Sheila writes: This week, on Rogerebert.com, we celebrate the women writers on the site, with tons of great content, all of it written by women. Chaz Ebert shares some introductory words for this weeklong project, which had been a dream of Roger's as well. The Table of Contents will be updated as the week goes on. Keep checking back!
Marie writes: I love illustrators best in all the world. There's something so alive about the scratch and flow of pen & ink, the original medium of cheeky and subversive wit. And so when club member Sandy Kahn submitted links for famed British illustrator Ronald Searle and in the hopes others might find him interesting too, needless to say, I was quick to pounce; for before Ralph Steadman there was Ronald Searle... "The two people who have probably had the greatest influence onmy life are Lewis Carroll and Ronald Searle."-- John LennonVisit Kingly Books' Ronald Searle Gallery to view a sordid collection of wicked covers and view sample pages therein. (click to enlarge image.) And for yet more covers, visit Ronald Searle: From Prisoner of War to Prolific Illustrator at Abe Books.
Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:
1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.
2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.
"I don't think we need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's like, how many have there been? You know? We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I'm doing it because I've noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you're guaranteed an Oscar.... 'Schindler's Bloody List,' 'Pianist' -- Oscars comin' outta their ass."
-- Kate Winslet (in character) on "Extras" (2005)
There are two main reasons I don't do Oscar predictions: 1) I'm bad at it; and 2) the Oscars take place in a corner of the cinematic universe that's only tangentially related to the movies I love. The Oscar ceremonies have been called the Gay Super Bowl and that's as good a characterization as any -- or at least it was, until "Crash" won.
But some peculiarities at the Golden Globules got me to wondering about the Academy rules. Although I remembered that Peter Finch had won a posthumous Oscar for "Network" in 1976, I didn't know for certain if the rules permitted a posthumous nomination -- like, say, for Heath Ledger, who won a Globule for best supporting actor as the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Turns out, nothing in the Academy's Rule Six: Special Rules for the Acting Awards prohibits it.
Perhaps a more pertinent question would be: Is it really a supporting role? Kate Winslet got her hands on two Globules this year -- one for lead performance in "Revolutionary Road" and another for supporting performance in "The Reader." Some have suggested that the latter is a little like considering Faye Dunaway's role in "Chinatown" a supporting one, but I figured the Hollywood Foreign Press Association just wanted to award Winslet a pair of Globulettes for reasons known best to themselves, so they went out of their way to nominate her in separate categories.
UPDATE: Indeed, Oscar voters have nominated Winslet's "Reader" performance in the lead category. She did not receive a nomination for "Revolutionary Road" -- even though she may well have received enough votes to qualify for both. At least, I think that's what this rule says:
5. In the event that two achievements by an actor or actress receive sufficient votes to be nominated in the same category, only one shall be nominated using the preferential tabulation process and such other allied procedures as may be necessary to achieve that result.
[Oscar rules below.]
View image He's mad as hell...
Tom Wilkinson has probably won an Oscar nomination for supporting actor in "Michael Clayton" before he ever appears on the screen. Or he should, anyway. But then, he should also be competing with (just to mention some of the other supporting male performances I've seen in Toronto thus far) the likes of Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook and especially Brian Dierker in "Into the Wild"; Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" (or are those leading actor performances?); Armin Mueller Stahl and Jerzy Skolimowski (!) in "Eastern Promises"; and definitely Sydney Pollack in "Michael Clayton"...
Now, I am not one of those people who come to Toronto for Oscar-spotting purposes. But "Michael Clayton," written and directed by "Bourne" series screenwriter Tony Gilroy, is the kind of smart, crisp, "serious" mainstream entertainment that gives Hollywood (or the part of it influenced by George Clooney) a good name. I guess you could describe it as a Manhattan "legal thriller" -- most of the main characters are corporate lawyers -- that strikes a delicate tonal balance between the cynical political paranoia of the "Bourne" movies, the satirical paranoia of "Network," the corporate paranoia of "The Insider," and the legalistic paranoia of "Erin Brockovich." And, as in all these movies, when you're feeling paranoid, it doesn't mean somebody isn't out to get you.
Wilkinson finds that perfect chord, and establishes the tone of the movie, in his off-screen opening monologue, a breathless rant of a voice message left for his fellow attorney, the eponymous Michael Clayton (Clooney), the firm's "fixer" who is called in to take care of delicate "problems" for a rich and powerful clientele. Wilkinson's character, Arthur Edens, is a brilliant lawyer who's been working for more than a decade on a single case, involving a chemical manufacturer that, after the usual cost-benefit analysis, released an agricultural product with toxic effects on humans. (The company's earth-friendly TV spots will look painfully familiar to PBS viewers, where such underwriting entities are expert at peddling their green corporate citizenship.)
Arthur is also manic-depressive, and he's gone off his meds, and he's raving about the moment of clarity he's having about the dirty, soul-killing business he's in. He's like Peter Finch in "Network," only his volcanic monologues aren't quite so messianic. (But then, he's not working from a Paddy Chayevsky script, either. Actually, I think "Network" would have been a better movie if it had been written and directed more in the style of "Michael Clayton." That is, a bit more dryly.)
View image Clooney and Pollack: These guys are good. Really good.
The movie revolves around the title character's face, and its hard to think of another actor who could hold it together the way Clooney does. His eyes reveal a quicksilver intelligence -- always sizing up the situation, figuring out how best to play it, even when he's utterly lost -- that Clooney can do without looking like he's trying. He doesn't give things away, he just registers enough to for you to notice without noticing that you're noticing. And that's a considerable accomplishment (especially when you remember how broadly, goofily dumb he can also play with supreme confidence, as in the Coens' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"). Equally adept, and really fun to watch, is Tilda Swinton as an ambitious corporate climber, who rehearses her every statement while nervously trying on the appropriate uniform for each boardroom crisis. (Look for Ken Howard and Miles O'Keefe in surprising roles as professional office politicians.)
And there's ever-reliable Sydney Pollack, who has become one of my favorite character actors ("Husbands and Wives," "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Sopranos"). The man is a consummate actor, so effortlessly natural he can make others look mannered next to him. That makes him the ideal foil for the comparably relaxed style of Clooney, and their scenes together are especially fun to watch. They also provide Wilkinson with something solid that he can bounce his wild, unpredictable serves off of. (I feel about Pollack the opposite of how I feel about Sean Penn: the former is a better actor than a director, and with the latter it's the other way around. Pollack is a producer on the film -- and Clooney, Steven Soderbergh and Anthony Minghella among the executive producers -- and I mean no slight when I say I found myself grateful that they decided to let, or enable, somebody else to direct this one.)
Gilroy does just fine in his directorial debut. His style suits his actors (and, for that matter, his leading characters): handsome, smart, economical. Three of the last four shots in the film (number three is simply a bridge between two and four) are quiet stunners, though I would have cut to black about two or three seconds earlier at the end. The first of these final shots sums up the virtues of the film ideally: While quite naturally following the trajectory of one character in the foreground, the fate of another is captured in the same frame, but out of focus and in the receding background. It's another perfect note, and it's handled so deftly you could almost miss it. You won't, though -- and the great thing is you'll feel like you discovered it yourself. Along with everybody else in the audience.
London had never seen anything quite like the brothers Kray, the sadistic twins who ran a protection empire and palled around with cafe society. They became celebrities of a sort. British professional criminals followed a more genteel tradition until the Krays came along in the 1950s and early 1960s. You might have gotten bashed on the head or even, after great provocation, shot dead, but until the Krays, it was unlikely anyone would pull out a sword and redecorate your face.
CANNES, France -- This is the second chapter of a story that began last January. Here at Cannes, a movie named "Longtime Companion" is gaining good reviews from the European critics, and it's one of the hottest tickets at this year's film festival. It opened May 11 in New York to SRO business, set some box-office records, and will be rolling out nationally on Friday.