I know you all will share my sorrow: the IRS is closed tomorrow.
In a pique of irritation with G+ I have created a Friends of the C-Realm community here on LJ. Come join me for an exercise in futility and defiance.
Judge decides not to coddle
a man with a bad business model:
A McHenry County man who was pimping his pregnant wife was sentenced today to 50 years in prison for killing a man who had come to their home for sex in 2011.
Ah, the British:
I asked him what he was going to do next because the police were going to arrive soon. He said it was a war and if the police were coming, he was going to kill them. I asked him if that was a reasonable thing to do but it was clear that he really wanted to do that.
Tuesday May 21, 2013 From Twitter: Peace Corps @PeaceCorps
Proud to announce we'll begin accepting Volunteer apps from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together http://1.usa.gov/16McG2M
Retweeted by rivenhomewood
***From Twitter: Media Matters @mmfa
NRA lists the 'coolest gun movies': http://bit.ly/10SdID9 Flashback: NRA blames mass shootings on movies http://mm4a.org/UkYROn
Retweeted by Dan Savage
***Shopping: The Wedge Coop. Steeple People Thrift Store, where I found a couple of things I needed.
On to the Dollar Store on Franklin Avenue, and the nearby Aldi grocery.
***"DARE [Dictionary of American Regional English] has received a grant from NEH to do a pilot study in Wisconsin to
test a new Questionnaire and a new methodology for a second round of nationwide fieldwork.
"This time we won't be using Word Wagons--instead, the survey will be conducted online. We are working with the University of Wisconsin Survey Center to develop the method, and we will include a recorded telephone interview to collect phonological data for comparison with the original DARE recordings.
"We plan to omit questions for practices that are now obsolete (farming with oxen, kinds of sleigh, etc) and add questions that reflect changes in our society over the last 50 years."
And what questions will they be asking 50 years from now?
This year Spring got forgot. The weather jumped straight from cold to hot.
CANNES, FRANCE — "Inside Llewyn Davis" tells the story of a folk musician (Oscar Isaac) awaiting a big break that never seems to arrive. Chronically short on cash, mooching off a different friend each night for a couch to sleep on, reluctant to seize promising opportunities or look far beyond the moment, he takes great pride in a level of artistic achievement that probably won't get him anywhere.
That's not the way things worked out for the Coen brothers, who've enjoyed a degree of creative freedom that would be the envy of any filmmaker. But it is a dilemma for which they have sympathy; after all, things could have easily gone the other way.
"We would be the last people to dispute the fact that we've been very lucky," Joel Coen explained in a roundtable interview at Cannes's Carlton Hotel this afternoon. The duo had gathered with Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, T-Bone Burnett, and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel to discuss their film, currently one of the heavyweights for the Palme d'Or on Sunday.
While the brothers' own career had little bearing on the character or story — largely set in 1961 New York — Llewyn's inability to break through is one of the things that appealed to them dramatically. "Making a movie about someone's who's not successful who isn't very good at what they do isn't very interesting," Joel says. "But making a movie about someone who's not successful who is very good at what they do is interesting."
The movie returns the Coens to the existential-anxiety mode of "Barton Fink" and "A Serious Man." Like those films, it puts its protagonist through a wringer of frustrations that might take even Kafka aback. To hear the brothers tell it, the connection to those films is more tenuous than early reviews might suggest. "Barton Fink is just a little too self-important as an artist to get much sympathy," Ethan says. "We like the put-upon people. We like to inflict pain on the characters. I don't know — somehow that just seems a story thing. What happens next?"
"Somebody did point out," Joel adds, "and it was very interesting to us, because we hadn't realized it, that whenever we make a movie about an artist we inflict John Goodman on them." (Goodman has a role as a gasbag bluesman with whom Llewyn Davis shares a long car ride from New York to Chicago.)
The project has made them into amateur historians on the period. When prompted, Joel goes on about parallel developments in jazz and abstract expressionism that were also happening in New York at the time. "There were some points of intersection, and at some times they had absolutely nothing to do with each other," he says. None of the musicians in the film has a perfect real-life counterpart. They were after a feel — or in the case of Mulligan's not-quite-love interest, the "Village girl look."
"There was also a political factionalism we kind of thought maybe the movie would get into, but it never really did," Ethan says.
A colleague asks if the duo has softened — this is certainly a more mellow, low-key Coen brothers movie than we're used to. "There's something I've noticed [that's] very interesting to me," Joel says. "We make a movie, and often people will say, 'This is a Coen brothers movie for people who don't like Coen brothers movies.' And I've been reading that for 15 or 20 years now, as each one successively comes up. What's the originating sort of thing of that? Anyway, it's a little puzzling."
There’s a picture on my bedroom wall that was taken by my fellow Far-Flung Correspondent, Gerardo Valero of Mexico. It shows me shaking hands with Roger at the brunch he and Chaz hosted at Ebertfest 2012. It seemed fitting to hang it above my poster for “Citizen Kane.”
Moments after the photo was taken, Roger and I posed for the classic thumbs-up picture, the one everyone had taken with Roger Ebert. It produced a cute shot, but it’s the photo of the handshake that I keep on my wall. I look at it every day. I used to see it and think “I wish I wasn’t holding my damn cane.” But now I see it and am glad I am.
Even though my wheelchair is out of shot, it is obvious I am disabled and obvious Roger is too. And yet the force of his benevolence, and the force of my determination to meet my hero, was strong enough that we could overcome our difficulties, meet at his film festival and shake hands.
In his last years, Roger became a beacon for the seriously disabled. That was the side of him that meant most to me: the side that demonstrated that almost any physical limitation can be conquered by a combination of willpower and love, talent and technology.
In the thousands of tribute articles that were published immediately after Roger’s death (including mine), I noticed that, while his status as a titan in the film community was universally celebrated, his status as a titan of the disabled community was often overlooked. It was my duty as a disabled person to write a piece about Roger’s significance for us, and I was thrilled when the BBC published it. As thrilled as I was when I shook hands with Roger Ebert.
Cannes is all about the thrill of the new: What makes hundreds of scribes schlep every morning to yet another 8:30am screening is the knowledge that they are the first audience for a slew of the year’s key films. And yet, cinema’s past is very much present on la Croisette. Aside from the outdoor screenings held every night on the beach (“Jaws” was a particularly inspired choice), there’s an entire section designed to honoring the gems of the past: Cannes Classics.
Consisting entirely of new restorations of films widely known or deserving rediscovery, Cannes Classics is a cinephile’s delight. This year, the titles range from “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” to Satyajit Ray’s “Charulata,” with a fiftieth anniversary screening of Joe Mankiewicz’s ill-fated “Cleopatra” (1963) still to come. Yesterday afternoon, marking 35 years that have passed since its Cannes premiere in 1978, a freshly restored version of Billy Wilder’s “Fedora” was shown for the first time. Long available only in faded prints, scratched so severely the image was on the verge of bleeding, the movie can finally get its due as an important late work of a great director (DVD and Blu-ray releases are rumored to follow soon).
The screening was preceded with an appearance by actors Marthe Keller and Mario Adorf, who fondly recalled working with Wilder on the movie that failed upon release, but has now a chance of starting a new life on the festival circuit. “It was old-fashioned then, but seems contemporary now,” said Keller, pointing out the film’s old-Hollywood style, complete with sweeping Miklos Rozsa score. An excerpt from “Swan Song,” an upcoming documentary on the film, was played and featured Michael York reflecting on the extremely hard time Wilder had making “Fedora,” with studios no longer backing him up and money being scarce for the no longer bankable master.
Made more than a decade before “Death Becomes Her,” “Fedora” is a bold allegory of the fear of aging that underlies movie stardom as such. William Holden plays a Hollywood producer down on his luck, who goes to Corfu in the hope of coaxing the eponymous recluse legend to star in an adaptation of “Anna Karenina.” Apparently as youthful as ever, guarded by a sinister Polish countess, Fedora acts as is she was a prisoner of her own villa, and begs Holden to take her away. From then on, the plot thickens, with many a flashback and a framing device that makes it clear Fedora committed suicide. Or did she…?
The movie is filled with objects designed to obstruct the view of the human body — shades, gloves, veils, bandages, wide-brimmed hats (the title, cough) and head scarfs. Fedora is never on full display: partly to facilitate an important plot-twist, partly because her life is an act and everything she wears is basically a costume. Wilder’s movies were often about functioning in disguise: Dressing up as someone else allowed his characters to violate the boundaries of gender (“Some Like It Hot”), class (“Kiss Me, Stupid”), nationality (“Five Graves to Cairo”) and — in the case of both “The Major and the Minor” and “Fedora” — age.
Gerry Fisher’s cinematography is purely functional and doesn’t draw attention to itself, but nevertheless includes some atmospheric touches, especially in the vaguely sepulchral interiors of Fedora’s villa. Most of the film is drenched in sunshine that makes the film look like Wilder’s earlier “Avanti!” It’s great to see the new print doing full justice both to the opulent flower arrangements of Fedora’s funeral and to the summer setting of Corfu, with Mario Adorf hamming it up as a penny-pinching local hotel owner that’s the most openly comedic of all the characters.
The comparison with Wilder’s own “Sunset Blvd.” is inevitable, given William Holden’s presence and the basic plot of a Hollywood hack invading former star’s secluded domicile. Unlike that masterpiece, however, “Fedora” lacks a central performance great enough to anchor its Gothic touches and turn it into a masterpiece. In other words, it lacks Gloria Swanson. Wilder’s original intention was to cast Faye Dunaway as Fedora, and one can only envision what levels of dedication and intensity she would have brought to the role — especially given her deranged antics as Joan Crawford in the 1981 “Mommie Dearest” debacle.
As it is, “Fedora” is a strange, often captivating movie in which Wilder reflects upon the end of the era of studio filmmaking. Some things won’t be helped by any restoration — the terrible dubbing of both Marthe Keller and Hildegard Knef by Inga Bunsch still damages the picture beyond repair. Still, there’s a hypnotic element to "Fedora", which makes it feel at times almost like a séance, complete with whirring tables and flickering lights. Wilder summons up the ghosts of old Hollywood and pays a tribute to, as one character has it, “cheap backdrops and glycerin tears.” He did that in "Sunset Blvd.", too, but here he includes himself as part of the past he summons. As veiled self-portraits go in cinema, this is one of the most moving ones.
CANNES, FRANCE — While the red-carpet crowd at Cannes has been toasting the Coen brothers' tuneful "Inside Llewyn Davis" — you can read Barbara Scharres's take here — the parallel programs have also turned a spotlight on American movies. David Lowery's Sundance hit "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" showed Saturday and Sunday as a special presentation at Critics' Week, a separate festival that focuses on up-and-coming filmmakers.
The event's main location, the Miramar, is a far cry from the glitz one encounters when viewing the main slate. With creaky entrance doors and a screen that's not quite matted properly, the theater gives off the sense of a makeshift location — creating cognitive dissonance when stars like Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck take the stage.
In France, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is being called "Les Amants du Texas" — an elemental title well-suited to the film's wisp of a plot. Mara and Affleck play lovers on the wrong side of the law who are apprehended in a shootout. He's sent to prison; pregnant with their daughter, she raises the child alone. When he busts out four years later, going on the run, the movie ticks down the clock to their inevitable doomed reunion. Meanwhile, sympathetic lawman Ben Foster struggles to articulate his feelings for Mara's lonely mom.
Padded with shots of sunsets and country roads, the movie relies heavily on a woozy, lyrical style that increasingly plays like an affectation. Mara is a forceful screen presence who seems out of place in the '70s setting, while Affleck's character is little more than a moving target. Lowery, who served as an editor on this year's "Upstream Color," has a good eye, but his Malick-lite approach isn't a great fit. This plot calls for the energy of peak Sam Peckinpah.
Even so, the movie's outlaw portrait bounced pleasingly off of one of yesterday's Fortnight movies, "Blue Ruin," directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Shortly after we meet him, an unshaven vagrant (Macon Blair) knives a just-released convict in a men's room. Over the course of his spectacularly inept getaway, a back story comes into focus. Suffice it to say this is another movie that imagines contemporary America as a new Wild West — or at least the potential setting for a modern Hatfields–McCoys feud. Laced with dark humor (the protagonist struggles to attend to his gushing wounds without visiting a hospital), this mildly glib thriller also has a hot-button point to make. It's quite clear the body count would be lower if these characters had fewer guns.
Mordant comedy and social commentary also make for strange mix in the French comedy "Tip Top," directed by Serge Bozon, a practicing film critic here in Gaul. Art house aficionados may recall his "La France" (2007), an unclassifiable World War I fable that features Sylvie Testud in drag, spontaneous Beatles-like sing-alongs, and the kind of oblique editing one associates with Robert Bresson.
"Tip Top," showing in the Fortnight, is even wackier. Isabelle Huppert plays an internal-affairs detective assigned to uncover which of her fellow police officers ratted out a murdered Algerian informant. The mystery segues into buddy comedy with Huppert's dowdy new partner (Sandrine Kiberlain) and tangents involving their kinky personal lives. While Huppert's bad-cop routine is a hoot, broad jokes involving voyeurism and giant bruises acquired during rough sex coexist uneasily with the movie's ostensibly serious commentary on Algerian life in France.
At the Q&A, Bozon said through a translator that he never wanted the audience to feel too comfortable with the movie's actors or its tone. Still, he said, "My first impulse is not to disconcert the audience. It's to please them." Mission intermittently accomplished.
On a day when the sun is finally shining and it doesn’t even look like rain, Cannes doesn’t automatically inspire dark thoughts of criminal masterminds and evil-doers prowling the streets and owning the night. But, just as film people from every nation on earth are gathered here for two weeks, so are the pickpockets, the cat burglars, the jewel thieves and the con artists, beggars, and grifters of every stripe.
Just yesterday, the trade papers carried the story that more than a million dollars in Chopard jewels that had been brought to Cannes to loan to stars for their gala appearances had been stolen from a hotel safe. This is only the big stuff. Every year, those of us who come here regularly trade our latest stories of purse-snatchings, holdups, child pickpockets, and those brazen nocturnal thieves who climb neon signs, awnings, and gutter-pipes to reach open hotel windows to snatch any valuables left within reach. It once happened to me, so I know, and never slept with an open window again.
Evil ran rampant in the Grand Théâtre Lumière this morning, with the Dutch competition entry “Borgman” by Alex van Warmerdam (“The Last Days of Emma Blank”), but the over-arching scheme of the director’s dark intentions never became fully clear. Appearing to be very much influenced by the themes of Michael Haneke films including “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon,” “Borgman” features an exceedingly privileged upper-middle-class family bedeviled by the arrival of a sinister figure and his henchman, who infiltrate and destroy their way of life.
In the film’s opening sequence, a priest celebrates mass, then grabs a shotgun and joins assistants with sharpened spears to hunt several bedraggled men living in leaf-covered hidey-holes in the forest. The men escape, and their leader Borgman seeks the use of a bathroom by ringing doorbells at secluded homes. At one, the husband ferociously assaults him but the wife later takes pity on the injured man, giving him a bath, food and a place to sleep in the garden shed while her husband is at work.
So far, audience sympathy is with this battered loner, and the natural assumption is that he represents some ethnic or political minority being hunted for extermination by authority figures. The assumption is gradually dispelled as Borgman gains a strange power over all but the husband. He does away with the family gardener and succeeds in replacing him. The wife — who is troubled by violent nightmares which include erotic images of Borgman — the au pair girl, and the three children come under his spell. The husband develops an odd X-mark on his shoulder.
Sinister clues are dropped everywhere, but it’s never clear to what end. When Borgman’s cohorts, who are busy perpetrating murders elsewhere, phone him for instructions, he often ends the conversations with “It’s not time yet.” A pair of emaciated long-snouted hounds appears out of nowhere to roam the house one night, sniffing the young nanny as she sleeps, then disappear. Borgman whisks the kids off to visit an underground bunker and gives them some kind of Kool-Aid to drink.
Portentously, the wife says, “We are the fortunate, and the fortunate must be punished.” The implications are satanic, and a global takeover, one family at a time, is hinted at, but the accumulation of hints and sinister happenings never comes together into something larger. Call it Haneke-lite or Haneke-wannabe, but it’s an odd choice for the competition, except for a possible political need to represent a diversity of European nations.
The dark side was manifesting itself today, and final solutions became the theme for the rest of the day. Two films, “The Missing Picture,” a French/Cambodian co-production, and “Death March” a Filipino film, both premiering in Un Certain Regard, addressed the subject of real-life evil in stylistically extraordinary ways. The horrific reign of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge is the subject of Rithy Panh’s personal essay documentary “The Missing Picture.” Panh, much of whose earlier work is in the human rights vein, previously distinguished himself with “S21, The Khmer Rouge Death Machine.”
The first shot of “The Missing Picture” depicts a great pile of 35mm film heaped on a concrete floor. The deteriorating footage is symbolic of the lost, fragmented or hidden images of actions that willfully destroyed a nation. The filmmaker seeks specific evidence of mass murder.
Utilizing small, painted clay figures, the film presents the home village of Panh’s childhood before the Khmer Rouge came to power. The dollhouse-sized markets, schools, and rice paddies soon give away to other scenes of black-clad clay prisoners in the work camp where, as Panh narrates, he was taken with his family at the age of thirteen.
To his own powerful memory-driven narration, Panh alternates increasingly elaborate scenes of his clay figures in the camp environment with sequences of archival footage or those in which his cartoon-like figures are juxtaposed against filmic backgrounds. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The figures are static, and as intricately formed as they are and as elaborately staged, they don’t move, so their scenes are static. The juxtaposition is most effective when they have something to do: In the foreground of the frame, a little clay cameraman aims his camera at the dictator Pol Pot, seen in archival Khmer Rouge footage in the background, and the film’s merging of memory and historical record comes to life.
As I left “The Missing Picture,” I was startled at the sound of blood-curdling screams on the Croisette. Then I realized that it was only the costumed stooges of Troma holding a fake street demonstration to once again promote “Return to Nuke 'Em High” or some other exploitation masterpiece.
Screams were an apt lead-in to “Death March” by Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr., a film that evokes the Bataan Death March in a surreal, stylized drama set entirely in a studio against painted backdrops, cardboard trees, and a sea fashioned from plastic bubble-wrap. Shot in black-and-white with Filipino, American, and Japanese actors and much fog and smoke, the film is an eerie meditation on the psychology of men facing incomprehensible brutality.
“Death March” is conceived as a group experience, but filmmaker Alix zeroes in on several soldiers who periodically come to the fore, including a Filipino who hallucinates dead companions, an American trying to nurse his dying captain, and a compassionate Japanese guard who imagines himself hovering above the men as a glowing angel with enormous white-feathered wings. Swift and exceptionally cruel executions single out others for brief recognition as individuals.
Alix’s method is surprisingly effective, although this isn’t a film for everyone. It is best appreciated almost as a dance of seething, scrambling, stumbling bodies, to the cacophonous chorus of groans, pleas, and exploding shells. Periodically, faces and eyes are fixed in sudden still moments that underline the horror and chaos.
Eighty-seven-year-old director Claude Lanzmann of “Shoah” fame was welcomed to the stage of the Salle Debussy tonight by Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux, to a standing ovation. Lanzmann profusely thanked his crew and all who helped make his new film “The Last of the Unjust” possible, and the two joked about previous discussions regarding whether the film was to be presented in or out of competition, before the genial director planted a huge kiss on Frémaux’s cheek.
Lanzmann’s place in film history is assured by his landmark “Shoah,” and "The Last of the Unjust” grew out of the hours of unused interview footage that he shot of Benjamin Murmelstein, the last president of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Theresienstadt ghetto in what was then Czechoslovakia. In the lengthy rolling text that begins the film, Lanzmann makes it clear that his film will exonerate Murmelstein, who has long been a controversial figure whom some had accused of collaboration with the Nazis.
In characteristic fashion, Lanzmann is meticulous and thorough in establishing the time, the places, and the progression of events in Murmelstein’s seven-year relationship, from 1938 to 1944, with Adolf Eichmann, who in every way his overlord and the arbiter of the fate of the community that the Jewish Council administered. The film intercuts lengthy sequences of the interviews with Murmelstein, which were conducted in Rome in 1975, with Lanzmann’s present day visits to relevant locations in Vienna and the Czech Republic.
Although at Eichmann’s war crimes trial it was claimed that his participation in Kristallnacht could not be established, Murmelstein provides his direct eye-witness account of Eichmann personally smashing sacred objects with a crowbar as he directed SS men in the ravaging of a Vienna synagogue. Murmelstein refutes Hannah Arendt’s famous statement about the banality of evil, saying in reference to the trial, “The corrupt Eichmann was never shown.”
I felt no aura of the day’s specters of evil in the streets of Cannes as I walked back to my hotel. A new bistro has opened along the narrow pedestrian passageway I take up to the rue d’Antibes from the Palais, and revelers with drinks in their hands were mixing with the people who just gotten ice cream from the gelato shop a few steps away. A rock band was playing on a temporary stage in front of the nearby church, Notre Dame de Bon Voyage. It’s Sunday night and it’s not raining.
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