Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
* 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.
Shutdown blues; "El Paso" in the "Breaking Bad" finale; reconsidering Ron Howard; All Female Directors for "Call the Midwife"; reconsidering films is part of growing up. Plus: Senator Elizabeth Warren is as awesome as ever.
Film Journalist Katherine Tulich interviews "Rush" director Ron Howard and the film's stars, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl.
Extraterrestrial life may really exist; House Republicans slash billions in food stamps; "Invisible Man" banned in North Carolina; an object of Internet ridicule speaks; Hollywood luminaries who got their start with Roger Corman.
Marie writes: Ever intrepid, club member Sandy Kahn has submitted an intriguing quartet of finds involving a series of Hollywood auctions set to begin at the end of July 2013. Sandy has shared similar things in the past and as before, club members are invited to freely explore the wide variety of collectibles & memorabilia being auctioned LIVE by "Profiles in History". Note: founded in 1985 by Joseph Maddalena, Profiles in History is the nation’s leading dealer in guaranteed-authentic original historical autographs, letters, documents, vintage signed photographs and manuscripts.
Words, images and videos worth knowing about.
Marie writes: Now this is something you don't see every day. Behold The Paragliding Circus! Acrobatic paragliding pilot Gill Schneider teamed up with his father’s circus class (he operates a school that trains circus performers) to mix and combine circus arts with paragliding - including taking a trapezist (Roxane Giliand) up for ride and without a net. Best original film in the 2012 Icare Cup. Video by Director/Filmmaker Shams Prod. To see more, visit Shams Prod.
David Carr interviewed A.O. Scott on the subject of movie criticism in a "Sweet Spot" video posted on the New York Times' ArtsBeat blog last Friday. I urge you to follow that link, watch the seven-and-a-half-minute conversation and let me know what you make of it. Carr plays the clown, but I'm not sure how much of it is intentional because most of what he says is so ignorant, and he doesn't even attempt to support it or invest thought in the conversation. Scott, as you know if you read him regularly, is quite eloquent and calls bullshit on some of Carr's more outrageous fabrications.
To help pin down my own thoughts (following up on years of writing about this very subject, including a series of recent posts and comment threads -- "Avenge me! AVENGE ME!," "The Avengers & the Amazing 'Critic-Proof' Movie," "Continuing to argue for the irrelevance of my own opinions," "Cannes and Cannes-not: On being a movie geek"), I've tried to label the various formal and informal fallacies of logic at play here, and link to Wikipedia definitions of them. Of course there are so many (in the conversation and in the list on Wikipedia) that I may have mislabeled some, in which case please let me know.
So, it begins:
"Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel" is available March 27 on online outlets via iTunes, Vudu, CinemaNow and Amazon. Also on DVD and Blu-ray.
For B-movie buffs, exploitation film aficionados, and midnight movie cultists, the grand finale of "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel," will be every bit as exhilarating as that montage of forbidden kisses at the end of "Cinema Paradiso." Taking its cue from the liberating, rebellious high point of the Roger Corman-produced "Rock and Roll High School," in which P. J. Soles and the Ramones rock the hallways of Vince Lombardi High, it offers up dizzying bursts of quintessential Corman: cheesy monsters, fiery car explosions, Vincent Price, blaxploitation kickass, marauding piranhas and Mary Woronov with a gun.
Alex Stapleton's "Corman's World" celebrates the singular cinematic legacy of the "King of the Bs," who has improbably and regretfully fallen into obscurity. Observes director Penelope Spheeris ("The Boys Next Door," "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years," "Wayne's World"): "If you ask a 20-25-year-old film buff, they won't know who he is."
This despite a career that spans almost 60 years and more than 400 films that Corman either directed or produced. But while his own name may be unfamiliar, many of the once-fledgling actors and filmmakers whom he nurtured/exploited are not: Martin Scorsese ("Boxcar Bertha"), Ron Howard ("Grand Theft Auto"), Peter Bogdanovich ("Targets"), Jonathan Demme ("Caged Heat"), Joe Dante ("Piranha"), Robert DeNiro ("Bloody Mama"), Pam Grier ("The Big Doll House"), screenwriter John Sayles ("The Lady in Red") -- all these and many more appear in "Corman's World" in new and archival interviews.
When I was a child I was taught that it was unacceptable to call something -- a movie, a song, an activity -- "boring" because: 1) it doesn't make sense (a thing can't be boring, unless perhaps it is a drill bit; a person feels bored); and 2) it's indefensible, since the quality of "boringness" cannot be isolated or identified as an element of the thing itself; it's a feeling and it is yours).
So, saying something is "boring" is not exactly like saying something in a movie is "funny" or "moving" -- though, again, I'd prefer to place the responsibility for a response on the "feeler" rather than on the object -- because at least you can describe how something is presented or intended to be received as humorous or touching, even if you don't think it is. (Yes, there are exceptions to that, too.) I mean, a joke or a gag or an emotional situation can be objectively analyzed, but there are no agreed-upon cultural standards for evaluating "boring."¹
"Boring," I believe, is more like the word "entertaining" -- too vague to be of much use in a critical vocabulary. So, I might say I found something about a movie "tedious" or "engaging" or some other thesaurus word, but I'll attribute the emotion to myself and my taste, and even then not without a serious attempt to describe what I'm talking about, and to give at least one specific example.²
But now, "boring" is hot, at least in overheated Interwebular film criticism circles, since the publication of Dan Kois' New York Times Magazine piece called "Eating Your Cultural Vegetables," in which he says:
For tax day, the editors at MSN Movies came up with an idea for contributors to write short essays about the most, ahem, "taxing" people in modern movies. Each of us picked a person whose presence, behind or in front of the camera, we find wearisome and debilitating -- as in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of taxing: "onerous, wearing."
You've probably already guessed my choice. I've written quite a bit about why I find Christopher Nolan's post-"Memento" work lackluster, but this exercise gave me an opportunity to condense my reservations about his writing and directing into one relatively concise piece:
Let me say up front that I don't think Nolan is a bad or thoroughly incompetent director, just a successfully pedestrian one. His Comic-Con fan base makes extravagant claims for each new film -- particularly since Nolan began producing his graphic-novel blockbusters with "Batman Begins" in 2005 -- but the movies are hobbled by thesis-statement screenplays that strain for significance and an ungainly directing style that seems incapable of, and uninterested in, illustrating more than one thing at a time: "Look at this. Now look at this. Now look at this. Now here's some dialogue to explain the movie's fictional rules. Now a character will tell you what he represents and what his goals are." And so on ... You won't experience the thrill of discovery while looking around in a Nolan frame. You'll see the one thing he wants you to see, but everything around it is dead space. [...]
@jeeemerson god. Pretty soon we won't be able to tell a knock knock joke, for fear of hurting a doors feelings. STFU
That's an offended tweeter's response to my previous post, "The "gay" Dilemma: If it's a joke, what does it mean?" -- except that it's not really a response, exactly, since it doesn't address anything I actually, you know, said.¹ It's a tweet. Still, it expresses a fairly common attitude among those who are easily offended that others take offense to things they are not offended by: Why are people hurting my feelings by getting their feelings hurt over what I say or what I like? So, to those whose feelings have been bruised in this way, I want to say: Don't stop whining. Don't stop making it all about you. Keep on complaining that your sensibilities are being hurt because you feel that other people should not express opinions other than your own. How dare other people claim that things you honestly feel are funny are not only not funny to them, but maybe even painful or insulting!?! What if that's not even what you meant at all? Just remember, when your feelings are hurt by somebody who says you've hurt their feelings, it's all their fault for being so sensitive to what words mean and being so rude as to tell you. Blame them. You shouldn't have to accept responsibility for what you do or say or laugh at. That's just not fair!
But seriously, folks...
Several of yesterday's commenters mentioned comedic treatments of the anti-gay epithets "fag" and "faggot" on "South Park" ("The F Word") and Louis CK's series, "Louie," which is where the clip above comes from. A group of comedians are discussing the implications of using the word "faggot" in Louis's stage act. Louis asks Rick, the only gay comic at the table, if he thinks he shouldn't use the word. Rick says, "I think you should use whatever word you want... but are you interested to know what it might mean to gay men?"²
On the day after the near-mystical cosmic alignment of Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day (did the Postal Service suspend delivery on the day Columbus came out in 1492?), and the very day that a US district judge issued a worldwide injunction ordering the Department of Defense to stop enforcement of its absurd, 17-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for kicking gays out of the military (best of all, the case was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans!), I have found myself reading about a stupid gay joke that's been removed from trailers for the upcoming Ron Howard comedy "The Dilemma," starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.
I saw the trailer in front of "The Social Network," October 1. Vaughn's character is speaking to some automotive businessmen (is this a follow-up to Howard's "Gung-Ho"?) and says: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper reportedly went on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and said he was "shocked" that Universal "thought that it was OK to put that in a preview for the movie to get people to go and see it." Universal responded by quickly pulling the scene from the trailer. No word on whether it will remain in the movie, which opens in January.
Marie writes: Club member and noted blog contributor Tom Dark took this astonishing photograph near his home in Abiqui, New Mexico. The "unknown entity" appeared without warning and after a failed attempt to communicate, fled the scene. Tom stopped short of saying "alien" to describe the encounter, but I think it's safe to say that whatever he saw, it was pretty damned freaky. It sure can't be mistaken for anything terrestrial; like a horse pressing its nose up to the camera and the lens causing foreshortening. As it totally does not look like that at all. (click to enlarge.)
This is pretty much exactly what most new indie and studio movies look like to me. Not just the Oscar-hopefuls and the Sundance selections. And not just the trailers, but the entire movies themselves (which are usually laid out, beat by beat, in the trailers). This one's funnier, though, because it doesn't pretend to be anything more than a familiar schematic diagram. Which is exactly what these comfy, risk-averse movies seem to be aiming for.
Starring Robert Pattinson or Adam Sandler, Natalie Portman or Sandra Bullock. Directed by Ron Howard or someone whose only previous work has been on YouTube.
(tip: Max Kleger)
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.
LOS ANGELES--Roger Ebert, film critic of the Sun-Times, was granted an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the Directors' Guild of America here Saturday night, receiving two standing ovations.
What, no love for 'What happens in Vegas'?
In a startling upset, "The Dark Knight" failed to make the cut in the Best Picture category Thursday, as this year's Academy Awards nominees were announced. The Batman drama, second top-grossing film of all time after "Titanic," was also a critical favorite and looked to many like a shoo-in.
Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are swell as David Frost and Richard Nixon in the adapted-from-the-stage-adaptation movie, but I feel -- and I believe the above clips demonstrate -- that these five minutes provide more compelling drama and suspense (and adrenaline) than the entire feature film. Frost presents himself as a much stronger, more flamboyant "prosecutor" than he is in the movie. And watch the incredible range and focus of Nixon's performance: the deliberate rhetorical emphases and repetitions; the flashes of steely anger and startling shifts into unctuousness/condescension when he seems like he could burst into inappropriate laugher or tears or flames; the (strategic?) digressions and circumlocutions; the hand-gestures, head-shakes, eye-blinks; the splintered syntax and mispronunciations-under-pressure when he gets flustered... At least you can tell (unlike certain modern politicians one could name) that he's actually thinking as he talks, sifting through evidence and debate tactics and talking points in his head, not just going blank and letting his lips flap. THIS is an endlessly fascinating character in peak performance mode...
* * * *
"Frost/Nixon" and "Milk" are glossy products of the Hollywood awards season, prestige pictures in the grand red-carpet tradition of fashioning uplifting, larger-than-life entertainments out of semi-fictionalized semi-recent historical events. The thing is, both have been treated far more thrillingly on documentaries that are available on DVD. Think "Frost/Nioxon" provided compelling drama, suspense and astoundingly rich performances? It can't approach the actual interviews , which have just been released as "Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews." Think "Milk" was a moving look at a charismatic public figure and a key period in American civil rights? You have not begun to be moved until you see Rob Epstein's Oscar-winning "The Times of Harvey Milk" (clips after the jump), which is also a more complex, less hagiographic portrait of the man and his heady times.
Roger Ebert's best movie lists from 1967-present
His code name is Deep Vote. He reads the mind of the Academy. He will reveal to me the names of this year's nominees. Our annual rendezvous is in the Anime section of a small Blockbuster in an obscure Midwestern city. He pulls on latex gloves and uses a fingernail knife to slit open a fresh pack of 3X5 cards. He writes down his predictions.
One of the things film critics do for a living is to pay close attention to how people behave, and how that behavior is presented through visual media. This applies not only to actors playing characters, but to people who play themselves, in fictional or nonfictional settings, on and off the screen. It should come as no surprise to learn that some of our best movie critics have backgrounds in psychology.
When Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sex with that woman," it now seems impossible to believe that he fooled anyone at that particular moment. But if any movie critic misread Clinton's voice and body language, that critic should have been impeached. As opaque as the clumsy verbal gymnastics of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin may often be, behind the contortions it's hard to avoid seeing the painful truth, which is simply that they don't know what their own words mean, and even when they know what they've been told to say they don't know how to communicate it. As actors, they're thoroughly unconvincing: You can see the wheels turning inside their heads -- only the gears aren't even engaged. There's a lot of whirring and spinning, but nothing happens. That can be excruciating to watch, but it's also the stuff of modern comedy. Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and the whole Judd Apatow crew come to mind.
Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, argues that film critics like Roger Ebert, sophisticated in their knowledge of media presentation and human behavior, make more insightful political pundits than the usual beltway-bubble spin-docs employed by television, radio, print and online outlets. In a piece called "From film critic to political pundit," Goldstein writes:
To me, film critics, like TV and theater critics, are especially well equipped to analyze today's politics, which is why Frank Rich made such a seamless transition from theater to media and political commentator. In fact, in some ways film critics are probably better equipped to assess the political theater of today's presidential campaigns, since our campaigns are -- as has surely been obvious for some time -- far more about theater and image creation than politics.
From Ebert's new book, now on sale.
View image The youngest victims of the games.
1) A letter from Kate Johnson, published at RogerEbert.com: Too late I read your review [of "Funny Games"]. I was blindsided by this movie. Went with a friend and didn't know a THING about it beforehand. All I kept saying was, "Let's get out of here. It's a MOVIE. The director/ producer / whatever is trying to force-feed us with S--T. How can the actors even think of being in such a movie -- what about that little boy?"
Finally when it was over and my "friend" looked like a deer in the headlights -- I was physically sick. I demanded my money back from the box office only to have the girl laugh at me -- at first. I threw up on the floor right in front of her -- and it splattered. She gave me the money, helped me clean up and actually cried. My "friend" was embarrassed by my behavior -- and therefore has lost my friendship. This whole last scene (starring me, my friend, the cashier at the box office), seemed a sequel to the movie. First, I applaud Kate Johnson's response to the movie, which I think was appropriate and creative (though it may not have been fun for her). Was she the target audience for "Funny Games"? Nobody's really saying.
2) In a story headlined "Haneke plays 'Games' with critics," Variety reports: "'We always expected it would have a polarized response,' says WIP topper Polly Cohen, who admits she was both repulsed and compelled by the film. 'It's for a very specific audience.'" (Barf or applaud: It's up to you! The critical reaction is split right down the middle at RottenTomatoes.)
That article includes a self-reflexive comment in the spirit of "Funny Games." Be sure to read through to the final sentence to see who gets the last laugh:
CANNES, France - On second thought, maybe it was not such a great idea to hold the world premiere of "The Da Vinci Code" at the Cannes Film Festival. The critical reception here was negative, but what would you expect? As someone who enjoyed the film (good, not great, better than the book) I am possibly typical of many of the people who will pay to see it. But when you open at Cannes, those are not the people in your audience.