Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
* 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.
Kevin Spacey discusses the timelessness of William Shakespeare, impact of Hill Street Blues, and the moment he knew he was an actor.
Remembrances of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Brian Tallerico offers a look at the television we'll be talking about in 2014.
The class gap caused by lack of Internet access; Andy Kaufman may be alive; Weinstein Co. wins MPAA appeal; "Carlito's Way" appreciation; Dunham and Kaling's brass tacks.
Rumors suggest the next Bond film will put Moneypenny in the field with James. Bond expert Jeffrey Westhoff has some thoughts on that.
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.
Nick Schager ponders the new crop of action directors, who bring 'serious film' cred to the genre, but can't seem to show personality where it counts the most.
"Skyfall" is a theatrical film in the same way that its director, Sam Mendes, is a theatrical filmmaker. That is, its approach to organizing space for an audience (the camera lens) is noticeably stagey. I mean that in a "value-neutral" way. I just mean the frame is frequently used as a proscenium and the images are action-tableaux deployed for a crowd -- whether it's the designated audience surrogates in the movie (bystanders or designated dramatis personae), or the viewers in the seats with the cup-holders. That's not to say it's uncinematic (it's photographed by the great Roger Deakins!), but many of the set-pieces in "Skyfall" are conceived and presented as staged performance pieces.
I find it mind-boggling that something as trivial as an action film series could become such a constant presence in my life but that's been the case with the James Bond movies. It's not so much that their span happens to equal mine (to the very week, by the way) as I didn't start following them until I was 9 years old -- but ever since, they've always been around one way or another: from big theatrical openings to re-re-releases in the beat up movie houses of old; from Betamax tapings of network T.V. broadcasts (pausing the machine to edit the commercials), to the great looking discs of today. Every couple of years or so they have made their appearance and I've watched each one dozens of times regardless how good or bad they were, an odd fact for which I've had no reasonable explanation.
I'm double-posting my review of "Skyfall" to encourage comments, which my main site can't accept.
In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the disappointing "Quantum of Solace" (2008) still in our minds, "Skyfall" triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever made. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played well in "Casino Royale," not so well in "Quantum"--although it may not have been entirely his fault. I don't know what I expected in Bond #23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating.
Marie writes: "let's see what happens if I tickle him with my stick..."(Photo by Daniel Botelho. Click image to enlarge.)
Marie writes: I may have been born in Canada, but I grew-up watching Sesame Street and Big Bird, too. Together, they encouraged me to learn new things; and why now I can partly explain string theory.That being the case, I was extremely displeased to hear that were it up Romney, as President he wouldn't continue to support PBS. And because I'm not American and can't vote in their elections, I did the only thing I could: I immediately reached for Photoshop....
(Click image to enlarge.)
Marie writes: It's that time of the year again! The Toronto International Film Festival is set to run September 6 - 16, 2012. Tickets selection began August 23rd. Single tickets on sale Sept 2, 2012. For more info visit TIFF's website.
Marie writes: As I'm sure readers are aware, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are now underway! Meanwhile, the opening ceremony by Danny Boyle continues to solicit comments; both for against. (Click image to enlarge.)
Marie writes: I've never seen this done before - and what an original idea! Gwen Murphy is an artist who breathes new life into old shoes, transforming them from fashion accessories into intriguing works of art. Thanks go to club member Cheryl Knott for telling me about this. (Click to enlarge.)
• "The Outer Limits" (original series) is available on Netflix (DVD), Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. • "In Cold Blood" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "Cool Hand Luke" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "American Beauty" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "Road to Perdition" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray).
by Jeff Shannon Eyes Wide Open: A Single Artist's Vision
Ask anyone who's devoted their life to the study and appreciation of movies and they can probably tell you exactly when they were "bitten by the movie bug," that moment of personal epiphany that sparked an all-consuming passion for what is arguably the greatest, most powerful medium of artistic expression.
In my case, it was Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" that literally changed my life. That's an influential milestone I share with many cinephiles who came of age in the 1950s and '60s, especially those "movie brats" (among them James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) who were drawn to imaginative visions of the future. Because I'd spent most of my childhood outdoors or casually enjoying Disney films and other kid-friendly fare, I didn't see Kubrick's visionary masterpiece until it played a return engagement at Seattle's glorious Cinerama Theater, in 1971, when I was nine years old.
(With its huge, curved Cinerama screen, the Cinerama is still the only theater in Seattle capable of showing "2001" as Kubrick intended. It exclusively hosted the film's original 77-week Seattle run beginning in April 1968, and the fully restored 70-millimeter print of "2001" had its world premiere there, appropriately enough, in 2001, two years after the aging cinema was purchased and beautifully renovated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It's now one of only three theaters in the world -- along with the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford England -- equipped to exhibit three-panel Cinerama, requiring three synchronized projectors for the only seven films created in the three-strip Cinerama process, including 1956's "This Is Cinerama" and 1962's "How the West Was Won." Starting this week [Sept. 30th] and running through mid-October, Seattle's Cinerama is hosting a "70mm Festival" of 15 films, including "2001," that originally premiered there.)
Like no other film before it, "2001" opened my eyes to the power of a single artist's vision and led me to understand the supremacy of a great director. I didn't know it then, but I'd discovered the basis of auteur theory, and while it would be foolish to deny that film is (to echo that award-acceptance cliché) the most collaborative of all art forms, it's no contradiction to embrace the Kubrick quote that greets all visitors to kubrickfilms.com, Warner Bros.' authorized Kubrick website: "One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential for one man to make a film." (Disregard "man"; Kubrick would've been the first to include female filmmakers in his statement.)
"Those who think "Transformers" is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve."
-- Roger Ebert, "I'm a proud Brainiac"
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is the "Dark Knight" of 2009. In what way? It's the pop-smash action picture that has excited a bunch of fanboys fans who don't usually read movie critics to howl with inarticulate rage about movie critics who don't like their movie. Of course, "The Dark Knight" was met with considerable mainstream critical acclaim, and "ROTFL" with equally considerable mainstream critical disdain, but the important thing to remember is: critics had nothing to do with making these movies hits.
Want to see critics made completely superfluous? Bestow upon them the magical power to predict box-office success. Instead of awarding thumbs or stars or letter grades, they can just provide ticket sales projections that can be quoted in the ads: "I give it $109 million in its opening weekend!" Voila! Instant redundancy, instant irrelevance. Why do you need critics to gauge grosses when you already have tracking reports, followed by the actual grosses themselves?
Here's a question for you: Can a movie ruin a good review? Conversely, can a review actually improve upon a movie? Sure, good criticism (whether positive or negative) should encourage you to see a film in new ways you may not have recognized before. Just as cinema itself is a way of looking at the world through someone else's eyes, criticism is a way of looking at movies through someone else's eyes. Yet, the movies themselves don't change -- only our perceptions of them (we'll put aside William Friedkin's "French Connection" Blu-ray for the moment). On the one hand, a piece of film criticism is kind of like an adaptation. It offers an interpretation of the original, but does not replace it. Other "versions" still exist, just as they always did.
I can think of several examples of criticism that I think is superior to the work being criticized, in the sense that the critic is writing about an idealized version of what's on the screen -- the movie we might wish was on the screen, rather than (or in addition to) the one that's actually there. A clarification: This has nothing to do with whether the critic is divining the filmmaker's intentions or not. It has everything to do with what the critic is seeing in, and getting out of, the film.
"One thing I'm willing to bet [about a "Revolutionary Road" screenplay written in the 1970s] is that it made the Wheelers a lot more sympathetic than they ought to be. It was a common misconception when the book was first published, even among good critics. Quite simply, Yates meant for the Wheelers to seem a little better than mediocre: not, that is, stoical mavericks out of Hemingway, or glamorous romantics out of Fitzgerald. Rather, the Wheelers are everyday people -- you and me -- who pretend to be something they're not because life is lonely and dull and disappointing."
-- Richard Yates biographer Blake Bailey in Slate (June 26, 2007)
Plot and thematic spoilers ahead.
"How do you break free... without breaking apart"? That's the rhetorical question posed as a tag line in this trailer (above) for Sam Mendes' titanic version of Richard Yates' 1961 novel "Revolutionary Road," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
But is that what "Revolutionary Road" -- the movie or the book -- is about? Does it even scratch the surface? I wonder if this is being sold as a story about two extraordinary people who might have fulfilled their promise... if they hadn't been stifled by the suburban conformist pressures of America in the 1950s. If only they'd broken free and gone to Paris where people really feel things!
Roger Ebert's best movie lists from 1967-present
View image Looming large.
I believe it was Gordon Gecko who proclaimed: "Ham is good!"
The "Wall Street" supervillain (superhero?) was not advocating violation of any dietary laws, of course, but simply stating a fact: Sometimes Big Acting can be quite enjoyable. Other times, of course, it can be cringe-worthy, irritating, risible, embarrassing. Only you can decide which is which. For you.
Take for example the story of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" -- she of "No wire hangers!" and "Eat your meat!" (both precursors of "I drink your milkshake!"). Pre-release publicity reports claimed that Dunaway was giving a serious dramatic performance. But from the very first screenings it was painfully (yet fasciatingly) clear that somebody was going off her rocker -- but which actress was it: Crawford or Dunaway?
Performances pitched at the balcony, or the moon, always take the risk of falling somewhere between "tour-de-force" and "trying way too hard," virtuosity and showboating. And opinions may very about where they come down. (See "A Journey to the End of Taste," below.) You may wince at the Method nakedness displayed by Marlon Brando or James Dean in some of their most intense emotional moments ("You're tearing me apart!"). Or you may rejoice at even the most outré dramatic and/or comedic efforts of Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson, Klaus Kinski, Will Ferrell, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Nicolas Cage, Ben Stiller, Tyler Perry, Owen Wilson, Gene Wilder... while others find them excruciating, overwrought or unintentionally campy.
The bigger the performance, the bigger the risks. Or maybe not. Just look over the history of Oscar nominations for acting.
View image Attend the pale and Teeny Todd. He doesn't exactly cut an imposing figure. Jack Skellington with a thicker head of hair.
"Tim Burton has made a miniaturist 'Sweeney Todd.' Wispy, anemic, paper-thin, sanitized. Petit Guignol. Teeny Todd..."
Those were among the first notes to myself that I typed after returning from a December screening of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Before that, it had seemed to me that Tim Burton (the Tim Burton of "Batman" and "Batman Returns," not "Mars Attacks!" or "Nightmare Before Christmas") might be, hypothetically, an ideal choice to make a film of Stephen Sondheim's musical-thriller masterpiece about a vengeful barber who conspires with a randy pie-shop proprietress to bake his victims into meat pies. Surely Burton would make it his own, a movie that wouldn't have to compete with the stage version because it would be a Tim Burton Film, existing in parallel to, but apart from, Sondheim and Harold Prince's achievement.¹
Not quite. It's one thing to Devoid of passion, grandeur, ghastly humor and operatic lunacy, Burton's "Sweeney Todd" is a plastic wind-up toy, a fast-food tie-in trinket. It belongs on a little gingerbread tchotchke shelf, next to your collectible "Macbeth" action-figurines. The best that can be said for it is that nobody's yet adapted the title property for film, so maybe that's something we can still look forward to.²
Sondheim himself has done a fine job of explaining why the filmmakers made the choices they did in bringing this "Sweeney" to the screen (New York Times: "Sondheim Dismembers 'Sweeney' .") And they're all perfectly good reasons. I understand the difficult choices that had to be made. How do you squeeze the show into less two hours? Slash some numbers, condense others, speed up the tempos. Do the performances (and the voices) have to be as strong and idiosyncratic for film as they do on stage? Not necessarily....
Martin Scorsese has an Oscar in his hand. It's his Oscar.
For the first time in 30+ years, Roger Ebert watched the Oscars from home instead of from backstage. He writes about the experience here.
Meanwhile, I spent my Oscar night writing a deadline piece for the Chicago Sun-Times, which had to be filed about 45 minutes before the show was over. Here's the (unedited) final version for the web: The cops-and-mobsters thriller "The Departed," which director Martin Scorsese described as the first movie he's ever done with a plot, took the jackpot prize at the Academy Awards last night. For Scorsese, this was supposed to be a genre picture, not Oscar-bait like "The Aviator" and "Gangs of New York," but it turns out that, even at the Oscars, sometimes you can come out ahead when you don't look like you're trying so hard.
Even though there were several "surprises" during the ceremonies, it still felt kind of like the Acada-"meh" Awards. Since none of the Best Picture nominees inspired much passion (don't expect a "Crash"-lash" this year), and none stood out as a Timeless Achievement in Cinema, one winner was pretty much as good as another. And so, the Academy decided to spread the statuettes around.
Of course, the evening's big disappointment was that Martin Scorsese did not join his fellow great directors -- Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang -- who never won an Oscar in competition. Instead, he joins Norman Taurog, John G. Avildson and Sam Mendes as one of the immortals whose name will always, from this moment on, be preceded by the term "Academy Award-winning" as if it were a prefix. (I kid.)
Now, future generations can look back at Oscar history and say... "What!?!? The director of "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "King of Comedy" and "GoodFellas" won an Oscar for "The Departed"?!? Wasn't that the inferior American remake of "Infernal Affairs"?" Well, look at it this way: John Ford, famous for great American Westerns like "Stagecoach," "My Darling Clementine," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "The Searchers" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," won four Oscars for direction, and not one of them was for a Western. Rest of story at RogerEbert.com
The cops-and-mobsters thriller "The Departed," which director Martin Scorsese described as the first movie he's ever done with a plot, took the jackpot prize at the Academy Awards last night. For Scorsese, this was supposed to be a genre picture, not Oscar-bait like "The Aviator" and "Gangs of New York," but it turns out that, even at the Oscars, sometimes you can come out ahead when you don't look like you're trying so hard.
"So what was it like working with Paul Newman?"