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Updated: 2017-08-22T11:59:00-05:00


An American Original: The Staff Remembers Jerry Lewis


The world lost one of its most beloved comedians this past Sunday with the death of Jerry Lewis. Scott Jordan Harris penned our obituary, but we wanted to let other members of our staff share their thoughts on such an influential, legendary director.PABLO VILLAÇAJerry Lewis was one of the main reasons I fell in love with the movies. When I was a kid, his movies were a fixture of Brazilian TV during the afternoons—and I can vividly remember how they made me feel; it was fascinating to watch that man-child and his grown-up, charming, singing best friend living so many adventures and facing adversities by supporting each other. Lewis' solo movies were also a reason of constant delight and I soon began to associate Cinema with pleasant, happy feelings. However, it didn't take long for them to also start teaching me how film involved more than just a script and a few actors: watching "The Ladies Man," I became aware of the importance of production design; with "The Bellboy" and "Who's Minding the Store?," I realized how sound could be powerful; and with most of the rest I understood how comedy could also break your heart. Lewis was a genius as a comedian, as an actor, as a director—well, as an artist. He was 91 years old, but he left us too early. This loss stings me deeply and that shows his force and his legacy as a human being. I wish I believed in an afterlife just so I could imagine Lewis finally reunited with his "pardner" once again.DONALD LIEBENSON In 1963, I was seven years old. Our family was on vacation in California. There was a two-screen movie theatre near our hotel. On one screen, "Bye Bye Birdie." On the other, "The Nutty Professor." The poster for "The Nutty Professor" made it look like a horror film ("What did he become? What kind of monster?") I was scared to go into that theatre, but my father said to me, "That's Jerry Lewis. If Jerry Lewis is in it, it's going to be funny." Much of my love for movies and comedy can be traced directly to Jerry, whose Paramount comedies, with and without Dean, were staples on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, and at Saturday matinees at Highland Park's venerable Alcyon Theatre. When I learned of his passing, I did not go directly to the classic comedies of my childhood, "The Errand Boy," "The Disorderly Orderly," or "The Family Jewels," I went to my favorite scene of his from the underseen "Funny Bones," in which his character, a comedy icon, delineates for his son, a comedy flop, the difference between "a funny bones comedian and a non-funny bones comedian." There is a lifetime of hard-earned wisdom in his delivery of, "We were funny people ... we had funny bones." width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> SUSAN WLOSZCZYNAJudging by the comments and obits on my social media feed about comedian, actor, filmmaker and philanthropist Jerry Lewis, I am not alone with my love-hate relationship with this divisive legend who left a giant mark on pop culture. I idolized him for a while as a grade-schooler because I could relate to his crazy voices, elaborate pratfalls and infantilized gaze at the world around him. I recall going to the drive-in the early ‘60s with my parents and my older brother for a triple bill of “The Errand Boy,” “Cinderfella” and “The Bellboy.” They all started falling asleep at some point but I protested when they wanted to leave after the second film. We stayed. I watched. They snoozed. I laughed.When I got older, I also developed a fondness for “The Nutty Professor,” which encapsulated the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde psychological conundrum of what it meant to be a man in the era of the ring-a-ding-ding Rat Pack and the Kennedy clan. I confess to dating a musician in my grad-school years very briefly who assumed the stage name of Buddy Love just for that reason. And, yes, he was a jerk. That rather sophisticated upgrade in his comic vision convinced me that Lewis had something m[...]

Arshad's Father and Tarzan, Lord of the Apes


On Twitter, Shaula Evans (@shaulaevans) asked: Name one life experience—not something you read/watched/consumed, but something you LIVED—that positively shaped you as a creative person.— Shaula Evans (@ShaulaEvans) August 19, 2017 The first example I thought of was from second grade. It was 1976. I'd gone to spend a weekend day at my friend Arshad Ahmad's house in Kansas City, Kansas. I think it was his birthday party but I might be remembering wrong. Arshad and I and three other boys were wandering around the neighborhood. We cut through an alley separating two rows of suburban houses and encountered three young teenaged boys from the neighborhood who proceeded to taunt and terrorize us. One of them wore a little plastic ring, probably a bit of "Jaws" tie-in merchandise, that had a realistically shaped shark's head on it, the size of a strawberry. Its mouth was open and it had tiny pointed teeth. He pushed the shark ring at my face and made biting noises. I tried to duck him but he was taller and kept jabbing me in the chest. Arshad tried to intervene and the boy pushed him down. I tried to slap the boy but missed his face because he was too tall, and he and the others pinned me down and began jabbing me in the back with the nose of the shark ring. It was incredibly painful. I don't think they realized how painful. Or maybe they did. They were laughing. Arshad's father came in and pulled the boys off of me. I was crying my eyes out and he embraced me. I don't think I'd ever been hugged by a grown man who wasn't related to me before. I was shocked at first because it was not something I was used to. Arshad's father took us all back to the house and made us lemonade, then took us to the mall. We went into a bookstore. I wandered back to the comics section and my eye fell on a book of Tarzan cartoons by the great comics illustrator Burne Hogarth. I stood there reading it, puffy-eyed. The illustrations were beautiful. I'd never seen comic art that gorgeously rendered before. In black and white, with flowery narration that sometimes dipped into Tarzan's thoughts. I looked over and saw Arshad's father watching me read the book. He asked, "Do you want that book?" I said, "Yeah, but I don't have any money." He said, "Let me get it for you." I brought it home with me and began reading the whole thing cover to cover. I stayed up most of the night reading it and continued night after night till I finished it, then began reading it again. I asked my grandfather to take me back to that bookstore. There were more Burne Hogarth books there, including two books about how to draw comics, one of which was "Dynamic Anatomy," which inspired several generations of artists. I began trying to teach myself how to draw human faces and bodies, animals and trees "the Hogarth way." My drawing chops are for naught at the moment because I eventually concentrated on writing, but that one purchase by Arshad's father sparked an interest in visual art that not only led me to Arts Magnet High School in Dallas -- where I studied painting, printmaking, sculpture and life drawing, and qualified for scholarships to colleges of art and design -- but also eventually inspired my own approach to film and TV criticism, which perhaps more formally oriented than most. I still have the book. It's dog-eared and ragged and yellow. The cracked spine has been taped many times. Every time I look at that book I think of Arshad's father. I always think of him that way: not as Mr. Ahmad, but as Arshad's father, who for one day was my father, too. [...]

“Alien: Covenant” Deserves a Second Look on Blu-ray


Last week, one of the most divisive films of 2017 landed on Blu-ray and streaming services like iTunes and Vudu. There have been a few conversation starters this year, including “The Beguiled,” “Okja” and “A Cure for Wellness,” but I believe I’ve been in more heated conversations about the latest from Ridley Scott than any other film. People who dislike it, really dislike it, usually falling back on criticisms about moronic space travelers and some nonsense about perversion of the concepts of the original franchise. As much as any film in recent memory, those of us who admire “Alien: Covenant” seem to be seeing a different film than those who hate it—like two people looking at the same ink blot and coming up with completely different interpretations. Personally, it’s a film I admire more each time I watch it (and that I suspect will be held in high esteem in about a decade as is often the case with films like this one). It’s daring, philosophically dense, thematically complex, and the degree of craft in the movie is almost overwhelming. Even the film’s detractors often opened with “It looks great, but …” as if “looking great” was easy or common. It’s not and it’s not. As he did in “Prometheus,” Scott is exploring the eternal question of mankind—the question of creation. If God made man, who made the Alien? And he’s playing with the concept of evolution from the opening scene, in which David (Michael Fassbender), a creation, realizes that he is a superior model of his creator, Weyland (Guy Pearce). In his commentary on the recently released Blu-ray, Scott offers insight into the end of this scene that I didn’t catch the first time. After the realization that his creation is inferior to him, David still obeys the order to get Weyland tea, even though the carafe is right next to his master. As Scott points out, this proves that David can be political as well, hiding his true, logical feelings, and that makes him even more dangerous. The commentary track is full of insight into the making of "Covenant." Right from the beginning, Scott affirms the suspicion that every decision in his filmmaking is carefully considered, saying over that first scene, “None of this is by accident.” Scott can get a little recap-heavy—we don’t need someone to describe what we’re watching—but there are wonderful details and anecdotes sprinkled throughout, such as when he describes “Alien” as being so long ago that it doesn’t really feel like his anymore, explains how science & mathematics can be art, and tells the story of when he first saw Giger’s designs. Scott does reveal in his commentary that the final version is only about 15 minutes off his script, so you shouldn’t be hoping for any sort of “Blade Runner” or “Kingdom of Heaven” radically-recut Special Editions any time soon. And the 17 minutes of deleted and extended scenes make it even clearer that the theatrical version of “Alien: Covenant” is the final director’s cut. The vast majority of these are “extended scenes,” longer versions of what’s already in the film, often just by a line or two. There are a few character beats—Walter gives Daniels weed when she’s grieving her husband, Walter talks to mother about whether or not music facilitates plant growth—but it’s primarily just extensions. The most notable deleted scene involves a flashback in which James Franco has a scene with Waterston, and that may have shut people up surprised that one of our most eccentric actors essentially took a cameo role. The most notable special feature outside of the commentary is “Master Class: Ridley Scott,” a 55-minute featurette about the making of the film that focuses on its craft and direction. Some of this is a bit repetitive with the commentary and way too much of it sounds like scripted press kit garbage (“You’re gonna be sitting on the edge of your seat,” etc.) but there are glimpses into Scott’s process that are fasc[...]

Thumbnails 8/22/17


Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and exciting. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety.—Chaz Ebert1."Theodore Collatos on 'Tormenting the Hen'": At Indie Outlook, I chat with the filmmaker about his fascinating new picture, screening this Saturday at the Sidewalk Film Festival.“My original idea for the character [of Mutty] was based on a neighbor I had in Brooklyn. She was very old, very religious and spent the last couple years of her life outside of her apartment building, banging her door against the railing. At four in the morning, every morning, she’d be banging on the door and screaming religious epitaphs. I went through this process in my head of starting to not like her for no reason. She was suffering, and I felt guilty about the fact that I was annoyed about getting woken up at four every day. My good buddy who lived in the basement apartment shared these feelings with me and gave me the book The Pear-Shaped Man, which is a story that deals with characters who are annoyed by a neighbor that they don’t know. I started writing from there. Matt has actually lived with someone with this kind of affliction for many years, so he knew first-hand the mannerisms and emotions of someone with that condition, as well as the emotions of those who encounter it on a daily basis. He'd describe the conflicting feelings of getting annoyed at that person, and then feeling guilty about being annoyed. When you’re dealing with someone who has that level of issues, it creates a mixture of emotions: sympathy and hate and fear and anger and love and compassion and sympathy again. It puts everything right on the surface because the person or their situation isn’t giving you enough space to deal with your own emotions.”2."'Bonnie and Clyde,' Pauline Kael and the Essay That Changed Film Criticism": As remembered by Flavorwire's Jason Bailey.“The vastness of the window between the picture’s release in New York and its review in the city’s favorite magazine is itself an oddity; can you imagine The New Yorker devoting several pages of this week’s issue to a lengthy defense of, say, ‘It Comes at Night’? (Contrary to the current climate, in which reviews will sometimes appear weeks before a film’s release, Kael would regularly devote her space to films that were already in theaters – she preferred seeing them with general audiences than at advance screenings.) But the film’s journey had already been more than a little bumpy. Jack Warner, old-school head of distributor Warner Brothers, reportedly hated ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ and initially gave it only the spottiest of releases; he only agreed to go wide when star Warren Beatty, also the film’s producer, threatened to sue the studio. Warner relented, perhaps just to prove Beatty wrong, and its early reviews (including pans from Variety’s Dave Kaufman and the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther) seemed to suggest the mogul was right. Pauline Kael wasn’t hearing it. She considered ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ to be the most exciting American movie in years, and wanted to shout it from the rooftops; trouble was, there were precious few rooftops left for her. She had spent the early part of the decade freelancing for a variety of outlets, large and small, and collected those pieces into a book, I Lost it at the Movies, which had sold well (as far as those things sold). But she’d bounced from one regular film critic gig to another, pin-balling from Life to McCall’s to The New Republic, and found each of them exhausting – the battles with editors over length, tone, and vernacular, the outcry from readers over her divisive picks and pans. (Her scorching takedown of ‘The Sound of Music’ was reportedly the last straw at McCall’s.)”3."Val Kilmer on who really directed 'Tombstone'": A revelatory chat posted by Grace Alexander on the Val Kilmer site. &nb[...]

#309 August 22, 2017


Matt writes: This month has marked the fiftieth anniversary of Arthur Penn's 1967 masterpiece, "Bonnie and Clyde." While many critics at the time were baffled and offended by the picture, Roger Ebert awarded it four stars, writing, "This is pretty clearly the best American film of the year. It is also a landmark. Years from now it is quite possible that 'Bonnie and Clyde' will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s, showing with sadness, humor and unforgiving detail what one society had come to. The fact that the story is set 35 years ago doesn't mean a thing. It had to be set sometime. But it was made now and it's about us." Later that year, he wrote a piece taking on the film's naysayers, and in 1998, Ebert inducted "Bonnie and Clyde" into his Great Movies series. To commemorate the film's anniversary, writers at offered their reflections on the film's legacy.Trailers Mother! (2017). Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris. Synopsis: A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. Opens in US theaters on September 15th, 2017. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Human Flow (2017). Directed by Ai Weiwei. Synopsis: Director and artist Ai Weiwei's detailed and heartbreaking exploration into the global refugee crisis. US release date is TBA. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> The Killing of Sacred Deer (2017). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou. Starring Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell. Synopsis: Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister. Opens in US theaters on November 3rd, 2017. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017). Written and directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Adam Sandler, Grace Van Patten, Dustin Hoffman. Synopsis: An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father. US release date is TBA. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> The Death of Stalin (2017). Directed by Armando Iannucci. Written by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider and Ian Martin (based on the comic books by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin). Starring Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs, Steve Buscemi. Synopsis: Follows the Soviet dictator's last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death. US release date is TBA. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Bright Sunshine In (2017). Directed by Claire Denis. Written by Claire Denis and Christine Angot. Starring Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine. Synopsis: Isabelle, Parisian artist, divorced mother, is looking for love, true love at last. US release date is TBA. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> One Percent More Humid (2017). Written and directed by Liz W. Garcia. Starring Julia Garner, Juno Temple, Maggie Siff. Synopsis: A pair of childhood friends reunite during their summer break from college and deal with a traumatizing experience from their past. US release date is TBA. width="560" height="315" src="[...]

“Madden NFL 18” Expands League to Include Cinematic Storytelling


A new “Madden” game from EA Sports is as annual a tradition as the start of the NFL season itself. It has become such an essential part of the sports and gaming landscape that it’s hard to imagine the end of summer without it. As consoles have topped out in terms of capabilities and the franchise itself has finetuned itself to the point of near-perfection, some have criticized the annual “Madden” releases as little more than roster updates in the past. They’re almost like annual releases for well-known automobile models. The look may change, and some of the special features, but the act of driving is essentially the same. This year, the team behind “Madden NFL 18” took this criticism to heart and attempted something that’s been slowly seeping into sports games of late: the cinematic campaign. The “NBA 2K” franchise has developed stories in the past, including a story mode overseen by Spike Lee for “NBA 2K16” and a co-starring role by Michael B. Jordan in the My Career mode of “NBA 2K17.” Following the trend, EA Sports presents “Longshot” in this year’s “Madden,” an interactive film co-starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, Barry Corbin, and, well, Dan Marino, with a score by Jeff Russo (a TV-scoring machine behind the compositions that accompanied “Fargo,” “The Night of,” “Snowfall,” and many more). It’s an ambitious effort that nonetheless stumbles from obvious developmental growing pains. However, I admire EA for trying something this unusual. The fact is they could basically just release the “roster update” year after year and “Madden” would still be a video game behemoth. They deserve credit for trying something as unexpected as “Longshot,” and there are building blocks here for something that could be rather special in the future. Echoing “Friday Night Lights,” “Longshot” is about a young man named Devin Wade (played by J.R. Lemon in motion-capture) who was once one of the top young prospects in all of football but bottomed out after a game at the University of Texas went horribly wrong. Succumbing to the pressure of the game, he walked away from football, but he’s hoping to make a comeback now with his buddy Colt Cruise (Scott Porter), which may be one of the best “football story names” I’ve ever heard. He arrives at the NFL Combine eager to follow a relatively traditional path of a walk-on to the NFL, but his story is essentially hijacked by a reality TV show called “Longshot,” which turns his narrative into ratings fodder. As you might imagine, “Longshot” is about way more than just completing passes. From the very beginning, it is a dialogue-heavy, decision-based game in which what happens off the field impacts the narrative as much, maybe more, than connecting on a short pass. A lot of the decisions come down to your relationship with Colt, who can be a little more rambunctious than modern scouts and coaches like. If you pause before the combine to shoot a video with him, you risk scouts seeing that you care more about social media than football. And as Devin’s star rises, you’ll have to choose if you want to try and bring Colt with you or leave him behind. The idea that sports stories are increasingly about what happens off the field as much as they are what happens on it is an ambitious element to weave into a sports game, although “Longshot” never quite reaches Telltale Games levels of story-shaping. Many of the dialogue choices feel as if they’re not really impacting the story as much as making sure you’re still paying attention. I wanted more of a sense of authorship in “Longshot” when it came to the off-the-field action. Believe it or not, the on-the-field action is similarly ambitious-but-flawed. Often using the show-within-a-show concept, “Longshot” occasionally breaks into a mini-game, including ones in which you have to throw balls at targets to[...]

A Right to Tell Their Stories: Eliza Hittman on “Beach Rats”


In the space of only two films, “It Felt Like Love” and “Beach Rats,” Eliza Hittman has become one of America’s most promising new filmmakers, making work that can compete on a global stage instead of just being informed by fellow American indies. So far, she has specialized in the difficult sexual awakenings of, respectively, teenage girls and young closeted gay men. “Beach Rats” focuses on Frankie (played by British actor Harris Dickinson) who spends his days hanging out, drinking and doing drugs with three male friends, and has a girlfriend, but seems to only come alive during anonymous pick-ups with older men he meets online. Hittman’s perspective is distinctly female and feminist: “It Felt Like Love” shows how hard it can be for teenage girls to avoid being sexually exploited, while “Beach Rats” unabashedly sexualizes young male bodies. Essentially, she’s making the films Larry Clark has been trying to make his career, and doing it much better than he ever has. Both of your films are set in Brooklyn, and the borough seems really central to them. I was curious if you grew up there, and if you live there now? I did. I grew up in a neighborhood called Flatbush. My parents still live in my childhood home. I live in a neighborhood called Kensington now. My grandfather ran a boys’ club on 6th St. and Avenue D for 40 years, so I also consider the East Village home. Does the choice of music in your soundtracks reflect your personal taste? With “It Felt Like Love,” we were looking more towards what the kids in the cast were listening to. There’s a kid who’s part of a collective started by Joey Bada$$. His real name is Jesse Cardasco. I didn’t have such a huge budget for that film. There’s not a whole lot of non-diegetic music in “Beach Rats,” but there is a little bit of a score that we found from a composer in Miami who’s about 20 years old named Nick Leon. It’s a mixture of the world and the interests of the people in the film. Well, you went from using tons of hip-hop to electronic music. The thing about the electronic music in “Beach Rats” is that it wasn’t specifically composed for the film. It was originally part of a hip-hop track and I liked the tension between the dreamy, atmospheric track and the harder vocals. That fit the mood of the film. It did occur to me that if real 16-year-olds were doing a dance routine to Mykki Blanco, they would be amazingly hip. That was originally a different song. I can’t remember what song, but that was a real dance troupe. We couldn’t afford the rights. Both of your films are coming-of-age tales. What attracts you to this theme, and are there any autobiographical elements? There are thematic elements which are autobiographical, but nothing event-oriented. The films explore themes from my life. It’s challenging, because obviously, all work is personal but not necessarily directly autobiographical. Watching “Beach Rats,” I kept thinking how much easier Frankie’s life would have been if he could have kept on drinking beer and smoking pot with his buddies but then gone home and made love with one of them. Given what later happens, that’s obviously completely impossible. But he’s really living in a world where it’s impossible to live out his true sexuality. There’s the slogan, “it gets better,” and for him, it really doesn’t unless he’s able to completely change his life. I’m gay myself, and a lot of people have very naïve ideas about how easy it is to leave the milieu you came from and enter a different world and come out. Even if he went to college, it would still be an extension of the world he started out living in. Did you talk about these issues with the actors? Harris and I talked a lot about why he was doing what he’s doing, his motivations, and the parameters of the envi[...]

Jerry Lewis: 1926-2017


Jerry Lewis, who has died aged 91, was more than a great comedian. He was, to quote the title of the book assembled from his lectures to graduate students at the University of Southern California, The Total Filmmaker. There are few filmmakers who have equaled his achievements as a comic actor, writer and director, and theirs are the names alongside which his should be mentioned: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Woody Allen.Lewis was born either Jerome or Joseph Levitch (his precise birth name is debated by biographers) in Newark, New Jersey on March 16, 1926 to parents who were not stars but were hardworking show business professionals. His father was a vaudeville comedian, and young Jerome or Joseph studied him as he would later study the directors of his first films, hoping to learn everything they knew.As a child, Lewis worked with his parents on the so-called “Borscht Belt” of summer resorts popular with Jewish New Yorkers, and as a teenager he developed a solo act. But it was not until he was paired with an unlikely partner that the ridiculous, elastic-limbed Lewis would enter the American consciousness.Lewis’ partnership with Dean Martin was the greatest comedy double act of its time on stage, on radio and in 17 feature films. It worked, said Lewis with uncharacteristic modesty, for a simple reason: it paired “the handsome man and the monkey”. Martin and Lewis eschewed the well-practiced routines of other acts and opted instead for anarchy, improvising, interrupting each other, upstaging each other, and earning colossal fees as they did. Watching them live, audiences saw something new. Watching them now, audiences still see something fresh.When the act disbanded, it broke Lewis’ heart. But it did not derail his career. When he filled in for Judy Garland onstage in 1956, it launched not only his career as a solo headline act but also a side career as a singer.Onscreen, his character—like those of Keaton or Chaplin or Tati or Allen—changed little from film to film. He talked in his high-pitched child voice, he stretched his face, he leaped in fright. He never reacted when he could overreact. To viewers now his shtick can seem a tasteless parody of disability, but this was not its intention. Lewis was chaos made flesh, a child forced into an adult’s role, equally afraid of and excited by the world. He was a human cartoon, and perhaps this is why he worked so well with Frank Tashlin, who directed Lewis in eight films, beginning with the late Martin and Lewis comedies "Artists and Models" (1955) and "Hollywood or Bust" (1956), and continuing into Lewis's early career as a solo star with classics such as "Cinderfella" (1960) and "The Disorderly Orderly" (1964). Before working with the the human cartoon, Tashlin had directed Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig in Looney Tunes shorts.By 1960’s “The Bell Boy”, Lewis’ seventh solo film (or eighth, if we count a cameo in 1956’s "L’il Abner"), Jerry was able not just to star, but to write, produce and direct. In fact, he was forced to: he wanted “Cinderfella” to be Christmas a release but Paramount insisted on having a Jerry Lewis movie for the summer. And so Lewis made “The Bell Boy” in a month. For those of us who think Lewis made several masterpieces, this was the first.Lewis’s greatest triumph, though, came three years later. “The Nutty Professor” (1963) is the perfect Jerry Lewis comedy. It is perhaps the perfect comedy. A parody of “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, it stars Lewis as both hapless lovelorn scientist Professor Kelp and as Buddy Love, the irresistible ladies’ man Kelp turns into once he drinks a special potion.Now Lewis was both the handsome man and the monkey, and could convey the switch from one to the other with little more than the angle of his eyelids [...]

Scientific Cinema: Michael Almereyda on "Marjorie Prime"


“Marjorie Prime” is the allusive and poetic new film by essential American independent Michael Almereyda. It’s adapted from the Pulitzer-shortlisted play of the same name by Jordan Harrison that was originally staged at the Mark Taper Forum, in Los Angeles, in 2014. Three years later, the movie premiered at Sundance and won the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize. A science fiction-inflected story set in circa 2045, "Marjorie Prime" is a roundelay, or chamber drama, centered on three characters: Marjorie (Lois Smith, reprising her stage role), a dementia-afflicted 86-year-old former concert violinist who lives with her daughter, Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law, Jon (Tim Robbins), in an airy beach house on the eastern shore. Almereyda's adaptation is intelligently staged as a series of bracing, forthright and open conversations on essential questions of mortality, mourning and the past. These prickly issues are given particular clarity and dramatic weight with “Primes,” digital holograms whose advanced software enables them to acquire important knowledge and personal details. They can quickly achieve the richly humanistic qualities of empathy, intuition and openness. Introduced in an opening conversation with Marjorie, Walter (Jon Hamm) is a simulacrum of the woman’s dead husband, now gone 15 years. The twist is he marks a younger iteration, when the couple first met, and Walter is a debonair and handsome man is his early 40s. “Marjorie Prime” is not about the science or its moral implications. The technology is the deus ex machina, a way to probe and confront existential questions of individual and personality. Michael Almereyda has been making idiosyncratic works since his wonderful debut, “Twister,” in 1989. His best films, his sinuously beautiful black and white vampire movie, “Nadja,” produced by David Lynch, and his modern dress adaptation, “Hamlet,” are stylistically nervy and visually hypnotic. He has also made freewheeling documentaries on significant artists, like Sam Shepard and the photographer William Eggleston. The director has been on a roll as of late. “Marjorie Prime” follows quickly on the heels of his fantastic “Experimenter,” made two years earlier, a visually supple and nonlinear biography on the social and behavioral theorist Stanley Milgram, featuring great performances by Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder. With the theatrical release of “Marjorie Prime,” Almereyda talked to about his life and work, the particular challenges of adaptation, his influences, and his work with his extraordinary cast. What compelled you to make this adaptation of the play by Jordan Harrison? The starting point was I wanted to work with Lois [Smith] and it was ready made, in a sense. I liked the design of the play and what it was about, and the characters and the structure. It felt like a movie could be built from that in a way that would be exciting and dynamic and not stage-bound. I was really to work with Lois and build outward from that. How did you conceive the work visually to reconceive the material cinematically? The story is [set] in a house by the beach, and for me, that opened it up and gave it more visual possibilities. The presence of the ocean as a real thing, and a metaphor, enhances the story. I added some flashbacks—one per character—purposefully to fill out the idea of memory being unreliable. I put in a couple of swimming scenes. In most ways it is very respectful of the play. I tried to be true to the play, but I also recognized how fun and exciting it would be to include these other elements.Did Harrison have input into your adaptation? Sure. I showed him a kind of treatment. I also revealed these ideas that were different from the play. The one idea that he had actually changed the play. In the origin[...]

Patti Cake$


If "Patti Cake$" were a song, it would be the kind you hear on the radio and get excited about singing along with, until you realize it's not the song you thought, but another one that sounds like it; and because you liked the first song, you like this one, too, and after hearing the new one a few times you start singing along it. Written and directed by filmmaker and musician Geremy Jasper, who also did the film's original soundtrack, it's the story of of a plus-sized, working class white teenager, Patti "Dumbo" Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald, an Australian actress making a sensational American debut). Patti works a series of menial jobs while trying to make it as a rapper with the encouragement of her hip-hop-loving best friend Jhen (Siddharth Dhananjay). People constantly make fun of how fat she is and how white she is, sometimes at the same time, depending on the situation. There's also a strong element of flat-out sexism in young men's responses to her, whether they're black, white or brown. A big white girl can't make it as a rapper, they tell her. The very idea is ridiculous. Of course they're wrong, because this film is "8 Mile," with a big woman in the lead, and set not in Michigan but in the post-industrial jumble of northern New Jersey (Bruce Springsteen country; he even has a song on the soundtrack). The film turns into "Purple Rain" when it shifts focus to Patti's fraught relationship with her mother Barb, brilliantly played by actress and singer Bridget Everett. Like Prince's "Kid" in his 1984 movie breakthrough, who struggled to define himself apart from his dad (Clarence Williams III), a failed professional pianist and wife-beating drunk, Patti is simultaneously inspired and embarrassed by Barb, a onetime rock singer who was on the verge of a commercial stardom when she got pregnant with Patti. Barb holds Patti's existence against her at the same time that she sincerely expresses love for her. The scenes between them are the best and most powerful element of "Patti Cake$." Everett's history of using her considerable weight and height as comic fuel in standup and cabaret made her a perfect choice for this role, but she's as strong in the arguments and drunk scenes as she is when she's singing or cracking wise. If there's any justice, this should be a career-redefining performance on the order of Frank Sinatra's in "From Here to Eternity."If you saw "Purple Rain," "8 Mile" or half a dozen other films about struggling musicians, you know how this tale will resolve: with Patti trying and failing to navigate one road to success (getting a mix tape into the hands of a famous rapper) only to manage a 98-yard dash to victory anyway, via a local rap competition. You also know in your bones that the support of Patti's chain-smoking, handicapped grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) will be the wind beneath her wings (and a financial boost, too), that there'll be plenty of salty-adorable scenes between them as the story unfolds, and that grandma will die before the last reel to give the movie another powerhouse acting moment (as well as a strong link to another plainly obvious inspiration, the "Rocky" series, which made sure to have a tearjerking deathbed or funeral scene for a parent or mentor figure in nearly every installment). Prince's presence is also felt through another supporting character, an African-American, antiestablishment, punk-metal solo artist named Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), who lives in a secret hideout in a state park that looks like the musical version of a madman's laboratory in a horror film. Basterd speaks in a low, distant voice that conveys immense but highly theatricalized hurt; his backstory, once revealed, only partly succeeds in making him seem less like a white suburban filmmaker's fantasy of a tortured black musical [...]