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Ebertfest 2017: "Hair" and "Being There"

Reviews and screenings of "Hair" and "Being There" at Ebertfest 2017, and Q&A with producers Michael Butler and Michael Hausman by Michael Phillips, Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert; and with Oscar-nominated Caleb Deschanel by Simon Kilmurry and Scott Mantz.


Django Unchain my heart (and set me free)

Quentin Tarantino has found his actor in Christoph Waltz -- someone who can speak Tarantinian fluently and still make it his own. When Waltz uses a self-consciously ostentatious word like "ascertain" (as in, "I was simply trying to ascertain..." -- the kind of verbiage QT is as likely to put in the mouth of a lowlife crook as a German dentist, or a Francophile plantation slavemaster, for that matter), it sounds right. As someone to whom Tarantino's dialog often sounds cliche-ridden and cutesy, it's a pleasure to hear Waltz saying the words in character rather than simply as a mouthpiece for the writer-director.

Oh, stop. This isn't sounding the way I want it to.


On "The Rack" with Paul Newman and Stewart Stern

• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.

For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.


Vacancy: Filled

I saw Oliver Stone's "W." a week or two ago, and I almost forgot. Believe me, it felt even more worn out before the election. I kept thinking I'd seen it before in some other form. Not just as in every day for the last eight years, or as in some other slab of Stone. This one reminded me of Woody Allen's "Zelig" or Robert Zemeckis's "Forrest Gump" -- about a nobody who stumbles into history. Then I realized it was more like a reworking of Hal Ashby and Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There" -- the story of a vacancy.

That impression was magnified Tuesday night as I watched Barack step up to fill it. In that one solemn but hopeful election night speech in Grant Park he did more to steady, strengthen and solidify the union for tough times than I've seen any president do in my lifetime. It wasn't just a matter of commanding screen space or being ready for his close-up (although the camera loves him). But after so many years of looking at a skittish hamster-in-the-headlights, squinting or staring blankly into the lens, how dramatic it was to see somebody there at last -- a solid somebody with a firm sense of who he is, and what it means to lead and to strive and to inspire. No smugness, no self-congratulation, no condescension, no desperation. A grown-up. I felt an enormous sense of confidence and relief. And I didn't feel alone in feeling that.

Which brings me back to the hollowness of W. and "W."...