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Updated: 2016-10-20T17:27:43-05:00


Through the Looking Glass: The Brilliance of “Black Mirror”


Nothing on television in recent years, perhaps ever, has more interestingly addressed our national obsession with and reliance upon technology like “Black Mirror,” returning to Netflix tomorrow with six new episodes after making waves on Channel 4 with 3-episode series in 2011 and 2013 (plus a Christmas special in 2014). Charlie Brooker’s anthology series owes a lot to “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” not just in format but ambition. At its best, it addresses not only the side effects of modern technology but serves as a warning to a species increasingly reliant on that black mirror—a TV screen, a phone, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with “Black Mirror,” you should go back and watch all seven previously available episodes, but particularly “The Entire History of You” and “Be Right Back,” not only the two best but a pair that will give you a good taste of what the show is all about. In the former, people have implants that allow them to record everything they see and do for various purposes, making marital fighting that much more complex. Imagine if you could rewind and replay every disputed event in a relationship. In the latter, Hayley Atwell gives the best performance of her career as a woman dealing with horrendous grief and given an opportunity to “reunite” with her dead husband, technologically. While those two episodes are high watermarks for “Black Mirror,” here’s the really good news: there are at least two that good in this new batch. There’s a third that comes darn close. In fact, there’s only one that I’m mixed on and one that I’m downright disappointed in, but this is what comes with the anthology series. The fact that I’d call half of the new episodes of “Black Mirror” must-sees means that this continues to be a remarkable, ambitious, important series. Even the episodes that miss the mark feel like they’re striving for something we don’t usually get from modern television. Part of the joy of “Black Mirror” is experiencing the twists and turns of creator/writer Charlie Brooker’s narratives as unspoiled as possible, so I wouldn’t dare ruin them for you. Trust me that everything from here on out is stuff revealed early in each episode. Listed as the first episode of the third season, “Nosedive” is also its best. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, in the best performance of her career, and directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Hanna”), “Nosedive” posits a future in which we all rate each other after even the simplest interactions. Imagine a “Human Yelp” if you will, and what that would do to the human spirit. Your overall rating on a 5-star scale determines things like where you can live and work. Let’s just say the ass-kissing would be breathtaking as everyone tries to get as close to a 5 as possible. And let’s just say that Howard’s character has a very bad weekend. Howard is spectacular here in an hour of “Black Mirror” that’s surprisingly funny, and unforgettable. Almost equally unforgettable is “Playtest,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Wyatt Russell does fantastic work as a young man who decides to go globetrotting after a crisis at home. He finds himself in the U.K., where he takes an odd job as a volunteer at a game company trying to test their new survival horror title, one that taps into your neural cortex and presents an augmented reality based on what really scares you. Russell is fantastic here and Trachtenberg keeps the unexpected narrative humming along. It’s the fastest hour in the bunch. “Shut Up and Dance” is the first minor disappointment in that it relies on a few too many twists to feel like more than a trick. A young man (Alex Lawther) is enjoying himself one night with a little bit of self-pleasure in front of the laptop when he receives a video of himself masturbating. He’s told that if he doesn’t follow every order given to him than the video will be on every one of his classmate’s social media feeds immediately. “Shut Up and Dance[...]

Hooray for Hillary: Commander-in-Chief


LAST NIGHT'S THIRD HISTORIC DEBATE CONFIRMED THAT HILLARY CLINTON IS ONE OF THE MOST QUALIFIED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. Lawyer, Mother, Grandmother,  First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, First Female U.S. Senator from New York, Secretary of State: her qualifications for the job are formidable and unprecedented. She has seen the Oval Office from a vantage point that gives her primary executive experience. Her service in the legislative branch was hailed as exemplary because she reached across the aisle for bipartisan solutions for the good of the country. Her depth of knowledge about policy, international and domestic affairs is second to none. As Secretary of State, she established contact with rulers in 112 countries, setting an example for diplomacy. Regardless of one's views about her, what she has achieved during this election season has been utterly historic. She has become the first woman to be nominated for President by a major political party in the United States and set the bar for future presidential aspirations. (And she did it even though her own mother was born before women had the right to vote.) Don't take your eye off the ball with all the noisy distractions, she is the only candidate who has served the people in various capacities her entire life. And she has done it capably and of her own volition. UPDATE: People have written to ask me why I didn't address more of the negatives of Secretary Clinton's candidacy, and so I will: What they mean is why didn't I write about her emails, Benghazi and whether she is truthful. First and foremost, the positive things I wrote about her in this article are things I firmly believe. I am for Hillary Clinton as President because that is where I see hope for our future. She is competent and knows how to get things done, and moreover, she leads from a positive viewpoint. Her opponent says we need to make American great again, but he seems to advocate doing this with a scorched earth isolationist policy.  She says America is great and that we will be stronger together. She outlines a vision for more jobs for the middle class, including a rebuilding of our infrastructure with a gradual and enlightened transition to renewable energy; she has an an understanding of the economic system that allows for robust capitalism but not at the expense of ordinary people. She outlines affordable healthcare and education for our children, an educated trade policy that also takes into consideration strengthening security with our allies; a compassionate viewpoint on resolving complicated domestic issues like racial profiling, police relations, unequal criminal justice sentences and high levels of youth unemployment in urban areas. She has a savvy plan for working not only with our military to combat terrorism, but with think tanks and international allies to understand and address the root causes of it. In other words, she wants to maintain America's leadership role in the world with policies that are just and fair, and she wants to be the President of all the people. With so much of the media bandwidth being devoted to the loud negative distractions of the campaigns, we lose sight of some of these things and so I think they bear restating. It doesn't mean that I don't acknowledge some of Hillary's defensiveness that causes her to do things like using a private server for her emails, or appear "robotic" in her responses, as some have said. I acknowledge them and understand that they come from thirty years of constantly being under attack and publicly scrutinized and undermined by her opponents to an unprecedented degree. The attacks on her began from her first emergence as the First Lady of Arkansas when she wanted to use her birth name "Hillary Rodham," and was criticized for her hairdo and appearance. She was smart and independent and they just didn't know what to do with a woman like that. So she softened her image to fit the mold; she took on her husband's last[...]



This review was originally published on September 11, during the Toronto International Film Festival.“Who is you, man?” Dramatic film has long been fascinated with issues of identity, but they’ve rarely been explored with the degree of eloquence and heartbreaking beauty as in Barry Jenkins’ masterful “Moonlight,” one of the essential American films of 2016. “Moonlight” is a film that is both lyrical and deeply grounded in its character work, a balancing act that’s breathtaking to behold. It is one of those rare pieces of filmmaking that stays completely focused on its characters while also feeling like it’s dealing with universal themes about identity, sexuality, family, and, most of all, masculinity. And yet it's never preachy or moralizing. It is a movie in which deep, complex themes are reflected through character first and foremost. Jenkins’ film is confident in every single aspect of the way that a critic can use that word. Every performance, every shot choice, every piece of music, every lived-in setting—it’s one of those rare movies that just doesn’t take a wrong step, and climaxes in a scene not of CGI or twists but of dialogue that is one of the best single scenes in years. The protagonist of “Moonlight” reflects the conflicted and fluid masculinity of young African-American men in the United States, even in just the way he’s presented. The film is divided into three chapters—“Little,” “Chiron” and “Black”—the three names used to refer to the same person that we follow from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. He’s a boy and then a man who has trouble figuring out his place in the world, which is also articulated by the character being played by three separate, all-remarkable actors. The film starts with Chiron as a boy, referred to by his bullies as “Little” (Alex R. Hibbert). We meet this youngster running, trying to hide in a boarded up apartment from the kids who want to beat him up. Little is found there by Juan (Mahershala Ali, doing career-best work), a local drug dealer. Juan takes the kid out to eat, even bringing him back to his place, where he meets his partner Teresa (Janelle Monáe). Little could use this makeshift family. His dad is gone and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) happens to be one of Juan’s best clients. Juan becomes something of a father figure, but that might make this relationship sound more predictable than it is. Juan sees something good in Chiron and wants to help this quiet boy, even as he provides the product that’s ruining his home life. The film jumps to Chiron as a teenager, dealing with more intense bullying and questions about sexuality. These are the years in which everyone claims to be sleeping around and a young man like Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) struggles to find himself, especially now that all semblance of a normal home life is gone. He literally has nothing, and it takes kindness from his friend Kevin (played by Jharrel Jerome at this age) to bring him comfort. But even that is turned in a time, place and age in which compassion is sorely lacking, when young men believe that violence is the answer to what will make them feel better or allow them to fit in. Finally, we meet Chiron as a young adult, played with remarkable subtlety by Trevante Rhodes. Kevin (now played by André Holland of “The Knick”) reaches out to a very-different Chiron, and the film’s themes coalesce in a surprisingly emotionally resonant way without monologues or heavy-handed melodrama. In a sense, “Moonlight” is a coming-of-age story about a boy often overlooked by society, that little kid not cool enough to hang with the bigger ones and without the support of a family to keep him from simply disappearing into the night. The trio of performances that make up Chiron from Hibbert/Sanders/Rhodes are perfectly calibrated by Jenkins, who directs them to feel not like imitations of each other but express growth. We can see the sad eyes of Chiron as[...]

Let’s Me And You Go For A Ride: John McNaughton and Michael Rooker on “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” at 30


When attendees of the 1986 Chicago International Film Festival arrived at the venerated Music Box Theatre one Saturday afternoon to see a horror film marking the feature directorial debut of a local documentarian and starring a cast of unknown actors, it is likely that they were attracted by the admittedly lurid title and settled into their seats expecting a typical gory genre film. It told the story, loosely based on a real-life case, of a serial killing drifter who introduces his new roommate to the process of brutally murdering random strangers—a move that becomes complicated both by the arrival of the roommate’s sister and the zeal with which the roommate takes to killing people. The difference between this film and countless other films of its type was that this was a horror film that took things seriously and refused to give viewers an easy out in regards to what they were seeing by including quippy dialogue, cartoonish levels of gore or any sort of story element that would suggest that things might turn out all right in the end. At a time when the genre was overrun with endless “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels, this was one that genuinely shook viewers with its unsparingly bleak vision but which also rewarded them with incredibly self-assured direction and a central performance that was simply unforgettable. That film, of course, was “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” which marked the feature debuts of director John McNaughton and star Michael Rooker. After that screening, the film went into limbo for the next few years because of distribution problems relating to the MPAA slapping it with a commercially deadly “X” rating (and advised McNaughton that there was no possible way that it could be cut down to an “R”) but thanks to the sub rosa spread of videocassettes, the film slowly developed a cult following that eventually hit the mainstream when the film was finally given a theatrical release in 1990. Although not a huge financial success in theaters, it received rave reviews from many influential critics and when it hit home video—the market for which it was initially designed—horror fans began recommending it to other buffs as being the real thing. As for McNaughton and Rooker, they would both use the film as a springboard for careers in Hollywood—the former as the director of such films as “The Borrower” (1991), “Mad Dog & Glory” (1993), “Wild Things” (1998), “The Harvest” (2015) and “A Normal Life,” a 1996 true crime story with Ashley Judd and Luke Perry that is one of the best films of the last couple of decades that you have never heard of and the latter would turn up in such films as “J.F.K.” (1991), “Cliffhanger” (1993), “Mallrats” (1995), “Slither” (2006) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014). Thirty years later, McNaughton and Rooker have returned to the scene of the crime, the Chicago International Film Festival, to help present, in a slightly more ideal time slot, an anniversary screening of a new 4K transfer of “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” which may look better than it has in a long time but which has not lost a single bit of its ability to shock and unnerve even the hardiest of viewers. The film is also being given a 20-city theatrical release this Friday, including in the place where it all began, the Music Box. Before the screening, the two sat down with me for a long and jovial conversation about the history of the film, the original premiere, the shooting of the most notorious of all its scenes and even offer an impromptu pitch for a “Henry” TV series for good measure. Considering that “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” has become a classic in the annals of horror film history, did either of you have any particular affinity for the genre when you were growing up and if so, which were the films that grabbed you? ROOKER: “Night of the Living Dead” is one of my favorites. I had seen ot[...]

Keeping Up with the Joneses


“Keeping Up with the Joneses” is basically a revamp of the old Touchstone Pictures formula with some interesting underwear thrown into the mix for good measure. Touchstone, you will recall, was the Disney production entity that hit it big in the ‘80s by taking actors who were familiar faces but had either not yet proven their box-office potential or had slid from the heights they had once attained, sticking them in high-concept vehicles that could be easily summed up in a 30-second ad and which did not cost a lot to produce and then sat back and raked in the dough. Occasionally an excellent film would emerge (such as Paul Mazursky’s hilarious “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” Barry Levinson’s wonderful “Tin Men” and Martin Scorsese’s underrated “The Color of Money”), but, for the most part, the results were oftentimes kind of dumb, instantly forgettable (Ask yourself—when was the last time you actually thought about “Outrageous Fortune”?) and made you wish that you could see the participants in a project worthy of their talents. That is exactly the sensation I had while watching this film, a wildly inconsequential action comedy that contains a couple of genuine laughs but which otherwise feels like an extended version of its own television ads. Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher star as Jeff and Karen Gaffney, an ordinary suburban couple who, having dropped off their kids for summer, are about to sink back into the comfortable rut that is their lives—he is the singularly unhelpful HR guy at a local aerospace plant who believes that there is no problem that cannot be solved with a rubber stress ball and she is an interior designer with what appears to be only a single client. (Don’t worry—the client’s requests are wacky.) Some interest is generated when the vacant house across the cul-de-sac is purchased by a mysterious buyer, and it quickly skyrockets when the new owners turn out to be Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot), an impossibly glamorous and accomplished pair who have traveled the world, done the most exciting things imaginable and have now chosen to settle down at last. Put it this way—Tim even blows his own glass for the knickknack that he presents Jeff and Karen as a gift. The Joneses seem like the perfect neighbors at first, but Karen becomes suspicious after a neighborhood block party where Natalie is just a little too perfect for her own good, and she catches Tim snooping around in Jeff’s den. At first, Jeff shrugs off the suggestion that something could be off with his new friend, but they quickly come across proof that the Joneses are not who they claim to be. This revelation only gets them into the kind of trouble from which only Tim and Natalie can rescue them via a lengthy shootout and car chase before revealing that they are top secret government agents trying to ferret out someone who is trying to acquire top-secret computer chips that could prove to be dangerous in the wrong (i.e. non-U.S.) hands. And since this is a wacky comedy, it goes without saying that Jeff and Karen will find themselves playing a key part in this extraordinarily dangerous business even though it seems that it would have made more sense to simply have a couple of competent field agents take their places instead. In essence, “Keeping Up with the Joneses” offers viewers a narrative that appears to have been constructed out of elements taken from Joe Dante’s brilliant black comedy “The Burbs,” the somewhat less brilliant “Central Intelligence” and the recent run of “Sally Forth” strips in which she and her husband drop their spooky kid off at summer camp and then struggle to distract themselves from having to deal with spending more time with each other. As concepts go, this isn’t necessarily a horrible one but screenwriter Michael LeSieur never bothers to do much with it beyond employing the broadest possible strokes, and when he does hit upon [...]

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) isn’t a talky fellow. He’s a loner with no middle name and no fixed address. He lives in fleabag motels, gets around by hitchhiking, and tends to communicate with his fists, though only after repeated warnings have failed. He is not, to put it mildly, father or husband material. So of course “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” based on Lee Child’s novel, has the bright idea of outfitting Jack with a makeshift nuclear family consisting of a female Army major, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who’s had a bloody conspiracy wrongly pinned on her, and a teenage girl named Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), who might or might not be Jack’s daughter by a previous dalliance. This is the kind of setup that Clint Eastwood might’ve handled with aplomb back in the day—in fact, Eastwood’s early masterpiece “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” tells a thematically similar story about a loner who acquires a "family"—and although Cruise is diminutive compared to Eastwood, he does a credible version of Clint’s squint and hair-trigger lethality. His performance tries to delve deeper than the film will allow. We get a sense, more from watching Cruise than from any of the forgettable dialogue the character’s been given, that Jack inflicts violence because it’s the only thing he’s really good at; that it may in fact be his only form of cowardice—a means of running away from adult responsibilities—and that he has no idea what to say to a romantic partner or a child during quiet moments. It’s a pity that “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” fails to support Cruise and his co-stars, all of whom are acting as if their lives depended on it. There’s a great movie buried somewhere in here—a strange but beguiling family comedy and a meditation on nature vs. nurture, with a bit of shooting and punching thrown in—but the filmmakers never figure out how to excavate it. There’s a touch of 1980s Hong Kong action cinema in the way that director Edward Zwick and his co-writer Marshall Herskovitz (rewriting Richard Wenk’s script) juxtapose bone-breaking fisticuffs with deadpan-goofy scenes where Jack and Susan—who’s basically a female Jack, with the same anger-flexing jawline—struggle to protect and half-assedly parent Samantha as the trio runs from city to city, fending off assassins and trying to clear Susan’s name. But Zwick doesn’t have the Hong Kong wildness required to pull off that kind of film. He’s an intelligent director, but too earnest and careful for material like this. There are a handful of genuinely funny moments in which Jack, Susan and Samantha—a street-tough kid whose mom was a prostitute and drug addict—fall into the familiar “Father Knows Best” patterns even though they’re holed up in a New Orleans hotel while trying to get to the bottom of an Afghanistan-based arms smuggling operation run by a Halliburton-type military contractor. None of them have experience behaving within a traditional mother-father-child configuration, so they’re a bit like actors who’ve been thrown into a play without benefit of having read the script and are forced to improvise, badly. Susan and Samantha’s version of mother-daughter bonding includes a tutorial on how to wrench a gun from a man’s hands and kick him in the testicles. When Samantha sneaks out without permission one night, Jack and Susan confront her when she returns, and Jack half-sputters, “Where were you?” The sight of two skull-cracking soldiers failing to control a teenage girl is a good joke, and remarkably, it never gets old. Unfortunately, it never becomes something other than a joke, or an undeveloped notion. The movie is filled with undeveloped notions, as well as scenes that might’ve been dazzling, or at least clever, if Zwick and Herskovitz had been able to settle on a tone and a vision and develop them. Instead they march along with mild enthusiasm but no g[...]

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is being re-released for its 30th anniversary, in major cities on October 21st. This review was originally published on September 14, 1990.Filmed in 1986 and trapped in the movie rating system for three years, a movie named "Henry" finally came into wider view in the autumn of 1989. The story of a pathological mass murderer, it was told in such flat, unforgiving realism that it inspired angry debates after its screenings at film festivals and midnight cult screenings. Some viewers feel it is evil incarnate; others say it is suberb filmmaking. The MPAA denied it an R rating (and said, indeed, that no possible cuts could qualify it for an R movie), so now it has been released with no rating at all. This is a movie that's an obvious candidate for the proposed A (for adult) rating. It is a chilling film that - fair warning - will horrify many viewers and is intended to illuminate, not entertain. But it also is a very good film, a low-budget tour de force that provides an unforgettable portrait of the pathology of a man for whom killing is not a crime but simply a way of passing time and relieving boredom. "Henry" was filmed during the winter of 1985-86 by a Chicago director named John McNaughton, on a budget of $125,000, using unknown actors from the free-wheeling Organic Theater Company. Loosely inspired by the confessions, since recanted, of a self-described mass murderer named Henry Lucas, the film uses a slice-of-life approach to create a docudrama of chilling horror. Unlike typical "slasher" movies, "Henry" does not employ humor, campy in-jokes or a colorful anti-hero. Filmed in the gray slush and wet winter nights of Chicago's back alleys, honky-tonk bars and drab apartments, it tells of a drifter who kills strangers, efficiently and without remorse. The movie contains scenes of heartless and shocking violence, committed by characters who seem to lack the ordinary feelings of common humanity. "Henry" drifted in a cinematic no-man's-land after it was first seen publicly in a video version at the 1986 Chicago Film Festival. It played at midnight screenings in New York (where the Village Voice's Elliott Stein called it one of the best American films of the year), but could not gain mass distribution without the R rating. The title role in "Henry" is played with unrelenting power by Michael Rooker, who since has gone on to major Hollywood movies (he was the redneck who confronts Gene Hackman in "Mississippi Burning," and the killer in "Sea of Love"). Organic Theater veteran Tom Towles plays the equally chilling role of "Ottis," a casual friend who drifts into murder, and Tracy Arnold is Ottis' sister, a teenage stripper who knows Henry killed his mother, and finds the fact intriguing. In the film, Henry becomes the roommate of Ottis, a parolee working in a gas station, and then the sister arrives from out of town and moves in. She is fascinated by Henry's stories of violence. Ottis, who may have a homosexual interest in Henry, eventually goes along with him in a series of brutal killings, including one where they pretend to have car trouble and then shoot a good samaritan, and another where they invade a home and videotape the murder of an entire family. The videotape scene appalls many viewers, but at least it shows "Henry" dealing honestly with its subject matter, instead of trying to sugar-coat violence as most "slasher" films do. The director, McNaughton, is a onetime Chicago ad executive who dropped out for a few years to work in a traveling carnival, build sailboats in New Orleans, and tend bar in south suburban Homewood before getting into film by directing music videos. He raised the budget for "Henry" from Waleed Ali, a Chicago home video executive, who wanted a horror film but reportedly was surprised when McNaughton gave him the real thing instead of an easy teenage exploitation film. Ali's surprise has been r[...]

Hulu’s “Chance” Fizzles When It Needs to Burn


Hulu’s newest original series, “Chance,” premiering today, October 19th, has the elements of great noir, but too often doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. There’s a femme fatale who may or may not be telling the complete truth. There’s an abusive husband from whom the hero can save the damsel-in-distress. There’s a tough guy there just to teach our protagonist about the seedy underbelly of the world. And there’s dialogue like “Question is not ‘Is it a game,’ question is ‘Who sets the rules?’” But “Chance,” despite a great cast and a pilot directed by Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”), relies too much on coincidence and gullibility to be effective. And, more damagingly, doesn’t generate the sexual heat or sense of danger that great noir needs to resonate. As is, it feels more like an interesting exercise in genre, with perhaps enough plot twists to keep viewers engaged through the weekend, but nothing much of value to garner buzz beyond it. Dr. Eldon Chance (Hugh Laurie) is a neuropsychiatrist who becomes infatuated with a patient named Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol), who claims that abuse from her husband Raymond (Paul Adelstein) has created a split personality named Jackie Stone. While Jaclyn wants to leave Raymond, although is too fearful to do so, the more sexually aggressive Jackie is still sleeping with him. Is Jackie real or a game that Jaclyn is playing? Over the first four episodes that I screened, it’s not only unclear but barely developed. To say Jaclyn/Jackie is an underdeveloped character would be an understatement. She’s essentially the pivot point on which our protagonist’s life turns but we spend almost no time with her. In fact, Chance is in the company of a massive gentleman named D (Ethan Suplee) far more often than he is Jackie, or even his daughter Nicole (Stefania LaVie Owen). Chance meets D through a high-end furniture dealer named Carl (Clarke Peters), and D is the brawn to Chance’s brains. When the doctor tells his new muscular friend about Jaclyn, D offers to help, for a price. As Chance heads to the dark side of the tracks, he makes decisions that he may come to regret. “Chance” is the kind of show that takes a long time to get where we know it’s going early on. A slow burn is not uncommon for noir—the private dick is often the last to know that the femme fatale is playing him—but that’s why they rely so heavily on atmosphere and sometimes even camp, both of which are lacking in this show that takes itself way too seriously and contains surprisingly little tension. The biggest problem is that one never feels any stakes in “Chance.” There’s no real connection to the characters—despite Laurie’s best efforts to make him feel genuine, the doctor can be inconsistently naïve—and so we don’t have a reason to care what happens to them. Again, I’m a sucker enough for noirs and mysteries that I will likely finish out “Chance,” just to see what happens to our white knight doctor. “Chance” is the kind of show that could have been greatly helped by the streaming/binging format in that simple curiosity could keep viewers going to the next episode. Then again, multiple hours of this program in a row does highlight its faults. Maybe one should experience “Chance” like a weekly trip to the therapist—one hour at a time.  width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> [...]

A Gust of Wind: Kiyoshi Kurosawa on “Creepy”


Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa's horror films are unlike any other J-horror films. This is partly a matter of cerebral approach, and partly a technical difference: he directs films differently because he conceives of his films with greater, and perhaps more eccentric detail than other J-horror filmmakers. Kurosawa approaches his films from a generic standpoint first, then a thematic one. He doesn't shoot many takes, and he does much of his job as a filmmaker before shooting starts. "Creepy," his latest horror film, is a true-crime story about ex-cop Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) and their dealings with suspicious neighbor Nishino (regular Kurosawa collaborator Teruyuki Kagawa). spoke to Kurosawa through a translator about location shooting, the wind, and the method in his madness. In an earlier interview with Midnight Eye's Tom Mes, you said that you're interested in characters with identities separate from a collective group, people whose flaws can be attributed to themselves, not some group identity. I thought about that in relation to "Creepy" since Takakura's identity is bound to two groups—the police department and his family—while his wife Yasuko slowly drifts away from identifying with her husband and their family. Do you see a fundamental contrast between these two characters? What drew you to them? I'm not interested in the influence of collective groups, such as workplace or local neighborhood, on the individual. Or I don’t want the kind of individual who is influenced by such collective groups to be a main character in my films. Takakura is deeply involved in the police department, and the University (where he works), but his actions are based on his own decisions and desires. The same is true of his wife Yasuko. However, there is one big difference: she develops an interest in her neighbor, though she would not have developed an interest in somebody like him in her previous environment. The suspense of this story starts from there. I've read that your screenplays function primarily as texts, and that you aren't visually descriptive of your films' settings because you prefer to discover what the film will look like during location scouting. Is that true of "Creepy"'s screenplay and locations? What were your priorities when it came to the film's artistic design/style/look?  As usual, there were no visual descriptions of the places in the screenplay of "Creepy." And as usual, we deliberately looked for the locations around the borders of cities near Tokyo and its suburbs, where we finally came across the place that fit this story. This is the moment the story acquires images. This is one of the most important moments in filmmaking for me. It is difficult to explain in words what comes into play when choosing locations, but it is very important for me that the place can illustrate concrete and abstract concepts, reality and symbolic.  You also told Tom Mes that films are somewhere between fictional narratives and documentaries of the reality that's going on in front of the camera. How did your conception of "Creepy" change as you set out to tell this particular story?  To give you an easy example: wind. Wind often blows in this film. Sometime trees behind the character swings, or sometime the wife’s hair moves. Everything is an accident. Yet, to capture such as accident, we tried to start rolling the camera at a moment it looked like wind would start blowing. Sometimes the wind blew and sometime it didn’t. Either is fine. I don’t know how that gust of wind affects the story. I'm ok not knowing the effect. I think that's what the film is about. As a storyteller, you tend to think about films from a genre perspective first, then[...]

Robert Feder Misses Roger Ebert's Political Writing



The astute political columns of Roger Ebert were the topic of an article published today by former Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Robert Feder at his blog. publisher Chaz Ebert is quoted in the article's title, which states that Roger "would've exposed the foolhardy ruse" of Donald Trump's candidacy. "As much as others have tried to explain The Rise of Donald Trump and the threat he poses to our system of government, freedom of the press and our pluralistic society," writes Feder, "few have done it with the clarity, courage and humanity that were the hallmarks of the late, great Chicago journalism icon and film critic." 

Feder recalls how Ebert elevated the level of discourse on the Internet, resulting in him winning a Webby Award as Person Of The Year in 2010. The article includes a link to the official Webby Awards announcement of Ebert's accolade, which states that his online journal "raised the bar for the level of poignancy, thoughtfulness and critique one can achieve on the Web, while at the same time shining a light on the most important issues facing journalism as it relates to the Internet itself."

Feder refers readers to three key articles in Roger's journal that are especially timely in light of next month's election. The following excerpt is from "The One-Percenters," published April 9th, 2011: "The most visible plutocrat in America is Donald Trump, a man who has made a fetish of his power. What kind of sick mind conceives of a television show built on suspense about which ‘contestant’ he will ‘fire’ next? What sort of masochism builds his viewership? Sadly, I suspect it is based on viewers who identify with Trump, and envy his power over his victims. Don’t viewers understand they are the ones being fired in today’s America?" 

Another column, published on July 20th, 2011, is entitled, "The Republicans Exit History," and could've easily been written yesterday: "Large elements within the Republican Party are abandoning the middle ground of American opinion and pitching in with fringe ideologues. Here and there, this decision may lead to electoral victories. But the tide of history runs against them. It is time for the party to declare its independence from its radical fringe and embrace common sense."

The article concludes with words from Chaz Ebert, who shares her thoughts on Roger's work with Feder. "I have no doubt that he would have helped us make sense of this presidential campaign before we got this far down the road," Chaz says. "Instead of seeing it as just harmless entertainment in the beginning, I would like to think that he would have been blaring an alarm, warning us not to stray too far from our moral compass."

To read the full article, visit Robert Feder's blog.