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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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Rise of the black British actor in America; The gaze of "Foxcatcher"; Chris Kyle was a hate-filled killer; Sophia Takal on "The Lego Movie"; Sorry celebrities, the TCA does not clap.

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#237 October 15, 2014

Sheila writes: The New York Film Festival, which ended on October 14, ran a new retrospective of the films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. In preparation, Adrian Curry (at Mubi) started searching out for cool posters of Mankiewicz's films. Curry writes: "When I started to search for posters for his films I felt a little uninspired myself and wondered whether Mankiewicz’s smart, wordy cinema didn’t really lend itself to inventive visual representation. Some of his best films, like 'The Ghost and Mrs Muir' and 'A Letter to Three Wives', had very mundane American posters. But, digging deeper, I found that there was more than meets the eye, especially among international posters for his films." Go check out the gallery of fantastic posters, one of which, the Japanese poster for "The Barefoot Contessa", is posted below.

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The Melancholy Hero: On the Acting of Owen Wilson

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What are we to make of Owen Wilson, he with the tow-colored mop of hair, the crooked nose, and the smile that seems to need so much in return? In certain contexts, Owen Wilson's smile is heartbreaking. Not just in more serious roles, but in everything. One does not often think of grown men as being "wistful" or full of "pathos"; only little plucky orphans in pig-tails and pinafores should be "wistful."

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Days of Ebertfest: The 2013 schedule

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PRESS RELEASE: CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Terrence Malick's 1978 film "Days of Heaven" won an Oscar for best cinematography, and Roger Ebert likely found that no surprise. It is "above all one of the most beautiful films ever made," Ebert said in a 1997 review. So it's only appropriate that the film will open the 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival on April 17 in the big-screen, newly renovated Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.

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#86 October 26, 2011

Marie writes: remember "The Heretics Gate" by artist Doug Foster?  Well he's been at it again, this time as part of an exhibit held by The Lazarides Gallery - which returned to the subterranean depths of The Old Vic Tunnels beneath Waterloo Station in London, to present a spectacular group show called The Minotaur. It ran October 11th - 25th, 2011 and depending upon your choice (price of admission) dining was included from top Michelin-star chefs.Each artist provided their own interpretation of the classical myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and as with The Heretics Gate before it, Cimera, Doug Foster's new and equally as memorizing piece made it possible to project whatever comes to mind onto it, as images of body forms and beast-like faces take shape and rise from the bowels of earth. (click image to enlarge.) Photo by S.Butterfly.

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#80 September 14, 2011

Marie writes: my brother Paul recently sent me an email sharing news of something really cool at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. For those who don't remember - as I'm sure I've mentioned it in the Newsletter before, the Capilano Suspension Bridge was original built 1889 and constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks. 450 feet (137m) long and 230 feet (70m) high, today's bridge is made of reinforced steel safely anchored in 13 tons of concrete on either side of the canyon (click images to enlarge.)

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#46 January 19, 2011

The Grand Poobah writes: Here's a behind the scenes lookinside our control room! This is where the magic happens.

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The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.

To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")

When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.

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The Tropic Thunder publicity stunt boycott

I will not give away any jokes here (though too many reviews will), just one small concept: In "Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller plays a not-very-talented actor who has made a widely loathed movie called "Simple Jack" (explicitly a parody of Sean Penn's "I Am Sam") that flopped ignominiously, failing to earn him the Oscar nomination he so desperately, transparently (and cynically) expected. Both Penn and "I Am Sam" are mentioned by name -- as are the Oscar-winning performances by Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man" and Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump." They should have thrown in Robin Williams in "Patch Adams." (Look for the glimpse of Penn and some other well-known actors in award-seeking stunt-roles near the end.)

From start to finish, the target of the satire here is Hollywood. As Roger Ebert describes it: "The movie is a send-up of Hollywood, actors, acting, agents, directors, writers, rappers, trailers and egos..." There's even a funny moment with a key grip that's even funnier if you know what a key grip is.

And yet, according to an article in Monday's New York Times: "A coalition of disabilities groups is expected as early as Monday to call for a national boycott of the film 'Tropic Thunder' because of what the groups consider the movie's open ridicule of the intellectually disabled."

This has got to be a joke.

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Robert Downey Jr. plays it black

Who's that black guy in between the blonde Jack Black and the tattooed Ben Stiller? It's Robert Downey, Jr.

One of these days I'm gonna play it black Play it black One of these days... -- misquoted Elvis Costello song from "My Aim is True"

What will the Jim Crow "one-droppers" who didn't think Angelina Jolie was "African enough" to play Dutch-Jewish / Cuban-black-Hispanic-Chinese Mariane Pearl make of this? The actor in the center of the accompanying image is Robert Downey Jr., a white German-Scottish / Irish-Jewish actor. He's playing a white actor who is cast in a part originally written for a black actor, so he decides to play it black. The movie, "Tropic Thunder," is a satire of Hollywood actors making an epic war movie. It's directed by Stiller, co-written by Etan Cohen ("Idiocracy," "My Wife is Retarded" -- note that the "h" is not in the first name but the last; he's no relation to Joel) and Justin Theroux (who played a director in "Mulholland Dr." and an actor in "Inland Empire"). Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan also star -- along with some big names in cameo appearances.

As Downey told Entertainment Weekly, "If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell." [...]

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What's shakin' with these videocam movies?

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Q. I just watched "Cloverfield" and found the shaky-cam ruined the movie for me! I know it was supposed to give the feeling of being there, but I felt the director took it WAY too far. As you noted in your review, Hud "couldn't hold it steady or frame a shot if his life depended on it." Not only did it make me ill, but it ruined the whole movie for me.

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Scanners' 2007 Exploding Head Awards (Part 1)

View image And the Exploding Head goes to... Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in "Knocked Up"?

I'll publish my annotated "best of" list next week, but while thinking back over the year's movies I recalled some things that seemed to me "beyond category." Or the usual categories, anyway. One way or another, they made my head feel that it might explode. So, while everybody's preoccupied with all those other awards, here are the 2007 Exploding Heads for Achievement in Movies:

Best endings: • "The Sopranos" (final episode): blackout • "No Country for Old Men": "Then I woke up." • "I'm Not There": Dylan's harmonica on "Mr. Tambourine Man" • "Superbad": Baby-steps toward adulthood, separating at the mall escalator • "Zodiac": Stare-down

Most electrifying moment: A dog. A river. "No Country for Old Men."

Best grandma: "Persepolis"

Best surrogate grandpa: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"

"Arrested Development" Award for Best Throwaway Lines: • "Keep it in the oven..." -- Jason Bateman, "Juno" • "... Terrorism..." -- Michael Cera, "Superbad" (actually, Cera has so many astonishingly brilliant under-his-breath moments in "Superbad" and "Juno" it's uncanny)

Best performance by an inanimate object: (tie) The cloud (and its shadow), the candy wrapper, the blown lock housing in the motel room door, "No Country for Old Men"

Most cringe-worthy lines: • "My cooperation with the Nazis is only symbolic." -- "Youth Without Youth" • "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet." -- "Juno" (the cutesy moment at the beginning when I nearly ran screaming for an exit; cutting this entire unnecessary scene would improve "Juno" immensely)

Funniest double-edged observation: "He's playing fetch... with my kids... he's treating my kids like they're dogs." -- Debbie (Leslie Mann) in "Knocked Up," watching Ben (Seth Rogen) play with her daughter, who is loving it. That's her point of view, and she's right, but she says it like it's a bad thing.

View image Ain't nothin' but the real thing, baby: Brian Dierker and Catherine Keener in "Into the Wild."

The Real Thing: "Non-actor" Brian Dierker, rubber tramp, "Into the Wild" (and, of course, his "old lady" Catherine Keener, actor extraordinaire)

Best film about the way The Industry really works since "The Big Picture": Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set." The moment I knew it was going to be exceptional (sharp, precise and, therefore, extraordinarily funny) was when the writer's choice for the lead role gives an audition that's just... underwhelming. He isn't good. He isn't terrible. He just isn't enough. Which then allows the network execs to push for the "broader" alternative ("To me, the broad is the funny"). And even he proves himself capable of being not-awful -- in rehearsal, at least...

Best political film: (tie) "12:08 East of Bucharest" and "Persepolis" -- a pair of smart, funny movies about the effects of political revolutions on individuals in (respectively) Romania and Iran.

Deadliest stare: (tie) Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), "No Country for Old Men"; Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), "Atonement"

Young comedy whippersnapper stars of the year: Michael Cera (19), Ellen Page (20), Seth Rogen (25), Jonah Hill (24), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (18)

Game savers: J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, who come to the rescue of "Juno" not a moment too soon

Best torture porn: The excruciatingly funny baptism scene with Paul Dano and Daniel Day Lewis (both of 'em overactin' up a storm -- but in a fun way), "There Will Be Blood"

Most worthless critical label: "Independent." A movie should not be viewed through its budget, financing or distribution. And in these days of studio "dependents" (Miramax, Focus Features, Paramount Vantage, Fox Searchlight, etc.), the term "indie" is frequently misleading at the very least.

Best bureaucrat: Dr. Fischer (Alberta Watson), "Away From Her"

Best negotiations: • Chigurh and the gas station owner, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and the trailer park lady, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and Carla Jean, "No Country for Old Men" • "4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": The painfully protracted, ever-shifting moral balance (and exhausting power-struggle) in the hotel room, between the friend and the abortionist -- while the pregnant woman herself passive-aggressively bows out of any responsibilities for what has happened, or will happen.

"Perfume" Award for Best Portrayal of Synesthesia: "Ratatouille"

Best Supporting Crotch: Sacha Baron Cohen, "Sweeney Todd." An squirm-inducing scene-stealer that makes you long for a change of angle: Please give us an above-the-waist shot! (Did they have spandex in mid-19th century London?)

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Margot goes round in circles

View image Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black in "Margot at the Wedding." No relation. Well, OK, Leigh is married to the writer-director, but that's not to invite speculation.

The logic that structures Dennis Lim's New York Times interview with Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale" (2005), "Margot at the Wedding") is circularly inspired: [In the film,] Margot, a fiction writer in the throes of a personal crisis, is at a bookstore appearance, which goes quickly awry when her interviewer presses her on the connections between her life and her work. He brings up a story of hers that concerns an abusive patriarch. She immediately begins to defend her father. He interrupts: What he meant to ask was whether she had based that monstrous figure on herself.

“I wrote that scene in response to the interviews I did when ‘Squid’ came out,” Mr. Baumbach said.... “I was having fun with what people assume when they think something is autobiographical.” [...]

“Someone would ask me if something was true, and I’d say no, and then they’d ask me a follow-up question under the assumption that it was true,” he said. “ [...]

“Margot is me at my worst, probably,” Mr. Baumbach said. “I try not to analyze the characters when I’m writing, but I’m very analytical in my life.” [...]

With Mr. Baumbach the conversation has a way of circling back to autobiography — or, more precisely, to the notion of a writer creating autobiographical work by feeding on family and friends for material. It’s a recurring motif in his films. [...]

“My hope is that I will make enough movies that they can’t all conceivably be autobiographical.” OK, let me take that for one more spin around the block. After seeing "Margot at the Wedding" in Toronto ("The Eastern Inbred Class"), I wanted to address this inbred motif in the reflexive manner of Baumbach's film: "If I were a character from the movie critiquing the movie, I would probably say something like: "Noah Baumbach must really detest his dreadful dysfunctional family.'" The people in this movie are types who either crib from their friends' and families' lives for their New Yorker short stories -- or who are mortified and infuriated that details from their lives are appearing in their friends' or families' New Yorker short stories. You may assume there's an "autobiographical" dimension to it...

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