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Just Getting Started

Just Getting Started never really gets going. It only kept me thinking, “Is this ever just going to finish?”

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The Rape of Recy Taylor

A documentary with a great subject and powerful testimony, undone by its unnecessarily obtrusive style.

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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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Cast and Crew

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Forgotten silent star Wallace Reid; Helena Bonham Carter defends 'The Lone Ranger'; Harry Belafonte sues the King estate; the trouble with Kenan Thompson

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Appealing to the base

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Hollywood has the same problem with the Oscars that the Republicans are having with their primaries. They can't seem to agree on a candidate with a broad appeal to the base. All nine Oscar finalists were, like Mitt Romney, good enough to be nominated. But none of them appealed to average multiplex moviegoers, just as it's said Romney doesn't appeal to the GOP base.

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#97 January 11, 2012

Marie writes: I have no words. Beyond the obvious, that is. And while I'm okay looking at photos, the video.... that was another story. I actually found myself turning away at times, the suspense too much to bear - despite knowing in advance that he's alive and well and there was nothing to worry about. The bottom of my stomach still fell out...

(click images to enlarge)

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#87 November 2, 2011

Marie writes: It occurred to me that I've never actually told members about the Old Vic Tunnels.  Instead, I've shared news of various exhibits held inside them, like the recent Minotaur. So I'm going to fix that and take you on a tour!  (click image to enlarge.)

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Robert DeNiro on movies at large in the world

Robert DeNiro, receiving his honorary Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe Sunday night and acknowledging all his movies ("Stanley and Iris," "Jacknife" and "Little Fockers") -- not just the ones that are included in his three-minute clip reel: "It's up to the audience to decide if it's entertainment, critics to decide if it's good and ultimately posterity to decide if it's art."

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The Miracle of Trudy Kockenlocker

Trudy: "You certainly helped me out by taking me out tonight!"

Betty Hutton died earlier this week. She was 86. Her most popular movies were probably "Annie Get Your Gun," the 1950 Irving Berlin musical (directed by George Sidney) in which she played the title role of Annie Oakley; and the lumbering Cecil B. DeMille circus spectacle, "The Greatest Show on Earth" (Best Picture Oscar winner for 1952), in which she played a sexy trapeze artist.

View image Norval: "Except for getting into the Army I can't think of anything that makes me more happy than helping you out."

View image Noval: "I almost wish you could be in a lotta trouble sometime so I could prove it to ya."

But Hutton achieved immortality in 1944, as Trudy Kockenlocker (aka Mrs. Ignatz Ratzkywatzky) in Preston Sturges' "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek." The shot sampled at right is, in my opinion, one of the greatest in movie history. Not because it's a long dolly shot (in 1944!) that takes us all the way from the Kockenlocker's front door to the town movie theater (although, yes, that's part of it), but because it allows two splendid comic actors, Hutton as Trudy and Eddie Bracken as Norval Jones, to preserve the comic integrity of their repartee, without any cuts to destroy the rhythms of their performances.

View image Trudy: "We can't send them off maybe to get killed and -- rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air -- without anyone to say goodbye to them, can we?"

View image Trudy: "How about the orphans? Who says goodbye to them?"

When they leave the house, Norval thinks he's taking Trudy to a triple-feature at the movies, because her father (William Demerest) has forbidden her to go to a dance for departing soldiers. Between the front porch and the ticket booth, Trudy makes a personal appeal to the smitten, 4-F Norval, combined with a call to his patriotic duty and pity for orphan soldiers who haven't got any family to say goodbye to them, to talk Norval out of the date, and his car keys. He goes to the pictures, she goes to the dance, and... nothing is ever the same after that.

View image Norval: "What a war!"

Later, when Trudy breaks the news to him that she is indeed in terrible trouble and needs his help again (after all, he did say he almost wished she'd get into awful trouble sometime so he could help her out of it -- and now he's certainly got his wish), their walk takes a different route. They don't turn at the corner to go past the garage to the theater, but continue walking down the same street, and this time the shot is broken up into several components (including two optical "close ups" that appear to be inserted in order to combine two different takes). But it still feels like one fluid take because it's three long shots joined with the two close-up inserts and one brief tracking shot where they change direction and start walking toward the camera.

View image "Papa don't preach to me, preach to me..."

Three years later, in the Technicolor Musical "The Perils of Pauline," directed by George Marshall ("You Can't Cheat an Honest Man," "Destry Rides Again," "My Friend Irma"), Hutton sang this song, "Papa Don't Preach to Me," which could have been sung by Trudy Kockenlocker herself.... Or maybe that was the Madonna version. Anyway, watch the YouTube clip.

Now papa don't preach to me, preach to me, Papa don't preach to me. Let my heart break while it's young Papa don't preach to me, preach to me, Papa don't preach to me. Let me fling 'till my fling is all flung!

... I strolled through Paris Today with Maurice. The Rue De La Paix Means "The Street of the Peace"!

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Eyeless in Monument Valley, Part II

Above: That gritty Hollywood literalism and/or naturalism: "Off-putting to the contemporary sensibility."

I was wrong. Last night, just before going to bed, I read Stephen Metcalf's "Dilettante" column, "The Worst Best Movie: Why on earth did 'The Searchers' get canonized?". This did not make it easy for me to get to sleep, so I dashed off a preliminary response in which I harshly characterized Metcalf's piece as an "inexcusably stupid essay... about a classic John Ford Western." But now, re-reading the column in the light of day, I realize that Metcalf was hardly writing about "The Searchers" at all. And nearly every observation he does make about the film itself is cribbed from something Pauline Kael wrote (see more below). He'll just fling out an irresponsible, non sequitur comment like, "Even its adherents regard 'The Searchers' as something of an excruciating necessity," and let it lie there, flat on the screen, unexplained and unsupported. So, while I stand by my claim that what Metcalf has written is stupid and inexcusable (for the reasons I will delineate below), I don't think it has much to do with "The Searchers."

Instead, Metcalf is reacting to his own perception of the film's reputation (and in part to A.O. Scott's recent New York Times piece admiring "The Searchers"), using the movie to snidely deride people Mecalf labels "film geeks," "nerd cultists" and: ... critics whose careers emerged out of the rise of "film studies" as a discrete and self-respecting academic discipline, and the first generation of filmmakers -- Scorsese and Schrader, but also Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, and George Lucas -- whose careers began in film school. (The latter are later characterized as "well-credentialed nerds.") The fault, then, in Metcalf's mind, is not so much in the film as in those who brazenly take film seriously as an art form. Using "The Searchers" as an anecdotal, ideological bludgeon, Metcalf attempts to attack the impudent and insidious notion that movies are worthy of serious study and artistic interpretation. Holy flashback to Clive James!

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Cannes #10: Guessing games

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CANNES, France –- All rumors about the prizes at Cannes are essentially worthless. Why don’t I know this? I could make up my own and do just about as well. It is apparently true that Sam Jackson told somebody there were going to be “big surprises” when the awards were announced, and there were; never before has a jury honored the casts of two films with ensemble acting awards, and certainly no one predicted that Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” would win the Palme d’Or. When it did, there was much agreement, and, yes, much surprise.

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