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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Thumbnails Special Edition: Critics in the Spotlight

This special edition of Thumbnails seeks to give various film critics a spotlight, compiling conversations with the pundits whose opinions and insights we value. Click here to view our full critics roundtable (pictured above) at last month's Ebertfest featuring Leonard Maltin, Nell Minow, Richard Roeper, Sheila O'Malley, Matt Zoller Seitz, Susan Wloszczyna, Sam Fragoso, Michael Phillips, Sarah Knight Adamson, Brian Tallerico, Scott Mantz, ReBecca Theodore-Vachon and Matt Fagerholm. Claudia Puig (not pictured) served as the moderator. Photo by Timothy Hiatt of Getty Images.—Chaz Ebert

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1. 

"Matt Zoller Seitz on the Split Screens Festival, Advice for Aspiring Critics & More!": Our Editor-at-Large chats with Carissa Pavlica at TV Fanatic about his career in criticism, as well as his Split Screen Festival running May 30th through June 3rd in NYC.

“It's pretty clear Seitz never fails to watch TV with a critical eye, and he has a lot of balls up in the air. How does he manage to do it all? ‘Well, I don't know,’ [says Seitz.] ‘Well, for one thing, I write fast. I don't have writer's block, and I write fast. It's very helpful, and I've also learned ways to maximize my time. Like I'm writing my review while I'm watching a TV show. I've trained myself to ... I can take legible notes without looking up from the paper that I'm writing on. And I write complete sentences, and I also can draw storyboards. Rough storyboards, without looking at the paper, so I can remember what a shot looked like. And then when I'm done—like if I spend an hour or two hours watching a television show—when I'm finished, I just have to transcribe all of my notes and put them in the right order. By that point, I'm on the second draft.’”

2. 

"Interview with Film Critic Claudia Puig": A Q&A with the president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, published at Cherry Picks Reviews.

“I have been a film lover since I was a child. I was raised by parents who were cinephiles—but their tastes differed. My father was a fan of foreign cinema and filmmakers like Fellini, Visconti, Buñuel and Truffaut. My mother loved classic American films. Both encouraged me to watch their favorites with them so I was exposed to great movies at an early age. I loved reading and writing going back to when I first learned how to do both. I knew I wanted to make my life’s work something in which I was always learning and also imparting what I’d learned via writing. Journalism fit the bill exactly. I began my writing career as a journalist covering crime, courts and city government. Then I went on to writing about movies and television and some music. After 12 years writing objectively, I wanted a new challenge: to write criticism. And I had always loved critical essays and been a longtime film aficionado, so I approached my editors at USA Today about writing criticism. I began writing film reviews in 2001 and then also added some book reviews in 2012. It’s been such a joy and honor to review thousands of films over the last 17 years, in print, on television (KNBC, KCET), on radio (NPR, KPCC) and via podcast (Film Week).”

3.

"An Interview with A.O. Scott": Adriana Delgado of Washington Independent Review of Books chats with the New York Times critic about his new book, Better Living Through Criticism

“The Internet has changed the working conditions of not only critics, but everybody in journalism. The landscape or ecosystem that critics used to thrive in has become more difficult, although some of the newer online outlets, such as Vox Media, have recently hired a whole bunch of critics, and so has MTVNews.com. There still seems to be a need and a demand for it, but the Internet certainly changes the practice of criticism in a lot of ways. There are a lot more voices out there, professional and not professional, that you have to compete and contend with. There’s also the weird business of aggregation and marketing algorithms, Yelp scores, and Amazon reviews, although I do feel that’s kind of peaked, for a very simple reason and kind of a predictable one: When you read these reviews, you don’t know who these people are, and one of the things that critics have done and continue to do is show up every day, week, or month. You develop a relationship with them over time, so whether or not you agree, you know who they are and you trust them or you don’t, and I think that has its own value. Not that the other things don’t, because you can look at Rotten Tomatoes, for example, and see that a movie got a 24 and think, “I’d better stay clear from that.”

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4. 

"Interview: Susan Wloszczyna": An in-depth chat conducted by Robin Write of Filmotomy.

“What I know for certain is that filmmakers will be influenced by shifting forces in our society. But I have learned my lesson not to quickly jump to conclusions about what form Trump era cinema will take. The Nixon administration inspired memorable paranoid thrillers such as ‘The Conversation,’ ‘Parallax View’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor.’ That made sense given the sneaky business and secret taping going on with Watergate. But the week after 9/11, I talked to numerous cultural experts, filmmakers, psychologists and such about what type of entertainment the public would crave after the terrorist strikes. To a one, they said the equal of comfort food. Gentle, healing movies that restored our faith in mankind and took a global viewpoint. And unlikely heroes like Harry Potter and Frodo, who rise to the occasion. Instead, the lingering fears and tensions from that horrible day led to a surge of extreme cinema with the rise of the Saw franchise and an increase in graphic violent sex such as in Irreversible. There already are several films with Trump surrogates in them – ‘Denial’ and ‘Middle School’ for two. But I do think times of unease leads to great art. So maybe something good may come out of all this.”

5. 

"The Mystery of Screen Acting: An Interview with Author Dan Callahan": In conversation with our own Sheila O'Malley at Slant Magazine.

“I wanted to upend this idea that was being propagated while I was in school, and everyone still accepts now: that Brando was an earthquake and that it was progress, that it was an improvement. It wasn’t progress. It was something different. It was a reaction and it was necessary at the time, but you need to understand what he was reacting against. There are different kinds of acting. There’s the heightened theatrical style and there’s the more naturalistic style. What’s interesting about today’s filmmakers—particularly the ones making low-budget films—is that they’re all influenced by Robert Bresson. Bresson called his actors “models,” and that’s all anyone wants now. The young filmmakers are against acting. It’s like they’re afraid of it, they don’t want it. Let me just make clear: Bresson and what he did, Brando and what he did—they are extraordinary and valid, and their example was needed, but they were reacting to the heightened style, and if you do away with the heightened style entirely, then the naturalistic style doesn’t have anything to work against. We need both. We can’t reject one for the other. They should be in dialogue with each other.”

Image of the Day

The Atlantic's Noah Berlatsky makes his case for why James Baldwin's book-length essay, The Devil Finds Work, is "the most powerful piece of film criticism ever written."

Video of the Day

Roger Ebert chats with Gary Rutkowski for the Archive of American Television in 2005.

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