The House


Into Great Silence

In the beginning was the Word, wrote St. John. The ontology of the man at the center of Christian worship is defined through language. And so it is that Into Great Silence, director Philip Gröning's transcendent documentary about austere, cloistered Carthusian monks, ends up being a (mostly) silent film about communication.

Gröning spent a year living in the Grande Chartreuse monastery, observing the rules proscribed for the monks: silence except when necessary for work, with a weekly four-hour exercise walk where conversation in encouraged. Three hours of sleep at night, followed by two hours of prayer, then another three hours of sleep. Monastery chores and the business of daily life to occupy part of the day, with very little time that could be considered free. The cloistered monks live out the majority of their days alone in a small cell.

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TAGS: into great silence, philip gröning, samuel beckett, sylvia plath, the bell jar, waiting for godot


Bamako: Cinema on Trial

Bamako

What if Al Gore had made Bamako? This is not an absurd or unfair comparison to make. Say what you will about An Inconvenient Truth as a work of cinema, but that slideshow-on-celluloid has proven incredibly effective at galvanizing the cause against global warming. Poverty in Africa could benefit from such a forceful argument (much more so than from celebrity coverage of African orphan adoptions or Hollywood action movies set in Sierra Leone) to more readily enter the public consciousness. Alas, we cannot say that Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako is interested purely in inspiring action against Africa's victimization at the hands of foreign debt. The film, which stages a fantasy trial against international monetary organizations for their victimization of Africans in a perpetual state of poverty, seems rhetorical by design. But there is a deeper and more troubling argument being made here. The film does as much to resist its rhetoric as to support it. What emerges is a grander agenda: not just reclaiming Africa's economic well-being, but its very sense of self.

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TAGS: Abderrahmane Sissako, an inconvenient truth, bamako, danny glover, death in timbuktu, sergio leone


BSG

When the producers of Battlestar Galactica said they wanted to examine the life of the civilians in the fleet, I pictured episodes like the one that aired Sunday night, "Dirty Hands."

The episode's focus was the grunt workers who keep the fleet running by refining fuel, and the voyage into their refinery, basic as it was, was fascinating, shot in a style reminiscent of those famous photos of men constructing skyscrapers and working in mines during the 1930s. One of the things that has prevented Battlestar from taking us into this world in the past is its steadfast resolution to avoid technobabble, something that sunk many an episode of Star Trek. Certainly we wouldn't buy that these massive spaceships run on gasoline or anything like that, so it's necessary to come up with a cheat like tillium (the fuel used in the episode), but once you introduce such an element, there's a temptation to explain how it fits into everything, how it's processed, how the spaceships fill up and so on. Battlestar got around this by keeping everything deliberately vague, as if we were citizens of the Battlestar world and would already know what was going on, as we might when watching a documentary on how gasoline is made.

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TAGS: Aaron Douglas, anne cofell saunders, battlestar galactica, dirty hands, edward james olmos, James Callis, jane espenson, jennifer halley, Mary McDonnell, recap, Tahmoh Penikett, wayne rose


Martin Scorsese

PICTURE
The Departed

DIRECTOR
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

ACTRESS
Helen Mirren, The Queen

ACTOR
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

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TAGS: academy awards, alan arkin, dreamgirls, forest whitaker, helen mirren, jennifer hudson, little miss sunshine, martin scorsese, the departed, the last king of scotland, the queen


Picture: Babel
Directing: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Actor in a Supporting Role: Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Writing (Original Screenplay): The Queen
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Departed
Foreign Language Film: The Lives of Others
Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth
Animated Feature Film: Cars
Documentary Short: Recycled Life
Short Film (Animated): The Danish Poet
Short Film (Live Action): West Bank Story
Film Editing: Babel
Art Direction: Pan's Labyrinth
Cinematography: Children of Men
Costume Design: Marie Antoinette
Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth
Score: The Queen
Song: "I Need To Wake Up," An Inconvenient Truth
Sound Editing: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls
Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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TAGS: academy awards


RKO

Radio-Keith-Orpheum Pictures was the springboard for many of Hollywood's famous players, from David O. Selznick, George Cukor and Max Steiner behind the camera to Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant in front of it. One of the original Big Five studios, RKO became known for B-pictures, Astaire and Rogers musicals, screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby, and a little movie by a young writer-director named Orson Welles. In Hollywood circles, RKO was also known for its constant financial problems; despite having successful runs under Selznick and King Kong creator Merian C. Cooper, the studio's extravagant spending often threatened its existence. The studio changed hands several times (most notably, Howard Hughes' hands) before its original incarnation was dissolved in 1959.

When cinematic crayon wielder Ted Turner bought RKO's library in 1987, no one knew the purchase was short six films. These films were recently discovered by Turner's cable outlet, Turner Classic Movies, and will join its rotation later in 2007. Five of these films have not been seen in any medium since 1959, and the sixth film was thought to be lost forever. These films, originally sold to Merian C. Cooper after he left the studio, are being presented as double features in a one-week retrospective starting today at New York City's Film Forum.

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TAGS: a man to remember, Andy Devine, ann harding, Anne Shirley, conway tearle, dorothy jordan, double harness, Edward Ellis, Franklin Pangborn, Garson Kanin, George Sidney, ginger rogers, Henry Stephenson, irene dunne, James Dunn, joel mccrea, John Cromwell, John S. Robertson, Lee Bowman, Lew Landers, Lionel Barrymore, living on love, mary boland, norman foster, one man's journey, rafter romance, Richard Dix, RKO, Robert Benchley, stingaree


Babel

Anyone who has followed this year's Oscar race for Best Picture knows that the stats above are not meant as a joke. An intelligent case, pro and con, can be made for every single one of these films. Letters from Iwo Jima has the intelligence, grace, and prestige, but it's told in a foreign tongue (a deterrent for those who claim to care about movies but really don't) and enters the race having made very little money and without a DGA nomination, though a case could be made that Clint Eastwood failed to make that cut with his peers when his two war films split nomination votes. Stephen Frears's The Queen lacks for passion, but there is something to be said about a film whose banal TV-ness offends no one except for elk. The Departed is a film fans of Martin Scorsese can be proud of without back-bending excuses, but there is still the fact that half its cast gets shot in the head at close range. (The Best Picture polls being conducted on the home pages of this site and The Film Experience would suggest the film is way out in the lead, but when cinephilles are your core demographic it's easy to chalk up results like these to wishful thinking.) Little Miss Sunshine, a film whose only offense is the ridiculous fondness some seem to have for it, won both the SAG ensemble award and the PGA prize, but there's still the fact that comedies rarely win here and that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris weren't nominated in the directing category. Babel, a film that desperately wants to give the illusion of import, has kept people busy connecting its spurious dots for months now, but there is still a considerable amount of people who have seen through the gas it emits. The closest thing to an epic in the category, Babel may not inspire the same intense affection and loathing people have for Crash, but its epic-scale tapestry of interconnected stories should appeal to voters feeling a little global this year. Also, if there is one precedent that's impossible to ignore it's the fact that Oscar has a history of rewarding the very worst film in this category.

Will Win: Babel

Should Win: Letters from Iwo Jima

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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TAGS: academy awards, babel, letters from iwo jima, little miss sunshine, the departed, the queen


The Number 23

I'm sure there must have been an episode of Sesame Street where the friendly neighborhood of cheerful humans and adorable puppets wanted to throttle the Count, a character obsessive in his love to count things. Throughout The Number 23, a psychological thriller/puzzle movie where Jim Carrey is driven into a state of heightened lunacy by seeing the magical number 23 everywhere ("You and I met when we were 23!"; "Your license plate begins with the numbers two...three!"; "I was born on February 3...2/3!"), I started thinking of our friend the Count. If he had been cast in the role instead of Jim Carrey, The Number 23 might have been a useful exercise for children of all ages instead of a childish exercise that, in lieu of depth, is content to wallow in protracted, circuitous babble.

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TAGS: Danny Huston, Fernley Phillips, jim carrey, joel schumacher, Logan Lerman, Lynn Collins, the number 23, virginia madsen


Lillian Ross

In Lillian Ross' 1952 Picture, believed to be the first making-of-a-movie book, director John Huston described Hollywood as, "a closed in, tight, frantically inbred, and frantically competitive jungle." Ross is that jungle's most experienced and attentive zoologist.

For over half a century, she has chronicled the industry's aesthetic and financial turf wars in the pages of The New Yorker. The job produced 11 books, including Picture (about Huston's The Red Badge of Courage, (originally published as a series titled "Production Number 1512") but also the anthologies Reporting (1961) and Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism (1961); Moments with Chaplin (1962), about her long friendship with Charlie Chaplin; The Player: A Profile of an Art (1962, co-written with her sister Helen Ross), a series of actor profiles written in first-person; the satirical novel Vertical and Horizontal (1963); and most notoriously, 1998's Here but Not Here, about her long affair with New Yorker editor William Shawn.

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TAGS: lillian ross, moments with chaplin, museum of modern art, otto preminger, picture, reporting, reporting back: notes on journalism, the new yorker, the player: a profile of an art, vertical and horizontal


The Black Donnellys

It's tempting to write off The Black Donnellys (premiering Monday night at 10 p.m. EST on NBC) as The Sopranos Lite. And, to be fair, in many ways it is.

It's got the same greasy thrill of the underworld aesthetic that the superior HBO series has. Its one differing trait—that it traces how a gang of mobsters got to the top instead of starting that chronicle when the mobsters were already at the top—isn't sufficiently different enough to set it far enough apart from Tony and his crew. Even the larger themes (the importance of family, the gradual corrupting influence of crime) are major Sopranos themes (not to mention major themes of those other two modern documents of the mob—The Godfather movies and Goodfellas). Add in the fact that the series comes from the much-vilified Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Best Picture winner Crash; Haggis, in addition, was responsible for the script for the previous Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, too), and you have what seems like a recipe for a hubristic failure.

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TAGS: Bobby Moresco, Erinn Hayes, Graham Yost, jeff goldblum, Jonathan Tucker, Keir Gilchrist, kevin nobbs, olivia wilde, paul haggis, raines, Rob Corddry, the black donnellys, the winner







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