Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
When people cheerfully tell me, "I have a trivia question" for you, I have a cheerful answer for them, but I rarely express it: "I'm a professional. Ask an amateur." Why in the name of Buster would I want to clutter my memory with useless facts? During long, hard years of being asked trivia questions, I have learned one thing for sure. The person asking me is in the possession of one fact, and is pretty confident I don't know it. Therefore, my admission of defeat will demonstrate their superiority.
I know something about the movies, and here is how I really should reply: "Before I even attempt to answer your question, let me ask you five questions to see if you are qualified to even take up the time of a busy, busy man such as myself. (1) What is the name of the film that codified the language of the cinema? (2) Who was the third great silent clown? (3) Is color intrinsically better than black-and-white? (4) What movie set key scenes on board a train going from Chicago to Urbana, Illinois? (5) Name at least five directors of the French New Wave.
In August 1979, I took my last drink. It was about four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, the hot sun streaming through the windows of my little carriage house on Dickens. I put a glass of scotch and soda down on the living room table, went to bed, and pulled the blankets over my head. I couldn't take it any more.
On Monday I went to visit wise old Dr. Jakob Schlichter. I had been seeing him for a year, telling him I thought I might be drinking too much. He agreed, and advised me to go to "A.A.A," which is what he called it. Sounded like a place where they taught you to drink and drive. I said I didn't need to go to any meetings. I would stop drinking on my own. He told me to go ahead and try, and check back with him every month.
The problem with using will power, for me, was that it lasted only until my will persuaded me I could take another drink. At about this time I was reading The Art of Eating, by M. F. K. Fisher, who wrote: "One martini is just right. Two martinis are too many. Three martinis are never enough." The problem with making resolutions is that you're sober when you make the first one, have had a drink when you make the second one, and so on. I've also heard, You take the first drink. The second drink takes itself.That was my problem. I found it difficult, once I started, to stop after one or two. If I could, I would continue until I decided I was finished, which was usually some hours later. The next day I paid the price in hangovers.
I'm hoping that James Cameron's "Avatar," opening in December, will be a terrific film. But I was underwhelmed by about 15 minutes of preview footage I saw in 3-D on Friday night. The same footage has been widely shown around the country.
Having read through some 600 comments about universal health care, I now realize I took the wrong approach in my previous blog entry. I discussed the Obama health plan in political, literal, logical terms. Most of my readers replied in the same vein. The comments, as always, have been helpful, informative and for the most part civil. My mistake was writing from the pragmatic side. I should have followed my heart and gone with a more emotional approach. I believe universal health care is, quite simply, right.
It is a moral imperative. I cannot enjoy health coverage and turn to my neighbor and tell him he doesn't deserve it. A nation is a mutual undertaking. In a democracy, we set out together to do what we believe is good for the commonwealth. That means voluntarily subjecting ourselves to the rule of law, taxation, military service, the guaranteeing of rights to minorities, and so on. That is a cheap price to pay.
As I've read through of those comments (and I've posted all but two I received), one thing jumped from the page at me: The unusually high number of comments from other countries. Canadians were particularly well-represented. Although we're assured by opponents of the Obama legislation that Canada's system of universal care is a failure, all of these Canadians, without exception, reported their enthusiasm for their nation's system. One reader said her mother choose to fly to California to get a knee replacement more quickly, but even she praised the Canadian system.
"Death panels" is such an excellent term. You know exactly what it means, and therefore you know you're against them. Debate over. This term more than anything else seems to have unified the opposition to the Obama health care proposals. It fuels the anger that has essentially shut down "town hall" meetings intended for the discussion of the issues.
Of course the term is inspired by a lie. There are no conceivable plans to form "death panels" or anything like them. The Obama plan, which has some bipartisan support, doesn't seek or desire to get involved in any decisions about who should live and who should die. But now we hear "death panel" repeated so often that the term has taken on a sort of eerie reality, as if it really referred to anything.
On Thursday night I posted in entry in defense of Armond White's review of "District 9." Overnight I received reader comments causing me to rethink that entry, in particular this eye-popping link supplied by Wes Lawson. I realized I had to withdraw my overall defense of White. I was not familiar enough with his work. It is baffling to me that a critic could praise "Transformers 2" but not "Synecdoche, NY." Or "Death Race" but not "There Will be Blood." I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll. My defense of his specific review of "District 9" still stands. Here is my original entry:
¶ An online friend sent me an e-mail: "I wonder if you've caught the firestorm of reader reactions to Armond White's (negative) review of the film, which has sadly inspired a sort of virtual lynch mob among readers on Rotten Tomatoes. A few readers have tried to interject in defense of free speech and free criticism, but as you know, this is how it goes on the internet." I went to the comment thread and found, at that time, 14 pages of comments excoriating White for his negative review of "District 9." Bear in mind this was before most of those readers could have seen the film.
Some of them seemed pissed primarily because White had "spoiled" the movie's perfect TomatoMeter reading (at that point it was his negative review versus 49 positives). Others focused on his customary contrarian position; Armond White can be counted on to vote against the majority on film after film. I'm not going to pretend I read all 14 pages, but I did a lot of jumping around and didn't find a single comment defending the film itself.
Computers can do just about everything these days, from running airplanes to carrying out labyrinthine mathematical calculations. It would seem to be such a simple thing I am asking. I would like a computer to provide me with my own voice. Many people have suggested this: "Why don't you get someone to take tapes of your speaking voice and create a voice you can use with your computer?" They make it sound so simple. They look like they've had a brilliant idea. But it is not so simple.
Two years ago, I was told by helpful computer wizards at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana that such a thing was possible. There is even a company in Urbana that creates computer voices. But it appears it might cost me a small fortune to have one custom-created for me. Wouldn't you think the same technology could be applied to create many voices? Apparently that's not so easy.
Soon after my second surgery, when it became apparent I wouldn't be able to speak, I of course started writing notes. This got the message across, but was too time-consuming for communications of any length. And notes were unbearably frustrating for a facile speaker like me, accustomed to dancing with the flow of the conversation. There is a point when a zinger is perfectly timed, and a point when it is pointless.
At last this site has a fast search engine. A Yahoo search can be found at the upper left corner of every page of rogerebert.com itself (not on this blog). The top line searches by movie title and performs almost instantly, although it demands an exact title: "G.I. Joe," for example, not "G. I Joe" ("G.I." is an abbreviation, not the initials of a name). To search the site in other ways, go to "Advanced Search," To search the blog entries on "Roger Ebert's Journal, there is a Search box at the upper right of every blog page. This will search by words or phrases, and, yes, will find you all the entries of any individual poster, although this takes a little time because of the millions of words involved. Comments are open on this new feature.
Apparently unconnected items appeared within two days of each other in the Los Angeles Times, and together confirmed my fear that American movie-going is entering into a Dark Age. The first was in a blog by Patrick Goldstein, who said: "Film critics are in the same boat as evening news anchors -- their core audience is people 50 and over, and getting older by the day. You could hire Jessica Alba to read the evening news -- or review 'G.I. Joe' for that matter -- and younger audiences still wouldn't care." The other was in a report by John Horn that despite "The Hurt Locker's" impressive box office success, "younger moviegoers are not flocking to the film, which could limit its ticket sales."
The obvious implication is, younger moviegoers don't care about reviews and have missed the news that "The Hurt Locker" is the best American film of the summer. There is a more disturbing implication: word of mouth is not helping the film in that younger demographic. It has been Hollywood gospel for decades that advertising and marketing can help a film to open strongly, but moviegoers talking with each other are crucial to its continuing success. That has been Summit Entertainment's game plan for "The Hurt Locker," which opened in a few theaters and has steadily increased its cities, becoming a real success without ever "winning" a weekend or benefiting from an overkill marketing campaign.
This is an apology, and a cause for celebration. First, I want to apologize to the reader John B. In the previous version of this entry, I announced that his caption entry had won our contest in a landslide, and then went on to lament that he had left no e-mail address, and that a similar caption had appeared earlier on another website. Therefore, the implication was that he had "borrowed" it.
Some fair-minded readers wrote to argue that the difference between the two captions--John used the word "omniscient," and the other blog used "omnipotent"--was significant, and that in fact John's caption was funnier. This is true. I began to doubt my rush to judgement. Who, after all, would cheat just to win shiny new dime? On the other hand, where was John to step forward and claim his prize?
John, or "John B.," has now stepped forward. Today he posted this, which is quite civilized, under the circumstances: