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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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Cast and Crew

* 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.

#178 July 31, 2013

Marie writes: As the dog days of summer slowly creep towards September and Toronto starts getting ready for TIFF 2013, bringing with it the promise of unique and interesting foreign films, it brought to mind an old favorite, namely The Red Balloon; a thirty-four minute short which follows the adventures of a young boy who one day finds a sentient red balloon. Filmed in the Menilmontant neighborhood of Paris and directed by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, The Red Balloon went on to win numerous awards and has since become a much-beloved Children's Classic.

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#173 June 26, 2013

Marie writes: There was a time when Animation was done by slaves with a brush in one hand and a beer in the other. Gary Larson's "Tales From the Far Side" (1994) was such a project. I should know; I worked on it. Produced by Marv Newland at his Vancouver studio "International Rocketship", it first aired as a CBS Halloween special (Larson threw a party for the crew at the Pan Pacific Hotel where we watched the film on a big screen) and was later entered into the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It spawned a sequel "Tales From the Far Side II" (1997) - I worked on that too. Here it is, below.

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#163 Special Edition

Marie writes: I was looking for something to make Roger laugh, when the phone rang. It was a bad connection, but this much I did hear: "Roger has died." That's how I learned he was gone, and my first thought was of the cruel and unfair timing of it. He'd been on the verge of realizing a life long dream: to be the captain of his own ship.

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Free sample of Ebert Club Newsletter

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This is a free sample of the Newsletter members receive each week. It contains content gathered from recent past issues and reflects the growing diversity of what's inside the club. To join and become a member, visit Roger's Invitation From the Ebert Club.

Marie writes: Not too long ago, Monaco's Oceanographic Museum held an exhibition combining contemporary art and science, in the shape of a huge installation by renowned Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, in addition to a selection of films, interviews and a ballet of Aurelia jellyfish.The sculpture was inspired by the sea, and reflects upon maritime catastrophes caused by Man. Huang Yong Ping chose the name "Wu Zei"because it represents far more than just a giant octopus. By naming his installation "Wu Zei," Huang added ambiguity to the work. 'Wu Zei' is Chinese for cuttlefish, but the ideogram 'Wu' is also the color black - while 'Zei' conveys the idea of spoiling, corrupting or betraying. Huang Yong Ping was playing with the double meaning of marine ink and black tide, and also on corruption and renewal. By drawing attention to the dangers facing the Mediterranean, the exhibition aimed to amaze the public, while raising their awareness and encouraging them to take action to protect the sea.

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#152 January 23, 2013

Marie writes: Behold the entryway to the Institut Océanographique in Paris; and what might just be the most awesome sculpture to adorn an archway in the history of sculptures and archways. Photo @ pinterest

(click to enlarge.)

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This is a dog

Does a dog know how it looks? It knows how another dog looks, certainly. It can tell friends from foes from strangers at a distance, aided greatly by smell. But does it place much importance on appearance? I know a smaller dog may back away from a larger one, but does that involve a mental weigh-in? I think it has more to do with the display of emotions, and I've seen big dogs back away in the face of small dogs in a

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This is a dog

Does a dog know how it looks? It knows how another dog looks, certainly. It can tell friends from foes from strangers at a distance, aided greatly by smell. But does it place much importance on appearance? I know a smaller dog may back away from a larger one, but does that involve a mental weigh-in? I think it has more to do with the display of emotions, and I've seen big dogs back away in the face of small dogs in a

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The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.

To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")

When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.

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#8: April 28, 2010

Photos from Ebertfest! In a stunning display of legerdemain, I materialized a glass globe out of thin air as Chaz and I were greeting the guests at the President's House...

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TIFF #6: Oy vey, such a film you should see

There is something about the Jewish way of humor and storytelling I've always found enormously appealing. I memorized material by Henny Youngman and Myron Cohen at an age when, to the best of my knowledge, I had never met a Jew. I liked the rhythm, the contradiction, the use of paradox, the anticlimax, the way word order would be adjusted to back up into a punch line. There seemed to be deep convictions about human nature hidden in gags and one-liners; a sort of rueful shrug. And the stories weren't so much about where they ended as how they got there.

The serious man is consoled by the friend who has stolen his wife

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TIFF #5: The man who didn't land

It was two years ago on Saturday night that Jason Reitman's "Juno" had its world premiere here at Toronto. The standing ovation that night was the most spontaneous and joyous I can remember. Still vibrating, Reitman stood on the stage of the Ryerson Theater and vowed, "I'm gonna open all of my films right here in this theater at Toronto." True to his word, his new film "Up in the Air" played the Ryerson at 6 p.m., Saturday--same time, same place.

It stars George Clooney in one of his best performances, as a frequent flyer. His ambition is to pass the 10 million-mile mark in the American Airlines Aadvantage Program, something very few ever do. Asked on an airplane where he lives, he replies, "Here." He's a Termination Facilitator. He fires people for a living. When corporations need to downsize quickly, he flies in and breaks the news to the new former employees. In a lousy economy, his business is great.

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Roger's little rule book

We critics can't be too careful. Employers are eager to replace us with Celeb Info-Nuggets that will pimp to the mouth-breathers, who underline the words with their index fingers whilst they watch television. Any editor who thinks drugged insta-stars and the tragic Amy Winehouse are headline news ought to be editing the graffiti on playground walls. As the senior newspaper guy still hanging onto a job, I think the task of outlining enduring ethical ground rules falls upon me.

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From Wasilla to Fargo: Sarah Palin in Rashomon

Michael Cera, on his decision to act in "Juno" (or "Juneau"):

"Well, I had a feeling when I took the part that something like that would happen, that Sarah Palin would run and her teen would be pregnant, and so I'm glad that it finally was fulfilled."

☺☺☺☺

The Fargo Interview, with Marge Gunderson:

Gosh darn it, whether ya just love her or ya can't stand her, there's something about that Sarah Palin that's got everybody talkin' -- whether it's tryin' to talk her kinda plain ol' "Say it ain't so, Joe Sixpack" Hockey Mom talk, or just tryin' to figure out what the heck the gal is sayin'! Can ya tell what she thinks she means when she flaps that lipstick, or do ya just like the sparkle motion she makes when the words come out? Get back to me on that! Anyways, here we go again, with a buncha ways of looking at that Sarah Palin Talk that everybody's talkin' about:

Linguist Steven Pinker, "Everything You Heard Is Wrong," New York Times, October 4, 2008:

Since the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, two opposing myths have quickly taken hold about Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. The first, advanced by her supporters, is that she made it through a gantlet of fire; the second, embraced by her detractors, is that her speaking style betrays her naïveté. Both are wrong. [...]

But it would be unfair to question the authenticity of her accent or to use it as a measure of her intellect or sophistication. The dialect is certainly for real. Listeners who hear the Minnewegian sounds of the characters from "Fargo" when they listen to Ms. Palin are on to something: the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska, where she grew up, was settled by farmers from Minnesota during the Depression.

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TIFF 08: The omnivore's dilemma

How to plan my Toronto schedule when there are a few dozen movies screening every day and I want to keep from knowing much of anything about them before I see them, so that I can (as much as humanly possible) avoid preconceptions, false expectations, artificial festival "buzz," and other distractions that have little or nothing to do with what's on those screens? (See last year's accounting: "What did I know and when did I know it?")

The first thing I look for are the names of directors whose work I'm interested in following (or whose work I think I would like to follow). This year, for example, Danny Boyle, Kevin Smith, Rod Lurie and (as previously mentioned) Guy Ritchie all have films in this year's festival -- which, in my case, leaves more room to accommodate movies by directors I like. Not only for megastar filmmakers like the Dardennes and the Coens, but for Terence Davies ("The Long Day Closes"), Rian Johnson ("Brick"), Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop"), Katherine Bigelow ("Blue Steel"), Jerzy Skolimowski ("Deep End"), Kelly Reichardt ("Old Joy"), Michael Winterbottom ("A Cock and Bull Story" -- who makes two or three movies a year, it seems)... Those parenthetical titles, of course, are earlier films by these filmmakers. I don't even remember most of the titles from this year yet, because I haven't seen the movies. I've just been circling times and places on my screening schedule.

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Pimples like us

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Q. Watching "Juno" again, I think I've figured out why the story is bookended with a motif of chairs. Juno narrates her story beginning with "It started with a chair," and we gaze upon a big, worn-out, comfortable-looking chair. Near the end, she tells us "It ended with a chair," and we see a different chair, this time, a lovely slimmer, not-so-comfortable rocking chair. These two things illustrate the journey our hero has taken, that our security blanket in childhood becomes not so comfortable when our eyes are open to the realities of the world. Jerry Roberts, Birmingham, Ala.

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Is Judd Apatow John Hughes? (Answer: No)

View image Those plucky, sympathetic teens of yesteryear.

You know what? "Sex and the City" was for girls! Yes, it's true. First it was for (and about) gay boys, but eventually it revolved around a certain brand of perfume-insert, fashion-magazine womankind: rich, white, co-dependent, status-obsessed, desperate for a man to complete her.

Know what else? Judd Apatow makes movies about guys -- and heterosexual relationships with women, but mainly about what used to be known as "male bonding." (The fashionable term now is "bro-mance," which is cuter and invoked largely by what used to be called "metrosexuals.") The Apatow guy tends to be underemployed, white, Jewish (or Canadian), slobby, geeky, smelly, childish (not just "childlike") and more or less happy, unaware that he's desperate for a woman to complete him. Then, once he becomes aware, he's not entirely sure that's possible, or desirable.

This, I submit, is a minor breakthrough in romantic comedy. OK, perhaps I am single and bitter, but I'm also right.

In the New York Sun (also known as "the conservative New York Sun"), Steve Dollar mentions that Catherine Keener's character in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" "pretty much takes the blame for making the poor guy sell all his collectible model toys (but whose side is Apatow on?), and spends much of her screen time mothering her infantile boyfriend."

Is that what happens? Even if so, whose side is Mr. Dollar on? (And who said it was necessary to divine and choose "sides"?)

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Jumping the snark: The Juno backlash (backlash)

View image A teenage romantic fairy tale.

I'm a little confused about precisely where we stand at this very moment in the "Juno" backlash cycle, but I predict the anti-backlash backlash will begin any moment now if it hasn't already. The movie was warmly embraced at the Toronto International Film Festival (OK, the director is the son of the rich and famous Canadian director of "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters") and was greeted with predominantly positive reviews when it opened in December, although some critics, me included, thought it got off to a grating start. Roger Ebert even named it his favorite movie of 2007. My 16-year-old niece says it's her favorite film "ever."

Then came the inevitable backlash after the movie was no longer a "discovery": Why was this snarky teen comedy getting all this attention -- even Oscar buzz? (BTW, I've been doing occasional Google searches for "Juno"+"snark" since before the movie opened in December and the latest total is "about 26,500 results.") Arguments lit up all over the place. At Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Dennis Cozzalio chose it his worst film of the year. On rock critic Jim DeRogatis's Chicago Sun-Times blog, he accused the movie of "glib insincerity," suggested it could be seen as "anti-abortion and therefore anti-woman, despite its arch post-feminist veneer," and declared, "As an unapologetically old-school feminist, the father of a soon-to-be-teenage daughter, a reporter who regularly talks to actual teens as part of his beat and a plain old moviegoer, I hated, hated, hated this movie" ("Why 'Juno' is anti-rock," "More Juno Fallout," "And even a little bit more Juno").

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'Juno' is bad because the people who made it are too old? Ellen Page too?!

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Q I have been following the debate about the clever dialogue in "Juno" and there are two things I don't understand: (1) Why do people continue to expect every film they see to be a flawless reflection of reality when no film, not even a documentary, could ever accomplish such a feat? Isn't one of the pleasures of going to the movies is seeing things we don't usually see in the real world? (2) Why aren't more people refreshed that a film has gone against the grain by creating characters more intelligent than real people, as opposed to the Hollywood norm of creating characters who are considerably dumber and more shallow than real people? Adam Breckenridge, Edmond, Okla.

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Blurb-a-thon 2007

View image The funniest scene in the funniest movie of the year. I think.

Instead of a "ten best list," Armond White makes an annual "Better Than List" which, in principle, I'm all against -- simply because of the formula: He uses a few adjectives and a "greater than" symbol to bash selected movie titles with selected other ones, like Daniel Plainview bludgeoning someone with a heavy object.

Then again, any "ten best list" (or "top ten list" or "favorites list") represents a preference for some movies over some other movies, seen by somebody under certain circumstances during a period of time. And, to not-quite-paraphrase Jean Renoir, "Everybody makes his own rules."

So, perhaps White is really just doing what (I hope) any list-maker does: Making a claim for his/her own critical taste and values, while recommending some movies. That he assumes the attitude of a bully over the approach of a critic or movie lover is, perhaps, not so important. (Quote: "'No Country for Old Men' > better than 'There Will Be Blood,' 'Zodiac.' The Coen brothers hauntingly mythologize Americana, while P.T. Anderson and David Fincher make it morbid, sadistic and self-congratulatory." Is there an inverse relationship between "morbid, sadistic and self-congratulatory" and "hauntingly mythological" -- Americana-wise, I mean?)

But look: Now I'm using other top ten lists to bash White's. Is there no getting around this? I fell ill (think of the scene with the old lady on the street in "The Orphanage") just as I was about to annotate my own 2007 list, after submitting various rankings to critics' polls at MSN Movies, indieWIRE and the Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, each of which had slightly different rules, categories and deadlines. (Then I posted a list in video form in late December). Consequently, I missed reading a lot of other peoples' lists (though The House Next Door and David Hudson at GreenCine, and the folks at Movie City News have put together invaluable lists of lists -- and/or lists of links -- that have helped me in my efforts to catch up, because, as I am fond of repeating, I actually learn from browsing these things).

Oh, yes, and I also posted the 2007 Exploding Head Awards as a kind of top-ten alternative. (Let me add that I have enjoyed no 2007 overview more than Dennis Cozzalio's at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.)

Now, just to wrap up this whole 2007 wrap-up thing, I'm going to recommend some movies and (in munchable blurbs of 150 words or less -- I hope) give you some idea of what I liked about them, without the intention of over-selling them. If I've written more extensively about them, I'll link their titles to a more detailed review or posting.

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Scanners' 2007 Exploding Head Awards (Part 1)

View image And the Exploding Head goes to... Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in "Knocked Up"?

I'll publish my annotated "best of" list next week, but while thinking back over the year's movies I recalled some things that seemed to me "beyond category." Or the usual categories, anyway. One way or another, they made my head feel that it might explode. So, while everybody's preoccupied with all those other awards, here are the 2007 Exploding Heads for Achievement in Movies:

Best endings: • "The Sopranos" (final episode): blackout • "No Country for Old Men": "Then I woke up." • "I'm Not There": Dylan's harmonica on "Mr. Tambourine Man" • "Superbad": Baby-steps toward adulthood, separating at the mall escalator • "Zodiac": Stare-down

Most electrifying moment: A dog. A river. "No Country for Old Men."

Best grandma: "Persepolis"

Best surrogate grandpa: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"

"Arrested Development" Award for Best Throwaway Lines: • "Keep it in the oven..." -- Jason Bateman, "Juno" • "... Terrorism..." -- Michael Cera, "Superbad" (actually, Cera has so many astonishingly brilliant under-his-breath moments in "Superbad" and "Juno" it's uncanny)

Best performance by an inanimate object: (tie) The cloud (and its shadow), the candy wrapper, the blown lock housing in the motel room door, "No Country for Old Men"

Most cringe-worthy lines: • "My cooperation with the Nazis is only symbolic." -- "Youth Without Youth" • "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet." -- "Juno" (the cutesy moment at the beginning when I nearly ran screaming for an exit; cutting this entire unnecessary scene would improve "Juno" immensely)

Funniest double-edged observation: "He's playing fetch... with my kids... he's treating my kids like they're dogs." -- Debbie (Leslie Mann) in "Knocked Up," watching Ben (Seth Rogen) play with her daughter, who is loving it. That's her point of view, and she's right, but she says it like it's a bad thing.

View image Ain't nothin' but the real thing, baby: Brian Dierker and Catherine Keener in "Into the Wild."

The Real Thing: "Non-actor" Brian Dierker, rubber tramp, "Into the Wild" (and, of course, his "old lady" Catherine Keener, actor extraordinaire)

Best film about the way The Industry really works since "The Big Picture": Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set." The moment I knew it was going to be exceptional (sharp, precise and, therefore, extraordinarily funny) was when the writer's choice for the lead role gives an audition that's just... underwhelming. He isn't good. He isn't terrible. He just isn't enough. Which then allows the network execs to push for the "broader" alternative ("To me, the broad is the funny"). And even he proves himself capable of being not-awful -- in rehearsal, at least...

Best political film: (tie) "12:08 East of Bucharest" and "Persepolis" -- a pair of smart, funny movies about the effects of political revolutions on individuals in (respectively) Romania and Iran.

Deadliest stare: (tie) Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), "No Country for Old Men"; Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), "Atonement"

Young comedy whippersnapper stars of the year: Michael Cera (19), Ellen Page (20), Seth Rogen (25), Jonah Hill (24), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (18)

Game savers: J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, who come to the rescue of "Juno" not a moment too soon

Best torture porn: The excruciatingly funny baptism scene with Paul Dano and Daniel Day Lewis (both of 'em overactin' up a storm -- but in a fun way), "There Will Be Blood"

Most worthless critical label: "Independent." A movie should not be viewed through its budget, financing or distribution. And in these days of studio "dependents" (Miramax, Focus Features, Paramount Vantage, Fox Searchlight, etc.), the term "indie" is frequently misleading at the very least.

Best bureaucrat: Dr. Fischer (Alberta Watson), "Away From Her"

Best negotiations: • Chigurh and the gas station owner, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and the trailer park lady, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and Carla Jean, "No Country for Old Men" • "4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": The painfully protracted, ever-shifting moral balance (and exhausting power-struggle) in the hotel room, between the friend and the abortionist -- while the pregnant woman herself passive-aggressively bows out of any responsibilities for what has happened, or will happen.

"Perfume" Award for Best Portrayal of Synesthesia: "Ratatouille"

Best Supporting Crotch: Sacha Baron Cohen, "Sweeney Todd." An squirm-inducing scene-stealer that makes you long for a change of angle: Please give us an above-the-waist shot! (Did they have spandex in mid-19th century London?)

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Your brain, dog butts, and the quantum movie

View image Superbad-position: I don't know what this photo has to do with this post. I just think Michael Cera is a genius and his face is hilarious.

Excerpts from two pieces I've read recently that to me (of course) get at the essence of movies, and how we perceive them: First, a paragraph from Jonah Lehrer's introduction to his book "Proust Was a Neuroscientist" (look for the madeleine on the cover!), a most enjoyable volume dedicated to the proposition that the arts understood science long before science did. (Lehrer, the 26-year-old author, is described in the jacket blurb as a Columbia grad and Rhodes Scholar who "has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Erik Kandel and in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000 and Le Bernardin." His book includes chapters on Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Auguste Escoffier, Marcel Proust, Paul Cezanne, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf.) Unfortunately, our current culture subscribes to a very narrow definition of truth. If something can't be quantified or calculated, then it can't be true. Because this strict scientific approach has explained so much, we assume that it can explain everything. But every method, even the experimental method, has limits. Take the human mind. Scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. What science forgets is that this isn't how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost, not like the machine.) It is ironic but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art. By expressing our actual experience, the artist reminds us that our science is incomplete, that no map of the matter will ever explain the immateriality of our consciousness.On the other hand, the mind is what the brain does. We just have no way of knowing how or why. But this paragraph speaks directly to experience of all kinds, including vicarious or representational ones -- and to my conviction that valid criticism of any kind needs to be both empirical (drawing on specific examples) and aesthetic (a subjective attempt to explain how something feels). Blanket terms like "beautiful" or "ugly" can only be defined/refined in this context. I think of it this way: A dog's butt doesn't smell "bad" to a dog. And poop doesn't offend a dog's sensibilities. Canine responsiveness to scent is roughly 40 times greater than ours, so perhaps you could say that dogs can smell "past" the limitations of our olfactory abilities to detect something more fully dimensional (the way some people savor the flavor of stinky cheese, perhaps). Or, they just like stink, in which case we may consider them to have bad taste. Or, maybe, admire them as perverse primitivist punk rebels who enjoy wallowing in filth for the sheer animalistic pleasure of it. Or would that be anthropomorphizing them? If only dogs could explain what and how they see and smell and hear and feel...

OK, moving on to number two....

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Toronto #5: Great performances, strong stories

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TORONTO, Ont. -- I don’t know when I’ve heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm as the one after Jason Reitman’s “Juno,” which I predict will become quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time, and win a best actress nomination for its 20- year old star, Ellen Page.

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