Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From Variety:
Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, who became an icon of arthouse cinema with films such as "L'avventura" and "Blowup," died Monday in Rome. He was 94.

The enigmatic British-made drama "Blowup" (1966) took the Palme d'Or in Cannes, was Oscar-nommed for director and original screenplay and became a surprise international hit.

A striking visual stylist who excelled at depicting the alienation of modern life through sparse dialogue and long takes, Antonioni enjoyed a greater following with critics and intellectuals than with general audiences. Along with Federico Fellini, he helped turn postwar Italian film away from neorealism and toward a personal cinema of imagination.

Cinema has lost two masters this week, with Ingmar Bergman and Antonioni passing away on the very same day. It is a tragic week for the art of film. These two men have created some of the art forms most enduring masterpieces, and through their work, their spirit will live on.

Monday, July 30, 2007

From Variety:

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, one of the masters of modern cinema whose brooding and incisive studies of the human psyche won international acclaim -- and three Oscars -- died Monday at age 89.

Bergman died at his home in Faro, Sweden, his daughter Eva Bergman told Swedish media. A cause of death wasn't immediately available, but according to friends, he had never fully recovered from an October hip operation.

Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" (1960), "Through a Glass Darkly" (1961) and "Fanny and Alexander" (1982) won the foreign-language Academy Award. The director also won the Irving Thalberg Award as well as the Directors Guild of America's D.W. Griffith Award for lifetime contribution. In addition, he was nominated for Oscars multiple times in the writing and/or directing categories.
Bergman was truly one of the greats. I was first introduced to him with The Seventh Seal, his cerebral and haunting examination of mortality, and one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. Watching it has always reminded me that they just don't make them like they used to.

Hats off to you, Mr. Bergman, wherever you are. The film world has lost an icon.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


This is the first I have heard about the death of Cherriece Wright, the critic whose mantle I inherited when she left the Dispatch a couple of years ago.

I first met Cherriece my sophomore year of high school when she came to speak to my Mass Media class about movie reviewing. I had no idea at the time of course, that in a couple of years I would be hired as a correspondent free-lancer to work alongside her reviewing films. But I remember being charmed by her immediately...she was hard not to like. She had a spirit and an energy about her that was simply infectious.

When I first started writing for the Dispatch as a columnist for the teen page in 2004, Cherriece was the primary film reviewer. Later, after I graduated high school, we split the duties of reviewing films on the Lifestyles page, sometimes even engaging in published debates about who we thought should take home Oscars (in 2004 she was a supporter of Ray, and I was an advocate for Sideways).

As a general rule, she would always have first pick of what movie she would review that week. However I remember one time the movie she planned to review also happened to be the one I had asked for that week. She graciously let me have it, and took on the second-tier film that neither of us really wanted to see, saying it was okay, that she hadn't "crucified anything lately." That movie was The Alamo, which I ended up giving a scathing review, so there ended up being two crucifixions in the paper that week.

Eventually, Cherriece left the paper due to her health, and the sole responsibility of reviewing movies for the Dispatch fell to me. Our styles and our tastes may have been radically different, but I enjoyed what little time I had with her. She was a good reviewer and a terrific presence. Her wit made for interesting dialogues, and she will be missed.

35 years just wasn't enough time.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oh the torment bred in the race
the grinding scream of death
and the stroke that hits the vein
the hemorrage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house

and not outside it, no,
not from others but from them,
their bloody strife. We sing to you
dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground -

answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.

- Aeshylus, The Libation Bearers

And so begins Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's phenomenal series of novels that began ten years ago with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997.

I discovered Harry Potter in 1999 when I was 13. I was in 8th grade, and while the books were popular, Potter mania had yet to grip the nation the way it would when the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. There were three books already when I started reading them, and I devoured them one after the other in quick succession, and awaited anxiously the arrival of the fourth novel, which at the time was announced to be called Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament.

I bought my copy of the seventh book today after work, and on my way back home it hit me - this really is the end. It's over. These books, this phenomenon, these are not mere words on a page. This is the childhood of millions across the world. And today it comes to an end. I have spent eight years with these characters, many have spent all ten. We have lived their lives, we have shared their joys and their sorrows, their triumphs and their defeats. They have been our friends, and we have been theirs. We have stood next to Harry as he fought his way through a living chess game, laughed with his friends, dueled a giant serpent, snuck through the castle in the dead of night, vanquished an army of hooded, soul-sucking Dementors, battled dragons, met a host of eccentric characters, faced dark lords, outwitted evil teachers, escaped zombies, and watched those he has cared about the most die before his eyes. And suddenly the gravity and finality of it all sank in, and driving home from work with the book nestled safely in the passenger seat, I started to cry. And I thought it rather silly that I was crying over buying a book, but this is not just any book. When I bought that book, I knew something was ending that has been a huge part of my life for the last eight years. Sure the books will still be there, as will the movies. But it’s not the same. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is finished, I will never again know the wonder of reading a Harry Potter book for the first time. The late nights, breathlessly turning pages to find out what happens next will be a thing of the past.

When I got home and opened the book, I began to cry before I had even finished reading Rowling’s dedication - to those of us who have stuck with Harry until the end. And as I began to read, I was struck the most by its seriousness. We knew at the ending of the sixth book that nothing could ever be the same again in Harry’s world - that the last bit of innocence had died. But the humor, the light, friendly moments that made Hogwarts such a welcoming place for all of us staying up past our bedtime to read just one more chapter are just a distant memory in a very dark and bleak world. Those of us among the original group of fans have grown up, and indeed Harry has grown up with us.

I do not know how this book will end. But I do know that no matter what happens it has been a fantastic journey, full of wonder, magic, and excitement. And we will never forget Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius, Lupin, Ginny, Mad-Eye Moody, Snape, Mrs. Weasley, Fred, George, Tonks, Hedwig, Neville, Luna, Gilderoy Lockhart, Nearly-Headless Nick, and all the rest who have been with us on this marvelous adventure.

This has been the childhood for an entire generation. And something tells me it will continue to be the childhood of many for generations to come.

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude - from the prologue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Having had internet connection problems for the last few days, and a nice day off yesterday, I've spent the time catching up on a few movies from last year that I missed.

First was Keeping Mum - a clever, if frothy, little British comedy about a a sweet, mild-mannered housekeeper (Maggie Smith) who comes to live with a vicar and his troubled family in the English countryside. While her perfection seems to help the family, they soon uncover a dark secret - their housekeeper is a murderer.

Dame Maggie being my favorite actress, I found her role in the film to be delightful, even if the movie is not a great one. The performances elevate the film, which really is wickedly funny and disarmingly sweet, if not quite as nasty as it thinks it is. It's still a pleasant little diversion and earns three stars.

The other film is a different story altogether. Jean-Pierre Melville's lost masterpiece, Army of Shadows, which was made in 1969 but went unreleased in the United States until last year, is a powerful piece of work. A stunning, magisterial cloak and dagger drama about the inner workings of the French Resistance during WWII, Army of Shadows is one of those rare films that reinvigorates your faith in the capabilities of cinema. It is a masterwork, one where a very good case could be made for it being one of the greatest films of all time. Melville's film is fascinating and endlessly engrossing, and ultimately deeply moving and tragic.

It's further proof that they just don't make 'em like they used to.

Special shout-outs go to Mike Binder's tender Reign Over Me, the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse, the delightful comedy, Knocked Up, and the year's best horror film, 28 Weeks Later.

Also, while not quite top ten quality, if you haven't seen The Last Mimzy yet you really should. It's available to rent now so you're running out of excuses...it's one of the most charming family films I've seen in a long time.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Dear CNN,

Well, the week is over -- and still no apology, no retraction, no correction of your glaring mistakes.

I bet you thought my dust-up with Wolf Blitzer was just a cool ratings coup, that you really wouldn't have to correct the false statements you made about "Sicko." I bet you thought I was just going to go quietly away.

Think again. I'm about to become your worst nightmare. 'Cause I ain't ever going away. Not until you set the record straight, and apologize to your viewers. "The Most Trusted Name in News?" I think it's safe to say you can retire that slogan.

You have an occasional segment called "Keeping Them Honest." But who keeps you honest? After what the public saw with your report on "Sicko," and how many inaccuracies that report contained, how can anyone believe anything you say on your network? In the old days, before the Internet, you could get away with it. Your victims had no way to set the record straight, to show the viewers how you had misrepresented the truth. But now, we can post the truth -- and back it up with evidence and facts -- on the web, for all to see. And boy, judging from the mail both you and I have been receiving, the evidence I have posted on my site about your "Sicko" piece has led millions now to question your honesty.

I won't waste your time rehashing your errors. You know what they are. What I want to do is help you come clean. Admit you were wrong. What is the shame in that? We all make mistakes. I know it's hard to admit it when you've screwed up, but it's also liberating and cathartic. It not only makes you a better person, it helps prevent you from screwing up again. Imagine how many people will be drawn to a network that says, "We made a mistake. We're human. We're sorry. We will make mistakes in the future -- but we will always correct them so that you know you can trust us." Now, how hard would that really be?

As you know, I hold no personal animosity against you or any of your staff. You and your parent company have been very good to me over the years. You distributed my first film, "Roger & Me" and you published "Dude, Where's My Country?" Larry King has had me on twice in the last two weeks. I couldn't ask for better treatment.

That's why I was so stunned when you let a doctor who knows a lot about brain surgery -- but apparently very little about public policy -- do a "fact check" story, not on the medical issues in "Sicko," but rather on the economic and political information in the film. Is this why there has been a delay in your apology, because you are trying to get a DOCTOR to say he was wrong? Please tell him not to worry, no one is filing a malpractice claim against him. Dr. Gupta does excellent and compassionate stories on CNN about people's health and how we can take better care of ourselves. But when it came time to discuss universal health care, he rushed together a bunch of sloppy -- and old -- research. When his producer called us about his report the day before it aired, we sent to her, in
an email, all the evidence so that he wouldn't make any mistakes on air. He chose to ignore ALL the evidence, and ran with all his falsehoods -- even though he had been given the facts a full day before! How could that happen? And now, for 5 days, I have posted on my website, for all to see, every mistake and error he made.

You, on the other hand, in the face of this overwhelming evidence and a huge public backlash, have chosen to remain silent, probably praying and hoping this will all go away.

Well it isn't. We are now going to start looking into the veracity of other reports you have aired on other topics. Nothing you say now can be believed. In 2002, the New York Times busted you for bringing celebrities on your shows and not telling your viewers they were paid spokespeople for the pharmaceutical companies. You promised never to do it again. But there you were, in 2005, talking to Joe Theismann, on air, as he pushed some drug company-sponsored website on prostate health. You said nothing about about his affiliation with GlaxoSmithKline.

Clearly, no one is keeping you honest, so I guess I'm going to have to do that job, too. $1.5 billion is spent each year by the drug companies on ads on CNN and the other four networks. I'm sure that has nothing to do with any of this. After all, if someone gave me $1.5 billion, I have to admit, I might say a kind word or two about them. Who wouldn't?!

I expect CNN to put this matter to rest. Say you're sorry and correct your story -- like any good journalist would.

Then we can get back to more important things. Like a REAL discussion about our broken health care system. Everything else is a distraction from what really matters.

Michael Moore

P.S. If you also want to apologize for not doing your job at the start of the Iraq War, I'm sure most Americans would be very happy to accept your apology. You and the other networks were willing partners with Bush, flying flags all over the TV screens and never asking the hard questions that you should have asked. You might have prevented a war. You might have saved the lives of those 3,610 soldiers who are no longer with us. Instead, you blew air kisses at a commander in chief who clearly was making it all up. Millions of us knew that -- why didn't you? I think you did. And, in my opinion, that makes you responsible for this war. Instead of doing the job the founding fathers wanted you to do -- keeping those in power honest (that's why they made it the FIRST amendment) -- you and much of the media went on the attack against the few public figures like myself who dared to question the nightmare we were about to enter. You've never thanked me or the Dixie Chicks or Al Gore for doing your job for you. That's OK. Just tell the truth from this point on.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Actual weekend box office tallies:

1. Transformers - $70,502,384
2. Ratatouille - $29,014,293
3. Live Free or Die Hard - $17,730,149
4. License to Wed - $10,422,258
5. Evan Almighty - $8,719,135
6. 1408 - $7,088,979
7. Knocked Up - $5,222,680
8. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - $4,239,993
9. Sicko - $3,600,179
10. Ocean's Thirteen - $3,525,366

Source: Box Office Mojo

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Susan Thea Peacock posted this spot on entry over at Awards Daily:

You know what it’s like. You’re watching and perhaps being entertained by a movie, but you’re not enveloped by it. Then something happens—a shot, a line, a kiss, a sigh—and you are magically and profoundly transported to a place deep inside yourself.

Up until seeing Ratatouille this week, I hadn’t experienced that kind of sucked-from-your-seat moment in the cinema this year. It could be the first true Oscar contender of the year—not surprising given it comes from Pixar and the creative mind of Brad Bird, auteur of the Oscar-winning hit The Incredibles and the critically beloved, if under-seen The Iron Giant.

A film that shares its predecessors’ wit and anarchic spirit, it is a scene toward the end that really resonates. If you haven’t seen it yet, there are semi-spoilers after the jump.

The beat I’m referring to captures the inner life of a somewhat secondary, though crucial character: famished food-critic Anton Ego, who is voiced wonderfully by Peter O’Toole. When tasting the titular meal, we are thrust into his memory as he recalls a moment from his childhood.

I agree completely with Peacock. The moment she refers to is also my favorite scene in the film. The moment Anton Ego placed that first bite of ratatouille in his mouth and his eyes widened, my eyes teared up and suddenly I was a kid again too, watching classic Disney cartoons with my parents and re-experiencing the magic they bring.

Ratatouille captures the glory, the wonder, and the charm of a Disney long since passed. It is a masterpiece - the best American film of the year thus far. It is one of the most thrillingly original cinematic experiences I have had in a long time. Not since Hayao Miyazaki's luminous Spirited Away have I been so enraptured by an animated film.

This is one for the ages, folks - the kind of film that reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place.

Yes, I'll say it. Ratatouille is perfect.