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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.

The Art of the Confident TV Protagonist: "Sherlock", "Rake", and "The Following"

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"Back to Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes."—"Sherlock," Episode 3.1, "The Empty Hearse" From Rockford to House, television producers have made a fortune building programs around confident, engaging leading men. If comedy is about ensemble, drama is so often defined by its leading characters. When people think of their favorite shows, it's typically the names of the male lead—Tony Soprano, Walter White, Dexter Morgan—that come to mind before the title of the show itself. Of course, it helps when they're one and the same; look no further than the most interesting character on TV this month when "Sherlock" returns to PBS this Sunday, January 19, 2014 as a part of the "Masterpiece Mystery" series. With a slightly more sentimental tone, more reliance on visuals than the first two seasons, and a real lack of a villain until the third and final chapter, the 2014 episodes of "Sherlock" may throw some fans for a loop. However, what works about "Sherlock" has not been lost. The writing is still incredibly crisp, so smart, and never boring, and the deeper focus on relatable emotion, particularly in the definition of the relationship between Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman), could even bring in new fans to this international phenomenon. Stop worrying; "Sherlock" is still great. The final chapter of season two of "Sherlock," "The Reichenbach Fall," ended with the death of Sherlock Holmes. Watson saw Holmes throw himself from a rooftop and saw the bloodied body of his friend and partner on the pavement. And then, in a classic cliffhanger that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved, Watson gave a speech at Holmes' tombstone as the detective watched from a distance. For two years (episode 2.3 originally played in January of 2012 in the U.K.), the rabid fan base of this show has devoted an amazing amount of time and energy to trying to figure how Holmes faked his death. I would, of course, never spoil it here, but I can tell you that Executive Producer/Writer Mark Gatiss has crafted a beauty of a resolution in "The Empty Hearse," working very loosely from the Doyle story "The Adventure of Empty House." Gatiss and the team behind "Sherlock" have a blast in "The Empty Hearse" playing with audience expectations and hopes for what would happen this season. They present several possibilities of what might have happened that fateful day, almost as if they've read the fan theories posted online in the 24 months since Holmes' death and brought them to life. What might throw audiences is that so much of "The Empty Hearse" is built around the return of Holmes that the mystery plotting leaves a little to be desired. Holmes is brought back in because of a terrorist threat but it feels like an afterthought to the character drama for most of the episode. Surprisingly, there's even less straightforward mystery in "The Sign of Three," the second episode, which almost plays more like a comedy than anything else. However, that's part of the brilliance of "Sherlock" and why it has created such a loyal following—the defiance of genre expectations. I can't say much about the plot of "Three" due to what could be considered spoilers at the very core of the plot description but it takes such a subtle, seamless shift in tone from comedy to mystery that you can barely tell it's happening. You're just engrossed in it without even knowing it. The greatest mystery shows stay one step ahead of you, leading the way but never quite allowing you to see around the corner. It's so difficult to tell where an episode of "Sherlock" is going next but the confidence of the filmmaking is so strong that we take the journey. It helps to have two actors as ridiculously talented as Cumberbatch and Freeman, who are really allowed to explore the emotional core of the relationship between their characters this season in new ways. This is a more vulnerable Holmes and Cumberbatch clearly relishes getting deeper into the character. He's a self-described "high-functioning sociopath" and yet he's starting to learn how much he needs Watson and vice versa. Cumberbatch is the star but Freeman deserves praise, especially for the delicate work he does late in the first episode. You may even have tears in your eyes. Any tears brought upon by FOX's "The Following," returning the same night, will be over the waste of talent on display. Kevin Bacon, a talent that was so underrated for so many years in films like "JFK" and "Murder in the First," is just woefully underutilized here as FBI Agent Ryan Hardy, a man on the edge. Aren't they all? Hardy is an expert on serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who was blown up in a boathouse at the end of season one (yes, they actually went there), but, of course, he wasn't. (Not a spoiler, there's no show without him and he's in that publicity still above. His death was less believable than Sherlock's.) To start season two, Hardy still thinks something suspicious happened that night and still grieves the loss of his ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea) at the hands of a Carroll supporter. While the madman may be out of the spotlight, his followers are not, and season two opens with a group of maniacs wearing Carroll masks who begin stabbing people in a subway train while shouting "Resurrection!" As with so many elements of "The Following" the moment lacks the inherent tension it should have, coming off as unbelievable and manipulative. The first season of "The Following" frustrated me but I went with a lot of it because I assumed that Bacon and writer/creator Kevin Williamson ("Scream") were going somewhere interesting. I've given up on that assumption. None of this show feels or sounds real. Not one beat. Not the plotting or the characters. In so many ways, it's the anti-"Sherlock." During Sunday night's premiere of "The Following," following the NFC Championship Game, you can expect to see roughly 14 commercials for Thursday night's FOX dramedy, "Rake," a remake of the Australian television series starring Greg Kinnear as a gambling, drinking, whoring attorney who can get his clients off but can't solve the problems in his own life. Of course, FOX is hoping that Keegan Deane becomes as popular as Dr. House in the anti-hero pantheon of the network. Despite Kinnear's best efforts, I'd say that's unlikely to happen in episode one. The first episode of "Rake" simply doesn't make enough of an impact, feeling like it's either trying to hard ("Look at how OUTRAGEOUS he is!") or not trying hard enough in terms of character (the clichés pile up to a David E. Kelley degree—quirky client, opposing attorney he knows, etc.) If the show does work or connect, it will be due to what Kinnear brings to it. He's charming enough and funny enough to make it work. If only the writing can rise to his abilities. A hero, anti- or otherwise, is nothing without the writing to back him up. We may remember the names like Tony Soprano and Walter White but we never would do so without the men like David Chase and Vince Gilligan who give them something interesting to say.

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#175, July 10, 2013

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....

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#164 April 24, 2013

Marie writes: Now this is something you don't see every day. Behold The Paragliding Circus! Acrobatic paragliding pilot Gill Schneider teamed up with his father’s circus class (he operates a school that trains circus performers) to mix and combine circus arts with paragliding - including taking a trapezist (Roxane Giliand) up for ride and without a net. Best original film in the 2012 Icare Cup. Video by Director/Filmmaker Shams Prod. To see more, visit Shams Prod.

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Berlinale 2012: The tantalizing and the taboo

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What does it take to get your film into a world class festival? That's the question asked with gleeful irreverence by "The Woman in the Septic Tank," which screened at the recently concluded 2012 Berlinale, one of the world's foremost festivals. This hilarious satire of international art filmmaking finds two aspiring auteurs sitting in a Manila café, jealously regarding a rival's Facebook photos taken at the Venice film fest. They vow to devise the ultimate movie to win festival audiences and prizes: a single mother of five suffering in the slums is forced to sell her son to a rich pedophile. But like Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (1968), the project gets out of hand, and before we know it we're watching a musical version with the pedophile singing "Is this the boy / who'll bring me endless hours of joy?" It's one of many delightful detours taken by these filmmakers seeking the road to art house glory.

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#61 May 4, 2011

Marie writes: Doug Foster is a filmmaker and artist who produces large scale digital film installations that often play with ideas of symmetry and optical illusion. His piece The Heretics' Gate is currently on view at "Daydreaming with... St. Michael's" - an exhibition taking place at St. Michael's church in Camden, London. Note: Foster's piece first appeared at the Hell's Half Acre exhibition at the Old Vic Tunnels in London in 2010."The Heretics' Gate" draws inspiration from Dante's Inferno, the first part of his epic poem The Divine Comedy. A twenty foot high, arched screen and a thirty foot long reflecting pool, are cleverly combined to deliver a mesmerizing and strangely ethereal vision of hell at the central focus point of the church's imposing gothic architecture. To learn more, visit: Liquid Hell: A Q&A With Doug Foster.NOTE: The exhibition is the latest installment in renowned British music producer James Lavelle's curatorial and collaborative art venture, "DAYDREAMING WITH..." - a unique and visceral new exhibition experience, inspired by the desire to marry music and visual art. The goal is to bring together some of the most acclaimed creative names working in music, art, film, fashion and design.

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#60 April 27, 2011

The Grand Poobah shared the following recently and which struck me as just the thing to put in here - for it amounts to someone inventing a moving still akin to those seen on the front page of Harry Potter's famous newspaper."You know how people sometimes say that jazz is the only truly American art form? Animated GIFs are like the jazz of the internet: they could only exist, and be created and appreciated, online. That said, PopTart Cat is not exactly on par with Thelonious Monk. But photographer Jamie Beck and motion graphics artist Kevin Burg may have finally found a way to elevate the animated GIF to a level approaching fine art, with their "cinemagraphs" -- elegant, subtly animated creations that are "something more than a photo but less than a video." - fastcodesignAnd sadly, they won't work in here; Movable Type doesn't like animated gifs. It's easily solved however, just visit Far Better Than 3-D: Animated GIFs That Savor A Passing Moment to see an assortment in play!

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#54 March 16, 2011

From the Grand Poobah: After much planning with festival director Nate Kohn, here is the schedule for Ebertfest 2011, which Ebert Club members are of course the first to learn about. This schedule is tentative; several guests may be added.Wednesday April 275:00 pm Reception at University President's House (VIP passholders only)7:00 pm METROPOLIS Restored, with the Alloy Orchestra.-----------------Thursday April 289:00 am For Ebert Club members: Meet & Greet coffee and pastries, hosted by Chaz and Roger Ebert at the Illini Union.10:30 am Panel Discussion 1 (Nate Kohn moderates festival guests), Illini Union1:00 pm UMBERTO D, by Vittorio De Sica.3:30 pm MY DOG TULIP, with directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger in person.8:00 pm TINY FURNITURE (98 min). In person: Kyle Martin, producer; David Call, actor; Alex Karposky, actor.------------------Friday April 299:00 am Panel Discussion 2, (Eric Pierson, moderator), Illini Union10:30 am Panel Discussion 3 (Far Flung Correspondents, Omer Mozaffer, moderator), Illini Union1:00 pm "45365," with directors Turner Ross and Bill Ross in person4:00 pm ME AND ORSON WELLES, with director Richard Linklater in person8:30 pm ONLY YOU, with director Norman Jewison in person-----------------Saturday April 3011:00 am A SMALL ACT. In person: Patti Lee, producer; Jennifer Arnold, director; Hilde Back.2:00 pm World Premiere: LIFE, ABOVE ALL. In person: Oliver Stoltz, producer; Khomotso Manyaka, actor; Michael Barker, distributor.6:30pm LEAVES OF GRASS. In person: Tim Blake Nelson.9:30pm I AM LOVE. In person: Tilda Swinton.---------------Sunday May 1Noon: LOUDER THAN A BOMB. In person: Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs, directors; Kevin Coval, artistic director and founder; five poets will perform.For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit EBERFEST 2011Metropolis Restored (1927) Directed by Fritz Lang

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recent Two Thumbs Up® reviews

Linked here are reviews in recent months for which I wrote either 4 star or 3.5 star reviews. What does Two Thumbs Up mean in this context? These films are worth going out of your way to see, or you might rent them, add them to your Netflix, Blockbuster or TiVo queues, get them by VOD, watch for them on cable, anything. Many of the older titles are already streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

"Another Year" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and long and happily married. Their frequent visitor is Mary (Lesley Manville), a unhappy woman with a drinking problem who needs shoring up with their sanity. Mike Leigh's new film is one of his best, placing as he often does recognizable types with embarrassing comic and/or dramatic dilemmas. One of the year's best films. Four stars

"My Dog Tulip" (Unrated, 83 minutes). The story of a man who finds love only once in his life, for 15 perfect years. It is the love of a dog. It may be the only love he is capable of experiencing. This is an animated film combining elating visuals with a virtuoso voice performance by Christopher Plummer. Nor for children. Foe adults who will admire its beauty and profundity. Directed and animated by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. Four stars

"Inspector Bellamy" (Unrated, 110 minutes). Gerard Depardieu stars as a famous Parisian police inspector who is on holiday when a man tells him, "I committed murder...sort of." Claude Chabrol's final film, written with Depardieu in mind, is inspired in part by Simenon's Inspector Maigret, and follows Bellamy as he unwinds the strange story of the murder, while also, like Simenon, becoming fascinated by side characters, such as Bellamy's troubled half-brother. Marie Bunel is warm and supportive of her husband, and a good confidant during pillow talk about crime. Three and a half stars.

"The Illusionist" (PG, 90 minutes). A magician named Tatischeff fails in one music hall after another, and ends up in Scotland, where a young woman takes care of him and believes in him, even when he's reduced to performing in store windows. An animated film based on the final screenplay of Jacques Tati, and directed by Sylvain Chomet ("The Triplets of Belleville"). Four stars

"Barney's Version" (R, 132 minutes). Paul Giamatti stars as an unremarkable Montreal TV producer who drinks too much, smokes too many cigars, and discards two women in quick divorces before finding at last one far too good for him (Rosamund Pike). Dustin Hoffman has a smallish but particularly good role as his father. Giamatti won the 2011 Golden Globe award as best actor. Three and a half stars

"All Good Things" (R, 101 minutes). David (Ryan Gosling) is the rebellious son of a wealthy Manhattan family that owns sleazy 42nd Street real estate. He marries Katie (Kirsten Dunst), and they move to Vermont to open an organic products store. But his father (Frank Langella) pressures him to return to the family business, and he undergoes alarming changes eventually connected to two murders. Based on one of those true stories Dominick Dunne used to write about in Vanity Fair. Three and a half stars

"Blue Valentine" (R, 120 minutes). Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy in two seasons of marriage: Six years ago when love was fact, and today, when love proves unable to support the weight of real life. Director Derek Cianfrance closely observes the details as his couple fail to comprehend the larger picture. Dean thinks marriage is the station. Cindy thought it was the train. Three and a half stars

"The King's Speech" (R, 118 minutes). After the death of George V and the abdication of his brother Edward, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) becomes George IV, charged with leading Britain into World War Two. He is afflicted with a torturous stammer, and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out an unorthodox speech therapist (Lionel Logue) to treat him. Civilized and fascinating, this is the story of their unlikely relationship. (The R rating, for language, is absurd; this is an ideal film for teenagers.) Four stars

"True Grit" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An entertaining remake of the 1969 film, and more. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn easily fills John Wayne's boots, and Hailee Steinfeld is very special as young Mattie Ross, who hires the old marshal to help her hunt down the varmit what killed her old man. Not a "Coen Brothers Film," but a flawlessly executed Western in the grand tradition. Strong support from Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Three and a half stars

"Somewhere" (R, 96 minutes). Johnny Marco Stephen Dorff is a movie star. He has access to sex, booze, drugs, but feels no pleasure. He sits in a Los Angeles hotel room, stuck. His 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay for a few days, but he clearly has no feeling for fatherhood. He's given an award in Milan but hardly notices in the confusion of strangers around him in a hotel suite. He retreats to the same famous West Hollywood where John Belushi died, which for him might have been a recommendation. Sofia Coppola's film, winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, is a masterpiece of observation of hopelessness. Four stars

"Rabbit Hole" (R, 91 minutes) Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying their best to get on with things. This is the tricky and very observant story of how a married couple is getting along, eight months after their 4-year-old ran out into the street and was struck dead by a car. They were leveled with grief. Their sex life stopped. They lived for a time in a daze, still surrounded in the house by the possessions of the child who no longer lives there. I know all this sounds like a mournful dirge, but in fact "Rabbit Hole" is entertaining and surprisingly amusing, under the circumstances. Three and a half stars

"Black Swan" (R, 108 minutes). Natalie Portman in a bravura performance as a driven perfectionist, a young ballerina up for a starring role at Lincoln Center. Her life is shadowed by a smothering mother (Barbara Hershey), an autocratic director (Vincent Cassel) and a venomous rival (Mila Kunis) and her deposed predecessor (Winona Ryder). A full-bore melodrama, told with passionate intensity, gloriously and darkly absurd. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Three and a half stars

"Carlos" (Unrated, 332 minutes). A remarkable portrait of a despicable man, the terrorist Carlos ("the Jackyl"), who from 1975 to 1994 directed a shadowy group of violent militants that dealt in kidnapping and murder. Edgar Ramirez is powerful in the title role, as an egomaniac whose primary cause seems to be himself. With reckless boldness he eludes an international manhunt until finally even his masters grow tired of him. Unflinching, detailed, absorbing. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Three and a half stars

"White Material" (Unrated, 105 minutes). Isabella Huppert plays a French woman in Africa, managing the coffee plantation that was her ex-husband's. War stirs in the land, and she is warned to evacuate. She finds that unthinkable. This is her home, this is her farm, and she will bring in the crop. The movie doesn't sentimentalize or make a political statement; like its heroine, it doesn't have theories. A beautiful, puzzling film; the enigmatic quality of Huppert's impassivity draws us in. Three and a half stars

"I Love You Phillip Morris" (R, 98 minutes) Jim Carrey in the true life story of outrageous con man Steven Russell, who impersonated doctors, lawyers, FBI agents, and corporate executives. He convinced prison officials he had died of AIDS, successfully faked a heart attack, and escaped from jail four times (hint: always on Friday the 13th). Ewan McGregor plays his cellmate Phillip Morris, who Steven falls in love with. Thereafter his life consists of trying to get Steven out of jail, or trying to escape to be with him. Audacious. Jim Carrey's mercurial personality was almost necessary to even make this movie. Three and a half stars

"Hereafter" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Clint Eastwood considers the idea of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. Matt Damon stars as a man who believes he has a genuine psychic gift, and suffers for it. Cecile de France is a French newsreader who has a near-death experience. Frankie McLaren is a small boy seeking his dead twin. The stories converge, but in a way that respects the plausible. Not a woo-woo film but about how love makes us need for there to be an afterlife. Four stars

"Made in Deganham" (R, 113 minutes). Delightful serious comedy about the historic 1968 in Ford's British plant that ended its unequal pay for women, and began a global movement. Sally Hawkins plays Rita O'Grady, who caught the public fancy as a strike leader. Bob Hoskins is a sympathetic union organizer, and Miranda Richardson plays Barbara Castle, the minister of labor who unexpectedly sided with the striking women. Three and a half stars

"Monsters" (R, 93 minutes). An American photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) shepherds the daughter of his boss (Whitney Able) north from Mexico though a dangerous Infected Zone occupied by an alien life form. But this isn't a "monster movie," or an exploitation film. It's an uncannily absorbing journey transformed by the fact of Beings who are fundamentally different from any life form we have imagine. Writer-director Gareth Edwards, who also created the special effects, builds toward a climax combining uncommon suspense and uncanny poetry. Three and a half stars

"Unstoppable" (PG-13, 98 minutes) A runaway train hurtles at 70mph, and the movie is as relentless as the train. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try to stop it, and Rosario Dawson is the hard-driving dispatcher. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film. Directed by Tony Scott. Three and a half stars

"Morning Glory" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Rachel McAdam transforms a conventional plot into a bubbling comedy with her lovable high energy. She plays an ambitious young producer on a last-place network morning news show, who forces a reluctant TV veteran (Harrison Ford) to do the kind of TV he despises. A lot of laughs, including Diane Keaton as Ford's veteran co-anchor, Matt Malloy as a goofy weatherman and Jeff Goldblum as the boss who considers the show dead in the water. Three and a half stars

"127 Hours" (R, 93 minutes). The harrowing true story of James Franco, a rock climber whose arm was pinned to a Utah canyon wall by a boulder. In desperation he amputated his own arm to free himself. James Franco stars in Danny Boyle's film, which is gruesome but not quite too gruesome to watch. It's rather awesome what an entertaining and absorbing film Danny Boyle has made here. Yes, entertaining. Four stars

"Buried" (R, 93 minutes). Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver working for a private contractor in Iraq. He comes to consciousness in blackness. He feels around and finds a lighter. It its flame his worst fears are realized. He has been kidnapped, buried alive, and is a hostage. Taking place entirely within the coffin, this is a superior suspense picture that's ingenious in devising plausible events inside the limited space. Three and a half stars.

"Tamara Drewe" (PG-13, 110 minutes) A mischievous British comedy, set in a rural writer's retreat where egos and libidos are in contention. When a once-homely local girl returns home with newfound fame and an improved nose, all the men perk up with unfortunate results. With Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans and Tamsin Greig. Directed by Stephen Frears. Delightful. Three and a half star

"The Social Network" (PG-13, 120 minutes). The life and times of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who created Facebook, became a billionaire in his early 20s, and now has 500 million members on the site he created. A fascinating portrait of a brilliant social misfit who intuited a way to involve humankind race in the Kevin Bacon Game. Everybody likes Facebook--it's the site that's all about you. With Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the Napster founder who introduced Zuckerberg to the Silicon Valley fast lane, Andrew Garfield as the best friend who gets dumped, and Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins, who sued Zuckerberg for stealing their idea. One of the year's best films. Four stars

"Secretariat" (PG, 116 minutes). A great film about greatness, the story of the horse and the no less brave woman who had faith in him. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, who fell in love with Secretariat when he was born, and battled the all-male ring fraternity and her own family to back her faith in the champion. A lovingly crafted film, knowledgeable about racing, with great uplift. Also with John Malkovich, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Nelsan Ellis, Dylan Walsh. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Last Train Home" (Unrated, 87 minutes). Begins as a documentary about an annual New Years migration from cities to villages by 180 million Chinese, and focuses on one family; the parents have labored at low factory wages for 15 years to pay for their children's education back home, and now, as their daughter graduates high school, they may find only heartbreak as repayment. Shot over three years, it's one of those extraordinary films, like "Hoop Dreams," that tells a story the makers could not possibly have anticipated in advance. Works like stunning, grieving fiction. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Inside Job" (Unrated, 108 minutes). Exactly how Wall Street thieves eagerly sold bad mortgages, bet against them, and paid themselves millions in bonuses for bankrupting their own companies. And the Street is having another good year at our expense, because Financial Reform is as far away as ever. An angry, devastating documentary. Four stars

"Let Me In" (R, 115 minutes). A well-made retelling of the Swedish "Let the Right One In," which doesn't cheapen the original but respects it and adds some useful events. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a bullied, neglected boy, and Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz of "Kick Ass") is the girl who moves into the next apartment and has "been twelve for a very long time." The same cold, dark atmosphere of foreboding, in a doom-laden vampire drama. Not for Team Edward. Three and a half stars

"Scrappers" (Unrated, 90 minutes). A portrait of Otis and Oscar, two self-employed collectors of scrap metal, who troll the alleys in their trucks and vacant lots of Chicago for metals that can be sold. They work hard, they support families, they perform recycling on metals that might end up buried in garbage, and they like the work--its freedom, its independence. But metals dropped from $200 to $300 a ton to $20 with the economic collapse, and now their trade is desperate. See this and you'll never look at a scavenger with the same eyes. Three and a half stars

"Never Let Me Go" (R, 104 minutes). In an alternative time line, test-tube babies are created solely for the purpose of acting as Donors for body parts. Raised in seclusion, they accept their role. Are they really human, after all? In this sensitive, teary adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, three of them begin to glimpse the reality of their situation, and its tragedy. With Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins. Four stars

"Nowhere Boy" (R, 97 minutes). The Beatles are only distantly on the horizon in this deeply-felt biopic of young John Lennon growing up in Liverpool. He's at the center of a tricky relationship involving his mother, who he didn't know growing up, and his aunt, who raised him. From these years perhaps came and simultaneous elation and sadness of many of his songs. Aaron Johnson as John, Kristin Scott Thomas as his Aunt Mimi, Anne-Marie Duff as his mother Julia. Three and a half stars

"Waiting for Superman" (PG, 102 minutes). The new documentary by Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") says the American educational system is failing, and dramatizes this failure in a painfully direct way, saying what is wrong, and what is right. He points to existing magnet schools that draw their students by random lottery and virtually guarantee high school graduation and acceptance by a college. He explains why bad teachers who cannot be fired are a national scandal. The film is alarming, fascinating, and in the end hopeful. Three and a half stars

"Easy A" (PG-13, 93 minutes). Funny, star-making role for Emma Stone, as a high school girl nobody notices, until she's too embarrassed to admit she spent the weekend home alone and claims she had sex with a college boy. When word gets around, she uses her undeserved notoriety to play the role to the hilt, even wearing a Scarlet Letter. And she's able to boost the reps of some of her pals by making up reports of their process. Sounds crass. Isn't. Three and a half stars

"The American" (R, 95 minutes). George Clooney is starkly defined as a criminal as obedient and focused as a samurai. He manufactures weapons for specialized jobs. He lives and functions alone. He works for a man who might as well be a master. He used few words. Only his feelings for a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) supply an opening to his emotions. Zen in its focus. Four stars.

"Flipped" (PG-13,90 minutes) Juli (Madeleine Carroll) has adored Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) ever since he moved into the neighborhood in the second grade. Bryce has been running away from her ever since. Now they're 14 and they seem to be flipping: he more interested, she less. Rod Reiner's warm human comedy tells their stories by showing the same crucial events from both their points of view. He returns to the time of his "Stand By Me" with the same endearing insights. Rating: Four stars

"Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" (R, 133 minutes). Continuation of the brutal life of France's most notorious criminal, who survived a 20-year series of bank robberies, kidnappings, prison breaks and murders. Vincent Cassel makes him brutal, ugly, powerful and inscrutable. Winner of French Oscars for best director and actor. Three and a half stars

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (R, 113 minutes) He was a ruthless killer, bank robber, kidnapper and prison break artist--and a self-promoting egomaniac who wrote books some compared to Camus. Vincent Cassel stars in a hard-boiled performance as the French criminal who killed on three continents and was in love with his image. Three and a half stars

"Salt" (PG-13, 100 minutes). A damn fine thriller. It does all the things I can't stand in bad movies, and does them in a good one. Angelina Jolie stars as a CISA agent fighting ingle-handedly to save the world from nuclear destruction. Hardly a second is believable, but so what? Superbly crafted, it's a splendid example of a genre action picture. Directed by Philip Noyce. Four stars

"Inception" (PG-13, 148 minutes). An astonishingly original and inventive thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a men who infiltrates the minds of others to steal secrets. Now he's hired to implant one. Ken Watanabe is a billionaire who wants to place at idea in the mind of his rival (Cillian Murphy). DiCaprio Assembles a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page) to assist him, in a dazzling achievement that rises above the thriller level and enters the realm of mind control--in the plot, and in the audience. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "The Dark Knight"). Four stars

"The Kids are All Right" (R, 104 minutes). A sweet and civilized comedy, quietly satirical, about a lesbian couple, their children, and the father the kids share via sperm donation. When they meet him, they like him, he likes them, and their moms are not so sure. What happens is calmly funny, sometimes fraught, and very human. With pitch-perfect performances by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as the moms, Mark Ruffalo as the dad, and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the 20-something children. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Three and a half stars

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" (R, 129 minutes). Noomi Rapace, electrifying in last year's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," returns for the second film drawn from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Once again she's following the same crimes as journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), but they don't meet until late in the game as a murder trail leads to old family secrets. Well constructed, good cast, not quite up to the "Dragon" standard. Three and a half stars

"Restrepo" (R, 94 minutes). A documentary shot during the 15 months an American company fought under almost daily fire in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, described as "the most dangerous place on earth." The Taliban is a constant presence; the Americans take fire three, four, five times a day; they establish the strategic Outpost Restrepo, named for the first of their number to die, and it seems to turn the tide in the Valley. The 15-month tour is hard duty, and our admiration grows for these men. The film is non-political; the men are fighting above all to simple survive. Four stars

"9500 Liberty" (Unrated, 80 minutes). A law similar to Arizona's controversial recent measure was passed and briefly enforced a few years ago in Virginia's Prince William County, and what happened there may be instructive. This documentary shows the rise and fall of a movement led by a right-wing blogger, and the groundswell of opposition (including many whites and Republicans) that ended it. The cost of the law in higher taxes, exposure to lawsuits and the city's image was startling. The doc shows the rise and fall of the county law, and centers on the American tradition of citizens speaking out in town hall meetings. Three and a half stars

"A Small Act" (Unrated, 98 minutes). A documentary about a Kenyan boy named Chris Mburu who grew up in a mud house, graduated from Harvard Law School, and is today a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. His education was made possible by a $15-a-month gift from Hilde Back, a Swedish schoolteacher whose parents were Holocaust victims. Mburu started a foundation in her honor to grant more scholarships, and in the film they meet and she is honored by his village. To call it "Heartwarming" would be an understatement. Three and a half stars

"Cell 211" (Unrated, 111 minutes). Very effective thriller about a man's attempt to save his life by thinking quickly. A new prison guard, being given a tour, is left behind when a riot breaks out. Pretending to be a new prisoner, he improvises well enough to become a de facto leader of the riot, and develops a subtle relationship with the rock-hard leader of the prisoners. Winner of eight Goya awards, the Spanish Oscars, this year, including Best Picture. Three and a half stars

"I am Love" (R, 120 minutes). A sensuous and fascinating story about a modern family of Italian aristocrats. Tilda Swinton plays a Russian who has married the oldest son, learns her husband and their son will take over the family textile business, then suddenly finds herself in the middle of an unexpected affair. Masterfully direct by Luca Guadagnino. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Cyrus" (R, 91 minutes). Two lonely people (John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei) meet at a party and like each other. She has a 20ish son (Jonah Hill) who welcomes Reilly to their home and invites him to stay for dinner. But a comedy of social embarrassment develops when it becomes clear that the son is jealous and possessive of his mother, and perhaps to physically familiar with her. No, it's not incest; let's call it inappropriate behavior that his mom doesn't seem to discourage. Reilly is caught in an awkward position, which the film simply regards, leaving us to wince in a fascinated way. Three and a half stars

"Winter's Bone" (R, 99 minutes). Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as a 17-year-old girl who father has skipped bail and left his family threatened with homelessness. In a dirt poor area of the Ozarks, she goes seeking him among people who are suspicious, dangerous and in despair. Winner of the Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2010 and the screenwriting award, this film by Debra Granik is one of the year's best. Four stars

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (R, 84 minutes). Rivers was 75 in this film, and never tires of reminding us of that fact. She remains one of the funniest, dirtiest, most daring and transgressive of standup comics, and she hasn't missed a beat. The doc follows her for a year as she relentlessly pursues the career that her daughter, Melissa, says was like having another sister. She violates her own privacy, speaks from the heart, does not know tact, and makes us laugh a lot. If you've only seen Rivers on TV, you ain't seen nothing' yet. Three and a half stars

"The Karate Kid" (PG, 126 minutes). Faithfully follows the plot of the 1984 classic, but stands on its own feet and takes advantage of beg shot on location in China. Jackie Chan dials down convincingly as the quiet old janitor with hidden talents, and Jaden Smith (son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) holds the screen with glowing charisma. The obligatory final fight climax is unusually well-handled. Three and a half stars

"Solitary Man" (R, 99 minutes). Michael Douglas in one of his best performances, as a once rich and famous car dealer, now in hard times but still tireless as closing the hardest sell of all--himself. He's a seducer, a cheater, a user, but running outgo of options, in a smart comedy/drama with an excellent supporting cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer, Danny DeVito and Susan Sarandon. Three and a half stars

"Please Give" (R, 91 minutes). Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt play a Manhattan couple who have a daughter and run an antique store and live next to a mean-tempered old lady (Ann Morgan Guilbert) . When she dies, they can buy her apartment. The old lady has two granddaughters, played by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet. When the couple invites everyone over for dinner, events are set in motion that are true, funny, and ruefully observant. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is so perceptive about women whose lives are not defined by men; that's rare in the movies. Three and a half stars

"Death at a Funeral" (R, 92 minutes). The best comedy since "The Hangover." A big family home is the setting for a funeral that's just one damn thing after another. Remake of a 2007 Brit comedy, but a lot funnier. All-star cast includes Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Loretta Devine, Regina Hall, Zoe Saldana, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson and on and on. Three and a half stars.

"Home" (Unrated, 98 minutes) A family live in a small home in the middle of vast fields and next to the highway, which hasn't been used for ten years. Then big trucks arrive to lay down a fresh coating of asphalt, and the arrival of traffic puts unbearable pressure on a family that seems a little strange from the first. With Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet. 2008 winner of the Swiss Film Prize. Three and a half stars.

"Date Night" (PG-13, 88 minutes) Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a perfectly nice married couple from New Jersey who simply want to have a great night out together in Manhattan. Mistaken for another couple, they're spun into a nightmare involving a mob boss and an unpaid debt. Funny, because they seem halfway plausible. With Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco. Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum"). Three and a half stars

"Greenberg" (R, 107 minutes). Ben Stiller in one of his best performances as a chronic malcontent who returns to L.A. to house-sit, nurture his misery, and reconnect with people who quite rightly resent him. With Greta Gerwig as an aimless but pleasant young college graduate who feels sorry for him, and Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh as survivors of his troublesome past. Directed by Noah Baumbach, of "The Squid and the Whale." Three and a half stars.

"Vincere" (Unrated, 128 minutes) The long-suppressed story of Mussolini's early mistress, who bore him a son and then was pushed into the shadows after he made a respectable marriage. She obsessively follows him, confronts him with their child in public, and is finally locked away by the fascists in an asylum. Giovanna Mezzogiorno's performance as Ida, the mistress, reminds me of Sophia Loren in the way she combines passion with dignity. Directed by the legendary Marco Bellocchio. Three and a half stars

"Leaves of Grass" (R, 105 minutes). Edward Norton plays a dual role as brothers: One a professor of philosophy at Brown, the other still back home in Little Dixie, Oklahoma, growing the best marijuana in the state. He may be the better philosopher. With Susan Sarandon as their mother, and Richard Dreyfuss as the state's drug kingpin. Norton gives two inspired and entirely different performances. Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who also plays the best friend. One of the best films of 2010. Four stars

"45365" (Unrated, 90 minutes). An achingly beautiful portrait of small town America. The title is the zip code of Sidney, Ohio, and brothers Bill and Turner Ross grew up there and spent seven months on 2007 creating this portrait in sound and images of ordinary people, mostly nice, living their lives. No obvious structure, no message, just an appreciation of daily life that becomes haunting in its poetry. Winner of the Truer than Fiction Award at the 2010 Independent Spirits. Four stars (3/27/10)

"Mother" (R, 128 minutes). A mentally-deficient 27-year-old seems almost certainly guilty of murder. His mother, who has protected him all his life, is determined to prove his innocence. She is a remorseless force of nature, in a South Korean thriller that moves far beyond our expectations, into labyrinths deeper than reality. Written and diffracted by Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"). Three and a half stars

"Chloe" (Unrated, 96 minutes). A woman doctor (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating, and hires a young call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to test how he might respond. She is fascinated by the girl's reports. Her jealousy shifts into curiosity. And the call girl? What's in this for her? Egoyan weaves a deceptive erotic web. Three and a half stars

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" (PG, 86 minutes). A privileged inside look at the Disney animation studio from 1984 to 1994, a golden age that essentially recreated feature animation in the form we know it now. From "The Little Mermaid" to "The Lion King," interviews, archives, home movies and interviews recreate a time of creative turmoil and backstage rivalries. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Three and a half stars.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Unrated, for adults, 148 minutes). Compelling thriller with a heroine more fascinating than the story. She's Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a 24-year-old Goth girl with body piercings and tattoos: thin, small, fierce, damaged, a genius computer hacker. She teams up with a taciturn Swedish investigator to end a serial killer's 40 years of evil. Based on the international best-seller. Intense and involving. The planned Hollywood remake will probably have to be toned down. Four stars.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (PG, 92 minutes). Nimble, bright and funny comedy about the hero's first year of middle school. Zachary Gordon stars as the uncertain newcomer, and Robert Capron is his pudgy best pal, who still acts like a kid. Chloe Grace Moretz sparkles as the only student who's nice to them, and the movie amusingly remembers the tortures of early adolescence. Based on the books by Jeff Kinney. Three and a half stars.

"The Green Zone" (R, 114 minutes) Matt Damon and his two-time "Bourne" director Paul Greengrass team up for a first-rate thriller set early in the war in Iraq. Damon's chief warrant officer finds that U.S. intelligence is worthless, and his complaints lead him to discover the secret conspiracy intended to justify the American invasion. Greg Kinnear is the deceptive U.S. intelligence puppet-master, Brendan Gleeson is a grizzled old CIA hand whose agency has always doubted the stories sabot Saddam's WMD, and Amy Ryan plays a newspaper reporter who served Kinnear as a pipeline. Four stars.

"A Prophet" (R, 154 minutes). An unformed young man is imprisoned, and behind bars he terrifyingly comes of age. A remorseless consideration of the birth of a killer. With Tahar Rahim as the clueless young prisoner and Niels Arestrup as the powerful boss of the gang controlling the prison. Swept the 2010 Cesar awards ("the French Oscars"), won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2009, a 2010 Oscar nominee for best foreign film. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Four stars

"The Ghost Writer" (PG-13, 124 minutes). In Roman Polanski's thriller, a man without a past rattles around in the life of a man with too much of one. Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer hired by a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), whose previous ghost has mysterious drowned. In a rain-swept house on Martha's Vineyard, McGregor meets the PM's wife (Olivia Williams) and his assistant/mistress (Kim Cattrall), as an international controversy swirls. A splendidly acted and crafted immersive story. Four stars

"Red Riding Trilogy" (Unrated, for adults, 302 minutes). An immersive experience based on the infamous Yorkshire Ripper killings and the subsequent revelations about deep corruption in the Yorkshire Police Departments. Brilliantly cast, filmed in segments each offering a distinctive look and feel, beginning with a serial killer and then tangling the investigation with deep-seated local corruption. Not so much about what happens objectively as about its surrounding miasma of greed and evil. Four stars

"The Art of the Steal" (Unrated, 101 minutes). The most valuable collection of modern and impression art in the rod, valued at $250 billion, was intended by its rich collector, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, to reside forever in the Barnes Foundation in suburban Philadelphia. He hired the best lawyers to draw up an iron-clad will to assure that would happen after his death. He specified it not go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which he felt had scorned him and his collection. This absorbing documentary tells the story of how and why his art is in that museum today, the film calls it the "art theft of the century." Three and a half stars

"Shutter Island" (R, 135 minutes). Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo are U.S. Marshals called to a forbidding island in Boston bay, the home of an old Civil War fort now used as a prison for the criminally insane. A child murderer has escaped her cell. Martin Scorsese relentlessly blends music, visuals, special effects and all of film noir tradition into an elegant horror film as fragmented as a nightmare. If you're blind-sided by the ending, ask yourself: How should it have ended? How could it have? Three and a half stars

"Fish Tank" (Unrated, adults, 123 minutes). The harrowing portrait of a 15-year-old girl on a reckless path toward self-destruction. Her mother, only about 30, is a drunken slut and she seems on the same path. Covers a few days of fraught experiences with sex and anger. Superbly acted by newcomer Katie Jarvis. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2009. Directed by Andrea Arnold. Four stars.

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#50 February 16, 2011

Behold a most wondrous find...."The Shop that time Forgot" Elizabeth and Hugh. Every inch of space is crammed with shelving. Some of the items still in their original wrappers from the 1920s. Many goods are still marked with pre-decimal prices."There's a shop in a small village in rural Scotland which still sells boxes of goods marked with pre-decimal prices which may well have been placed there 80 years ago. This treasure trove of a hardware store sells new products too. But its shelves, exterior haven't changed for years; its contents forgotten, dust-covered and unusual, branded with the names of companies long since out of business. Photographer Chris Frears has immortalized this shop further on film..." - Matilda Battersby. To read the full story, visit the Guardian.  And visit here to see more photos of the shop and a stunning shot of Morton Castle on the homepage for Photographer Chris Fears.

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#20 July 21, 2010

"Twists of fate, love and humour, perseverance and, finally, a philosophical outlook- his story has it all." - Sarah Hampson.(click photo to enlarge) From the Globe and Mail article "You couldn't write this script" published July 19, 2010.From the Grand Poobah: "A young lady with excellent taste". (click to enlarge) "Ever since I was a child messing around with a terrible paint set from K-mart, I have been obsessed with controlling pigment suspended in water. Now I paint with divine, hand-made watercolors from Holland along with brushes ranging from high-end to dirt cheap, but the obsession remains..." - from Kelly Eddington's artist statement. To read more and see her truly wonderful watercolors, visit Kelly Eddington's Website and Gallery.

Ah, watercolors.... so easy to master; only takes decades....

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Atom Egoyan's erotic melodrama

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Atom Egoyan often makes erotic melodramas. There was a time when audiences perked up at the prospect of, oh, you know, sex and nudity and stuff, but these days moviegoers seem strangely neutered. They'd rather look at fighting machines or 3-D animals. They like their porn the way it's presented on the Net, wham-bam, thank you, man. The notion of erotic tension uncoiling within the minds of characters and unfolding languidly in sensuous photography is, I dunno, too artistic.

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Deep Vote predicts the Oscars: Last year, he batted 1000

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His code name is Deep Vote. He reads the mind of the Academy. He will reveal to me the names of this year's nominees. Our annual rendezvous is in the Anime section of a small Blockbuster in an obscure Midwestern city. He pulls on latex gloves and uses a fingernail knife to slit open a fresh pack of 3X5 cards. He writes down his predictions.

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Dina Martina's Oscar Entertaining Party Hints!

View image Dina Martina shows you how to organize, glamorize, accessorize, extemporize and festivize for Oscar. (photo by David Belisle)

A year later, Dina Martina is back to remind you of how you can make this year's Oscar festivities the most memorable ones of the year!

- - CLIP-'N'-SAVE - -

It's all about the party, people. This year, once again, I have turned to one of my eldest and dearest friends in the biz that we call show, the sparkling professional veteran entertainer Dina Martina (freshly returned from a USO Tour of P-Town), for party tips, decorating pointers, fashion commands and recipe notions. The GLAAD Media Award-nominated celebrity for Best Person in an Off-Off-Broadway Show (because she is glad, for "Dina Martina: Sedentary Lady"), Dina Martina can always be relied upon to present the finest advice in your area. Ladies and Gentlemen, the act you've known for all these years: The Oscar expertise goes to... Ms. Dina Martina!

* * * Dina Martina: Your Haute Guide to Entertaining Oscar-Style! * * *

by Dina Martina

It is now a very short time before the 2007th 2008th annual Academy Awards telecast graces billions of tiny silver screens around the world, and I'm as antsy as a kid in a china shop. I've made quite a reputation for myself over the years as a hostess who throws parties, and I'd love to share with you some of the finer points of how to throw an Academy Awards party that will leave your guests talking all the way through the Barbara Walters Special. Ready? Here goes!

1) Plastic Surgery.

All the stars are doing it (heck, Kenny Rogers is doing it and doing it and doing it), so why not you? I say, treat your face like you’d treat the fabled Red Carpet – remove the unsightly wrinkles by pulling it nice and tight before your guests arrive. Below the neck, however, I’m going against the grain this year by foregoing the requisite liposuction. All the other girls can be underfed fish in big ponds, but not me; I’m getting a tummy augmentation! The only way to stand out in sea of skin and bones is to fight lank with lard, and if it means I’ll be noticed -- and remembered -- I’ll be proud to resemble the Hindenburg, surrounded by skeletal, radio tower-looking waifs. Goodbye size 2, hello sleep apnea!

View image Dina Martina, America's Sedentary Lady of Technicolor, Alive! In Performance.

2) Host your own "Red Carpet" segment on the front lawn.

Surprised? Excited? Confused? Well, my friend, studies reveal that the red carpet segment is everyone's fave part of the show anyway, and since I began including this Oscar staple in my party plan, attendance has steadily increased each year by an average of .8%! It makes your guests feel truly glamorous, and your PHQ (Party Host Quotient) just goes bonkers! But before you freak out over just how to successfully pull off this crucial portion of your gala, let me first plant a few seeds in your cranny regarding what I refer to as "RCNs," or Red Carpet Necessities:

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CIFF: All our capsule reviews

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UPDATED 10/16: Here are brief reviews of all the Chicago Film Festival movies we have seen, in alphabetical order, written by Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert. More will be added as we view them. For a full CIFF schedule, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call (312) 332-FILM.

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Toronto #10: Cinderella story with a twist

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TORONTO, Ont.--It's the Cinderella story of this year's Toronto Film Festival. Girl is born in Chicago, grows up, graduates from college, moves to Minneapolis to join her boyfriend Jonny, who she met on the net. Works in advertising, finds it boring. Starts working as a stripper, doesn't find it boring. Changes her name to Diablo Cody. Starts a blog. Works as a phone sex voice. Writes book, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. Quits the sex biz, marries Jonny, moves to suburbs. His daughter is their flower girl at wedding.

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The answer is: Merv, Movies & "Jeopardy"

Merv.

The late Merv Griffin (July 6, 1925 - August 12, 2007) was in "Cattle Town" (1952), "So This Is Love" and "The Boy From Oklahoma" (both 1954) and Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony" (1980). He played (or voiced) himself in other movies, including George Cukor's underrated "Rich and Famous" (1981) and two Steve Martin comedies, "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) and "The Lonely Guy" (1984). Backed by Freddy Martin & His Orchestra, he had a #1 hit in 1950 with "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." His popular daytime TV talk show, where the likes of Orson Welles used to stop by for a chat, ran (with a few brief interruptions, including an abortive shift to late-night) from 1962 to 1986. Not only was he nominated for Emmys (he also won some) and Golden Globes, but he owned the Beverly Hilton Hotel (among others) where the Globes and other award shows were mounted and telecast.

He was one of the richest people in Hollywood, but for a while he was perhaps most famous for "dating" Zsa Zsa Eva Gabor, if you can believe that. He was also the subject of a recurring impression by Rick Moranis ("Show us your lining... We'll be right back!) on "SCTV" -- perhaps most memorably the "Special Edition" episode in which "The Merv Griffin Show"" metamorphosed into "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

But Merv's most enduring legacy (somehow it seems right to call him "Merv") was that he created game shows: "Wheel of Fortune" and the king of 'em all, "Jeopardy" -- both of which remain on the air today.

I love "Jeopardy." But back in early April, I was greatly disturbed by the disgraceful (lack of) contestant responses to a Double Jeopardy category called "Foreign Cinema." First, guess which two (TWO!) they got right. Then let me know how you scored:

1) This Taiwanese director's films include "The Wedding Banquet," "Pushing Hands" & "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

2) The submarine models for this 1981 German film were also used in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

3) In this 1957 Ingmar Bergman film, a knight back from the Crusades challenges Death to a chess game for his life.

4) Truffaut provided the story for this 1959 Godard film in which Belmondo plays a hood who kills a cop.

5) This 1963 Fellini film was the basis for the 1982 Broadway musical "Nine."

Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo doooo...

Click below for answers -- er, questions.

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Darkness for 'Donnie Darko' director?

Buffy Barko. Sarah Michelle Gellar in Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales."

When "Donnie Darko" sank without a trace after its theatrical release in October, 2001, writer-director Richard Kelly feared his (potential) career had gone down with it. Then, the movie became a cult phenomenon on DVD and Kelly, like his alliterative hero, was given a second chance.

The signs since then have not been enouraging: a screenplay for Tony Scott's "Domino," a film that graced many of last year's Ten Worst lists; and (far more disturbing) a "director's cut" of "Donnie Darko" that indicated Kelly didn't know what he'd done right the first time. All the best qualities of the film -- its teasing ambiguity, its creepy playfulness -- were nearly crushed in an attempt to laboriusly spell out an elaborate science-fiction/time travel mythology. What was once a tantalizing undercurrent was thus made literal and dull. More "explanation" of geeky but arbitrary "rules" simply reduced the movie's sense of possibility and imagination... and made it a lot less fun. If the "DD" director's cut had been the original version of the movie, it would never have piqued enough curiosity to have developed much of a cult following.

Now, the reviews from Cannes of Kelly's long-awaited and highly anticipated sophomore feature, "Southland Tales," suggest Kelly hasn't learned anything from his "Donnie Darko" director's cut experience. Most of them are devastating -- by which I mean they're at least as bad as the ones for "The Da Vinci Code," and worse than the ones for "X-Men: The Last Stand."

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Toronto #7: Festival to remember

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TORONTO – I have another few movies to see, and the awards are still to be announced, but Toronto 2005 is basically history, and now what remains is for its many wonderful films to find their audiences. There’s general agreement that this will be an autumn to remember among those who care about good films.

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Toronto #1: Top o' the world!

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TORONTO – Is the Toronto Film Festival the most important in the world, or does it only seem that way? In recent years I’ve described it as second only to Cannes. Now the Toronto critic Liam Lacey says flatly: “Toronto now has the most important film festival in the world -- the largest, the most influential, the most inclusive.” Yes, you say, but he is a Canadian, so of course he thinks that. Lacey is ready for you: “One reason the Toronto festival has probably not received its full recognition is, frankly, because it takes place in Canada.”

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Ebert's Cannes 2005 Photo Album

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Roger Ebert has covered the Cannes Film Festival since 1972 -- and, in recent years, his digital camera has come along for the wild ride. See Ebert's take on some of the biggest stars and brightest names in international cinema in these photo galleries. Bill Murray, Morgan Freeman, Sarah Polley, Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders, Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson, George Lucas, Kevin Bacon -- they're all here, and more, together and separately in these Ebert's-eye-view photos.

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