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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.

#212 March 26, 2014

Sheila writes: In 1968, Stanley Kubrick, whose game-changing "2001" was released that year, was interviewed for Playboy magazine. You can check out a facsimile of the interview here, but Open Culture has transcribed some of it, in particular the section where Kubrick gives some predictions on what the world will look like in the year 2001. It's fascinating speculative stuff.

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#211 March 19, 2014

Sheila writes: I came across a fascinating 1964 interview with Bruce Lee. He is such an engaging presence. I liked in particular his analogy of kung fu to a glass of water, but there's lots of great stuff here.

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#195 November 27, 2013

Sheila writes: Exciting news for Roger Ebert fans: Director Steve James ["Hoop Dreams"] is planning a full-length documentary about Roger Ebert called "Life Itself", which will follow the trajectory of Ebert's career as well as examine his vast influence on the movie industry and American culture as a whole. Martin Scorsese is executive producer. The documentary is being financed partially through a fundraising campaign hosted by Indiegogo, and we wanted to let Ebert Club Members know that the "Life Itself" filmmakers are offering a special deal EXCLUSIVE TO EBERT CLUB MEMBERS who pledge to this campaign!

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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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Toronto #2: Victory at any price?

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Ramin Bahrani, the best new American director of recent years, has until now focused on outsiders in this country: A pushcart operator from Pakistan, a Hispanic street orphan in New York, a cab driver from Senegal working in Winston-Salem. NC. His much-awaited new film, "At Any Price," is set in the Iowa heartland and is about two American icons: A family farmer and a race car driver. It plays Sunday and Monday in the Toronto Film Festival.

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The greatest films of all time

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I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound magazine's famous poll to determine the greatest films of all time. Apart from my annual year's best lists, this is the only list I vote in. It is a challenge. After voting in 1972, 1982 and 1992, I came up with these ten titles in 2002:

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Goodbye to all that

I sent an e-mail the other day that was one of the hardest things I've ever had to write. It was to Jim Palmer and Maura Clare at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder. I told them I wouldn't be coming back this spring. I sent it, and stared into space, and was flooded with sadness.

I don't intend to write here about the Conference, which has allowed me to live more than nine months of my life in Boulder, one week at a time. I wrote about CWA in a 2009 blog entry titled the Leisure of the Theory Class. I need not tell you again about Howard Higman or Daddy Bruce Jr.

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What price masterpiece? Werner Herzog (Part 2)

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"For me, the border between feature films and documentaries has always been blurred. 'Fitzcarraldo' is my best documentary and 'Little Dieter Needs to Fly' is my best fiction film. I don't make such a clear distinction between them -- they're all movies."

-- Werner Herzog, interview with Index Magazine, 2004 - - - - - - - - - -

"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" was the first Werner Herzog film I ever saw, back when it was released in the United States in 1977. It was one of the first films I ever reviewed, too (for my college newspaper, the University of Washington Daily). All I knew about Herzog at the time was what I'd read in an extraordinary profile by Jonathan Cott in the November 18, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone, which portrayed Herzog as a mad visionary in search of new images, not unlike the obsessed outsiders at the heart of his movies.

I couldn't stop staring at the haunting photograph that surrounded the article, from (as I recall) such films as "Signs of Life," "Even Dwarfs Started Small," "Aguirre," "Kaspar Hauser" and "Heart of Glass." They certainly didn't look quite like any movies I'd seen before. And essential to the spectacle was the knowledge that Herzog had gone to remote and exotic places in order to capture these images and bring them back into the cinema. They were unquestionably photographical realities (imagine Herzog speaking that phrase), not optical tricks created in post-production. The boat in the tree in "Aguirre" -- the one the feverish characters could no longer recognize as real -- was an actual boat in an actual tree, not a miniature or a matte painting. Even the photographic effects -- the time-lapse clouds flowing through the mountains like a river around boulders in "Kaspar Hauser" "Heart of Glass"; or the high-speed "ski-flying" (high-altitude, long-distance ski-jumping) footage that allowed Walter Steiner to float through the air in "The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner" -- were actual recordings of real-world phenomena.

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Shooting the rapids with Werner Herzog (Part 1)

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"People should look straight at a film... That's the only way to see one. Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates. And film culture is not analysis, it is agitation of the mind. Movies come from the country fair and circus, not from art and academicism."

-- Werner Herzog, 1978 interview quoted in John Sandford's book, "The New German Cinema" (1980)

We knew it was going to be interesting. Seeing "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) for the first time in 25 years (even though I'd seen it many times before) with Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani, Roger Ebert and a Conference on World Affairs Cinema Interruptus audience in Boulder, CO, last week reconfirmed that not only is Herzog a magnificent, instinctive director, but a first-class showman in the carnival tradition, a compelling speaker and storyteller, and a wonderful actor. Some of the wild tales he related to the audience in Macky Hall are, I'm told, also on the director's commentary track of the American DVD of "Aguirre" -- and some I've heard him tell many times over the years, but there's nothing quite like hearing Herzog spin his spiels in the flesh -- even (or maybe especially) when he's a booming voice in the dark.

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I failed...

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... to write anything last week at CWA where there's hardly a moment to breathe (gasping at the mile-high altitude aside) between panels, conversations, lunches, parties, receptions (and -- for me, anyway -- precious sleep). You have to understand: I often go days without actually seeing or speaking to anybody; all this socializing is exhausting for me. I'll be looking back at the experience this week, but in the meantime, in case you missed it, Roger Ebert writes about the first day's Cinema Interruptus with Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani and "Aguirre, the Wrath of God."

(Above: Photo by Roger Ebert. And aren't Ramin's new frames terrific?)

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The ecstasy of the filmmaker Herzog

I saw "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" for the first time in a defrocked Lutheran Church in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which Milos Stehlik had taken over for his newly-born Facets Multimedia. "It is a film you must see," he told me. "Bring a pillow. The pews can get hard."

I saw a great film, one of the greatest ever made. An essential film. In 1999, I made it one of the first titles in my Great Movies Collection. Now I wonder if I really saw it at all.

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Off to CWA

I'll be in Boulder this week for another round of the Conference on World Affairs.

I will be part of these panels, on such diverse topics as dogs and international politics (that's one subject), ad hominem mouthpieces in the media (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly), the politics of "Avatar," blatant and condescending forms of racism, and why we go to the movies. My pal Julia Sweeney will be joining the ranks of participants. And I get to be on two panels with the fantastic Ike Wilson, who's also delivering the keynote!

Oh yes: Ramin Bahrani will be returning for the Cinema Interruptus (last year he guided us through his own "Chop Shop") -- this time exploring, shot-by-shot, Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" with Herr Herzog himself, Roger Ebert (who, I hope, will be using his Mac voice), the audience, and me. I plan to handle remote control responsibilities to the best of my ability (pausing for questions and comments, rewinding and re-playing) -- but, for the most part, I intend to shut up and learn something. And, as usual, I know I will. And, whenever I get a chance, I will be posting (and tweeting) about it...

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Favorite movies of 2009 movie: The commentary track

The first time I made a year-end list for Scanners, I did it by suggesting double-bills of 2006 films with older films (much like what contributors to The Auteurs did this year). In 2007, I made my first year-end movie, inspired by "L'Eclisse," as a tribute to the late Michelangelo Antonioni and a commentary on the WGA strike that was happening at the time. Last year, the concept was based on a shot of Hannah Schygulla, Goddess of Cinema, waking up, looking into the camera (in Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven") and dreaming fragments of the films on my list.

This year, I'm not quite sure how it came together (see opening title), but I took my cue from my favorite movie of the year, the Coens' "A Serious Man." I knew I didn't want to adhere to any rigid countdown hierarchy this time, but to let the movies converse with themselves through images. I chose the word "conversation" knowing there would be no dialog except at the very beginning and the very end, with the Jefferson Airplane song "Somebody to Love" (recurring element in "A Serious Man") in between. That gave me approximately 2 minutes and 58 seconds for the montage....

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Jim's favorite movies of 2009: The movie

Once again, my favorite movies of the year engage in overlapping cinematic conversation with one another, blurring stylistic, thematic, national, linguistic, philosophical, theological and proprietary boundaries. No one is playing the blame game here. Happy new year!

(list and links after the jump...)

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The best films of the decade

"Synecdoche, New York" is the best film of the decade. It intends no less than to evoke the strategies we use to live our lives. After beginning my first viewing in confusion, I began to glimpse its purpose and by the end was eager to see it again, then once again, and I am not finished. Charlie Kaufman understands how I live my life, and I suppose his own, and I suspect most of us. Faced with the bewildering demands of time, space, emotion, morality, lust, greed, hope, dreams, dreads and faiths, we build compartments in our minds. It is a way of seeming sane.

The mind is a concern in all his screenplays, but in "Synecdoche" (2008), his first film as a director, he makes it his subject, and what huge ambition that demonstrates. He's like a

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The best films of 2009

Since Moses brought the tablets down from the mountain, lists have come in tens, not that we couldn't have done with several more commandments. Who says a year has Ten Best Films, anyway? Nobody but readers, editors, and most other movie critics. There was hell to pay last year when I published my list of Twenty Best. You'd have thought I belched at a funeral. So this year I have devoutly limited myself to exactly ten films.

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You make the movie, you sell the movie

"I just think that the young filmmakers today should take advantage of the opportunities and technology that they have now, that I didn't have, or the generations before me. 'Cause now you have no excuse.... If you want to be a filmmaker, there it is." -- Spike Lee, interview with Digital Camera Magazine

The means of production and promotion are in the hands of filmmakers in ways they have never been in the medium's history. As Spike Lee, director and tube-sock salesman (anybody remember the campaign for "She's Gotta Have It"?) has said, there are no excuses anymore. If you want to make a movie and get it seen, the tools are right there at your disposal. You don't need massive studio resources and hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars; all you need is a video camera, a computer, some software and access to the Internet and you've got a whole vertically-integrated world at your disposal: production, marketing, exhibition. A few well-targeted e-mails, some YouTube clips, a Facebook or MySpace page -- even an old-fashioned web site -- and suddenly thousands of people know about you and your film. A service like Withoutabox allows you to enter film festivals all over the world in a jiffy, right from your keyboard -- without so much as a trip to the post office until you know if you've been accepted or invited.

Over many years of interviewing filmmakers I've often asked them how they have the energy to make a film once they've managed to raise enough money to go into production. And I've wondered how they have enough stamina to work on getting their films seen once they're finished. Specialized film publicist extraordinaire Reid Rosefelt is amazed by the power of new technologies, but asks: "What Happens to the Filmmakers Who Can't Market Themselves?" At his blog, Shake Your Windows, he writes:

I admit that I am also ambivalent about marketing, because I am someone who loves movies first and promotes them second. I don't want a director to tell me what a movie means. I don't want to be saddled with the director's insistence that the reason they made the film defines what the movie is. In a lot of ways, the reason that a director thinks he or she made a film is irrelevant. They may not fully understand themselves as human beings, let alone understand their movie. Mysterious things come into play that they don't understand. That's the miracle of it, really.

Some filmmakers are very skilled about how to play the game of talking to the media. They have a natural facility for giving great quotes without giving away the store. Some, like Jarmusch, have a strong image that works into the way you perceive their movies, expanding and not contracting your reactions. Some are a hoot, like Almodovar, and draw you in with their high spirits. Some invent their own myth out of whole cloth, like Herzog. Many of the people who last the longest in pop culture are shape-shifters, like Dylan, Madonna and Robert Redford--they are omnipresent, hiding in plain sight, and the more you think you know about them, the less you do.

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Can one bad shot ruin an entire movie?

UPDATED with more examples -- and questions -- after the jump.

Can one bad shot ruin a movie? I can't think of any examples off the top of my head -- I don't think it happens very often -- but I do believe it's possible. I'm not among those who think the final shot of Hal Ashby's "Being There" takes a marvelously sustained balancing act and kicks it to the ground. But I can understand how somebody might feel that way.

But how can just one bad decision -- maybe on screen for just a second or two -- deflate a full-length motion picture? Well, roughly the same way a pinprick in a balloon can, I guess. It can puncture the thin membrane that's sustaining the thing. Without shape and purpose, there's nothing to keep it aloft any longer.

Try thinking of a movie like a pop song. One misplaced note in the melody, one cheesy chord, one tacky lyric, one mispronounced word ("Yes, I hate the way he says 'don't diszgard me' too," Robert Christgau wrote of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" in 1974, and I still remember him mentioning it 35 years later) can render the whole record unlistenable, depending on how sensitive you are to the particular offense.

Or think of a movie as a piece of architecture. A misplaced brick of the wrong color or texture, a sloppy corner, a window stuck in the wrong wall -- could conceivably demolish the overall effect of an otherwise well-designed building. Leave out a stone, or put in one of the wrong size or shape or strength, and all or part of the structure could come crashing down.

Or think of a movie as your face. With one festering pimple right there. And it's permanent. It doesn't take up a lot of facial real estate, but it mars the visage so that it's all anybody notices.

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