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John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

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Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children, without explaining…

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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.

Steven Spielberg: My animated tribute

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In my copy of his book "Scorsese," Roger Ebert wrote these words: "Every movie lover needs a hero."

I've found mine in Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg has been my hero ever since I, in my childhood, saw his more popular films (" Jaws," "Temple of Doom," "Hook," " E.T.," "Close Encounters," et al.), but recently, as I covered areas in his filmography I hadn't before, and doubled back to some that I didn't quite remember, I was struck by how much he really is my hero.

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Not just an ordinary superhero

May Contain Spoilers

It seems to be an unwritten rule that every superhero origin movie should have a scene in which the main character excitedly experiments with his or her powers before fully donning the mantle of the titular hero.

Consider the scene from "Spider-Man" in which Peter Parker scales walls and jumps from building to building joyously, or the one from "Iron Man" in which a reckless Tony Stark flies too far into the higher reaches of the atmosphere just to break that altitude record, or that scene from "Superman" in which the young Clark Kent races with a train.

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The great movies of my childhood

May Contain Spoilers

Of late, I've been thinking about how I got here. Here, in love with movie watching and movie making. Here, in a design school in India, and not an engineering college or a medical school like predetermined for most Indian students. Here, in correspondence with a huge role model of mine. Here, doing what I love.

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#100 February 1, 2012

Marie writes: While writer Brian Selznick was doing research for his book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret", he discovered the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia had a very old automaton in their collection. And although it wasn't one of machines owned by Georges Melies, it was remarkably similar and with a history akin to the one he'd created for the automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret...

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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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A haunting, in time and space

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"The Innkeepers" is streaming online through Amazon Instant and Vudu. It is also offered on some cable systems' On Demand channels and opens theatrically in a limited release February 3rd. The official website is here.

by Steven Boone

The trailer for "The Inkeepers" betrays a basic insecurity common in low-budget indie films nowadays: They want you to think they're as loud and hectic as their big-budget counterparts. They're afraid you won't show up otherwise. And so this horror film which builds its scares slowly, stealthily and through the peculiar quirks of its characters is sold as just another clangy, generic mainstream fright flick. Mercifully, the actual film shows only a little of this poisonous "ambition." It's mostly just a good old-fashioned ghost story, well told.

This film's wealth of personality is apparent early on, as director Ti West takes his time recording the subtle oddball chemistry between Claire (Sarah Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the only staff on duty at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Luke is obsessed with documenting a legendary ghost at the Pedlar for his website. He is surprised to find that Claire, his secret geek-girl crush, is just as fascinated by the subject. For a healthy stretch of the film we just watch them goofing off and pranking each other when not rendering poor service to the inn's only two guests (one played by Kelly McGillis from "Top Gun," appearing about 15 years older than her actual age--the biggest jolt of the movie, for a viewer over 30).

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Making contact: Spielberg's Close Encounters and E.T.

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[This resurrected piece is my contribution to the Steven Spielberg Blogathon co-hosted by Adam Zanzie (Icebox Movies) and Ryan Kelly (Medfly Quarantine). Originally published in the (pre-home-video) December, 1982, issue of The Informer, a monthly publication of the Seattle Film Society, when I was just a wee lad, barely a quarter-century old.]

"E.T." is a universal film -- and I'm not just talking about the MCA company that released it. Steven Spielberg's latest celluloid fable is fast on its way to becoming the most popular movie ever made. Yet, unfortunately, critical attention has been focused primarily on the phenomenon of "E.T." rather than on the cinematic merits of the movie itself. So much has been said about "E.T." as an extraordinary entertainment, a masterfully orchestrated work of childlike wish-fulfillment, that people seem to have overlooked the fact that it's also -- dare I say it? -- a rich and resonant Work of Art. Perhaps Spielberg is too unassuming, too unabashedly populist in his style and (overt) subject matter to make critics sit up and take notice of what he's doing from shot to shot.

Nevertheless, "E.T." is connecting with millions of people worldwide -- and for good reason. Like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Spielberg's other masterpiece about intergalactic harmony and understanding (and perhaps the largest-scale abstract/experimental film released by a major Hollywood studio since Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."), "E.T." is above all about contact, about the very nature of communication, and the system of signs we human beings have created to bring ourselves closer to one another: spoken language, gestures, symbolic objects, physical contact -- and any combination of the above.

The ad slogan for "Close Encounters" (hereafter referred to as "CE3K") was "We Are Not Alone," and both that film and "E.T." are about alienated individuals who try to break out of their isolation, who struggle to bridge the void between themselves and others. Perhaps the best way to get to the heart of these movies is to take a look at some of the ways Spielberg's characters communicate with (or fail to reach) each other -- and how Spielberg uses cinematic technique to bring film, characters, and audiences, into contact.

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The masters of disaster, by Gerardo Valero of Mexico

May Contain Spoilers

The source for our love of movies is different in each and every one of us. It may date back to our childhood, it may be about a particular film we saw under certain circumstances in our lives. Mine clearly come from one specific genre: the Disaster Film.

I realize they may have never been the most meaningful or profound of all, but they were certainly the one kids my age were discussing in school patios in the early '70s.

Back then hey had the hype, they had the long lines at theaters, they had the awesome John Williams scores, they had Sensurround, they had that unexplicable Best Picture nomination for "The Towering Inferno", they had the posters with the great artwork and the main actors boxed in little squares, depicted in various states of pandemonium.

"Earthquake" was even promoted as "an Event," believe it or not.

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Vincent P. Falk and His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coats

You might never have heard of Vincent P. Falk, but if you've been a visitor to Chicago you may well have seen him. He has performed for the patrons on every single tour boat cruising the Chicago River. And he is known to every viewer of the NBC/5 morning news, and the ABC/7 afternoon news. He's the smiling middle-aged man with a limitless variety of spectacular suits. He stands on the Michigan or State street bridges, showing off his latest stupefying suit. He flashes the flamboyant lining, takes it off, spins it in great circles above his head, and then does his "spin move," pivoting first left, then right, while whirling the coat in the air. Then he puts it on again and waves to the tourists on the boat, by now passing under the bridge, always wearing a suit for the occasion: Shimmering black for Kwanzaa, red for Christmas, neon green for St. Patrick's Day so blinding Mayor Daley wouldn't have the nerve to wear it.

For ABC/7, he stands outside the big windows of the news studio, which open onto State Street. You can't miss him. For NBC/5, he's worked his way up to regular Friday morning appearances. The station's news studio overlooks Pioneer Court Plaza, and when the anchors go outside to chat with people, there's Vincent. He's agreed to appear exclusively on the Channel 5 early news, where I have never seen him, because his usual spin on Fridays is just before the 6 a.m. sign-on of the Today show.

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How "Star Wars" changed the world (as we knew it)

View image Corporate branding at its very finest.

I have another new essay at MSN Movies now, on How Star Wars Changed the World. Yes, it was 30 years ago today (well, Friday, May 25, to be specific) that the Death Star blew Alderaan into space dust, contributing to galactic warming and allergy problems throughout the GFFA. An excerpt: What "Star Wars" did best was combine corny stock characters and "Amazing Stories" plotlines with state-of-the-art Industrial Light and Magic visual effects and Dolby (later replaced with Lucas's patented THX) Surround sound. No more rockets made out of cardboard toilet-paper tubes with sparklers stuck in the rear for thrusters. Mix that with a wisecracking, almost postmodern sense of humor (more gung-ho earnest than the arch self-awareness William Goldman pumped into the Western in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" eight years earlier) and an old-fashioned Hollywood military-symphonic score by John Williams, and you have a rousing, roller-coaster space adventure for children of all ages, as the marketers like to say.

Sure, the movie was criticized for being infantile, but that misses the point. It's aimed at a sensibility somewhere between infancy and the second year of college (or high school). A space fantasy with the emphasis on interstellar swashbuckling (and with romantic mush kept to a minimum), "Star Wars" appealed to the 3- to 12-year-old boy in all of us -- and still does.

But although all those things may have contributed to the "Star Wars" phenomenon, they don't explain why it "changed everything", or what accounted for "the mania" (as George Harrison used to call that unaccountable epochal thing that engulfed him and three other lovable mop-tops). Because it wasn't really the movie itself that shook the world (not like the Beatles' music shook up pop/rock music, anyway); it was the popular response to the movie, and the motion picture industry's response to that response. [...]

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Opening Shots: 'Star Wars'

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View image; The camera tilts down.

View image; The surface of a planet spans the lower part of the frame as a ship passes through the top.

"Star Wars" has, not surprisingly, been the popular favorite among Opening Shots contributions. Here's how several of you saw it:

From Barry Toffoli:

"Star Wars" opens with a shot of space and the soft sound of John Williams score, then the shot shifts to a planet. So right away we know we’re in for adventure on foreign soil, in outer space no less. Then a small vessel comes from the top of the screen. This is quickly followed by a series of blasts as the score turns into that famous booming on sound, akin to Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ [from "The Planets"]. This is all quickly followed by the enormously famous and copied shot of a behemoth star cruiser coming in from the top of the screen and going on forever. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this story is a tale of good versus evil, the little guy getting bullied by the big guy. Even the planet in the shot plays into the theme, representing a new undiscovered world a new hope for freedom and life. But we know the journey will be hard as the star cruiser looms over everything from the rebel ship to the planet below to the audience watching it in the theatre.

And long before the death star ever shows up we fear this massive beast could blow up the planet below just as easily as it could blow up the tiny ship, setting the stage for one of the greatest adventures in film history.

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