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Transcendence

"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.

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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.

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The love and sex Gore Vidal dared not speak; critic Sam Adams is a (James) Franco-phile; the national conversation about sexual assault; a brilliant pop culture quiz; eleven Colorado counties angling to secede.

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My mom, the criminal; two new books that want to be the next Lolita; heart disease cut in half, but we're not cheering; how to take care of your smartphone battery; remembering the actress Elizabeth Hartman; R. Crumb's rejected gay marriage New Yorker cover; the most popular movies outside the United States

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The best bar in the world that I know about

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The first Chicago bar I drank in was the Old Town Ale House. That bar was destroyed by fire in the 1960s, the customers hosed off, and the Ale House moved directly across the street to its present location, where it has been named Chicago's Best Dive Bar by the Chicago Tribune.

I was taken to the Ale House by Tom Devries, my fellow college editor from the Roosevelt Torch. It was early on a snowy Sunday afternoon. I remember us walking down to Barbara's Bookstore to get our copies of the legendary New York Herald-Tribune Sunday edition. Pogo. Judith Crist. Tom Wolfe. Jimmy Breslin. I remember peanut shells on the floor and a projector grinding through 16mm prints of Charlie Chaplin shorts. I remember my first taste of dark Löwenbräu beer. The Ale House was cool even then.

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Ale test

The best bar in the world I know about

The first Chicago bar I drank in was the Old Town Ale House. That bar was destroyed by fire in the 1960s, the customers hosed off, and the Ale House moved directly across the street to its present location, where it has been named Chicago's Best Dive Bar by the Chicago Tribune.

I was taken to the Ale House by Tom Devries, my fellow college editor from the Roosevelt Torch. It was early on a snowy Sunday afternoon. I remember us walking down to Barbara's Bookstore to get our copies of the legendary New York Herald-Tribune Sunday edition. Pogo. Judith Crist. Tom Wolfe. Jimmy Breslin. I remember peanut shells on the floor and a projector grinding through 16mm prints of Charlie Chaplin shorts. I remember my first taste of dark Löwenbräu beer. The Ale House was cool even then.

I returned to the North Avenue drinking scene on New Year's Eve 1966, opening night of the legendary O'Rourke's, two blocks directly west. Its last call was 2 a.m. The Ale House had a 4 a.m. license, so many of us walked down the street to continue. O'Rourke's was the newspaper bar. The Ale House was the bohemian bar. Customers flowed freely between them.

The bar was owned in recent years by Beatrice Klug and her ex-husband Art Klug, who really did look like Paul Newman. Art was a movie fan so obsessed it was slightly alarming. The Ale House ambiance made an ideal outpost for Bruce Elliott, the left wing unemployed-by-choice gadfly and social spy. Art died. Then Beatrice grew ill, and was catered to and cooed over daily by Bruce, his wife Tobin Mitchell, and their daughter Grace Littlefeather Elliott.

At the reading of her will it was revealed Bea had given the bar to Tobin. Bruce could still preserve his proud record of never having worked a day in his life until his retirement at 65. (He did once, as a favor to a friend, drive a cab one Saturday morning during his San Francisco years, and has made a few bucks hustling golf for money on the public course in Jackson Park--a few times against Barack Obama, then a neighborhood organizer.)

Bea's gift inspired Bruce's blog, The Geriatric Genius, in which Elliott shows himself in the direct line of descent from the Host in the 15th century The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's character is the central figure and narrator of the Tales, the one who knows all the others and is their common bond, yet rarely takes an active role during their pilgrimage. It is he who names them, convenes their nightly meetings, observes what they do, hears their secrets, and tells of their weaknesses.

And briefly, when the sun had gone to rest, So had I spoken with them, every one, That I was of their fellowship anon, And made agreement that we'd early rise To take the road, as you I will apprise. But none the less, whilst I have time and space, Before yet farther in this tale I pace, It seems to me accordant with reason To inform you of the state of every one Of all of these, as it appeared to me, And who they were, and what was their degree, And even how arrayed there at the inn.

The Host relates the stories of such as the Wife of Bath, the Nun's Priest, the Three Rioters and Old John the Carpenter, "who foolishly marries a lively young girl." Bruce's blog follows the nightly adventures of such regulars as Street Jimmy, Bruce Faggypants, Ruben Nine Toes, D Train, Porn Star, the Cougar, Buzzkill, Larry Asshole, Connie the Crack Whore, Craig the Drunk, Fatal Attraction, Sleepy John, Johnny Ale, and the Counselor, waging their battles against reality. Many people without code names also come in, including talent from Second City across the street and Zanie's comedy club around the corner, and yuppies, cops, robbers and respectable yuppies--whose tales don't interest Bruce. Yuppies visited the bar twice in the recent indie movie "Other Children," which completely failed to capture its character.

This is what the inane "Cheers" could have been, if a network had the balls. How could viewers prefer Shelley Long to Gracie Littlefeather? Nobody as boring as George Wendt's Norm has ever been allowed to anchor a regular bar stool. His code name would be Waste of Space. Bruce, is the house snoop, gossip, scold, vicious launcher of personal attacks, eavesdropper, sex guru, and the Host who tells a patron he's been over-served. Bruce is also chief of security. When the patron demands another drink, he commands a crack team of unofficial doormen to throw him out on his ass and pitch his coats into the street on top of them.

In addition to his other gifts, Bruce Cameron Elliott is a locally-celebrated artist. During the 2008 campaign, he received national publicity for "Nude with Hunting Rifle," his painting of Sarah Palin. Later "Strip Search" was painted after the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Both paintings have inspired Ale House t-shirts. I own Bruce's painting of Houdini, bound in chains and being thrown off a bridge on the river while Ale House regulars look on.

Bruce in his studio, in a Chicao Tribune video:

Bruce Cameron Elliott has mastered what Irv Kupcinet called the Lively Art of Conversation. In the silent years after I lost my voice, I have devised dinner parties simply to invite him. He needs a foil, and that usually means my best friend, John McHugh. It is Bruce's gift to know the dirty gossip about everyone I know, and many of those I read about in the paper. He specializes in the actionable, the salacious, the perverse, and personal secrets.

I read The Geriatric Genius every day. The Genius provides a daily chronicle of life in the Ale House. Bruce arrives early in the day, and will soon hear Street Jimmy's secret knock on the side door. He admits Jimmy, and enquires where he slept the night before ("the janitor at Moody Bible Institute lets me be sleepin' on the loading dock, but the janitor at Saint Michael's, he a cracker tight ass and throws me off the steps"). Bruce sends Jimmy to Walgreen's to bring him a bagel and the New York Times. At about this time Bruce Faggypants will arrive after his Meta commute from a Western suburb, and begin his job of sweeping out the bar. Street Jimmy, back from Walgreen's, is paid with a beer and a bag of BBQ chips dowsed with hot sauce the bar keeps handy for Bloody Marys, and Bruce Faggypants, who at 47 with his mother, will hand him a small brown bag containing an extra sandwich his mom happened to make. How his mother makes an extra sandwich seven days a week I cannot say. The mother and son sound a lot like the characters in A Confederacy of Dunces. After he enjoys his sandwich, Street Jimmy curls up on a bench to sleep.

Although Tobi owns the bar, the manager is Grace Littlefeather Elliott, who at 28 rules with a wise and sexy manner. I've known her since before her birth, and she would have been capable of handling the job after about the age of 10. Bruce and I met Tobi on the same frigid night in Pat Colander's apartment above the Four Farthings Pub as we snuggled on a sofa under a blanket. We were both groping, but Bruce's gropes went more sure and true.

So that's when I met the nascent Littlefeather. Tobin's big sister, Karen Conner, strongly opposed Tobi's marriage to the older and never-employed Bruce, who responded with biting sarcasm about her husband, who combed his hair back straight from his forehead, the better to display a good half-inch of silver before the shoe polish set in. Karen has since gone through a divorce. Tobin and Bruce's marriage has proven sturdy. Who were these parents Tobin obtained? Bruce I've described. Tobi taught in the Chicago schools to support Bruce in his new role as a stay-at-home dad. Gracie has incorporated traits from both.

Knowing the Elliotts over the years, I've observed how they raised Gracie as an equal partner in a grown-up family. Everything was discussed in front of her; given Bruce, anything else would have been impossible. She was always mature beyond her years, and blossomed with her mother's beauty and sardonic wit, and her father's untamed independence. She has her father's nose. She doesn't smoke, do drugs, or drink very much. In addition to managing the Ale House, she shows Arthur, one of her chooclate Field Spaniels at dog shows, and as I write she texted me from somewhere on the turnpike. Ignoring the urgent advice of both parents, she is driving into the face of the blizzard to show her dog at the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show. Also in her van is a rescue dog--to rescue her and the first dog, possibly. Note: Grace arrived safely ("Not a speck of snow on the highway") and and emailed a photo of Arthur inspecting the Empire State Building from Grace's window.

What do I know about Bruce? He was an original member of SDS. He was born in Downers Grove, known in the blog as Uppers Grove. His brother Scott, a dealer in the artifacts of Frank Lloyd Wright, lives in a Wright house in Benton Harbor, Michigan, having relocated there specifically to live in the house. Chaz and I have dined there several times, welcomed by Scott's wife Eileen Cropley, who was a principal dancer with Paul Taylor. She also danced with Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

We were shown around the house by Scott, an admirer of its low doorways and ceilings, which at times slanted lower still to suit the midget Frank Lloyd. We marveled at the way Wright sank a well into the ground inside the house so that in summertime electric fans could draw up cooled air from the ground, taking advantage of the location on the St. Joseph River. Bruce runs an art gallery in downtown Benton Harbor, and is a frequent Congressional candidate as a liberal Democrat. The district is permanently Republican, leading to McHugh's analysis: "Bruce, you've got your work cut out for you."

Bruce spent several years in Berkeley, whether as a student or not I do not know. He is formidably well-read. He returned to Chicago in the early 1960s during the Great Gathering of Drinkers. He met and was befriended by McHugh while running naked down Wells Street with nothing but the lid of a garbage can to shield his genitals. They became friends at the Old Town Gate about the time the dumb mick accidentally reinvented the Roquefort Burger because, although working as the grill man, he didn't know it was American cheese stacked inside those little plastic sheets. Bruce brought along his half-Indonesian girlfriend, a big-bosomed stripper named Indy--who, stranded without funds, one night offered to accommodate me for room, board, and a reasonable monthly stipend. "I'd take her up on it, Roger," said Bruce, seated on the other side of Indy at the bar in O'Rourke's. "She's an honest woman, and those tits are real."

Bruce walks all over Chicago. We've both lived in the Old Town and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, and I'd encounter him on my rounds. One terrible hangover morning, I woke in my attic apartment at the Dudak's house, yanked on a track suit, and walked directly outside with fear and trembling. Not feeling able to speak with confidence to anyone I might know on the sidewalk, I went down the back stairs and through the back garden, which Pop Dudak had graced with a small pond made by digging out a shallow basin, plastering it and hanging bright Christmas lights from the shrubbery growing above it. The pond's fountain was a non-functioning shower head. "Is only for show," explained Pop, the anachist Ukrainian playwright and window washer. The pond was occupied by a floating frog with a florescent orange golf ball glued to its forehead. "Honey, are you sure this is the best you can do?" my mother asked.

Walking into the back alley from the side of the garage, I saw Bruce Cameron Elliott approaching from behind St. Clement's School. "Roger has one of his haaang-ooovers," he cried. Drawing closer, he said: "Seriously, Roger, you've got to do something about your drinking. I'd have a shot of peppermint both schnapps, with a beer chaser."

Bruce gave their daughter the middle name of Littlefeather on grounds it might help her qualify for scholarships.

A MENU for these videos:

Introductions take place on the first video, made by me at our country house in Michigan. You will notice Bruce introducing everyone to a person he clearly doesn't know. That is Marie Haws of Vancouver, who edits and produces The Ebert Club Newsletter. She started reading Bruce's blog and became obsessed with the bar. In August 2011, I was living full-time at the Michigan house writing my memoir. My minder Millie Salmon was keeping an eye on me. Bruce, Tobin and Gracie have a house over near the Indiana dunes. I invited them for dinner, and had the idea of making a video introducing them to Marie.

I am the camera. On my left hand: Tobin, my best friend John McHugh, and Millie. On my right hand: Bruce, Gracie, and Mary Jo Broderick, John's love.

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These videos by Duane A. Gray (D-Train) show highlights from recent Ale House Winter Talent Shows. Then the regular customer Sergio. Then Gracie sings and dances with "Mein Herr." After the ambiance is established by the Aleers, with Bryan Hollowell on piano and a new drummer Gracie didn't know, Bruce Elliott introduces emcee Andy Shaw, the former Ch. 7 political reporter, now the head of the Better Government Assn.

Then the regular customer Sergio. Then Gracie sings and dances with "Mein Herr."

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An encore by Grace Littlefeather Elliott

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#9 Gracie sings "Halfbreed." Wearing the white jacket at the bar is Ruben Nine Toes.

#10 Gracie Gaga

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#154 February 6, 2013

Marie writes:  The late John Alton is widely regarded as being one of greatest film noir cinematographers to have ever worked in Film. He perfected many of the stylized camera and lighting techniques of the genre, including radical camera angles, wide-angle lenses, deep focus compositions, the baroque use of low-level cameras and a sharp depth of field. His groundbreaking work with director Anthony Mann on films such "TMen" and "Raw Deal" and "He Walked by Night" is considered a benchmark in the genre, with "The Big Combo" directed by Joseph H. Lewis, considered his masterpiece. John Alton also gained fame as the author of the seminal work on cinematography: "Painting with Light".

The Big Combo (1955) [click to enlarge]

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The fate of the Jerryphile

I love Jerry Lewis. I love Jerry Lewis so much that I have a friend who, whenever I mention Lewis online, sends me the simple two word message "Rupert Pupkin". That, of course, is the name of Robert De Niro's deranged wannabe in Martin Scorcese's "The King of Comedy". Pupkin is so obsessed with Jerry Langford, the comedian played by Jerry Lewis, that he kidnaps him and takes his place on his talk show.

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Something's Gonna Live: Classic movies by design

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"Something's Gonna Live" (78 minutes) is available via iTunes, Amazon Instant, and DVD.

Architecture's loss was the movies' immeasurable gain. Robert Boyle, Albert Nozaki and Henry Bumstead, classmates at the University of Southern California in the 1930s could not find jobs in their studied profession. They wound up at Paramount Studios, where, as production designers and art directors, they set the stage for some of the movies' most indelible images.

Boyle designed Alfred Hitchcock's "Saboteur," "Shadow of a Doubt," "North by Northwest," "The Birds," and "Marnie." And those are the just the Hitchcock credits. Bumstead earned Academy Awards for his contributions to "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Sting." He received nominations for his work on "Vertigo" and "Unforgiven." Tokyo-born Nozaki was the art director on "The War of the Worlds" and "The Ten Commandments," for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

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Return: It's (not so) good to be home

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"Return" (97 minutes) is available Feb. 28 via most major on-demand platforms including cable, satellite, iTunes and Amazon Instant.

When the most intense experiences of daily life are repeated across generations, they become the historical touchstones of our cultural identity. By natural progression they're woven into our movies, where dreams and nightmares are etched in light.

The returning soldier (a subject previously examined here in the HBO documentary "How to Fold a Flag" and the 1956 Paul Newman drama "The Rack") has been a mainstay in film since the earliest days of the silent era. When you consider upcoming changes in the ranks of the American military, more and more of those soldiers are now likely to be female. And since independent film is where social progress typically finds its earliest, least compromised expression, we're now seeing more richly observant films like "Return," a sensitively rendered drama that marks a promising debut for writer-director Liza Johnson, in rewarding collaboration with underrated actress Linda Cardellini.

Cardellini won hearts with her appealing role on the beloved, short-lived TV series "Freaks and Geeks" (1999-2000) and deepened her range over 126 episodes of "ER" (2003-09). She's perfectly cast here as Kelli, a National Guard reservist and married mother of two. Still young but spiritually exhausted, she's just returned home after what she later suggests was a routine deployment in the Middle East. Iraq or Afghanistan -- it doesn't matter which, and the movie never specifies. Either way, there's no such thing as a routine deployment, and Kelli returns to her previous life in struggling, small-town Ohio, adrift in a state of neurasthenic limbo. War changes you, even if Kelli claims that "other people had it a lot worse." Kelli may be suffering from some degree of PTSD, but she's getting no apparent help from military counselors.

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Billy the Kid, orphan outlaw

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"American Experience: Billy the Kid" is available on demand at PBS.org after its January 10 broadcast at 9 p.m. (ET/PT). Check local listings.

Who hasn't heard of Billy the Kid? He's often portrayed in Westerns -- sometimes as a blood-thirsty killer -- but the PBS "American Experience" documentary "Billy the Kid" gives us a sympathetic portrayal of an orphan who "became the most wanted man of the west." Instead of drama, blood, and lust in the dust, you'll get a more multicultural view of a homeless kid gone wrong after being wronged.

The one-hour film, narrated by Michael Murphy, begins with a hangman's noose. The date is April 28, 1881 and the 21-year-old man known as Billy the Kid is in the custody of Sheriff Pat Garrett. He escapes his appointment with the hangman, but he won't be alive much longer.

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#76 August 17, 2011

"I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan. I was an indifferent student except at subjects that interested me, and those I followed beyond the classroom, stealing time from others I should have been studying. I was no good at math beyond algebra. I flunked French four times in college. I had no patience for memorization, but I could easily remember words I responded to. In college a chart of my grades resembled a mountain range. My first real newspaper job came when my best friend's father hired me to cover high school sports for the local daily. In college a friend told me I must join him in publishing an alternative weekly and then left it in my hands. That led to the Daily Illini, and that in turn led to the Chicago Sun-Times, where I have worked ever since 1966. I became the movie critic six months later through no premeditation, when the job was offered to me out of a clear blue sky."Visit "I was born inside the movie of my life" to read the opening pages from Roger's forthcoming memoir to be published September 13, 2011.

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On "The Rack" with Paul Newman and Stewart Stern

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• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.

For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.

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#44 January 5, 2011

Roger and Chaz outside the CBC Studios. They were recently featured on CBS News Sunday Morning to discuss the launch of their new show "Ebert Presents At The Movies".

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In memory: Arthur Penn, master director

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Arthur Penn, whose "Bonnie and Clyde" was a watershed in American film, died Tuesday night at 88. Gentle, much loved and widely gifted, he began life in poverty and turned World War Two acting experience in the Army into a career that led to directing in the earliest days of television and included much work on Broadway.

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A man with inklings of a soul

The 60s were a rough transition for America. Major shifts seemed to be occurring in every fabric of society from civil rights to sexual mores. The worsening course of the Vietnam war fueled distrust in political institutions. Women's rights highlighted a breaking from oppressive traditions. The old seemed to be fading away more radically than ever before.

Like the era it was made in, "Hud" was a key shift. As film critic Emmanuel Levy correctly puts it, it is "a transitional film between the naive films of the early 60s and the more cynical ones later in the decade." Though it plays as a compelling drama of small town life and family tribulation, through its lens of father-son conflict, it also captures the angst in the loss of authority, the gap between of two different generations, and an elegy for the good ole' days.

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#23 August 11, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Time passes twice now, first as real time, then as remembrance of things past, as I search my memory for my memoir. As my eyes lift up from my keyboard, they stare sightlessly straight ahead and old faces and places pass in review. So I take a photo of where I'm looking, in order to record what I see. When the picture was taken, Gene and I were in the Brown Derby at Disney World while taping an Oscar special; I'd like to say I have no idea of who came up with the idea for that composition, but I do, and it was yours faithfully, the Poobah.

(click to enlarge and read book spines; smile.)

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The most memorable verdict

May Contain Spoilers

Courtroom dramas count for some of Hollywood's best movies and, among their finest stands Sidney Lumet's "The Verdict."

Even when comparing it to other greats such as his own "Twelve Angry Men" or "To Kill a Mockingbird", "The Verdict" stands in my opinion as the one with the most memorable, well, verdict, one which I believe to be as fresh, as satisfying and as powerful in your first viewing as it is in your twentieth.

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Gerardo Valero of Mexico City on "The Hustler"

May Contain Spoilers

There are great movies and there are others which can only be described as special; movies with philosophies we can't help but apply to our daily lives. Robert Rossen's "The Hustler" for me is such a movie.

A film with a great, main subject (pool) that is secondary in importance to character. A film with unforgettable characters who have unforgettable names. A film with more classic lines than you can count. A film that made me feel disappointed about the hero over and over until the moment arrived when I couldn't feel any prouder.

It has four great performances: Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Jackie Gleason and Piper Laurie, all in top form and all four nominated for Oscars.

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Stars under the stars, for free

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Great movies under the stars for free. The lineup has been released for this summer's 10th annual Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, presented by the Mayor's Office of Special Events and programmed by the Chicago Film Office. In honor of two recently passed movie giants, Paul Newman in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and director Sydney Pollack's "Tootsie" are included. And a John Ford classic will screen in honor of the Abraham Lincoln centenary.

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