The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
* 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.
Picks for the best of the 2013-14 television season, in the form of a Dream Emmy ballot.
The final season of "Mad Men" begins with the familiar routines of its damaged characters but they have more tragic resonance than ever.
Marie writes: When I first learned of "Royal de Luxe" I let out a squeal of pure delight and immediately began building giant puppets inside my head, trying to imagine how it would look to see a whale or dragon moving down the street..."Based in Nantes, France, the street theatre company Royal de Luxe performs around the world, primarily using gigantic, elaborate marionettes to tell stories that take place over several days and wind through entire cities. Puppeteers maneuver the huge marionettes - some as tall as 12 meters (40 ft) - through streets, parks, and waterways, performing their story along the way." - the Atlantic
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"Return" (97 minutes) is available Feb. 28 via most major on-demand platforms including cable, satellite, iTunes and Amazon Instant.
When the most intense experiences of daily life are repeated across generations, they become the historical touchstones of our cultural identity. By natural progression they're woven into our movies, where dreams and nightmares are etched in light.
The returning soldier (a subject previously examined here in the HBO documentary "How to Fold a Flag" and the 1956 Paul Newman drama "The Rack") has been a mainstay in film since the earliest days of the silent era. When you consider upcoming changes in the ranks of the American military, more and more of those soldiers are now likely to be female. And since independent film is where social progress typically finds its earliest, least compromised expression, we're now seeing more richly observant films like "Return," a sensitively rendered drama that marks a promising debut for writer-director Liza Johnson, in rewarding collaboration with underrated actress Linda Cardellini.
Cardellini won hearts with her appealing role on the beloved, short-lived TV series "Freaks and Geeks" (1999-2000) and deepened her range over 126 episodes of "ER" (2003-09). She's perfectly cast here as Kelli, a National Guard reservist and married mother of two. Still young but spiritually exhausted, she's just returned home after what she later suggests was a routine deployment in the Middle East. Iraq or Afghanistan -- it doesn't matter which, and the movie never specifies. Either way, there's no such thing as a routine deployment, and Kelli returns to her previous life in struggling, small-town Ohio, adrift in a state of neurasthenic limbo. War changes you, even if Kelli claims that "other people had it a lot worse." Kelli may be suffering from some degree of PTSD, but she's getting no apparent help from military counselors.
Marie writes: I have no words. Beyond the obvious, that is. And while I'm okay looking at photos, the video.... that was another story. I actually found myself turning away at times, the suspense too much to bear - despite knowing in advance that he's alive and well and there was nothing to worry about. The bottom of my stomach still fell out...
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The Ebert Club Newsletter is 1 year old!
A few images from last week's "Mad Men" (or, as I often think of it, "The Peggy Olson Show Featuring Don Draper") to illustrate why composition and framing (aspects of what you might call cinematic architecture) make a world of difference in how a scene works... or doesn't. This episode, "The Rejected," was directed by John Slattery (who, as Roger Sterling, perfectly accents the new office design) and photographed as usual by Christopher Manley (overseen, of course, by series creator Matthew Weiner). Captions appear beneath the frame grabs below:
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is falling apart, and the first shot shows him tethered to a phone cord, chain smoking, backed into a corner, with the ceiling closing in on him (as ceilings often do on "Mad Men"). The sight of Don compulsively puffing, lighting one smoke with the butt of another (he's on the phone with the notorious Lee Garner [Darren Pettie] from Lucky Strike, Sterling Cooper Draper Price's most financially important, and asshole-ish, client) is just the opposite of the way you would expect the well-groomed star of a TV series would be introduced -- especially in 1965. It turns out the subject of the call has to do with both cigarettes and television: the new FCC regulations for advertising cigarettes on TV. There's a delayed punchline a few shots later, when Don explains to Lee that certain camera angles are also prohibited -- like low angles or wide lenses, "anything that makes the smoker appear super-human." Yeah, we've seen that at work.
"Mad Men" has always been about compartmentalization: personal and professional, past and present, city and suburbia, accounts and creative... At first I didn't much like the new, glass and monochrome office spaces, about which silver fox Roger Sterling (John Slattery) remarked: "I feel like with my hair you can't even see me in here." Leave it to director Slattery to make the most out of these spaces in one of the finest episodes of the series (and leading contender for my favorite movie of 2010), "The Rejected" (Season 4, Episode 4). I put together this little wordless video essay about doors, windows, mirrors, transoms, hallways, pillars, screens, reflections... and I'm working on a frame-grab photo essay that gets into more detail about the exquisite direction and composition.
I've deliberately left out huge, important chunks of the episode that don't take place in the office -- but had to include Pete's magnificent shrug (with mirror, bar, decorative screen, and the unseen room down the hall), to contrast his apartment with his office, and the small framed mirror with the wall-sized observation mirror at work. The episode is mostly about Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) going in different directions, discovering new ways to open or close doors between their work and personal lives, contrasted with Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who begins the episode chain-smoking and drinking during a four-way phone call, his office a tangled web of coiled cords. Notice all the cross-sight-lines communication going on (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) -- people watching other people, exchanging glances or sight-unseen, through various frames in their separate compartments -- culminating in Don's seduced-and-ignored secretary Allison (Alexa Alemanni) staring the wrong way through the two-way mirror and looking Don right in the eye, unsettling him by seeing him for who he really is.
Both Pete and Peggy find themselves banging their heads against work surfaces in frustration/resignation, but the episode gives them a moment of grace, through glass doors in the reception area, in a brief, wordless coda I've included almost in its entirety. Peggy is leaving for lunch with some of her new boho friends; Pete is standing around with some suits ("new" clients, including his father-in-law), waiting for Don so they can have a business lunch. (BTW, I couldn't squeeze it in, but the shot of Pete knocking his forehead against the post in his office is followed by a shot of Peggy getting into the elevator -- much like the last shot here -- in which she first meets the LIFE photo editor who introduces her to the Village crowd who come by to get her at the end.) Man, what a terrific movie this is!