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Updated: 2017-04-27T11:41:00-05:00


Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: April 27, 2017


10 NEW TO NETFLIX"The BFG""The Daughter""The Eyes of My Mother""Kubo and the Two Strings""Mifune: The Last Samurai""Newtown""The Prestige""Queen of Katwe""The Secret Life of Pets""Southside with You"14 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD"Buena Vista Social Club" (Criterion)Wim Wenders' Oscar-nominated concert film is more than just a document of a music event. It is a joyous celebration, made more powerful by where it takes place. The film centers on Ry Cooder, a friend of Wenders, and how he assembled a multi-talented group of Cuban musicians to play two concerts, one in Amsterdam and one in New York. It's hard to believe this film is almost 20 years old (and Lucy Walker has shot a follow-up that will get a limited theatrical release next month) and fun to remember how it gave these musicians such a brief but bright moment in the spotlight. Wenders' fictional work has been widely beloved, but Criterion has also devoted energy to his documentaries, releasing "Pina" and now this, one of his biggest hits. Turn it up.Buy it here Special FeaturesNew high-definition digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-rayAudio commentary from 1999 featuring director Wim WendersNew interview with WendersInterview from 1998 with musician Compay Segundo on his career and the world of Cuban musicRadio interviews from 2000 featuring musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and othersAdditional scenesTrailerPLUS: An essay by author and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro"Daughters of the Dust"Cohen Media Group spearheaded a restoration of Julie Dash's debut film last year, releasing it in theaters and even sending Dash out on a festival/press tour. It shed light on a film that history almost forgot. According to NPR, "Daughters of the Dust" was the first film directed by an African-American female writer to receive a national theatrical release. How interesting that some have credited Beyonce's "Lemonade," which borrows from Dash's film visually, with reigniting interest in it. However we got here, I'm happy that Cohen has seen fit to follow-up the revival of the film last year with a very solid Blu-ray release. This is an important chapter in film history. Let's make sure we don't forget it again.Buy it here Special FeaturesInterview with Julie Dash and Dr. Stephanie Dunn, Director of Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies at Morehouse CollegeQ&A with Director Julie Dash and Actress Cheryl Bruce at the Chicago International Film Festival, moderated by Actress Regina TaylorInterview with Cinematographer Arthur JafaAudio Commentary with Director Julie Dash and Michelle MaterreRe-release Trailer"Dead or Alive Trilogy"Speaking of important chapters in film history, Takashi Miike definitely gets his own. There was a moment around the turn of the century in which Miike would have been one of the hottest subjects on Film Twitter if there was such a thing. 1999's "Audition" and 2001's "Ichi the Killer" bookended the first film in what would become known as the "Dead or Alive" trilogy, recently released in a gorgeous set from Arrow Films. The three films have nothing narratively in common but they're all crazy style, especially the first, influential work, one of the first Miike movies I saw. He's only made about three dozen since then, but he's still going strong, with a new film premiering in just a few weeks at Cannes. I feel like we're just getting to the point where we can appreciate Miike. He's a filmmaker we'll be talking about long after he's gone, and the "Dead or Alive" films are a very important part of his legacy. They're almost purposefully imperfect, but they display a filmmaker willing to take risks that most have never even considered.Buy it here Special FeaturesNew Interview with Actor Riki Takeuchi New Interview with Actor Show Aikawa New Interview with Producer and Screenwiter Toshiki Kinura New Audio Commentary for Dead or Alive by Miike Biographer Tom Mes Archive Interviews with Cast and Crew Archive Making-of Featurettes for DOA2: Birds and DOA: Final Orig[...]

Netflix’s Admirable “Dear White People” is Rough Around the Edges


Justin Simien’s 2014 debut feature “Dear White People” was a film of the moment upon release. The college campus satire arrived at a time when conversations about identity politics were bubbling up to the mainstream, despite occurring in dorm rooms, households, and diverse social gatherings for time immemorial. “Dear White People” took a sledgehammer to the myth of a post-racial America and articulated the various positions of modern black identity, appropriately treating it as malleable as opposed to fixed or monolithic. Nevertheless, Simien’s film was a flawed enterprise; it essentially tried to incorporate too many complex ideas across too much space in too little time, rendering most of it a scattershot collection of moments rather than a cohesive gut-punch. Though its charged content necessarily communicated many “academic” concepts—systemic racism, white privilege, and microaggressions to name a few, which are now beginning to be broadly accepted as sociocultural truths by many non-ivory tower folks—Simien’s formal organization often belied these efforts and obscured the genuine points he was trying to make. So, credit where it’s due: Simien admirably corrects this in his “Dear White People” Netflix series. He doesn’t just rework all of the film’s ideas into a different structural mode, allowing them to successfully breathe and develop across ten episodes, but also goes further than the source material, conveying the trials and tribulations people of color face in a predominantly white environment. Though Simien’s series ostensibly focuses on collegiate activism, it’s more about the fluid, performative nature of identity, and how it’s frequently complicated by new stimulus and personal experience. It argues that people naturally gravitate towards self-defining labels, and yet those labels are inherently unable to cover the breadth of a person’s individual identity, especially when the people in question are abused and targeted by society. “Dear White People” follows an ensemble cast of characters who attend the fictional, prestigious Winchester University, an Ivy League-type institution, as they navigate the college’s social climate in the immediate aftermath of a “blackface” party on campus. Samantha White (Logan Browning) takes to her radio show (“Dear White People”) to express her righteous frustration at the students and the administration’s lack of understanding about POC concerns. She and her fellow Black Student Union comrades—her best friend Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) and her partner-in-activism Reggie (Marque Richardson, reprising his role from the film) among others—are in the throes of protesting the campus’ ills, but, on the side, she’s dealing with her relationship with her white “Gosling-eyed” T.A. Gabe (John Patrick Amedori). Meanwhile, BMOC Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell, also reprising his film role) and social climber Coco Conners (Antoinette Robertson) struggle with maneuvering between the world of the elite and their own student communities. All the while, the nebbishy, semi-closeted journalist Lionel (DeRon Horton) reports the many ideological and literal battles as he’s trying to find a voice of his own. Generally speaking, the series excels when it simply documents the characters’ lives while they negotiate different identity conflicts, embracing contradictions within perspectives and allowing them to be wrong in the moment as opposed to infallible mouthpieces. Simien and company take a panoramic view to Winchester life, an approach supported by the binge-conducive Netflix model; they follow a different character each episode as they contend with a campus-wide crisis or embark on their own adventure. The diffuse focus begets the writers’ ability to tackle multiple different topics and organically cultivate each character’s point of view, regularly leaving the season-long narrative in the background. In fact, the best thing about “Dear White People” is that it adopts the l[...]

Emphatic and Abundant Love: The Work of Jonathan Demme


The world lost one of its best filmmakers this week with the death of Jonathan Demme. It's difficult to imagine a film writer who wasn't greatly influenced by his work and worldview. Matt Zoller Seitz penned our obituary, but we wanted to let other members of our staff share their thoughts on a filmmaking legend.BRIAN TALLERICOThis may sound simple, but Jonathan Demme loved his characters. Clarice Starling, Audrey Hankel, Angela de Marco, the title characters of Ricki & Rachel—he loved them in spite of (or maybe because of) their flaws. It sometimes feels like a shocking number of filmmakers don't. But with Demme, it really felt like he became a filmmaker because of how much he loved people, and he longed to convey the passion he felt about the world through his craft. Whether it was the joyous way he captured musicians like David Byrne, Neil Young, and Justin Timberlake, or his array of unforgettable protagonists—many of them female—Demme's humanism was infectious. You left a Demme film on a high, buoyed not only by the incredible filmmaking on display but what it said about humanity. And then there's the range Demme showed. The man could segue from horror to documentary to drama with remarkable ease. Some of his best films, like "Something Wild" and "Married to Mob," contain multiple genres not only in the same film but in the same scene. Few filmmakers were more formative in the way I view feature films and what I expect from our greatest auteurs. He loved his characters, and they loved him back.JESSICA RITCHEYJonathan Demme entered my consciousness as a filmmaker by my father drawing attention to the scene in “Philadelphia” where a dying Tom Hanks explains his favorite aria to Denzel Washington. It is a ravishing moment, full of beauty and sorrow both in Maria Callas’ voice on the soundtrack and Hanks and Washington’s faces as the cruelty of mortality wash over them. And it was fitting that Demme’s introduction came by a family moment because families run through Demme’s incredible body of work. Whether by birth or circumstance his films often orbited around the communities that people make and the hurts they can wage on each other but also the solace they can bring. Even his excellent concert films, “Stop Making Sense” and “JT and the Tennessee Kids,” are variations on this theme as bands and touring on the road make families of musicians. He was a uniquely humane filmmaker. Capable of finding the moments of quiet decency, like the mentor relationship between Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn, in the Grand Guignol of “Silence of the Lambs.” He could be very funny and achingly sad, sometimes within the same scene. His was a voice you don’t realize how much you’ll miss until it’s gone. But his films leave behind a legacy of party scenes washed in soft primary colors, with a soundtrack turned the world’s radio of pop, punk, and rock songs. And they are films full of fragile, silly, dangerous, recognizable people. He saw us, flaws and all and thought there was a story worth telling. That’s an incredible gift to lose too soon. VIKRAM MURTHIJonathan Demme inhabited an old-fashioned humanism that greatly appeals to me—the belief that every single person has worth and harbors a great story to their name. His films embodied that approach so consistently that they have the ability to break down even the sturdiest mental walls, reaching people on a primal level. “Stop Making Sense” captures the joy of live performance better than almost any film in history, reaching even my father, a man who’s not easily impressed, who said aloud, “This is incredible” as he watched Byrne’s legs rhythmically move like a marionette during “Life During Wartime.” “Something Wild” passionately argues that any person, whether a corporate rebel or a streetwise ingénue, must reconcile the darkness inside of them with their outward persona in order to achieve inner peace. “Citizen’s Band” documents an ensemble of isol[...]

A musical soul: Jonathan Demme, 1944-2017


I had no idea how much Jonathan Demme's work meant to me until I heard he was gone.The director, who died today at 73, was unobtrusively spot-on nearly every time he stepped behind a camera. Even in the early exploitation flicks he made in the seventies, like "Caged Heat," and in cultural cash-ins like "Citizen's Band," which tapped the 1970s fascination with truckers and CB radios, you always got the sense that Demme was looking through the material, whether it was sturdy or shabby, to catch sparks of eccentric humanity in his characters and settings. It seems no accident that he made nearly as many documentaries as fiction films. He exhibited a journalist's eye for detail even when directing scripted features like "Something Wild" and "Married to the Mob," comedies that unreel across the screen with the exuberance of a child's flip book even when the characters are screwing and killing each other. In a late near-classic, "Rachel Getting Married," Demme treats a self-dramatizing young woman's disruption of a wedding weekend as if it were a non-violent horror movie, or perhaps a very intimate disaster movie. When the heroine pulls focus away from her family and abases herself for attention, the movie shifts into a give-them-rope-and-watch-them-hang-themselves mode that evoked Robert Altman, John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh at their most upsetting. And yet you can keep watching the movie straight-on rather than through splayed fingers because you sense the love that Demme feels for all of his characters, even the ones with few redeemable qualities, like Jason Robards' homophobic old moneybags in "Philadelphia" and his lawyer, played by Mary Steenburgen as if Nurse Ratched had a secret sister who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Law. Demme doesn't pity them, exactly, nor does he write them off. He has no illusions about them but he always still seems to expect more of them, and want more from them, than they can reliably deliver. There always seems to be hope for every Demme character, an unacknowledged or unnoticed chance for redemption. It feels counterintuitively tragic when Demme's brutes and jerks fail to seize that chance, as Ray Liotta's cackling ex-convict fails to do in "Something Wild," and as Meryl Streep's conniving, incestuously smothering dragon-mama fails to do in "The Manchurian Candidate"—exploiting and ruining her only son, poor friendless, friendless Raymond (Liev Schrieber), in the process. In "Melvin and Howard," an utterly ordinary screw-up named Melvin Dumar (Paul Le Mat) writes his own ticket to redemption early in the story, when he unknowingly plays good Samaritan to the old and deranged Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) and inspires the billionaire to name him as a beneficiary in his will. But the film's long middle section shows Melvin botching his own family's life so badly in pursuit of the American dream that subsequent charges that he forged Hughes' will make the initial miracle feel like a preemptive punishment for stupidity he hasn't indulged in yet. "It says you can be anything you want to be if you'll just believe in yourself, and you believe in yourself," says Melvin's wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen), "it's just the believing hasn't been enough to let you become what you believe you can be." "Honey, they didn't burn down Rome in one day," Melvin replies. "You got to keep plugging!"As a director, Demme was the auteur as utility infielder. He loved to blur lines rather than sharpen them. Both his stories and his frames contained more information and different details than you'd get if a mere craftsman had made the movie. You can see Demme's margin-doodling enthusiasm in the blithely multicultural casts and soundtracks of nearly all of his films (the barber shop in "Married to the Mob" is almost as diverse as the United Nations general assembly). And you can see it in the way Demme combines and even fuses genres. "Beloved" is part ghost story, part American holocaust epic, part dom[...]

Tribeca 2017: "I Am Heath Ledger," "The Reagan Show," "The Departure"


This year's Tribeca Film Festival offers three compelling documentaries about different performers having their work captured on camera, whether by the subject themselves (“I Am Heath Ledger”), a presidential insistence (“The Reagan Years”) or by a curious documentarian (“The Departure”). Each of them have their own formal tactics in covering topics as massive as celebrity, politics or death, while offering a new angle on these respective subjects that you may perhaps never forget. Like “The Reagan Show,” “I Am Heath Ledger” may very well change the way you see its subject, however many years you have spent watching him. That’s in large part to this documentary’s focus, which traces the life of the Oscar-winning actor through the context of being a friend first and a filmmaker second. This documentary from Adrien Buitenhuis and Derik Murray is largely comprised of interviews from his closest friends, some of them who knew him pre-Hollywood in Australia.  “I Am Heath Ledger” confirms what we knew from his filmography, that he was an adventurous spirit who took on roles the way people do extreme sports. He wanted to challenge himself with each new major project, even as his star power threatened to make him predictable. As this documentary goes from project to project in his actor filmography, it provides an interesting context, with talking heads expressing the attitude Ledger had when he took on “The Four Feathers,” or the ambition and fear he threw himself into acting alongside his Aussie idol Mel Gibson in “The Patriot.” The doc is less historical third-person than first-person, with friends sharing their interactions or conversations with Ledger as he took on new jobs like “The Dark Knight,” or how fame was something that he wanted until he finally achieved it. “I Am Heath Ledger” is the special type of famous artist documentary that keeps its subject tethered to the ground from start to finish, making their whole story more believable.  What also makes “I Am Heath Ledger” different is the amount of footage that it has that Ledger shot himself, supporting the statement that everyone shares about his obsession with cameras and his love of filming. Various passages that are included show Ledger as the star of his own show (close-ups and mugging for the camera), either for studying his facial expressions or learning composition. Later chapters in the doc about how he made music videos provide an idea of how focused his mind was as a director, that his energy as an actor languished behind the camera. It makes the loss of his talent even more tragic, especially as “I Am Heath Ledger” talks about the directorial feature debut he wanted to make.  If anything, the artistry of the doc lacks its own verve, often functioning like an A&E Biography special when its attention to talent and spirit in a life on camera could have made this the next “Amy.” Still, “I Am Heath Ledger” proves an important addition to how the world views Ledger, and makes his work in so many favorite films even more compelling. "The Reagan Show" is an archival editorial about President Ronald Reagan, in which a plethora of footage is compiled to fulfill the opening minutes' main statement that Reagan was a PR president. His was a public life lived on camera, given his movie career and ascent into politics, in which his presidency famously recorded almost everything he did to help create an image. When Reagan speaks at the beginning about not knowing how anyone could be president without being an actor, it's a main core that proves underdeveloped as the film looks at the history of Reagan's big moments, and how they were influenced by the image being important most of all.  This documentary from Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez doesn't try to cover the whole presidency but focuses on various chapters, like the possible creation of the Strategic [...]

Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish" Reigns on Criterion Blu-ray


Of all the major contemporary American filmmakers of note, Francis Ford Coppola is perhaps the biggest gambler of the bunch, coming up with wildly ambitious projects that he would cheerfully stake his money and reputation on. Sometimes the results were wildly successful (such as the “Godfather” films and “Apocalypse Now”), and sometimes they were a massive failure (such as “One from the Heart,” his glorious and foolhardy 1982 musical). Among the strangest gambles of his career occurred in the early 1980s, when he was still in the “One from the Heart” hole and needed work to repay his debts, when he bizarrely elected to take on a project that, with a cast full of brooding young stars on the rise, could have easily become a piece of ordinary teen exploitation destined to be a big hit with the Tiger Beat set. Instead, Coppola transformed it into a brooding and overtly autobiographical work that was essentially an art-house film aimed at teenagers, arguably the least likely set of moviegoers to ever step foot in an art-house theater. The film, of course, was “Rumble Fish.” When it opened in 1983, not only did audiences—including cineastes who might've normally gone to the latest Coppola provocation—stay away in droves but it horrified studio executives who witnessed how what should have inspired a hit film was transformed it into a weirdo art movie that no one apparently wanted to see. The failure did him no favors and led him to spend the rest of the decade as a director-for-hire on projects over which he had little control before finally agreeing to make “The Godfather: Part III,” a project he had previously sworn he would never do under any circumstance. And yet, the strange allure of this film has not dimmed at all in the 30+ years since it first came out. Now it has become a part of the Criterion Collection and with any luck, enough people will get a look at the film and realize that, rather than the dubious flop that it has been described in some quarters, it is actually one of Coppola’s finest and most distinctive films of his entire career. “Rumble Fish” was the brainchild of Susan Hinton, an Oklahoma native who, while still in her teens, wrote and published, under the name S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders, a novel aimed squarely at teen audiences (decades before YA become a hugely popular genre) that was inspired by a couple of rival gangs at her high school. Rumble Fish, published in 1975, was set in Tulsa and centered around two brothers, the impetuous teenaged hood Rusty James and his older brother, known only as Motorcycle Boy, a legendary former gang leader in the neighborhood who has been away for a while. Rusty plainly worships Motorcycle Boy and aspires to be exactly like him. As the story begins, he hopes to step into his brother’s shoes by agreeing to fight Biff, the leader of a rival gang—this despite the fact that Motorcycle Boy had brokered a truce that forbade such gang fights before taking off. During the brawl, Motorcycle Boy makes a dramatic and unexpected return. Over the course of the next few days, Rusty loses everything that he once considered to be important to him—his girlfriend, his friends, control of his gang, his sense of self-confidence and eventually even Motorcycle Boy himself. However, it seems that the lessons that Motorcycle Boy was trying to impart did take root and there is the sense that Rusty will also manage to break away from both his own self-destructive tendencies and the expectations that others developed for him. Of the four books upon which Hinton based her reputation, (including That Was Then, This Is Now and Tex), the admittedly bleak and dour “Rumble Fish” was by far the least popular of the bunch but one person who did respond to it was Francis Ford Coppola. At the time, he was working on his first film in the wake of the “One from the Heart” imbroglio, an adaptation of Hinton[...]



The fascinations of “Obit,” Vanessa Gould’s slick but entertaining documentary about the New York Times obituary department, operate on two levels. On the more superficial level, readers of the Times are bound to enjoy an inside look at one of the paper’s most dependably enthralling sections, a compendium of pithy, authoritative overviews of recently ended lives. At a deeper level, no interest in the Times—or any other newspaper or online obituary source, for that matter—is necessary to engage viewers with certain questions the film inevitably suggests. In what light will death cast my own life? Will it look more good than bad, or vice versa? What will people think and say about me once I’m gone? What will the public record show? Will I rate a Times obit, that veritable Oscar of the afterlife, or simply fade into post-mortem oblivion? Deeper philosophical, spiritual and psychological questions along these lines are seldom broached in “Obit,” but they percolate just beneath the surface throughout. That surface offers a brisk, informative tour of the obituary department in operation, watching its staff meetings and listening to Times writers (most of the film is interviews with single subjects facing the camera) reflecting on the decisions, working methods and implied values that go into their daily chores. One point that should be made early in any review, as it is in the film, is that nothing here deserves to be characterized as morbid. Indeed, quite the opposite: Times obits deal with life, not death. And while sadness and tragedy provide the dark borders around some lives, obituaries’ natural emphases fall on notable accomplishments, significant impacts on history or culture, or the quirky traits that make an individual personality stand out. A narrative line that runs through the film follows veteran obit writer Bruce Weber as he assembles an obituary for William P. Wilson, who served as a media consultant to John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign. Weber goes about his work methodically, sitting at his computer in the obituary newsroom, looking through files, going over facts with Wilson’s widow on his headset. This choice of subject is shrewd on the filmmaker’s part, of course. Not only does it remind us of what may be counted the most shocking and significant obituary of the last century; it also gives us the living JFK at his most composed, confident and handsome, via documentary footage that brings to life the fateful intersection of politics, mass media and advertising in the “Mad Men” era. There they are again, preparing for the TV debate that will edge Kennedy in the lead: JFK looking sleek and pristine, Nixon trying a little too hard to seem relaxed as his five o’clock shadow begins becomes visible. One of Wilson’s contributions to this event, we learn, was having the candidates stand behind thin-stemmed lecterns, which gave a subtle advantage to the more poised and at-home-in-his-own-skin JFK. Such peeks into the little-known byways of history are part of what make many obituaries enthralling. And they also explain why the writers interviewed here seem to approach their tasks with undisguised pleasure as well as professional commitment. One thing the film points up is how often Times obits are devoted to history’s bit players, such as William Wilson. Such stories usually require some delving and research. For the very famous, much of the work has been done in advance and is on file. But then there are times like the day when Michael Jackson died unexpectedly and the obituary department had to go into manic overdrive to deliver a story by deadline. A notable subgenre within the documentary form involves showing people at work, doing jobs high and low. Such films almost always reward attention because they have innate narrative lines and human interest. Since most of us work, who doesn’t enjo[...]

Mesmerizing “The Handmaid’s Tale” Feels Startlingly Current


When they started production a couple years ago, Hulu never could have guessed how relevant their adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” would feel when it premiered in April 2017. There’s a scene in the third episode (the first trio premiere on Hulu tomorrow, April 26, and then they premiere at a rate of one a week), in which a group of protesters are marching for rights that are being increasingly taken away from women. It looks a lot like the women’s rights marches that took place all over the country in the last few months. This one ends in gunfire. “The Handmaid’s Tale” asks how far we are away from true horror. What will we do to stop it and how we will behave when we can’t? This excellent drama makes a convincing case that humanity will allow the destruction of basic civil rights if it only benefits the male upper class, and happens in such a way that refusal seems impossible. And then it becomes the norm. “This may not seem ordinary to you right now, but after a time it will,” says Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Again, it’s hard not to think of a real world so currently in a state of disruption. Will it too become ordinary? Most of “The Handmaid’s Tale” takes place in the broken future, but we see glimpses through flashbacks of our protagonist as to how we got here. Conflicts around the world became more violent and devastating; governments were overthrown; most crucially, birthrates plummeted. Most women couldn’t have children, and even those who could only gave birth successfully one out of five times. As society crumbled, and a new one was formed called Gilead, the ruling class of men used their power, turning the remaining fertile women into handmaids. They are “two-legged wombs” for their Commanders, forced into a monthly sexual encounter on their most fertile day in an effort to give their owners more heirs. Everything becomes ritual, and no one can be trusted. The Handmaids have little to no power, existing in a rare space between property and pedestal. They are needed—there is no future without them—so they are treated better than most woman in this vision of the future, but they are also mentally and physically abused in almost unimaginable ways.   Our eyes into this world are the fascinating ones of Elisabeth Moss as Offred. Framed by a unique bonnet, so much of the first two episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” takes place in those eyes, and Moss gives one of the best performances of the year in any drama. She is the anchor of the show. Whenever it feels like it’s getting a bit too pretentious—the music and visual language often telegraph that the creators know this is “Very Important TV” in the early episodes—Moss brings it back down to something relatable. And then the POV expands a bit in the stellar third episode and doesn’t look back. Joseph Fiennes plays Offred’s Commander; Yvonne Strahovski is his wife; Samira Wiley is Moira, a close friend of Offred’s in the days before society’s collapse; Alexis Bledel is a mysterious fellow handmaid; and Max Minghella plays a driver who seems to be particularly interested in Offred. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a masterful example of how a show achieves cumulative power through details. The show's concept, of course, overwhelms much of the first episode, but director Reed Morano (“Meadowland”), finds unique ways to reveal other details about this world gradually. Much of the writing about “The Handmaid’s Tale” has focused on the feminist message at its core and the parallels to challenges to women’s rights in 2017, but there are also fascinating undercurrents that Morano and the writers allow to merely enrich the background, such as how paranoia changes behavior, how believing in a vengeful God changes authority (you’re just doing his work), and how fear so often dr[...]

Ebertfest 2017: Table of Contents and Photos


Oh My Goodness! The 19th Roger Ebert's Film Festival (Ebertfest) was awesome! The theme was Empathy, Kindness, Compassion and Forgiveness, and we welcomed filmmakers whose films, in one way or another, exemplified those principles, or in some cases, the need for them. NORMAN LEAR received the first "Ebert Humanitarian Award" given to a person rather than a movie after the doc about him by RACHEL GRADY, HEIDI EWING and BRENT MILLER ("Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You);  ISABELLE HUPPERT flew in from Paris with "Elle"; GARY ROSS showed us why "Pleasantville" is more relevant today than ever, as did CALEB DESCHANEL with "Being There" and MICHAEL BUTLER and MICHAEL HAUSMAN with "Hair." CHARLES BURNETT and ROBERT TOWNSEND gave us a stirring discussion about "To Sleep With Anger," and BEN LEAR and SASHA ALPERT told us why a reform is needed in the juvenile detention system in "They Call Us Monsters." RICK GOLDSMITH destigmatized mental illness with "Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw," while TANYA WEXLER and HUGH DANCY celebrated female sexuality and distinguished it from a mental disorder in "Hysteria," as did "The Handmaiden." IRWIN AND CHARLES WINKLER brought in an element of romance, Cole Porter-style with "De-Lovely," and JIMMY AND DONNIE DEMERS tugged at our heartstrings with a rendition of "Every Time We Say Goodbye." SHEILA O' MALLEY took us on a short trip down memory lane with "July and Half of August," while the ALLOY ORCHESTRA wowed us with their orchestral performance accompanying the silent film "Varieté'." Was this the best Ebertfest in 19 years? Or was it just that the EBERT FELLOWS said it was as transformative an experience as any they have had. You had to be there. And you can be for our 20th Anniversary coming up April 18-22, 2018, in Champaign, Illinois at the Virginia Theater. The following table of contents features our full coverage of Ebertfest 2017 at, as well as the festival coverage from The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois. Also make sure to check out Gio Crisafulli and Melissa Batista's short film about Ebertfest 2016.Chaz EbertROGEREBERT.COMStars, Music, Movies and Compassion Converge: Ebertfest 2017 Preview by Chaz EbertEbert Fellows at Ebertfest 2017 by Chaz EbertEbertfest 2017, Day 1: Come for the Movie, Stay for the Company by Sam FragosoEbertfest 2017, Day 2: No Transition Without Representation by Matt FagerholmEbertfest 2017, Day 3: A Special Short, The World's Greatest Actress and More by Peter Sobczynski Ebertfest 2017, Day 4: Being Human is Hard by Sam FragosoEbertfest 2015, Day 5: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Matt FagerholmVideo: 35mm at Ebertfest 2017 by The EditorsTHE NEWS-GAZETTEThe scoop on Ebertfest by Melissa MerliEbertfest never rests: A guide to the 2017 event’s films by Melissa MerliUp Close and Personal with Norman Lear by Melissa MerliTownsend says ISU naysayer was ‘catalyst for my destiny’ by Melissa MerliEbertfest director ready to let ‘Hair’ down in C-U by Marcus JacksonEbertfest appearance ‘a big personal first’ for ‘Hysteria’ director by Melissa MerliDancy on "Hysteria" and More by Melissa MerliAudio: Penny for Your Thoughts featuring Chaz Ebert and Nate KohnLining up at 7:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. film? That’s ‘the power of Ebert’ by Marcus JacksonTV icon’s filmmaker son impressed by audience by Marcus JacksonTelevision titan Norman Lear wows audience by Melissa MerliVideo of singer leads to invite to open, close Ebertfest by Melissa Merli19th Ebertfest receives a lovely send-off by Melissa MerliGetty Images photos courtesy of Tim Hiatt. [...]

Thumbnails 4/25/17


1."Ebertfest Honorees Share Memories of Roger Ebert": Essential quotes compiled by Variety's Bob Verini. “Townsend, who’ll moderate Burnett’s Q&A, praises Ebert as ‘a champion of new voices’ who ‘always had an open mind, saying, ‘OK, I’m learning something about a culture,’ whatever the film happened to be.’ Huppert echoes that sentiment, lauding Ebert and late partner Gene Siskel as cinephiles primed ‘to build the bridges between foreign cultures.’ Years ago Ebert praised the French star, now bringing Oscar-nominated tour de force ‘Elle,’ for her ability ‘to betray almost nothing to the camera … as if daring us to guess what she is thinking.’She’s clearly touched by the quote, and impressed by his acumen. ‘He understood what I was trying to express in films. It’s very, very accurate. What I feel I do on screen — showing and hiding at the same time — is what the movie medium allows an actor. I do it as much as I can.’Lear, appearing with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s 2016 biographical documentary, ‘Just Another Version of You,’ takes similar pride in an Ebert bouquet. Calling the critic a ‘stalwart’ who ‘sought the interior of characters, content and story,’ Lear stops short when told his 1971 feature ‘Cold Turkey’ received a four-star review for its ‘malice and avarice.’ ‘What a great man!,’ he jests. ‘When I hear that played back so many years later, I love it,’ with an artist’s gratitude for kudos to underappreciated work.”2."Ebertfest 2017 part 2 - watch harder": An excellent report from Rebecca Knaur at Smile Politely.“It’s so smart of the Ebertfest organizers to slowly ramp up the intensity: Wednesday you come for one show and get some news about the fest. Thursday you still have the energy to get up early for panels, but there are only three films and plenty of breaks. Even though Friday’s schedule was exactly the same as Thursday’s, since it was the second time around, it felt more… real? And Saturday had the most films but the least amount of stretch time, so it felt like a bigger commitment. The gradual increase not only kept me muscling through, but provided more opportunities to have the lessons of the film selections revealed to me, building on each other.When I look back on the days, it seems clear now that I lived through them that each one had a specific theme. Wednesday was clearly political, and Thursday was about minorities’ rights. Friday was entirely about crime and the justice system; Saturday’s obvious theme of entertainment had an undercurrent about misinformation. While Sunday is supposed to be just a fun day of music, the film also provided some commentary about sexual orientation and atypical relationships. On every day, the emphasis of each film was to make you understand the struggle of someone unlike you. And like Lear and his reply – the films represented time periods stretching back one hundred years and still felt relevant.”3."Up close and personal with Norman Lear": A wonderful interview conducted by Melissa Merli of The News-Gazette.“He's now writing a new sitcom — ‘Guess Who Died?’ — set in a senior living community. He said it's about his and the baby-boomer generation and that Sony Pictures Television will make the pilot. He also is producing a reboot for Netflix of the sitcom ‘One Day at a Time.’ He had developed the original, which aired in the '70s and '80s.It told of a divorced single mom, who's white, raising two teen daughters. This time around, the comedy centers on a recently divorced Cuban-American military veteran and her two children. ‘What happened was Sony and (producer) Brent (Miller) were talking one day about doing a Latino version because Latino families don't exist on television mu[...]