Sword of Trust
A likable throwback to the kind of rambling, character-driven 1990s indie comedies that the U.S. film industry barely releases to theaters anymore.
The 10th anniversary of the Chicago edition of the traveling Noir City festival runs from August 17 to 23 at the Music Box Theatre.
Scout Tafoya responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
A packed version of our Blu-ray guide with thoughts on "Knight of Cups," "Midnight Special," "10 Cloverfield Lane," "45 Years" and many more!
An appreciation of the lasting power of Bette Davis.
The Oscar for Best Actor could come down to a battle between actors considered overdue for their first Oscar.
Sheila writes: Some long takes in cinema are gratuitous and flashy, some connect themselves to the theme of the movie, but all of them are fun to pick apart and deconstruct. The technological challenges are daunting and it's fun to see film-makers rise to those challenges. I came across a video analyzing 12 long takes in cinema, and it should be a fun jumping-off point for discussion. What are your favorite long takes?
Sheila writes: I came across a funny video with human re-enactments of moments from Disney films that would seem totally creepy removed from the Disney context. I think my favorite is the Lion King moment, but there are some other really good ones. Enjoy!
If you were to ask any horror film fanatic worth his or her salt to name some of their all-time genre favorites, it is almost certain that the ensuing lists would contain a couple of titles from legendary Italian director Dario Argento. Combining bizarre narratives that aren't so much conventional stories as they are waking nightmares in which practically anything can happen and elaborately conceived and executed set-pieces that marry together a lush visual style and unheard-of levels of on-screen brutality, Argento has created some of the most gruesomely gorgeous tales of terror ever filmed—the most notable being "Deep Red," "Tenebrae," "Opera," "The Stendhal Syndrome" and his landmark supernatural "Three Mothers" trilogy of "Suspiria," "Inferno" and "Mother of Tears"—and he has proven to be a strong influence on subsequent generations of horror filmmakers as well. In addition, he should also be noted for being the father of Asia Argento, one of the most striking actresses working today and with whom he has collaborated with several times over the years. His latest film is "Dracula 3D," his take on the Bram Stoker warhorse, and to be perfectly honest, it is not one of his better efforts. Although stronger than such recent misfires as "The Card Player" and "Giallo," it is a disappointingly bland reworking of familiar material that adds plenty of nudity and violence to the mix but which never quite makes the case for its existence. And yet, there are some worthwhile elements on it here and there for those willing to make the effort.To promote "Dracula 3D," which has slowly begun opening in theaters throughout the country and which is currently also playing as a VOD title on many cable systems, Argento has come to America—only a couple of days after completing a staging of Verdi's opera "Macbeth"—to promote the film. During a stop in Chicago, where the film was shown as a special presentation of the Chicago International Film Festival, I was privileged to get to sit down and talk with a man that I consider to be one of my favorite directors. Surprisingly soft-spoken, he talked in slightly broken English (which was nevertheless better than my Italian) about the film, working with 3D and his daughter and his thoughts on the much-rumored remake of "Suspiria" that has been hinted at for the last several years.Do you remember the first film that you ever saw or, barring that, the first one to have a real impact on you? The first movie I ever saw, I do not remember. I was very young and I was on vacation with my family and there was a retrospective of old films and one of them was "The Phantom of the Opera" with Claude Rains that was in color. It was something very important for my career because I began to follow these stories that were morbid. How did the idea of doing a screen version of "Dracula" come about? I had wanted to do "Dracula" many years ago but I could not find the way into it. Now we have the new technology of 3D and that changed my mind about doing this. It is possible to represent "Dracula" in a new way that looked more natural. With the depth, something changes and the audience feels as though they have been pushed inside the screen. In the past, you have dealt with supernatural forms of horror in the "Three Mothers" trilogy—"Suspiria," "Inferno" and "Mother of Tears"—and "Phenonema" but in those films, you were the sole creator of their mythos and could do anything that you wanted. What was it like to do a supernatural-themed story like "Dracula" in which the basic rules have already been well-established in the minds of the audience? Everything involving vampires now comes from something that Bram Stoker wrote in his book—everything about vampires comes from this novel. Some of it is good and some of it is not so good. I think the Hammer films were very good and very scary. I remembered them very well and I used them as an inspiration. In adapting the story, the basic plot is the same but, like most people who have tackled it in the past, you have thrown some new ideas into the mix as well, such as the townspeople being in overt collusion with Dracula in exchange for his financial aid and Dracula's transformations into a wide variety of animals and insects, including the already infamous moment where he transforms into a giant praying mantis. For Dracula, it is possible to change into a bat or a wolf, so why not a spider or a mantis or any creature? Can you talk about the visual strategy for the film that you devised with cinematographer and longtime collaborator Luciano Tovoli? You mentioned the Hammer films earlier and the look of your film definitely falls in line with their distinct stylings. Before shooting, I had an idea about the color because 3D requires it to be brighter than usual and I asked Tovoli, who I had worked with on "Suspiria," to work with me on this project. We used the new technology of the Arriflex, which is what they used on "Hugo Cabret," and it really allows you to see the distance and it creates something that is magic. I did not want the stupid effects like object coming off of the screen into the audience—those are easy and they are stupid. By being able to see the distance inside, the audience feels like they are in the screen with the actors and that makes it more interesting. Did working in 3D for the first time require any significant shift in your directorial approach or did you look at it as just another tool? No, the work is the same. Of course, I needed to plan on the distances because in 2D, those things do not exist. I remembered watching the film from Alfred Hitchcock, "Dial M for Murder," and he shot almost all of that movie in one room. There was a genius in what Hitchcock did by manipulating things in that room so that you could see the distances between things like the tables and the vases because of how he used perspective. This is, I believe, the fifth film that you have directed that has featured your daughter, Asia, in the cast, following "Trauma," "The Stendhal Syndrome," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Mother of Tears." How has the working relationship between the two of you developed over the years, especially since she has become a director of note herself with "Scarlet Diva" and "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things"? Nowadays, she is more cautious about her work that she was before because she now understands the work of the director. We speak a lot during the shooting about the work but when we are shooting, we are not talking as father and daughter—it is all professional. We speak about the work—she works into the night about the next day's work—and it is a marvelous experience to work with her. I am so happy about it. How did the casting of some of the other roles comes about, such as Thomas Kretschmann, whom you used in the past as the psycho in "The Stendhal Syndrome," as Dracula and cult icon Rutger Hauer as vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing? Rutger Hauer is marvelous—he is a monument of the cinema and he has the right characteristics. In the Bram Stoker book, the character of Van Helsing is Dutch and he, of course, is really Dutch. With Kretschmann, he has a real European face that is right for Dracula. We worked together before and when I asked him, he said that it was his dream to play Dracula. As an undisputed legend in the annals of horror filmmaking, what are your thoughts on the state of the genre today? Are there any films or filmmakers that particularly interest you or do you simply avoid it altogether? I don't see too many of them. Some films are good—I have liked some of the ones from France and Spain and South Korea. Do you have any particular favorites amongst your own body of work? All of them are important to me, you know? Maybe something like "Suspiria" or "Deep Red" or "Opera" or even "Phenomena." You are, of course, justly famous for creating cinematic set-pieces that combine incredible visual technique and extreme gore into tableaus that are both beautiful and brutal in equal measure. Looking back, do you think there has ever been a case in which you feel that you may have gone too far in terms of bloodshed in your efforts to shock and scare viewers? It is always for the story. The stories need those scenes and that is why I do that. You just completed a staging of Verdi's "Macbeth"—the very same opera at the heart of your film "Opera"—which I believe was your first full-blown stage creation. What was that experience like? It was just two days before I came here that I finished the opera. It was very good work, working with the singers and the staging. "Macbeth" is one of the best operas ever and doing it was a great experience. I added some things to the opera based from my experience on the movie—such as some of the special effects and bits of film—to make it new and interesting. It was a very good work and a very good experience. Are you working on any new film projects right now? No. I spent a lot of time doing the opera and for the moment, I do not have any ideas. Lastly, there has been talk in the last few years of a possible remake of "Suspiria"—David Gordon Green, of all people, was connected to it for a while. What are your thoughts on this project and the possibility of seeing your own work being remade by others?I hope it does not get made. Nobody called me. Nobody sent me a script. Nobody asked me my opinion about. I hope they do not do it.
Marie writes: Much beloved and a never ending source of amusement, Simon's Cat is a popular animated cartoon series by the British animator Simon Tofield featuring a hungry house cat who uses increasingly heavy-handed tactics to get its owner to feed it. Hand-drawn using an A4-size Wacom Intuos 3 pen and tablet, Simon has revealed that his four cats - called Teddy, Hugh, Jess and Maisie - provide inspiration for the series, with Hugh being the primary inspiration. And there's now a new short titled "Suitcase". To view the complete collection to date, visit Simon's Cat at YouTube.
Marie writes: Last week, in response to a club member comment re: whatever happened to Ebert Club merchandize (turned out to be too costly to set up) I had promised to share a free toy instead - an amusement, really, offered to MailChimp clients; the mail service used to send out notices. Allow me to introduce you to their mascot...
Marie writes: Behold a living jewel; a dragonfly covered in dew as seen through the macro-lens of French photographer David Chambon. And who has shot a stunning series of photos featuring insects covered in tiny water droplets. To view others in addition to these, visit here.
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"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (120 minutes) premieres on PBS "Masterpiece Classic" at 9 p.m. Sunday, April 15th (check local listings). The film can also be watched online for a limited time beginning April 16th. It is also available on DVD.
When Charles Dickens died on June 9th, 1870, his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was barely half-finished. Almost immediately, completing the novel became a kind of literary sport, as numerous authors took it upon themselves to finish Drood in a manner fitting with Dickens's own style and substance. Speculative attempts to complete the story continue to this day, and now we have a new PBS "Masterpiece Classic" version to discuss, debate and appreciate. Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and adapted by British playwright and veteran TV writer Gwyneth Hughes (who previously penned the "Masterpiece Classic" drama Mrs. Austen Regrets), this two-hour version of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" dares to stretch credibility almost but not quite to the breaking point.
It's a delicate game being played here, so I'll avoid spoilers altogether. Suffice it to say that Hughes' solution to the mystery of Edwin Drood is in keeping with Dickens' intentions. We know from Dickens' own correspondence that it was Edwin's uncle, John Jasper, who would ultimately be held accountable for the alleged murder of his nephew. Not content to limit themselves to just this one historically well-established plot twist, Hughes and Lawrence have added a familial dimension to the story that qualifies, in this context, as a surprising (though not altogether shocking) revelation. Whether Dickens would've approved is yet another topic worthy of debate.
Marie writes: I can't prove it but I'm convinced they're related.
Marie writes: yet again, we have intrepid club member Sandy Kahn to thank for the following find. She sent me some links devoted to automata and how I ultimately discovered the amazing work of artist Keith Newstead...
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.)
Marie writes: Once upon a time when I was little, I spent an afternoon playing "Winne the Pooh" outside. I took my toys into the backyard and aided by a extraordinary one-of-a-kind custom-built device requiring no batteries (aka: artistic imagination) pretended that I was playing with my pals - Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too - and that there was honey nearby; the bumble bees buzzing in the flowerbeds, only too happy to participate in the illusion. And although it didn't have a door, we too had a tree - very much like the one you see and from which hung a tire. A happy memory that, and which came flooding back upon catching sight of these - the animation backgrounds from the new Winnie the Pooh; thank God I was born when I was. :-)
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Marie writes: every once in a while, you'll stumble upon something truly extraordinary. And when you don't, if you're lucky, you have pals like Siri Arnet who do - and share what they find; smile."Using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, Brian Dettmer carves one page at a time. Nothing inside the out-of-date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books, or dictionaries is relocated or implanted, only removed. Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures. He also folds, bends, rolls, and stacks multiple books to create completely original sculptural forms.""My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book's internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception," he says. - mymodernmet
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Marie writes: Each year, the world's remotest film festival is held in Tromsø, Norway. The Tromsø International Film Festival to be exact, or TIFF (not to be confused with Toronto.) Well inside the Arctic Circle, the city is nevertheless warmer than most others located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This likely explains how they're able to watch a movie outside, in the snow, in the Arctic, in the winter. :-)
Everybody hates it when they don't explain everything that happened by the time the movie is over. What we need at the end is not open-endedness but clarity, loose-end tying-up, closure. We need more movies like "Psycho" (unfortunately Simon Oakland has passed, but Larry King is still with us) and "Mulholland Dr." -- movies that take a little time to explain exactly what happened so we're not left feeling stupid all the way home. You know what they say: The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you end the story. Well, the same goes for the ending: The difference between a good ending and a bad ending is how good the ending is. Here are eleven of the most outrageously unsatisfactory ambiguous endings in movie history:
"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Scarlett O'Hara says, "I'll go home. And I'll think of some way to get him back. After all... tomorrow is another day." That's not the ending of a movie -- that's the beginning of act three! Put up or shut up, Scarlett. Clark Gable has just said the word "Damn" at you and that's it? If tomorrow is such another day, then bring it on!
"Casablanca" (1942) What do you mean Ingrid Bergman goes off with Paul Henreid and all Bogart's left with is the barest hint of a homosexual future with Claude Rains? At the end he puts her on a damn plane (something about how she doesn't amount to a hill of beans) and he and Rains walk off into the fog together as Bogart says, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Whoa! What the hell happened then? What if "Brokeback Mountain" ended right after Heath Ledger threw up? What kind of ending would that be? And how does Peter Lorre figure into it?
This is the transcript of my conversation with Bill Clinton on December 18, 1999. There was a little chat before this where as we were being miked. Clinton talks about the AFI list of the top 100 movies and then switched to the HBO movie, "RKO 281," about the making of "Citizen Kane."
At left: Hitchcock's "Notorious." Bergman on strong axis. Grant at left. Bergman lighter, Grant shadowed. Grant above, Bergman below. Movement toward lower right. The attention and pressure is on her.
I've mentioned from time to time the "shot at a time" sessions I do at film festivals and universities, sifting through a film with the help of the audience. The e-mails I receive indicate this is perceived as some kind of esoteric exercise. Actually, it's something anyone can do, including you, and you don't need to be an expert, because the audience, and the film itself, are your most helpful collaborators. Of course it would be wise to research a film you hope to dismantle in public, and be familiar with its director and context, but I believe the process in its pure form could be applied to a film you've never even heard of. I want to tell you how.
The hugely popular Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, held Tuesday evenings in Grant Park, will salute major stars in its 5th annual season.
Alfred Hitchcock's films take place in the land of guilt, where we are all passport-holders. His favorite theme is suggested by the title "The Wrong Man" - it is the innocent person accused of a crime and powerless to prove his innocence.
Q. Re your return visit to "Casablanca" in your new series "The Great Movies"--Whoa! I've seen "Casablanca" many times and never thought that Inspector Renault was homosexual. I see him as a heterosexual using his position to have sex with women, particularly young, beautiful women. I agree that he has an adolescent male crush on Rick because Rick is charming, enigmatic, heroic in control, etc. Please tell what you saw that I didn't. (Kent Westmoreland, New Orleans)
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)