earth with a daily blanket of freshly pressed hype, I find myself reaching past it and backwards to those who set the bar, and showed us what can be accomplished and achieved with light and a camera...

Cinematography by Robert Krasker - The Third Man (1949) (click to enlarge images)

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CIFF 2010: Our capsule reviews

• Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert

The 46th Chicago International Film Festival will play this year at one central location, on the many screens of the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. A festivalgoers and filmmakers' lounge will be open during festival hours at the Lucky Strike on the second level. Tickets can be ordered online at CIFF's website, which also organizes the films by title, director and country. Tickets also at AMC; sold out films have Rush Lines. More capsules will be added here.

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♬ It was a very good year ♬

• Toronto Report # 7

"There must be directors at Toronto other than Werner Herzog and Errol Morris," one reader wrote impatiently. "Try reviewing someone else's films for a change." Point taken. I intend to do that below, and say in my defense that I have already written about eight films not by my heroes. Actually, that's not so many, is it? I saw 26 of the films but feel no need to write about all of them; in a few cases, I don't want to say negative things about those still searching for buyers.

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#29 September 22, 2010

Marie writes: Club member and noted blog contributor Tom Dark took this astonishing photograph near his home in Abiqui, New Mexico. The "unknown entity" appeared without warning and after a failed attempt to communicate, fled the scene. Tom stopped short of saying "alien" to describe the encounter, but I think it's safe to say that whatever he saw, it was pretty damned freaky. It sure can't be mistaken for anything terrestrial; like a horse pressing its nose up to the camera and the lens causing foreshortening. As it totally does not look like that at all. (click to enlarge.)

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Gerardo Valero of Mexico City discusses "The Godfather: Part III"

I was born October 1° 1962 in Mexico City where I currently reside with my wife Monica. I have a degree in Architecture and a MBA from IPADE here in Mexico. My interest in movies started at a very young age as my father used to take me and my brothers to double or even triple features at our neighborhood theater.

I mostly remember seeing Tarzan movies and Disney classics though mostly we watched a lot of forgettable war and cowboy movies which I once feared would make me dislike cinema but on the

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Impressions Based on the Hype for the Movie Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

This is the first of two posts about the movie "Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire." In this one, I talk about the impressions I got from the movie's press coverage, advertising, reviews and word-of-mouth, and why they put me off the film. In the second part I'll write about my response to the movie when I finally, reluctantly, went to see it... (Part II: "Precious Based on the Movie Female Trouble by John Waters")

I put it off as long as I could. For months I tried not to read about it, but I knew it had won a bunch of awards at Sundance back in January, 2009, when it was called "Push." That, in itself, is enough to make me want to avoid it. The Sundance Film Festival is notorious for hailing a certain type of dilettantish formula movie -- the feel-bad/feel-good story of degradation and redemption, set in a colorful, semi-exotic subculture -- and the picture eventually known as "Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" sure seemed to fit the profile. There's nothing I hate more than a voyeuristic lesson-movie that goes slumming and then presents itself as an inspirational triumph of the spirit. By the time Oprah (Winfrey, that is -- promoter of bogus New Age twaddle like "The Secret") and Tyler Perry (maker of amateurish chitlin' circuit teleplays) signed on, with great fanfare, as "presenters" I was beginning to think (as I used to tell my newspaper editors about movies I was fairly or unfairly predisposed to despise) that nobody had enough money to pay me to see this thing.

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Fight Club at Ten: A Love Story

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Ten years after its release, there are still plenty of people who will not get David Fincher's "Fight Club" because they refuse to see what is in front of their eyes. They think it's about a cult of men who get together to punch each other, which is like saying "Citizen Kane" is about a sled. Fundamentally, it's an uncannily accurate depiction of depression and delusion -- capturing a uniquely (post-?)modern strain of anomie to which perhaps older baby boomers and their seniors find it difficult to connect because it's beyond their frame of reference. (I don't know -- that's just a hunch.)

"People get scared, not just of violence and mortality, but viewers are terrified of how they can no longer relate to the evolving culture," "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk told Dennis Lim recently in the New York Times:

Some older audiences prefer darker material in conventional forms; they "really truly want nothing more than to watch Hilary Swank strive and suffer and eventually die -- beaten to a pulp, riddled with cancer, or smashed in a plane crash."

In that Times piece, Lim dubbed "Fight Club" "the defining cult movie of our time."

Back in 1999, I described it as "a grim fairy tale for adults, a consumerist revenge fantasy, a portrait of a disintegrating personality, and, for all its hyper-active stylization, an astonishingly vivid portrait of the berserk materialist wasteland in which (like it or not) billions of city dwellers live today." (It can also be seen, in retrospect, as a prescient 9/11 nightmare.)

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That's why they call it 'acting'

The big news is that TLRHB (That Little Round-Headed Boy) is back! And here he is, asking some pertinent questions about the art and craft of acting in response to Hilary Swank's comment in the Los Angeles Times: "You can't play Amelia Earhart and not learn how to fly. That would be a huge flaw. I'd be fired immediately."

I always get a chuckle every time I read about a group of pretty-boy actors going to a three-week "boot camp" to learn how to play a soldier. Imagine asking Spencer Tracy or Gable to go to a boot camp. Did John Wayne go to Western Camp to learn how to ride horseback? Did Bogie go to detective school? Did Cary Grant study paleontology before filming "Bringing Up Baby"? Did Errol Flynn go to pirate camp? (I bet Johnny Depp didn't, either. He created his Jack Sparrow persona out of the pure creativity in his mind, and a little bit of vampishness and Keith Richards.) [...]

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A-C-T-I-N-G

View image John Candy as Steve Roman as Juan Cortez -- now that spells good acting.

Ever since December, when Kristin Thompson posted this ("Good Actors Spell Good Acting") on the blog she shares with her husband and co-author David Bordwell, I've been meaning to link to it. This is my favorite kind of article, leading you fluidly from one intriguing idea to another -- and you never quite know where it's going to take you. Not only does it begin with an account of how bits of movie dialogue (from "Rio Bravo," "His Girl Friday") have entered her life, and the lives of her friends and colleagues, but it then segues into a great quotation from Steve Roman on SCTV (playing Juan Cortez, the first Puerto Rican Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court in the dramatic television series, "There's Justice for Everybody") : “It’s got good actors, and that spells good acting.” And, from there, to this: Almost invariably we use this line when we come across one of those films that receive highly positive reviews largely because of one great performance. You know the kind: Charlize Theron in "Monster," Halle Berry in "Monster’s Ball," Hillary Swank in "Boys Don’t Cry," and more recently Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland" and Helen Mirren in "The Queen."

Usually I avoid such films, because the reviews tend to plant the idea that they are primarily actors’ vehicles. I enjoy good acting as much as the next person, but I want the rest of the film to be interesting as well.

Are there any film classics that are truly great solely for the acting? It’s hard to think of any. Maybe "The Gold Rush," which is stylistically fairly pedestrian but which is redeemed by Chaplin’s inspired performance. Maybe "Duck Soup," also quite undistinguished for much of anything other than the Marx Brothers cutting loose without being saddled with the sort of plots involving young, singing lovers that MGM would soon foist upon them. Maybe a few others. Usually, though, we tend not to think of a performance, however dazzling, as adding up to a great film. That's a good point to keep in mind during Oscar season, when "best acting" is often confused with "most acting." The performances that win awards tend to have as much to do with the roles as they do the actors. Sure, the player has to deliver, but give a decent actor a juicy character (and a sympathetic director) and you're talking Oscar bait. If just about anyone had played Jennifer Hudson's mistreated chunky diva in "Dreamgirls," an emotive-showpiece part if there ever was one, and had not gotten an Oscar nomination, that alone would have made the film a miserable failure. Fortunately for the investors, Hudson was able to do what she was hired to do. (Twenty years ago on Broadway, it was another Jennifer H. -- Holliday -- who became a star playing the same role and singing the same showstopper song.) Robert Altman liked to say that casting was the most important part of making a movie, but nobody would say that his movies are interesting just for the performances. It's how he captures and presents them that matters just as much.

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Oscarcast: Rappin' with the stars

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LOS ANGELES -- Sunday night's Oscarcast may be the first in recent history where the presenters and performers outdraw the nominees. This year's field of films and actors is of an unusually high standard, which translates to a smaller audience, given the general rule that the better something is on TV, the fewer people watch it. Consider that "Dancing With the Stars" outdrew the Olympics.

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Jones, July, Jarmusch & Cannes gold

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CANNES, France — Tommy Lee Jones walked away from the 58th Cannes Film Festival here Saturday night as a double winner, after his film “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” won him the award as best actor, and the screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga also was honored. The movie stars Jones as a Texas cowboy who kidnaps the border patrolman (Barry Pepper) who has murdered his Mexican friend and forces him on a long journey to rebury the corpse in the man's hometown.

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Is Oscar's best pic a masterpiece?

May Contain Spoilers
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For more information on the controversies over "Million Dollar Baby," please see the related articles section in the left column. We also recommend Jeff Shannon's pieces for New Mobility Magazine:

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'Baby' stages late-round Oscar rally

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HOLLYWOOD - "Million Dollar Baby" scored a late-round rally Sunday night at the 77th annual Academy Awards as Clint Eastwood's movie about a determined female boxer won for best picture and took Oscars for actress (Hilary Swank), supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) and director (Eastwood).

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The Unwritten Rules of Oscar

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Shhhhhh. Don't tell a soul. Close Oscar-watchers (and Academy insiders) know that what you are about to read is true -- but few like to talk about these things. When it comes to picking Oscar winners, you can study the stats of Oscars past in search of patterns and clues, but there are certain influential paradigms that defy and transcend conventional statistical analysis.

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