Rarely has a remake felt more contractually obligated than the 2015 version of Poltergeist.
Nick Schager ponders the new crop of action directors, who bring 'serious film' cred to the genre, but can't seem to show personality where it counts the most.
Marie writes: The Ebert Club Newsletter is now three years old! And the occasion calls for some cake - but not just any old cake, as it's also now officially Spring! And that means flowers, butterflies and ladybugs too. Smile.
Marie writes: Remember Brian Dettmer and his amazing book sculptures? Behold a similar approach courtesy of my pal Siri who told me about Alexander Korzer-Robinson and his sculptural collages made from Antiquarian Books. Artist's statement:"By using pre-existing media as a starting point, certain boundaries are set by the material, which I aim to transform through my process. Thus, an encyclopedia can become a window into an alternate world, much like lived reality becomes its alternate in remembered experience. These books, having been stripped of their utilitarian value by the passage of time, regain new purpose. They are no longer tools to learn about the world, but rather a means to gain insight about oneself."
Marie writes: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for finding this - as I'd never heard of the Bregenz Festival before, despite the spectacular staging of Puccini's opera Tosca and which appeared briefly in the Bond film Quantum of Solace; but then I slept through most of it. I'm not surprised I've no memory of an Opera floating on a lake. Lake Constance to be exact, which borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria near the Alps...
Tosca by Puccini | 2007-2008 - Photograph by BENNO HAGLEITNER(click to enlarge)
Chaos Cinema Part 1 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.
Matthias Stork, a German film scholar now based in Los Angeles, has created a most stimulating two-part video essay on a subject near and dear to my heart: "Chaos Cinema." At Press Play, it's given the sub-head "The decline and fall of action filmmaking," while an analysis at FILMdetail considers it from the angle of technology: "Chaos Cinema and the Rise of the Avid." Stork, who also narrates his essay, describes his premise this way:
Rapid editing, close framings, bipolar lens lengths and promiscuous camera movement now define commercial filmmaking.... Contemporary blockbusters, particularly action movies, trade visual intelligibility for sensory overload, and the result is a film style marked by excess, exaggeration and overindulgence: chaos cinema.
Chaos cinema apes the illiteracy of the modern movie trailer. It consists of a barrage of high-voltage scenes. Every single frame runs on adrenaline. Every shot feels like the hysterical climax of a scene which an earlier movie might have spent several minutes building toward. Chaos cinema is a never-ending crescendo of flair and spectacle. It's a shotgun aesthetic, firing a wide swath of sensationalistic technique that tears the old classical filmmaking style to bits. Directors who work in this mode aren't interested in spatial clarity. It doesn't matter where you are, and it barely matters if you know what's happening onscreen. The new action films are fast, florid, volatile audiovisual war zones. [...]
Most chaos cinema is indeed lazy, inexact and largely devoid of beauty or judgment. It's an aesthetic configuration that refuses to engage viewers mentally and emotionally, instead aspiring to overwhelm, to overpower, to hypnotize viewers and plunge them into a passive state. The film does not seduce you into suspending disbelief. It bludgeons you until you give up.
It seems to me that these movies are attempting a kind of shortcut to the viewer's autonomic nervous system, providing direct stimulus to generate excitement rather than simulate any comprehensible experience. In that sense, they're more like drugs that (ostensibly) trigger the release of adrenaline or dopamine while bypassing the middleman, that part of the brain that interprets real or imagined situations and then generates appropriate emotional/physiological responses to them. The reason they don't work for many of us is because, in reality, they give us nothing to respond to -- just a blur of incomprehensible images and sounds, without spatial context or allowing for emotional investment.
Marie writes: the following moment of happiness is brought to you by the glorious Tilda Swinton, who recently sent the Grand Poobah a photo of herself taken on her farm in Scotland, holding a batch of English Springer puppies!
by Roger Ebert
View image "Kite Runner" director Marc Forster on location.
"The Kite Runner," directed by Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Finding Neverland," "Stranger Than Fiction") and based on Khaled Housseini's best-selling 2003 novel, opens the Chicago International Film Festival tonight. But the New York Times reports that Paramount Vantage has delayed the US theatrical release out of concern for the safety of the child actors in the film: The studio distributing “The Kite Runner,” a tale of childhood betrayal, sexual predation and ethnic tension in Afghanistan, is delaying the film’s release to get its three schoolboy stars out of Kabul — perhaps permanently — in response to fears that they could be attacked for their enactment of a culturally inflammatory rape scene.
Executives at the distributor, Paramount Vantage, are contending with issues stemming from the rising lawlessness in Kabul in the year since the boys were cast.
The boys and their relatives are now accusing the filmmakers of mistreatment, and warnings have been relayed to the studio from Afghan and American officials and aid workers that the movie could aggravate simmering enmities between the politically dominant Pashtun and the long-oppressed Hazara.
In an effort to prevent not only a public-relations disaster but also possible violence, studio lawyers and marketing bosses have employed a stranger-than-fiction team of consultants. In August they sent a retired Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism operative in the region to Kabul to assess the dangers facing the child actors. And on Sunday a Washington-based political adviser flew to the United Arab Emirates to arrange a safe haven for the boys and their relatives.
“If we’re being overly cautious, that’s O.K.,” Karen Magid, a lawyer for Paramount, said. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
In interviews, more than a dozen people involved in the studio’s response described grappling with vexing questions: testing the limits of corporate responsibility, wondering who was exploiting whom and pondering the price of on-screen authenticity....
Ebert writes of the film itself with great admiration:How long has it been since you saw a movie that succeeds as pure story? That doesn't depend on stars, effects or genres, but simply fascinates you with how it will turn out? Marc Forster's "The Kite Runner," based on a much-loved novel, is a movie like that. It superimposes human faces and a historical context on the tragic images of war from Afghanistan.The Times story reports that Paramount Vantage has delayed the theatrical release "by six weeks, to Dec. 14, when the young stars' school year will have ended."Though the book is admired in Afghanistan by many in the elite, its narrative remains unfamiliar to the broader population, for whom oral storytelling and rumor communication carry far greater weight.
The Taliban destroyed nearly all movie theaters in Afghanistan, but pirated DVDs often arrive soon after a major film’s release in the West. [...]
In January in Afghanistan, DVDs of “Kabul Express” — an Indian film in which a character hurls insults at Hazara — led to protests, government denunciations and calls for the execution of the offending actor, who fled the country.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the “Kite Runner” [12-year-old] actor who plays Hassan... told reporters at that time that he feared for his life because his fellow Hazara might feel humiliated by his rape scene. His father said he himself was misled by the film’s producers, insisting that they never told him of the scene until it was about to be shot and that they had promised to cut it.
Hangama Anwari, the child-rights commissioner for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said on Monday that she had urged Paramount’s counterterrorism consultant to get Ahmad Khan out of the country, at least until after the movie is released. “They should not play around with the lives and security of people,” she said of the filmmakers. “The Hazara people will take it as an insult.” This reminds me about another must-see movie from the 2005 Toronto Film Festival, Christian Frei's "The Giant Buddhas," now available on DVD. I never did get a chance to write about it from Toronto, but I want to rewatch it and discuss what it does -- looking at the statues of the Giant Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 through stories and perspectives both historical and contemporary.
Opening night patrons of the Chicago Film Festival often buy their tickets without knowing which film will be shown. When CIFF opens tonight at the Chicago Theater with “The Kite Runner,” they’ll feel like they won the lottery.
by Roger Ebert
Just think: Johnny Depp could have had the career of, say, Richard Grieco. In 1988, they were both break-out stars, young TV cops working undercover as high school students in the fledgling Fox network's first hit show, "21 Jump Street."
Among the influential awards and honors we will be tracking here:
J. M. Barrie: Johnny Depp, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies: Kate Winslet, Mary Ansell Barrie: Radha Mitchell, Emma du Maurier: Julie Christie, Charles Frohman: Dustin Hoffman, Peter: Freddie Highmore
I told Halle Berry this story.