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…
From the moment that Hal Holmes and I slipped quietly into his basement and he showed me his father's hidden collection of Playboy magazines, the map of my emotional geography shifted toward Chicago. In that magical city lived a man named Hugh Hefner who had Playmates possessing wondrous bits and pieces I had never seen before. I wanted to be invited to his house.
I was trembling on the brim of puberty, and aroused not so much by the rather sedate color "centerfold" of an undressed woman, as by the black and white photos that accompanied them. These showed an ordinary woman (I believe it was Janet Pilgrim) entering an office building in Chicago, and being made up for her "pictorial." Made up! Two makeup artists were shown applying powders and creams to her flesh. This electrified me. It made Pilgrim a real person. In an interview she spoke of her life and ambitions.
Most events called "psychic" do not take place at all, but only seem to. All the events we can perceive take place in a rational universe governed by physical laws. They can be explained by human thinking and do not require a supernatural loophole. I'm drawn to this thinking by Clint Eastwood's new film, "Hereafter." You may have absorbed the idea that it's about the afterlife. It would be fairer to say it's about the common human need for there to be an afterlife.
When I write that I expect to experience no more after death than I experienced before birth, I receive comments from people who pity me. They wonder how I can possibly live with such a bleak prospect.
When: Friday through Nov. 4
How did Charles Chaplin get his start on the screen? In 1913 the English comic was on a U.S. tour with a vaudeville troupe when the Keystone Film Company offered him $150 per week. Chaplin signed a contract and took the train to Los Angeles. He acted on camera for the first time in "Making a Living." A critic at The Moving Picture World gushed that the newcomer was "a comedian of the first water, who acts like one of Nature's own naturals."
Bill Nack is a born story-teller. The author of the biography Secretariat has enveloped me time and again in the fascination of his tales. That process began nearly 50 years ago at the University of Illinois, when we were both working on The Daily Illini. I was the editor, he was the sports editor, and then the following year he was the editor. He was also a natural writer -- and, perhaps more significantly, a natural reader. His taste was persuasive.
He approached literature like a gourmet. He relished it, savored it, inhaled it, and after memorizing it rolled it on his tongue and spoke it aloud. It was Nack who already knew in the early 1960s, when he was a very young man, that Nabokov was perhaps the supreme stylist of modern novelists. He recited to me from Lolita, and from Speak, Memory and Pnin. I was spellbound.
I'm not a miracle. And neither are the Chilean miners. We are all alive today for perfectly rational reasons. Yet there is a common compulsion to describe unlikely outcomes as miraculous -- if they are happy, of course. If sad, they are simply reported on, or among the believing described as "the will of God." Some disasters are so horrible they don't qualify as the will of God, but as the work of Satan playing for the other team.
Andrew O'Hehir of Salon is a critic I admire, but he has nevertheless written a review of "Secretariat" so bizarre I cannot allow it to pass unnoticed. I don't find anywhere in "Secretariat" the ideology he discovers there. In its reasoning, his review resembles a fevered conspiracy theory.
In this example , we do not find proof that Obama is a Muslim Communist born in Kenya. No, the news is worse than that. It involves Secretariat, a horse who up until now we innocently thought of as merely very fast. We learn the horse is a carrier not merely of Ron Turcotte's 130 pounds, but of Nazism, racism, Tea Party ideology and the dark side of Christianity.
Oh, and I forgot the Ku Klux Klan: "The movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose," O'Hehir writes, "...as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn."
• Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert
The 46th Chicago International Film Festival will play this year at one central location, on the many screens of the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. A festivalgoers and filmmakers' lounge will be open during festival hours at the Lucky Strike on the second level. Tickets can be ordered online at CIFF's website, which also organizes the films by title, director and country. Tickets also at AMC; sold out films have Rush Lines. More capsules will be added here.
• Introduction to The Great Movies III
You'd be surprised how many people have told me they're working their way through my books of Great Movies one film at a time. That's not to say the books are definitive; I loathe "best of" lists, which are not the best of anything except what someone came up with that day. I look at a list of the "100 greatest horror films," or musicals, or whatever, and I want to ask the maker, "but how do you know?" There are great films in my books, and films that are not so great, but there's no film here I didn't respond strongly to. That's the reassurance I can offer.