The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
* 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.
An interview with film critic Matt Fagerholm.
Sam Fragoso interviews Spike Lee; Why Christian movies are so bad; "SNL" anniversary a hollow milestone; Cinephiles need to care about PBS; Diane Rehm and the right-to-die debate.
Donald Liebenson chats with actor/comedian/writer Patton Oswalt about his new book "Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film."
A report from the New York Comic-Con previewing the upcoming films, "Penguins of Madagascar" and "Home."
An obituary for actor Bob Hoskins, star of The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and many more.
Jana Monji reports in from the American Film Institute's Film Festival in Hollywood, CA.
Ultra-indie director Cory McAbee ("The American Astronaut," "Stingray Sam") talks about making musical sci-fi cowboy movies, writing an opera and the Monkees.
Tom Shales looks at "Carson on TCM," a weekly series of shows culling great Carson interviews.
What are we to make of Owen Wilson, he with the tow-colored mop of hair, the crooked nose, and the smile that seems to need so much in return? In certain contexts, Owen Wilson's smile is heartbreaking. Not just in more serious roles, but in everything. One does not often think of grown men as being "wistful" or full of "pathos"; only little plucky orphans in pig-tails and pinafores should be "wistful."
"American Masters: Inventing David Geffen" premieres Tuesday, Nov. 20th at 8:00pm on PBS. (Check local listings.) It can also be viewed, where available, via PBS On Demand.
by Jeff Shannon
It was my good fortune to be working at Microsoft when the big announcement was made in March of 1995: Microsoft was entering into a joint venture with DreamWorks SKG, the new film studio and entertainment company founded the previous year by mega-moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (the "SKG" in the company's original moniker). At the time, Microsoft dominated the booming business of multimedia publishing, and the group I was working in, nicknamed "MMPUB," was producing a dazzling variety of CD-ROM games and reference guides. As an independent contractor I was the assistant editor of Cinemania, a content-rich, interactive movie encyclopedia (later enhanced with a website presence) that was an elegant and in some ways superior precursor to the Internet Movie Database.
"Paul Williams Still Alive" (87 minutes) will be available on VOD October 16th via (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House, among other cable providers), iTunes, VUDU, YouTube, Amazon, Sony (Playstation), Microsoft (Zune, Xbox), Blockbuster, AT&T, DirecTV, DISH.
by Donald Liebenson
In begrudgingly recommending "Paul Williams Still Alive" to his legion of fans, I am reminded of a Rolling Stone magazine review of Janis Joplin's first solo album, "I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!" Janis never sounded better, the reviewer said, but to enjoy her, you had to be able to tune out her backup band. A similar caveat is necessary here. Enjoyment of "Still Alive" will depend on your tolerance of writer-director Stephen Kessler, who takes Williams' joke at one point that the documentary could become the "Paulie and Steve Show" as a carte blanche invitation to intrude on the proceedings.
Marie writes: Recently, a fellow artist and friend sent me the following photos featuring amazing glass mosaics. She didn't know who the artists were however - and which set me off on a journey to find out! I confess, the stairs currently continue to thwart me and thus remain a mystery, but I did uncover who created the "glass bottle doorway" and was surprised to learn both its location and the inspiration behind it. (click image.)
Lawrence Kasdan's "Grand Canyon" didn't make a splash when it opened here in Mexico, and it's not the kind of feature that's ever shown on our TV, so hardly anybody I know has even heard about it. It's not an easy movie to describe. When people ask me about its subject, I say something like "It's about a group of people from Los Angeles living in despair who end up feeling better when they all get together and visit the Grand Canyon." Most of them seem to loose interest but the response of those who do see it is mostly overwhelming.
Watching "The Tree of Life" brought "Grand Canyon" to mind. The films couldn't be more different, but both deal with a search for a deeper meaning in our existence-- a sense of helplessness in trying to place ourselves in the grand scheme of things. They also lack defined plots or conventional structures.
Q. I've read your statement many times that the best film experience is in a real theater with a real audience. So, do you consider the screening room where you see films that you are reviewing a "real theater with a real audience?" And if not, I'm just curious as to how many films you've seen at "real theaters" with "real audiences" in, say, the last month or two (not counting film festivals.) I very well admit I could be wrong, but I have a hunch that, like many of us, the answer would be not too many. (Mark)
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.)
Back then, I could watch Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons forever and never get bored. Today, the case is almost the same. Oh, those films have some of the finest animation I've ever seen--even by today's standards, the animation is phenomenal, right from the fluidity of the movements of the characters to the uncanny weight of the objects. The characters and objects had shadows too.
Live-tweeted from Los Angeles:
HOLLYWOOD — "The Hurt Locker," a film that was made with little cash but limitless willpower, defeated the highest-grossing film in history and won the best picture Oscar here Sunday night. The director of the spine-chilling war drama, Kathryn Bigelow, became the first woman to ever win the best director Oscar. James Cameron, director of "Avatar" — and her former husband — cried all the way to the bank.
Sun-Times Gallery of Top Oscar Categories
The slumdog didn’t stop at winning a million, but zoomed straight on up to Oscar gold Sunday night: “Slumdog Millionaire,” perhaps the most literal rags-to-riches story ever told, swept the night, winning the Academy Award as the best picture of 2008, and seven more Oscars.
View image And the Exploding Head goes to... Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in "Knocked Up"?
I'll publish my annotated "best of" list next week, but while thinking back over the year's movies I recalled some things that seemed to me "beyond category." Or the usual categories, anyway. One way or another, they made my head feel that it might explode. So, while everybody's preoccupied with all those other awards, here are the 2007 Exploding Heads for Achievement in Movies:
Best endings: • "The Sopranos" (final episode): blackout • "No Country for Old Men": "Then I woke up." • "I'm Not There": Dylan's harmonica on "Mr. Tambourine Man" • "Superbad": Baby-steps toward adulthood, separating at the mall escalator • "Zodiac": Stare-down
Most electrifying moment: A dog. A river. "No Country for Old Men."
Best grandma: "Persepolis"
Best surrogate grandpa: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"
"Arrested Development" Award for Best Throwaway Lines: • "Keep it in the oven..." -- Jason Bateman, "Juno" • "... Terrorism..." -- Michael Cera, "Superbad" (actually, Cera has so many astonishingly brilliant under-his-breath moments in "Superbad" and "Juno" it's uncanny)
Best performance by an inanimate object: (tie) The cloud (and its shadow), the candy wrapper, the blown lock housing in the motel room door, "No Country for Old Men"
Most cringe-worthy lines: • "My cooperation with the Nazis is only symbolic." -- "Youth Without Youth" • "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet." -- "Juno" (the cutesy moment at the beginning when I nearly ran screaming for an exit; cutting this entire unnecessary scene would improve "Juno" immensely)
Funniest double-edged observation: "He's playing fetch... with my kids... he's treating my kids like they're dogs." -- Debbie (Leslie Mann) in "Knocked Up," watching Ben (Seth Rogen) play with her daughter, who is loving it. That's her point of view, and she's right, but she says it like it's a bad thing.
View image Ain't nothin' but the real thing, baby: Brian Dierker and Catherine Keener in "Into the Wild."
The Real Thing: "Non-actor" Brian Dierker, rubber tramp, "Into the Wild" (and, of course, his "old lady" Catherine Keener, actor extraordinaire)
Best film about the way The Industry really works since "The Big Picture": Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set." The moment I knew it was going to be exceptional (sharp, precise and, therefore, extraordinarily funny) was when the writer's choice for the lead role gives an audition that's just... underwhelming. He isn't good. He isn't terrible. He just isn't enough. Which then allows the network execs to push for the "broader" alternative ("To me, the broad is the funny"). And even he proves himself capable of being not-awful -- in rehearsal, at least...
Best political film: (tie) "12:08 East of Bucharest" and "Persepolis" -- a pair of smart, funny movies about the effects of political revolutions on individuals in (respectively) Romania and Iran.
Deadliest stare: (tie) Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), "No Country for Old Men"; Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), "Atonement"
Young comedy whippersnapper stars of the year: Michael Cera (19), Ellen Page (20), Seth Rogen (25), Jonah Hill (24), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (18)
Game savers: J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, who come to the rescue of "Juno" not a moment too soon
Best torture porn: The excruciatingly funny baptism scene with Paul Dano and Daniel Day Lewis (both of 'em overactin' up a storm -- but in a fun way), "There Will Be Blood"
Most worthless critical label: "Independent." A movie should not be viewed through its budget, financing or distribution. And in these days of studio "dependents" (Miramax, Focus Features, Paramount Vantage, Fox Searchlight, etc.), the term "indie" is frequently misleading at the very least.
Best bureaucrat: Dr. Fischer (Alberta Watson), "Away From Her"
Best negotiations: • Chigurh and the gas station owner, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and the trailer park lady, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and Carla Jean, "No Country for Old Men" • "4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": The painfully protracted, ever-shifting moral balance (and exhausting power-struggle) in the hotel room, between the friend and the abortionist -- while the pregnant woman herself passive-aggressively bows out of any responsibilities for what has happened, or will happen.
"Perfume" Award for Best Portrayal of Synesthesia: "Ratatouille"
Best Supporting Crotch: Sacha Baron Cohen, "Sweeney Todd." An squirm-inducing scene-stealer that makes you long for a change of angle: Please give us an above-the-waist shot! (Did they have spandex in mid-19th century London?)
by Roger Ebert
View image Todd on Bob: Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), as one incarnation -- a name-dropping bluesman in 1959 (with tales of Blind Willie McTell and Gorgeous George) who seems to think he's still in the Great Depression. Others include Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), Jack Rawlins/Pastor John (Christian Bale) and "Billy" McCarty (Richard Gere).
"I was born a poor black child..." -- Steve Martin, "The Jerk"
"God, I'm glad I'm not me." -- Bob Dylan, on reading an article about himself in 1965 (quoted in the press kit for Todd Haynes' movie, originally titled "I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan")
Folk-turned-electric singer/songwriter Jude Quinn (looking for all the world like Bob Dylan circa 1965 and played by Cate Blanchett) is riding in a big black limousine when, unaccountably, Allen Ginsburg (David Cross) appears on a golf cart in the rear window, smiling and waving with his frizzy hair blowin' in the wind. Ginsburg pulls up alongside the limo, Quinn rolls down the window, and they travel along parallel trajectories (past a cemetary) while having a brief exchange about an interview Ginsburg had done with a reporter in which the Beat poet was asked about Quinn's musical motives as if all Voices of Their Generation were pretty much one and the same. "They asked you that?!?" Quinn laughs.
View image Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) in "I'm Not There" in "Don't Look Back" in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in black and white.
That's a little taste of what it's like to watch Haynes' "I'm Not There," which is not only a kaleidoscopic view of events in the life, music and myth of Bob Dylan, but a critical deconstruction and synthesis of Dylan's various media representations -- from D.A. Pennebaker's legendary "Don't Look Back" to Dylan's own "Reynaldo and Clara" to Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan." In some ways, it's the natural companion to "Don't Look Back" (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted "Reynaldo and Clara" to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted "Velvet Goldmine" to be. It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" and "Petulia," Godard's "Masculin-Feminin," Fellini's "8 1/2" and others, too) -- and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings -- and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie.
View image Christian Bale (this guy can do anything) as Jack Rawlins.
The earlier film was about the glam era, freely mixing bits and pieces of fact and lore from the lives of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Ferry and others (don't forget Oscar Wilde, who is deposited on earth by a UFO), and that's the kind of thing Haynes is up to here -- mostly with Dylan, but also with "real" and fictional characters around him. Some are identified by their familiar names (like John, Paul, George, and Ringo), some are thinly disguised (or undisguised) stand-ins. And this time he has the music rights, too. Just about the only thing missing is Donovan.
View image Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger).
Do you have to know about, or have lived through, the life and legend of Dylan to "get" this film? I don't know. I don't think so, but you'll certainly understand it on more levels if you've seen the Pennebaker, Dylan & Sam Shepard, Scorsese, Peckinpah, Godard, Lester, Fellini, et al. movies mentioned above. And if you know at least some of the music, and something about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene and the war in Vietnam and the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest and Joan Baez (and "Diamonds and Rust") and Sara and Swinging London and the Beats and Albert Goldman and The Hawks (and The Band) and The Basement Tapes and the Rolling Thunder Revue and "Tarantula" and Columbia Records and the motorcycle accident and the "electric" debut at the Newport Folk Festival and the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert in 1966 ("Judas!" "I don't believe you...") which actually took place at Manchester's Free Trade Hall (just another part of the legend) and Elvis Presley movies and James Dean movies Marlon Brando movies and Montgomery Clift movies... and so on.
View image Jude Quinn (Almighty).
I was a senior in high school when "Blood on the Tracks" came out and utterly changed my life (not the first time Dylan would do that for me), so although most of '60s Dylan predated my awareness of his actual records (we sang "Blowin' in the Wind" in my fourth grade homeroom, with Miss Kwinsland on ukelele, but I didn't know it was a Dylan song; we sang Woody Guthrie tunes, too), I absorbed a lot of this stuff simply by being a young American with an interest in politics and art and pop culture. But do you have to be familiar with all of this in order to appreciate "I'm Not There"? I don't think so. (But consider this: Bruce Greenwood plays Quinn's BBC interviewer/adversary, Mr. Jones, and Pat Garrett.)
A Dylanophile friend was asked if he was in "Dylan heaven" after the film. He thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah. I guess I am." I don't know about that. But I'm at least knockin' on heaven's door.
That's all I'll say for now, because I'm salivating over the prospect of seeing and writing about this movie in more detail later....
Oh, just one other thing. I've talked to five or six people who, unprovoked, described exactly the same response to different moments in the movie. But they all involved having the experience of consciously thinking: "I am in love with Cate Blanchett."
The late Merv Griffin (July 6, 1925 - August 12, 2007) was in "Cattle Town" (1952), "So This Is Love" and "The Boy From Oklahoma" (both 1954) and Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony" (1980). He played (or voiced) himself in other movies, including George Cukor's underrated "Rich and Famous" (1981) and two Steve Martin comedies, "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) and "The Lonely Guy" (1984). Backed by Freddy Martin & His Orchestra, he had a #1 hit in 1950 with "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." His popular daytime TV talk show, where the likes of Orson Welles used to stop by for a chat, ran (with a few brief interruptions, including an abortive shift to late-night) from 1962 to 1986. Not only was he nominated for Emmys (he also won some) and Golden Globes, but he owned the Beverly Hilton Hotel (among others) where the Globes and other award shows were mounted and telecast.
He was one of the richest people in Hollywood, but for a while he was perhaps most famous for "dating" Zsa Zsa Eva Gabor, if you can believe that. He was also the subject of a recurring impression by Rick Moranis ("Show us your lining... We'll be right back!) on "SCTV" -- perhaps most memorably the "Special Edition" episode in which "The Merv Griffin Show"" metamorphosed into "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
But Merv's most enduring legacy (somehow it seems right to call him "Merv") was that he created game shows: "Wheel of Fortune" and the king of 'em all, "Jeopardy" -- both of which remain on the air today.
I love "Jeopardy." But back in early April, I was greatly disturbed by the disgraceful (lack of) contestant responses to a Double Jeopardy category called "Foreign Cinema." First, guess which two (TWO!) they got right. Then let me know how you scored:
1) This Taiwanese director's films include "The Wedding Banquet," "Pushing Hands" & "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
2) The submarine models for this 1981 German film were also used in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
3) In this 1957 Ingmar Bergman film, a knight back from the Crusades challenges Death to a chess game for his life.
4) Truffaut provided the story for this 1959 Godard film in which Belmondo plays a hood who kills a cop.
5) This 1963 Fellini film was the basis for the 1982 Broadway musical "Nine."
Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo doooo...
Click below for answers -- er, questions.