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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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Harry Benson: Shoot First

The filmmakers are themselves too celebrity besotted to comment in a meaningful way on how Benson’s career balanced depictions of the rich and famous with…

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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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* 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.

Three faces of Margaret

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Let me indulge my passion for operatic drama for a moment and say that I've seen Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" four times now (the theatrical version and the new "extended cut" on DVD, twice each) and, while I'm watching it, I feel like I've never before seen a movie that fully recognized what human behavior is like. Sure, the focus is entirely on a certain demographic slice of human beings -- mostly middle- to upper-class, educated, New York-dwelling, Judeo-Christian-atheist white people -- but these people are alive and ragged and messy in ways few movie characters are allowed to be. (The characters, and the lives the movie depicts, are messy; the movie itself is exquisitely shaped according to its maker's vision, and that was apparent from the theatrical cut.)

Of course, all movies are stylized and all characters, whether documentary subjects or fictional, are creations (of writers, directors, actors, editors, cinematographers and others) presented to us in a frame. Yet there are dimensions to the interactions in "Margaret" -- the longing to be understood, the perverse impulse to (deliberately?) misinterpret someone else, the desire to inflict emotional sabotage on yourself or another person just because you can -- that movies so often overlook in an effort to provide clear and clean drama in which everybody announces, bluntly and correctly, exactly what they mean to say.

In other words, as Lisa Cohen might say, "Margaret" calls bullshit on most other movies.

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#79 September 7, 2011

Marie writes: I've always found the ocean more interesting than space and for invariably containing more delights and surprises. Case in point, discovering the existence of an extraordinary underwater museum...

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The best art films of 2010

This is the last of my lists of the best films of 2010, and the hardest to name. Call it the Best Art Films. I can't precisely define an Art Film, but I knew I was seeing one when I saw these. I could also call them Adult Films, if that term hadn't been devalued by the porn industry. These are films based on the close observation of behavior. They are not mechanical constructions of infinitesimal thrills. They depend on intelligence and empathy to be appreciated.

They also require acting of a precision not necessary in many mass entertainments. They require directors with a clear idea of complex purposes. They require subtleties of lighting and sound that create a self-contained world. Most of all, they require sympathy. The directors care for their characters, and ask us to see them as individuals, not genre emblems. That requires us to see ourselves as individual viewers, not "audience members." That can be an intimate experience. I found it in these titles, which for one reason or another weren't on my earlier lists. Maybe next year I'll just come up with one alphabetical list of all the year's best films, and call it "The Best Films of 2011, A to Z."

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Sundance and five Sundance-style movies

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The first five Sundance entries I've seen are the kinds of film the festival exists to showcase. It is possible that many of them won't ever open in most of the places you readers live, but you've impressed me with your resourcefulness in finding them anyway (and no, I don't mean piracy). You guys demonstrate that if you want to find a movie badly enough, you often can.

One of them, "Homewrecker," is for rent right now via YouTube, in keeping with the festival's Reinvention/Rebirth/Renewal and its embrace of new distribution channels such as the net and regional art cinemas.

That one and "Armless" are playing in the new Sundance section named NEXT, which specializes in movies with "low to no budgets." The guidelines specify budgets below $500,000, and both of these look closer to half a million than to "no."

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