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The Congress

"The Congress" is a roll call of the orgiastic pleasures and bountiful comforts that art provides, and, a reminder of what waits for us when…

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As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

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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.

#80 September 14, 2011

Marie writes: my brother Paul recently sent me an email sharing news of something really cool at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. For those who don't remember - as I'm sure I've mentioned it in the Newsletter before, the Capilano Suspension Bridge was original built 1889 and constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks. 450 feet (137m) long and 230 feet (70m) high, today's bridge is made of reinforced steel safely anchored in 13 tons of concrete on either side of the canyon (click images to enlarge.)

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Southland Tales: No sparkle, no motion

View image The evil queen and her dwarves. How clever. This was the shot that almost prompted me to walk out. I can't believe they used it for a production still. Yes I can.

Sometimes I doubt Richard Kelly's commitment to Sparkle Motion. The first time was the "Director's Cut" of "Donnie Darko," which de-emphasized all that was mysterious and exciting about the original film by insisting on a literal explication of the time-warp theories of Roberta Sparrow (aka "Grandma Death"). Huge mistake -- as bad as showing us the inside of the mothership in the "Special Edition" of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." At least Spielberg knew that was an error, and removed it from his Director's Cut: He'd wanted to tweak things he'd had to rush in order to meet his deadline (after all, the fate of Columbia Pictures was riding on this picture), and to flesh out some character details. But Columbia let him go back and fine-tune his blockbuster on the condition that he show Richard Dreyfuss inside the ship -- something we really didn't want to see, because it ruined the uplifting momentum of the ending, and who wants to see Richard Dreyfuss crying over anti-climactic special effects anyway?

"Southland Tales" is the product of the same literalist sensibility that produced the second version of "Donnie Darko." Part of me questions whether it's even worth writing about, mainly because it offers so little of cinematic interest. It's fussy and inert, like Part 4 of a PowerPoint slide-show based on a set of elaborately drawn storyboards that explain in excruciating detail the minutiae of the mythology behind "Hudson Hawk." There's nothing close to a movie here.

There's an obvious channel-surfing aesthetic to mimic "information overload," but nothing's on, anyway. One shot could just as easily be followed by any other shot -- they aren't cut together with any verve or intelligence, so the effect is flat and linear. We flip by a beachside talk show ("The View" with porn actresses), and that's as sophisticated and penetrating as "Southland Tales" ever gets about sex, politics and media. (He said "penetrating"!) Is it hard to follow? Not really. The voiceover makes sure everything is explained (often more than once), but it could just as well not have been explained and it wouldn't matter, because nothing is illuminated in the explanation.

Like "Hudson Hawk," it's a bloated, white-elephantine vanity production (for the writer-director, not the star) -- a strained, deliberate, joyless, big-budget, star-studded Hollywood effort to manufacture a "cult movie" by pandering to what some studio execs probably consider to be "the comic-book youth demographic." It wishes it could be "Repo Man" (or "RoboCop" or "Starship Troopers") but it's not even "The Postman." Actually, "Southland Tales" -- co-financed by Universal, which is distributing the film internationally but dropped any domestic plans after the disastrous reception at Cannes -- isn't "big-budget" by today's Hollywood standards ($17 million). But the feeling of waste and desperation behind it -- "Let's throw money at the screen for big sets and unimaginative digital effects!" -- is not unlike that dead-lump-in-your-stomach feeling you get while watching your average Michael Bay movie. [Since writing this, I have learned that the time and (Sony) money spent re-tooling "Southland Tales" after Cannes has included cutting 20 minutes, adding to Justin Timberlake's too-literal voiceover, and beefing up the special effects. That's what I was afraid of. It shows.]

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Darkness for 'Donnie Darko' director?

Buffy Barko. Sarah Michelle Gellar in Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales."

When "Donnie Darko" sank without a trace after its theatrical release in October, 2001, writer-director Richard Kelly feared his (potential) career had gone down with it. Then, the movie became a cult phenomenon on DVD and Kelly, like his alliterative hero, was given a second chance.

The signs since then have not been enouraging: a screenplay for Tony Scott's "Domino," a film that graced many of last year's Ten Worst lists; and (far more disturbing) a "director's cut" of "Donnie Darko" that indicated Kelly didn't know what he'd done right the first time. All the best qualities of the film -- its teasing ambiguity, its creepy playfulness -- were nearly crushed in an attempt to laboriusly spell out an elaborate science-fiction/time travel mythology. What was once a tantalizing undercurrent was thus made literal and dull. More "explanation" of geeky but arbitrary "rules" simply reduced the movie's sense of possibility and imagination... and made it a lot less fun. If the "DD" director's cut had been the original version of the movie, it would never have piqued enough curiosity to have developed much of a cult following.

Now, the reviews from Cannes of Kelly's long-awaited and highly anticipated sophomore feature, "Southland Tales," suggest Kelly hasn't learned anything from his "Donnie Darko" director's cut experience. Most of them are devastating -- by which I mean they're at least as bad as the ones for "The Da Vinci Code," and worse than the ones for "X-Men: The Last Stand."

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