Matt writes: Despite the COVID-19 pandemic preventing our writers from attending the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival in person this year, our Managing Editor Brian Tallerico is still screening all of the highlights remotely. Keep your eyes peeled each day for his latest dispatches from the festival, which kicked off September 10th and runs through Sunday, September 20th. A few of the hotly anticipated titles he's reviewed thus far are Francis Lee's "Ammonite," starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Regina King's "One Night in Miami," starring Leslie Odom Jr., and Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland," starring Frances McDormand.
An interview with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum about his new two-volume book collection, Cinematic Encounters.
Abel Ferrara (with bandmates) and Agnès Varda (with the artist JR) present two very different autobiographical documentaries.
An interview with Paul Schrader, director of "Dog Eat Dog."
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.
Marie writes: my friend Cheryl sent me the photo below, taken by an ex-coworker (Cheryl used to work for a Veterinarian.) The wolf's name is Alpha; one guess why. He's from the Grouse Mountain Wildlife Refuge in North Vancouver; not a zoo. The veterinary clinic is also located in North Vancouver and Alpha is having his regular dental check up and cleaning. (Click to enlarge.)
Marie writes: Summer is now officially over. The berries have been picked, the jam has been made, lawn-chairs put away for another year. In return, nature consoles us with the best show on Earth; the changing of the leaves! I found these at one of my favorites sites and where you can see additional ones and more...
Has there been a more harrowing and courageous performance this year? Willem Dafoe plays a wholly evil man occupying a wholly evil world in Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist," a new film that challenges its viewers so boldly that some have fled from the theater. Von Trier's films often stir up heated discussion, but never has he made a film quite this formidable.
Q. You wrote: "It's like the dilemma of the 10 hot dogs and eight buns: You can never come out even at the end." Well, of course you can come out even: Four packs of wienies and five packs of buns yields 40 hot dogs.
Matthew Modine was attending the Toronto Film Festival launch party for the U.S. edition of Norman Jewison’s autobiography, so the subject of his own memoirs came up. “I don’t know if that book will ever be written,” he said. “But I am publishing Full Metal Diary, which is the diary I kept when I was making Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ That was so long ago that when I read it, it’s like the writings of a young actor who doesn’t have a whole lot to do with me. An actor writing journal entries on the set every day, just excited to be working with this great director on this film.”
CANNES, France-- Forty-one years after his "Breathless" swept in the French New Wave and helped herald the modern era of filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard is back at the Cannes Film Festival with a new movie. The onetime enfant terrible is now 71, and the 1960s "film generation" that marched under his banner is old and gray, but his very presence inspires a certain trembling in the air as the 54th Cannes festival opens. The giants are back in town.
Jane Campion's wonderous film "The Piano" arrived at this year's Cannes Film Festival so already wreathed in glory that another director, Abel Ferrara, groused: "They might as well have met her at the airport and given her the prize, and let it go at that."
Q. My wife and I went to see "The Beverly Hillbillies" and, while I'm no expert on special effects, it seemed that the scene in which Dolly Parton entertains at the Clampett's party was strung together using a blue-screen technique, and that Parton was not really there for most of it. Am I right? (Ted Bridis, Tulsa, OK)