"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.
The Wolf of Broadway; Kevin Costner's potential comeback; A reporter who spent a year observing college fraternities; An examination of Kurosawa's High and Low; Dana Stevens on Miyazaki's last film.
Gerardo Valero reflects on "Man of Steel" and the challenges of making a good Superman movie.
Ten of the oddest baseball movies ever, just in time for the playoffs.
Peter Sobczynski ranks 27 films by Brian De Palma.
Marie writes: Behold a truly rare sight. London in 1924 in color. "The Open Road" was shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Friese-Greene and who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William (a noted cinematographer) had been experimenting with. The travelogues were taken between 1924 and 1926 on a motor journey between Land's End and John O'Groats. You can find more footage from The Open Road at The British Film Institute's YouTube channel for the film. You can also explore their Archives collection over here.
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.
Marie writes: Behold the amazing Art of Greg Brotherton and the sculptures he builds from found and re-purposed objects - while clearly channeling his inner Tim Burton. (Click to enlarge.)
"With a consuming drive to build things that often escalate in complexity as they take shape, Greg's work is compulsive. Working with hammer-formed steel and re-purposed objects, his themes tend to be mythological in nature, revealed through a dystopian view of pop culture." - Official website
Marie writes: For those unaware, it seems our intrepid leader, the Grand Poobah, has been struck by some dirty rotten luck..."This will be boring. I'll make it short. I have a slight and nearly invisible hairline fracture involving my left femur. I didn't fall. I didn't break it. It just sort of...happened to itself." - Roger
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Rarely does a TV show arrive with lower expectations than the annual Emmy Awards telecast. It's a given that the thing will suck. Even so, this year's -- the 64th -- managed to come up short and disappoint. And it wasn't one of those "so bad it's good" campy things you can enjoy making fun of, either. It was more like one of those "so bad it's lousy" things that leave you incredulous and drained of the will to live.
Marie writes: It's that time of the year again! The Toronto International Film Festival is set to run September 6 - 16, 2012. Tickets selection began August 23rd. Single tickets on sale Sept 2, 2012. For more info visit TIFF's website.
Marie writes: Once upon a time, a long time ago and in a childhood far, far away, kids used to be able to buy a special treat called a Frosted Malt. Then, with the arrival of progress and the subsequent destruction of all that is noble and pure, the world found itself reduced to settling for a frosty at Wendy's, at least where I live. Unable to support a "second rate" frosted malt for a second longer, I decided to do something about it!
It seems like every film inspired on real-life events becomes controversial for one reason or another. The greater the subject's notoriety, the louder the outcry. The backlash to Oliver Stone's "JFK" was extreme by any standard; it became one of the rare features widely attacked for existing in the first place. This wasn't all that surprising; the movie took one of the most painful events in American history and came up with shocking, damaging conclusions. That Stone tackled the "whats" of the case (the pieces that didn't fit) was already a touchy proposition; that he tried to uncover the "whys" is what took the reaction the next level. Should a film like this have been made?
With films like "Zodiac" (2007) David Fincher has become Hollywood's serial-killer specialist and yet his entries from that genre seem to have more in common with "The Insider" than with "Psycho" or "The Silence of the Lambs" He shows a great fascination with the details surrounding each case, than with their heroes and villains. His approach is usually just as meticulous when inspired by fictional works ("Seven", "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") as by real-life events. Perhaps it is Oliver Stone's "JFK" that this film most resembles; obsession is at both their cores.
Is Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects" (1995) one of the greatest films ever made? I admit there was a time, right after I saw it, that it seemed special. For most of my first viewing, I thought I was watching a standard crime thriller when suddenly it caught me off-guard and left me stunned. Once the DVD came out, I rushed to buy it but then, as the years went by, I noticed it had been left on its shelf abandoned as I had little interest in watching it again. I couldn't remember much about the characters or the plot, in fact, there was only one thing that stuck in my mind about it. Readers who've previously watched it will instantly know what I'm taking about.
The Academy Award winners for the past thirty years have followed consistent molds, primarily in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. It is a very simple set of templates that I will explain with excessive evidence. This is not to say that the Academy Awards are a conspiracy run by some secret society, although that idea would be quite fun. Rather, at the very least, there is a subtext to American culture that plays out in the ideas and ideals in American cinema, and it plays out consistently. At the very least, I'm illustrating some unwritten ideals in American culture. Whether or not they are healthy or corrupt, they are there in us. So, "Best Picture" is not a great movie; rather, it is a great movie that fulfills the mold.
"Il Postino" will premiere on PBS at 9 p.m. ET Fri., Nov. 25 as part of the Great Performances series. Based on the 1994 Italian film, it stars tenor Plácido Domingo.
By Jana J. Monji
The opera "Il Postino" in its name shows its curious lineage. While not a great opera, "Il Postino" does feature the performance of Plácido Domingo, one of the great opera tenors, in a role specifically written for him during the world premiere performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The opera is in Spanish, not Italian as its name suggests. "Il Postino" is also the name of the much acclaimed 1994 Italian movie that although originally released in the United States as "The Postman," is now referred to as "Il Postino" to avoid confusion with Kevin Costner's 1997 post-apocalyptic movie based on the 1985 David Brin novel.
The movie "Il Postino" was also based on a novel, Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta's 1983 "Ardiente Paciencia" (Burning Patience) which was later retitled "El Cartero de Neruda" (Neruda's Postman). The Italian movie "Il Postino" (Skármeta directed a 1983 Spanish language movie of his novel) transferred the location from Chile to Italy, changed the time period and the ending. As you might expect, the movie was in Italian.
"The church of baseball." That's a term from Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon's vivid character in "Bull Durham," that film of men, women and baseball, written and directed by Santa Barbara native Ron Shelton. I'm lifting the phrase here, adapting it for films and film festivals.Call it the church of cinema. That's been my experience and my "church" since age 18, a kid in college. I'd escape the campus upheaval, both political (this was the anti-war era) and personal (the sexual revolution hitting big time), and my search for identity, with a respite every Wednesday afternoon; with a couple dozen others, I became a weekly acolyte at screenings of the International Film Series at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There I discovered Belmondo, Bertolucci, "The Battle of Algiers." My world blew open and I never looked back.
From the Grand Poobah: Time passes twice now, first as real time, then as remembrance of things past, as I search my memory for my memoir. As my eyes lift up from my keyboard, they stare sightlessly straight ahead and old faces and places pass in review. So I take a photo of where I'm looking, in order to record what I see. When the picture was taken, Gene and I were in the Brown Derby at Disney World while taping an Oscar special; I'd like to say I have no idea of who came up with the idea for that composition, but I do, and it was yours faithfully, the Poobah.
(click to enlarge and read book spines; smile.)
Q. Your Answer Man item about the availability of Pauline Kael's criticism reminded me that I hadn't brought you up to date about our looking into a reprint of Going Steady. Our paperback editor checked out the situation regarding her work, and it appears that the small British firm of Marian Boyars Publishers Ltd. now has rights to most of her titles. Just talked with our paperback editor, and she confirmed that Little, Brown (the original publisher of Going Steady) had directed her to Kael's literary agency in England, Curtis Brown Ltd, since rights had reverted to Kael in 1988.
Kevin Costner has made a movie about a presidential election with a finish so close that one man, one single citizen, will decide the entire race. "Swing Vote," which opens Aug. 1 and was directed by Joshua Michael Stern, stars Costner as that man, who becomes the center of a national media circus. He begins as an embarrassment and ends on a heroic note, with a simple, direct, patriotic speech that we can actually believe would come from his flawed character.
Q. Recently there has been a press argument between Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood. I'm wondering what you think of Lee's accusations. Spike Lee is a talented, original voice in American filmmaking, but what he has to say about "Flags of Our Fathers" seems to be a little off the mark. Your thoughts?
View image No comment.
How good, or bad, does a movie have to be in order to make an impression -- enough of one, anyway, so that you can remember it, or even still feel like talking about it, 15 minutes after you've seen it? Inspired by "The Hottie and the Nottie," Joe Queenan suggests criteria for The Worst Movies of All Time ("From hell") in The Guardian.
Among the movies he considers: "Futz!" (a 1969 satire, based on a hit LaMaMa Broadway production, about a man who marries a pig), Marco Ferreri's "La Grande Bouffe" (1973), John Huston's "A Walk With Love and Death," Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salo: 120 Days of Sodom," Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" ("as morally repugnant -- precisely because of its apparent innocence -- as any film I can name"), Kevin Costner's "The Postman," Martin Brest's "Gigli" and Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate." Queenan writes: A generically appalling film like "The Hottie and the Nottie" is a scab that looks revolting while it is freshly coagulated; but once it festers, hardens and falls off the skin, it leaves no scar. By contrast, a truly bad movie, a bad movie for the ages, a bad movie made on an epic, lavish scale, is the cultural equivalent of leprosy: you can't stand looking at it, but at the same time you can't take your eyes off it. You are horrified by it, repelled by it, yet you are simultaneously mesmerised by its enticing hideousness....
View image The "Searchers" shot from the ending of "War of the Worlds." Way more sentimental than John Ford's.
Can a lousy ending really ruin an otherwise good movie? There was a time in Hollywood history when phony "happy endings" were de rigueur. Even if they felt tacked on, audiences understood that they were a convention -- and, in many cases, knew not to take them seriously. So, for example, at the end of Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life" -- a terrifying film about a father (James Mason) who goes berzerk with rage and disgust over his suffocatingly "normal" middle-class family life and comes to believe that his young son should be slain -- the family is reunited around his hospital bed (oh, it was just too much cortisone!)... while a flashing light blinks ominously, as if telling the audience not to buy the false conclusion.
View image "The Magnificent Ambersons": This is the happy ending?
Some have argued that the hollow ending shot by Robert Wise for Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" ruins the movie. I don't think so. It compromises the film somewhat (and I learned from the Criterion laserdisc how it was supposed to have ended in utter desolation), but those last few moments don't negate all the true magnificence that has come before, do they? Watch the last shot: As Eugene (Joseph Cotten) narrates a happy ending that has taken place off-screen, he's walking down the hospital hallway with Fanny (Agnes Moorehead, in maybe the greatest performance ever given by anyone in American movies), they each pass in and out of shadow at different times. He's telling one story, but we're hearing it through her. He's talking about his love for her sister (the love she and her nephew Georgie have sabotaged), and we know Fanny's always secretly loved Eugene. At the end of the shot, they are no longer even in the same frame. She moves into close-up, the camera pans over to him, then they both briefly enter the frame and pass by the camera into darkness. The whole image goes out of focus briefly as they disappear, and we're left looking down an empty, sterile hallway with a red cross lamp at center right. If you're paying any attention to the shot at all, it's still not much of a happy ending! It's an epilogue, an afterthought.
Likewise, the head-spinning ending of Fritz Lang's classic "Woman in the Window" strikes some as contrived, but to me it feels inevitable. In the tradition of noir, a man (Edward G. Robinson) makes one small mistake, one impulsive deviation from his normal path, that leads inexorably to ruin. The movie takes you, step by step, down his road to ruin, until there's No Way Out. Only then does Lang pull the rug out from under you. What's important is the experience you've been through, not where the movie chooses to stop.
Lesser movies, like "Fatal Attraction," can be more seriously damaged by studio-imposed endings. The movie is pretty good at balancing your sympathies up until its grotesquely overblown "the family that slays together stays together" slasher finale. You can feel that this wasn't the way things were meant to go, and the DVD version now contains the original ending that didn't test well with preview audiences, in which Glenn Close's character committed suicide and Michael Douglas was arrested for her murder. It was more of a true film noir ending -- even though there was still a deus ex machina twist when a taped suicide note is discovered.
More recently, Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" concluded with such a ridiculously upbeat happy-family ending (never mind that the world was pretty much destroyed) that it prompted hails of derisive laughter. (On the other hand, would it have been the mainstream blockbuster it was if it had ended in defeat and despair?) The movie sucked me in so deeply, that even when I started backing out of it (right about when things just miraculously -- and arbitrarily -- started turning around, about ten minutes from the end), I still believed the first 106 minutes of the movie, even if I rejected the last ten.
I had a similar problem with the ending of "Children of Men," which (although still ambiguous and in no way assuring the survival of all of mankind) I thought was too sappy and sentimental. The sound of laughing and playing children over the final fade out nearly ruined the whole thing for me, because it was a film of such drive and momentum that I felt it really needed to go somewhere. And it didn't. It tried to have it both ways -- leaving some things unresolved while still leaving the audience with a feeling of optimism -- and I didn't think it worked. (Look for the "Bigger Than Life" blinking beacon in the final shots.) But, again, it didn't make me feel that the entire experience had been negated.
Off-hand, I can think of one movie with an ending so horribly manipulated that it really did destroy everything that came before, and that's Roger Donaldson's "No Way Out" (1987), with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. This was a case where I remember feeling that the final "twist" actually did make mincemeat out of the whole picture. When the final piece of information drops into place, nothing that had happened previously made any sense.
What are movies that have been ruined -- or nearly ruined-- for you by bad endings? What about movies with bad endings that you were willing to overlook because the rest of the movie was so good?
Screeeeech! The "jewel"-encrusted Sidekick doesn't help.
Edward Copeland asks: Do certain performers affect you like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? He lists Danny Huston, Kevin Costner, Kate Capshaw and Kim Cattrall among his most shudder-worthy. Some have charisma on the screen, and some don't. Or, at least, some of us are mystified by what others see in them (I could never understand the whole Ronald Reagan-as-president thing; he always seemed to me like a minor audioanimatronic attraction at Disneyland: Doddering Moments With Mr. Reagan, the Non-Communicator).
For me, it really is an involuntary, visceral response. I'm not sure I can adequately explain my instinctive revulsion for the following (in some cases the reaction has developed over time, like an allergy, as if I've built up antibodies against them), but here they are, in no particular order:
Tom Cruise. Incapable of convincingly expressing any emotion beyond grim determination. Unless it's intensely focused ambition.
Adam Sandler. Pauly Shore, but with a more limited range. Always looks as though he's going to start laughing at how funny he thinks he is. (Yes, I make an exception for "Punch Drunk Love," but I still would rather have been watching someone else. And that one had Mary Lynn Rajskub. She saves America every week on "24," and she saved Sandler's behind in this movie.)
Robin Williams. Not well-cast in human roles. (See all of the above.)
Cuba Gooding, Jr. His career after he won an Oscar for "Jerry Maguire" has made it almost impossible to sit through any of the good stuff he did before then. Tried to watch "Boyz N the Hood" recently? It's so preachy and sanctimonious it almost looks like a Matty Rich film now, but in fairness that's probably more John Singleton's fault than Gooding's alone.
That blonde heiress with the dead-trout eyes who's famous for her night-vision porno video and being in the tabloids a lot. Perfect example of "horrisma." She's like Ann Coulter in drag. Or not in drag. I'm not really sure which. But both have all the appeal of impetigo.
Chris Rock. The comedy version of Tom Cruise. Always trying way too hard to convince you... of something.
Sandra Bullock. Like watching a coconut on a stick.
Mel Gibson. "Braveheart" finally did it for me (and that was a whole five years before "What Women Want"). He enjoyed torturing himself way, way too much. Just as there is Young Elvis and Fat Elvis, there's Young Mel (pre-"Lethal Weapon 2") and Creepy Mel ("Air America" forward). Watching "The Road Warrior," it's hard to comprehend what later became of that cool guy who once played Mad Max.
Harrison Ford. Once he had a sense of humor about himself -- on screen, at least. It doesn't help that he hasn't made a decent movie ("Clear and Present Danger") in 13 years. He's great in "The Conversation," though.
Katie Holmes. Zombified. Why do I even know who she is?
Shaved vagina girl. Has she made any movies or is she just on the Internets?
Lindsay Lohan. From Mean Girl to Lucky Girl (cast with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin in an Altman movie). Now it's over. She's the Alicia Silverstone of tomorrow, but without the comic timing. Ten years ago, John Waters might have been able to salvage her career. Now it's too late. (OK, I'm sorry: That Alicia Silverstone crack was too mean -- to Alicia Silverstone.)
Jim Carrey. See Chris Rock, above.
Natalie Portman. It's as though she aspires to be forgettable, like generic "citrus"-flavored Pixy Stix. For some reason she reminds me of Veruca Salt on Xanax and I want her to swell up into a big blueberry. But I feel that way about nearly everyone who appeared in the "Star Wars" prequels.
More comments at Copeland's place.
Roger Ebert's best movie lists from 1967-present