"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.
We're counting down twelve great movie scenes set around Christmas. Here is the first batch, with #12 through #9.
Katherine Tulich sits down with "Austenland" star Keri Russell, writer/director Jerusha Hess, and author Stephenie Meyer, whose company, Fickle Fish Films, produced the film.
Marie writes: I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, dissatisfied in general with the poverty of imagination currently on display at local cinemas. As anyone can blow something up with CGI - it takes no skill whatsoever and imo, is the default mode of every hack working in Hollywood these days. Whereas making a funny political satire in the United States about a Russian submarine running aground on a sandbank near a small island town off the coast of New England in 1966 during the height of the Cold War - and having local townsfolk help them escape in the end via a convoy of small boats, thereby protecting them from US Navy planes until they're safely out to sea? Now that's creative and in a wonderfully subversive way....
Marie writes: The West Coast is currently experiencing a heat wave and I have no air conditioning. That said, and despite it currently being 80F inside my apartment, at least the humidity is low. Although not so low, that I don't have a fan on my desk and big glass of ice tea at the ready. My apartment thankfully faces East and thus enjoys the shade after the sun has crossed the mid-point overhead. And albeit perverse in its irony, it's because it has been so hot lately that I've been in the mood to watch the following film again and which I highly recommend to anyone with taste and a discerning eye.
This is a free sample of the Newsletter members receive each week. It contains content gathered from recent past issues and reflects the growing diversity of what's inside the club. To join and become a member, visit Roger's Invitation From the Ebert Club.
Marie writes: Not too long ago, Monaco's Oceanographic Museum held an exhibition combining contemporary art and science, in the shape of a huge installation by renowned Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, in addition to a selection of films, interviews and a ballet of Aurelia jellyfish.The sculpture was inspired by the sea, and reflects upon maritime catastrophes caused by Man. Huang Yong Ping chose the name "Wu Zei"because it represents far more than just a giant octopus. By naming his installation "Wu Zei," Huang added ambiguity to the work. 'Wu Zei' is Chinese for cuttlefish, but the ideogram 'Wu' is also the color black - while 'Zei' conveys the idea of spoiling, corrupting or betraying. Huang Yong Ping was playing with the double meaning of marine ink and black tide, and also on corruption and renewal. By drawing attention to the dangers facing the Mediterranean, the exhibition aimed to amaze the public, while raising their awareness and encouraging them to take action to protect the sea.
Marie writes: Kudos to fellow art buddy Siri Arnet for sharing the following; a truly unique hotel just outside Nairobi, Kenya: welcome to Giraffe Manor.
"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)
While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.
This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.
Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.
Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:
"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"
"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"
One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:
"The number of people blogging television online -- it's ridiculous. They don't know what we're building. And by the way, that's true for the people who say we're great. They don't know. It doesn't matter whether they love it or they hate it. It doesn't mean anything until there's a beginning, middle and an end. [...]
I do have a certain amused contempt for the number of people who walk sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along. It's selling more DVDs now than when it was on the air. But I'm indifferent to who thinks Omar is really cool now, or that this is the best scene or this is the best season. It was conceived of as a whole, and we did it as a whole. For people to be picking it apart now like it's a deck of cards or like they were there the whole time or they understood it the whole time -- it's wearying. Because no one was there in the beginning, or the middle, or even at the end. Our numbers continued to decline from Season 2 on.* -- David Simon, creator of "The Wire," "Generation Kill," "Treme"
I've heard some very good film critics make this argument before, too. Of course, a movie has a beginning, a middle and an end (although, as Jean-Luc Godard reminded us, not necessarily in that order). That's the fabled "three-act structure" all the screenplay manuals talk about. Wim Wenders and other great directors have observed that they always make at least two movies: the one they set out to make and the one they discover while they're trying to make the first one. Same goes for watching a movie or TV series: there's always the show you watch when its destination is unknown, and the one you reconsider after you know how it ended up.
"Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird" (82 minutes) premieres on the PBS series "American Masters" on Monday, April 2nd, at 10 p.m. (check local listings). The film is also available on-demand via Netflix and iTunes.
by Jeff Shannon
To Kill a Mockingbird was published on July 11th, 1960, and Harper Lee's first and only novel has been a publishing phenomenon ever since. Although its first printing by the venerable publishing house of J.B. Lippincott was a mere 5,000 copies, it was an immediate bestseller, and has consistently sold a million copies a year for over 50 years. It was a shoo-in for the Pulitzer Prize, and is frequently cited as the second-most beloved book of all time, after the Holy Bible. Some British librarians went a step further: In a 2006 poll, they ranked Mockingbird at the top, above the Bible, in a list of books "every adult should read before they die." Despite some early objections to its use of racial epithets (specifically the "N-word"), the novel has been required, if sometimes controversial, classroom reading for decades.
With its potent themes of racial injustice, inequality, courage, compassion and lost innocence in the noxiously segregated American South, Lee's novel preceded and fueled the civil rights movement that erupted in its wake. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that To Kill a Mockingbird is the most influential novel of the 20th century, considered by many to be America's national novel. The equally beloved, Oscar-winning 1962 film version -- famously adapted by Horton Foote and directed by Robert Mulligan -- was immediately embraced as an enduring classic worthy of its source material.
Marie writes: I was browsing the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest Galleries and came upon this amazing shot - click to enlarge!
The Birth Of Earth: Photo by Terje Sorgjerd"Getting close or getting too close? Photo taken of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption that would grind most of europe air traffic. This is the scariest moment in my life, and also the most beautiful and frightening display of raw force I have ever seen." - Terje Sorgjerd
Lesson for the day: How to have fun while wasting time... Marie writes: welcome to DRAW A STICK MAN, a delightful Flash-based site prompting viewers to draw a simple stick figure which then comes to life! Ie: the program animates it. You're given instructions about what to draw and when, which your dude uses to interact with objects onscreen. Thanks go to club member Sandy Kahn who heard about it from her pal Lauren, in Portland Oregon.Note: here's a screen-cap of what I drew; I've named him Pumpkin Head.
Marie writes: There's a glorified duck pond at the center of the complex where I live. And since moving in, my apartment has been an object of enduring fascination for Canadian geese - who arrive each Spring like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission in France, to run a sweeping aerial recon my little garden aka: playhouse for birds... (click to enlarge)
This is a special free sample of the Newsletter members receive weekly. It contains content gathered from several past issues and reflects the diversity of what you'll find inside the Ebert Club. For Roger's invitation to the Club, go HERE.
"There is a stubbornness about me that can never bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me." - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
From the Big Kahuna: Yes, this is the front of the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, where Ebertfest is held every year. The old marquee was showing its age, and will be replaced by the time Ebertfest 2011 is held on April 27-30. Update: I read in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that the new marquee is still in design, but park officials expect it to be a better complement to the theater's Italian Renaissance-style architecture and resemble the 1921 original marquee. When concepts are finalized, they will go before the park board for approval.
The Grand Poobah writes: "be there or be square...."(click to enlarge)
Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh at a Charity party in 1957 with Frank Sinatra and his then-wife, Ava Gardner. (click to enlarge) Marie writes: the best celebrity photos are invariably candid shots. :-)
I don't watch too much television, but I definitely read too much on the Internet. I know this because just last week I read something about television and now I can't remember where I read it.* The writer was mock-complaining that TV isn't as mindless and undemanding a leisure activity as it used to be, ever since "The Sopranos." What with "The Wire" and "Mad Men" and "Deadwood" and "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter" and other non-old-network series, you actually have to pay attention to watch TV these days. (If you remember reading something along those lines, please send me the link.) No more just leaving the set on whenever you're home in order to drown out the voices. These shows require as much concentration (and more memory and commitment) than most feature films -- or perhaps (a closer comparison) modern novels.
A New York Times essay by A.O. Scott last weekend asked: "Are Films Bad, or Is TV Just Better?" Yes, it's a false dilemma (what does the quality of one have to do with the quality of the other?), but it's the kind of headline that catches the notice of the knee-jerk TV haters who are still stuck in the three-network "vast wasteland" of 1961. Scott wrote:
Attention Ebert Club Members and fellow would-be chefs....drum roll... Marie writes: At long last, the highly anticipated "The Pot and How to Use it" is set for release! Containing numerous and surprisingly varied recipes for electric rice cookers, it is much more than a cookbook. Originating from Roger's 2008 Nov. blog entry, it includes readers' comments and recipes along side the Grand Poobah's own discerning insights and observations on why and how we cook. 128 pages, paperback format. Sept 21, 2010 release date. Available now for pre-order at Amazon at a discount.
(Click image to enlarge)Chaz visits Roger in the kitchen as he demonstrates the correct way to use the Pot. First, and this is very important; you need to remove the lid... :-)
From the Grand Poobah: Club members Gerardo and Monica Valero from Mexico City went to see the David Letterman Show a few years ago and informed him of something that is discussed on the air...
I have a quirky policy about writing of films from a film festival. In the early years, I tried to avoid an actual "review," especially negative, because I believed a film deserved a chance to open before I laid into it. This was grandiose--as if the world was awaiting my opinion. Then I began suggesting my thinking, without going into detail. Then, being human, I allowed that approach to enlarge into specific descriptions of films I really loved, or hated.
Alex Vo, editor of Rotten Tomatoes: No Meter when he needs it most.
That's now the strategy I use, with amendments. I can only review a film for the first time once, and if I've used all my energy in rehearsal, what have I saved for opening night? I'll reflect the general reception of certain films, however, if only in the spirit of providing news coverage. The first year I was here, I was one of four members of the American press. These days, with half the audience members filing daily blogs and twittering immediately after a film is over, it's simply all part of the festival process.
I think I may have just seen the 2010 Oscar winner for best foreign film. Whether it will win the Palme d'Or here at Cannes is another matter. It may be too much of a movie movie. It's named "A l'origine," by Xavier Giannoli, and is one of several titles I want to discuss in a little festival catch-up. Based on an incredible true story, it involves an insignificant thief, just released from prison, who becomes involved in an impromptu con game that results in the actual construction of a stretch of highway. At the beginning he has no plans to build a highway. He simply sees a way to swindle a contractor out of 15,000 euros. He is sad, defeated, unwanted, apart from his wife and child, sleeping on a pal's sofa. What happens is not caused by him nor desired by him. It simply happens to him.
This is one of those movies that catches you in its spell. It's a hell of a story. There's a difference between caring what happens in a movie, and merely waiting to see what will happen. The hero, who calls himself Phillip, ends by bringing about an enterprise involving millions of euros, hundreds of workers and tons of massive earth-moving machinery, falling in love with the lady mayor, and becoming a good man, all without ever saying very much. I was reminded of Chance the Gardener In "Being There." Phillip is shy, socially unskilled, inarticulate, apparently the opposite of a con man. To repeat: There is a true story involved here. Some facts are offered at the end. The highway, which which the workers essentially built on their own, with the con man as "management," was completed on time, under budget and up to code.
I've been trying to imagine a conversation about a movie that would include the argument: "Well, you only point that out because you liked the movie." Or, "You wouldn't have noticed that if you didn't already like the movie." In response to all the stuff I wrote last year about the many moments of brilliance in "No Country for Old Men," I don't recall anybody saying, "Well, you wouldn't have liked that if you didn't like the movie."
But that's more or less what some are saying to me about "The Dark Knight": "You didn't like that because you didn't like the movie." I can understand where some of it is coming from: People feel defensive when they've enjoyed something and somebody else criticizes it; maybe they don't want to examine that experience closely -- although that has always been the purpose of this blog. The closer the better. I didn't expect to win friends and influence people by attempting to get specific about why I found "The Dark Knight" a lightweight entertainment, but also a letdown. It may seem like I'm just trying to justify my dislike; you might otherwise think I'm trying to discover the source(s) of my dissatisfaction. I don't think that's dishonest, or a waste of time, but if you do, please feel free to skip to a post in another category!
I also put people on the defensive by "going negative" prematurely, which added injury to insult. Maybe I let that silly "Love TDK -- or else!" threat get lodged in the back of my brain and it's been subconsciously gnawing away at me for the last month, I don't know.
But don't forget: you and I reached this conclusion nearly 50 years ago, in the Union, over a cup of coffee, listening to the chimes of Altgeld Hall. So we beat on...
That cup of coffee in the Union cemented one of my oldest friendships. Bill Nack was sports editor of The Daily Illini the year I was editor. He was the editor the next year. He married the Urbana girl I dated in high school. I never made it to first base. By that time, I think he may have been able to slide into second and was taking a risky lead and keeping an eye on the pitcher. We had a lot of fun on the Daily Illini. This was in the days before ripping stuff off the web. He insisted on running stories about every major horse race. We had only one photo of a horse. We used it for every winner. If it was a filly, we flipped it. Of this as his editor I approved.
After college, I was out of the basement of Illini Hall with its ancient Goss rotary press, and running up the stairs. I immediately sat down right here and started writing this. Nack went to Vietnam as Westmoreland's flack and then got a job at Newsday. On Long Island, he and Mary raised their three girls and a boy. One year at the paper's holiday party he jumped up on a desk and recited the names and years of every single winner of the Kentucky Derby. Bill told me:
Blind people develop a more acute sense of hearing. Deaf people can better notice events on the periphery, and comprehend the quick movements of lips and sign language. What about people who lose the ability to speak? We expand other ways of communicating. There are three ways I can "speak." I can print notes. I can type on my laptop, and a built-in voice says them aloud. I can use my own pidgin sign language, combining waving, pointing, shrugging, slapping my forehead, tracing letters on my palm, mime, charades, and more uses of "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" than I ever dreamed of.
Click on image to expand
Another path is open to me in the age of the internet. I can talk with new friends all over the world. Writing has always been second nature to me, as satisfying in a different way as speaking. Maybe because I was an only child with lots of solitary time, I always felt the need to write, and read. I was editor of my grade school, high
View image Genre picture? Marketing label?
Charles McGrath wonders if critics and the public give genre work enough credit. In "Great Literature? Depends Whodunit," published in Sunday's New York Times, McGrath makes a case for pulp fiction that applies to movies as well as to literature. Often behind the generic labeling, he says, is: ... the assumption that genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories — is a form of literary slumming. These kinds of books are easier to read, we tend to think, and so they must be easier to write, and to the degree that they’re entertaining, they can’t possibly be “serious.”
The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow — between genre writing and literary writing — is actually fairly recent. Dickens, as we’re always being reminded, wrote mysteries and horror stories, only no one thought to call them that. Jane Austen wrote chick lit. A whiff of shamefulness probably began attaching itself to certain kinds of fiction — and to mysteries and thrillers especially — at the end of the 19th century, with the rise of the “penny dreadful,” or cheaply printed serial. The market and public appetite for this stuff became even larger in the early years of the 20th century with the tremendous growth of pulp magazines, which specialized in the genres and eventually even added a new one: science fiction. I think of genre conventions as something akin to sonata form in music, or the chord progressions from a popular standard that jazz musicians may use as a foundation. The familiar prototype is just that: a recognizable structure upon which a craftsperson (even an artist) can create almost anything at all -- even turn it inside out or blow it apart.