Severn Darden

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Far Flungers

The President's analyst goes crazy

While it is one or two steps behind "Dr. Strangelove," "The President's Analyst" (1967) is a very good black comedy sniggering at Cold War paranoid. Maybe it's not as ruthless as that great comedy, but the movie romps cheerfully on its subjects with a take-no-prisoner attitude. And during this loony joy ride we eventually discover that the movie foretold something very accurate more than 40 years ago.

We have seen many psychiatrist whose lives become more burdensome than usual thanks to their unusual patients in the movies ("Analyze This") and TV series("The Sopranos" and "In Treatment"), but I think no one can top our hero Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn). His new patient is none other than the president of the United States, the most powerful figure in the world who incidentally does not appear on the screen.

May contain spoilers

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TIFF 08: The Coens Who Came In From the Cold

In a Coen Brothers movie every pause and stutter, every "um" and grammatical (mis-)construction, every repetition and idiosyncratic pronunciation, is inscribed like a note on a musical staff. The composer-conductors write the music, indicate the pitch, tempo and duration of each passage, and the select musicians -- soloists and ensemble players -- attack their assigned parts with the virtuoso flair for which they are known. As composers have often written works specifically suited to the talents of their favorite musicians, so the Coens frequently write roles tailored to the individual actors they want to work with.

"Burn After Reading" is a deft little piece, directed with a straight face and performed with a roiling comedic energy that matches brio with precision. That's what makes it funny. Emmanuel Lebezki's cinematography, Carter Burwell's score, Roderick Jaynes' editing (yes, we all know that's a pseudonym) could proudly serve any modern espionage picture. All serve a ridiculously plotted absurdist farce, which is what the best spy stories usually boil down to, whether they're comic or tragic.

Interviews

Interview with Alan Arkin

The way it happened that he came to Chicago, Alan Arkin said, was that after he quit singing with the Tarriers he fooled around in New York for awhile, a few acting jobs and a few office jobs that mostly fell through because he couldn't stand working in an office, and then he went out to St. Louis to work with an improvisational group.