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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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Thumbnails 2/20/17

1.

"Michael Gibson on Musicality": The celebrated teacher at Chicago's Curie Metropolitan High School chats with me at Indie Outlook about his after school singing group, which became semifinalists on NBC's "America's Got Talent" last year. 

“It was important to me that I never said the name of the school on the show. People are already mad that I mentioned the neighborhood being ‘rough,’ because it is not the worst neighborhood in the city. But it is not the best neighborhood either. When you have an alumnus who dies from gang violence two blocks from our school, that’s a problem to me. A lot of our Musicality kids knew him personally. This year alone, we have lost two of our kids to gun violence. And yet, I’ve had to defend myself so many times. One woman came up to me and said, ‘The boundaries of Archer Heights, where the school is, are statistically not that high in terms of violence,’ and I’m like, ‘When I went on the show and said it’s a rough neighborhood, I’m not talking about these small boundaries. I’m talking about the South Side of Chicago, which anyone can say is a problem.’ Teachers at the school have told me, ‘You exaggerated so much,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re driving here from the suburbs!’ I even had to explain myself to State Rep. Burke, who represents the area where we’re from. He took us out to dinner and asked, ‘So was that mostly production that was pushing you to say that?’ and I’m like, ‘They actually did want me to push that part of the story, but I also did not want to exaggerate it to the point where it was fake.’ It is a rough area. The first student who was killed this year was a passenger in a car going to a birthday party. A random victim of gunfire. This is something that the kids are afraid of. I even had alumni tell me that I was making the school look bad, and the fact is, the school has changed so much. When I first started, those students were a different group than who I have now. I’ve had to change my teaching a lot because it’s getting rougher and rougher. One of my students, Ephram, told me a story of how his mom had to pull him off the porch because there was gunfire. Another student, Roxie, lives a five-minute walk away from school, and there’s a bullet hole in her front window. Do people not care about this stuff? They just don’t listen, they don’t want to hear it.”

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2.

"Why 'Six' is Giving Award Season Movies a Run for Their Money": The new History Channel series is praised by The Talkhouse's Jim Hemphill.

“This approach makes ‘Six’ a perfect fit for Kimberly Peirce, the director of its best (of the four I’ve seen thus far) episode, the aforementioned ‘Tour of Duty.’ Peirce’s three features to date – ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1999), ‘Stop-Loss’ (2008), and ‘Carrie’ (2013) – are all exquisitely calibrated portraits of extreme emotional crisis, movies about characters losing control in which Peirce’s own formal control remains supreme. Sophisticated and at times extreme shifts in perspective are her specialty; the criminally underrated ‘Carrie’ is almost painfully empathetic not only to its title character but to many of her tormentors, as Peirce utilizes subtle camera placement and delicate direction of her actors to deepen, not cheapen, De Palma’s original take on the same material. In the case of ‘Tour of Duty,’ she pulls off something extraordinary, applying a Kurosawa-esque mastery of space to her action sequences in a way that conveys the messy confusion of violence without losing visual clarity – the audience is always completely acclimated within the frame, yet still gets a sense of the visceral chaos as it’s experienced by the characters. This kind of thing is tougher than it looks – in fact, the harder a director works on it the easier it should seem – and Peirce’s command of composition, movement and cutting here is reminiscent of Spielberg’s work in ‘Saving Private Ryan.’”

3.

"What 'Logan' Gets About Telling a Great Superhero Story": According to Vulture's Abraham Riesman.

“There’s a scene about halfway through ‘Logan’ in which our grizzled protagonist doesn’t quite break the fourth wall, but we can certainly hear his accusatory voice on the other side of it. He holds up a superhero comic like a piece of pornography found under a kid’s mattress and denounces the idiocy of it and its ilk — ‘ice cream for bedwetters,’ he calls them. Though such a pronouncement is a little extreme (let’s leave those who live with nocturnal enuresis out of this), he has a point about the facile simplicity and lack of vision that plague all too many superhero projects. ‘Logan,’ miraculously, is not one of those pieces. I’ll leave it to our film critic, David Edelstein, to determine the ways ‘Logan’ does or doesn’t work as a movie, but it’s worth looking at why it works so well as a filmed piece of superhero fiction — especially in the context of the Marvel comics it’s based on, as well as other recent superhero pictures. To be blunt, it’s one of the best pieces of superhero storytelling to emerge since the dawn of the cinematic superhero boom two decades ago. With its blood-freezing brutality, shockingly effective humor, and tear-inducing tenderness, Logan joins ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Unbreakable’ in the pantheon of great superhero movies that don’t need to be graded on a superheroic curve. It stands on its own as a stunning piece of mainstream auteur filmmaking that leaves you gasping and, if you’re like me, weeping at both its genuine sadness and its vision of hope — elements rarely seen in this oversaturated cinematic category. ‘Logan,’ in short, gets how to tell a masterful superhero story.”

4.

"Transgender Doll Based on Jazz Jennings to Debut in New York": As reported by Jacey Fortin at The New York Times.

“From the moment she learned how to walk and talk, Jazz Jennings gravitated toward dresses and dolls. They were among the earliest signs that Jazz, born male, identified as female. Now Ms. Jennings, 16, who rose to fame as one of the youngest people ever documented as transgender, will have a new doll to call her own — one modeled after her. ‘Ever since I was little, I always loved playing with dolls,’ she said in an interview on Thursday. ‘It was a great way to show my parents that I was a girl, because I could just express myself as I am. So this really resonates with me, because it was something so pivotal in my own journey.’ Tonner Doll Company, based in Kingston, N.Y., expects to begin producing the Jazz Jennings dolls in a limited-edition test run in late spring or early summer, said Robert Tonner, the company’s chief executive. But a prototype will be unveiled at the Toy Fair in Manhattan this weekend. The company often markets collectibles to adults, but this item is for children. Mr. Tonner, who came up with the idea for the doll, said: ‘I was very impressed with Jazz when I saw her on Barbara Walters 10 years ago. I thought she was an amazing kid with amazing parents.’”

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5.

"How the Webseries 'Brown Girls' Offers a Voice to Queer Women of Color": Time's Mahita Gajanan explores the essential show.

“Throughout her 20s, Fatimah Asghar kept waiting to see a movie or television show that reflected her life, her friendships and relationships. When that didn't happen, she decided to write one herself: a new webseries called ‘Brown Girls.’ Based on the real-life friendship of Asghar and the series' music consultant Jamila Woods, ‘Brown Girls’ follows two young women making their way through their 20s in Chicago: Leila, a South Asian-American coming to terms with her queerness, and her best friend Patricia, a sex-positive black musician struggling with commitment. The series explores storylines the creators feel are rarely covered in mainstream television—namely, nuanced relationships between women of color. The first episode opens as Leila (Nabila Hossain) has an intense phone conversation with her aunt, who lectures her about sex and urges her to go to the mosque—all while another woman lies naked in Leila's bed. As a queer South Asian Muslim woman, Asghar, 27, had never seen a character like that before on television. ‘A lot of people come from intersections that get erased on media platforms,’ she said. ‘If we can shed light that these people exist and are real, and have many different personalities, it will expand the definition of what some of these identities mean.’”

Image of the Day

Variety's Gordon Cox reports on the stunning indoor drive-in theater, August Moon, set to open in Nashville. 

Video of the Day

Meryl Streep's recent 25-minute speech to the Human Rights Campaign is one of the finest and most important moments in her extraordinary career. It is a must-see.

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