"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.
A day of grim films in which "Borgman" attempts Haneke-like surreal grimness and falls short, "The Missing Picture" and "Death March" turn artifice to their advantage to explore the horrors of war and loss, and Claude Lanzmann returns with a film about controversial figure Benjamin Murmelstein, the last president of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Theresienstadt ghetto.
This year's Outguess Ebert contest seems a little like shooting fish in a barrel. For the first time in many a year, maybe ever, I think I've guessed every one correctly.A few years ago, I came across an article about the newly identified psychological concept of Elevation. Scientists claim it is as real as love or fear. It describes a state in which we feel unreasonable joy; you know, like when you sit quiet and still and tingles run up and down your back, and you think things can never get any better.
I tried applying it to that year's Oscar nominees. Did it work any better than any other approach? You need Elevating nominees. An example of Elevation would be when the bone morphs into a space station in "2001." Did I feel Elevation in making any of my Guesses this year. That doesn't mean it was a bad year at the movies. Harvey Weinstein, accepting his achievement award from the Producers' Guild, said he thought 2012 was the best in 90 years. Maybe he felt Elevation when he gazed upon the Weinstein Company's box office figures.
The Oscars are the most important way the American film industry can honor what it considers the year's best work. But for millions of movie lovers all over the globes, they are something else: A show.
That's why I suspected last June that Quvenzhané Wallis might win a nomination. The pride of Hounduras Elementary School in Houma, LA, has now become, at nine, the youngest nominee in history for Best Actress. Her story is even better: She was five when she auditioned for the role, and six when she performed it.
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."
Everything reminds me of movies. And movies remind me of everything. My life has been divided into roughly three states of consciousness: the time I've spent awake; the time I've spent asleep (and dreaming); the time I've spent in-between, in the dark, inhabiting movie-worlds. They're all essential, holistic components of what you might call my Total Life Experience. And I find that in some respects they all run together, aspects of one seeping into another: images, patterns, metaphors... So, when I read this re-evaluation of the new Apple iPhone 5 -- the feel of the thing -- it struck me as also being about a quality of certain movies that we don't discuss very often.
The Toronto Film Festival is universally considered the opening of Academy Awards season, and the weary moviegoer, drained after a summer of exhausted superheroes and franchises, plunges in it with joy. I've been attending since 1977, and have watched it grow from a bootstrap operation, with the schedule improvised from day to day, into one of the big four (with Cannes, Venice and Berlin).
Marie writes: Not everything is what is seems...(Click images to enlarge.)
Beasts of the Southern Wild
• Chaz Ebert in Cannes
The Cannes 2012 Palme D'Or was indeed won Sunday by Michael Haneke for "Amour," the best film in the festival. And what an emotional moment to see its two stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuel Riva walk up on stage with Haneke to accept the award. A juror, Jean-Paul Gaultier said they gave the most emotionally real performances of any film in the festival. He said he bawled his eyes out. This was the second time in three years that Hakeke won the Palme, after "The White Ribbon" in 2009.
And surprisingly, three out of four of my award speculations also won prizes. However, if you listened carefully to the reasoning of the Jury you can conclude that actually all four of the lineup would have won.
The 65th Cannes Film Festival's eleven days of prediction, wild speculation and gossip, some of it centering on the notoriously cranky personality of this year's jury president Nanni Moretti, came to an end Sunday evening in festival's business-like awards ceremony (or Soiree de Palmares, as the French call it) that traditionally lacks the extended let's-put-on-a-show aspect of the Oscars. The jury was seated onstage in a solemn group, and the awards given with a modest amount of fancy-dress formality, a bit of unrehearsed fumbling, and acceptance speeches that were short, dignified and to the point.
The foul weather that has marred the usually sunny festival continued to the end, and elite guests and movie stars alike walked a red carpet tented by a plastic roof as the rain fell on the multi-colored umbrellas of the surrounding crowds. Festival director Thierry Fremoux personally held an umbrella for Audrey Tautou, star of Claude Miller's closing night film, "Therese Desqueyroux," as she headed up the famous steps in a calf-length ivory lace gown with a bodice heavily embroidered in gold.
Actress Berenice Bejo, an international sensation since her starring role and subsequent Oscar nomination for "The Artist," performed mistress of ceremonies duties in a white, bridal-looking strapless sheath with long train, her only jewel an enormous heart-shaped emerald ring. Just about the only prediction this year that turned out to be accurate was the one that advised that all was unpredictable under the jurisdiction of the pensive and often-scowling Moretti.
Haneke, Riva, Trintignant
• Chaz Ebert at Cannes
Who will win the Palme D'Or? I expect top prizes for Michael Haneke for his film, "Amour," with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, but I am terrible at the awards-guessing game. I think "Amour" is one of the very best films in the festival with its harrowing portrait of the mental and physical deterioration of an esteemed piano teacher after a series of strokes, and the husband who must bear witness to this as he takes cares of her.
Haneke's film is so mature and well done that its emotional impact builds quietly, from the core. You marvel at how he layers the scenes of a marriage so naturally that you know the couple has been together for decades in a relationship that is comfortable and emotionally enriching. And so when they make their choices you are right there with them emotionally until the bitter end, and there is no judgment about the choices made.
We all live in our own little subcultures. In mine -- loosely categorized as international film-festival cinephiliacs -- big-name contemporary filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke and the Dardennes brothers (yes, they've all won the Palme d'Or at Cannes) are huge, huge stars. In fact, some of us, whether we like them or not, feel they are overexposed, on the verge of becoming more than famous: ubiquitous. Like Kardashians or something. (I'll be honest: I don't know what a Kardashian is, but I keep hearing the term.) I mean, good god, the Dardennes have been all in your face throughout the 21st century, making movie after movie and picking up awards everywhere you look. And don't even get me started on Kiarostami. That guy became the international flavor-of-the-film-fest-cicruit in the 1980s, achieved his biggest commercial success in 2010, and has a new film in competition at Cannes right now.
I suppose it's true that, to most people outside our own little coterie, the Cannes Film Festival means just about nothing. Its impact on the American box office is negligible (although Kiarostami's Palme-winner "Taste of Cherry" grossed a pretty impressive $312 thousand in the US in 1998. That's about what "Marvel's The Avengers" took in while you were reading the last sentence). I guess fame -- or importance -- depends on your perspective.
A few things got me to thinking about this. One was Manohla Dargis's NY Times dispatch from Cannes. I love her observations:
Sunday dawned with a dark and threatening sky and a chill in the air, continuing the dreary weather trend of the past two days. It's a day of heavy-hitters here at Cannes, with two greatly anticipated films by major directors premiering in competition: "Amour" ("Love") by Austrian Michael Haneke in the morning; and "Like Someone in Love" by Iranian Abbas Kiarostami in the evening. Is the weather an omen or just weather? We'll see.
Neither of today's competition films was made in the director's home country. Haneke made "Amour" in France with French stars, but then he has more frequently worked in France in recent years. Kiarostami made his previous feature "Certified Copy" in Italy with an international cast, but "Like Someone in Love" was made in Japan with a French producer, a first for the globe-trotting director.
Michael Haneke has made his reputation on a uniquely transgressive form of cinema. Films, including "The White Ribbon," "The Piano Teacher," and "Funny Games," cross boundaries and break taboos, all the while drawing the audience into complicity with moral compromises and sometimes vile acts. "Amour" represents a new and more gentle and affecting take on that artistic strategy.
In "Amour," veteran French stars Jean-Louis Trintignant ("A Man and a Woman," "My Night with Maud") and Emmanuelle Riva ("Hiroshima Mon Amour") play Georges and Anne, a married couple in their 80s. They are retired music teachers who live in a lovely high-ceilinged apartment, and their comfortable lives are steeped in music and the arts. Their adult daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), also a musician, has a busy life of touring with her British husband.
• Chaz Ebert at Cannes
Dear Roger: "We were once indivisible from every atom in the cosmos," and that is how I feel when I am sitting in the Palais watching movies at Cannes with a screen spread out as wide as the galaxy, the audience circling around like protons and neutrons breathing as one in empathy.
In just a week the French Riviera will come alive with the hoopla of the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, running this year from May 16 through 27. Despite the international proliferation of film festivals, like it or not, Cannes remains the biggest, most hyped, glitziest and most diverse event the world of film has to offer, the envy of every other festival.
As if the world at large also trembled at the import of the approaching festivities, previous Cannes festivals have been prefaced by volcanic eruptions, hurricane-force storms, national strikes, and bomb threats. What can we expect this year, when the festival officially becomes a senior citizen? Don't look for any rocking chairs along the Croisette, for one thing. Judging by the lineup of major directors represented in the Competition and other official sections, it's more likely that major revelations will be rocking the Palais. And if it's like other years, we can expect the festival will manage to rock a headline-grabbing major controversy or two as well.
For the fourth year in a row, Cannes will open with an American production, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," guaranteeing that name stars including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton will be gracing the red carpet on Wednesday, May 16 for a glamorous kick-off. Judging by the trailer available online, the real stars may be the large cast of kids in a comedy/drama that looks to be strong on surreal wackiness.
Even a quick glance at the list of films in competition yields an eye-popping number of famous names, including David Cronenberg (Canada), Michael Haneke (Austria), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Ken Loach (UK), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Alain Resnais France), Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Walter Salles (Brazil), and many more. This competition could be a veritable Olympics of the cinema gods...or not, as sometimes happen, because even world-class filmmakers and certified masters can disappoint.
What does it take to get your film into a world class festival? That's the question asked with gleeful irreverence by "The Woman in the Septic Tank," which screened at the recently concluded 2012 Berlinale, one of the world's foremost festivals. This hilarious satire of international art filmmaking finds two aspiring auteurs sitting in a Manila café, jealously regarding a rival's Facebook photos taken at the Venice film fest. They vow to devise the ultimate movie to win festival audiences and prizes: a single mother of five suffering in the slums is forced to sell her son to a rich pedophile. But like Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (1968), the project gets out of hand, and before we know it we're watching a musical version with the pedophile singing "Is this the boy / who'll bring me endless hours of joy?" It's one of many delightful detours taken by these filmmakers seeking the road to art house glory.
With the exception of "The Woman" (which is still in limited theatrical release), all of the films from "Bloody Disgusting Selects" are currently available on multiple platforms including Netflix (DVD only), Amazon.com and most VOD providers including Comcast, DirecTV, Amazon, iTunes, CinemaNow, VuDu and Verizon FiOS. Check your VoD provider listings, or go to www.bloodydisgustingselects.com for more information about the films and where to find them.
On DVD, all of the foreign-language films reviewed here include an optional English-dub dialogue track for viewers with an aversion to subtitles.
by Jeff Shannon
Historically and statistically, the most abundant, profitable, and creatively expressive movie genre has always been horror. It has consistently been the most viable proving ground for new talent and a focal point for the most obsessive movie fans on the planet. It's the most purely cinematic of genres, playing to the strengths of an artistic medium that has shock, surprise, dread, fear, and bloodletting built into every molecule of its DNA. It's a realm of expression that challenges masters and amateurs alike.
Of course, there's always a downside: The record-setting $50 million opening weekend of "Paranormal Activity 3" (which earned a one-star review from Roger Ebert) -- and Paramount's immediate strategy to keep that franchise booming -- provided a stark reminder that, more often than not, horror is where commerce almost always trumps art. It's the favorite plaything for copy-cats and money-grubbers. The genre's blood is frequently tainted by fast-buck pretenders and greedy opportunists who care more about profit than the genre's history, which is the worthy subject of some of the finest film scholarship that's ever been written.
"The Last 15 Minutes... Will Mess You Up For Life." -- tagline for "Paranormal Activity 3" (2011)
"Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn't need the film, and anybody who stays does." -- Michael Haneke on his first version of "Funny Games"
In 1982, I took my 21-year-old sister to see "Poltergeist." When it was over, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "You have ruined my life." It was traumatic for her. I showed John Carpenter's "Halloween" in college and the experience so deeply shook a good friend of mine that she spent several sessions in therapy talking to "The Shape" (as he was billed).
So, we don't always know what we can handle. The question sometimes arises: Do you have an obligation to yourself, your friends and family, your fellow cinephiles/cinephiliacs, readers or viewers to expose yourself to films that challenge you, that push you out of your comfort zone? Sure you do. Everybody needs to test their limits, if only to find out what they are. Does that include shock cinema, so-called "torture porn," or movies that otherwise present themselves as a schoolyard dare ("Bet you can't watch this without puking!") -- the feature film equivalents of "2 Girls 1 Cup"? I think not.
This entered my mind while watching the second-season premiere of AMC's "The Walking Dead" last Sunday night (the zombies are metaphors for zombies) -- the monotonously gruesome series that featured a squishy backwoods autopsy scene in which two humans decide to cut open the stomach of a head-shot "walker" to find out if he'd recently eaten the little girl they're looking for. The obvious analogue is to the shark-belly autopsy from "Jaws," but this one was just an excuse to make the audience squirm on the way to a dumb punch line (How much woodchuck could a zombie chew up before it makes you upchuck, Chuck?).
Part of the thrill of watching a horror movie is the sense of triumph and relief you have at the end: "See? I made it through that -- and I survived!" Some movies are conceived and sold that way. It isn't so far from the William Castle-like gimmicks of having ambulances outside the theater or nurses in the lobby or barf bags at the concessions stand, to the hysteria of "The Exorcist" in 1973 (considered a rite-of-passage test of courage for teens and college students everywhere) to more recent phenomena like the "Saw" and "Hostel" movies.
Please remember to check the official CIFF website for ticket information, updates and schedule changes.
I wasn't sure how much I was going to be able to take of Markus Schleinzer's "Michael," at first, given that it begins as the "Jeanne Dielman" of Austrian kidnapper-pedophile movies. Fortunately, once the opening title appears on the screen it gets better. What I mean is, the movie starts by plunging us into the middle of a horrifying reality and treating it as mundane, reflecting the attitude of the title character (Michael Fuith), an insurance bureaucrat and sexual predator who keeps a 10-year-old boy (David Rauchenberger) locked in the basement of his nondescript, steel-security-shuttered suburban home.
We have no idea how long this has been going on. All the more horrifying, we soon see, is that for Michael it's all quite "normal," like any other family. He treats the boy as if he were his (cold, rigid, distant -- then impetuously playful) father -- sitting down with him for dinner, doing dishes with him side by side, taking him on outings to a petting zoo, decorating the Christmas tree, working with him on a jigsaw puzzle -- except that he also regularly rapes him, while keeping him imprisoned in a soundproofed, vault-like underground room which is otherwise decorated and stocked with toys like any other middle-class child's bedroom.
Maybe that's the most disturbing aspect of the film: It's not just that, beneath his flat affect, Michael is a sex criminal and a psychopath (he's a dull, mousy little man, which allows him to hide in plain sight); it's that, the sexual abuse aside, he's not all that much different from millions of other parents all over the world who, day in and day out, unthinkingly and unfeelingly treat their kids like chattel. Did I mention that writer-director Schleinzer is a former casting director for fellow Austrian aueteur Michael Haneke? Yeah, he is. You will find no sympathy for the devil here -- just icy, clear-eyed observational detachment.
It's another cool and overcast day in Cannes, but one that promises to be dominated by pirates and outlaws in the morning, and kids in the afternoon. The out-of-competition premiere European screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was scheduled for the Grand Theatre Lumiere at 8:30 am. This meant that European critics would flock, but Americans like me were freed up to roam elsewhere for our viewing. For my first film I opted to walk down the Croisette to see a pirate of a very different kind in "Porfirio," a Colombian film by Alejandro Landes, in the Quinzaine (Directors Fortnight) section of the festival.
"Porfirio" is a scripted and lightly fictionalized account of the life of a man the Latin American press had dubbed "the air pirate." Actual events reenacted in the film by non-professional actors, including the original central figure in the story, Porfirio Ramirez Aldana. Porfirio made headlines in 2005 for hijacking a plane to Bogota.
What attracted Landes to the case after reading a sensationalized newspaper account was the fact that the hijacker is paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair, and was wearing diapers at the time. The director spent five years working with his subject and his family to develop their trust, and only revealed to the man a few days before shooting began that he would play himself.
It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)
You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:
Whenever research confirms something we feel we already knew intuitively, or from our own experience, there are always people who'll scoff and say, "Well, I could have told you that!" And maybe they could have, but that's not the point. Science is a discipline involving systematic observation and empirical evidence, not unverified hunches. Movies, of course, are optical illusions -- photographic, electronic and/or mechanical phenomena that exploit the peculiarities of our eyes and brains... and elicit all manner of feelings. They are science and they are sometimes art, and the methods of studying one or the other can be complementary.
Take one of my favorite David Bordwell posts ("Hands (and faces) across the table"), which has recently been revived (resurrected! It's alive!) through the eyes of science, thanks to DB's guest-blogger, Tim Smith ("Watching you watch 'There Will Be Blood'"), of Continuity Boy, the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London, and The DIEM (Dynamic Images and Eye Movements) Project.
In 2008, DB wrote about the map scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," in which the camera remained fixed during a long take while the looks and gestures of the actors "directed" the viewer's gaze. He wrote:
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.
We tend to remember long takes that call attention to themselves as such: the opening shots of "Touch of Evil" or "The Player"; the entrance to the Copacabana in "GoodFellas"; all those shots in Romanian movies, and pictures directed by Bela Tarr and Jia Zhangke... And then there are the ones you barely notice because your eyes have been guided so effortlessly around the frame, or you've been given the freedom to explore it on your own, or you've simply gotten so involved in the rhythms of the scene, the interplay between the characters, that you didn't notice how long the shot had been going on.
For this compilation, "Deep Focus," I've chosen eight shots I treasure (the last two I regard as among the finest in all of cinema). They're not all strictly "deep focus" shots, but they do emphasize three-dimensionality in their compositions. I've presented them with only minimal identifications so you can simply watch them and see what happens without distraction or interruption. Instead, I've decided to write about them below. Feel free to watch the clips and then re-watch (freeze-frame, rewind, replay) the clips to see what you can see. To say they repay re-viewing is an understatement.