In addition to our full table of contents, we are highlighting some of our coverage from the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in this special edition of Thumbnails. Included below are daily dispatches by Barbara Scharres and Ben Kenigsberg as well as video dispatches by Chaz Ebert.1.
"Capharnaüm, The First of Many and More": Chaz Ebert's fifth video dispatch from Cannes 2018 features interviews with filmmakers Pamela Guest and Pamela Green, producer Matthew Helderman, production coordinator and Ebert Fellow Sue-Ellen Chitunya and Gary Novak, Dean of DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts.
“While it’s wonderful to see a female director like Nadine Labaki succeed so admirably here in Cannes, the industry still has a long way to go towards equality as evidenced by the protests earlier in the festival calling for 50/50 by 2020: Equal representation of women by the year 2020. And the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements remain at the forefront of conversation here on the Croisette. One woman active in that movement is talented actress and casting director, Pamela Guest. She was raped in the 1970’s and only realized many years later that the rapist was Oscar winning composer and filmmaker Joseph Brooks who ironically composed the song ‘You Light Up My Life.’ Guest was brave enough to make a short film about her ordeal called ‘The...
James Franco’s filmography as a director fascinates me. He uses his weight as a power player to get projects to the big screen that clearly interest him, often giving off the impression that he read a book he liked and just called up some friends to make a movie of it. There’s something admirable about that kind of passionate, instinctual way of making movies, and it has led to adaptations of work by Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner. And this kind of DIY passion made him the perfect fit for “The Disaster Artist,” his most successful directorial effort to date, and a film that's essentially about a DIY filmmaker who became an icon. This approach to filmmaking also leads to a number of misfires because one can often sense that initial passion dissolving on the screen. That’s certainly what happens early in his latest co-directorial credit, the abominable “Future World.” One can imagine Franco and his buddies seeing “The Bad Batch” or watching “Mad Max: Fury Road,” renting some motor bikes and dirtying some clothes, and then realizing they forgot to write an actual movie.
To say that “Future World” borrows liberally from George Miller’s milieu would be an understatement. He may want to look into royalty checks (although that implies this will make money, which seems unlikely). This ticks SO many of the “Fury Road” boxes, from extended sequences of masked men on...
"Can you just let me sit with my own memories?" This plea, from Jennifer (Laura Dern) to her mother (Ellen Burstyn), is a key moment in "The Tale," an extraordinary and disturbing new film directed by Jennifer Fox, based on Fox's own experience with childhood molestation. It's key because "The Tale" is, in many ways, about memory, and memory's unreliability and slipperiness. Memory can cloak trauma in another "better" narrative, sparing us until we're ready to deal. Joan Didion famously wrote "We tell ourselves stories in order to live" (Jennifer quotes this in "The Tale" during a lecture to her film students). Didion's words are often recast as some self-help "all of our stories matter" pablum, but that's not what Didion was getting at at all. Storytelling can be a healthy thing, or it can be a sinister thing. Everyone wants their own narrative to "make sense." But our mind plays tricks on us, and what was used as protection for a traumatized child can begin to destroy the adult. What is amazing about Fox's film (her first narrative feature, although she's been making documentaries for years) is how it shows—visually—how memory operates, what it's like to remember something. Normally, in films like this, you get flashbacks unfurling in a linear way, and the flashbacks, bit by bit, lead us up to the present. But that's not how memory works. It's much much messier than that.
In the film, Jennifer...
In every family, there’s a precocious little kid who is always lurking around amongst the adults. They’re often within earshot of things they may not understand and to which they should definitely not be privy. I was one of these kids, and in the more comprehensive glow of my adulthood, I realized I’d gained quite an education while hanging out with the adults. But as a kid, I was clueless, entangled in my own narcissistic wavelength of childhood goings-on to truly appreciate the nuggets of truth, wisdom and trouble falling all around me. Looking back, I feel a sense of bemused frustration that I didn’t catch on to things earlier.
Writer/director Carla Simón’s autobiographical film “Summer 1993” understands this feeling. It’s told from the perspective of 6-year old Frida (Laia Artigas), though “perspective” may be too misleading as a description. This is not a film for children, but the camerawork and the emotional undercurrents most often evoke the physical viewpoint, level of understanding and sensory processes of a child. We as adults must deduce the film’s most crucial pieces of information as they fly over Frida’s head. Simón does a good job training our eyes and hearts to once again engage the childhood perceptions that were shutdown by our own ascent into maturity. For example, an early bathtub scene between Frida and her cousin Anna (Paula Robles) frames Frida’s uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) as the “villain” spoiling their fun. You can practically feel...
Radical Queer Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce is these days making films with more visual polish than such early fare as 1993’s “No Skin Off My Ass” (a piece of subversion beloved of Kurt Cobain and Gus Van Sant) but as “The Misandrist” sometimes quite rudely testifies, he’s far from domesticated.
LaBruce, who frequently works in Germany for reasons business-related (I presume) and maybe on account of aesthetic affinities (the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim are perhaps kindred spirits), casts German actress and frequent collaborator Susanne Sachße as Gertrude, aka Big Mother. The founder of the Female Liberation Army, a small radical separatist group, she presides over a house full of teachers and younger women who dress as nuns and schoolgirls whenever the local authorities drop in. When local authorities aren’t dropping in, the girls are given lessons in parthenogenesis (look it up) and “Herstory.” (One of the teachers is played by Kembra Pfahler, who rocked the nation and world as lead singer of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black). The students also study cis-male gay porno films (this movie is very invested in compelling trigger warnings specially designed for people who turn up their nose at trigger warnings, considering them for snowflakes, as in its generous on-screen samplings of the aforementioned gay porn; don’t say I didn’t warn you, non-radicals!) in preparation for making their own porno, which will serve as propaganda...
Early on in “Mary Shelley,” a muddled biopic about the early 19th-century British teen-ager who would conceive “Frankenstein,” her soon-to-be-lover and future husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, flirtatiously inquires if she is a writer. She coyly answers, ”Not really. Nothing substantial.” He then asks her to define substantial. Her breathless reply: “Anything that curdles the blood and quickens the beatings of the heart.”
There is little chance of either biological reaction being triggered during the course of this misguided effort to once more stage the fateful stormy summer night at Lord Byron’s Lake Geneva villa in 1816 that would give birth to a tale that continues to spark our imaginations today. For that sort of response, you would have to turn to Ken Russell’s “Gothic” from 1986. A diabolical master of pungently alluring visual cinema, the twisted British auteur served up a ghoulish goulash of gushing blood and heaving bosoms that delivered the eerie and the erotic in unrestrained doses. But director Haifaa Al-Mansour and screenwriter Emma Jensen seem more intent in turning their blossoming literary heroine into an inspiration for young girls as she challenged the social norms of male dominance. That’s fine. But what results is a tepid soap-operatic battle of the sexes that drains passion rather than enflames it.
For her first feature, 2013’s much-admired “Wadjda,” Al-Mansour picked a subject that hit close to home for her: a Saudi Arabian girl enters...
This movie begins cleverly. After the opening credits, we see a shot of a woman being strangled. Seems a POV shot from the perspective of the strangler; film buffs will recognize the camera’s positioning as similar to that used in more than one scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 “Frenzy.” Chilling, string-driven music accompanies the violence. But the camera dollies back from the POV and we see a screen; this is a film within a film, and the music is being provided by an actual orchestra. We’re in a large recording studio during a film-scoring session. Nice. Once the conductor breaks up the session, we meet the pianist Sofia, played by Natalie Dormer, who co-wrote the film with its director, Anthony Byrne. (The two are married.) Sofia is blind, and following the session, Byrne does a resourceful job of not evoking her sightless world but of demonstrating how Sofia negotiates it. The upshot being that she’s rather self-sufficient.
Once at her apartment building, she runs into Veronique, a neighbor. Played by Emily Ratajkowski, who speaks in an accent that’s as outlandish as it is geographically unidentifiable, the character is plainly an extrovert. She thanks Sofia for agreeing to play at “my father’s benefit,” and when asked by Sofia about the perfume she’s wearing tells her it’s her little secret.
At this point the movie shifts gears. Sofia’s night of unusual dreams gives way to a following day conveyed in a...
The cold open of this movie is unpleasantly eye-filling. In individual shots we see a woman’s bloodied-up hands and bloodied-up feet tied to a bedspring; gagged, she screams as she strains. A male figure in a sleeveless t-shirt, his face invisible, stands nearby, holding a firearm. At the bound woman grows more violent, her pupil changes to that of something not human. The man in the t-shirt adopts his “badass with a gun” pose (what is it with movies, that every time someone’s gonna pull a trigger, he’s gotta assume some dumb “I’m gonna pull the trigger” position?) and fires, killing the bound woman.
The good news is that “Feral,” directed by Mark H. Young from a script he co-wrote with Adam Frazier, is not a horror movie about a guy in a sleeveless t-shirt who binds women to box springs and shoots them. Not per se, at any rate. No, “Feral” is about a group of college students (no!!!) who venture out into the woods (no!!!!) only to get lost and find themselves beset by creatures…help me, I can’t go on.
And yet I must. Three couples, one of them same-sex, make their way through a wood, and say things like “Are we lost?,” “Are we going in the right direction?” and “I haven’t been here since I was a kid.” They’re heading for a lake, apparently. Giving up, they set up camp, and as night falls, discuss their...
8 NEW TO NETFLIX
11 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai"
"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure"
The steelbook phenomenon has been an interesting one to watch, as films that diehard fans already own are re-released in collectible, exclusive, limited edition packaging. Personally, I'm a big fan of keeping physical media in existence and so anything that helps is good by me, especially when they're a pair of movies this fun. I'm a huge fan of Bill and Ted, and the news of a potential third movie should hopefully rekindle interest in the first two, especially the timeless original. The steelbook packaging (right) is gorgeous, and all of the previous special features have been imported. You should watch "Excellent Adventure" again. It's funnier than you remember. And let's go collect steelbooks if it keeps physical media alive!
Special Features - Buckaroo
"Into The 8th Dimension" – A Two-Hour Retrospective Documentary Including Interviews With The Cast And Crew
Audio Commentary With Michael And Denise Okuda
Audio Commentary With Director W.D. Richter And Writer Earl Mac Rauch
"Buckaroo Banzai Declassified" Featurette
Alternate Opening Sequence (With Jamie Lee Curtis)
Jet Car Trailer
Special Features - Bill & Ted's
Audio Commentary With Star Alex Winter And Producer
I never read a Phillip Roth book that I did not enjoy. This is an odd thing to say, given that with most authors by which one has read more than one title, there has to be one clunker, or at least one book you prefer over the others, but with Roth: no. Like Doctorow, Oates, and Heller, to name a few writers more or less of his generation, he produces a consistent product: the well-constructed, well-executed novel, whose style and shape will be dependable from one book to the next, and which will almost always, to use a phrase most familiar to people under 45, “go there.” Early novels like Goodbye, Columbus and later novels like The Humbling might show differences in relative aggressiveness but they grow from the same work aesthetic and the same desired relationship with the reader. Much like the greatest films, they pick you up, they draw you in, they show you a world—and the world, usually, is not the world you would have dreamed up. It is a world in which you are morally and intellectually uncomfortable.
The first Roth I read was Portnoy’s Complaint, in college; I had the benefit of having a professor at Columbia read it, out loud, doing different voices, animating it, and at no time did I think it was the least bit odd that a professor was reading, with great enthusiasm, a tale of a prolific masturbator. It was literature. The key...
When Prince left us it didn’t simply feel tragic, it felt cruel. Like fate rubbing salt in our wounds. The man wasn’t even 60; he still looked impossibly young. And he hadn’t released half of what he was capable of delivering to his fans. If he’d lived to be 70 he could have released a dozen more albums. If he’d live to 80 maybe the public would apologize loud enough that he’d have made another movie. That was what I wanted even more than another record.
Prince’s films are boisterous and stylish and rich in black talent that no other filmmaker was in a hurry to spotlight. Prince understood himself as an artist so thoroughly that it also allowed him to know how best to light and frame his supporting cast. No one made Prince look as legendary and beautiful as Prince himself. He knew a powerful, flattering angle when he saw one and he gave it to everyone in his band.
For years, Prince’s films seemed like some kind of laughable low point in his eccentric career. When I finally caught up with all of them I was knocked down by their force of personality and their boisterous fun. Their mix of joy and melancholy, their crisp, crystalline compositions. They had the rhythms and exuberance of music videos and the arch presence of the arthouse. They were excessive and full and completely unafraid of what anyone would think. The public and producers alike...
“2001: A Space Odyssey” is a tale of evolution. Roger Ebert’s relationship with Stanley Kubrick’s classic is likewise marked by leaps forward in understanding. Read through his writing on this film throughout the decades, and you see a sensibility growing by leaps and bounds.
His original review of the film, published on April 12, 1968, the day of its commercial release in Chicago, is filled with conjecture and observations that he would amend or revise. But the heart of it holds up well, especially when judged against the writing of critics, historians and theorists who had ten, twenty, or more years’ worth of previous writings to take for granted while writing their own essays. Roger was one of the only significant newspaper critics of that era to get “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Kubrick's landmark science fiction film. when it was originally released. He “got” it by not trying too hard to get it, much less dismiss, explain or master it. In an act of moviegoing humility that was characteristic of Roger (although, being human, he didn’t manage it in every single instance), he gave himself to the work. He approached it with an open mind, treating it as a visual, visceral, and emotional experience as well as an intellectual one.
Roger complains high up in his original review that the movie “fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale,” without quite grasping the intentional nature of Kubrick's approach. But he...
As we celebrate empathy this week on the fifth anniversary of Roger Ebert's passing, we'll be sharing some of your Roger stories submitted over the last week. In this installment, we've gathered memories of those who met and talked to him over the years. We previously published a collection of memories from fellow film critics, and tomorrow we'll be sharing some memories sent in by his readers.
I met Roger on April 1, 2006. The occasion was the Wisconsin Film Festival (in the glory days of Meg Hamel's curation), and Roger was hosting a Q&A in correspondence with the festival, on the isthmus downtown in what he called "the people's republic of Madison." Roger opened his dialogue with the audience by asking "who here has seen a good movie lately?" At the time I was 14, and fancied myself a cinematic expeditionary, and when my turn to share came I mentioned I had been recently struck by Bergman's “The Seventh Seal.” While my choice was no doubt show-offish, Roger proceeded to cogently and seriously discuss the film with me, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of the chess match in cinema. He was excited that this (pretentious) young person was taking an interest in classic art-house films and gave me his Wisconsin Film Fest pin as a medal for "being curious about great movies."
Only a few months later he would undergo surgery that would leave him without...
"Someone somewhere didn't care if this movie succeeded or failed." Scout Tafoya says this early in his latest edition of his video essay series The Unloved, and given the preponderance of evidence, it's hard to argue with him.
As adapted by writer/director Alex Garland, probably the best filmmaker in the world who deals exclusively in science-fiction, "Annihilation" is a film of ideas and emotions, conceived and executed in the spirit of such classic motion pictures as "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Solaris" (both versions), and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Despite a formidable cast that features Oscar winner Natalie Portman, veteran character actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Star Wars" costar and Internet crush Oscar Isaac, "Jane the Virgin" star Gina Rodriguez and recently-minted Marvel repertory cast member Tessa Thompson, the movie's releasing studio Paramount deemed it uncommercial on the basis of (apparently) test screenings, or perhaps a desire by the incoming president to bury the work of his predecessor—who knows for sure?
In any case, the film was all but dumped during its US release and sold off to Netflix for international rights, a move that put the film in profit (barely) while relieving Paramount of the burden of figuring out a clever way to build interest in a movie that didn't have any obvious hooks. I mean, aside from the fact that it's a haunting, hypnotically powerful film that seems to stir deep...
When “Arrested Development” was canceled in 2006, it was before the wave of reboots and nostalgia that pop culture is currently riding, and so, even with the possibility of a movie hanging in the Hollywood ether, fans doubted we would ever spend time with the Bluths again. And then something miraculous happened—Netflix resurrected the show for a 15-episode adventure in 2013 and fans were, well, divided. Knowing how difficult it would be to get the entire cast together at the same time, the producers split the season’s narrative up into character-specific episodes. A few of them (Gob, Maeby, Michael) worked better than others (Lindsay, George, Tobias), but all of them lacked two of the elements that elevated the show’s amazing first three seasons: the chemistry of the entire ensemble and the way the writers intertwined their often ridiculous subplots in every episode. The good news about season five, which debuts in two chunks—eight on Tuesday, May 29, and another eight on a future date—is that the entire cast shares several scenes together. Overall, it’s more coherent and consistent than season four (at least the seven episodes I’ve seen) even if it’s not as inspired as the prime of the series. We need to start coming to terms with the realization that it won’t ever be quite that transcendent again, but this season is still often pretty funny.
Few sets of films fascinated Roger like the “Star Wars” franchise. From 1977 to 2005, he was always captivated by the visual experience offered by the films, giving only one installment of the six less than 3 1/2 stars. With the soon-approaching release of the latest installment, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” we are pleased to collect Roger’s writings on the six films in the franchise, which captivated him in regular releases and re-releases. For the filmography's chronological sake, the reviews are listed in order that the films originally came out.
In 1977, Roger reviewed "Star Wars," describing the four-star film as an out-of-body experience. He added, "The movie works so well for several reasons, and they don't all have to do with the spectacular special effects ... ["Star Wars"] relies on the strength of pure narrative, in the most basic storytelling form known to man, the Journey."
On June 28, 1999, Roger returned to the film for an entry in his Great Movies collection, deeming it a masterpiece equal to other "technical watershed" movies like "Birth of a Nation" and "Citizen Kane."
For that film's sequel "The Empire Strikes Back," Roger reviewed the film for its special edition re-release, published on February 21, 1997. He gave the "best of the three 'Star Wars' films" four stars, citing that it's a "visual extravaganza" that creates in us "a sense of...
In a 2012 piece in The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum called the cliffhanger, that mainstay of serialized storytelling, “a climax cracked in half.” It’s an excellent description. A good one hits with a thrill that’s equal parts frustration and gleeful anticipation, leaving its audience giddy from the dopamine rush and, in some cases, a bit pissed off. Both reactions are understandable, sometimes unavoidable. A cliffhanger hinges on telling some, but not all; withholding is part of the equation.
That’s what makes the second season finale of NBC’s “Timeless” such a delicious example of the form. It’s a cliffhanger that doesn’t withhold. There’s still suspense, still plenty left unknown, but the thrill isn’t in an unanswered question, but in sheer possibility. It’s still a climax cracked in half, but the break has moved. On one side, a reveal that changes everything. On the other, nothing but potential. “Timeless” isn’t the first show to pull off this kind of magic trick, but it’s magical all the same. If it doesn’t get renewed, people are going to lose their minds.
Created by Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) and Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”), “Timeless” is, in many ways, a pretty familiar time-travel story. A bad guy steals a time machine. A team comes together—engineer Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), elite soldier Wyatt (Matt Lanter), and historian Lucy (Abigail Spencer)—to stop him with a machine of their own. Before pilot’s end, aforementioned villain Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic)...
Already a recent honoree of the American Society of Cinematographers and the Telluride Film Festival, the cinematographer Edward Lachman ("Wonderstruck," "Carol") received a tribute ceremony at Cannes on Friday. "I'm waiting for the afterlife achievement award," he joked when we met on Friday at a beachfront pavilion hours before the event.
It may not have been his first tribute, but cinematographer, 72, clad in his trademark black hat, showed no signs of tiring when it came to sharing thoughts on his craft or his teachers, who go beyond the world of cinematography.
He began with the photographer Robert Frank. He was "the first image maker that got me interested in images," Lachman said. "To look at 'The Americans,' I realized that here were documented images that he imbued with a certain subjectivity and poetics, in the language and also the visual metaphors and how he represented what he saw." His other formative influences included the writer Dwight Macdonald, with whom he took a course at Harvard, and Vittorio De Sica's movie "Umberto D.," which taught him how a film could be constructed primarily with images, not sound.
Then there are other cinematographers: Vittorio Storaro, Robby Müller (whom he worked with on Wim Wenders's "The American Friend" and Peter Bogdanovich's "They All Laughed"), and Sven Nykvist (with whom he collaborated on "King of the Gypsies" and "Hurricane").
"Sven could remember every shot—how he did it—and I could talk to...
Neil Gaiman’s short story How to Talk to Girls at Parties is about three teenage boys in the 1970’s who love punk. They know so little about girls that when they wander into the wrong party and get mixed up with humanoid-looking aliens they can hardly tell the difference. Gaiman produced the film based on the story, with a screenplay by Philippa Goslett and director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Rabbit Hole”) and a breakthrough performance by Tony-winner Alex Sharp in his first movie role. In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Mitchell talked about punk in the '70s and now and what Gaiman told him was his most important goal for the film.
I loved your party scene in “Shortbus,” and you really exceeded it this time. Tell me about imagining and creating the party for this film.
It is two subcultures, punks and aliens; two tribes who are outsiders suddenly mix. They don't seem to have much in common, but of course love bridges that gap in the classic Romeo and Juliet way and the most rebellious of the aliens runs off with the meekest of the punks and then our story begins. The other two boys have their own subplots, of course, too.
For costumes, we were blessed to have the great Sandy Powell who I’ve known socially and who's won three Oscars and whose first film was with