The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
A report from the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
An interview with "I Smile Back" actress Sarah Silverman.
Three films from TIFF 2015 starring Natalie Portman, Charlotte Rampling and Helen Mirren.
An FFC offers a personal take on Petra Costa's "Elena," including a video with producer Fernando Mereilles.
Highlights and schedule for the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival.
Susan Wloszczyna wonders if women at the helm might be just the thing to revitalize the foundering, repetitive comic-book movie genre.
Marie writes: And so it begins! A new year and another season of Film Festivals and Award shows. The Golden Globes have come and gone and in advance of quirky SXSW, there's Robert Redford's Sundance 2013...
Marie writes: Not everything is what is seems...(Click images to enlarge.)
After discovering that a cancer will take her life within a few months, Ann, a young 23 years-old, makes two important decisions: to hide the disease from everyone (including her husband and their two young daughters) and to draw up a list of things she wants to do before her death - and her wishes include "making love to another man" and "causing someone to fall for me." This is the point at which "My Life Without Me," directed and written by Isabel Coixet, risks scaring away its viewers: the attitudes of Ann show, yes, selfishness and immaturity.
Yes, but is it Art? Marcell Duchamp's famous "Fountain" aka urinal
Marie writes: my art pal Siri Arnet sent me following - and holy cow! "Japanese artist Takanori Aiba has taken bonsai trees, food packaging, and even a tiny statue of the Michelin Man and constructed miniature metropolises around these objects, thus creating real-life Bottled Cities of Kandor. Explains Aiba of his artwork:"My source of creations are my early experience of bonsai making and maze illustration. These works make use of an aerial perspective, which like the diagram for a maze shows the whole from above (the macro view) while including minute details (the micro view). If you explore any small part of my works, you find amazing stories and some unique characters." ( click to enlarge.)
Marie writes: what do you get a man with a massive book collection who has artwork by Edward Lear and huge canvases by Gillian Ayres? What would a man with a Pulitzer and a Webby now renowned for the verbosity of his tweeting, like for his birthday? Much pondering went into answering that. Until suddenly a light-bulb went on above my head! (Click image.)Of course! It's so obvious - turn the Grand Poobah into a super hero! Super Critic: battling the forces of bad movies and championing the little guy, while tweeting where no critic has gone before! In the process, we'll get to see him wearing a red cape and blue tights. Perfect.Note: the artwork was done by Dave Fox of INTOON Productions. He makes personalized comic book covers and animation cels. Diane Kremmer, a long time friend and fellow artist, works and lives with Dave on Pender Island (one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of BC near Washington State.) I spent last weekend with them and took advantage of Dave's cartooning skills. I mention this because he did all the work. I just sat there and drank his wine. :-)
"Splice" has the DNA of a really great philosophical horror/science-fiction movie, but in the less-than-fully formed thing that was delivered to theaters, some of its most promising traits remain recessive, under-developed.
You may notice the first sign of this gestational glitch in the otherwise wonderfully gooey in vitro credits sequence, where the title and the names of the lead actors are spelled out in mutant organic forms, like veins bulging beneath the surface of fetal skin. The credits read: "Screenplay by Vincenzo Natali & Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor" -- which indicates that director Natali worked on it with Bryant, and Taylor was probably either the original writer or did enough of a re-write to merit a screen credit. Someone -- or something -- almost certainly re-formed the last half-hour of the movie, when it suddenly dies and comes back as the predictable horror clone into which it had successfully avoided mutating up until that point.
You can almost feel the splice at which the erratically paced, action-packed ending to another, lesser scary movie has been grafted onto the genetic horror of this one. It happens right around the time Sarah Polley says something like "What's happening?" and Adrien Brody (off-screen, looped dialogue?) says, "I don't know. But she's dying." Thank you, Dr. Exposition.
"My cousin's niece has carpal tunnel, so I think I understand a lot about what it's like to suffer from the discrimination against the autistic in our society."
That's not a direct quote. It's also not much of an exaggeration of the kind of things I've heard people say. Maybe because it's election season, many people's sense of identity politics is going haywire, with individuals pretending they have some special qualifications to speak on behalf of others -- or groups of others -- with whom they don't really have much in common. Mainly, I think, this is because of the narcissism of the speakers, who are not so much concerned with the rights and feelings of those for whom they claim to speak, but are chiefly interested in hogging a moment in the spotlight. Yes, it's all about them and their privileged relationship with... the special, the disadvantaged, the shunned. (See "Literalism advocates literally protest the portrayal of literalists in film." OK, that's really a story about "Blindness" and those who object to metaphors that are too obvious.)
When somebody invokes a real or imagined relationship to a demographic they believe has been sinned against, asserting their personal connection without offering any additional insight, I often want to ask: What are you saying? That you wouldn't be offended if you didn't know somebody who you think has something in common with the group you think should be offended? (Sometimes, as in the fictionalized quotation at the top of this post, they can't even establish a meaningful link.) Prefacing a comment with something like "I know somebody who..." (as in, "Some of my best friends are...") is not, in itself, a sufficient argument. It just makes the speaker sound superficial.
Remember the whole "Tropic Thunder" brouhaha way back in August, when groups protested by carrying signs saying "Ban the Movie, Ban the Word"? (The word was "retard.") Last week, when the picture opened in the UK, the The Guardian ran a pointed piece by David Cox called "The imbecilic truth about the Tropic Thunder retard debate, in which he wrote:
By using the word "retard", Stiller relocates those to whom it's applied back in the real world. By acknowledging the distaste they may inspire, he does them the service of taking their situation seriously. And he reminds audiences that cinema's reluctance to engage honestly with them is ultimately the fault of cinemagoers themselves, not the studios, which must work within the parameters of acceptability.
by Roger Ebert
View image Paul Dano anoints Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will Be Blood."
IndieWIRE has announced the results of its annual critics' poll, and Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" dominates (picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, lead performance), followed by David Fincher's "Zodiac" and Joel & Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men.
For most American viewers, this is going to be a Netflix list: Two of the top ten movies never barely opened theatrically outside of New York ("Syndromes and a Century," "Colossal Youth"); two never played in more than 20 theaters at once ("Offside," "Killer of Sheep" -- the restoration of Charles Burnett's 1977 film); two haven't opened yet, and won't in most places until 2008 ("There Will Be Blood," "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days"); and, in these days when wide releases typically launch on 2,000 - 4,000 theaters, two never made it to more than 400 at any given time ("I'm Not There" , "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" ). Only two others ever spread beyond 1,000 screens: "No Country for Old Men" and "Zodiac." Three of the ten best selections -- "Killer of Sheep," "Offside" and "Zodiac" -- are currently available on DVD.
Poll administrator Dennis Lim noted that, compared to 2006 when "the relative dearth of truly exciting films" was lamented by many critics, this year's 106 participants were more enthusiastic about their choices. One eyebrow-raising development was cited in the indieWIRE introduction, though: If there is a strking hole to be found in this year's [poll results]... it is the utter lack of American indie films. While last year's survey celebrated outside-the-system films such as David Lynch's "Inland Empire," Kelly Reichart's "Old Joy," Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" and Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation," the acclaimed new films from American filmmakers this year came from directly within the Hollywood and Indiewood system, starring name actors.Other poll-toppers: Best First Film (Sarah Polley, "Away from Her"), Best Documentary ("No End in Sight," Charles Ferguson), Supporting Performance (Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"), The complete results in all the categories can be scrutinized here. And the individual critics' ballots (including mine) are here.
by Roger Ebert
Dillon Freasier (great!) and Daniel Day Lewis (... BIG!) in "There Will Be Blood."
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (my former homies) have announced their collective choices for best achievements of 2007 and... well, for now, I'll just say that I doubt most of them would even be on my short list of runners-up for this year. (I haven't seen "Sweeney Todd" or "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" yet, though.) I'm glad that some honorees are getting recognition: Milestone Films, Sarah Polley, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from "Once": music as dialog/acting), Jack Fisk (to whom I will always be grateful for, among other things, the prom in "Carrie," the house in "Days of Heaven," and pulling the lever in "Eraserhead" -- yes, that was him), "Persepolis" and "Ratatouille" (tied for best animated feature), Vlad Ivanov (for negotiating the trickiest of roles) and a few others. But I know how misleading these group-ballot things can be. LAFCA's list does leave the impression that they felt "Blood" (and, perhaps, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") tower the rest of the year's releases. I wonder if that's really the overwhelming majority opinion, or if it's another case of second- or third-choice consensus carrying the day. Too many of these seem like Academy-style picks to me (Most Noticeable Acting, Most Obvious/Intrusive Score, etc.). More about that later on in the month...
UPDATE (12/10/07): LAFCA member Robert Koelher writes to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere: "I've cited to both Anne Thompson and David Poland the various fictions they've written about re. LAFCA's awards, namely that our pick for 'TWBB' had to do with going against National Board of Review (Anne) or the Academy (David). And now you say we were generally flying the contrarian flag. [...]
"By a wide margin, LAFCA felt... that 'There Will Be Blood' was the best American film of the year. That's all. No chess work, no calculations, no triangulation -- nothing but a matter of taste based on seeing more movies over the year than anybody else.
"And Jeff, the group judgement was based -- with perhaps no exceptions, since there was simply no time for most or all of us to view it more than once -- on a single viewing of 'TWBB.' It's a great movie on the first viewing."
[NOTE: In my post I did not surmise that LAFCA was intentionally striking any groupthink contrarian pose. I know from experience that it doesn't really work that way -- and, besides, LAFCA is the first crix group to vote, so what's to react against? But I wondered about the margin of victory, a legitimate question regarding the results of any balloting or committee decision-making procedure -- including the Oscars. Koehler's letter helps clarify that. I'm glad to know I disagree with some genuine majority sentiments rather than some statistical flukes. I disagreed with some choices when I was a member of the group, too -- and I don't know anyone who didn't, from time to time. It's a group of critics, you know....]
The LAFCA 2007 awards:
PICTURE: "There Will Be Blood" RUNNER-UP: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood" RUNNER-UP: Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood" RUNNER-UP: Frank Langella, "Starting Out in the Evening"
ACTRESS: Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en rose" RUNNER-UP: Anamaria Marinca, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Vlad Ivanov, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" RUNNER-UP: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone" and "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" RUNNER-UP: Cate Blanchett, "I’m Not There"
View image Me with post-festival headcold, after just getting back home and sinking into the comfort of my den-like Man Chair. (all photos by Jim Emerson, except as noted)
My taxi driver to the airport yesterday (he was Ethiopian, but had lived in Toronto for 18 years) asked me if I'd seen any "movie stars" at the film festival. I had to admit I hadn't -- although I've encountered people I consider to be movie stars on the street in past years: Luis Guzman, Liev Schreiber, Brian De Palma, Sara Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne...
View image The ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Girish. A man with cinecurean tastes. (That's a neologism of my own invention that is related to "epicure" and has nothing to do with "sinecure," I don't think.)
Toronto, at least at festival time, is a celebrity-mad city like no place I've ever seen. Celebrities make the front pages of the newspapers just because they're celebrities and they're in Toronto. Rogers cable used to have a non-stop TIFF schedule of celebrity gossip, celebrity interviews, off-the-cuff "reviews," and celebrity press conferences. I don't know if they did that this year, because I never turned on the television in my hotel room. (Meanwhile, TiVo was covering other necessities for me at home.)
View image Andy Horbal plays Mephisto at the foot of the Stairway to Heaven (the escalator to the Varsity Cinemas).
View image The House Next Door's Keith Uhlich took this shot of himself with his MacBook, outside the press office at the Delta Chelsea.
Some journalists and critics were doing celebrity interviews in addition to going to movies, with stars like George A. Romero (whose girlfriend was the bartender at my hotel!) or Jodie Foster or Brian De Palma or Bela Tarr -- in gang-bang roundtables or 15-30-minute individual sessions. The people I was most excited about getting to meet were my fellow movie bloggers. I had lunch with Girish Shambu between screenings in Toronto last year, and it was a pleasure to see him again, particularly since he enjoyed the oblique, androgynous eroticism of the luminous Eric Rohmer movie as much as I did. His highest recommendation was for Barcelona-born director Jose Luis Guerin's "Dans la ville de Sylvia" -- which, unfortunately, I missed. We also thought Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine" was among the very best things we'd seen.
View image Frames within frames within frames -- and film-festival bedhead. Me at work in my Toronto hotel room.
Keith Uhlich, editor of "The House Next Door," organized a mid-fest critics' roundtable podcast, 'round a tiny round table in Nathan Lee's hotel room with Nathan (whose byline should be familiar from the Village Voice, Film Comment, The New York Times), Torontonian eyeWeekly critic Adam Nayman, Keith, and me. It was too much fun -- we ran out of time long before we ran out of stuff we wanted to talk about. Of course, that was the morning I forgot to bring my camera. Too bad, because if you saw Nathan's new-mown haircut, you'd want to rub his head. It's that cool. (I'll post a link to the podcast when it's available, if you want to hear us go on about the trials of film critics filing reports and interviews from festivals, our indelible images from TIFF, Brian De Palma, Bob Dylan, Todd Haynes, semiotics [not much!], and I forget what else.)
View image Christopher Long, in Philly Eagles t-shirt, who has a woman on his right shoulder saying: "Come, have another cup of coffee!" and a man on his other shoulder saying: "No, there's a huge schedule of films to see -- what's next?"
I also got to meet up with Christopher Long, a frequent and valued contributor to Scanners comments, and reviewer for DVDTown and other sites. Chris claims to loathe Paul Haggis's "Crash" (and Sam Mendes's "American Beauty" -- two peas in a pod) even more than me. I don't know if that's possible, but I found him convincing. They both do the same morally corrupt thing, anyway: taking grotesque clichés and then flipping them around so that that they are... even more insulting clichés. All in the name of "enlightenment." We had a nice talk about our mutual admiration for Divine, too. Don't recall how that one came up.
I'm delighted to have more faces to put with the words I've appreciated from these folks for so long.
Q. A blogger named Brian at takes issue with your remarks about Paul Greengrass' long takes in "The Bourne Ultimatum," writing: "I don't recall a single take in this movie that was more than about three seconds long. Either Greengrass really does a spectacular job of not 'calling attention' to those long takes, or Ebert saw a different movie. But it's very strange, no matter what." (From goneelsewhere.wordpress.com:) Who's right?
Roger Ebert has covered the Cannes Film Festival since 1972 -- and, in recent years, his digital camera has come along for the wild ride. See Ebert's take on some of the biggest stars and brightest names in international cinema in these photo galleries. Bill Murray, Morgan Freeman, Sarah Polley, Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders, Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson, George Lucas, Kevin Bacon -- they're all here, and more, together and separately in these Ebert's-eye-view photos.
Q. I am a New Yorker who lived in the Caribbean from '75 to '01. I've seen hundreds of martial arts films, a good portion of them projected on bed sheets during those first 10 years (I lived 50 miles outside of Montego Bay). Jamaicans called them "kickers." When I was watching "Kill Bill" in New York I leaned over to my Jamaican-born son and said "this is a kicker on steroids." OK, yes, its a slick homage to the genre, and yes, there is a certain joy or exuberance to it, yes yes yes, but Roger--was it really a religious experience? I thought "Pulp Fiction" was excellent. I don't have anything against the man, but it seems whenever Tarantino the Great makes a movie a lot of people kneel at the altar. I have to wonder what critics and movie fans alike would have said if an unknown director delivered that film. I saw "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" at the behest of that same son of mine, and yes it was predictable and boring--and so what? Was it really worse than the thousands of movies you have seen and given 1/2 star or higher? Why are you so pissed off? My kid said he got a kick out of it. If he did then I suppose he wasn't ripped off. What do you think? (Nick Minotti, Pompano Beach, FL)
CANNES, France-- Forty-one years after his "Breathless" swept in the French New Wave and helped herald the modern era of filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard is back at the Cannes Film Festival with a new movie. The onetime enfant terrible is now 71, and the 1960s "film generation" that marched under his banner is old and gray, but his very presence inspires a certain trembling in the air as the 54th Cannes festival opens. The giants are back in town.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. - "Election," "Boys Don't Cry" and "Being John Malkovich" were multiple award winners Saturday at the 15th annual Independent Spirit Awards - but 79-year-old Richard Farnsworth stole the show while winning as best male lead for his work in "The Straight Story."