Goodbye to Language
Jean-Luc Godard's latest free-form essay film may be, more than anything else, a documentary of a restless mind.
* 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.
A TIFF 2014 report on three very different period pieces: "'71," "Jauja" and "The Keeping Room."
Writer Sheila O'Malley responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn came upon the following recipe and wisely showed it to me, so that I might share it in turn with all of you. Behold the morning chocolate cookie - a healthy breakfast treat loaded with good stuff; like fiber and imported French chocolate.
Marie writes: Next door, across a long narrow drive and beyond the row of cedar hedges which run parallel to it, there resides an elementary school dating back to 1965, along with an assortment of newer playground equipment rendered in bright, solid primary colors...I'm sure you know the sort I mean...
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.)
A few weeks ago on Facebook -- that sly keeper of family secrets, whose memory seems to have increased incrementally with its new Timeline mumbo-jumbo -- an actor of some repute posted a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, as compiled by a wholly forgettable outlet. He had been placed relatively highly, and someone commented that it was a very subjective list. Apart from the fact that taking issue with "a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, lol" is by definition absurd, the statement presented a logical fallacy (I am fully aware of the irony of regarding a throwaway Facebook comment in such depth). All lists are subjective: that's why they're lists. Nonetheless, this fairly simple fact gets lost in the year-end frenzy as interested parties start calling for the list-maker's head, like angry villagers wielding pitchforks, if and when their favoured books, albums, films, etc fail to place on a given critic's compilation of the year's best.
Above: Photo (censored) taken during the filming of "Shame" in New York.
When it comes to sex and nudity in the movies, at some point the fiction gives way to a recording of the actors getting naked. Steven Soderbergh reportedly said on one of his commentary tracks that, especially when famous actors are involved, "the minute they take their clothes off, it becomes a documentary." I thought of this when I read Richard Brody's post at his New Yorker blog, The Front Row, about Michael Fassbender and co-stars' ballyhooed sex and nudity in Steve McQueen's "Shame." (Apparently nobody remembers that Fassbender was also naked in McQueen's "Hunger" -- although he was getting thrown around the prison at the time.)
In a piece called "Behind, Before, Above, Between, Below," Brody writes:
McQueen's film has lots of it--huffing and puffing, pumping backsides and writhing limbs and grimacing faces--and it's got bodies: Fassbender's, full frontal but fleetingly, in shadow, at a distance, or, most grotesquely, seen from behind and below, urinating; Carey Mulligan's, naked but in side view; and a few other women, in a variety of stages of undress. I have never had any particular interest in seeing any of these actors' genitals, but I find McQueen's coy respectfulness cinematically offensive. If he's going to show his performers undressed, the lighting should be the same as it is on their faces, and the angles in which he shows them should be as plain as those which he uses for their faces. Instead, he uses their bodies as a sort of chit of authenticity and frankness. Whether the story itself is authentic and frank, we can talk about when the movie is released, but there's an intrinsic oddity to the notion of actors showing it all.
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...
Marie writes: this past Monday, the Chicago Sun Times updated "Movable Type" - a program used to create blogs. Roger's journal for example. Other newspapers might use "Word Press" instead; same idea though. Any-hoo, it's hosted on the "new" server at the Sun-Times and as is customary, you have to login to use it. It's online software. Meaning you're totally at the mercy of any freakiness that might be going on.I mention this because there was indeed some weirdness earlier (server choked) and that, plus the fact Movable Type does things differently now, put me behind schedule. So I don't really have anything for the front page. I can go look, though! Meanwhile, just continue reading and if I find anything interesting, I'll let you know....Ooo, clams...
In her new film “All Good Things,” Kirsten Dunst plays a character who is murdered, maybe. She certainly disappears. The movie is based on a true story of a poor girl who married into a rich family and vanished into thin air. For an actor, that’s a little like playing the Road Runner. You’re moving straight ahead and then suddenly the road disappears. Or you do.
I always try to find at least one film at Toronto that's way off the beaten track. I rarely stray further afield than I did Tuesday night, when I found myself watching "Wake in Fright," a film made in Australia in 1971 and almost lost forever. It's not dated. It is powerful, genuinely shocking, and rather amazing. It comes billed as a "horror film," and contains a great deal of horror, but all of the horror is human and brutally realistic.
Donald Pleasence in "Wake in Fright"
The story involves a young school teacher in the middle of the desolate wilderness of the Outback. The opening overhead shot shows a shabby building beside a railroad track, the camera pans 360 degrees and finds only the distant horizon. and then returns to find a second building on the other side of the tracks. One building is the school. The other is the hotel. To get to either, people must have to travel a great distance.
I'm writing this the day after first posting this entry. I now regret it. The point I make about artists is perfectly valid but I realize I wasn't prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival's decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to "re-brand" Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this. It was naive for the plan's supporters to believe it would have the effect they hoped for. The original entry remains below. The first 50 or so comments were posted before these regrets.
¶ The tumult continues here about the decision to spotlight Tel Aviv in the City-to-City sidebar program of the Toronto Film Festival. The protesters say the festival is thereby recognizing the "apartheid regime" of Israel. The controversy shows no sign of abating, and indeed on Tuesday it was still big news in the Toronto newspapers, with the Star's front page featuring lineups of those opposing the TIFF decision (including Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortenson, Julie Christie and Danny Glover) and those supporting it (including Jerry Seinfeld, David Cronenberg, Sasha Baron Cohen, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Kudrow and Natalie Portman).
TORONTO -- In the beginning, its organizers were happy to sell out a 500-seat theater. Now the Toronto Film Festival requires 35 theaters and assorted screening rooms, starting with the 2,800-seat Roy Thomson Hall. If you're a moviegoer in central Toronto and want to avoid the festival, you've got your work cut out for you.
In theory, if I correctly predicted every single Oscar race, nobody could outguess me, and by default, I would win the prize. Alas, that has never, ever happened, and it's unlikely again this year, because as usual I will allow my heart to outsmart my brain in one or two races, which is my annual downfall. In any event, for what they're worth, here are my Academy Award predictions in a year rich with wonderful films.
Skip Lievsay, sound genius. (photo: Mix Online)
... Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland -- and un-nominated co-conspirator, Carter Burwell -- for sound in "No Country for Old Men"! (See below.)
Meanwhile, I'm happy to see several mildly surprising nominations: Viggo Mortensen for "Eastern Promises"; Saoirse Ronan for "Atonement"; Hal Holbrook for "Into the Wild"; "Persepolis" for animated feature. No surprise, and absolutely proper: Roger Deakins for shooting both "No Country for Old Men" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (though I hope they don't cancel each other out). But nothing for "Zodiac"? At the very least it should have received a nomination for its amazing visual effects. But unless you've seen the Director's Cut DVD (or some Digital Domain clips on YouTube) you probably wouldn't have known they were effects. That's how good they are.
Looking at the odds, "Atonement" is an unlikely best picture because its director (Joe Wright) wasn't nominated. "Michael Clayton" and "Juno" lack an editing nomination, which (statistically speaking) is are crucial to winning the top prize. On the other hand, "Michael Clayton" is honored in three acting categories, for George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton -- and guess which branch of the Academy is the biggest? "No Country for Old Men" didn't claim a lead acting slot, perhaps because it's an ensemble piece. If you go strictly by statistically significant nominations, only "There Will Be Blood" has 'em all -- an old-fashioned Hollywood epic built around a big performance (by a previous Oscar winner). But will its unremittingly bleak nihilism (and the bizarre ending that alienated even some admirers) prove too bitter for Academy voters? I dunno.
I just want to take a moment here to acknowledge my favorite nomination. (This is where I congratulate myself on my foresight -- hey, I predicted Tom Wilkinson, too -- even though I'm a lousy Oscar guesser.) Back in September when I first saw "No Country for Old Men" in September, I wrote:
by Roger Ebert
* Denotes winner.
From the Associated Press
by Roger Ebert
by Roger Ebert
By Roger Ebert
View image There are movies being shown in six or eight theaters in the building on the left. That's all I know. (photo by Jim Emerson)
Film festivals allow you the opportunity to see movies without knowing much of anything about them in advance. If you don't want to, that is. The problem with this is that, unless you have a festival catolog (the hefty TIFF 2007 one is 480 pages and sells for $37), you also have no idea of what you don't know about. Today, I arrived more than a half-hour early for a screening of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," only to discover that the previous film (something about "Cassandra") was running about 45 minutes late. The Toronto festival is quite punctual, so this was a most unusual occurrence. The staff person allowed some of us into the theater to sit through the end of the previous movie, in which case we would be able to retain our seats for the one we'd actually come to see.
Now, normally I'm like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" and I don't go into movies late. I rarely leave early, either, even if I think the movie's terrible. In this case, I thought I'd just go in and rest my eyes, since I knew nothing about the film I was about walk into the middle of. It soon became apparent that it had Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in it, as two brothers who were involved in some kind of murder scheme. It was thoroughly mediocre, and I wondered how some first-time commercial filmmaker had lured such a cast, especially with this lackluster script. (Tom Wilkinson showed up, too.) But, I was also seeing it from the middle, sometimes with eyes wide shut, because I was only there to have a seat for the next movie.
When it ended (badly), the credits appeared and I immediately recognized the typeface. It was Woody Allen's latest movie. Surprise.
I write this not to report on a movie I only saw the last half of, but because as I was sitting there I was thinking about how little I have known -- quite deliberately -- about the films I have seen before I have gone to see them. (Of course, I hadn't intended to see even part of this one. That was just an accident.) For the most part I'm trying to maintain blissful ignorance, going into these films with no preconceptions except that I may know who the director is, or who one or two of the cast members are. Or somebody I trust has recommended it. That's as much as I want to know.
Some people at the press and industry screenings seem to know everything about them before the lights go down, but I don't listen to them. So here, in the interest of full disclosure, is how much I knew about some of this year's TIFF movies going in (including a few I haven't yet seen):
"Eastern Promises": David Cronenberg movie with Viggo Mortensen. Not a clue as to what it was about, who else was in it, what it was based on (if anything), or what the title meant.
"Michael Clayton": George Clooney wearing a suit and tie. Nothing else.
"4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": Romanian film about an abortion that won at Cannes.
"Chop Shop": Second film by Ramin Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"). Unaware of where it was set or what it was about, except I thought there was a kid in it.
"Redacted": Brian De Palma. Something about Iraq.
"Secret Sunshine": Asian film (I don't even know what country) that won an award for something somewhere (I think it was Cannes). A friend said I should see it.
"The Orphanage": Mexican. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Appeared to be kinda creepy, and somebody had compared it to "Pan's Labyrinth."
"Margot at the Wedding": Written and directed by Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"). Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. That's all.
"Persepolis": Black and white. Animated. No idea of language or subject.
"Atonement": Based on Ian McEwan novel I haven't finished (but have at home). Don't know who directed it or who's in the cast.
"The Man From London": Directed by Bela Tarr.
"I'm Not There": Todd Haynes' movie in which several people play Bob Dylan. I knew Cate Blanchett was one of them.
"No Country for Old Men": A Coen brothers movie, based on Cormac McCarthy's book (which I'd read). Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem were in it. Roger really liked it.
"Into the Wild": Sean Penn-directed adaptation of Jon Krakauer's biography of Christopher McCandless, which I read about ten years ago and really liked. I knew Emile Hirsch was the main character, but I couldn't recall any movies I'd seen Emile Hirsch in before.
(Once again, my brain is so full of movies I want to write about that I can't concentrate on any one long enough to finish writing about it. I've got about four posts partly written. Hope I'll get a chance to within the next 24 hours. In the meantime, there are more movies to see...)
Armin Mueller-Stahl at the head of the table, head of the family
You are going to hear a lot about this, so I may as well begin with it: There's a fight scene in David Cronenberg's Russian mob thriller "Eastern Promises" that is sure to go down as a raw, brutal and pulse-pounding landmark in the history of fight scenes. It takes place in one room, with no props except for a couple knives. People in the audience at the Toronto screening I attended were flinching and gasping as if they were being punched in the face. Which, of course, is the idea. If a fight scene doesn't make you feel like you're part of it, so that it quickens your heartbeat and your breathing, then it's a failure. And Cronenberg's makes you realize how many movie fights are flops -- and how really hard it is to kill or immobilize a human being with your arms, legs, feet and hands.
Literally and figuratively, "Eastern Promises" has balls.
And in this sense, it reminds me of both the excruciatingly protracted struggle between Paul Newman and the Russian agent in "Torn Curtain," and the knock-down, drag-out fist-fest between Keith David and Rowdy Roddy Piper in John Carpenter's "They Live!
Lamppost-spined Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts.
Directed in a bold, graphic style similar to that of his previous film, "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises" is shockingly gorgeous, for all the ugliness it portrays. The film is set in London, and the colors are dark and heavy: gray skies, slick black streets, brandy, absinthe, venous blood. A hospital midwife (Naomi Watts) finds a patient's diary that gets her involved with Russian gangsters -- in particular, a shrewd and ambitious chauffeur played by "History of Violence" star Viggo Mortensen, looking sharper and more angular and cooly abstract than ever. (Watch the way he props himself against a lamppost so that they become extensions of each other. How does he do that?)
It begins like a Cronenbergian horror movie, and becomes... a Cronenberg gangster movie -- an elemental struggle between good and evil, life and death, east and west, blood and money, trust and betrayal, commerce and morality, mind and body. Remember, that's "elemental," not "simplistic." There are... complications.
More when the movie opens.
NOTE: Watts' proud, abrasive, vodka-swilling Russian uncle is played by the great Polish director, Jerzy Skolimowski ("Deep End," "The Shout," "Moonlighting").
TORONTO, Ont. -- It’s not often you see films that are perfect. I have just seen two of them here at the Toronto Film Festival, and two others that are extraordinary, and a documentary that is spellbinding. Do I love everything? Not at all. I just happened to have an ecstatic period of moviegoing, that’s all, and that’s enough.
TORONTO, Ont. -- And now the ecstasy and madness begins. The 32nd Toronto Film Festival opens Thursday with no fewer than 15 films, and that’s before it gets up to speed. The Trail Mix Brigade is armed with their knapsacks, bottled water, instant snacks, text messengers and a determination to see, who knows, six, seven, eight films a day.