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The Babadook

The finest and most genuinely provocative horror movie to emerge in this still very-new century

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The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

It’s a fascinating look into a creative process that has been essential to the history of animation, but it could have been tighter as a…

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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.

Trapped in Disney World: Poland's movie critic of the year and our Far-Flung Correspondent, who gets smacked HARD by Woody

Like Mary Poppins, Disney World is "practically perfect in every way." But what our jolly 'oliday with Mary didn't reveal were the slight imperfections alluded to by that phrase's quantifier: Practically perfect? I'll bet Ms. Poppins' small glitches were legendary when they occurred. Maybe her umbrella flights damaged the ozone layer, or her spoonfuls of sugar helped wreck Dick van Dyke's Cockney accent. I speculate about near-perfection because I've been to Walt's Orlando resort 19 times, and while most of these visits went off without a hitch, when things did go wrong, they went wrong in unforgettable, spectacular fashion.

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Outguess Ebert: It's not over till the king speaks

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On the day the Oscar nominations were announced, I made some quick guesses and toyed with the possibility that “True Grit” (2010) might sneak in. I've changed my mind and now agree with the conventional wisdom that “The King's Speech” will be the year's best picture winner. Still, “True Grit” or “The Social Network” could pull off an upset. You might want to consider that when entering the $100,000 Outguess Ebert contest this year.

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Oscars: The king vs. the nerds vs. the Rooster

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The 2011 Oscar race seems to be shaping up among the King of England, two nerds, and Rooster Cogburn. "The King's Speech," about George VI's struggle to overcome a stammer, led all nominations with 12. The nerds won eight nominations each for "The Social Network," the story of the founder of Facebook, and "Inception," about a man who hacks into other people's dreams. "The Fighter" followed with seven.

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Screwballs and grace notes

View image John Krasinski and George Clooney: Which one's the Ralph Bellamy?

My review of "Leatherheads" is in the Chicago Sun-Times and on RogerEbert.com. (Also: "Shelter.") Here's an excerpt:

The script is less than effervescent, but Clooney and his cast are game. Although "Leatherheads" probably has fewer dull moments than your average NFL contest, sometimes you wonder if the clock is still ticking or if somebody's called a timeout. A scene will end and, just as you're moving on to the next one, you may find yourself wondering: Why was that there?

Yet there's always something interesting to notice: a face, a throwaway visual joke, the way the winter rain on a window contributes to the tone of a scene, or the sight of the muscular 1920s Chicago skyline in the distance behind the ballfield.

Even before the opening credits montage is over, Clooney demonstrates the fleetness of his comedic footwork -- getting a better laugh from a cow and a ball than you'd have any right to hope for. He knows how to compose a shot (the retro short-focus camerawork by Newton Thomas Sigel immediately puts you in a classic Hollywood frame of mind) and how to cut comedy so that it doesn't cramp the actors' style.

Best of all are the picture's abundant grace notes. Clooney's a team player, and his generosity toward his collaborators, as an actor and a director, shines throughout the movie....

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Hurdy Gurdys and Aqua Velvas: Misc. "Zodiac" fax...

There's something about an Aqua Velva Man.

Don't worry; no spoilers here.

>> The blue Aqua Velva cocktail that Jake Gyllenhaal's character orders is named after a popular after-shave lotion of a similar color. The drink consists of vodka, gin, blue curaçao and Sprite or 7-Up. (Today you might even be able to get away with Sierra Mist.) Some variations also include rum and tequila. And, perhaps, a sprig of mint or an orange slice. Other recipes call for Baileys Irish Cream (for that foggy look, I guess). And still one other is made of tequila, blue curaçao, and fruit juices. It's not necessarily as frou-frou as it seems in the movie (with those fancy glasses, umbrellas, maraschino cherries and all): In WWII, US sailors were said to drink it for its alcohol content (which has since been reduced). A little soapy, perhaps (ingredients: Alcohol 40, water, glycerin, fragrance, menthol), but it went down smooth, evidently...

Aqua Velva

3/4 oz. vodka 3/4 oz. gin 1/4 oz. Sprite 1/2 oz blue curaçao 1/2 oz. Sprite

Shake vodka, gin, blue curaçao and Sprite with ice. Pour/strain into glass and top off with Sprite. Cocktail umbrella and fruit/mint garnish optional.

>> Paul Avery, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter played by Robert Downey Jr., married Margo St. James, founder of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), the sex-workers' rights organization. St. James ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1996 and 1998.

>> Avery covered the Zodiac case for the SF Chronicle (which reprints one of the stories featured in the movie here), and Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (played by Gyllenhaal) wrote the book, "Zodiac," on which the movie was based. But Avery later co-wrote a book about another famous Bay Area case he covered, the Patricia Hearst kidnapping. Avery and Vin McLellan published "The Voices of Guns: The Definitive and Dramatic Story of the Twenty-two-month Career of the Symbionese Liberation Army, One of the Most Bizarre Chapters in the History of the American Left" (Putnam, 1977).

>> Recording sessions for the haunting Donovan song "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" (and the album of the same name), used to spine-tingling effect in the movie, included John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page and/or John Bonham, who would go on to form Led Zeppelin. Donovan claimed George Harrison wrote part of a lyric for "Hurdy Gurdy Man" when they were in Rishikesh, India, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi -- along with the other Beatles, Jane Asher, Mia Farrow, Beach Boy Mike Love and others. (Another Donovan song, "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" from 1967, was featured in TV commercials for Love's Baby Soft cosmetics, targeted at teen and pre-teen girls, in 1968.)

>> According to Donovan's autobiography, "The Hurdy Gurdy Man," the verse George Harrison wrote was cut from the "Hurdy Gurdy Man" single (to keep it short for DJs), but was used by Donovan on a 1990 live album. The verse (which would have worked perfectly in the movie):

When the truth gets buried deep Beneath a thousand years asleep Time demands a turnaround And once again the truth is found

>> Construction on San Francisco's famous pyramidal Transamerica building began in 1969 and was finished in 1972. It is still the city's tallest skyscraper.

>> Although crude fax technology existed in the late 19th century, and a modified form was used by the Associated Press to transmit what were identified as "AP Wirephotos" beginning in 1934, the modern fax machine did not come into general use until the mid-1970s. By the mid-1980s, falling electronics prices and improved phone technology made the fax a ubiquitous office tool.

>> The opening song in "Zodiac" is "Easy to be Hard" (from "The American Tribal Love/Rock Musical," "Hair") performed by Three Dog Night -- one of the best-selling bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s, whose hit singles included "One" (written by Harry Nilsson; recorded by Aimee Mann for the soundtrack of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia"), "Mama Told Me Not to Come" (written by Randy Newman; also used in PTA's "Boogie Nights"), "Eli's Coming" (written by Laura Nyro) and "Joy to the World" (written by Hoyt Axton -- the guy who buys the gremlin in Joe Dante's "Gremlins"). The Three Dog Night version of "Shambala" (1973) was featured in a recent episode of the TV show "Lost," in which an eight-track cassette of the song is found in a crashed VW bus. TDN's version of "Shambala" was also used on the soundtrack of Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects."

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The shifting sands

I approach this annual task with a sense of foreboding. The 2002 Oscar race rests on shifting sands. There are scarcely even any absolute front-runners, unless it is Jennifer Connolly as best supporting actress. I am sure of one category, then another. Then I change my mind.

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