Sheila writes: It's less than two weeks until the domestic release of Steve James' documentary about Roger Ebert, "Life Itself." "Life Itself" will hit theaters, as well as be released On Demand, on July 4, 2014. Please check out the exclusive clip on Rogerebert.com, which focuses on the impact Chaz had on Roger's life. "Life Itself" just opened the Hamptons Film Festival, and a QA with Chaz Ebert, Rogerebert.com editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz followed the screening. The QA was hosted Alec Baldwin and Hamptons Film Festival artistic director David Nugent. You can read a transcript here.
Sometimes a Dark Horse is a good bet. Dark Horse has done well over the last few decades since Mike Richardson founded the comic book company in 1986 in Oregon, six years after he opened his first comic book store, Pegasus Books in Bend, Oregon. While Dark Horse has been the home for canceled TV series to continue such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," feature films have been made from Dark Horse Comics series such as the 1994 "The Mask," "Timecop," the 2004 "Hellboy" or the 2005 "Sin City," the recently released "R.I.P.D." and the upcoming 2014 "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For." Dark Horse also has a samurai tradition.Richardson is very interested in Japanese culture. At SDCC, Dark Horse and Richardson brought the creator of "Lone Wolf and Cub," the 77-year-old Kazuo Koike and announced a new eleven-volume series "New Lone Wolf and Cub." "Lone Wolf and Cub" is Dark Horse's best-selling series of all time.The original "Lone Wolf and Cub" (子連れ狼) was a 28-volume manga series from the 1970s with ukiyo-e stylized illustrations. The series first came to the U.S. in 1987, published in English translation by First Comics. After First Comics closed down in 1991, Dark Horse Comics picked up the manga and completed the series in English.The story follows the widowed Ōgami Ittō and his three-year-old son, Daigorō. The Yagyū clan has made false accusations, discrediting Ōgami (which literally means wolf and thus the title). Ittō and his son seek revenge. The manga series became a Japanese movie series in the 1970s.Speaking through an interpreter, Koike said that if the movie series had been remade, he would have wanted the late Akira Kurosawa to direct. Since Kurosawa is unavailable, he'd love to get the chance to direct the story himself. For Ittō, his choice of actors would be either Keanu Reeves or Johnny Depp, but he has no recommendations for the chief villain.It should come as no surprise then that when asked Koike listed the 2005 horror Keanu Reeves horror movie "Constantine" and the 1999 French-Spanish-American Johnny Depp thriller "The Ninth Gate" as two of his five favorite movies. Also on that list were the TV series "Criminal Minds," "24" and "Castle." Too bad Nathan Fillion wasn't around Dark Horse although his presence was felt in so many other places and ways at SDCC.As for Koike's favorite samurai flicks, he lists the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series and pointedly commented he doesn't like American samurai movies. That might be a blow to Tom Cruise and his "The Last Samurai."In a later interview, Dark Horse creator Michael Richardson and Stan Sakai laughed at the notion of Keanu Reeves in the upcoming "47 Ronin" which is set for a Christmas Day release. When Richardson got wind of an American movie remake of this famous story about 47 masterless samurai who carefully plot to avenge their master who was forced to commit ritual suicide after a confrontation with the villainous Lord Kira, he decided the time was right for Dark Horse to have their own version of the "47 Ronin."Richardson remembers meeting Roger Ebert in Cannes, when a desperate Ebert ran up to him and said he had to see this movie, "The Mask." Richardson gave up his seat and got a good review. He expressed sadness at Ebert's recent death.A self-proclaimed "fan of Japanese culture," Richardson had first learned about the 47 ronin more than two decades ago. Many movies have been made on this famous true story. Richardson noted that "Every time I saw one of the movies, there was something different" and from all of these he worked with source material and photographs of the actual sites and choose Stan Sakai to collaborate on a manga series. The series is five issues of varying length and the story is told from the perspective of the 48th ronin."That's never been done before," said Sakai. Being a third-generation Japanese American, artist Sakai knew about the story since the fourth grade. "I really wanted to get it right," he commented. Sakai had also been to the temple where the 48 are buried and used his own photos as reference for the beginning of the manga series.Sakai, who created "Usagi Yojimbo," feels that while Americans have become more familiar with samurai the perception has changed markedly over time. "I think now people just think of samurai as straight warriors. They forget the sense of honor and the cultural aspects. The samurai practiced the tea ceremony, ikebana and poetry."As the writer, Richardson felt it was important that this series have a sense of authenticity and consulted with Kazuo Koike. Richardson sees the samurai as the mythical character of Japan, "Each culture comes up with a mythical character, like for America, it's the Western and the gunfighter and the code of the West." Both the samurai and the gunfighter are outsiders who are known by the weapon they control. Richardson pointed out that Kurosawa's movies inspired a few Westerns including the 1964 spaghetti Western "A Fistful of Dollars" (from the 1961 "Yojimbo").Richardson had problems narrowing down to five favorite movies, listing the 1941 "Citizen Kane," the 1962 "Lawrence of Arabia," the 1940 "The Grapes of Wrath," the 1974 "Chinatown" and "The Godfather" (Parts I and II) as his favorites. For samurai movies, his choices were "Seven Samurai," "Yojimbo," "Sanjuro," and Hiroshi Inagaki's "Samurai Trilogy" starring Toshiro Mifune as Musashi Miyamoto ("Musashi Miyamoto" in 1954, "Duel at Ichijoji Temple" in 1955 and "Duel at Ganryu Island" in 1956). The first movie of the trilogy won a 1955 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The trilogy is referenced in Quentin Tarantino's 2003-2004 two-film series "Kill Bill."Sakai also listed "The Godfather" and the "Seven Samurai," in his favorite movies, but also included the original 1933 movie "King Kong," the 1931 Boris Karloff "Frankenstein," Humphrey Bogart's 1941 "The Maltese Falcon" and the 1961 "West Side Story."For samurai movies, Sakai listed "Satomi Hakken-den" (里見八犬伝) which is based on a Japanese epic novel about dog warriors, the original 1962 "Zatoichi" because Sakai is not a fan of Beat Takeshi's 2003 version which included clog-dancing, "Sanjuro" over "Yojimbo," "Seven Samurai" and the 1965 "Samurai Assassin." Both Sakai and Richardson enjoyed Takeshi Miike's "13 Assassins."With a long list of movies that are based on series from Dark Horse Comics and a smaller list of movies that inspired Dark Horse Comic series such "Star Wars" "Predator" and "RoboCop," Richardson requires his interns watch a list of movies that began at 100 and continues to grow.Kazuo Koike was Dark Horse Comics' guest of honor. "Lone Wolf and Cub" is Dark Horse's best-selling series of all time and continues with an eleven-volume series "New Lone Wolf and Cub" with Koike teaming up with Hideki Mori (the original artist for the series, Goseki Kojima passed away). The new series will be published in 2014. The fifth and final volume of "47 Ronin" was published July 3 and is currently available.
Marie writes: Behold a truly rare sight. London in 1924 in color. "The Open Road" was shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Friese-Greene and who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William (a noted cinematographer) had been experimenting with. The travelogues were taken between 1924 and 1926 on a motor journey between Land's End and John O'Groats. You can find more footage from The Open Road at The British Film Institute's YouTube channel for the film. You can also explore their Archives collection over here.
Marie writes: Holy crap! THE KRAKEN IS REAL!" Humankind has been looking for the giant squid (Architeuthis) since we first started taking pictures underwater. But the elusive deep-sea predator could never be caught on film. Oceanographer and inventor Edith Widder shares the key insight - and the teamwork - that helped to capture the squid on camera for the first time, in the following clip taken from her recent TED talk." And to read more about the story, visit Researchers have captured the first-ever video footage of a live giant squid at i09.com
Sometimes an actor's face tells so much about his character that the movie doesn't have to waste its time describing the character's past to us. Roger Michell's "Venus" (2006) doesn't tell us in details how famous its hero was as an actor, but that's not a problem because he is played by Peter O'Toole, a living legend who gave us a bunch of memorable larger-than-life characters including Henry II of England, Eli Cross, the 14th Earl of Gurney, Alan Swann, and, above all, Lawrence of Arabia. When we look at him in the movie, we instantly remember how magnificent he was, and that aspect is naturally incorporated into his character.
Marie writes: my art pal Siri Arnet sent me following - and holy cow! "Japanese artist Takanori Aiba has taken bonsai trees, food packaging, and even a tiny statue of the Michelin Man and constructed miniature metropolises around these objects, thus creating real-life Bottled Cities of Kandor. Explains Aiba of his artwork:"My source of creations are my early experience of bonsai making and maze illustration. These works make use of an aerial perspective, which like the diagram for a maze shows the whole from above (the macro view) while including minute details (the micro view). If you explore any small part of my works, you find amazing stories and some unique characters." ( click to enlarge.)
Marie writes: Did you know that the world's steepest roller-coaster is the Takabisha, which opened earlier this year at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanash, Japan? The ride lasts just 112 seconds but is packed with exciting features including seven twists, blackened tunnels and a 43m-high peak. But the most impressive thing about Takabisha is the 121 degree free-fall, so steep that it's been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the steepest roller-coaster made from steel!
"I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan. I was an indifferent student except at subjects that interested me, and those I followed beyond the classroom, stealing time from others I should have been studying. I was no good at math beyond algebra. I flunked French four times in college. I had no patience for memorization, but I could easily remember words I responded to. In college a chart of my grades resembled a mountain range. My first real newspaper job came when my best friend's father hired me to cover high school sports for the local daily. In college a friend told me I must join him in publishing an alternative weekly and then left it in my hands. That led to the Daily Illini, and that in turn led to the Chicago Sun-Times, where I have worked ever since 1966. I became the movie critic six months later through no premeditation, when the job was offered to me out of a clear blue sky."Visit "I was born inside the movie of my life" to read the opening pages from Roger's forthcoming memoir to be published September 13, 2011.
From the Grand Poobah: Netflix is great, but they don't have everything and seem to be weak on silent films. Here's a pay site streaming a large and useful selection of high-quality films, world-wide....
Marie writes: when Roger told me about this place, I signed-up to see if I could watch one their free movies? Yup! I can stream MUBI in Canada; though content will vary depending on where you live (that's also case with Netflix Canada) and so nothing new there. And after looking through their current catalog, I can report that they do indeed have some rare movies - stuff I've never found anywhere else. I even read that Martin Scorcese is a member.
Marie writes: what do you get a man with a massive book collection who has artwork by Edward Lear and huge canvases by Gillian Ayres? What would a man with a Pulitzer and a Webby now renowned for the verbosity of his tweeting, like for his birthday? Much pondering went into answering that. Until suddenly a light-bulb went on above my head! (Click image.)Of course! It's so obvious - turn the Grand Poobah into a super hero! Super Critic: battling the forces of bad movies and championing the little guy, while tweeting where no critic has gone before! In the process, we'll get to see him wearing a red cape and blue tights. Perfect.Note: the artwork was done by Dave Fox of INTOON Productions. He makes personalized comic book covers and animation cels. Diane Kremmer, a long time friend and fellow artist, works and lives with Dave on Pender Island (one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of BC near Washington State.) I spent last weekend with them and took advantage of Dave's cartooning skills. I mention this because he did all the work. I just sat there and drank his wine. :-)
I saw six movies this past weekend and it was exhilarating. That's a lot for me to suck up these days (though it didn't used to be), unless I'm neck-deep in a film festival. I used to think nothing of a double-bill a day, but this was such a rich and rewarding movie-weekend that it reminded me of the great intensified cinematic forages of my 20s and 30s, when I seemed to encounter, and ravenously gobble down, fresh new masterpieces (heralded or unheralded) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also got me thinking about how unimaginably different the experience of finding movies to watch is now from what it was then.
Here's the breakdown: None of the movies I saw were available in my local theaters. I saw all of them at home, on the same 55" screen -- three on Comcast On Demand (two of those in HD widescreen, one in SD widescreen) and three on DVDs (all at 1.33:1) from my own library (in other words, not rentals, Netflix or otherwise). The movies themselves were made between 1947 and 2009, three were originally shot on 35mm film, one on Super 16mm, and the other on HD video. Four of them were in color, two in black and white. Three were serial-killer/corrupt cop thrillers, two comedy-dramas, and one an adaptation of a serious play about religion. None of them was American-made, but three were in English (though sometimes it was hard to tell), two in Japanese and one in Danish. Two were sanctified classics, one a lesser effort by one of cinema's greatest directors, and the other three recent works by established but not particularly well-known British filmmakers. All but one were new to me -- and that one I hadn't seen I booked it in 16mm, as a Seattle premiere, in a university film series 30 years ago.
OK, here's what I saw, in order: