- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verseby Brian Tallerico on May 31, 2023 at 1:00 PM
My esteemed colleague Christy Lemire opened her review of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” with a quote from her nine-year-old asking if he could see it again, so I think there’s some synergy in quoting my nine-year-old to open this one: “That might be the best movie I’ve ever seen.” “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” explodes onto screens this week, building on the foundation of the masterful “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” with stunning animation, unforgettable characters, and complex themes. The first note I took after seeing it was “so much movie.” Like the work of a young artist who refuses to be restrained by the borders of the frame, “Across the Spider-Verse” is loaded with incredible imagery and fascinating ideas. It is a smart, thrilling piece of work that reminded me of other great part twos like “The Dark Knight” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” Like those films, it leaves viewers anxiously anticipating the next chapter (which will come in March 2024), and it earns its cliffhangers by grounding them in a story of young people refusing to submit to a concept of what a hero’s arc needs to be. “Across the Spider-Verse” opens just over a year after the action of the first movie. Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) is back in her universe, trying to keep her identity secret from her father, George (Shea Whigham). When an alternate version of the villainous Vulture (Jorma Taccone) drops into her reality, the bad guy ends up trailed by the intense Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) and confident Spider-Woman (Issa Rae). They reveal to Gwen that they’re part of a secret Spider-Society that has been cleaning up inter-universe messes, capturing villains who end up in the wrong one and sending them home again. When Gwen’s identity is blown with her dad, she joins the Spider-Crew, correcting the errors of multi-verse. Of course, fans will remember that Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is essentially one of those errors. The Peter Parker of his universe died trying to save him, and the spider that bit Miles was never supposed to be there. But it was. So now what? This story's backbone is about pushing back against determinism and moving forward with what's in front of you. Superhero culture has used multiverse stories to expand on the concept of potential, but this film (and I hope these themes really land in its sequel) suggests that it’s way more important to hold onto the reality in your hands than imagine all of the other ones that might have been. It’s about controlling your own fate more than giving into a scripted narrative of heroism. More than most superhero movies, it’s about empowerment instead of destiny. And that’s powerful stuff. Back to Miles. He’s in his version of Brooklyn, trying to balance being a good student with being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He’s considering telling his mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez), and father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), the truth, but worries what it could do to their relationship if he does. One day, an odd duck that Miles thinks is just a “villain of the week” pops up in the form of The Spot (Jason Schwartzman). Formerly known as Dr. Jonathan Ohnn, the once-Alchemax-employee was forever altered by the first movie's action, able to control time and space through a series of portals. At first, it’s kind of cute how he tries to steal an ATM with a portal, but The Spot ends up being significantly more dangerous as his powers grow, opening passages that can destroy worlds. Naturally, the emergence of The Spot gets the attention of the Spider-Society, which sends Gwen and company back into the life of Miles Morales. The first sequence of their reunion is an absolute marvel as the two characters swoop and swing through the city, flirting their way through the sky. It culminates with a series of shots high above the city as the pair sits upside down, the skyline inverted behind them. It’s a quiet sequence in a movie that’s often very loud and a reminder of the film’s stunning visual confidence, just as striking in its calm as its noise. If the first film interrogated who gets to be a hero, the second film takes that further to ask how heroism is defined. Why does every hero’s arc have to be the same? Why does so much superhero mythology lean into the idea that it is only through tragedy that heroism can be born? In an era when superhero movies have taken over the culture, writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, & David Callahan use animation's freedom to unpack the structure of a world they know and love. It's a script that earns every one of its 140 minutes, almost overwhelming in its abundance of ideas. (To be fair, my youngest also turned to me at one point and said, “I have no idea what’s going on.” He said it with a smile.) Of course, most will remember its imagery more than its ideas. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson build on the first movie's aesthetics with one of the most strikingly conceived and executed animated films ever made. From the very beginning, the animators are using their form to do things that would never be possible in the MCU, and the art of “Across the Spider-Verse” feels even more self-assured than the first film. It’s not just that every action sequence would cost half a billion dollars in a live-action film. It’s that this freedom has been employed artistically and cohesively instead of just extravagantly. Even in a film where characters defy time and space with every leap and dive, the choreography of the action is easier to follow than some of the Hollywood blockbusters released already this season. There’s a true craftsmanship to the action that’s breathtaking, especially in a late sequence when Miles breaks free from what the canon says he has to be. It helps greatly that the entire cast here brings their vocal A-game. There are so many celebrity voices here—including a number of cameos only villains would spoil—but I want to give some praise to Shameik Moore, who finds the perfect register for the odd intersection of youth, manhood, and heroism in which Miles finds himself. It’s a vocal performance with just the right blend of curiosity, vulnerability, and growing confidence. Steinfeld, Henry, Rae, Jake Johnson, Schwartzman, Velez, Daniel Kaluuya, Isaac—there’s no weak link. Everyone was clearly inspired by the creative potential of this script. Mediocre sequels repeat what came before, knowing that fans will return for more of the same. Great sequels build on what came before, enriching themes and setting the table for what’s to come. I wish that we weren’t seemingly in a blockbuster era of non-endings, but I feel like “Across the Spider-Verse” earns its open conclusion. It’s not just a way to guarantee that ticket buyers return. It’s not a threat to finish an incomplete story. It’s a promise to continue one that’s already so rewarding. In theaters tomorrow, June 1st.
- Destiny Comes to You: Celine Song on Past Livesby Marya E. Gates on May 31, 2023 at 12:55 PM
One of the buzziest titles at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was A24’s “Past Lives,” the directorial debut of playwright Celine Song. Attending a packed screening with a row of Chicago-based critics was a highlight of the festival for me. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when Song’s tender, melancholic, and unusually wise romance faded to black. The film stars Teo Yoo as Hae Sung and Greta Lee as Nora, childhood sweethearts who reconnect in New York City 24 years after Nora’s family emigrated from South Korea to Canada, and John Magaro as Arthur, Nora’s husband. At the Chicago Critics Film Festival in May, I saw the film for a second time and was further struck by its rich, emotional texture. At a Q&A after the screening, Song described how her life inspired the film’s plot. Like Nora, her family emigrated to Canada when she was 12 years old, and she further emigrated a second time from Canada to New York to attend Columbia University’s M.F.A. program in playwriting. One night she found herself having drinks with her childhood friend and her husband, prompting her to ponder how these two men from such different parts of the world would likely have never met if not for her. From this kernel, Song crafted the heartfelt story at the center of her film, using the Korean concept of In-Yun to explore the various interpersonal relationships of her characters over more than two decades. Greta Lee, perhaps best known for her work on streaming shows like “Russian Doll” and “The Morning Show,” gives the performance of her career as Nora, finding in the character delicate layers of rich, often conflicting emotions. Teo Yoo and John Magaro are equally compelling scene partners, crafting such a complex connection to Nora—and with each other—that it would be juvenile to call the situation merely a love triangle. RogerEbert.com spoke to Celine Song at the Chicago Critics Film Festival about casting this highly personal film, the concept of In-Yun, striking the right emotional tone with its score, finding inspiration in “My Dinner With Andre,” and how she filmed that incredible penultimate bar scene. I saw this originally out of Sundance, and I loved it. I went because I saw Greta Lee was in the cast, and I was so impressed with her in a film I saw at SXSW a few years ago called “Fits and Starts.” Since this is such a personal story, the casting of that central character must have been so important. Did you cast Greta first and then build around her? I think you'd have to start with Nora because she is at the heart of it. She is the burning center of the film, or she's the core of the film. So, of course, it has to be built from her in that way. Finding the right person for it is personal, but it wasn't about finding somebody who is going to come off one way. It was so much more about the depth of her work and the depth of who she is as a person and if she's a soul match to the character. It was really about the character and if she felt like the character more than anything else. That was what the casting process was. Did you do chemistry tests with her and the two adult male leads? No. I think that in casting, one needs to have an eye out. But the chemistry test I did was with the two children, their child characters. They don't have a lot of lines, and they had a lot of work that they had to do, so the chemistry has to be instant. It has to be so easily communicated to buy it all the way through. It has to spark the whole film in that way. So to me, it felt important to do a chemistry test with them. That was really, really wonderful and really, really helpful. What I made the children do, which I know is really hard to do in an audition, even with adults, was to ask them to do ad-lib because they didn't have enough lines to do enough acting for me. I had the little girl first, Seung Ah Moon, then I was trying to find the right boy for her. Then the boy who was in the movie now, Seung Min Yim, came in. I asked him to ad-lib asking the actress who played the little Nora to stay in Korea because he doesn't like that she's leaving and he wants her to stay. He did such a beautiful piece of ad-lib and such a convincing piece of acting that it made the little girl who was playing little Nora cry. She was like, “Do I have to leave? Do I have to leave Korea?” And I was like, “You don't have to. You don't have to leave.” [laughs]. Obviously, the idea of In-Yun is central to the story. I'd never heard of it before this film. You mentioned in last night’s Q&A that the film was inspired by a meeting between your actual childhood sweetheart and your husband. Was In-Yun part of your concept from that initial spark? When did that come into the process of the script writing? I think the concept of In-Yun is a pretty commonplace phrase in Korea. So it's true what Nora says when she says it's like just something Koreans say as a pick-up line. It's just a way to feel connected to someone, even if you just met them or you just met them a couple times. They will say, “Oh, hey, we must be In-Yun.” That's something people say. So to me, it is the first thought that sort of popped into my mind of like, oh, that's what this is. But this In-Yun is so different with these two guys, too. Because I think it's easy to think about In-Yun as something you can only have in a special destiny with somebody else. That, to me, is a very Western way of thinking. In the Eastern way of thinking, so much about In-Yun is something that comes to you. Destiny is something that comes to you, and you can't really stop it. It is something that you have to learn to accept. What was going on with In-Yun to me? I was like, well, the person who gives you a cup of water when you're thirsty, even that person is In-Yun, even if you never see that person again. But also your mother is In-Yun as well. I would say that your mother and yourself are much, much deeper In-Yun, probably one of the deepest In-Yuns you can have. But it doesn't mean that the person who brought you a cup of water when you needed it is not In-Yun. So it is something that I think can be a part of everybody's life and the way we think about everyone. I think part of that is that it makes every relationship we have, or even every encounter we have, have weight and have meaning and depth. Because if you can think of the person who gave you a cup of water as a person that you have In-Yun with, yeah, then I think that the way you think about that person, the way you treat that person, and the way you care for that person changes. I think In-Yun can be a pretty amazing thing that one can have. That would be a much better way to go about exactly thinking about the world. I want you to just live your life and just be able to say I think that person is In-Yun. We are really special In-Yun. I love that. I noticed on this second watch—I hadn't really thought about this—but the three sections are each 12 years apart. Is there a specific significance to the 12 years? I felt like it needed to be a really significant length of time, and I think 12 years can really change a person. You can really seem like a new person in 12 years. But of course, just like all things, it's always contradictory. Even after 12 years, you can seem like the same person. To me, 12 years just felt like a hefty number of years for a person's life, so both the change and the sameness can feel significant. I love the sound design in this, specifically the audio of the Skype calls. The whole audience seemed to viscerally react to the first Skype beeps. It's such a nostalgic form of communication. Zoom and FaceTime have replaced it now, but Skype just feels like a very specific time. I'd love to know how you recreated that and whether you intentionally meant it to feel nostalgic. Something that I think is really true is that Nora and Hae Sung may have made more of an effort to stay in touch and see where the relationship goes if the connection at the time that they were doing this was as good as it is now. Yeah. Exactly. So it was important for the film to depict the time in technology when it was a lot shittier. There was an extra layer of it being more frustrating or a little bit harder to connect through it. To me, that is where the timing or the times interact with how we end up connecting with people. It was really important to me that the actors are able to experience the frustration and also to act with each other. So I wanted to do it practically. There were not that many references of being able to do a whole breakup scene or something like that over Skype. So we built two sets that were connected by a cable, and we put a throttle on it. Oh, and I was controlling the throttle like a DJ. So that I could control how bad the connection was or when it freezes. I could cue when Skype freezes. And the actors also interacted with it live, because they're also having to experience the frustration of it. And that, of course, becomes a part of the work that they're doing as characters. I had a friend around that time who has since married her husband, but that first year they were apart—she was in France, he was in California—they Skyped the whole time. And the way you depict it in this film felt really true. I think that the experience of trying to stay connected is so difficult, and you captured it beautifully. It’s so frustrating, but in the beginning, he was just happy to be talking to them. So it's like magic. It's like sci-fi. You're like, “It's amazing that I can even see this person and talk to this person. It’s so magical.” But then I think over time, it starts to erode. And that's what that sequence is. It's about how the initial feeling only actually makes the longing grow. Then you start to realize that what you get from Skype is not enough. And suddenly, Skype just feels so frustrating. But first, you're so amazed by the possibility of Skype because you're like, “I can't believe we're connected.” And what you expect from there is to be able to be satisfied by Skype. The thing that I kept saying when we were making that part of the film was that it has to be shitty. It can't be perfect. It can't be good. It has to be frustrating. Speaking of the emotions of the film, I absolutely loved the score. The first time I watched it, I was like, “Is this Grizzly Bear?” and then the credits came on, I was like, “I knew it!” How did they get involved? I was always looking for the right people for the story. Every part of it has to be like working on chemistry reads, it has to be about the chemistry of their voice and the way that their music is connected to the story. They seemed perfect, and I know more than ever, now, that they are the perfect people for this film. I don't know how old you are, but I feel like we kind of grew up in that time where we're just like, “Woo! Grizzly Bear!” I’ve seen them live like seven times. I remember when they were a $12 ticket band, and now it’s like $75. I'm like, what happened? But also, congratulations to them. Their style is so delicate, and the film is so delicate. The emotions are delicate but also huge, a bit like their album Yellow House, a big album about small things. And also it's not sentimental. It is always a push to keep the music from verging into begging the audience to feel something. Because the thing is, the movie will get the audience to feel something if there's room for them to feel something on their own. I think the music should always be in support of that and never be begging or pleading for it. The Grizzly Bear guys, Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen, just know in their bones how to walk that line because it's part of their work. But it was also so fun. I just loved being able to say to them, we just need a little more emotion. Part of the austerity or part of the intelligence, or part of the joy of their work is not leaning into the easy emotions. So you can ask them, “I need this to feel a little bit more emotional." What they would bring me would not be overly sentimental. I kept asking for something, and then they would know how to find it in the perfect way. Yeah. That was amazing. I think it's perfect for the film, you know, just bottled it. Hae Sung’s friends in Korea are so fun. They feel so natural. I'd love to know how you brought them in. They're always so supportive. I auditioned them from Korea over Zoom. They're amazing character actors from Korea. I also asked them to do a bit of ad-lib as well, because they also don't have as much material. They hadn't read the script yet, but I told them the story. I told them, as Hae Sung, the story of Hae Sung, of what I, as Hae Sung, intended to do. And then I asked them to give their friend advice on whether he should go and see Nora in New York. A lot of them had amazing answers for what they thought their friends should do. But almost all of the guys in Korea said that he should go and see her and see what happens. So, again, it's a little bit of a chemistry thing, too. It's about the connection that they can have with Hae Sung and with each other. The New York bar location is so central to the story. You open with it and not quite close with it. It's such a warm, amber-colored space. I'd love to know what you were looking for and how you found that particular space. It’s called Holiday Cocktail Lounge, which is in the East Village. We were looking for something that is sort of ineffable, which has the feel of a local bar. The kind of place that you would take your friend to when they're in town, but also had to feel really special because a really special conversation has to happen. It is about a thing that you cannot quite describe, which is kind of like the relationship that Hae Sung and Nora have with each other. It has to feel totally mundane, like the kind of bar you would just walk into, but, like the movie, it has to feel special, and it has to contain the whole movie too. That is something that you only know by seeing it. At the Q&A last night, you mentioned “My Dinner With Andre,” which is such an amazing film. Did you have the cast watch it while you were prepping those conversations? I asked all my department heads to watch “My Dinner With Andre,” and I think I did recommend the actors watch it as well. What I love about that movie, it's so funny because you don't really think that you're watching anything that is so dramatic or so significant until you're deep in it. Then you're suddenly like, “How do we get here? How did this conversation get here?” That's the feeling that I needed that whole conversation to be because it's the penultimate scene. So it also had to be put together that way. I put the scene together that way so that when we cut into each shot, it has to feel a little bit like you're sort of slipping into it without even fully realizing it. I love that when they’re talking about Arthur, you don’t cut to him, but when they’re talking about something other than Arthur, you cut to him listening. I think you have to feel connected to that character, to Arthur, because him being at that bar is what makes this movie unique. That Nora and Hae Sung are able to have this conversation because of and in spite of him sitting there. I knew that there needed to be a moment where he's a bit of a touchstone, where we can just see the moment in it, and that was the right moment for it. The conversation is being spoken in Korean, a language that Arthur does not understand, so there is fear, and there is vulnerability. There’s the insecurity that is going through his head. We were shooting on film, so we put in six minutes worth of a fresh mag, loaded it in, and we pointed it at John Magaro’s face. I said, “I'm going to spend this entire mag on your face while you listen to what these two people are talking about in Korean without you understanding it. And you should give me in that six minutes every version of listening that you can think of. What we found was that if he looked too angry, he seemed insecure, and if he looked too chill, he seemed like he didn’t give a shit about her. So the key was striking the exact right balance between the two. Are there any female directors who either inspired your work or inspire you in general? I really have been such a big fan of Kelly Reichardt. I fell in love with John Magaro in “First Cow,” and “Showing Up” is also super great, so I would really want to shout out her name. "Past Lives" will be available in theaters on June 2nd.
- Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave Conjures More Brilliant Chaos in Third Seasonby Nick Allen on May 30, 2023 at 1:55 PM
Tim Robinson's style of CAPS LOCK COMEDY has done it again in creating a series of jokes that will make people laugh hard, scratch their heads, and/or incorporate them into inside jokes they share with their friends. (If you love "I Think You Should Leave," that's part of its love language.) The main headline is that if you enjoyed the previous two seasons, you must treat yourself to more of the crescendoing absurdity that Robinson and co-creator Zach Kanin have very much made their own. If you didn't like the show, THEN WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE? Back in 2019, Robinson appeared on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," in which the host summed up the show aptly: "People who will not admit they are wrong." "I Think You Should Leave," with six more 20-minute episodes, has hardly changed from such a set-up. And yet these skits prove that it blissfully still works. With Robinson sometimes acting as the most intense or most demure in the room, the series hasn't engineered a sense of humor but a comedy structure applied to different social hells—work presentations, parties, appearing on game shows, etc. It would feel too familiar or repetitive if the sketches didn't always break free to the strangest character obsessions a writer's room could concoct (like with a series-topping bit that shows you what "The Driving Crooner" is). It's strange but fitting how this plays out—there are so many disappointing comedy sequels and follow-ups, but "I Think You Should Leave" is continuous in its oddly brilliant ways. Each skit develops like a new chapter from a still-being-written saga about a world where rage is an epidemic, passing on from one character to another in the show. Take here, in which Will Forte plays a snooty man who crawls under a parked van in a driveway and gets his long ponytail stuck. He proceeds to throw a fit, which gets another man with a ponytail across the street all on his high horse. That's not even the 10th funniest skit of this season, which makes all apparent how on-the-nose it would be if Robinson were to make a joke about someone who thinks the sky is falling. Like past installments, this series brings in other people who get a chance to be as intense as Robinson can be. If there's any straining in this season, it's in people who aren't as practiced in this degree of screeching chaos. So while we see the likes of Tim Meadows, Tim Heidecker, and Fred Armisen, they look slightly out of their league, and the bits aren't as strong. Returning heavyweight weirdos like Patti Harrison (with a bizarrely muted sketch) and Conner O'Malley are more immediately on Robinson's wavelength. There are so many laugh-out-loud jokes here, so many jarring plot turns, and so many ordinary situations that become creatively perverted. I don't want to spoil them for you, but more instill confidence about embracing what you've loved before, like any time Robinson sells a product, hunched over in front of a green screen. The former "SNL" writer and "Detroiters" star has a golden throat that's covered in rust, paired with an intense gaze that he can immediately put fire and fear behind. One of the best things that Netflix has ever done is give Robinson his own creative kingdom, all so that he and his peers can rip down the tapestries and scream at the walls. All of season three was screened for review. "I Think You Should Leave" is now playing on Netflix.
- Return of the Jedi Turns 40by Charlie Brigden on May 30, 2023 at 1:50 PM
"Return of the Jedi" celebrated its ruby anniversary this May and received a limited theatrical release. Even after four decades, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Just like in 1983, you can go to a store and pick up a Death Star-full of merchandise, including special reissues of the original action figures. The Force that is the Lucas/Disney marketing machine is still with us, even if Ben Kenobi and Yoda are not. It's still remarkable that "The Empire Strikes Back" ended the way it did with an open cliffhanger, even if its success and the production of the next chapter were all but guaranteed. "Jedi" opens with the Empire deep in the construction of a new bigger, and deadlier battle station, looking to cement their victory against the Rebel Alliance and rule the galaxy once and for all. The Rebels have a plan of course, and the serendipitous army of murderous teddy bears that are the Ewoks. But before Luke Skywalker et al. can continue that fight, there's still a loose thread to be resolved, namely the fate of Han Solo, last seen frozen in carbonite and flying Boba Fett Freight to be delivered to Jabba the Hutt. "Return of the Jedi" might have been the first of these films to suffer from, as the shimmering ghostly spirit of Ben puts it, "a certain point of view." With six years between the film and the first "Star Wars" picture, which had been reissued with "Episode IV - A New Hope" at the head of the crawl in 1982, kids had grown into teenagers who decided they were too cool for the more "childish" elements like the Ewoks, and as such, the furry critters are still divisive to this day. In any case, "Jedi" is still a blast. Yes, it's the weakest of the three. Yes, it has some decidedly obvious flaws and some unengaged performers. But it's a glorious end to the trilogy that features an excellent leading performance by Mark Hamill, a dynamite final act with spectacular cross-cutting, amazing creature work, and a John Williams score that proves what we've always known: He's the MVP of the entire franchise. Structurally, it's a bit of an odd beast. The entire first act is dedicated to rescuing Han, with the subsequent two covering the core three characters of Luke, Han, and Leia pulling together for the Rebel cause, which is a smart move. Harrison Ford famously thought Han should die in the film, but that would rid us of the essential chemistry generated between the three, something the film itself recognizes. There are a lot of disparate strands to weave together, with a trip to Yoda and Ben Kenobi to reveal the identity of the "other" mentioned in "Empire" and Darth Vader's continuing recruitment of Luke to the dark side. Speaking of Vader, we're reminded that he is but a henchman to the real villain, the Emperor, as played by a snarling Ian McDiarmid. Not all is well between master and apprentice (especially considering Vader told Luke they could overthrow his boss), and the Emperor probably didn't take Vader's failure to convert Luke particularly well. Vader seems to have some shell shock from his encounter with his son, and there's a melancholic tone to the character (a great combination of James Earl Jones' rumbling baritone and Dave Prowse's body language) that suggests his connection to the dark side is weaker than we were led to believe. Indeed, a key moment in the film is a wonderful short sequence where father and son talk after Luke gives himself up. Luke's determination to bring his father back is admirable, with him bringing up Vader's former self, which clearly angers the dark lord. The last shot of the sequence is a lone and contemplative Vader staring out into the forest, which leaves very little doubt that he's not going to kill his son. In many ways, Mark Hamill carries the film. Luke now shows signs of both Ben and Yoda's training through a certain sense of command of his emotions and inner tranquility, although his occasional naivete and recklessness remind us that he's not a proper Jedi just yet. Hamill spends much of the film stoic and restrained, but you can feel the tension from the anger that is ready to bubble up. While we know in our heads and hearts that he isn't going to go over to the dark side, his performance at least does a good job of telling us he might. His performance also helps to anchor a less impressive Ford and Fisher. Granted, they're not given a lot to do, and Solo's arc from dastardly smuggler to military hero robs the character of a certain amount of agency, but both are clearly bored. Perhaps this is where their movie star personalities come in; their talents still shine through, and the charisma between the central three is undeniably intoxicating. Lucas and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan are much more interested in Luke's journey and the multiple creatures that occupy most of Jedi's frames. Thankfully, said creatures are one of the film's highlights, with ILM's puppetry department at the top of its game, led by Phil Tippett and Stuart Freeborn. Jabba the Hutt is the obvious one, a wonderful and complex puppet that never feels anything less than alive. He's a suitable antagonist for the first half, although it's interesting that some people may be watching this film for the first time, having seen the character in earlier films, not least the controversial Special Edition of "Star Wars." In 1983, audiences only knew the character from references in the previous two films, so finally meeting him was a culmination of sorts. The first act is very well-realized and raises the stakes incrementally with the introduction of all of the heroes; the two droids, Chewbacca and Leia (disguised as a bounty hunter), an unfrozen Han, and finally Luke, who strides into Jabba's palace Force choking guards left and right and trying to bluff Jabba when talking about his powers. But it turns out he holds the aces, as after a brief dalliance with the wonderful Rancor monster, he sees the end of the vile gangster at the site of his supposed execution. It's still thrilling seeing R2-D2 shoot a lightsaber into the air and Luke's hand while a scantily clad Leia avenges her oppressor with the very chain used to manacle her. That said, I challenge anyone to determine what Luke's actual plan was; getting captured and sent to be executed doesn't sound like a solid strategy. The second act is when we finally get to meet the Ewoks, who just happen to live on the moon the Death Star is orbiting. The general conception of the Ewoks is that they're cuddly bears, and while individually they display these traits, along with a sense of curiosity and defensiveness, as a group, they are fairly vicious; let's not forget that the first time they meet Luke, Han, and company, they attempt to cook them. Of course, they're also the culmination of one of Lucas' themes of the series, that of the organic versus the synthetic, or man versus machine, to put it bluntly. Vader is an obvious example of this, and, like the Rebels themselves, the Ewoks are an analog for the Viet Cong against the might of the American military machine. The middle of the picture establishes the stakes of the final battle on a broad and personal level, with the Ewoks adding more manpower for the Rebels while Luke disappears to face Vader and the Emperor. This section tends to be a bit more tedious than the rest, though the speeder bike chase punctuates it. Another ode to Lucas' obsession with speed, it still works beautifully, especially because of the wise lack of score. Instead, the film acquiesces to Ben Burtt's sound effects, which end up having a strange musicality of their own. Perhaps it's good to have a break because it's relentless from when the Rebel fleet gets to the Death Star until the end. Credit must go to the editing trio of Marcia Lucas, Sean Barton, and Duwayne Dunham, who effortlessly manage the frantic cross-cutting between the three conflicts of Luke vs. Vader and the two battles in space and on land and give the sequences an incredible sense of momentum. John Williams, whose malevolent theme for the Emperor makes "The Imperial March" sound campy in comparison, throws the picture forward at every moment. The scenes in the Emperor's throne room are by far the best in the film. Williams is clearly inspired by the physical and psychological conflict, subtly building the score in scale and intensity until he unleashes its full might as Luke gives into his anger. Williams uses a deep male choir to underscore that fateful decision, illustrating the influence of the Emperor, whose theme rises to operatic levels as he sets the stage for Vader's dying act of redemption. It must also be noted that the film's version in theaters was the latest of the "Special Editions," which Lucas has been tinkering with since 1997. That means there's a different song in Jabba's palace; the Sarlaac now looks like Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors," and Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, replaces Sebastian Shaw as his glowing Jedi spirit. The picture also ends with a more encompassing celebration as worlds across the galaxy celebrate liberation from the brutal regime of the Empire. A newer John Williams cue ends the film, and it works perfectly for the modified version as it sits as part of the larger saga, while the more intimate "Yub Nub" was more suitable for the end of the story as it was in 1983. "Return of the Jedi" may have flaws in more crucial areas than the previous two films, but it remains an excellent picture. But more than that, it encompasses a message that is never more important in these times: one of love. Whether it's a Rancor keeper with a broken heart over his dead pet or a villain being brought back from hell, it reminds us of the intrinsic role in our lives that love plays and that it's not just what drives us, it's what saves us. One of the best lines in "The Last Jedi," the superior episode of the sequel trilogy, is Rose saying, "That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love." That's a core tenet of "Return of the Jedi" and why it remains so wonderful today.
- How do you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice! Practice! Practice!by Chaz Ebert on May 30, 2023 at 12:53 PM
As the old joke goes, a tourist asked a New Yorker how do you get to Carnegie Hall. And the answer was: Practice! Practice! Practice! The artists and musicians scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 3rd, have indeed practiced, practiced and had more practice. And as I am proud of all emerging artists in any field that I have sponsored or encouraged, I am especially proud when one is my Grand-Nephew, Jason Flowers II. He developed a fondness for classical music as a youngster growing up in Minneapolis at times when it wasn’t considered cool. He followed that passion to the great halls of New York, Paris and Belgium, and recorded a classical album that hit number one on the charts. Congratulations to Jason and to all who will share the stage at Carnegie Hall this Saturday at 8 pm for the New York Concerti Sinfonietta. For tickets, click here.
- #459 May 30, 2023by Matt Fagerholm on May 30, 2023 at 5:01 AM
Matt writes: The 2023 Cannes Film Festival may have concluded this past weekend, yet there are still a few enticing dispatches that have yet to be published on RogerEbert.com. You can find all of our coverage, both written and in video form, in this table of contents, featuring reports from Chaz Ebert, Ben Kenigsberg, Jason Gorber, Lisa Nesselson, Isaac Feldberg and Robert Daniels. Embedded below is Chaz's report on this year's prize-winners led by Justine Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall," only the third film directed by a woman ever to win the Palme d'Or... Trailers Killers of the Flower Moon (2023). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth (based on the book by David Grann). Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone. Synopsis: Members of the Osage tribe in the United States are murdered under mysterious circumstances in the 1920s, sparking a major F.B.I. investigation involving J. Edgar Hoover. Debuts in the US on October 20th, 2023. The Miracle Club (2023). Directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan. Written by Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager, Jimmy Smallhorne. Starring Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith. Synopsis: A hard-knocks community in outer Dublin marches to its own beat, rooted in traditions of loyalty, faith and togetherness. There's just one tantalising dream for the women of Ballyfermot to taste freedom and escape the gauntlet of domestic life: to win a pilgrimage to the sacred French town of Lourdes. Debuts in the US on July 14th, 2023. The Color Purple (2023). Directed by Blitz Bazawule. Written by Marcus Gardley and Marsha Norman (based on the novel by Alice Walker). Starring Halle Bailey, Colman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson. Synopsis: Musical adaptation of Alice Walker's novel about the life-long struggles of an African American woman living in the south during the early 1900s. Debuts in the US on December 25th, 2023. The Creator (2023). Directed by Gareth Edwards. Written by Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz. Starring John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ralph Ineson. Synopsis: Described as a post-apocalyptic thriller involving a future impacted by a war between humans and AI. Debuts in the US on September 29th, 2023. Problemista (2023). Written and directed by Julio Torres. Starring Julio Torres, Tilda Swinton, RZA. Synopsis: Alejandro is an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador struggling to bring his unusual ideas to life in NY. As time runs out on his work visa, a job assisting an erratic art-world outcast becomes his only hope to stay in the country. US release date is TBA. Nimona (2023). Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane. Written by Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor (based on the graphic novel by Nate Stevenson). Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Julio Torres, Riz Ahmed. Synopsis: When a knight in a futuristic medieval world is framed for a crime he didn't commit, the only one who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona -- a mischievous teen who happens to be a shapeshifting creature he's sworn to destroy. Debuts on Netflix on June 30th, 2023. Unclenching the Fists (2023). Directed by Kira Kovalenko. Written by Kira Kovalenko, Lyubov Mulmenko and Anton Yarush. Starring Milana Aguzarova, Alik Karaev, Soslan Khugaev. Synopsis: Ada is stuck. Living in a dead-end town in North Ossetia, she is caught in the tight grip of the men in her life. But when her older brother returns home and her father suddenly falls ill, Ada finally sees a possible path to freedom. US release date is TBA. Susie Searches (2023). Directed by Sophie Kargman. Written by William Day Frank. Starring Kiersey Clemons, Alex Wolff, Jim Gaffigan. Synopsis: An awkward college student who seizes the opportunity to bolster her popularity and her under-the-radar true-crime podcast by solving the disappearance of a classmate. US release date is TBA. Theater Camp (2023). Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman. Written by Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Noah Galvin and Ben Platt. Starring Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin. Synopsis: The eccentric staff of a rundown theater camp in upstate New York must band together with the beloved founder's bro-y son to keep the camp afloat. Debuts in the US on July 14th, 2023. Brooklyn 45 (2023). Written and directed by Ted Geoghegan. Starring Anne Ramsay, Ron E. Rains, Larry Fessenden. Synopsis: Five military veterans, best friends since childhood, gather together to support their troubled host, and the metaphoric ghosts of their past become all-too-literal. Debuts on Shudder on June 9th, 2023. The Persian Version (2023). Written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz. Starring Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet. Synopsis: When a large Iranian-American family gathers, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past, and to discover they are more alike than they know. US release date is TBA. Five Nights at Freddy's (2023). Directed by Emma Tammi. Written by Emma Tammi, Scott Cawthon and Seth Cuddeback. Starring Josh Hutcherson, Matthew Lillard, Elizabeth Lail. Synopsis: A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. During his first night on the job, he realizes that the night shift at Freddy's won't be so easy to get through. Debuts in the US on October 27th, 2023. Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023). Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Faryn Pearl. Written by Kirk DeMicco, Pam Brady, Elliott DiGuiseppi and Brian C. Brown. Starring Lana Condor, Jane Fonda, Toni Collette. Synopsis: A shy adolescent learns that she comes from a fabled royal family of legendary sea krakens and that her destiny lies in the depths of the waters, which is bigger than she could have ever imagined. Debuts in the US on June 30th, 2023. The Blackening (2023). Directed by Tim Story. Written by Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins. Starring Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls. Synopsis: Seven black friends who go away for the weekend only to find themselves trapped in a cabin with a killer who has a vendetta. Will their street smarts and knowledge of horror movies help them stay alive? Probably not. Debuts in the US on June 14th, 2023. No Hard Feelings (2023), red-band trailer. Directed by Gene Stupnitsky. Written by Gene Stupnitsky and John Phillips. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Natalie Morales. Synopsis: On the brink of losing her home, Maddie finds an intriguing job listing: helicopter parents looking for someone to bring their introverted 19-year-old son out of his shell before college. She has one summer to make him a man or die trying. Debuts in the US on June 23rd, 2023. The Flash (2023). Directed by Andy Muschietti. Written by Christina Hodson. Starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck. Synopsis: Barry Allen uses his super speed to change the past, but his attempt to save his family creates a world without super heroes, forcing him to race for his life in order to save the future. Debuts in the US on June 16th, 2023. Barbie (2023). Directed by Greta Gerwig. Written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell. Synopsis: To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you're a Ken. Debuts in the US on July 21st, 2023. Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One (2023). Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen (based on the television series created by Bruce Geller). Starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames. Synopsis: Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. Debuts in the US on July 12th, 2023. "Twin Peaks" Star George Griffith Matt writes: I had the great pleasure of interviewing George Griffith, who memorably played Ray Monroe on "Twin Peaks: The Return," about his superb directorial effort, "From the Head," which screens tomorrow, May 31st, at The Texas Theatre in Dallas as part of Daniel Knox's masterfully curated "David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective." You can read our full conversation here. R.I.P. Tina Turner (1939-2023) Matt writes: On May 24th, we lost the Queen of Rock 'n Roll, Tina Turner, when she passed away at age 83. Don't miss Brandon David Wilson's moving tribute, which includes several phenomenal musical performances from the late icon, including the one embedded above. Free Movies Blood on the Sun (1945). Directed by Frank Lloyd. Written by Lester Cole and Nathaniel Curtis. Starring James Cagney, Sylvia Sidney, Porter Hall. Synopsis: A dedicated American reporter in 1930s Japan is determined to expose that government's plan for world domination. Watch "Blood on the Sun" The Big Lift (1950). Written and directed by George Seaton. Starring Montgomery Clift, Paul Douglas, Cornell Borchers. Synopsis: Experiences of two Air Force sergeants during the 1948 Berlin Airlift. Watch "The Big Lift" Firehouse (1973). Directed by Alex March. Written by Frank Cucci. Starring Richard Roundtree, Michael Lerner, Paul Le Mat. Synopsis: Tensions arise when a previously all-white firehouse gets its first Black fireman. Watch "Firehouse"
- A Gold Mine of Material: George Griffith on From the Head and Twin Peaks: The Returnby Matt Fagerholm on May 29, 2023 at 12:59 PM
You never know who you’ll meet at the Double R Diner. This past February, my wife and I traveled to North Bend, Washington, for The Real Twin Peaks festival, which I attended with two other devotees of the show, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. No sooner had we arrived at Twede’s Cafe, the actual location that served as both the interior and exterior of the Double R on all three seasons of “Twin Peaks,” than in steps actor George Griffith with his equally impressive partner, Iggy Pop guitarist Sarah Lipstate. Griffith brilliantly portrayed Ray Monroe, an associate of Mr. C. (Kyle MacLachlan in a chillingly evil 180 degree turn from his comedic innocent, Dougie), who conspires against him with his partner Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), on five episodes of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” while the show’s co-creator David Lynch reprised his signature role as FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole. Upon introducing myself to Griffith, he gave me a copy of his superb 2011 directorial debut, “From the Head,” in which he inhabits the semi-autobiographical role of Shoes, the charismatic bathroom attendant at a strip club. The film will be screened in 35mm this Wednesday, May 31st, as part of “David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective,” masterfully curated by Daniel Knox at The Texas Theatre in Dallas. I recently spoke with Griffith via Zoom about the film, which received praise from no less than Lynch himself, as well as his experience of filming one of the greatest hours of cinematic artistry ever to air on television. It was so serendipitous how we met at the Twin Peaks festival in February, where I had you pose with the poster from Daniel Knox’s Lynch retrospective in Chicago. Neither of us knew that you would be in his next one. All of it has been very dreamy for me, the way that things have happened. I met David on April 1st, 2009, when I interviewed him for Sirius radio. David’s book Catching the Big Fish had come out, and it contained a different kind of voice from him. I had been a fan of his all along, so as you probably do, as things would come out, I would acquire them and devour them. The book really effected me a lot, and got me thinking, ‘Maybe I should meditate because I’m not really together.’ So I approached a radio show that I had a connection to and requested that they have David on for Catching the Big Fish. They told me that everyone was trying to do that because it was a new book. There was going to be a concert with Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and other people who had been connected to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in New York, and David was going to be there for it, so he agreed to be interviewed for the show when he was in town. When that had been confirmed, I prepared an “if then, go to” document. I started meditating and I connected many things that he had said over the years as well as discussed in the morsels of Catching the Big Fish to his films. Lynch on Lynch was a book I had reread many times. It’s so good and so refreshing and I love his perspective on things. I think it’s inspiring. I also read Maharishi’s book and at that point, I had done a ton of research on Transcendental Meditation because there were plans to have it put into schools in California. That interested me because if I had access to it as a kid, I think I would’ve had a different path. I would’ve been more relaxed in life. So I created this document and it became pretty hefty with directions like, “If David talks about this, you can ask about ‘Lost Highway,’” and things like that. As it got closer, the people on the show said, “No one wants to learn all this. Do you want to come do the interview?”, and I was like, “You bet.” George Griffith and Sarah Lipstate pose with the poster for Daniel Knox’s Lynch Retrospective at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre designed by Sean Longmore. Oddly enough, David and I both flew from LA to New York on the same day. I introduced myself, and we started talking about Philadelphia because I’m from Philly. It felt like talking about his old favorite love. Then during the interview, I was able to have a lot of agility in discussing things with him, and ended up having lunch with him afterward prior to his flight back. I kind of aggressively acquired the seat next to him, and whenever there would be a lull in the conversation, I’d ask things like, “Are you really never shooting on film again?” I also told him that I had the idea for a feature that would take place entirely in a bathroom, and he just said, “Great.” I was like, ‘Wow, no one has reacted that way when I’ve said that before.’ [laughs] He said, “Keep final cut,” and of course I knew that was the way he felt, but for him to say that to me, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do that.’ I asked David if I could send the film to him when it was finished, and he said, “Yeah, buddy.” At this point, we had been together for three or four hours and I felt pretty confident that we were having a nice rapport and that he liked me. Later on, his assistant told me that David thought I was funny. It’s hard to keep final cut in a contemporary circumstance, particularly as a first-time filmmaker and an auteur who doesn’t have any prior credits. The greatest thing I think we can do is trust people who have a vision. If it’s going to be bad, let it be bad. If it’s not going to work, that’s fine, but let’s not make this a democratic kind of endeavor. I think that is a disaster. Of course, I wished at the time that my film blew up or had gone to Cannes or something crazy like that, but what I was always really proud of and grateful for was that I listened to him and that I did keep final cut. “From the Head” comes up very frequently in social media and in conversations since “Twin Peaks,” and I never have a moment of shame or embarrassment or anything like that. I’m also really proud and happy that people are going to check it out, especially cinephiles because I am one. I grew up in a house of cinephiles, and that’s who I made it for. I shot it anamorphic so that it would look great in a cinema, which even at the time that I made the film was really a dying endeavor. The things that I watched with my DP Martin Matiásek were films I had seen on the big screen, such as “There Will Be Blood” and Pasolini movies. I loved how the faces of people were filmed and the way scenes were lit. I always thought that my film was going to be beautiful on the big screen and I think it is. I have seen it on the big screen a few times, but never in a film print, so I can’t wait for that. Having an entire film from the perspective of a bathroom attendant, who spends the majority of time in a space where people are quickly entering and exiting, is a narrative masterstroke in how it causes us to linger on and empathize with people we would normally have very limited interactions with. I agree with you and really appreciate that observation because my intention was to smuggle a road movie into this situation. “From the Head” is a road movie, it’s just that the road goes past him. It’s like those old movies where they would crank the scene behind him. He stays put there while everything keeps moving around him in real time. When I was in there, I felt like I was in the driver’s seat because it was my own little world, and I definitely knew I was going to do something with that material as an actor. When I got out of conservatory, I had a lot of different jobs such as carpentry, but I just wasn’t cut out for being a waiter. I was working at a pretty nice joint, but I had gotten a bad attitude about it, so I quit abruptly, and I was definitely living hand to mouth. I was doing a play at the time and suddenly had all of these bills to pay along with my rent. The question, ‘Oh, why didn’t you think that through?’ would run through my mind many times every day at that point in my life. [laughs] I was offered the job of a bathroom attendant in a theater, and eventually agreed to do a shift. My employer said, “Just do it for a little while. Nobody can last,” and I took that as a little bit of a challenge. I was also a pretty ravenous reader at the time, and I wrote a lot. I was interested in having a journalistic element to my fiction so that I could sort of be like, ‘Well, it did kind of happen.’ David Lynch and George Griffith. Courtesy of George Griffith. That wonderful quote you have from Samuel Beckett’s Molloy at the beginning of “From the Head”—“Perhaps I’m inventing a little, perhaps embellishing, but on the whole that’s the way it was”—must’ve informed your whole approach. Absolutely, and thank you for acknowledging that because I remember when I got the permission from the author’s estate, they didn’t really know how to address it because no one had ever used a Beckett quote like that before. I also thought that there was very quietly a Celtic kind of storytelling in my writing, and I think he is one of the great Irish writers. I read “Molloy” when I was working in the bathroom—I read a lot in that job—and I recognized immediately that the people I would encounter in there were providing me with a gold mine of material. I still had my Dale Cooper-style tape recorder from high school that my mom had gotten for me. She knew that I loved “Twin Peaks” and since I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts when I was writing, she gave it to me. I would tape it inside my vest in the bathroom during an eight-hour shift, and when some dude came in, I would turn it on. Then I would come home, where I had one of the first little Macs under my bed, and I’d transcribe the whole thing for another four hours and try to piece together the good stuff, which was pretty much everything. I’d even pass it on to the guy who came in after me and say, “I think you’ve got a different group of guys than I do. Now I’m getting repeats.” I did this for a year, and then I lost everything on the computer when it died. I was crushed and thought, ‘The hell with that idea anyway. No one is going to believe any of it, and nobody is going to care about a film set in a bathroom.’ But then, many years later when I had moved to LA, I was talking to a friend who I was rehearsing with for a project, and we were joking about past jobs. When I mentioned that one, she was like, “You have to write about this,” and her level of curiosity was intriguing to me. I went home, started writing and it was like a gusher. I could hear the voices of the characters readily and I just kept writing scene after scene. My grandmother and my dad were great storytellers, and after living in Philly, I know that the people there would never let the truth get in the way of a good story. I’d be in a bar three nights a week and when I heard the same story being told, I’d be like, ‘Damn, this gets better every time.’ That’s why I chose the Beckett quote because what happens in the film is largely very true, but I worked it over and massaged it like you do. Your performance anchors every scene, and it reminded me a bit of Gabriel Byrne’s therapist in HBO’s “In Treatment,” who has to keep his emotions in check while interacting with his patients. I did do myself a service. Since the film takes place in real time, I was in every minute of the movie, and we were shooting over 18 days, I immediately made sure that we could shoot in sequence, which is unusual for a film. But because of the nature of the way that people appear, it wasn’t that complicated schedule-wise because there are only a few people other than Shoes who appear more than one time. I’d be coming back the next day and we were picking up the next second of what just happened yesterday, and since “From the Head” is a slow burn for my character, I felt that approach was critical. The screenplay was kind of underwritten—it was largely dialogue—but I knew how the day and the job and the people and the drinking and the environment were all going to wear on him, so what I had to do was make sure I created a production environment that would facilitate it and support it. It was hard to tell on the page what a rough day it was going to be on him. Another quality you share with Lynch is your embrace of prolonged, charged silences in which a great deal is conveyed without dialogue. I think that is really astute of you because I said many times to the actors and producers that one of my greater fixations in terms of characters and storytelling is on everything that we don’t say. I think even in relationships and in life, that’s where you can find out a lot, and that’s why listening is a real skill. My character is put in a sort of circumstance where listening is also tethered to his revenue, so there is a mercenary element to what he does and how he approaches it. It’s easier to keep your energy if you allow things, and I think that’s something that he’s learned from doing the job. From an editing standpoint, I had to assert myself a few times. My editor John Coniglio was amazing, but the producers and people who were watching it in the beginning were critical of scenes that took a longer than usual time. I think that those moments are gifts for viewers and certainly for me. Those are the times that you can daydream and you can have things really happen to you as someone who is witnessing. If we move too quickly to the next thing, there can be some sacrifice to things that could maybe really land and settle and I also think that it jeopardizes the power of empathy. I ask every bathroom attendant that I ever meet, “Have you seen my movie?”, and they’ve never seen it, and I always tip ‘em really, really good. My hope was that the film would connect with anybody who feels stuck in their job and perhaps drowning in the melancholy of lost potential, and it was imperative that we allowed the time to linger on certain moments, such as when the people leave and we stay with Shoes. That’s when his predicament can infiltrate you more. Also, by filming it in real time and having a ceiling on the set, which is unusual, I wanted to have the feeling of what it was like to be stuck in a place that you have to be but you don’t want to be. It’s interesting how my three favorite films—“Mulholland Dr.”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Shining”—are also about characters who are stuck. Cinema enables us to empathize with that sort of experience in a way that is cathartic. A hundred percent. I have always been grateful for the gift art provides by reminding you that you’re not alone. You look at a work of art and think, ‘I can’t say it that way, but that’s what I wish I could say,’ or, ‘I don’t know if I could sculpt that but that moves me,’ or, ‘The way that paint is moving, I have no idea how they did that, but that’s how I felt when I lost that person.’ I think that there is real power to art in how it makes you feel connected, and in “From the Head,” all of the characters are desperate for connection. That world is saturated with that kind of motivation and desire, and I always felt like I sort of trojan horsed a movie about love in a strip club. These characters want to feel like they are a part of something. That craving for love and connection is really what keeps environments like that afloat as businesses, and it’s definitely what I wanted my film to be about. A Lynchian accident that occurred during a panorama picture taken at The Real Twin Peaks festival, causing George Griffith to fragment as he entered the room. One of the most touching sequences in the film features a 35-year-old man on the spectrum played by Clint Culp who feels plucked from life, much like the people who occupy the periphery of many Lynch narratives. Many of the characters in the film were combinations of people I had met, but that one you’re talking about was based on a specific guy who came in, and I made an effort to ensure that there was no judgment on any of the people in the film. I certainly don’t mind a repeated likening to David Lynch because especially as time has passed, he’s been one of my greatest influences. I really appreciate the things that you’re bringing up because they are what I find moving in David’s work and why I keep returning to it. I can watch David’s films and keep finding new things. I wouldn’t call his characters “crazy.” They are nuanced. Maybe they aren’t the sort of people we meet most of the time, and that may be in part because we’re not always in environments where people feel like they can act like themselves, like they do in a bathroom with a guy that they’re never going to see again. There was definitely a point where I was like, ‘That guy might recognize himself in the film,’ but the chances of him being like, ‘I was that regular who was there enough for this guy to remember me and write about,’ were low. But I did have people contact me via social media and say, “I remember you from the bathroom.” One of the women who worked there wrote about the film many years ago when she saw it, and she thought that it was pretty spot-on. That’s the reason why I set it in ’95 because I am an authority on the bathroom in 1995. That’s when I worked there and the film is based on the specific afternoon of a baseball game. You’ll notice that there are no baseball hats because we weren’t allowed to use the Yankees logo. I was struck by how you and Matiásek used mirrors to open the space visually while playing with perspective. I love that you’re bringing this up. I designed the set, so I had an aerial view of it and could direct the flow of traffic in the script. I wanted Shoes to be in front of the mirror and right away, everybody—the producers, the set designer and every DP that I interviewed—would say, “You’re going to shoot a whole movie with a six-foot mirror behind you?!” And I said, “I think we can do it.” I also had the idea of cutting the holes out in front of the urinals, which is why I put newspapers up in the bathroom. I knew I could cut a hole the size of a lens and the actors would block it while they were at a urinal so I could get those shots. Marty and I got along really well and he helped me petition for the money we needed to shoot “From the Head” on film. We wanted the film to be cinematic rather than a filmed play, but without showing off. It was really wonderful to have so much trust in him because we planned everything before we got there, but as you know, crazy things happen every day. I had to deal with actors and my own lines while adding new scenes and shooting on film, of which I didn’t have an endless supply. I quickly did only one take of my stuff if it was clean because I had to make sure I had enough film for the other actors. George Griffith in “From the Head.” Courtesy of George Griffith. Your attention to sound design extends to the detailed ambience indicating what’s occurring outside of the bathroom. I wrote a full separate script for the DJ so that he would always be making announcements. Other than the opening song, which I really love, I wanted the music to be of the time, but obviously I couldn’t pay for a soundtrack like that. I also had about sixty different descriptions of how the urination would sound for each character. This is also a film of great faces, including that of the late Jon Polito and your “Twin Peaks” co-star Matthew Lillard. Matthew is a very old friend of mine. I met him when I was 19. We were like the young guns at the conservatory that we were in because it was a graduate program, but neither one of us had done undergrad. We both sort of hotshotted our way in and we had a mutual admiration for each other. We were both risk-takers and adventurous in our choices as actors, and we remain close to this day. He did one of the web series that I had made to raise money for the feature. I was being encouraged to have a little more of a cameo fest than I was interested in doing. I thought that would undermine the tone that I was going for in “From the Head,” but Jeffrey Doornbos, one of the producers, had just done something with Polito and was like, “You want me to ask him if he’ll come meet you?” He agreed to meet me at a cafe for coffee, and he had a scene with him that I had sent him. We’re talking for a couple minutes, the coffee came, and he asked, “Should we read it?” I said, “You wanna read it here?”, and he just goes for it. Afterward, he looks at me and says, “Let’s shoot this fucker.” [laughs] I was so pleased. He was a hoot onset, and wore a “Big Lebowski” shirt, which is one of the superstitious shirts he’d bring to a film shoot. I remember the guy who I based his character on, and Polito just crushed it. I spotted the name of Valerie Weiss, an excellent filmmaker whom I’ve interviewed in the past, among the people listed in your Special Thanks credit roll. Her husband, Robert Johnson, is briefly in “From the Head.” Valerie was a Harvard grad who was going to be moving into film, and she was the greatest person for me to know because I wasn’t good at educating myself about how to produce a film. She had a really brilliant perspective on how to get things done, and she introduced me to my first AD, Nick Harvard, who had just finished “The Hurt Locker” and was invaluable. He is still one of my best buddies. Val was just somebody that I would reach out to about things I was trying out, such as budgeting in reverse, and she was so smart. First assistant director Nicolas Harvard, cinematographer Martin Matiásek and writer/director George Griffith on the set of “From the Head.” Courtesy of George Griffith. Did the film premiere at the Philadelphia International Film Festival, where it won the Best Feature prize? Yes, and that was a really beautiful thing because that is my hometown. They screened it at the art museum, which I went to my whole life, and projected it on the IMAX screen. It was the first time that nudity had ever been shown on that screen, and that premiere probably had the largest audience who ever saw the film. I was very humbled by how many people showed up to it. In Philly, people are like, ‘Local boy makes good, we will be there,’ and they definitely were, though tons of people also came down from New York. There were guys and girls that I went to grade school with in attendance because the screening was in the paper. It was magical. What was your reaction to Lynch’s response regarding your film—“Beautifully written, beautifully directed, beautifully acted, beautifully filmed.”—and how did that lead to you being cast in “Twin Peaks: The Return”? That line was part of a longer email that he sent me, and I was definitely fending off being down in the dumps. “From the Head” was not being accepted by every film festival that I was submitting to, and I was trying to tell myself, “At least I did it the way that I believe it needed to be.” I served the piece, I served myself and I served my vision because there is a lot of flotsam and jetsam that happens and I very successfully made it through all that. Then one day, I got David’s email and I just remember tears running down my cheeks. He said that everybody who was involved should be congratulated, and I just couldn’t believe it. I continue to write him letters on my typewriter, and we live pretty close to each other. Matthew and I had been in Steppenwolf West for a couple years, studying and working on things there, and in the summer of 2015, he came to me and asked, “Do you want to do a LaBute play? I’m going to direct it and I’ll cast around you if you do it.” I had done a lot of Neil LaBute productions—I sit pretty well in those unsavory pieces, and to me, he is one of the most brilliant playwrights. I feel like it’s almost effortless to ingest and to own. Matthew had done a play with him a few years earlier in the U.K. So I agreed to do Neil’s first piece, Filthy Talk for Troubled Times, which is kind of hard-core, and then Matthew said, “If you think you’re up for it, there’s another play and I want to do them both at the same time in Scotland.” I thought, ‘How and why would I ever say no to such an amazing challenge?’ We hadn’t done anything together for a while, and I always found working with him to be really inspiring. It was challenging in an intimate, kind of familial way. Right as we were about to leave for Scotland, I got an email from David’s assistant asking for a copy of “From the Head.” Then I got called in for my meeting with casting director Johanna Ray, and I was really excited. I had written a letter to David when he and Mark Frost simultaneously tweeted, “The gum you like is going to come back in style” in 2014. I immediately grabbed my typewriter and blasted out a letter to him saying I could put my energy to any task on “Twin Peaks.” Then the next day, the show was suddenly no longer happening, and I was like, ‘Oh no—my letter’s in the mail!’ [laughs] Thankfully, it came back. George Griffith posing with David Lynch’s 2017 painting, “Philadelphia.” Courtesy of George Griffith. Anyway, I thought that Johanna calling me in was just a result of David’s kindness. Matthew and I were about to be out of the country for a long time, and we didn’t talk about going in for the audition. I didn’t want to talk about it with anybody because it was enough for me to simply be called in. While I was in Scotland, I got an email from Johanna requesting that I “put a pin in me,” which is kind of old school language for “don’t got anywhere for these dates.” I looked at it and thought, ‘Those are a lot of dates. I guess I won’t be pumping gas.’ I knew from the show’s executive producer Sabrina S. Sutherland that David had me in mind when he was writing Ray, and it’s difficult to articulate how that feels as an actor. I didn’t know that when I got my script—only after we were finished did I find that out. When Matthew and I saw each other at the premiere, he gave me the biggest hug because honestly, the truth is that he teased me a lot about how obsessed I was with Lynch when we were younger. When we were in our first year at the conservatory, and we’d be asked, “What do you want to do?”, our peers would be like, “There’s that new guy in ‘Thelma and Louise,’ I’d like to have a career like him.” And I’d be like, “I want to be in ‘Twin Peaks.’” They’d say, “Uh, you know that is cancelled, right?”, and I’d reply, “You never know…” At the premiere, Lillard told me, “I can’t believe this happened for you.” He was obviously very pleased for himself because he had a great role and he knocked it out of the park. I thought it was one of the greatest things he had ever done. Every time I watch “The Return,” I always text him after I’ve finished his scenes and I always acknowledge how nuanced and wonderful his performance is. I know what it’s like to be in David’s world and to have to do something a little bit differently as an actor. Maybe you don’t know everything, but I think that there is also a really amazing opportunity to pivot and just commit to what you do know. You create your character and then allow yourself to be in his hands. I wasn’t onset for his scenes, but I just had the sense that he had done that, and I know that that’s what I did. I was just so happy that we were both in it. It’s the magnum opus of Lynch’s career. I found it be immensely timely and therapeutic to watch during the first year of Trump’s presidency. I felt that too. I looked forward to it every week. I love that we didn’t know when we were going to be on. I felt like the whole cast watched it without knowing when their scenes would turn up. Honestly, it’s very common for actors to just call in and ask for their scenes so they can throw them on their reel, but in this case, I just felt like everyone was watching. I watched all of it by myself, though I viewed a couple episodes with my mom, whom I watched the original with quite a bit. I did watch Part 13 with a group because Sabrina called me and said, “You might not want to be alone tonight,” and I thought, ‘Ah, I know what that means!’ That was great for me too because I met a bunch of cast members whom I had never met. I loved that the show came out slowly like that because you could rewatch it during the week and mull it over. If you chose to, you could go to the global watercolor, which you couldn’t do when the first two seasons were aired. You could really do a deep dive talking to people, and I love that people were as excited as I was because I was over the moon, man. I would forget that I was in it most of the time. I would get emotional every time the theme song would come on and the cinematographer Peter Deming is such a beautiful talent. Top: Jack Nance as Henry in “Eraserhead”; Bottom: Kyle MacLachlan as Dougie in “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Lynch might as well be talking about Dougie in this excerpt from the chapter on “Eraserhead” in Lynch on Lynch: “Henry is very sure that something is happening, but he doesn’t understand it at all. He watches things very, very carefully, because he’s trying to figure them out. He might study the corner of that pie container, just because it’s in his line of sight, and he might wonder why he sat where he did to have that be there like that. Everything is new. It might not be frightening to him, but it could be a key to something. Everything should be looked at. There could be clues in it.” This relationship between Dougie and Jack Nance’s character of Henry in “Eraserhead” is further accentuated by their similar pose in the elevator. David and I talked about that moment, and the last time I watched “Eraserhead,” I noticed other things in the film that come back in “The Return.” As an actor, you have to do something over and over again, but it has to feel like the first time during each take, and it’s amazing when you learn about how many years they spent making “Eraserhead.” That sense of newness is something that I experienced working with David. His curiosity and that childlike way of looking at things afresh was really inspiring. I felt tuned into the fact that he had chosen me for specific reasons and believed that I was right for the role. He wanted me to explore, make unexpected choices, be spontaneous and present in the moment, welcome surprises and the unknown and be open to everything that is possible like he is. There’s a uniformity to how he approached things on “Eraserhead” and “The Return.” It’s not that he hasn’t changed or that he hasn’t welcomed growth. It’s more that he has a dedication to a way of creating and it’s brilliant. It really does make room to dream. I almost did nothing else but think about Ray. I had “The Pink Room” on a loop in the car while driving around. I couldn’t believe my character’s name was Ray Monroe. How cool is that? I felt so trusted as well as connected to all these things that were familiar to me. I felt a real ownership right away. It was one of my greatest creative dreams to collaborate with David, and I felt a real freedom as an actor when I got onset because I knew he had picked me for the role. You are not only in “Twin Peaks: The Return,” which is one of the most astonishing cinematic achievements of my lifetime, you are also in one of the greatest hours of television ever aired, Part 8. We were all very tight-lipped throughout the show’s release, and I only know what happened with me in Part 8, but I remember that the day it aired, Peter Deming posted a picture of the Red Room on Instagram with the words, “Part 8, like no other.” For the rest of the day, I had butterflies, wondering whether this would be the one where Ray shoots Mr. C. When the episode began with the two of us in the car, it was the most conflated kind of experience in terms of me being a fan and in it. I had no idea how the scene was going to come across because I really let loose that night, and I was just slack-jawed. Then it cut to Nine Inch Nails performing, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, in the sea of the coolest of the coolest, this is the coolest! We just ratcheted cool one more time.” And then…it really started to happen, right? At the end of it, I just sat there in the dark and I remember thinking that it was my favorite Lynch movie that I had ever seen, and I was so glad that I was in it. I looked at my phone and it was blowing up. I remember my funniest text was from Nicole, and she was like, “Partner! What?!” It meant so much to me as a student and a collaborator of David’s, as a lifelong fan of “Twin Peaks” and as somebody who had a huge affectionate connection for the mythology. To be in a night drive scene was part of my Lynch bucket list, and the episode was full of these great, eerie, sort of ominous silences. I did get to see it on the big screen when they screened the entirety of “The Return” over three days at MoMA. Seeing those six-hour chunks with people was really miraculous. The tired criticisms aimed at the show like, “Dougie takes too long,” just aren’t true, and this screening confirmed it. Seeing Part 8 with people was fantastic. You could hear audible gasps. I hadn’t really been reading too much about the show because I didn’t want to know what other people were thinking yet. I was digesting it myself, but my manager started sending me Part 8 articles almost right way, and I was like, “Maybe I’m not the only one who felt that way.” I can’t wait for my kids to see it. It was so galvanizing to see Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” finally fused with the sort of imagery it was originally intended to evoke. It’s really breathtaking. I always think that David is part of film history and film’s future at the same time. It felt like Penderecki slid that music right over to Lynch and was like, “You are the only one who can put a visual to this.” I don’t think there’s anyone else who could’ve done that. The characters Gordon Cole refers to as the “dirty, bearded men in a room” feel somehow related to The Man Behind Winkie’s in “Mulholland Dr.” Lynch’s portrayal of LA feels closer to life than any other in how he portrays the city’s homeless occupants, most movingly in “Inland Empire.” I think it harkens back to what we had been discussing about seeing characters on film that you might normally judge. Maybe you walk quickly by them because you’ve put them in some archetype that is easy for you to dismiss. I watched the recent restoration of “Inland Empire” upon its release, and those scenes on Hollywood Blvd with Naido, who is in “The Return,” really struck me too. What makes the inclusion of “From the Head” at this year’s Lynch retrospective particularly special? Well, I’m trying to not be too hyperbolic, but I don’t think that either I or “From the Head” would exist in the same way without David Lynch. His influence on me has been so multi-tiered. It’s been personal, it’s been artistic, it’s been spiritual and it’s been professional, and all of those things are interwoven. I couldn’t be more humbled or grateful for that, and I feel really proud to be brought up in the same sentence as him, honestly. As an artist, I really desire purity and I think that I felt fortified in that endeavor by my connection with David. One of my favorite things is to talk about film. I don’t always get to talk about my film, and I don’t always talk about David or “Twin Peaks” because I don’t want to be like Neil Armstrong going around every day saying, “I went to the moon, baby!” But it’s had such a profound resonance for me and I’m really grateful for your thoughtfulness. It means a lot to me. “From the Head” screens in 35mm at 9:30pm on Wednesday, May 31st, at The Texas Theatre in Dallas with George Griffith in attendance as part of “David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective.” For tickets, click here, and you can find the full festival lineup here.
- Elementalby Isaac Feldberg on May 29, 2023 at 12:58 PM
At its best, Pixar is unbeatable, making clever, charming, and brightly original films to touch the heart and spark the imagination. And so it’s been dispiriting to see the animation studio behind such emotive triumphs as “Toy Story,” “Ratatouille,” “Up,” and “Inside Out”—among the best films of their respective years, bar none—recently fall short of its past standard of excellence. It’s not just that modern-day Pixar has focused on reprising its greatest hits with a parade of sequels (“Toy Story 4,” “Incredibles 2,” “Lightyear”), or that the studio’s slate of recent originals (“Soul,” “Luca,” “Turning Red”) have all, oddly enough, centered on characters transforming into animals (a revealing trope for its prevalence in films about feeling different, whose initially diverse protagonists invariably spend most of the runtime covered in fur or scales). Also absent lately at Pixar, a subsidiary of Disney since 2006, is the mastery of execution that had distinguished the studio, a brilliance for establishing high-concept premises and effortlessly navigating their particulars. “Elemental,” Disney and Pixar’s latest, feels emblematic of the studio’s struggle to recapture its original magic, making a mess of its world-building in service of a conventional story that fails the talent of the animators involved. Set in a world where natural elements—earth, fire, water, air—coexist in a New York-style metropolis, each representing different social classes, the film—directed by Peter Sohn, from a screenplay by John Hoberh, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh—aims high with that central metaphor but is set immediately off-balance by its unwieldiness as racial allegory, an issue compounded by haphazard pacing and writing so flatly predictable it suggests a Pixar film authored by an AI algorithm. At times bordering on the nonsensical, the film feels under-developed rather than universal, a colorful missed opportunity. Presented as the closing-night selection of the 76th Cannes Film Festival, ahead of its stateside release in mid-June, “Elemental” envisions a densely populated urban sprawl similar to that of Disney’s anthrozoomorphic “Zootopia,” in which ideas of racial discrimination were uneasily reduced to “predator and prey” dynamics to allow for a story that focused more on dismantling personal prejudices than systemic racism. In Element City, a similarly ill-advised simplification is at work (though Sohn has explained that his Korean heritage and desire to make a film about assimilation fueled some of the creative decisions), and there’s even a similar eyebrow to raise with regard to the legitimate danger that these contrasting elements, like foxes to rabbits, pose to one another. In “Elemental,” socially privileged water people flow back and forth through slickly designed high-rises and have no issue splashing down the city’s grand canals and monorails, which were designed for their gelatinous-blob bods, whereas fire folk are sequestered to Firetown, where their tight-knit community reflects East Asian, Middle Eastern, and European traditions—and accents run the gamut from Italian to Jamaican, Iranian, and West Indian, in a way that uncomfortably positions fire as representative as all immigrants and water as representative of the white upper-class. Earth and air, meanwhile, barely register; we see earth people who sprout daisies from their dirt-brown armpits, and cotton candy-esque cloud puffs playing “airball” in Cyclone Stadium, but the film is surprisingly non-committal in imagining the chemistry of inner-city elements interacting. Background sight gags abound, such as the “hot logs” that fire folk chow down on, but the actual ins and outs of Element City are explored only superficially, such as the revelation that all these elements take advantage of the same public transit. Replete with computer-generated inhabitants and generic modernist structures, its milieu feels more like concept art, to be further detailed at some point in the animation process, than a fully thought-through, lived-in environment. “Elemental” centers on hot-tempered Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis, of “The Half of It”), a second-generation immigrant who works as an assistant in her father’s bodega shop. Fire people who emigrated from Fireland, from whence they brought spicy food and rigid cultural traditions of honor and lineage, Ember and her father Útrí dár ì Bùrdì (Ronnie del Carmen)—though he and his wife Fâsh ì Síddèr (Shila Ommi) had their names Anglicized to Bernie and Cinder at the “Elemental” equivalent of Ellis Island—have a close relationship as he readies her to take over the family business. Ember, though, is questioning whether or not she truly wants to inherit the store, as her beloved “ashfa” says he expects, or whether her gifts—such as the ability to heat a hot-air balloon and mold glass with her hands—might lead her in another direction. Unable to control her emotions, which can take her from red-hot into a more ominous purple shade, Ember one day ruptures a pipe in her father’s shop, at which point city inspector Wade (Mamoudou Athie) gushes in. Wade’s been investigating the city’s dilapidated canal system, searching for the source of a leak that keeps flooding Ember’s basement but imperils all of Firetown. Determined to keep her father’s business from going under, Ember pursues and then quickly joins forces with Wade. As romance sparks between the two, they make for a particularly odd couple given one of the film’s less-than-convincing rules: that “elements don’t mix,” for reasons both practical and parochial, in Element City. Ember might extinguish Wade, while he could douse her flame, but their inevitably steamy romance is moreso forbidden because her father would never approve, setting up “Elemental” as an interracial love story, the kind Pixar hasn’t yet told with human characters. From there, the film works like a checklist of Pixar storytelling clichés, its two opposites at first getting on one another’s last nerve but gradually forming a close bond, before separating over what amounts to a basic misunderstanding, which is resolved in climactic fashion as the two rescue one another from a looming threat and rekindle their love. Still, as the plot’s frantically paced chain reaction of events keeps Ember and Wade together, their relationship becomes the film’s slight but endearing center, a welcome respite from the mixed metaphors and misshapen conceptual mechanics that often threaten to break the story’s inner reality. (Why, for example, is what will happen if Ember and Wade touch such a mystery to them both, in a city whose ceramic and terracotta glass structures point to other elements interacting?) Lewis voices Ember with a playful warmth that nicely complements the bubbling affability that Athie brings to Wade, while the animation of both their bodies—hers flickering then suddenly ablaze with emotion, heat wafting upward; his fluid and transparent, prone to collapsing into a puddle on the ground—is always exciting to look at, emphasizing malleability and dabbling in abstraction. But even the film’s promising use of color, form, and movement feels hemmed in by the unimaginative storytelling. Only a few standout sequences—a visit to an underwater garden of Vivisteria flowers, a detour into hand-drawn animation that tells a love story in minimal, swirling lines—separate “Elemental” from any other Pixar film in which the characters are phosphorescent little blobs traveling through realistically animated cityscapes, and as rapidly as the film progresses it never goes anywhere unexpected. There’s similarly nothing in “Elemental” to recall the wondrous aesthetic imagination of modern Pixar classics like “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E,” with the exception of a rich score by composer Thomas Newman that takes its cues from a potpourri of global musical traditions and presents a more fully formed vision of cross-cultural exchange than the film’s muddled depiction of immigrant communities. Perhaps fittingly for a film that would have more accurately been titled “When Fire Met Water…,” “Elemental” is combustible enough from minute to minute, but it evaporates from memory the second you leave the theater. This review was filed from the Cannes Film Festival. "Elemental" opens on June 16th.
- Cannes 2023 Video #8: The Winners are Revealedby Chaz Ebert on May 28, 2023 at 11:28 AM
RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert's eighth and final video dispatch from the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, made with Scott Dummler of Mint Media Works, features her report on this year's prize-winners, led by Justine Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall," only the third film directed by a woman to win the Palme d'Or. You can view Chaz's full report in the video embedded below, followed by a transcript of the video. The 76th Cannes Film Festival is now complete. Tonight an elegant closing ceremony wrapped up the festival and presented the prizes. The jury had many tough decisions this year, and jury President Ruben Östlund mentioned at the press conference what an emotional experience the festival was. The first award presented was for Best Actor, and the winner received perhaps the warmest reception of anyone all night. Japanese actor Kōji Yakusho in "Perfect Days" directed by Wim Wenders. At the press conference, he was asked if he had any rituals, like his character does in the film. Presented by last year’s Best Actor, Song Kang-Ho, Best Actress was a bit of a surprise, going to Merve Dizdar in "About Dry Grasses" directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. John C. Reilly, president of the Un Certain Regard jury, presented the award for Best Screenplay - beginning his presentation with a word, or rather lack of words, to make a statement about the importance of writers who are currently on strike. The screenplay award went to Sakamoto Yuji for "Monster". And it was accepted by the director Hirokazu Kore-eda. The Jury Prize, presented by actor Orlando Bloom, went to another big crowd favorite: "Fallen Leaves" directed by Aki Kaurismäki. The lead actors talked about the experience of working with the Finnish director. Pete Docter, from Pixar Studios, who will premiere their latest project, "Elemental," later tonight presented the award for Best Director. That prize went to Trần Anh Hùng for the elegant gastronomy romance, "The Pot au Feau." Quentin Tarantino then arrived on stage and gave an introduction to low-budget legend Roger Corman, who received a well deserved long standing ovation. The two of them presented the Grand Prix, the Grand Prize, to "The Zone of Interest" directed by Jonathan Glazer. And finally, it was time for the festival’s biggest award - the Palme’ d’Or. Presented by the incredibly youthful Jane Fonda, the Palme went to "Anatomy of a Fall" directed by Justine Triet. Madame Triet is just the 3rd woman filmmaker to win the award. The first was Jane Campion for "The Piano" in 1993 and the 2nd was Julia Ducournau in 2021 for "Titane". In her acceptance speech, Justine Triet spoke out against the government of Emmanuel Macron and its current controversies. That’s it for Cannes 2023. It’s been a wonderful festival, and we can’t to join you here next year out on the Croisette. Until then, au revoir!
- Cannes 2023: Anatomy of a Fall wins Palme d'Orby Ben Kenigsberg on May 27, 2023 at 9:56 PM
Justine Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall," a French courtroom drama that finds an author (Sandra Hüller) accused of the murder of her husband, won the Palme d'Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. Triet is only the third woman to win the top prize in the festival's history, after Jane Campion shared the award for "The Piano" in 1993 and Julia Ducournau, who was on the jury this year, won for "Titane" in 2021. Before the jury president, Ruben Östlund, announced the award, the presenter, Jane Fonda, noted that there were a record seven women competing for the Palme d'Or this year. Putting a spin on Otto Preminger's "Anatomy of a Murder," "Anatomy of a Fall" is something like "Anatomy of a Marriage." The Hüller character's husband (Samuel Theis) may have died in an accident, a suicide, or a murder. But when Hüller character, called Sandra, is put on trial for homicide, the case begins to focus on the dynamics of their relationship and their family life. The Grand Jury Prize, effectively second place, went to Jonathan Glazer's "The Zone of Interest," which takes a ruthlessly formalized approach to attempt to imagine how the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his wife, Hedwig (Hüller again), lived from day to day with a death camp that murdered more than one million in their backyard. Accepting the award, Glazer said he wanted to honor the memory of Martin Amis, who wrote the novel from which the film was loosely adapted, and who died the day it premiered. Glazer also thanked the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, saying that the film was only possible because of the museum's support. The jury prize went to the veteran Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki for the warmly received "Fallen Leaves." The two lead actors, Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen, accepted the award, and Pöysti read a thank-you from Kaurismaki. "Merci and 'Twist and Shout'!" she quoted him as saying. Best Director went to Tran Anh Hung for "The Pot-au-Feu," an exquisitely made drama the relationship between an epicure (Benoît Magimel) and the cook (Juliette Binoche) who has worked for him in 20 years. Merve Dizdar won Best Actress for Nuri Bilge Ceylan's ropey, dialogue-heavy drama "About Dry Grasses." She plays a teacher who has lost part of a leg to a suicide bombing. Koji Yakusho took Best Actor for his dialogue-lite performance as a bathroom janitor in Tokyo in Wim Wenders's mood piece "Perfect Days." The screenplay prize went to Sakamoto Yuji for "Monster," directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, who frequently writes his own The Camera d'Or, the award for best first feature, went to Thien An Pham's three-hour "Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell," set in Vietnam and shown in the parallel festival Directors' Fortnight. At the awards ceremony, Quentin Tarantino, who was at Directors' Fortnight for a talk on Thursday, paid tribute to the exploitation maestro Roger Corman, who took the stage and joked that he made it to Cannes at last.
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