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"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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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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The Master: What does it all mean?


Or: Once is not enough?

"They love it, they don't like it, they like it better a second time, they see it a third time and they reverse their opinion." -- Paul Thomas Anderson on "The Master," in a Toronto Star interview with Peter Howell

The critics agree! Paul Thomas Anderson's new film "The Master" is... ambiguous. What they don't agree on is whether, as we say in the software world, that's a bug or a feature. Is the movie "demanding" and artfully elusive, challenging audiences by refusing to offer a conventional dramatic catharsis or provide an artificially wrapped-up ending; or is the thing just vague, opaque, muddled? The answer depends on who you ask, what they think of Anderson as a filmmaker and, possibly, what they expected going in: a historical exposé of Scientology, a portrait of post-war/micd-century America, "character study," an acting duel... Take a look:

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#57 April 6, 2011

Marie writes: ever stumble upon a photo taken from a movie you've never seen?  Maybe it's an official production still; part of the Studio's publicity for it at the time. Or maybe it's a recent screen capture, one countless fan-made images to be found online. Either way, I collect them like pennies in jar. I've got a folder stuffed with images, all reflecting a deep love of Cinematography and I thought I'd share some - as you never know; sometimes, the road to discovering a cinematic treasure starts with a single intriguing shot....

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Cinematography: Harry Stradling(click images to enlarge)

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I knew I'd seen this movie before!

Bolted upright out of a sound sleep at 2:30 this morning with the realization that both the gals haunting my nightmares had been played by Laura Dern in two different movies! Laura Dern as Reality TV's own Katherine Harris, the ambitious, over-coiffured local politician thrust opportunistically into the international media spotlight by the Republican party, in "Recount" (2008). And Laura Dern as the clueless unwed pregnant teenager girl manipulated by pro-choice lefties and anti-abortion Christians -- cynically spun as an agenda-defining "symbol" by all sides -- in "Citizen Ruth," directed by Alexander Payne ("Election," "Sideways," "About Schmidt"). I recommend both these movies ("Citizen Ruth" especially) as primers for understanding what's going on right now.

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The Telluride Widget!

Werner Herzog is a regular. One time I met a man in a cowboy hat on Main Street and he was Jimmy Stewart. I saw Andre Tarkovsky and Richard Widmark exchange shots on the Sheridan Opera House stage (though not on the same night). Krzysztof Zanussi translated forTarkovsky and showed his miraculous "Imperativ." Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern strolled around town, hand-in hand, wearing matching seafoam green outfits and white shoes the year of "Blue Velvet." I was greeted heartily by Crispin Glover, who momentarily mistook me for director Tim Hunter ("River's Edge," "Tex"). I bowed down and kissed Hannah Schygulla's hand....

Continued below, after jump...

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Go Inland, young woman!

Laura Dern in "Inland Empire": A Woman in Trouble is a Temporal Thing.

My review of David Lynch's "Inland Empire" in the Chicago Sun-Times and on today:

Put on the watch. Light the cigarette, fold back the silk, and use the cigarette to burn a hole in the silk. Then put your eye up to the hole and look through, all the way through, until you find yourself falling through the hole and into the shifting patterns you see on the other side.

That's a metaphor for watching and making movies, and it's one way to watch "Inland Empire" -- a way that is, in fact, specifically recommended in the movie itself. This is David Lynch's film -- the one he's been making since "Eraserhead" -- and it offers you multiple ways to view it as it uncoils over nearly three hours, encouraging you to see it from all of them at once. It is, after all, overtly about the relationship between the movie and the observer, the actor and the performance, the watcher and the watched (and the watch).

In this sense, you might say, "Inland Empire" is a digital film, through and through. Not because Lynch shot it with the relatively small Sony PD-150 digicam and fell in love with the smeary, malleable and unstable texture of digital video (where the brightest Los Angeles sunlight can be as void and terrifying as the darkest shadow), or because the first pieces of the movie were digital shorts he made for his Web site before they grew and crystallized into a narrative idea. "Inland Empire" unfolds in a digital world (a replication of consciousness itself -- hence the title), where events really do transpire in multiple locations at the same time (or multiple times at the same place), observers are anywhere and everywhere at once, and realities are endlessly duplicable, repeatable and tweakable. This is a digital dimension where, to paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, there's no difference between ketchup and paint and light and blood: On the screen, it's red.

"Inland Empire" presents itself as a Hollywood movie (and a movie about Hollywood) in the guise of an avant-garde mega-meta art movie. When people say "Inland Empire" is Lynch's "Sunset Boulevard," Lynch's "Persona," or Lynch's "8½," they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou," Bunuel and Dali's "Un Chien Andalou," Maya Deren's LA-experimental "Meshes of the Afternoon" (a Lynch favorite), and others.

Of course, it's also a tour-de-Lynch, in which we virtually revisit spaces and images and faces (Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton ... ) that resonate with memories of "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet," "Twin Peaks," "Wild at Heart," "Lost Highway," "Mulholland Drive," "Inland Empire" itself -- and some perpetually unfinished Lynch movie of the future. Because, in the Inland Empire, nobody can quite remember if it's today or two days from now, because yesterday and the day after tomorrow are all transpiring in the present tense. Or, as one character puts it so memorably, "I suppose if it was 9:45, I would think it is after midnight."

Rest of review at

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Take Mulholland Dr. to the Lost Highway, Inland Empire exit...

"I'm there right now": The lost highway goes down Mulholland Drive and through the Inland Empire...

It is possible that many people would not describe David Lynch's movies as "straightforward," but they're really pretty simple to grasp if you think of them as meditations on states of consciousness rather than chronological narratives (or, uh, "straight stories"). They still have beginnings, middles and endings and they take you from one place (or way of seeing) to another. "Inland Empire," for example, is about a Hollywood actress (who may or may not be unfaithful to her husband -- but is that the actress or the Southern gal she's playing or someone else?), a suburban wife married to a former animal handler in a Polish carny, a mistress, a Polish whore... And all of them appear to be aspects of the same woman, played by Laura Dern. Or, perhaps, all these women are aspects of one another: the actress feels like a whore, the wife is also a mistress, the whore is also an actress, the actress's character is having an adulterous affair, and so on and so on.

I think "Lost Highway," "Mulholland Drive" and "Inland Empire" are ("Twin Peaks" aside -- that's in a realm of its own) Lynch's strongest work, and they also feel like extensions of one another. The saxophonist played by Bill Pullman and the mechanic played by Balthazar Getty, the actresses played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, the actress played by Laura Dern -- they all seem like variations on similar ideas. ("Mulholland Dr." is basically "Lost Highway" in reverse.)

In Lynch's book "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity" he describes "Lost Highway," for example, in a way that seems perfectly clear when you watch it: At the time Barry Gifford and I were writing the script for "Lost Highway," I was sort of obsessed with the O.J. Simpson trial. Barry and I never talked about it this way, but I think the film is somehow related to that.

What struck me about O.J. Simpson was that he was able to smile and laugh. He was able to go golfing with seemingly very few problems about the whole thing. I wondered how, if a person did these deeds, he could go on living. And we found this great psychology term -- "psychogenic fugue" -- describing an event where the mind tricks itself to escape some horror. So, in a way, "Lost Highway" is about that. And the fact that nothing can stay hidden forever. (The fact that Robert Blake, who appeared as the chilling Mystery Man in that film, was latter tried for the murder of his wife, adds another sinister dimension to the film, or the atmosphere surrounding it.) Dave McCoy, Editor of MSN Movies, has summarized the movie this way: "It's about a guy who kills his wife and is so horrified by what he's done that the only way he can deal with it is to become another person... and a character in a film noir, no less, where women are evil and violence can be easily rationalized."

Hey, what more do ya need? A map? Just remember: DON'T YOU EVER F---IN' TAILGATE!!! I'm sorry about that, Pete, but tailgating is one thing I cannot tolerate....

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Reading those Oscar tea leaves


Last summer, according to most industry prognosticators, this whole Oscar race thing was supposed to be all over already. Before its release, Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" was widely expected to be greeted with flowers and statuettes. The combination of Eastwood and Paul Haggis (screenwriter of the last two Best Picture winners, Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and Haggis's "Crash") made the Red Carpet look like a cakewalk. "Letters from Iwo Jima" wasn't even on the release schedule for 2006, so as not to interfere with "Flags"' Oscar chances. Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," on the other hand, was cheered as a "return to his (generic) roots, " a straight-up commercial cops-and-crooks movie to follow up his prestige-picture Oscar bids, "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator," but not something seriously For Your Consideration.

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Mr. Lynch Comes to Washington

If you have to ask what "Inland Empire" is about, you haven't read the poster.

David Lynch returned to the Great Pacific Northwest Wednesday night for two screenings of his three-hour "Inland Empire" (at 7:30 and midnight), bringing with him to Seattle a fresh, hot shipment of David Lynch Coffee. That's good coffee! (Packaging tagline -- from "Inland Empire," it turns out: "It's all in the beans, and I'm just full of beans.") Just a few blocks away, in the Pike Place Market, was a little shop where I used to get my beans, when I first became a serious coffee-drinker in college. It's still there, and it's still called Starbuck's, but I hear there are more of them now.

I went to the early show. (When it was 9:45 I probably thought it was after midnight.) Lynch began by introducing a cellist who performed a brief improvisational piece "to set a mood." Then Lynch read a short verse:

We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe. -- Upanishads

And then "Inland Empire" hit the big Cinerama screen (in the theater where I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" in its original release, when I was 10). I won't say much more about the movie now (I just finished a longer piece that will run next week), but the local crowd went wild when a lumberjack appeared. We live in the land of "Twin Peaks" here, you know. Lynch spent some of his formative years growing up in Spokane, on the other side of the Cascades, in what Washingtonians refer to as the Inland Empire (though most people associate the term with California).

After the movie, Lynch took questions from the audience. Most of them were pretty lame (as is usually the case at these sorts of events), but nothing fazed Lynch, who was gentle, gracious and folksy. He was most passionate when talking about finding "the idea" for whatever he was trying to create, and working and working to realize it. With actors, he said, he likes to bring them in for a rehearsal of one scene -- any scene. (This process is shown in an early scene in "Inland Empire," which was reportedly filmed over the space of a couple years without any finished script. Lynch would shoot when he decided he had an idea for something he wanted to shoot.) The actors would read it and, "if it wasn't perfect" -- and Lynch admitted it rarely is, the first time through -- they would talk. Then rehearse some more. Then talk some more. And so on until he felt they'd brought the scene around to where it was serving "the idea."

He spoke similarly of music and sound, which he feels are -- or should be -- inseparable from the images. (Lynch did the sound design and wrote some music for "Inland Empire," but credits composer Angelo Badalamenti with introducing him to "the world of music.") He finds or writes or creates the music first, and then spends a lot of time and effort and experimentation getting the sounds and images to combine catalytically.

Lynch was enthusiastic about his experience shooting with a small digital camera (the Sony PD-150), and said he began using it to make shorts for his web site. After he'd made a few, he started thinking about them in terms of a larger framework story, and by then he was "already locked into" the digital format. He said he loved the freedom it allowed him (wait till you see the close-ups he goes for -- he coulda poked somebody's eye out!). Sure, he said, this format (it's NOT high-definition like, say, "Miami Vice") doesn't have the quality of film, but it has its own qualities, its own textures. And, Lynch said, it was so easy to push and to tweak at will to get the effects he wanted. Best of all, he didn't have to stop the actors to re-load the camera after every ten minutes of exposed film. He could keep things going for 40 minutes (sometimes shooting with three cameras simultaneously), which he thought allowed for interesting things to happen that might not have happened otherwise.

A questioner noted that characters in David Lynch movies are often subjected to great anguish and trauma. He asked Lynch what was the worst he'd ever been hurt -- physically, the fellow clarified. After a long pause, Lynch told a story about his childhood in Spokane. His family was visiting another family, and they had a punching-bag snowman with sand in the bottom. Another boy hit the snowman, which knocked over young David, who gashed his head on the moulding around the doorway. Lynch said he remembers being adamant about not wanting to get stitches, but doesn't recall what happened.

Someone observed that Laura Dern uses a touch-tone phone in "Inland Empire," perhaps the first non-rotary telephone in the Lynch oevre. Lynch suggested that, perhaps, with this movie, he was slowly moving into the 20th century. Or did he say 21st?

Lynch's new book is called "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity." He said the first step in the creative process for him was letting go of negativity, which then allowed creativity to flow in. Somebody asked if "Inland Empire" was itself a big fish.

"'Inland Empire' is a whale," said Lynch, "with a lot of smaller fish swimming around inside it."

One woman posed the most succinct question of the evening: "What is the movie about?" (This, it should be pointed out, was after she'd just seen it.)

Lynch said: "It's on the poster."

(Updated with the actual Upanishads verse 1/23/07.)

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Mr. Lynch Goes to Washington


SEATTLE -- David Lynch returned to the Great Pacific Northwest Wednesday night for two screenings of his three-hour "Inland Empire" (at 7:30 and midnight), bringing with him to Seattle a fresh, hot shipment of David Lynch Coffee. That's good coffee! (Packaging tagline -- from "Inland Empire," it turns out: "It's all in the beans, and I'm just full of beans.") Just a few blocks away, in the Pike Place Market, was a little shop where I used to get my beans, when I first became a serious coffee-drinker in college. It's still there, and it's still called Starbuck's, but I hear there are more of them now.

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Sundance #1: Cell phones, snow & swag


PARK CITY, Utah -- For 10 days, Robert Redford was observing, the population here swells from 7,500 to 45,000. That's a gain -- I'm guesstimating here -- of 37,499 cell phones, 15,000 SUVs, 400,000 cups of designer coffee, 100,000 postcards advertising a movie that 47 people will see, and 170 restaurant hosts and hostesses fed up with people asking them, "Don't you know who I am?"

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