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Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

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War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

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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.

Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013: An Appreciation

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The first rule in Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing is "Never open a book with the weather." It could never be a "dark and stormy night" in Leonard's universe. Instead, he opened his novels with nonchalant statements of character-driven fact. "Rum Punch" begins "Sunday morning, Ordell took Louis to watch the white-power demonstration in downtown Palm Beach." "The Hot Kid" informs us that "Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and killing at Deering's drugstore." And "Glitz"'s opening line kicks off two and a half of Leonard's most readable pages with "The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming." Elmore Leonard got straight to the point. His characters were sometimes in love with their verbosity, but Leonard the narrator did not share this predilection. The omnipotent voice running through Dutch Leonard's work told you who said what, who did what, and the darkly comic repercussions of both. No writer wrung more color out of simply telling you what happened than Dutch Leonard. "Melanie was holding it in both hands now, arms extended, aimed at Gerald. "He tossed the shotgun to land on the sofa, looked up at Melanie and said 'Okay, now you put that down, honey, and I won't press charges against you.' Confident about it, as though it would settle the matter."Melanie didn't say anything. She shot him." –"Rum Punch"Leonard's characters were a multi-racial motley crew of cops, criminals, outlaws, lawyers, cowboys and sociopaths. They did not always follow the crime fiction novel's gender conventions. Strong, brutal women and weak, emotional men were not verboten. Leonard's characters were beholden to their own self-defined notions of ethics and morality. They were often much less clever than they thought; their flaws of nemesis underestimation became their undoing. Those who survived sometimes found themselves in other novels. Leonard never passed judgment as his characters flamed out in pitch black comic blazes both pathetic and glorious. To do so would violate his last and most important rule of writing: "Leave out the parts readers tend to skip." Much of the pleasure of reading Elmore Leonard was in the dialogue, which is why so many of his books became movies and TV series. Leonard followed his rule of "avoiding detailed descriptions of characters" by having his people talk to each other. He had an ear for the way conversations flowed, whether they were conducted on the street, in the precinct, or on the range. For a White guy, he certainly knew how to sound convincingly like the Black dudes who populated many of his novels. He captured the cadences of their speech, and did so without stereotype. His Brothers sounded like the guys I heard on the street in my old neighborhood; his cops sounded like cops I knew. Leonard embraced and elevated what they said, letting them ramble on whenever necessary. This love of casual chatter is probably what drew Tarantino to adapt "Rum Punch" as "Jackie Brown." It's certainly what made him pull entire chunks of Leonard's dialogue verbatim into the "Jackie Brown" script.The labyrinthine plots Leonard dragged his characters through were overly complicated yet always compelling. Even in something as spare and nasty as "52 Pick-Up," the first book of his I read, Leonard toyed with the expectations of where his stories took us. Even in the most convoluted plots, there was a feeling that the reader got entangled in this mess by virtue of the characters' machinations, not the author's. Before turning to the Florida-set crime stories that became his trademark, Elmore Leonard wrote Westerns. "3:10 to Yuma" and "The Tall T" were based on his work, as was Paul Newman's 1967 film "Hombre." Starting with "The Big Bounce" (made with Ryan O'Neal in 1969), Leonard changed his genre but kept many of the characteristics of a good Western. For example, "Mr. Majestyk" features a character protecting his "homestead" in much the same way as Jimmy Stewart or Randolph Scott would have. And of course, "Justified"'s Raylan Givens is the perfect synthesis of both genre halves of Leonard's work. Is there another author besides Shakespeare and Stephen King whose prolific output inspired so many movie adaptations? And by directors as varied as Abel Ferrara, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Budd Boetticher, John Frankenheimer, Barry Sonnenfeld and Burt Reynolds (whom I'm sure Leonard wanted to shoot after seeing "Stick"). The stories vary from tales of Hollywood to big money heists to sleazy exploitation. Regardless of quality—and it varied from film to film—the spirit of Dutch Leonard's prose was felt by the viewer. Since I was 17, Elmore Leonard has been my favorite writer. I told him so the one time I met him. It was at the now defunct and long-gone Waldenbooks on Exchange Place and Broadway in Manhattan. He was there to sign copies of "Rum Punch," which was eerily prescient since it was the basis of my favorite film adaptation of Leonard's work. He was a very nice man, patiently listening to the 22-year-old aspiring writer whose excited rambling violated Leonard's fourth rule of writing ("Keep your exclamation points under control!"). When I was done, he verified the spelling of my name, signed my book and wished me luck with my writing.I hadn't thought about that meeting in a while, but when I heard that Leonard died today, it rushed back to me with the immersive force of a good Elmore Leonard set piece. There was casual chatter, a cool as a cucumber experienced character, and a matter of fact, straightforward rendering of events. Nobody got shot, which is a good thing for me, but that didn't make my run-in with Mr. Leonard any less memorable. Rest in peace, Dutch.

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#180 August 14, 2013

Marie writes: Much beloved and a never ending source of amusement, Simon's Cat is a popular animated cartoon series by the British animator Simon Tofield featuring a hungry house cat who uses increasingly heavy-handed tactics to get its owner to feed it. Hand-drawn using an A4-size Wacom Intuos 3 pen and tablet, Simon has revealed that his four cats - called Teddy, Hugh, Jess and Maisie - provide inspiration for the series, with Hugh being the primary inspiration. And there's now a new short titled "Suitcase". To view the complete collection to date, visit Simon's Cat at YouTube.

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What it means to craft "personal" writing; Steven Soderbergh pledges $10,000 to Spike Lee's Kickstarter film; inside the Malick lawsuit; revisiting "There Will Be Blood."

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Roger Ebert will receive the Sundance Institute Vanguard Leadership Award

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Los Angeles, CA: Sundance Institute will remember and celebrate journalist and film critic Roger Ebert by honoring him with the Vanguard Leadership Award in Memoriam, in recognition of his advocacy of independent cinema. He was a frequent attendee of the Sundance Film Festival, where he discovered and supported films like Hoop Dreams, Man Push Cart, Come Early Morning, Longtime Companion, Metropolitan, The Brothers McMullen, Crumb, Picture Bride, American Movie, and The War Zone. Sundance alumni who count him as an advocate include Steve James, Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog.

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#166 May 8, 2013

Marie writes: the great Ray Harryhausen, the monster innovator and Visual Effects legend, passed away Tuesday May 7, 2013 in London at the age of 92. As accolades come pouring in from fans young and old, and obituaries honor his achievements, I thought club members would enjoy remembering what Harry did best.

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#141 November 7, 2012

Marie writes: "let's see what happens if I tickle him with my stick..."(Photo by Daniel Botelho. Click image to enlarge.)

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Los Angeles Film Festival 2012

Los Angeles is a behemoth or, better, an octopus, with tentacles stretching 468.67 square miles, a fact that shocked me when I moved here in 1990. That meant that it was bigger than the distance consumed by driving to and from Chicago from my hometown, Kewanee (150 miles southwest), and back again. I soon realized that one could easily live an entire lifetime in Los Angeles and never see it all. This also meant that so much was always going on, including really desirable events, many of which would most certainly be missed.

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#112 April 25, 2012

Marie writes: I recently heard from an ex-coworker named Athena aka the production manager on an animated series I'd painted digital backgrounds for. She sent me some great photos she'd found on various sites. More than few made me smile and thus inspired, I thought I'd share them with club members. I've added captions for fun but if you can come up with something better, feel free to submit your wit by way of posted comment. Note: I don't know who the photographers are; doesn't say. (Click pics to enlarge.)

"I want a peanut for every photo you took of me..."

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#99 January 25, 2012

Marie writes: many simply know her as the girl with the black helmet. Mary Louise Brooks (1906 - 1985), aka Louise Brooks, an American dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress famous for her bobbed haircut and sex appeal. To cinefiles, she's best remembered for her three starring roles in Pandora's Box (1929) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) directed by G. W. Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930) by Augusto Genina. She starred in 17 silent films (many lost) and later authored a memoir, Lulu in Hollywood."She regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her." - Roger, from his review of the silent classic Pandor's Box.

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The right hand of great directors

May Contain Spoilers

Awards season again. Last year, as you may recall, a many months pregnant Natalie Portman received the Oscar for Best Actress for "Black Swan." Her lithesome acceptance speech, without notes, thanked many colleagues she knew had helped her stand there. As both a lifelong moviegoer and a worker on films, my spirit lifted at these words: "There are people on films that no one ever talks about, that are your heart and soul every day, including Joe Reidy, our incredible A.D..." Along with so many others, I was thrilled by her sentiment -- and especially pleased for Joe Reidy.

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#98 January 18, 2012

Marie writes: Okay, this is just plain cool. This is clearly someone using their brain, in combination with "what the hell, let's just go ahead and try it..."

Dr Julius Neubronner's Miniature Pigeon CameraIn 1903, Dr Julius Neubronner patented a miniature pigeon camera activated by a timing mechanism. The invention brought him international notability after he presented it at international expositions in Dresden, Frankfurt and Paris in 1909-1911. Spectators in Dresden could watch the arrival of the camera-equipped carrier pigeons, whereupon the photos were immediately developed and turned into postcards which could be purchased. (click images to enlarge.) - from The Public Domain Review. Visit the site to see even more photos.

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Tinker Tailor, Moneyball: Between the lines (Part 1)

May Contain Spoilers
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I would never want to read a screenplay before seeing the movie based on it. As a critic, in fact, it would be a violation of my responsibilities (and ethics) to do that. The film has to be seen on its own, as a completed work; a critic shouldn't rummage through the drafts before experiencing the finished piece -- whether it's a movie or a painting or a symphony. I'm even ambivalent about reading certain books before seeing the movie versions, too, and for the same reason that I don't like to see trailers, particularly of films I'm likely to write about: I don't want to harbor preconceived ideas (even unconscious impressions) when I watch the picture. As we all know, it's hard enough to get a clean look at a movie after all the advertising and interviews and seasonal previews and reviews...

But if you want to gain some understanding of how movies are actually made (movies in general and any movie in particular) it's often enlightening to go back and take look at how the screenplay (or various drafts, re-writes, polishes) evolved into the movie that eventually wound up on the screen. Some filmmakers like Clint Eastwood often claim to simply shoot a script "as written" (though he and Dustin Lance Black did some re-working, including adding a voiceover, on the "J. Edgar" screenplay). But it can be fascinating to see how the writer(s), director(s) and editor(s) shape the material throughout the entire process -- and how moving (or removing) images and lines from one context and placing them in another changes their meaning. This is now easier to do than ever before, because so many screenplays are available online -- legitimately (For Your Consideration at studio sites) and otherwise.

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When I fall in love...

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"Would you believe in a love at first sight?" "Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time." "What do you see when you turn out the light?" "I can't tell you but I know it's mine." -- Billy Shears, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sometimes I can pinpoint the very moment I first fall in love with a movie. It may happen in the first shot (Bong Joon-ho's "Mother"; Michael Haneke's "Caché"), or may be clinched in at the very end (the terminal instant of Rahmin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart"), but in many cases there is an identifiable point at which I know that I am in love, even while the movie is unspooling, and by that time it's not likely there's any going back, unless the movie simply implodes.

Here are a few of those times from 2011 when I realized I was falling hard...

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

There's not so much snow as in director Tomas Alfredson's previous feature, "Let the Right One In," but it gets plenty chilly here, in Cold War London, Budapest and Istanbul. The emotional iciness sneaks up on you: by the end, as the strands of loyalty and betrayal unravel, leaving characters exposed to some very cold realities, I found it uncommonly moving. (Yes, I cried -- more than once.) Not unrelatedly, "Tinker Tailor" (no commas in this title) is one of the most hauntingly and imaginatively composed movies (both in terms of framings and shot sequences) that I've seen since... maybe the last Coen brothers picture. Early on, it catches you a little off-guard when, in the midst of a hushed, paranoid conversation in a musty apartment, there's a cut to a monochromatic, neo-Gothic Eastern European skyline (punctuating John Hurt's use of the word "Budapest" -- a word that will become code for loss, failure, disgrace).

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#93 December 14, 2012

Marie writes: If you're like me, you enjoy the convenience of email while lamenting the lost romance of ink and pen on paper. For while it's possible to attach a drawing, it's not the same thing as receiving hand-drawn artwork in the mail. Especially when it's from Edward Gorey..."Edward Gorey and Peter Neumeyer met in the summer of 1968. Gorey had been contracted by Addison-Wesley to illustrate "Donald and the...", a children's story written by Neumeyer. On their first encounter, Neumeyer managed to dislocate Gorey's shoulder when he grabbed his arm to keep him from falling into the ocean. In a hospital waiting room, they pored over Gorey's drawings for the first time together, and Gorey infused the situation with much hilarity. This was the beginning of an invigorating friendship, fueled by a wealth of letters and postcards that sped between the two men through the fall of 1969."

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It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion): Thoughtson movie technique and movie criticism

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"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)

"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review

"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review

"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism

"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹

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In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.

So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²

Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.

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