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A Walk Among the Tombstones

Fans of the hardboiled detective, rejoice. Screenwriter-director Scott Frank and actor Liam Neeson, adapting the splendid work of crime novelist Lawrence Block, have brought a…

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The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.

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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.

#157 February 27, 2013

Marie writes: It's a long story and it starts with a now famous video of a meteor exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Followed by alien conspiracies fueled by the internet and which led me to investigate further. Where did it come from? Does anyone know..? Yes! According to The NewScientist, the rock came from the Apollo family of near-Earth asteroids, which follow an elongated orbit that occasionally crosses Earth's path.That in turn led me to yet another site and where I learned a team of scientists had discovered two moons around Pluto, and asked the public to vote on potential names. They also accepted write-in votes as long as they were taken from Greek and Roman mythology and related to Hades and the underworld - keeping to the theme used to name Pluto's three other moons. And how I eventually learned "Vulcan" has won Pluto's moon-naming poll! and thanks to actor William Shatner who suggested it. Behold Vulcan: a little dot inside a green circle and formally known as P5.

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Melancholia: This is The End

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"Melancholia" is now available On Demand; in theaters November 7.

Of the Four Bodily Humours -- sanguine (blood), choleric (yellow bile), melancholic (black bile) and phlegmatic (phlegm) -- Lars von Trier has probably been most closely associated with the choleric, as expressed in angry, violent, inflammatory, irritating and caustic films such as "Breaking the Waves," "The Idiots," "Dancer in the Dark," "Dogville," "Manderlay," "Antichrist"... The latter felt to me like a glossy fashion magazine's idea of a horror movie ("Evil Vogue" -- all it was missing were the scratch-n-sniff Odorama perfume ads), but von Trier¹ claimed it grew from deep inside a cocoon of depression.

"Melancholia" strikes me as a more focused and harrowing portrait of clinical depression, a glowing, black-bile-on-velvet portrait of despair so bleak that it destroys the entire planet. Two planets, in fact: one is Earth and the other (quite similar looking but much, much larger) called Melancholia, a kind of massive-planet-sized anti-matter particle which we see collide with and engulf the Earth (from deep in space) in the opening montage... and again, from a terrestrial perspective, at the end.

If Terence Malick's "Tree of Life" is, as I described it earlier in the year, "a movie about (and by) a guy who wants to create the universe around his own existence in an attempt to locate and/or stake out his place within it," then "Melancholia," by my reckoning, is a movie about (and by) a person whose depression is so inescapably great and soul-destroying that it envelops and annihilates the world. Because it has to. There's nowhere else for it to go. Also, it's important for the depressed character/filmmaker to firmly assert that the only life in the universe is on Earth, and that all of it is annihilated. Hope of any kind is not an option. Besides, anything less that than the obliteration of absolutely everything would spoil the perfection of the happy ending for von Trier and Justine (Kirsten Dunst), his Bride of Oblivion.

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The girlfriend who disappeared from the face of the earth

May Contain Spoilers

"'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the Spider to the Fly." - from the poem "The Spider and the Fly" by Mary Howitt.

The crucial moment in George Sluizer's chilling psychological thriller "The Vanishing"(1988) can be summarized with that quote. The Fly cannot resist the offer, simply because of his intense desire to know. The Spider cannot resist making an offer, only because of his cold curiosity about the result. He has a solid prediction based on his careful calculation, but he wants to know the result in his cruel experiment, like he previously tested himself before.

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#58 April 13, 2011

Marie writes: Yarn Bombing. Yarn Storming. Guerilla Knitting. It has many names and all describe a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted cloth rather than paint or chalk. And while yarn installations may last for years, they are considered non-permanent, and unlike graffiti, can be easily removed if necessary. Yarn storming began in the U.S., but it has since spread worldwide. Note: special thanks go to Siri Arnet for telling me about this cool urban movement.

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Why do they always attack the USA?

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PARIS -- Actor Stephane Freiss, who voices Hugh Laurie's mad scientist character in the French dub of "Monsters vs. Aliens," took advantage of the film's Paris press conference to ask producers Jeffrey Katzenberg: "Why DO aliens in movies always attack the U.S.?"

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'Fire Walk With Me' and the Lost Language of Code

Here is Lil. She indicates that this is one of Gordon's blue rose cases.

When I saw David Lynch's "Inland Empire" for the first time a few weeks ago, I knew I was going to be reviewing it for the Chicago Sun-Times and, given the quintessentially Lynchian, fractal nature of the three-hour film, I didn't know how I was going to do that. It's just not a movie that you can summarize in the usual terms of story, character, cinematography, direction, etc., and still convey a sense of what it's about, and what it's like to watch. The first thing I thought of was a scene near the start of Lynch's radically underestimated "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," in which a complex set of coded information is conveyed entirely through pantomime, involving facial expressions, gestures, dance and dressing up. I wish I could have reviewed "Inland Empire" by doing something like what Lil does in "Fire Walk With Me." (If I could, I'd try dressing up like Grace Zabriskie and contorting myself into a writhing human mobius strip...)

Please consider this article my contribution to The Lynch Mob at Vinyl Is Heavy, where this week you'll findt lotsa Lynch links and criticism. What follows is a slightly revised and updated version of a piece I wrote about nine or ten years ago for my Twin Peaks site at cinepad.com.

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"Break the code, solve the case." -- Agent Dale Cooper

"Twin Peaks" was conceived as a series (like "The Fugitive" before it) in which the central "mystery" (Who killed Laura Palmer? Who killed Dr. Richard Kimble's wife? And what of the one-armed man?) would spin off new complications, week after week, but would never really be solved -- at least (in the case of "The Fugitive") until the end of the series. (I like to think of it as sort of the TV series version of Buñuel's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," where the characters keep on walking but never seem to get anywhere. Instead of preventing these people from eatinga meal, "Twin Peaks" would continually deny the audience and the characters a solution to the mystery. I still think that's a great idea.)

But soon (or finally, depending on how you look at it), public and network pressure forced the hand of "Twin Peaks" co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and they revealed Laura Palmer's murderer a few weeks into the second season. Lynch said recently (2007) in Seattle that, for him, the series was basically over once identity of Laura's killer was exposed. Ratings dived and creative ennui set in shortly thereafter. But a year later Lynch released a feature film (hissed and booed at the Cannes Film Festival) that promised to go into explicit detail (certainly more so than you could do on network television in the early 1990s) about exactly what happened on the night of Laura Palmer's death.

It was a typically perverse Lynch move -- belatedly rehashing details about a year-old, already-solved murder on a TV show that had been cancelled by the time the movie was released. Even more perversely, Lynch and co-writer Robert Engels began this feature-film prequel with an absurdist prologue that -- in case you hadn't caught on by know -- pretty much explained the spirit, and method you should have invoked to watch "Twin Peaks" in the first place. (The film -- originally sub-titled "Teresa Banks and the Last Seven Days of Laura Palmer" -- was supposedly re-cut before release; Lynch's full shooting script is available online here.)

Lynch himself reprises his role as FBI Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, standing in front of a woodsy photorealistic backdrop in his office that recalls the tropical mural used for trompe l'oeil effects at the house of Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) in the series. Gordon, as you may recall, can't hear too well. He is accustomed to communicating in other ways -- through signs, signals, symbols, omens, clues. And he expects his agents to speak his language.

"I've got a surprise for you. Something interesting I would like to show you," Gordon yells into the phone at Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaac). When Desmond and Sam Stanley from Spokane (Kiefer Sutherland) ("Sam's the man who cracked the Whitman case") meet Gordon at the private Portland airport, they're treated to a peculiar, ritualistic display of body language by a woman in a reddish-orange dress with flaming hair to match. Gordon introduces her as Lil, "my mother's sister's girl." Lil makes faces, blinks, sashays around, and waddles away.

Afterwards, in the car, Sam asks the questions that all good "Twin Peaks" devotees are meant to ask again and again: "What exactly did that mean?" And Desmond matter-of-factly ("I'll explain it to you") deciphers a bizarre series of signs and signals and symbols and omens and clues that Lil's little "dance" conveyed about the case they were about to embark upon.

The details don't really matter much (a sour face indicates trouble with local authorities, one hand in her pocket suggests they're hiding something, walking in place means a lot of legwork, tailored dresses are code for drugs, etc.) -- it's the manner in which this info is coveyed that's important. In its secret heart of hearts, "Twin Peaks" is an epistemological thriller about perception and the ways that we assemble information about the world around us (see Mystery Without End, Amen). We humans may be capable of certain higher brain functions, but Lil's dance conveys information in a sophisticated, ritualized way that isn't that far evolved from, say, the dances of cranes. In "Twin Peaks," dreams and Tibetan rock-throwing rituals are just as vital and valid forms of detective work as forensic science. Maybe more so.

View image Me at the Double R Diner (aka the Mar-T) in the spring of 1990, with a waitress who looks suspiciously like Laura Palmer.

Oh, and the most important sign was that Lil was wearing a blue rose. But, Desmond says, "I can't tell you about that."

"You can't?" asks Stanley.

"No," repeats Desmond. "I can't."

And here we have a little mystery. The conundrums without answers are, of course, the most intriguing of all. Suddenly, all the other stuff evaporates from our consciousness -- OK, drugs, legwork, local authorities, fine. Got it. Let's move on: What about the blue rose?!? All we ever really learn about it in the rest of the movie is a remark Agent Cooper makes to Diane that this is "one of Gordon's 'blue rose' cases" -- whatever that may mean. I can't tell you.

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[For more about the thematic and geological territory of "Twin Peaks," please take the Topography (or "Top-off-graphy") of Twin Peaks Guided Photo Tour, part of my Twin Peaks site.]

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Relevant excerpt from the script after the jump.

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Diminished by the movies

Hugh Laurie as Dr. House. His mind is his temple, his body is his house.

"Two TV icons are demoted to the big screen." That's the headline over Christopher Orr's piece in The New Republic about the careers of Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker, who seem diminished in the multiplex. Not that their TV shows -- "Friends" and "Sex in the City," respectively -- were anything special. They made for mediocre television at best, and on the occasions I attempted to pay attention to them I likened the experience to visiting a distant planet populated by synthetic creatures who could not have been less interestingly humanoid if they tried. I did not enjoy my time spent in the company of these banal, studio-fashioned aliens, and I question their resemblance to any carbon-based life-forms on Earth.

But at least on their long-running series Aniston and Parker were big, pretty fish in their teeny-tiny sitcom puddles. In the movies ("Rumor Has It," "The Family Stone"), the comedy hasn't gotten any bigger or better, but they've seemed outscaled, like little floundering fish out of water. I'm not convinced either has the presence for the big screen, although Aniston was terrific in "The Good Girl" (a small movie) and Parker, who strikes me as more of a character actress than a leading lady, was suitably kooky and vivacious in Steve Martin's "L.A. Story" and hilarious as Johnny Depp's exasperated wife in Tim Burton's low-scale "Ed Wood." On the other hand, in the company of incandescent actresses such as Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack in "Friends With Money," Aniston -- ostensibly the biggest name in the cast -- faded out, becoming blurry and indistinct almost like that actor played by Robin Williams in Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry."

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Rally 'round the Cruise, boys!

The Attitude in action. (photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

At first I wasn't going to write anything about last weekend's "disappointing" domestic grosses for "M:I:III" (or, as Stephen Colbert pronounces it, "Miiii"), because, well, who really cares about the box-office numbers of movies like "Miiii" (or Celebs Who Act Out)? Especially when "24" gives you trickier plotting, more believable stunts, top-flight production values, first-class actors (Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Stephen Spinella, William Devane, Ray Wise, Jean Smart...) and characters for whom you can actually feel something besides an indefinable creepy revulsion (though some have that quality, too), week after week (and in digital surround and HDTV, no less) -- making pre-packaged, pre-fab disposable summer action products like "Miiii" seem as dinosaurish and unnecessary as they truly are. (Note to self: How do I really feel?)

But then I saw this headline above a Reuters story Thursday: "Hollywood friends rally around Tom Cruise." Yes, dear readers, Tom needs some friends just now (if only, evidently, to buy batches of opening-weekend tickets to "M:I:III" at the Scientology Celebrity-Center-adjacent ArcLight Theater in Hollywood). It was too absurd to pass up.

So (he said wearily), let's recap:

His Cruiseness's public "approval ratings" (says a USA Today opinion survey) are way down there with the likes of... George W. Bush:

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