"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.
* 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.
Mark your calendar for April 23–27, 2014 and get your pass while they last.
Seongyong Cho sings the praises of Richard Linklater's quirky small-town true-crime comedy "Bernie."
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."
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.
Marie writes: I can't prove it but I'm convinced they're related.
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.
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.)
Marie writes: you've all heard of Banksy. But do you know about JR...?(click to enlarge image)
The Grand Poobah writes: Here's a behind the scenes lookinside our control room! This is where the magic happens.
From the Grand Poobah and Mrs. Poobah:Seasons Greetings Everyone! (click to enlarge)
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.
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.
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." [...]
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.
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?)
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...
Look at this woman. Do you hate her character yet?
Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" is one of the scariest films ever. Because it plays like a hidden-camera home movie as psychological x-ray. And no one is spared its cold, uncompromising scrutiny. (Or think of it as a segment of TV's "To Catch a Predator" -- and, as on the NBC flytrap reality show, everybody is the predator.)
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." Baumbach's follow-up to "The Squid and the Whale" (among my top films of 2005) is another dead-on portrait of monstrously self-absorbed Northeastern inbreeders who believe that being "authentic" or "honest" means they have to express every single critical judgment or self-indulgent emotion that occurs to them, especially if they can use it to belittle or undermine somebody else in their immediate circle. Usually, that includes throwing in a clinical diagnosis, as a way of damning and dismissing the subject, and getting the amateur diagnostician off the moral hook just a little. (If you claim to be observing a "condition," then neither you nor the object of the diagnosis can be held fully responsible.)
If I describe it as a horror movie -- torture porn about a long-obsolete class of super-self-conscious but utterly un-self-aware white East-Coast intellectual trash -- I trust that also conveys how bitterly, nastily funny the movie is. It's like a Neil LaBute picture co-written by Jules Feiffer. Scalpel-sharp. Merciless. Cruel. Uncompromisingly misanthropic. And really getting off on being so.
I don't think I've ever felt such contempt toward characters in a movie before. Perhaps it's Strindbergian. The TIFF catalog compares the movie to Bergman and Woody Allen's Bergman exercise, "Interiors," and even Eric Rohmer. (Rohmer without pity. Or affection, I guess.) I thought it was more like "The Devil's Rejects," if the members of the Firefly family fed upon one another. And it's funny.
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 not only because one of the movies subjects is the way writers autopsy and cannibalize the people in their lives for their fiction, but also because each and every knife-twisting line is so toxic and cutting, so astonishingly self-serving, that you figure somebody just had to have actually said it, or thought it, or attributed it to somebody else in a snarky piece of gossip disguised as a revealing psychological insight disguised as an expression of sincere concern. In other words, the way these people talk and behave seems too awful not to be true.
"Well," says one published author in the film, "we all take from life." The difference is that, by this point in the movie, I assume her work is probably terrible, simultaneously pitiless and self-pitying, relentlessly "honest" and utter bullshit. (See the character of Briony in "Atonement.") Baumbach himself, however, is an exceptionally keen writer and observer of the stifling Upper-East-class milieu in which he was raised. (Both his parents are writers and -- ouch -- film critics.) Which doesn't mean his movie has anything to do with them. But one littérateur in the film observes that the character of the father in another's story is loathsome but strangely sympathetic. You could say the same thing about nearly any character in "Margot at the Wedding." Just leave out the "sympathetic." In fact, just about anything you can say about this movie has already been addressed (and ridiculed) in this movie.
Here's the basic set-up: Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her androgynously doughy offspring, appropriately named Claude (or "Clawd" or "Clod," as in formless lump of dirt, played to excruciating perfection by Zane Pais) go to visit Margot's estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) in the old family house on the beach where they were raised. Pauline is about to get married to Malcolm (Jack Black), another shapeless wad of humanity who sports an ironic mustache that's "supposed to be funny." Next door are some vile neighbors living in a shack with the Kid From "Deliverance," who are probably killing and eating whatever creatures (including wild animals, domesticated dogs and human babies) they can hunt. They're like the family from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (Tobe Hooper's), but they seem a little more human(e) than the main characters in the big house.
Everybody is so busy trying to avoid appearing hypocritical that there's not a genuine, straightforward emotional interaction in the film, just bubbles of self-absorbtion bumping into one another. These are extremely isolated, ultra-privileged people who would prefer to feel guilty about their privilege than grateful, because guilt intensifies their drama and their suffering and their sense of their own significance. Which, in the end, makes them feel a little better about themselves.
Oh, and there's the most cynically self-conscious use of a dog in the history of motion pictures. Baumbach knows exactly what he's doing, and it works.
If I'm making the film sound detestable, maybe that's the best way I know of to express my admiration for it, and the way it keeps relentlessly covering the same ground (the characters' linty psychic navels) while still managing to top itself, scene after scene. You'd think there's be almost no place to go after a mother -- quietly, with a vicious mixture of "concern" and disappointment -- tells her teenage son that he's "changed" and no longer has the grace she says she once treasured, and then adds as an afterthought, "But you're still handsome!" And yet, there is. The scene I just mentioned made me gasp and then laugh in astonishment. Unfortunately, through most of the movie, nobody around me was laughing much. To them, it maybe seemed more like Eugene O'Neill, I don't know.
Every performance in the film is terrifyingly good/awful. (That is, the actors hit every off-note just right, and the characters -- in case I haven't made this clear -- are mortifying.) I think there's some kind of excoriating analytical and observational genius in this home-horror-movie about cretinous, semi-articulate dunces. But when it was over (climaxing in an astonishing moment of self-dramatization and self-absorbtion), the same thought popped into my head that did at the end of Todd Solondz's outlandishly scornful "Palindromes": Who's going to want to expose themselves to this gory dissection of these coldblooded creeps? Makes you want to see a good George Romero zombie movie. At least the Living Dead have real, uncalculated emotions.
P.S. I just went back and re-read Roger Ebert's review of Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects." For me, the comparison works perfectly: Here is a gaudy vomitorium of a movie, violent, nauseating.... If you are a hardened horror movie fan capable of appreciating skill and wit in the service of the deliberately disgusting, [this film] may exercise a certain strange charm. If on the other hand you close your eyes if a scene gets icky, here is a movie to see with blinders on, because it starts at icky and descends relentlessly through depraved and nauseating to the embrace of road kill.
View image There are movies being shown in six or eight theaters in the building on the left. That's all I know. (photo by Jim Emerson)
Film festivals allow you the opportunity to see movies without knowing much of anything about them in advance. If you don't want to, that is. The problem with this is that, unless you have a festival catolog (the hefty TIFF 2007 one is 480 pages and sells for $37), you also have no idea of what you don't know about. Today, I arrived more than a half-hour early for a screening of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," only to discover that the previous film (something about "Cassandra") was running about 45 minutes late. The Toronto festival is quite punctual, so this was a most unusual occurrence. The staff person allowed some of us into the theater to sit through the end of the previous movie, in which case we would be able to retain our seats for the one we'd actually come to see.
Now, normally I'm like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" and I don't go into movies late. I rarely leave early, either, even if I think the movie's terrible. In this case, I thought I'd just go in and rest my eyes, since I knew nothing about the film I was about walk into the middle of. It soon became apparent that it had Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in it, as two brothers who were involved in some kind of murder scheme. It was thoroughly mediocre, and I wondered how some first-time commercial filmmaker had lured such a cast, especially with this lackluster script. (Tom Wilkinson showed up, too.) But, I was also seeing it from the middle, sometimes with eyes wide shut, because I was only there to have a seat for the next movie.
When it ended (badly), the credits appeared and I immediately recognized the typeface. It was Woody Allen's latest movie. Surprise.
I write this not to report on a movie I only saw the last half of, but because as I was sitting there I was thinking about how little I have known -- quite deliberately -- about the films I have seen before I have gone to see them. (Of course, I hadn't intended to see even part of this one. That was just an accident.) For the most part I'm trying to maintain blissful ignorance, going into these films with no preconceptions except that I may know who the director is, or who one or two of the cast members are. Or somebody I trust has recommended it. That's as much as I want to know.
Some people at the press and industry screenings seem to know everything about them before the lights go down, but I don't listen to them. So here, in the interest of full disclosure, is how much I knew about some of this year's TIFF movies going in (including a few I haven't yet seen):
"Eastern Promises": David Cronenberg movie with Viggo Mortensen. Not a clue as to what it was about, who else was in it, what it was based on (if anything), or what the title meant.
"Michael Clayton": George Clooney wearing a suit and tie. Nothing else.
"4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": Romanian film about an abortion that won at Cannes.
"Chop Shop": Second film by Ramin Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"). Unaware of where it was set or what it was about, except I thought there was a kid in it.
"Redacted": Brian De Palma. Something about Iraq.
"Secret Sunshine": Asian film (I don't even know what country) that won an award for something somewhere (I think it was Cannes). A friend said I should see it.
"The Orphanage": Mexican. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Appeared to be kinda creepy, and somebody had compared it to "Pan's Labyrinth."
"Margot at the Wedding": Written and directed by Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"). Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. That's all.
"Persepolis": Black and white. Animated. No idea of language or subject.
"Atonement": Based on Ian McEwan novel I haven't finished (but have at home). Don't know who directed it or who's in the cast.
"The Man From London": Directed by Bela Tarr.
"I'm Not There": Todd Haynes' movie in which several people play Bob Dylan. I knew Cate Blanchett was one of them.
"No Country for Old Men": A Coen brothers movie, based on Cormac McCarthy's book (which I'd read). Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem were in it. Roger really liked it.
"Into the Wild": Sean Penn-directed adaptation of Jon Krakauer's biography of Christopher McCandless, which I read about ten years ago and really liked. I knew Emile Hirsch was the main character, but I couldn't recall any movies I'd seen Emile Hirsch in before.
(Once again, my brain is so full of movies I want to write about that I can't concentrate on any one long enough to finish writing about it. I've got about four posts partly written. Hope I'll get a chance to within the next 24 hours. In the meantime, there are more movies to see...)
Q. I'd like your readers to know that most if not all reasonable American Jews have no problem whatsoever with "Munich." In fact, quite the opposite is true. Last night, I went with my father, an immigrant from Israel, to see the film. We both loved every minute of it and thought it portrayed Israeli/Palestinian relations in a positive and pretty realistic light.
HOLLYWOOD -- There's joy in Middle-earth tonight. "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" led the 76th annual Academy Awards with a record-tying 11 Oscars, including best picture and director. Vanquishing all opposition like the forces of Sauron, it won every category for which it was was nominated.
Q. A reader from British Columbia wrote to you saying that the first reel of "The Man Who Wasn't There" was in color when he saw it and you answered: "A mistake so big that if it had been a postage stamp instead of a movie, collectors would be fighting for it." Looks like it's not so rare. When I saw it in Toronto, the first two reels were in color. I thought it was by design and wondered why no reviews mentioned that. (Serguei Oukladov, Toronto ON)
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