It's a pretty interesting week for theatrical releases, and we'll get to those in a moment, but it's an outstanding week for Robert Ryan fans. The Chicago Reader presents a recently discovered letter Ryan probably wrote in the early 50s is addressed to his children and describes his own years growing up in the Windy City. "Nostalgic and sometimes drily witty, it offers a revealing glimpse into Ryan's stoic personality as well as evocative recollections of Chicago in the teens and 1920s," write JR Jones in a terrific piece introducing the weekly's cover package, which also includes a guide to "The Essential Robert Ryan."
As it happens, Ryan would turn 100 this coming Wednesday and over at TCM's blog, the Movie Morlocks have begun celebrating the centennial early. Writes moirafinnie in a thorough introduction: "This tribute will last through the coming week... In addition to our words, TCM will be offering cinematic proof of the reasons for this event with two days of Robert Ryan movies on November 10th and 11th."
Richard Harland Smith: "My favorite Robert Ryan performance - and brother is that distinction hard to single out - is as the misanthropic movie projectionist Earl Pfeiffer in Fritz Lang's Clash By Night (1953)." Meantime, highhurdler puts together a "chronology of some lesser known Robert Ryan films."
Update, 11/7: morlockjeff on Odds Against Tomorrow. Update, 11/8: "It was Robert Ryan's last role, and also one of his best performances." keelsetter on The Iceman Cometh. Update, 11/10: suzidoll on God's Little Acre, medusamorlock on Beware, My Lovely and R Emmet Sweeney on Men in War.
Update, 11/11: Today's the day, and Ivan G Shreve is celebrating at Edward Copeland on Film.
"Richard Kelly, the writer and director of the much-loved Donnie Darko and much-loathed Southland Tales, has a thing for the apocalypse," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Like those films, his latest, The Box, is sincere and sinister and inevitably ambitious, a serious work that insists on its own seriousness even when it edges toward the preposterous.... The similarities among all three of his features (he also wrote the screenplay for Domino) are striking and suggest that Mr Kelly is developing a worldview, puzzling through the great questions, or fast-working himself into a creative impasse, maybe all three."
For Amy Taubin, this "is no Donnie Darko." Writing in Artforum, she may tell more of the story than you'll want to hear before you see the film, but: "Kelly may have learned as much from the hacks (Robert Zemeckis) as from the masters (Stanley Kubrick), but the sense of claustrophobia and impending doom created by precisely skewed camera angles and floating camera moves, lenses that compress or stretch space, loving attention to everyday places and objects under threat, a few shock edits, and a Hitchcock-worthy score by three members of Arcade Fire makes the experience of the film far more intense than my plot description suggests."
More from Simon Abrams (House Next Door), Mark Asch (Stop Smiling), David Denby (New Yorker), William Goss (Cinematical), Ed Howard, Michelle Orange (Movieline), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nicolas Rapold (L), James Rocchi (MSN), Nick Schager (Slant), John Swansburg (Slate) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Ari Karpel tells the story behind the film's making in the NYT. Interviews with Kelly: Mr Beaks (AICN), Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Kyle Buchanan (Movieline), Philippe Garnier (LA Weekly), Aaron Hillis (IFC), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix) and Jeff Reichert (Reverse Shot). Online listening tip. IFC's Alison Willmore and Matt Singer "discuss films that, while not directly related to Rod Serling's series, are definitely Twilight Zone-esque" and "suggest six episodes we could see getting fleshed out into features."
Since Amy Taubin mentioned Robert Zemeckis, we might as well move right along to A Christmas Carol. "While the 3D gimcrackery, which Zemeckis pioneered in The Polar Express and Beowulf, should keep the kids engaged, [Jim] Carrey's knack for finding character within caricature makes this an experience that probes and touches as much as it pokes and nudges," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "And Zemeckis' fidelity to the text (virtually every word comes from Dickens) boldly underlines the story's poignant contemporary relevance."
But for the London Times' Wendy Ide, "There is something very wrong here. Stories from the pen of Dickens should chug along comfortably like a steam train, not hurtle headlong at the speed of a supersonic jet on test manoeuvres."
More from Seth Abramovitch (Movieline), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Wally Hammond (Time Out London), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Keith Phipps (AV Club), James Rocchi (Red Blog), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), Dana Stevens (Slate) Ella Taylor (Voice), Scott Tobias (NPR), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York), Armond White (New York Press), Mary Elizabeth Williams (Salon) and Michael Wilmington (Movie City News). Online viewing tip. The Guardian talks with Zemeckis about his central concept and with Colin Firth about performance capture.
"Bearing a snarky, double-take title and a premise like a glazed pig on a platter, Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats can't help but get us salivating - be it Chayefskyian satire or schizoid paranormal headtrip or Coenesque destiny farce, we'll gobble it down, especially if it is, as this movie is, based on reported fact." Michael Atkinson for IFC: "American military new age telekinetic absurdism! The brown-acid substance of reporter Jon Ronson's book by the same name is the dizzying crucible at hand - too ludicrous and all true to resist, and yet so much the sum of its chortlesome vignettes that filming it would require either the cargo-cult undergroundism of a Craig Baldwin or the imposed narrative arc of an over-punctuated Hollywood biopic. Regrettably, Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan and producer/star George Clooney have opted for the latter. Which is to say, the madness has been dressed for dinner, and clear soup is served."
Most agree, but I did want to add this from Paul Constant in the Stranger: "You can forget about Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler and all the rest: George Clooney is the best actor in the world if you're looking for someone to play a credible idiot. A George Clooney idiot is shallow and utterly self-involved, but he is a complete person - a complete, shallow, self-involved person. Traditionally, Clooney has saved his best idiots for the Coen brothers - his doltish performance in Burn After Reading is a masterwork - but Clooney's Lyn Cassady, the psychic warrior who drives the plot of The Men Who Stare at Goats, gives his best fools a real run for their money."
More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Mark Asch (L), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Josef Braun, Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly), Bob Cashill (Popdose), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), J Hoberman (Voice), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Kevin Maher (Times), Noel Murray (AV Club), Tim Robey (Telegraph), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Ben Walters (TOL), Bill Weber (Slant), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
MJ Stephey interviews Ronson for Time. For the Guardian, Mark Pilkington "rounds up his top five military myths about the military, and suggests why they tend to stick." Some fun online viewing at Vulture: Ewan McGregor and Craig Ferguson. Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.
"Shame on Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for signing on as air-quote executive producers of Precious," declares Armond White in this week's New York Press cover story (you'll have heard about this). "Perry and Winfrey may think Precious is serious, but [director Lee] Daniels is hoisting his freak flag. He gets off on degradation.... Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious."
For the L's Mark Asch, "Armond White makes nameless caucasian film critics and audience members into straw men in a way that's both problematic and inaccurate. Which is a shame, because he's also spot-on about why Precious is a much worse movie than many reviewers seem willing to let on, and about the inadvertent condescension in their liberal-guilty reviews."
David Edelstein has spent the better part of the week defending himself from attacks sparked by his review in New York, which isn't even a full-blown pan.
For David Poland, Scott Foundas's review in the Voice is "an intellectual pretzel."
At any rate, the film does have its defenders, among them, Stuart Klawans in the Nation: "I think everything that's most admirable about Precious can be summed up in Daniels's treatment of [Gabourey] Sidibe: how he keeps her safe and intact within a fully committed performance. This is more than kindness toward a novice who took on a risky role. It's part of a pattern in Daniels's approach, and evidence of his paradoxical modesty."
More from Robert Davis (Paste), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Benjamin Mercer (L), Noel Murray (AV Club), AO Scott (NYT), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). In "Problems With Precious" at the Atlantic Wire, Mara Gay rounds up five more takes.
Mo'Nique, whose performance as Claireece Precious Jones's mother has been garnering frightened raves, talks with Sidibe for Interview; ST VanAirsdale talks with her as well for Movieline. Interviews with Daniels and Sidibe: Capone (AICN) and Nathan Rabin (AV Club). The Daily Beast runs a package of profiles. Online viewing. David Poland talks with Daniels. Earlier: The NYFF roundup.
"The current documentary landscape is chockfull of doom-laden scenarios of every stripe," begins Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "If global warming (An Inconvenient Truth) doesn't get you, then maybe genetically engineered Frankenfoods (Food, Inc.), will. Or contaminated water (Flow). Or crushing personal (Maxed Out) and national (I.O.U.S.A.) debt. But few apocalyptic visions are as comprehensive and frighteningly assured as the one offered by Michael Ruppert, the subject of Chris Smith's mesmerizing new documentary Collapse."
More from Michael Atkinson (IFC), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), David Fear (TONY), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Jeff Reichert (indieWIRE), Nick Schager (Slant) and Justin Stewart (L). Interviews with Smith: Brandon Harris (Filmmaker), Bilge Ebiri (Vulture), indieWIRE and Stephen Saito (IFC).
"For Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook), 80-year-old farmer and nursing home escapee, a small piece of Tennessee farmland represents the fruits of a lifetime of hard work and a chance to live out his remaining years in freedom." Andrew Schenker in Slant: "For Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), poor white and alcoholic, it means a chance to start over and make a new life for his family - as well as a chance to validate his fragile sense of manhood. And in dramatizing the blood feud that erupts between the two men over ownership of a small piece of this land, That Evening Sun gets at something essential about man's sense of his own dignity and the importance to the American notion of self that comes with the possession of a property of one's own."
More from Stephen Garrett (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Henry Stewart (L) and Chuck Wilson (Voice). Aaron Hillis talks with Holbrook for IFC. At Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully interviews director Scott Teems.
"A cool hobby and a hot blonde guide an aimless young man to his bliss in Splinterheads, a shaggy comedy with more heart than heft," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Nick Schager (Slant).
"A clever marketing campaign in search of a movie, The Fourth Kind tries to cash in on the current trend in horror movies: pretending to be a documentary to raise gooseflesh." Robert Horton in the Herald. More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Matt Barone (Critic's Notebook), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Scott Foundas (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), James Rocchi (Red Blog), Mike Russell (Oregonian) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"A dutiful and sober-minded recreation of the secret negotiations that led to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa, Endgame is one of those films whose heart-in-the-right-place earnestness is so palpable that you kind of feel bad knocking it," sighs Matthew Connelly in Slant. More from Melissa Anderson in the Voice.
FESTS AND EVENTS
The Oregonian's Shawn Levy previews the 36th Northwest Film and Video Festival, running tonight through November 14.
The Chicago Reader has capsule reviews and previews for the Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival (through November 15) and the Polish Film Festival in America (tonight through November 22).
In the Scene, Jim Ridley has an overview of the Nashville Jewish Film Festival, running through Thursday.
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you'll want to see Michael Hawley's initial roundup of November goings. At the Evening Class, Frako Loden previews 3rd i, or the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, running on through the weekend.
"It's the Hollywood [Ingrid] Bergman that is remembered - especially for Hitchcock roles and Casablanca, though she never thought much of the latter - while her numerous European films remain mostly little-known." Dennis Harvey at SF360: "The Pacific Film Archive is offering a rare overview of them via A Woman's Face: Ingrid Bergman in Europe, a series running Nov 4 - Dec 17 that samples over four decades of work on the Continent."
Faces of Tsai Ming-Liang runs at the Asia Society and Museum in New York from November 13 through 21.
"Unlike most mythical beasts, it is generally agreed that the essay film exists, even if no one has ever truly seen one," writes Andrew Tracy. "More than most generic tags - or dare we even refer to it as a genre? - the term is dauntingly elastic, unto the point of complete taxonomic incoherence. This indeed may be the only point of agreement among those who would attempt to classify the thing, as Jean-Pierre Gorin duly acknowledges in his program notes for Cinematheque Ontario's two-part retrospective The Way of the Termite: The Essay Film." Through December 3.
Also at Moving Image Source: On the occasion of the Alain Resnais retrospective currently at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (click here to see where it moves on from there), Jonathan Rosenbaum revisits Statues Also Die (1953), "a remarkable duet between [Chris] Marker's literary fervor and a detailed as well as despairing political vision - a combination of speculative art history, precise journalism, and a grim meditation on the various places and functions Africa and its separate cultures have assumed within white civilization - and Resnais's musically and rhythmically orchestrated illustration of and counterpoint to this extraordinary text. Both of these strains can be said to embody, empower, and enhance as well as accompany the other, but it would be pointless to try to synopsize either Marker's multifaceted argument or Resnais's elaborately composed and articulated assembly of images, much less attempt to describe how effectively they complement one another. It appears that this film took years to put together, but it moves with a fluency and directness that is never labored."