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Thumbnails 10/23/14


"Death and Mrs. Doubtfire": The Atlantic's James Parker writes a phenomenal essay on how "the secret ingredient of Robin Williams's greatest role" was grief.

“Mrs. Doubtfire’s secret, the thing that authenticates her, is grief. The grief of a father legally deprived of his children and communicating with them through layers of latex and padding; the grief of a man of many voices, a polyphonic virtuoso, whose mania can rest only when it occupies the persona of an artificial woman. Daniel Hillard is a riff on Robin Williams the comic, the clown: a revved-up antic Hamlet blipping and zinging between ideas. Mrs. Doubtfire, by contrast, is the imago of stability. Embedded in her upholstery, hidden in her bra, Daniel can at last be strong, compassionate, wise. Contrary to expectation, the movie does not end with Mom and Dad getting back together. But Mrs. Doubtfire herself floats blissfully and profoundly free of the circumstances of her creation. His masquerade over, defrocked (as it were) and discovered, Daniel pitches a children’s TV show to a network chief, with himself-as-Doubtfire as the host. She has ascended to the realm of pure fiction, but she is more real than ever. We see her at work in the studio, in her grandmaternal armchair, bantering with a monkey puppet named Kovacs. The mailman arrives with a letter. One of her viewers has written in, worried and sad in the wake of her parents’ separation: ‘Did I lose my family?’ Mrs. Doubtfire reads the letter aloud and then looks into the camera. She speaks lovely, condolent, reassuring words. “If there’s love, dear,” she says, ‘those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart forever.’ Her gentleness is immeasurable. This is where I cry on the airplane. ‘All my love to you, poppet. You’re going to be all right.’”


"The Man in a Room: Alex Ross Perry": Movie Mezzanine's Jake Mulligan interviews the acclaimed director of "Listen Up Philip," with an illustration by our indispensable FFC, Krishna Shenoi.

“After ‘The Color Wheel,’ HBO retained Perry to work on a series of 13-minute shorts for them, collected under the title of ‘The Traditions.’ Originally slated for a digital release, the shorts—which starred Perry himself and regular collaborator Kate Lyn Sheil—were eventually shelved by HBO, leaving the project permanently unreleased and unfinished. (Perry has shot seven mini episodes of varying length, and the narrative, as it stands, ends on a cliffhanger.) Months of work ended up rendering itself as nothing more than a practice session. A valuable practice session, though: Perry now positions ‘Traditions’ as a ‘warm-up’ for ‘Philip;’ a venue through which he developed his techniques up to an ‘A-level.’ ‘In no real way are they similar, but at the center of both [‘Philip’ and ‘Traditions’] is a couple that has a lot of arguments. And we tried some ways of shooting and blocking in ‘Traditions’ that, to me, seemed totally solid. And they did not all sync. It was not elegant. So I was really glad, when we started plotting out ‘Philip’ in pre-production, that I had gotten some of these impulses out of my system on something that, at that point, I knew nobody was going to see. Because otherwise, they all would have ended up in ‘Listen Up Philip.’ And it would have been less exciting had these B-level ideas ended up in a film that I think has nothing but A-level ideas. It was good to have a warm-up.”


"Keanu Reeves on Not Receiving More Offers from Hollywood: 'It Sucks'": Indiewire's Eric Kohn interviews the "Matrix" star about his new film, "John Wick."

“You aren't doing many studio movies these days. ‘John Wick’ was produced independently and acquired later by Lionsgate. Do you have a preference for indies over studio projects? [Reeves:] ‘Not really. The last studio movie I did was ‘47 Ronin,’ but before that it had been a long time — probably ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ So I haven't been getting many offers from the studios.’ Are you OK with that? [Reeves:] ‘No, it sucks, but it's just the way it is. You can have positive and negative experiences, but what I like about studios are the resources and the worlds that they can create. Obviously, a lot of good filmmakers work on studio movies. Even when I was working on studio movies more often, I was always doing independent movies. So for me, that was just not happening, but I want to keep going, making things, and telling stories. I want to be able to do that — to be an actor, a director, to produce, you know? If we're going to do a delineation between studio and independent [films], I was always hoping to do both.’”


"Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges": The latest vital, enraging report from Oscar-nominated producer and fearless investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept

“A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007. The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days. The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as ‘Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,’ operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.”


"CIFF 2014: Six Films to Remember": At Indie Outlook, I highlight six excellent selections at the Chicago International Film Festival, including Pirjo Honkasalo's masterpiece, "Concrete Night." The article also details my chat with Michael Moore.

“There’s a deleted scene from Stephen Daldry’s 2008 film, ‘The Reader,’ where a teenage boy (David Kross), in the midst of his sexual awakening, stands naked before a mirror, examining his body as if for the first time. I was reminded of this scene all throughout Pirjo Honkasalo’s spellbinding abstract opus, featuring a 14-year-old protagonist, Simo (played by Johannes Brotherus, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Kross), who spends much of the time regarding his reflection—not out of vanity but out of a primal need to understand himself and the mysterious, seemingly doomed world he inhabits. Like ‘The Reader,’ Honkasalo’s film (based on Pirkko Saisio’s book) is a tale of lost innocence, yet it expands on the glimmers of potential witnessed in the early sections of Daldry’s frustratingly flawed morality play. To say Honkasalo is a visionary talent would be an understatement. Every frame of her film, lensed in glorious black and white by Peter Flinckenberg, is a sumptuous treat for the eyes, conveying both the virginal amazement and stomach-churning horror experienced by Simo, as he explores Helsinki while torn between the philosophies of his nihilistic brother and his rather dubious neighbor. Stark and sensual in equal measure, the entire film is anchored by the ever-transfixing Brotherus, who tackles the physical and emotional nakedness of his role with a fearlessness unseen in most people his age. What a discovery.”

Image of the Day

Hailey Branson-Potts of The Los Angeles Times reports on the startling discovery of a sphinx from the set of Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 production of "The Ten Commandments." 

Video of the Day

Stanley Kubrick would undoubtedly approve of this brilliant IKEA ad from Singapore which pays pitch-perfect homage to his 1980 horror classic, "The Shining."

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the former Literary Editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 

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