Marie writes: I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, dissatisfied in general with the poverty of imagination currently on display at local cinemas. As anyone can blow something up with CGI - it takes no skill whatsoever and imo, is the default mode of every hack working in Hollywood these days. Whereas making a funny political satire in the United States about a Russian submarine running aground on a sandbank near a small island town off the coast of New England in 1966 during the height of the Cold War - and having local townsfolk help them escape in the end via a convoy of small boats, thereby protecting them from US Navy planes until they're safely out to sea? Now that's creative and in a wonderfully subversive way....
Marie writes: The West Coast is currently experiencing a heat wave and I have no air conditioning. That said, and despite it currently being 80F inside my apartment, at least the humidity is low. Although not so low, that I don't have a fan on my desk and big glass of ice tea at the ready. My apartment thankfully faces East and thus enjoys the shade after the sun has crossed the mid-point overhead. And albeit perverse in its irony, it's because it has been so hot lately that I've been in the mood to watch the following film again and which I highly recommend to anyone with taste and a discerning eye.
Marie writes: This week's Newsletter arrives a day early and lighter than usual, as come Tuesday morning, I'll be on a Ferry heading to Pender Island off the West Coast, where I've arranged to visit old friends for a few days and enjoy my first vacation in two years; albeit a brief one. No rest for the wicked. :-)
Something nice happened to us while we were preparing the schedule for Ebertfest 2012, which plays April 25-29 at the Virginia Theater (above) in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. We'd invited Patton Oswalt to attend with his "Big Fan. He agreed and went one additional step: "I'd like to personally choose a film to show to the students, and discuss it."
I love a black comedy. Always have. You know, all those tragic mishaps that seem to befall Alec Guinness in the English countryside when no one is looking? But then who doesn't love an Ealing comedy. I also like "Dexter" and for similar reasons; it too, has an air of subversive glee about it, albeit darker and more graphic in nature. The appeal is never about seeing people die, though (where's the fun in that?). Nor in watching mindless torture porn like Hostel; a genre increasingly viewed as the favorite pastime of failed experiments in parenting, moreover, and thus to be avoided at all costs. I loathe the entire genre aka "Women in Danger" films as Gene and Roger once termed them. American Psycho however, is anything but a slasher film.
I was floored by Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the first time I saw it, though (as is usually the case for me, even with movies that don't negotiate complex plots in slyly evasive/elliptical styles), I couldn't have told you exactly what happened. That didn't concern me at all, however, because like its central character George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the movie is so meticulously observant that I never felt I was missing out on anything important, even when I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. It kept me in the emotional moment, and I knew I could figure out the details later on.
The stories behind the relationships at the Circus (nickname for Britain's covert intelligence agency) were tangled -- and yet clearly delineated -- enough to deliver a cumulative emotional payoff. And the more I lived with the vivid memory of the movie (it has stayed with me, unshakably), and the more times I've seen it (thrice, so far), the more my appreciation of it has grown. It has slowly climbed up my list of 2011 favorites, and by the second time I saw it, I was absolutely sure it had eclipsed any other English-language movie I'd seen during the year.
(For gaffe squadders who enjoy those fits of righteous indignation that only award nominations can truly provide, let me suggest that the most egregious oversight in this year's Oscar batch is the lack of acknowledgment for "Tinker Tailor" in the categories of best picture, supporting actor (anyone), supporting actress (Kathy Burke), cinematography, art direction, editing, costume design, and so on down the line. Screenplay, actor and music -- all well-deserved, though.)
First-rate movies often inspire first-rate criticism, and it's been thrilling to read some of the year's best writing inspired by one of its best movies. Here's a sample of some of the finest stuff I've read (all of it after I saw, and wrote a little about, the movie -- so beware of spoilers), with links to the full pieces, which I strongly recommend you follow.
Marie writes: Behold an extraordinary collection of Steampunk characters, engines and vehicles created by Belgian artist Stephane Halleux. Of all the artists currently working in the genre, I think none surpass the sheer quality and detail to be found in his wonderful, whimsical pieces...
Left to right: Little Flying Civil, Beauty Machine, Le Rouleur de Patin(click images to enlarge)
Marie writes: At first you think you're looking at a photograph. Then the penny drops, along with your jaw..."Alan Wolfson creates handmade miniature sculptures of urban environments. Complete with complex interior views and lighting effects, a major work can take several months to complete. The pieces are usually not exact representations of existing locations, but rather a combination of details from many different locations along with much of the detail from the artist's imagination. There is a narrative element to the work. Scenarios are played out through the use of inanimate objects in the scene. There are never people present, only things they have left behind; garbage, graffiti, or a tip on a diner table, all give the work a sense of motion and a storyline. Alan's miniature environments are included in art collections throughout the US and Europe." - Alan Wolfson - Miniature Urban Sculptures
"FOLLIES BURLESK" (1987)14 1/4 x 19 1/4 x 21 1/2 inches(click images to enlarge)
Marie writes: I attended three different elementary schools; St. Peter's, Our Lady of Mercy (which was anything but) and finally St. Micheal's; where I met my Canadian-Italian chum, Marta Chiavacci (key-a-vah-chee) who was born here to Italian immigrants. We lost touch after high school, moving in different directions til in the wake of a trip to Venice and eager to practice my bad Italian and bore friends with tales of my travels abroad, I sought her out again.We've kept in touch ever since, meeting whenever schedules permit; Marta traveling more than most (she's a wine Sommelier) living partly in Lucca, Italy, and happily in sin with her significant other, the great Francesco. I saw her recently and took photos so that I might show and tell, in here. For of all the friends I have, she's the most different from myself; the contrast between us, a never-ending source of delight. Besides, it was a nice afternoon in Vancouver and her condo has a view of False Creek...smile...
(click images to enlarge)
Marie writes: They call it "The Shard" and it's currently rising over London akin to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and dwarfing everything around it, especially St. Paul's in front. I assume those are pigeons flying over-head and not buzzards. Ie: not impressed, but that's me and why I'm glad I saw London before they started to totally ruin it.Known as the "London Bridge Tower" before they changed the name, when completed in 2012, it will be the tallest building in Europe and 45th highest in the world. It's already the second highest free-standing structure in the UK after the Emley Moor transmitting station. The Shard will stand 1,017 ft high and have 72 floors, plus another 15 radiator floors in the roof. It's been designed with an irregular triangular shape from base to top and will be covered entirely in glass. The tower was designed by Renzo Piano, the Italian architect best know for creating Paris's Pompidou Centre of modern art with Richard Rogers, and more recently the New York Times Tower. You can read an article about it at the Guardian. Here's the official website for The Shard. Photograph: Dan Kitwood.
By Roger Ebert
Susannah York, the British actress who could plunge deep into drama and then skip playfully in comedies, died Saturday of bone marrow cancer. She was 72.
Raised in Scotland, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, she was 20 when she made her first important film, the classic "Tunes of Glory" with Alec Guinness.
She was to become an icon of 1960s British films in such titles as "Kaleidoscope," "A Man for All Seasons," "The Killing of Sister George," "Oh! What a Lovely War" and "The Battle of Britain." She memorably played a patient in John Huston's "Freud" (1962), starring Montgomery Clift. But it was as a newlywed struggling to win a marathon dance prize in the American film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" (1969) that she won an Academy Award nomination.
In 1972 she won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival as a schizophrenic housewife in Robert Altman's "Images." Altman fulminated for the rest of his life that York and the film never received the respect they deserved.
York starred in films as recently as 2009, and did a great deal of London stage work and television. One success was Piers Haggard's "A Summer Story" (1988), adapted from the John Galsworthy story. Petite and lively all her life, her hair often in a pixie cut, she was a popular guest on British chat and game shows.
Married in 1960 to the actor Michael Wells, she had two children, Sasha and the actor Orlando Woods, before their divorce in 1973. She and her children had close-by homes near Clapham Common in South London, and Orlando told the Guardian: "She loved nothing more than cooking a good Sunday roast and sitting around a fire of a winter's evening. In some senses, she was quite a home girl. Both Sasha and I feel incredibly lucky to have her as a mother."
In private life she was a political activist, active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She is survived by her children and two grandchildren.
Tom Jones (1964) Directed by Tony Richardson.
Marie writes: Club member and noted blog contributor Tom Dark took this astonishing photograph near his home in Abiqui, New Mexico. The "unknown entity" appeared without warning and after a failed attempt to communicate, fled the scene. Tom stopped short of saying "alien" to describe the encounter, but I think it's safe to say that whatever he saw, it was pretty damned freaky. It sure can't be mistaken for anything terrestrial; like a horse pressing its nose up to the camera and the lens causing foreshortening. As it totally does not look like that at all. (click to enlarge.)
Q: I've been revisiting the original "Star Wars" trilogy in preparation for "Episode III." I was shocked to see at the end of "Return of the Jedi" the ethereal image of the older Anakin Skywalker replaced by Hayden Christensen's younger version. The change didn't make any sense, any more than if George Lucas had replaced Sir Alec Guinness with Ewan McGregor. I didn't mind all the other little tweaks, but this left me feeling cheated. More than that, don't you think it's disrespectful to Sebastian Shaw? Jimmy Jacobs, Columbia, S.C.
Richard Harris, the boisterous, brawling, sometimes brilliant Irish actor, is dead at 72. A charter member of the acting generation known as the Angry Young Men, he capped his career playing a very old and wise man--Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwart's School in "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone" (2001).