Panahi’s latest act of defiance is entirely commendable on a number of levels, but I regret to say that from my own perspective, Taxi is…
* 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.
A preview of the 51st Chicago International Film Festival.
A review of Fox Searchlight's "Brooklyn" and "Youth."
A review of the three biggest Cannes winners now playing at TIFF: Son of Saul, Dheepan and The Lobster.
Our latest video from Cannes includes coverage of some of this year's biggest films, along with press conference footage from Macbeth and footage from the empathy panel led by Chaz Ebert.
Jacques Audiard's "Dheepan" took the Palme d'Or at the 68th Cannes Film Festival.
A report from Cannes 2015 on the latest films from Paolo Sorrentino, Shin Su-won and Hou Hsio-hsien.
A review of Paolo Sorrentino's latest from Cannes.
A Cannes report on the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos and Woody Allen.
A curtain raiser for the 2015 iteration of the Cannes Film Festival.
Erik Childress analyzes the impact of the recently-awarded BAFTAs on the Oscar race.
Erik Childress looks at the first awards of the season and their possible impact on the Oscar race.
Marie writes: When I first learned of "Royal de Luxe" I let out a squeal of pure delight and immediately began building giant puppets inside my head, trying to imagine how it would look to see a whale or dragon moving down the street..."Based in Nantes, France, the street theatre company Royal de Luxe performs around the world, primarily using gigantic, elaborate marionettes to tell stories that take place over several days and wind through entire cities. Puppeteers maneuver the huge marionettes - some as tall as 12 meters (40 ft) - through streets, parks, and waterways, performing their story along the way." - the Atlantic
(Click images to enlarge.)
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn has found another auction, and this time it's all about Hollywood! Note: the spaceship on the cover is a screen used miniature from "Aliens" (1986). Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000
Go here to download a free copy of the catalog in .PDF
Marie writes: Next door, across a long narrow drive and beyond the row of cedar hedges which run parallel to it, there resides an elementary school dating back to 1965, along with an assortment of newer playground equipment rendered in bright, solid primary colors...I'm sure you know the sort I mean...
Marie writes: Not everything is what is seems...(Click images to enlarge.)
Marie writes: my art pal Siri Arnet sent me following - and holy cow! "Japanese artist Takanori Aiba has taken bonsai trees, food packaging, and even a tiny statue of the Michelin Man and constructed miniature metropolises around these objects, thus creating real-life Bottled Cities of Kandor. Explains Aiba of his artwork:"My source of creations are my early experience of bonsai making and maze illustration. These works make use of an aerial perspective, which like the diagram for a maze shows the whole from above (the macro view) while including minute details (the micro view). If you explore any small part of my works, you find amazing stories and some unique characters." ( click to enlarge.)
Marie writes: Behold an extraordinary collection of Steampunk characters, engines and vehicles created by Belgian artist Stephane Halleux. Of all the artists currently working in the genre, I think none surpass the sheer quality and detail to be found in his wonderful, whimsical pieces...
Left to right: Little Flying Civil, Beauty Machine, Le Rouleur de Patin(click images to enlarge)
"I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music." - Alex Steinweiss
Marie writes: Allow me to introduce you to Bill and Cheryl. I went to Art school with Bill and met his significant other Cheryl while attending the graduation party; we've been pals ever since. None of which is even remotely interesting until you see where they live and their remarkable and eclectic collection of finds. (click to enlarge images.)
Marie writes: Why a picture is often worth a thousand words...Production still of Harold Lloyd in "An Eastern Westerner" (1920)
Gathered here in one convenient place are my recent reviews that awarded films Two Stars or less. These are, generally speaking to be avoided. Sometimes I hear from readers who confess they are in the mood to watch a really bad movie. If you're sincere, be sure to know what you're getting: A really bad movie. Movies that are "so bad they're good" should generally get two and a half stars. Two stars can be borderline. And Pauline Kael once wrote, "The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn't go at all."
"Just Go With It" (PG-13, 116 minutes). This film's story began as a French farce, became the Broadway hit "Cactus Flower," was made into a 1969 film and now arrives gasping for breath in a witless retread with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker. The characters are so stupid it doesn't seem nice to laugh at them. One star.
"Sanctum" (R, 109 minutes). A terrifying adventure shown in an incompetent way. Scuba-diving cave explorers enter a vast system in New Guinea and are stranded. But this rich story opportunity is lost because of incoherent editing, poor 3D technique, and the effect of 3D dimming in the already dark an murky caves. A "James Cameron Production," yes, but certainly not a "James Cameron Film." One and a half stars
"I Am Number Four" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Nine aliens from the planet Mogador travel across the galaxy to take refuge on earth and rip off elements of the Twilight and Harry Potter movies, and combine them with senseless scenes of lethal Quidditch-like combat. Alex Pettyfer stars as Number Four, who feels hormonal about the pretty Sarah (Dianna Agron), although whether he is the brooding teenage Edward Cullen he seems to be or a weird alien life form I am not sure. Inane setup followed by endless and perplexing action. One and a half stars
"Certifiably Jonathan" (Unrated, 80 minutes). Jonathan Winters deserves better than this. Jim Pasternak's mockumentary is not merely a bad film, but a waste of an opportunity. Nearing 80, Winters is still active and funny, and deserves a real doc, not this messy failed attempt at satirizing--what? Documentaries themselves? Lame scenes involving an art show, a theft and the "Museum of Modern Art" fit awkwardly with cameos of too many other comics, who except for the funny Robin Williams seem to be attending a testimonial. One star.
"The Green Hornet" (PG-13, 108 minutes) An almost unendurable demonstration of a movie with nothing to be about. Although it follows the rough storyline of previous versions of the title, it neglects the construction of a plot engine to pull us through. There are pointless dialogue scenes going nowhere much too slowly, and then pointless action scenes going everywhere much too quickly. One star.
"The Nutcracker in 3D" (PG, 107 minutes) A train wreck of a movie, beginning with the idiotic idea of combining the Tchaikovsky classic with a fantasy conflict that seems inspired by the Holocaust. After little Mary (Elle Fanning) discovers her toy nutcracker can talk, he reveals himself as a captive prince and spirits her off to a land where fascist storm troopers are snatching toys from the hands of children and burning them to blot out the sun. I'm not making this up. Appalling. And forget about the 3D, which is the dingiest and dimmest I've seen. One star
"I Spit on Your Grave" (Unrated; for adults only. Running time: 108 minutes) Despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film "I Spit On Your Grave." This one is more offensive, because it lingers lovingly and at greater length on realistic verbal, psychological and physical violence against the woman, and then reduces her "revenge" to cartoonish horror-flick impossibilities. Oh, and a mentally disabled boy is forced against his will to perform a rape. Zero stars.
"Life As We Know It" (PG-13, 113 minutes). When their best friends are killed in a crash, Holly and Messer (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) are appointed as joint custodians of their one-year-old, Sophie. Also, they have to move into Sophie's mansion. But Holly and Messer can't stand one another. So what happens when they start trying to raise Sophie. You'll never guess in a million years. Or maybe you will. One and a half stars
"Hatchet II" (Unrated, 85 minutes). A gory homage to slasher films, which means it has its tongue in its cheek until the tongue is ripped out and the victims of a swamp man are sliced, diced, slashed, disemboweled, chainsawed and otherwise inconvenienced. One and a half stars
"The Last Airbender" (PG, 103 minutes). An agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. Originally in 2D, retrofitted in fake 3D that makes this picture the dimmest I've seen in years. Bad casting, wooden dialogue, lousy special effects, incomprehensible plot, and boring, boring, boring. One-half of one star.
"The A-Team" (PG-13, 121 minutes). an incomprehensible mess with the 1980s TV show embedded within. at over two hours of Queasy-Cam anarchy it's punishment. Same team, same types, same traits, new actors: Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson. One and a half stars
"Sex & the City 2" (R, 146 minutes). Comedy about flyweight bubbleheads living in a world where their defining quality is consuming things. They gobble food, fashion, houses, husbands, children, and vitamins. Plot centers on marital discord between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth), a purring, narcissistic, velvety idiot? Later, the girls are menaced for immodest dress during a luxurious freebie in Abu Dhabi. Appalling. Sure to be enjoyed by SATC fans. One star
"The Good Heart" (R, 98 minutes). Oh. My. God. A story sopping wet with cornball sentimentalism, wrapped up in absurd melodrama, and telling a Rags to Riches story with an ending that is truly shameless. That fine actor Brian Cox and that good actor Paul Dano and that angelic actress Isild Le Besco cast themselves on the sinking vessel of this story and go down with the ship. One and a half stars.
"Kick-Ass" (R, 117 minutes). An 11-year-old girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), her father (Nicolas Cage) and a high school kid (Aaron Johnson) try to become superheroes to fight an evil ganglord. There's deadly carnage dished out by the child, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. A comic book satire, they say. Sad, I say. One star
"Nightmare on Elm Street" (R, 95 minutes). Teenagers are introduced, enjoy brief moments of happiness, are haunted by nightmares, and then slashed to death by Freddy. So what? One star
"The Bounty Hunter" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An inconsequential formula comedy and a waste of the talents of Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. He's a bounty hunter, she's skipped bail on a traffic charge, they were once married, and that's the end of the movie's original ideas. We've seen earlier versions of every single scene to the point of catatonia. Rating: One and a half stars.
"Cop Out" (R, 110 minutes). An outstandingly bad cop movie, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as partners who get suspended (of course) and then try to redeem themselves by overthrowing a drug operation while searching for the valuable baseball card Willis wants to sell to pay for his daughter's wedding. Morgan plays an unreasonable amount of time dressed as a cell phone, considering there is nothing to prevent him from taking it off. Kevin Smith, who directed, has had many, many better days. One and a half stars.
"The Lovely Bones" (PG-13). A deplorable film with this message: If you're a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they realize what a wonderful person you were. Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") believes special effects can replace genuine emotion, and tricks up Alive Sebold's well-regarded novel with gimcrack New Age fantasies. With, however, affective performances by Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan as the victim. One star.
"The Spy Next Door" (PG, 92 minutes). Jackie Chan is a Chinese-CIA double agent babysitting girl friend's three kids as Russian mobsters attack. Uh, huh. Precisely what you'd expect from a PG-rated Jackie Chan comedy. If that's what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. It's not what I was looking for. One and a half stars.
"Old Dogs" (PG, 88 minutes). Stupefying dimwitted. John Travolta's and Robin Williams' agents weren't perceptive enough to smell the screenplay in its advanced state of decomposition. Seems to have lingered in post-production while editors struggled desperately to inject laugh cues.Careens uneasily between fantasy and idiocy, the impenetrable and the crashingly ham-handed. Example: Rita Wilson gets her hand slammed by a car trunk, and the sound track breaks into "Big Girls Don't Cry." When hey get their hands slammed in car trunks, they do. One star. View the trailer.
"Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (PG-13, 103 minutes). Feuding couple from Manhattan (Hugh Grant and Jessica Sarah Parker) are forced to flee town under Witness Protection Program, find themselves Fish Out of Water in Strange New World, meet Colorful Characters, survive Slapstick Adventures, end up Together at the End. The only part of that formula that still works is The End. With supporting roles for Sam Elliott and Wilford Brimley, sporting the two most famous mustaches in the movies. One and a half stars.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (PG-13, 130 minutes). The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. The sequel to "Twilight" (2008) is preoccupied with remember that film and setting up the third one. Sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return in their original roles, she dewy and masochistic, he sullen and menacing. Ah, teenage romance! One star
"The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day" . (R, 21 minutes) Idiotic ode to macho horseshite (to employ an ancient Irish word). Distinguished by superb cinematography. The first film in 10 years from Troy Duffy, whose "Boondock Saints" (1999) has become a cult fetish. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are Irish brothers who return to Boston for revenge and murder countless enemies in an incomprehensible story involving heavy metal cranked up to 12 and lots of boozing, smoking, swearing and looking fierce and sweaty. One star. View the trailer.
"Gentlemen Broncos". (PG-13, 107 minutes) Michael Angarano plays Benjamin Purvis, a wannabe sci-fi Doctor Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Alas. the great man rips off the kid's book, just when get kid has sold the miniscule filming rights. All sorts of promising material from Jared Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite"), but it's a clutter of jumbled continuity that doesn't add up, despite the presence of Jennifer Coolidge. Two stars. View the trailer.
"The Fourth Kind". (PG-13, 98 minutes). Nome, Alaska (pop. 3,750) has so many disappearances and/or alien abductions that the FBI has investigated there 20 times more than in Anchorage. So it's claimed by this pseudo-doc that goes to inane lengths to appear factual. Milla Jovovich is good as a psychologist whose clients complain that owls stare at them in the middle of the night. One and a half stars. View the trailer.
21 and a Wakeup . (R, 123 minutes). A disjointed, overlong and unconvincing string of anecdotes centering around the personnel of an Army combat hospital in Vietnam. Amy Acker plays an idealistic nurse who is constantly reprimanded by absurdly hostile officer (Faye Dunaway). Plays like a series of unlikely anecdotes trundled onstage without much relationship to one another. One episode involves an unauthorized trip into Cambodia by a nurse and a civilian journalist; it underwhelms. One and a half stars. Visit the website.
"Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant". (PG-13, 108 minutes) This movie includes good Vampires, evil Vampanese, a Wolf-Man, a Bearded Lady, a Monkey Girl with a long tail, a Snake Boy, a dwarf with a four-foot forehead and a spider the size of your shoe, and they're all boring as hell. They're in a traveling side show that comes to town and lures two insipid high school kids (Josh Hutcherson and Chris Massoglia) into a war between enemy vampire factions. Unbearable. With Joh C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit, and other wasted talents. One star. View the trailer.
"Couples Retreat" (PG-13, 107 minutes). Four troubled couples make a week's retreat to an island paradise where they hope to be healed, which indeed happens, according to ages-old sitcom formulas. This material was old when it was new. The jolly ending is agonizing in its step-by-step obligatory plotting. I didn't care for any of the characters, and that's about how much they seemed to care for one another. Starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk. Two stars. View the trailer.
"Fame.". (PG, 90 minutes). A pale retread of the 1980 classic, lacking the power and emotion of the original. A group of hopeful kids enroll in the New York City School of the Performing Arts and struggle through four years to find themselves. Their back stories are shallow, many seem too old and confident, the plot doesn't engage them, and although individual performers like Naturi Naughton sparkle as a classical pianist who wants to sing hip hop, the film is too superficial to make them convincing. Two stars. View the trailer.
"All About Steve". (PG-13, 87 minutes ) Sandra Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle constructor who on a blind date falls insanely in love with Steve, a TV news cameraman (Bradley Cooper, from "The Hangover"). The operative word is "insanely." The movie is billed as a comedy but more resembles a perplexing public display of irrational behavior. Seeing her run around as a basket case makes you appreciate Lucille Ball, who could play a dizzy dame and make you like her. One and a half stars. View the trailer.
From the Grand Poobah in Toronto: It was slightly chilly and I threw on my Toronto International Film Festival jacket and hurried out of the hotel. Only an ooh and an ahh from behind me at the Elgin Theater alerted me that I was wearing my official Roots 20th anniversary jacket. Since 2010 is the festival's 35th anniversary, that's not bad, n'est-ce pas? I hope that at the theater my T-shirt wasn't peeking out.
The Grand Poobah writes: I carry a little Canon S60 digital camera so small it tucks in my jeans pocket. Sometimes, all by itself, it will take a great photograph. Here are Lena and Werner Herzog. She is the acclaimed photographer. This was taken shortly after Herzog and Errol Morris held their lively onstage conversation, which I video recorded from the front row.
It seems appropriate that the first screening I attended for the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival should be a movie about stories and con games: "The Brothers Bloom," written and directed by Rian Johnson, maker of "Brick," one of my favorite movies of 2005.
Now look back at that sentence and you'll notice it's a setup for another story. (And con?)
I mean, of course it's going to make sense to me that the first movie I see in Toronto is going to be about storytelling as con artistry, in which stories themselves are the biggest cons of all -- because, then, seeing the movie becomes part of my story, and the lead (or "lede," if you prefer) for the story you're reading now, about my first TIFF 2008 screening. That's the way stories work, and the way we work stories.
View image So, like, what is reality, man?
When I reviewed Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" last year, after having first seen it at TIFF 2006, I wrote: "The Fountain" is a science-fiction historical adventure-fantasy about a man's (or Man's) struggle to face the incontrovertible fact of death.
It begins with Tomas (Hugh Jackman, a boy a long way from Oz) as a 16th century Spanish conquistador exploring the land of the Mayans in search of the biblical Tree of Life at the behest of Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz). The movie slips into the 21st century, where Tommy (Jackman) is a surgeon and research scientist desperate to discover a cure for the tumor in the brain of his wife, Izzi (Weisz), who is writing a fairy-tale book called The Fountain that includes the 16th century story.
Surging forward another few millennia into the 26th century, the film finds Tom (Jackman) as a kind of zen astronaut hurtling through space in a big bubble with a dying tree and the ghost of 21st century Iz (Weisz) on their way into a mysterious nebula. The three stories flow into and out of one another. I got that bit about the "26th century" from the press kit, not from the movie itself, but I was attempting to be careful in how I described the relationship between the three intertwined "stories" in the film. Yes, they are set in three different time periods, but are they really meant to be chronological stories of the same (or different) characters? Not only do I, as a viewer of the film, not know -- I don't care. Nor should I.
Roger reviewed "The Fountain" last week (he gave it half a star less than I did), and observed -- here be spoilers: Did I have it figured out? It didn’t take me long, and here was my thinking: Since there is not a single element in the film claiming that the same man is alive in all three time periods, he obviously is not. There is a critical belief that you should not bring story elements to fiction that cannot be found there. The fictional identity of the first man is explained by Izzy’s novel, in which she would obviously visualize her own lover as the hero. The fictional nature of the third man is explained because, hey, people don’t go floating through the cosmos inside a bubble while levitating and eating bark, even in “the future.” There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy, but not that. Stephen Hawking will back me up. The film’s central section is unalloyed realism, and generates the fantasy of the first and third. Since Izzy dies in it, magic isn’t allowed. Fiction sets its rules.RogerEbert.com reader Matt Withers to write in with his own theory about "The Fountain," which we printed as a guest commentary here:... I was struck by what an amazing tale it told. A quick Google search later led me to believe that so far no one has given it credit as a story that makes much sense; I found simply a mass of possible interpretations. I actually believe there is a very clear and linear story being told (albeit in a "Pulp Fiction"-y kind of timeline). Since I have not come across any explanation similar to my own, I thought I would share it -- film fan to film fan.
To begin our exploration of just what the hell is going on in "The Fountain," our first task is to determine which, if any, of the three story lines presented is real. You'll have to read the piece for Withers' interpretation of what's "real" (and not) in the movie -- but Marc Caddell isn't buying it. He writes in with his own interpretation (which you can read at the above link).
Me, I think either of these readings are fine (whatever floats your bubble), but I think they are utterly beside the point. In a movie of this sort, the movie is the experience, and it's reductive to try to say one story is more "real" than another. I wrote an article about this subject on RogerEbert.com a few years ago (about "Fight Club" and "Taxi Driver" and "The Wizard of Oz" and "American Psycho" and "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Citizen Kane" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"...) called "Head Trips: Movies Inside the Skull": It’s silly how many moviegoers and critics insist upon making an artificial distinction between what is “real” and what is “unreal” in a movie – often at the expense of what the film itself is actually about. It’s as if, to them, the predominant idea behind any given picture boils down to nothing more than: Did It Really Happen Or Was It All In His/Her Head? Well, look at it this way: If it’s on the screen, it’s there for a reason – to convey something about character, story, theme. And that is all that matters.
A movie consists of nothing more or less than the images in front of you, and what you go through while you watch them. Consider: Does it honestly matter if Dorothy really goes to the Merry Old Land of Oz, or if it was “all a dream” – or, for that matter, if her “trip” was the result of a concussion, or magic Munchkin mushrooms? Of course not. As any child can (and will) tell you, the important thing about Dorothy’s journey to Oz and back is what she experiences along the way, and what she gets out of it, not whether she physically travels anywhere....
Of course, in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), the distinction between “reality” and “fantasy” is made pretty explicit because, as we all know, Kansas is a monochromatic state (of mind) and Oz is a horse of a different Technicolor. (I’m not so sure I picked up on that, though, the first time I saw the movie as a small child – watching it on black-and-white broadcast TV.) It's always the theme, and the imagery, that matters to me in a movie, not so much the Point A to Point B trajectory of the plot. I guess if I were to describe "The Fountain" in story terms, I'd use not just the image of the tree, but maybe the one of the bubble: The movie is the bubble. Whatever you experience is inside the bubble, and that's all that matters. Whatever's outside the bubble is, as Roger writes, only speculative because it's not actually in the film.
Want to dip your toe in this argument? Or float your own theory about the structure of "The Fountain"? Dive in....
View image Three tales in "The Fountain": Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.
There's nothing tepid about Darren Aronofsky, and I love him for it. "The Fountain," his grand mythical fantasy that interweaves three tales about the fear of death and the quest for eternal life, is a terrifically ambitious spectacle that Aronofsky commits to completely. I have no idea how critics and audiences are going to receive it (I never do), but it's exhilarating to see somebody go this far out on a limb for his vision.
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz appear as versions of the same characters in all three narratives. Dr. Tommy Creo is research doctor studying brain tumors while his wife Izzy (or "Iz," as in "is") is dying of one; as Spanish conquistador Tomas Creo, serving Queen Isabella during the 16th century terror of the Inquisition, who is sent on a quest for the Tree of Life in a story called "The Fountain," written by Izzy; and as some kind of monk/space traveller hurling toward a nebula with the ancient tree in what looks like an interstellar snowglobe, haunted by the ghost of Izzy.