300: Rise of an Empire
In comparison with "300", this insane film is more engaging by dint of being absolutely impossible to take even a little bit seriously.
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
The Oscars race has hit a holiday lull. It's a good time to pause and take stock of nominations.
Marie writes: The unseen forces have spoken! The universe has filled a void obviously needing to be filled: there is now a font made entirely of cats. Called Neko Font (Japanese for "cat font") it's a web app that transforms text into a font comprised of cat pictures. All you need to do is write something in the text box, press "enter" on your keyboard and Neko Font instantly transforms the letters into kitties! Thanks go to intrepid club member Sandy Kahn for alerting the Ebert Club to this important advancement in typography. To learn more, read the article "There is now a font made entirely of cats" and to test it out yourself, go here: Neko Font. Meanwhile, behold what mankind can achieve when it has nothing better to do....
"With great power, comes great responsibility." How many times have we superhero fans heard this line, let alone understand its implications? Do we really take to heart how much sacrifice such heroism involves, or comprehend what would be at stake? Superhero films tend to glorify ability over altruism. That is after all the main reason why we flock to the genre, to see amazing sights never seen before. But one film is special in how it focuses on the gravity of selflessness in spite of such might. And it does so not by showcasing its hero's greatness, but his ordinariness. It's Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2."
"Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it, the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed." -- Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), "Batman Begins" (2005)
"Over the ages our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham we tried a new one: economics.... We are back to finish the job. And this time no misguided idealists will get in the way. Like your father, you lack the courage to do all that is necessary. If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them... and stab them in the heart." -- Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), "Batman Begins" (2005)
"You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other." -- The Joker (Heath Ledger), "The Dark Knight" (2008)
"Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country." -- Maximilien Robespierre, 1794
"I am Gotham's reckoning... I'm necessary evil.... Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die." -- Bane (Tom Hardy), echoing his former master in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)
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(You've seen "The Dark Knight Rises" by now, right? Good. I'm going to discuss a few things that I would consider spoilers, albeit mild ones, and then get to some pretty big spoilers later on, before which I will offer an additional warning, just in case.)
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The villains of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies don't think very highly of "ordinary citizens" (now popularly referred to as "the 99 percent"), whom they tend to view as mindless savages, slaves to fear who'll claw one another and the city of Gotham to shreds at the slightest provocation. The films themselves sometimes confirm that view (Gothamites get a little panicky in "The Dark Knight" when they fear that Batman is not keeping the crime rate down) and sometimes don't (they choose not to blow themselves up in the Joker's intricately planned ferry experiment). This isn't really a theme that's developed in the movies, but like most of the political and social references, it's something that's... there.
What's the last great love story you've seen on film? I don't mean your typical "rom-coms" with contrived meet-cutes that rely heavily on celebrity star power. I'm talking about a genuine romance between two richly defined characters. If your mind draws a blank, you're not alone. Hollywood, along with much of the filmmaking world, seems to have either forgotten how to portray love affairs in ways that once made us swoon. Whatever the reason, be it due to our changing times or priorities, we might not see any significant ones for some time.
Marie writes: Yarn Bombing. Yarn Storming. Guerilla Knitting. It has many names and all describe a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted cloth rather than paint or chalk. And while yarn installations may last for years, they are considered non-permanent, and unlike graffiti, can be easily removed if necessary. Yarn storming began in the U.S., but it has since spread worldwide. Note: special thanks go to Siri Arnet for telling me about this cool urban movement.
Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.
To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")
When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.
I believe Kevin Smith has said all this before, but now he's got another movie to promote (called "Red State," due in 2011), so he's evidently saying it again. WorstPreviews.com reports that Smith is "taking to Twitter and radio" with this message:
Smith says that he doesn't hate critics, but simply disagrees with the fact that they get to see movies for free in order to write a review. His argument is that critics are just doing their jobs and sometimes don't want to see a certain movie, which means that they probably go into the theater hating it. He adds that he would rather show his movies to 100 fans and let them write reviews even if they don't have a newspaper.
Makes sense to me. Smith would prefer to have his movies reviewed by his fans -- those who've seen his other movies and who are predisposed to like them -- rather than by critics who have seen his other movies and therefore may be predisposed to not like them, so that sounds like a good proposition for him. (And I agree he should let the fans write reviews even if they don't have a newspaper, or a blog or a keyboard or a napkin and a Bic.) Not screening his movies for critics (or making them pay) also sounds like a pretty good deal for the critics who don't want to see or write about his work. They could watch or write about something else instead -- and not have to worry about all the ethical dilemmas involved in paying or not paying to see a Kevin Smith movie. The world would be a cleaner and more orderly place.
From the Grand Poobah: Here in Michigan Oink's ice cream parlor exerts a magnetic pull on helpless citizens for miles around. I can no longer sample their countless flavors, but not log ago I took Kim Severson there. She is a New York Times writer doing a piece on The Pot. Oink's is run by my friend Roger Vink, who says, "May the Oink be with you."
(click photos to enlarge)
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.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.(AP) — The recession-era tale "Up in the Air" led Golden Globe film contenders Tuesday with six nominations, among them best drama and acting honors for George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.
"Well, watching a film by Godard is more or less like any other aesthetic experience, in that you're able to go back and forth, inside and outside, at the same time--watching/ thinking, thinking/watching." -- Richard Brody, interview with Miriam Bale (2/23/09)
Which is more important in criticism, journalism and journalistic movie criticism: objectivity or transparency? OK, trick question. It's a false dilemma.
I admire critics who strive for the attitude that every movie starts with a blank screen, because every movie does, to some degree. In that respect, pre-existing opinions aren't relevant. The evidence of what transpires on that screen is all that matters. On the other hand, I don't think it's quite honest, or necessarily desirable -- or even humanly possible -- to possess significant knowledge or experience with movies and to put it all out of your memory every time you see a new one.
If you're just trying to lock yourself inside this one movie, not bringing yourself and everything you have to it, you're as ill-equipped to deal with the as the protagonist of "Memento," adrift in a present-tense vacuum. Often the experience of a new (to you) movie will depend on your familiarity with other movies from the same filmmakers, genre, period, culture, etc. So, I've always been more of a transparency guy, myself: I try to own up to my biases and preconceptions, while leaving myself open to having them overturned by any individual picture. I love surprises at the movies -- and most of all I love it when a move upends everything I expected or thought I knew about the filmmakers involved: Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," Colin Farrell in "In Bruges"...
Everybody hates it when they don't explain everything that happened by the time the movie is over. What we need at the end is not open-endedness but clarity, loose-end tying-up, closure. We need more movies like "Psycho" (unfortunately Simon Oakland has passed, but Larry King is still with us) and "Mulholland Dr." -- movies that take a little time to explain exactly what happened so we're not left feeling stupid all the way home. You know what they say: The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you end the story. Well, the same goes for the ending: The difference between a good ending and a bad ending is how good the ending is. Here are eleven of the most outrageously unsatisfactory ambiguous endings in movie history:
"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Scarlett O'Hara says, "I'll go home. And I'll think of some way to get him back. After all... tomorrow is another day." That's not the ending of a movie -- that's the beginning of act three! Put up or shut up, Scarlett. Clark Gable has just said the word "Damn" at you and that's it? If tomorrow is such another day, then bring it on!
"Casablanca" (1942) What do you mean Ingrid Bergman goes off with Paul Henreid and all Bogart's left with is the barest hint of a homosexual future with Claude Rains? At the end he puts her on a damn plane (something about how she doesn't amount to a hill of beans) and he and Rains walk off into the fog together as Bogart says, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Whoa! What the hell happened then? What if "Brokeback Mountain" ended right after Heath Ledger threw up? What kind of ending would that be? And how does Peter Lorre figure into it?
As the quaintly anachronistic title suggests, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is as whimsical and rickety as any Terry Gilliam contraption -- an apparent labor of love, and not just for its star Heath Ledger, who died during production, but for the smoke-and-mirrors tomfoolery that goes into the construction of illusions. Another of Gilliam's charmingly antiquated, hand-crafted thingamadoodles, this one gets off to a bit of a slow start -- trying to set up too many stories... but spinning too many stories, and keeping track of them all, is also a good part of its subject.
Ledger's untimely death unavoidably became another element, since he hadn't finished filming his central role at the time of his demise. Gilliam, as you probably know, figured out a way to complete the film with three other actors -- Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell -- stepping in to complete the part. Once you're watching the movie, that no longer seems like such a strange or desperate move, but I'm not going to tell you how or why it works. (Remember that Natalie Wood died during the filming of "Brainstorm" and Brandon Lee in a production accident on the set of "The Crow," but those two pictures were completed, for better or worse. David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr." was a failed TV series pilot that wasn't released theatrically until Lynch said he dreamed an ending for it.) A title card at the end announces it as a presentation of "Heath Ledger and Friends."
Nonsensical polemicist Armond White, dis-inspiration for "Contrarian Week" here at Scanners back in early 2007, got a lot of folks riled with his review of "District 9" -- mostly on fan forums at RottenTomatoes. OK, so once again, White's aim is not so much to examine the movie (that's always secondary, or tertiary) but to assert that he alone knows what's going on and his colleagues are all idiots or corrupt or both.
But his baseless verdicts are not what put him in league with the Dining Room Table Lady. At Some Came Running, Glenn Kenny gets to the heart of why White embodies a commonplace form of flaccid, anti-critical thinking:
Here's a challenge. Tell me what this sentence, from White's review of the new version of "The Taking of Pelham 123," means: "Audiences who enjoyed the original 1974 'Pelham 123' took its grungy dangerousness as a realistic confirmation of their own citizens' distrust." Now here's the rub: I don't want to know what you think it means, what you infer it means when you put it through your own personal White decoder ring, no; I want to know what the words in the sentence as they are actually written actually mean. As, you know, an actual copy editor would understand them. Because an actual copy editor would tell you that the sentence is gibberish....
Q. I read your Great Movie review of "Magnolia" and asked myself why the film was titled like that and thought of all the different characters, all beautiful blossoms, alone, but connected at the root of one great magnolia. I see "Magnolia" as a story about redemption. The film so closely observes its sinners, and we suffer as we watch them trapped in their self-made cages of misery. But all along, a change is coming; from the very outset, something is in the air. The religious allegory here is about receiving a second chance.
The slumdog didn’t stop at winning a million, but zoomed straight on up to Oscar gold Sunday night: “Slumdog Millionaire,” perhaps the most literal rags-to-riches story ever told, swept the night, winning the Academy Award as the best picture of 2008, and seven more Oscars.
The only additional Oscar prediction I'm prepared to make this year is that Hugh Jackman will be a delightful host for the evening. Famous for playing Wolverine in the X-Men movies, he may not strike you as the life of the party, but I base my prediction on two factors: He's Australian, and he's the youngest of five. Therefore, he's funny, born and bred.
Remember that guy Nate Silver from Chicago, who was all over the news during election season with the incredibly accurate predictions on his website FiveThirtyEight.com? He had computers crunching vast arrays of numbers. He also does well in baseball season. Now it's Oscar season, and he's baaaack.
The Outguess Ebert contest is now closed. Winners will be announced sometime after the Academy Awards.
This continues my experiment with predicting this year's Oscars entirely without logical thought of reference to rumors and odds, but entirely on the basis of my emotions, with reference to the newly-named human emotion of Elevation.
What, no love for 'What happens in Vegas'?
In a startling upset, "The Dark Knight" failed to make the cut in the Best Picture category Thursday, as this year's Academy Awards nominees were announced. The Batman drama, second top-grossing film of all time after "Titanic," was also a critical favorite and looked to many like a shoo-in.
"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.]
NOTE: Reader Cameron Smith has noticed that this shot has been cropped for the DVD version of the film. See his explanation here.
Although I enjoyed certain aspects of "The Dark Knight" (especially the gorgeously real Chicago cityscapes, which I thought stole the movie out from under even Heath Ledger), I have confessed I couldn't tell what was supposed to be going on from one moment -- often one shot, or one line -- to the next, and, for that very reason, soon stopped caring. Now that I've been able to go through it several more times since its release on DVD and Blu-ray last month, and have cross-checked the movie itself with the screenplay for clarification (it's available as a .pdf here, For Your Consideration), I'm able to better understand exactly why. And it's not just me. Now, at last, we have the means to really look past the phenomenon directly at the picture, and to understand how it works. Or doesn't.
Let me start by asking you to examine one simple, minor early example that has to do with narrative logic and, perhaps, setting up the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief in a comic book universe rendered with hyper-realistic visuals (even, occasionally, in IMAX): Please watch the shot above, the final piece in the opening sequence, showing the Joker's escape from the "mob bank" robbery and giving us our first "overview," if you will, of the scene. The Joker has backed a school bus into the lobby of a bank, filled it with mob cash, and then makes his exit.
After the jump is the script's description of the shot. But before you read it, please leave a comment with your account of the shot AND your assessment of how the Joker planned this getaway. Pay special attention to the timing (dust/debris, busses, traffic signal, arriving cop cars). Ready? Begin.