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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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Magic in the Moonlight

While Allen’s new picture, "Magic In The Moonlight," isn’t even close to being a disaster (for that, see, well, "Scoop"), I don’t think it’s unreasonable…

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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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* 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.

Dario Argento on "Dracula" and Horror

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If you were to ask any horror film fanatic worth his or her salt to name some of their all-time genre favorites, it is almost certain that the ensuing lists would contain a couple of titles from legendary Italian director Dario Argento. Combining bizarre narratives that aren't so much conventional stories as they are waking nightmares in which practically anything can happen and elaborately conceived and executed set-pieces that marry together a lush visual style and unheard-of levels of on-screen brutality, Argento has created some of the most gruesomely gorgeous tales of terror ever filmed—the most notable being "Deep Red," "Tenebrae," "Opera," "The Stendhal Syndrome" and his landmark supernatural "Three Mothers" trilogy of "Suspiria," "Inferno" and "Mother of Tears"—and he has proven to be a strong influence on subsequent generations of horror filmmakers as well. In addition, he should also be noted for being the father of Asia Argento, one of the most striking actresses working today and with whom he has collaborated with several times over the years. His latest film is "Dracula 3D," his take on the Bram Stoker warhorse, and to be perfectly honest, it is not one of his better efforts. Although stronger than such recent misfires as "The Card Player" and "Giallo," it is a disappointingly bland reworking of familiar material that adds plenty of nudity and violence to the mix but which never quite makes the case for its existence. And yet, there are some worthwhile elements on it here and there for those willing to make the effort.To promote "Dracula 3D," which has slowly begun opening in theaters throughout the country and which is currently also playing as a VOD title on many cable systems, Argento has come to America—only a couple of days after completing a staging of Verdi's opera "Macbeth"—to promote the film. During a stop in Chicago, where the film was shown as a special presentation of the Chicago International Film Festival, I was privileged to get to sit down and talk with a man that I consider to be one of my favorite directors. Surprisingly soft-spoken, he talked in slightly broken English (which was nevertheless better than my Italian) about the film, working with 3D and his daughter and his thoughts on the much-rumored remake of "Suspiria" that has been hinted at for the last several years.Do you remember the first film that you ever saw or, barring that, the first one to have a real impact on you? The first movie I ever saw, I do not remember. I was very young and I was on vacation with my family and there was a retrospective of old films and one of them was "The Phantom of the Opera" with Claude Rains that was in color. It was something very important for my career because I began to follow these stories that were morbid. How did the idea of doing a screen version of "Dracula" come about? I had wanted to do "Dracula" many years ago but I could not find the way into it. Now we have the new technology of 3D and that changed my mind about doing this. It is possible to represent "Dracula" in a new way that looked more natural. With the depth, something changes and the audience feels as though they have been pushed inside the screen. In the past, you have dealt with supernatural forms of horror in the "Three Mothers" trilogy—"Suspiria," "Inferno" and "Mother of Tears"—and "Phenonema" but in those films, you were the sole creator of their mythos and could do anything that you wanted. What was it like to do a supernatural-themed story like "Dracula" in which the basic rules have already been well-established in the minds of the audience? Everything involving vampires now comes from something that Bram Stoker wrote in his book—everything about vampires comes from this novel. Some of it is good and some of it is not so good. I think the Hammer films were very good and very scary. I remembered them very well and I used them as an inspiration. In adapting the story, the basic plot is the same but, like most people who have tackled it in the past, you have thrown some new ideas into the mix as well, such as the townspeople being in overt collusion with Dracula in exchange for his financial aid and Dracula's transformations into a wide variety of animals and insects, including the already infamous moment where he transforms into a giant praying mantis. For Dracula, it is possible to change into a bat or a wolf, so why not a spider or a mantis or any creature? Can you talk about the visual strategy for the film that you devised with cinematographer and longtime collaborator Luciano Tovoli? You mentioned the Hammer films earlier and the look of your film definitely falls in line with their distinct stylings. Before shooting, I had an idea about the color because 3D requires it to be brighter than usual and I asked Tovoli, who I had worked with on "Suspiria," to work with me on this project. We used the new technology of the Arriflex, which is what they used on "Hugo Cabret," and it really allows you to see the distance and it creates something that is magic. I did not want the stupid effects like object coming off of the screen into the audience—those are easy and they are stupid. By being able to see the distance inside, the audience feels like they are in the screen with the actors and that makes it more interesting. Did working in 3D  for the first time require any significant shift in your directorial approach or did you look at it as just another tool? No, the work is the same. Of course, I needed to plan on the distances because in 2D, those things do not exist. I remembered watching the film from Alfred Hitchcock, "Dial M for Murder," and he shot almost all of that movie in one room. There was a genius in what Hitchcock did by manipulating things in that room so that you could see the distances between things like the tables and the vases because of how he used perspective. This is, I believe, the fifth film that you have directed that has featured your daughter, Asia, in the cast, following "Trauma," "The Stendhal Syndrome," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Mother of Tears." How has the working relationship between the two of you developed over the years, especially since she has become a director of note herself with "Scarlet Diva" and "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things"? Nowadays, she is more cautious about her work that she was before because she now understands the work of the director. We speak a lot during the shooting about the work but when we are shooting, we are not talking as father and daughter—it is all professional. We speak about the work—she works into the night about the next day's work—and it is a marvelous experience to work with her. I am so happy about it. How did the casting of some of the other roles comes about, such as Thomas Kretschmann, whom you used in the past as the psycho in "The Stendhal Syndrome," as Dracula and cult icon Rutger Hauer as vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing? Rutger Hauer is marvelous—he is a monument of the cinema and he has the right characteristics. In the Bram Stoker book, the character of Van Helsing is Dutch and he, of course, is really Dutch. With Kretschmann, he has a real European face that is right for Dracula. We worked together before and when I asked him, he said that it was his dream to play Dracula. As an undisputed legend in the annals of horror filmmaking, what are your thoughts on the state of the genre today? Are there any films or filmmakers that particularly interest you or do you simply avoid it altogether? I don't see too many of them. Some films are good—I have liked some of the ones from France and Spain and South Korea. Do you have any particular favorites amongst your own body of work? All of them are important to me, you know? Maybe something like "Suspiria" or "Deep Red" or "Opera" or even "Phenomena." You are, of course, justly famous for creating cinematic set-pieces that combine incredible visual technique and extreme gore into tableaus that are both beautiful and brutal in equal measure. Looking back, do you think there has ever been a case in which you feel that you may have gone too far in terms of bloodshed in your efforts to shock and scare viewers? It is always for the story. The stories need those scenes and that is why I do that. You just completed a staging of Verdi's "Macbeth"—the very same opera at the heart of your film "Opera"—which I believe was your first full-blown stage creation. What was that experience like? It was just two days before I came here that I finished the opera. It was very good work, working with the singers and the staging. "Macbeth" is one of the best operas ever and doing it was a great experience. I added some things to the opera based from my experience on the movie—such as some of the special effects and bits of film—to make it new and interesting. It was a very good work and a very good experience. Are you working on any new film projects right now? No. I spent a lot of time doing the opera and for the moment, I do not have any ideas. Lastly, there has been talk in the last few years of a possible remake of "Suspiria"—David Gordon Green, of all people, was connected to it for a while. What are your thoughts on this project and the possibility of seeing your own work being remade by others?I hope it does not get made. Nobody called me. Nobody sent me a script. Nobody asked me my opinion about. I hope they do not do it.

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Why are we cruel?

I was watching a movie this week, a very good one, that will open Friday here in Chicago. As sometimes happens, it led me into a realm of thinking that was not directly connected to it--or perhaps it was.

The movie is "The Mill and the Cross," by the Polish director Lech Majewski. It literally enters into a famous painting, Bruegel's "The Road to Calvary," and walks around inside of it.

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VIFF #2: Come into my painting said the spider to the eye

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Lech Majewski's "The Mill and the Cross" takes place inside Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel's 1564 The Way to Calvary -- as the artist observes, imagines, designs, sketches and paints it. I like to think of it as "Bruegel's 8 1/2," and I have rarely seen more absorbing and imaginative uses of blue-screen and CGI in movies.

Not that it's that simple. An article in American Cinematographer describes the film as "a three-year project that took [the filmmakers] to the Jura Mountains of Poland, the Czech Republic and New Zealand for 48 days of filming, followed by 28 months of postproduction at Odeon Film Studio in Warsaw. Production and post immersed them in digital technologies that included the first Red One to arrive in Poland, 2-D compositing in Flame and After Effects, 3-D compositing in Nuke and Fusion, and 3-D graphics in LightWave." Yeah.

Breugel (Rutger Hauer, acting in a world as fantastical and visually striking as that of "Blade Runner") wanders through the landscape of his painting, occasionally explaining his plans and methods to a patron played by Michael York. Charlotte Rampling is also featured as a model for the mother of Christ. But mostly they, and we, just watch. Breugel examines a dew-bejeweled spiderweb and is inspired to structure his painting along the same lines, with the principal event (Jesus stumbling while carrying the cross to Golgotha -- transposed to Flanders) in the center, yet surrounded by so much other activity (hundreds of other figures going about their business) that it is nearly lost, like the titular event in the artist's "The Fall of Icarus." At the upper left is the Tree of Life and the Circle of Life (the town); on the right, the Tree of Death (breaking wheel raised on a tree trunk) and the black Circle of Death (Golgotha).

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#62 May 11, 2011

Marie writes: allow me to introduce you to Travel Photographer, founded by Chris and Karen Coe in 2003 and their annual contest "Travel Photographer of the Year".After years spent working in the travel industry as a professional photographer and finding it was mostly conventional images making it into print, Chris decided to create a way to showcase great travel photography and broaden people's perception of what it can encompass - namely, that it can be much, much more than a pretty postcard image.The contest is open to one and all; amateur and professional photographers compete alongside each other. Entrants are judged solely on the quality of their photographs. There's a special competition to encourage young photographers aged 18 and under; Young Travel Photographer of the Year. The youngest entrant to date was aged just five, the oldest 88. The competition is judged by a panel of photographic experts, including renowned photographers, picture buyers, editor and technical experts.And the 2010 winners have now been announced. Here's a few random photos to wet your appetite - then you can scroll through the amazing winners gallery!

Enal is around 6 years old and knows this shark well - it lives in a penned off area of ocean beneath his stilted house in Wangi, Indonesia. Photo: James Morgan, UK (Portfolio Encounters: Winner 2010)  [note: click images to enlarge]

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#61 May 4, 2011

Marie writes: Doug Foster is a filmmaker and artist who produces large scale digital film installations that often play with ideas of symmetry and optical illusion. His piece The Heretics' Gate is currently on view at "Daydreaming with... St. Michael's" - an exhibition taking place at St. Michael's church in Camden, London. Note: Foster's piece first appeared at the Hell's Half Acre exhibition at the Old Vic Tunnels in London in 2010."The Heretics' Gate" draws inspiration from Dante's Inferno, the first part of his epic poem The Divine Comedy. A twenty foot high, arched screen and a thirty foot long reflecting pool, are cleverly combined to deliver a mesmerizing and strangely ethereal vision of hell at the central focus point of the church's imposing gothic architecture. To learn more, visit: Liquid Hell: A Q&A With Doug Foster.NOTE: The exhibition is the latest installment in renowned British music producer James Lavelle's curatorial and collaborative art venture, "DAYDREAMING WITH..." - a unique and visceral new exhibition experience, inspired by the desire to marry music and visual art. The goal is to bring together some of the most acclaimed creative names working in music, art, film, fashion and design.

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#53 March 9, 2011

Marie writes: every once in a while, you'll stumble upon something truly extraordinary. And when you don't, if you're lucky, you have pals like Siri Arnet who do - and share what they find; smile."Using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, Brian Dettmer carves one page at a time. Nothing inside the out-of-date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books, or dictionaries is relocated or implanted, only removed. Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures. He also folds, bends, rolls, and stacks multiple books to create completely original sculptural forms.""My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book's internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception," he says. - mymodernmet

[click images to enlarge]

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Public Edition #4

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This free Newsletter is a sample of what members receive weekly.For Roger's invitation to the Club, go HERE Marie writes: some of you may recall seeing a custom-built "steampunk" microphone stand made for the group Three Days Grace, by sculptor Christopher Conte; there were pictures of it inside the #14 Newsletter.Born in Norway, Christopher Conte was raised and educated in New York, where he currently lives. After earning a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art, he began working in the prosthetics field making artificial limbs for amputees; which he did for 16 years as a Certified Prosthetist. At the same time, he worked in obscurity creating sculptures which reflected his love for biomechanics, anatomy and robotics. In June 2008, he left the field to begin his career as a full-time artist. And you can now view his work portfolio online...

The Sculpture of Christopher Conte

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The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

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.

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#35 November 3, 2010

Marie writes: some of you may recall seeing a custom-built "steampunk" microphone stand made for the group Three Days Grace, by sculptor Christopher Conte; there were pictures of it inside the #14 Newsletter.Born in Norway, Christopher Conte was raised and educated in New York, where he currently lives. After earning a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art, he began working in the prosthetics field making artificial limbs for amputees; which he did for 16 years as a Certified Prosthetist. At the same time, he worked in obscurity creating sculptures which reflected his love for biomechanics, anatomy and robotics. In June 2008, he left the field to begin his career as a full-time artist. And you can now view his work portfolio online...

The Sculpture of Christopher Conte

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