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Transcendence

"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.

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Heaven Is for Real

Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

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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.

#210 March 12, 2014

Sheila writes: Alex Nunez at Road & Track put together a totally entertaining slideshow of actors and their cool cars. Clark Gable, Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor, Ida Lupino, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, the list goes on and on. The cars are almost as cool as the folks driving them (and in some cases cooler).

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Extraterrestrial life may really exist; House Republicans slash billions in food stamps; "Invisible Man" banned in North Carolina; an object of Internet ridicule speaks; Hollywood luminaries who got their start with Roger Corman.

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#166 May 8, 2013

Marie writes: the great Ray Harryhausen, the monster innovator and Visual Effects legend, passed away Tuesday May 7, 2013 in London at the age of 92. As accolades come pouring in from fans young and old, and obituaries honor his achievements, I thought club members would enjoy remembering what Harry did best.

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2315 Words On "Lifeforce." Yes. "Lifeforce."

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Released in the summer of 1985 to critical scorn and near-total commercial indifference, the sci-fi/horror hybrid "Lifeforce" has spent most of the following 28 years languishing in obscurity. If it was remembered at all, it was either because of its massive financial failure--which helped doom the futures of both its producing company and its director--or because of its status as one of the all-time favorite films of Mr. Skin, that beloved repository of on-screen nudity.

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Mad Men: Memories, doppelgängers & phantoms

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"It's the greatest curse that's ever been inflicted on the human race, memory." -- Jed Leland (Joseph Cotten), "Citizen Kane" (1941)

Nearly every scene in "The Phantom," the Season 5 finale of "Mad Men," conjures a ghost from the show's past. "Mad Men," like many great series from "Hill Street Blues" to "SCTV" to "The Sopranos," has always been exceptionally good at this (see "The Long Walk"), setting images, gestures and emotions reverberating off one another across episodes and seasons. The series has a memory, and the curse of memory is a primary theme of "The Phantom," which is why the episode is composed as it is. As Nancy Sinatra sings in that final song:

You only live twice, or so it seems, One life for yourself and one for your dreams.

(Spoilers from here on out.)

That's a James Bond theme song, from "You Only Live Twice" (1967) -- and it's the second Bond theme we hear in the episode, after Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass bite into Burt Bacharach's theme from the James Bond parody "Casino Royale" (1967) at the weekday matinée where Don (the suave, masculine Bond of New York advertising) runs into Peggy. (The Beatles, who have figured prominently in Seasons 4 and 5, released "Help!" in 1965 and it was in part a 007 parody, too -- especially the John Barry-like orchestral music written by George Martin.) Echoes and repetitions are everywhere.

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Watching the World Slip Away

May Contain Spoilers

This prickly film haunts me. I am now older than James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, and Malcolm X. I am at that age where the infinite world of my childhood bedroom is now replaced by a complicated mass of interwoven needs, wants, and concerns. The soundtrack of my youth is a summer of wind blowing through fragile leaves, with katydids buzzing along. The rattling taps of rain on our roof has now given way to the plastic clicking of this keyboard and various other mechanical monsters. Under it all is an ongoing hiss of noise. I also sometimes fall into that trap of looking at today through the telescope of an idealized yesterday; that outlook is a slick valley that is difficult to climb out of and easy to slide back into. Jack Nicholson in Sean Penn's"The Pledge" (2001) is likewise watching the world change. More than that, he is watching his world slip away from him.

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The rise and decline of the superhero

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Published with Press Play on Indiewire

With the unparalleled box office success of The Avengers, superheroes are back in the spotlight. Most comic book aficionados are delighted with the recognition. But believe it or not, there are those such as myself who are dismayed at how superhero films, though more popular than ever, seem to be losing their luster.

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Is it a curse or a gift?

May Contain Spoilers

David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) is my favorite adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Some parts from "The Shawshank Redemption" are terrifying in a different way, and are better classified in other genres. I'm also fond of some of the other films his works have inspired. "Carrie" and "The Shining" were mostly outstanding, but the casting of adults as teens in the first and the absence of an everyman feel to the lead protagonist in the second are the main reasons why I place "The Dead Zone" above them. The latter films were made by exceptional directors (DePalma and Kubrick), but Cronenberg's taste for the unusual, turned out to be a more adequate fit for King's material.

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Corman's World: Monsters, mayhem & breast nudity!

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"Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel" is available March 27 on online outlets via iTunes, Vudu, CinemaNow and Amazon. Also on DVD and Blu-ray.

For B-movie buffs, exploitation film aficionados, and midnight movie cultists, the grand finale of "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel," will be every bit as exhilarating as that montage of forbidden kisses at the end of "Cinema Paradiso." Taking its cue from the liberating, rebellious high point of the Roger Corman-produced "Rock and Roll High School," in which P. J. Soles and the Ramones rock the hallways of Vince Lombardi High, it offers up dizzying bursts of quintessential Corman: cheesy monsters, fiery car explosions, Vincent Price, blaxploitation kickass, marauding piranhas and Mary Woronov with a gun.

Alex Stapleton's "Corman's World" celebrates the singular cinematic legacy of the "King of the Bs," who has improbably and regretfully fallen into obscurity. Observes director Penelope Spheeris ("The Boys Next Door," "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years," "Wayne's World"): "If you ask a 20-25-year-old film buff, they won't know who he is."

This despite a career that spans almost 60 years and more than 400 films that Corman either directed or produced. But while his own name may be unfamiliar, many of the once-fledgling actors and filmmakers whom he nurtured/exploited are not: Martin Scorsese ("Boxcar Bertha"), Ron Howard ("Grand Theft Auto"), Peter Bogdanovich ("Targets"), Jonathan Demme ("Caged Heat"), Joe Dante ("Piranha"), Robert DeNiro ("Bloody Mama"), Pam Grier ("The Big Doll House"), screenwriter John Sayles ("The Lady in Red") -- all these and many more appear in "Corman's World" in new and archival interviews.

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"The Artist" and "Hugo": A very French Oscars

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It was like an episode from "The Twilight Zone." The Academy Award for best picture went to a silent film in black and white. The unstoppable "The Artist," which had nothing going for it but boundless joy, defeated big-budgeted competitors loaded with expensive stars because … well, because it was so darned much fun. Its victory will send Hollywood back to its think-tanks.

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How to Win an Academy Award

The Academy Award winners for the past thirty years have followed consistent molds, primarily in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. It is a very simple set of templates that I will explain with excessive evidence. This is not to say that the Academy Awards are a conspiracy run by some secret society, although that idea would be quite fun. Rather, at the very least, there is a subtext to American culture that plays out in the ideas and ideals in American cinema, and it plays out consistently. At the very least, I'm illustrating some unwritten ideals in American culture. Whether or not they are healthy or corrupt, they are there in us. So, "Best Picture" is not a great movie; rather, it is a great movie that fulfills the mold.

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#98 January 18, 2012

Marie writes: Okay, this is just plain cool. This is clearly someone using their brain, in combination with "what the hell, let's just go ahead and try it..."

Dr Julius Neubronner's Miniature Pigeon CameraIn 1903, Dr Julius Neubronner patented a miniature pigeon camera activated by a timing mechanism. The invention brought him international notability after he presented it at international expositions in Dresden, Frankfurt and Paris in 1909-1911. Spectators in Dresden could watch the arrival of the camera-equipped carrier pigeons, whereupon the photos were immediately developed and turned into postcards which could be purchased. (click images to enlarge.) - from The Public Domain Review. Visit the site to see even more photos.

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#91 November 30, 2011

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!

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Goodfellas & badfellas: Scorsese and morality

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[This was originally published at MSN Movies in 2006, but MSN has taken down their archives.]

"You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit, and you know it." -- Charlie (voiceover by Martin Scorsese) in "Mean Streets" (1973)

If I do bad things, am I a bad person? Can I be a good person despite the bad things I've done? Can I compensate for the sins I commit in one part of my life by doing good works in another? Is forgiveness possible? Is redemption achievable? Or does it even matter if there's not really anyone, or anything, watching over us and keeping track?

Those are some of the Catholic concerns that have preoccupied filmmaker Martin Scorsese throughout his career. His latest film [circa 2006], "The Departed," is based on "Infernal Affairs," a 2002 Hong Kong thriller directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, about two moles: an undercover cop who has infiltrated a criminal gang, and a crook who is embedded in the police department. So, who's the good guy and who's the bad guy? Frank Costello, the gangster kingpin played by Jack Nicholson, says: "Cops or criminals: When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?" And what about when you're pointing one? In the cosmic sense, we're all facing that loaded gun, and brandishing one, every day. And the difference -- if there is any -- is what Scorsese makes his movies about.

Watching certain Scorsese pictures today ("Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "The Last Temptation of Christ," "GoodFellas," "Casino" and others), you can appreciate the ways they both reflect and question the prevailing moral climate in early 21st-century America. It's a topsy-turvy universe in which the President of the United States himself insists that judgments about "goodness" and "badness" are not to be based upon actions, but are simply pre-existing existential conditions. Good or bad, right or wrong -- it just depends on which side you're on.

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#90 November 23, 2011

Marie writes: club member Sandy Kahn has submitted the following and I salute her web skills for having found it. Namely, an upcoming auction of film memorabilia the likes of which you rarely if ever see...

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Polanski's Chinatown: A dream analysis

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WARNING: Big-time spoilers in the above video.

From the introduction to my fully explicated video, "Chinatown: Frames and Lenses," at Press Play, Chapter 4 in a week-long series: LIFE'S WORK: THE FILMS OF ROMAN POLANSKI:

Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is a Panavision color film noir--a ghost story, really--about flawed vision and the inescapable resurgence of the past, made in 1974 and set in 1937.  Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) thinks he knows what's going on, but as Noah Cross (John Huston) tells him, "Believe me, you don't."  We see what Jake sees, and it's invariably filtered or blocked--viewed from a distance through binoculars, or from outside through a door or window that obscures a more complete perspective. Photographs--snippets of time recorded on film, one of the tools of the detective trade--are potentially misleading because they don't--can't--capture what's going on outside of the frame, beyond the moment. 

This video montage is a hymn of praise to a film that had a profound effect on me when I first saw it as a 16-year-old in 1974, and that I've lived with, haunted, ever since. It's also an unabashed love poem to the desperate, damaged and determined Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). 

Like "close-up," which I did in 2007, it's a free-associative critical essay/dream sequence, based on themes and images (and sound and music) from the movie. Although, like a lot of creative pursuits, the process of assembling it (from pieces of film that were already floating around in my head) was largely unconscious, I now (at least in retrospect) think I understand why each fragment is where it is.

So, I thought I'd turn around and look back at "Chinatown" through the lens (or frame or door or window, if you will) of my video essay, using it as a way of translating the film's images into critical prose. Because, in "Chinatown," every image is loaded with meanings, associations, resonances. If you're familiar with the film, you'll immediately see that this reflection on "Chinatown" isn't structured chronologically. Scenes, themes, moments and images keep circling back in fragments... not unlike they do in the film, but in a more condensed and less linear form...

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Hitchcock's Family Plot Photo Album

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I've been enjoying reading Dave Kehr's book, When Movies Mattered: Reviews from a Transformative Decade, a selection of pieces he wrote between 1974 and 1986. One of them, his choice for best film of 1976, is a review of Alfred Hitchcock's 53rd and final feature, "Family Plot," which I hadn't seen since the 1970s. Boy, did I enjoy the re-visit. The structure (screenplay by Ernest Lehman ["North by Northwest"], based on a 1972 novel, The Rainbird Pattern, by Victor Canning) concerns two couples: a "spiritualist" and her taxi-driver boyfriend (Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern), amateur sleuths trying to track down the lost heir of a rich client; and a pair of slick jewel thieves (Karen Black and William Devane, who sounds -- and sometimes looks -- so much like Jack Nicholson it's scary!). Their plots intersect at a point involving a case of... not mistaken identity, but concealed identity.

Kehr wrote: "There are things in 'Family Plot' that we haven't seen in an American film in a long time; things like care, precision, and detail. 'Family Plot' is probably the most beautifully crafted, thematically dense film that we're going to see this year."

Also, there are some fun Hitchcockian puns/jokes (DK has a lovely account of the spilled white "blood" that becomes a clue). Here are a few of them, just for the enjoyment of it:

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