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      • Pacific Rim Movie Review : Pathetically Grim
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        Pacific Rim Movie Review : Pathetically Grim

        Pacific Rim is a Guillermo del Toro film. Let me say that again because it’s little a hard to believe. Pacific Rim is a Guillermo del Toro film. The first time I saw the promo of this film, I said to myself it’s going to be...

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      • Interstellar
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        Nolan’s "Interstellar," about astronauts traveling to the other end of the galaxy to find a new home to
        replace humanity’s despoiled home-world, is frantically busy and earsplittingly
        loud. It uses booming music to jack...

      • San Andreas
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        San Andreas

        In a match between a supremely catastrophic California
        earthquake and the former wrestling star turned movie action hero Dwayne
        Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock, aptly enough here I guess, although he’s not thusly
        credited), who are you going to bet...

      • image

        During April’s muted Covid-19 edition of the 73rd Academy Awards, Glenn Close—who was nominated in the supporting actress category for her role as Mamaw in “Hillbilly Elegy”—tied the late, great Peter O’Toole by achieving eight acting nominations without a win. Alas, just like O’Toole, she continued her losing streak. The ultimate victor came in the form of another colorful granny character, played by South Korean actress, Youn Yuh-jung, in the family drama “Minari.”

        Close could have another two chances to make the ballot this awards season. She plays a doctor in the sci-fi drama “Swan Song,” which stars Mahershala Ali as a dementia patient who suffers from a terminal illness and chooses to clone himself. She also appeared earlier this year in “Four Good Days” as a real-life mother of a 30-something drug-addicted daughter (Mila Kunis) who struggles to remain sober.

        The performer, who portrayed a woman who would not be ignored in “Fatal Attraction,” could finally be bestowed with gold, if her secondary roles are substantial enough to have impact, or this esteemed star could become the biggest acting loser ever if she is in the race again and fails to win once more.

        Close is just the most extreme example of the voters teasing a nominated contender time and time again. Here are some of her thespian cohorts who might just make the cut when nominations are revealed on February 8, 2022.


        Ben Affleck – “The Last Duel,” “The Tender Bar” 

        The actor shared an original screenplay Oscar with Matt Damon for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting” and earned a statue as one of the producers behind the 2012 Best Picture winner “Argo,” but he has been notoriously overlooked for his acting roles by the Academy. He has two chances this year to be cited this season. There is his supporting role in Ridley Scott’s Middle-Ages tale as a Count Pierre d’Alencon who becomes entangled in the feud between two knights, one of which raped the other’s wife. But it is more likely he could be nominated for his role in George Clooney’s coming-of-age tale as an uncle of a fatherless boy who hangs out with patrons at a Long Island bar. Reviews were mixed, but Affleck earned praise for his role.


        Timothée Chalamet – “Dune,” “The French Dispatch,” “Don’t Look Up”

        This charismatic young actor scored a Best Actor nomination for his 2017 coming-of-age film “Call Me by Your Name” at age 22. That made him the third-youngest competitor ever in the category. This season, he has two chances to compete in the race. He plays Zeffirelli, a student revolutionary in Wes Anderson’s love letter to journalism and a standout in its ensemble cast. But Chalamet is the main human attraction in the sci-fi epic “Dune” as Paul Atreides, the ducal heir of House Atreides and the main hero of the tale. He also appears in Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” although his part there is reportedly too small to make Oscar waves.


        Jessica Chastain – “The Eyes of Tammy Faye 

        She has previously been up for her supporting role as an aspiring socialite in ‘60s Mississippi who strikes a bond with her Black maid played by Octavia Spencer in 2011’s “The Help.” The next year she claimed a Best Actress bid for her take-no-prisoners CIA analyst in 2012’s in the thriller “Zero Dark Thirty.” Judging from reviews of her current film, her portrait of the disgraced televangelist is the best reason to see it.


        Toni Collette – “Nightmare Alley”

        This actress’ lone Oscar chance was for her supporting role as the mother of a boy who sees dead people in the 1999 supernatural thriller “The Sixth Sense.” As for her upcoming film, she could snare a supporting spot as a mind reader who is in cahoots with Bradley Cooper’s grifter.


        Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Power of the Dog 

        This London-born actor made a splash in 2010 as the title character in the BBC series “Sherlock.” From there, he went on to star in the 2014 biopic “The Imitation Game.” He snagged a Best Actor berth for playing the gay cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who helped take down the Nazis in World War II. In his current film, a Western directed and written by Jane Campion (adapted from the novel by Thomas Savage), his cowboy represents the very essence of toxic masculinity as he taunts his brother’s teen stepson for having a lisp and an effeminate manner and drives his brother’s wife to drink.


        Bradley Cooper – “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley” 

        Cooper has an impressive eight nominations already in total, including three Best Actor bids for 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” 2014’s “American Sniper,” and 2018’s “A Star Is Born,” which also led to a Best Picture as a producer as well as Best Adapted Screenplay spot. He also competed for Supporting Actor for his FBI agent in 2013’s “American Hustle,” and as a producer on 2019’s “Joker.” This awards season allows Cooper two opportunities. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” Cooper’s takes on a supporting part as Jon Peters, a one-time hairdresser turned hot-shot film producer. The irony behind the casting is that Peters was behind 1976’s “A Star Is Born,” that starred Barbra Streisand, his love interest at the time. The actor could also be in the pool of headliners with his lead role in Guillermo del Toro’s neo-noir remake of “Nightmare Alley.” He plays a magnetic con artist who endears himself to a carnival clairvoyant (Toni Collette) while he finds ways of bilking rich society types in 1940s New York.


        Adam Driver – “Annette,” “The Last Duel,” “House of Gucci

        Driver has two acting Oscar nominations under his belt: one for his supporting role in 2018’s "BlacKkKlansman" as a white decoy who impersonates a Black policeman and as a lead in 2019’s “Marriage Story” as a theater director whose is going through a contentious divorce. Even though he could qualify for a trio of films this year, critics and audiences haven’t been very keen on his output in 2021.


        Andrew Garfield – “tick, tick … Boom!,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

        This actor earned his first Academy Award chance for his lead role as Desmond Doss, a pacifist combat medic during World War II in 2016’s Mel Gibson-directed battle film “Hacksaw Ridge.” While he tries to bring to life the money-grubbing televangelist Jim Bakker in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," Chastain overshadows him as his colorful and more sympathetic wife. However, Garfield outdoes himself in the autobiographical musical based on the late “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson’s life. Not only does he play the piano and sing, he also demonstrates a fine mastery of swimming in indoor pools. It helps that a master of musicals like Lin-Manual Miranda, in his film directing debut, is there to keep him afloat.


        Richard Jenkins – “The Humans,” “Nightmare Alley”

        This much-admired character actor earned a lead nomination for 2007’s “The Visitor” as well as a supporting bid for his work in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2017’s “The Shape of Water.” He reunites with the del Toro on “Alley,” but he is more favored to win for his role as the flawed patriarch who upsets his family’s Thanksgiving gathering in “The Humans.”


        Rooney Mara – “Nightmare Alley”

        This actress was nominated for her lead role as the rebellious computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” She also earned a Supporting Actress spot for her department store clerk in 1952 who engages in an affair with Cate Blanchett’s rich and glamorous title character in 2015’s “Carol.” Mara plays Cooper’s virtuous and loyal companion in her upcoming film.


        Ruth Negga – “Passing

        This Irish-Ethiopian actress earned her first Oscar nomination for her role as Mildred Loving, whose mixed-race marriage became a 1967 landmark Supreme Court case that invalidated the prohibition of interracial spouses in 2016’s “Loving.” While she was sweet and soft-spoken in the film, her current role in “Passing” finds the actress defiant, seductive, and strong-willed as her Clare defines herself as a white woman who hides her mixed heritage from her rich and bigoted white husband.   


        Will Smith – “King Richard

        This one-time rapper, who went on to star in TV’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” used that success to headline blockbusters like 1996’s “Independence Day” and 1997’s “Men in Black.” He would go on to earn acclaim and two Lead Actor nominations for his biopic roles as boxer Muhammad Ali in 2001’s “Ali” and as homeless salesman Chris Gardner in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” For now, he is seen to be the frontrunner for his performance as Richard Williams, who taught his daughters Venus and Serena how to play tennis, which allowed them and their family to afford a better life. 

        By: Susan Wloszczyna
        Posted: November 29, 2021, 2:48 pm

        • Entertainer


          Without checking online, can you name the first person to climb Mount Everest? If the name Sir Edmund Hillary comes to your mind, Nirmal “Nims” Purja wants you to know that Sir Edmund was able to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world because of the man who reached it with him, the Nepali Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay. In the documentary “14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible,” Purja undertakes a quest even Sir Edmund and Norgay might find daunting. He wants to take an all-Nepali group to the top of the 14 tallest mountains in the world, each more than 8000 meters (26,247 feet) above sea level. 

          There is a reason that we use mountain metaphors to speak of tasks that are beyond the realm of the achievable, describing them as “insurmountable.” Only a handful of people have climbed all 14 of the 8,000-meter mountains. The first was Reinhold Messner, and it took him 16 years to do them all. Purja decided he would do it in seven months. Usually, one of this documentary’s experts tells us, any of these mountains is a two-month project. Aside from the almost unthinkable challenge each mountain poses, the physical, emotional, and financial problems of doing them in such a short time and the unpredictability of the weather, there are the geopolitical/diplomatic challenges, with mountains in Nepal, Pakistan, and Tibet/China. He almost always climbs without additional oxygen, to altitudes with just a third of the oxygen we are used to breathing. One mountain normally takes four days to summit. He does it in one. With a hangover.  

          “I was told that my project was impossible,” Purja tells us. “So, I decided to name it Project: Possible.” He is determined to do it to give Nepali climbers the credit they are due, and, he notes, to pay them more than they would get from Western climbers and to burnish the resumes of his team and provide more opportunities for them. He makes a point of introducing us to each member of the team at the beginning of the film, calling them his brothers and telling us about each one’s special skill. Over the course of the film, we see his determination but also his heroic generosity of spirit, helping others who had given up to achieve the summits and stopping, at the risk of missing his deadline, to help climbers suffering from exposure or altitude sickness. 

          They discover one on their descent from their first peak and go back to help him. “You surmounted one of the most dangerous summits in the world and now you’re going to go back up there?” another climber asks, admitting that he was hoping the stranded climber had died so they would not have to find a way to get him to a hospital. “I have never left anyone behind,” Purja says about his time in the military. “I was not going to do that on the mountain.” Purja and his team have to stay awake all night with the critically ill climber. At 6 AM they get him to base camp where he is picked up by a helicopter. Later, another fallen climber they come across will not be so lucky. 

          Purja, a member of the Nepali Gurkha special forces, is the youngest son of a loving family and was always intensely competitive. He goes on a 20 km run with a 75-pound pack every morning and goes to the gym after work until 11. In one scene we see a very impressed high altitude specialist comment on his physical condition. 

          Those of us who will never make it to the top of one of these peaks will get an unprecedented opportunity to see what the top of the world looks like with pristine images of stunning clarity and grandeur captured by Purja himself. Viewers will find them nearly as breathtaking as those who reach the top gasping in the high altitude. With 14 mountains plus backstory in just over 90 minutes we do not get to spend a lot of time learning the specifics of each one, but we do get to see some of the differences, here six feet of snow, there treacherous rocks or vertiginous tors. We see how different the ascent on Mount Everest is from the other peaks, packed with climbers while the others are almost empty. A photo Purja takes of the long, long line to the top of Everest goes viral worldwide. A lot of detail is passed over quickly, and I wished for more information about the complicated negotiations with China, the particular challenges of each mountain, and how the team adapted to changing circumstances.

          Director Torquil Jones touches on a lot of material, skillfully using animation for some near-death experiences and less skillfully using special effects and editing to suggest the distortion of reality caused by HACE: high altitude cerebral edema. There are well-selected comments from experts and a climber Project Possible helped to reach a summit. And we see Purja’s family, including the brother who urges him not to take financial and physical risks and the mother he adores who is very frail but blesses his journey. Messner is candid about the hardship involved. “People will say it is fun. It is not fun. It’s a place where you have to learn to cope with pain.” But Purja and his team have enormous appeal, clear about the dangers but always showing warmth and good cheer. 

          Purja says he never wants to hear a climber say “my Sherpa helped me.” The Sherpas have names. Without their names, he says, “they are ghosts.” He knows that if a Westerner accomplished these climbs, it would be world news. This movie shows us the teamwork, the dedication, the national pride, the astonishing vistas, and the reason that Purja and his team deserve to be as renowned as Sir Edmund Hillary, maybe more. 

          Now playing on Netflix.

          By: Nell Minow
          Posted: November 29, 2021, 2:48 pm

          • Entertainer


            Stephen Sondheim's art was rooted in truth. More than the melodies, more than arrangements, more than the choice of subject matter, more than his puzzle-maker's sense of structure, it was his commitment to truth that made the work great. 

            Any time you sat down to watch one of his musicals or listen to one of his songs, you entered into a pact with Sondheim: he was going to tell you the truth, the hard truth, about life as he saw it, compassionately but without sugarcoating anything. You, the audience member, were going to accept that the truth was messy, and that Sondheim wasn't here to lie about that. He wasn't going to give you the sorts of easy reassurances and neat resolutions that the marketplace tends to demand of entertainers and artists. You were going to think and feel, and what you thought about and felt might not necessarily fill you with affection and hope for humanity. 

            That was inspiring, because it was brave. And like so many creative people, I thought of Sondheim as a guiding light. 

            I knew I was never going to reach the heights that he did as an artist or poet and scholar of human experience, because Sondheim was the American Shakespeare. 

            But thanks to Sondheim, I had an example of what to aim for. 

            Along with a handful of others—including his mentor lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II ("Oklahoma!" "Carousel")—Sondheim produced work that was a close to  uncompromised as it's possible for an American entertainer working in a commercial format to get. 

            The appeal of Sondheim is his his pursuit of The Truth, caps on both words. Not truth as "telling my truth," but The Truth: an account of human existence that can speak to everyone, regardless of the particulars of their lives.

            You can't capture The Truth unless you forget about trying to create a hit or a critic's darling or a snapshot of the zeitgeist and instead take a hard look at the basics: love, fairness, psychology; coincidence, fate; the intertwined drives to create and destroy. 

            These are matters that we can all agree are hard to talk about, and that don't yield answers—at least not the kind that we may long to hear, like, "True love conquers all" and "The arc of the universe bends towards justice." 

            Sondheim wasn't a pessimist or a knee-jerk contrarian, so he didn't answer those questions and others like them with a flat, "No—it doesn't." He liked to put a "maybe" in front of those types of assertions, and tack an "except when it doesn't" onto the end, then build that out into something more complicated than you expected to find in a musical. He was adamant that unresolved contradictions were an immutable part of life, they were inherently fascinating, and they could be funny when framed just so. 

            And because each human being is a unique bundle of contradictions and deep, often uncontainable drives, Sondheim's songs never lacked for richness and beauty. The best observed the interior life of individuals as astutely and unmercifully as Shakespeare's plays, which the scholar Harold Bloom posited as the forerunner of Sigmund Freud's writings on psychology.

            Look at the songs from just one Sondheim classic, 1970's Company, about the complexities of sex, love, and commitment. In the HBO documentary "Six by Sondheim," Sondheim recalls being mystified by a rave review praising the musical as an attack on marriage when in fact it was simply, and above all else, "about marriage." It's a sardonic affirmation of how impossible and unresolvable and fraught with pitfalls and downsides even a great marriage can be.

            This is all crystallized in "The Little Things You Do Together," which feels at once celebratory and rueful. 

            It's the little things you share together
            Swear together
            Wear together
            That make perfect relationships

            The concerts you enjoy together
            Neighbors you annoy together
            Children you destroy together
            That keep marriage intact.

            And then:

            [It's] the little ways you try together
            Cry together
            Lie together

            That make perfect relationships
            Becoming a cliche together
            Growing old and gray together
            Withering away together
            That make marriage a joy!

            That the words "a joy" are typically sung in a "joyful" way adds to the song's delightful sense of unresolved tension and contradiction. Same with "And Jesus Christ is it fun!", a line that the hard-edged Joanne (as played by the original cast's Elaine Stritch) delivers in a voice that's a laugh and a sneer.

            In that the same musical's "Being Alive," the commitment-phobic Bobby gets close to an epiphany while he sings (in a deliberately distancing, second-person voice) of wanting:

            Someone to hold you too close
            Someone to hurt you too deep
            Someone to sit in your chair
            And ruin your sleep

            Someone to need you too much
            Someone to know you too well
            Someone to pull you up short
            To put you through hell

            Sondheim's lyrics are filled with these sorts of constructions, juxtaposing feelings and ideas and whatever their opposites might be, and allowing them to coexist in the moment, seemingly on equal footing. They ask questions without supplying answers. They describe predicaments that are exciting and boring, ecstatic and misery-inducing, seemingly easy to grasp and yet, upon closer inspection, inscrutable.

            Neither condition cancels the other. That's what makes Sondheim Sondheim.

            Consider "Move On," from Sunday in the Park with George

            I chose and my world was shaken
            So what?
            The choice may have been mistaken,
            The choosing was not.

            It's defiant. It's regretful. It's bewildered. It's introspective. It's several more things, all at the same time.

            It's four lines.

            In Into the Woods, the Baker's Wife sings a verse that reads like an affirmation that all experience, even the most awful kind, is preferable to never truly feeling your own existence as it unfolds:

            Oh, if life were made of moments,
            Even now and then a bad one — !
            But if life were only moments,
            Then you’d never know you had one

            Sondheim's mastery of language—not just of the meanings of words, but of the emotional effects that occur when they're put together in a line, and the line's meter, its sound—might seem as if it were meant to get the artist and the audience closer to answers. Instead, they (deliberately) got the listeners lost in a mirror-hall of meaning that denied or deferred a lot of the simpler pleasures. 

            Only the sheer beauty of the vocal and instrumental arrangements and Sondheim's gift for a pleasing melody prevented the lyrics from becoming too demanding for some audiences to bear. The tension between the music and the lyrics could power a whole book, or podcast, by itself. It's not unlike the feeling of watching "A Clockwork Orange" (a film Sondheim admired for lots of reasons) and being disturbed by how the ugliness of the content and the verve of the filmmaking seemed to work at cross-purposes, on purpose. Exhibits A and B within Sondheim's body of work are probably Assassins, which consists of musical character portraits of various American assassins and would-be assassins, and that is almost maddeningly irresistible, given the subject; and Sweeney Todd, a quasi-operetta that takes the exploits of a vengeful murderer and the pie-maker who turns his victims into food and churns them into an epic of thwarted desire and fury, packed with eccentric, often hilarious supporting characters worthy of a Charles Dickens novel, and songs that are as beautiful as Todd's actions are ghastly.

            The resolutions that Sondheim's music gave you were primarily musical and/or mathematical. His work didn't give you the kind of resolution that let allowed you to leave the theater smiling and humming your favorite tunes, eager to have a nightcap and perhaps a dessert and then go home to sleep. He wrote songs that you had to struggle with and puzzle over, and that pulled your intellect and feelings in disparate directions. 

            Sondheim's greatest musicals all began with the unstated proposition, "We're adults here, so let's not lie to each other about what life is." 

            They also expected you to engage with the work on its terms, not yours.

            His greatest collaboration with director James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, is the work that won him a Pulitzer for drama, arguably his masterpiece, and perhaps his most difficult and demanding, thanks to its conceptual boldness and lack of obvious emotional anchor points for the audience. George, a fictionalized version of painter George Seraut, paints his masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Grand Jatte, an "ensemble" painting filled wherein no person is looking at any other person; meanwhile, he clashes with his grandson, also named George, a contemporary painter. The musical is "about" a lot of things, including representation versus abstraction in the arts, the solitary nature of existence even in crowds, the unglamorous parts of the creative process, and the idea that artists create (and audiences seek out their creations) in part to understand life and distract themselves from the inevitability of death (which is connected, glancingly and with respect for the audience, to a blank canvas: the story ends with the words, "a blank canvas, his favorite—so many possibilities"). 

            There's no reason why such a conceptually oriented work should engage the emotions, yet this one proved devastating. 

            That was Sondheim's greatest trick. 

            He did it over and over, to greater and lesser degrees, throughout his career.

            What a magician he was.

            Upon Sondheim's death, Imelda Staunton, who performed in several Sondheim productions, including revivals of Follies and Gypsy, said, "His stories will live as long as Shakespeare’s because he speaks about people, about emotional difficulties, about the need we all have for love or recognition and to be noticed. A lot of musicals are about happy things – but his musicals are about the difficult things.”

            The difficult things, and the little things. 

            And the uncertainty. 

            And the not-knowing. 

            And having to live with, and in, the not-knowing.

            You were never supposed to come out of Sondheim's musicals feeling comfortable, released from any unpleasant feelings or lingering doubts about what, exactly, you just watched. Sondheim wanted audiences to talk about what he'd given them, see themselves in it, or not see themselves in it, and argue about it, criticize it, be moved by it, angered, saddened: all that and more. The audience was responsible for—to invoke another Sondheim touchstone—putting it together.

            In interviews and tributes during the second half of his life, Stephen Sondheim frankly acknowledged that for such a long-lived musical theater force, he had surprisingly few commercial hits—and the songs that did become popular didn't have any obvious outward indicators of being hits. He noticed that his hits tended to become hits because performers liked to sing them, and did them well enough that other singers were inspired to cover them, too. If they got performed enough times by enough singers that people had heard of, they got grandfathered into "hit" status even if they'd never previously appeared on any chart.  “West Side Story" was not a hit during its original Broadway run, and its yearning masterpiece “Somewhere” only became a popular song to cover once stars like Dionne Warwick and Barbra Streisand imprinted their style upon it. Ditto "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, "I'm Still Here" from Follies, and many others. 

            The critics and even the fans kept having to catch up with him. Sometimes it took repeat viewings or listenings of a new work to get into Sondheim's groove. People used to say about Stanley Kubrick that you always had to see his movies twice, the first time to get over whatever expectations you brought into it, and the second time to appreciate what it actually was. The same was true of Sondheim. He was that kind of artist.

            He wanted you to lean forward and pay attention. He wanted you to think. And while he wanted you to like what he did, making people happy was not his primary goal in life. He was after other satisfactions.

            Sondheim's musicals hit a lot of the same sweet spots as the American and international art films that he loved: films like "Citizen Kane," "The Elephant Man," Au Hasard Balthazar," "Out of the Past," and the 1966, Soviet-produced "War and Peace." He transformed Ingmar Bergman's Shakespeare adaptation "Smiles of a Summer Night" into "A Little Night Music." In the years before he died, he and David Ives were working on a musical that would fuse the plots of two Luis Bunuel films, "The Exterminating Angel" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Playbill reported earlier this year that development of the project had been abandoned, but in his final interview, conducted five days before his death, he made it sound as if he and Ives were back at it again. (Sondheim provided a partial list of his favorite films to The Sondheim Review in 2005, around the same time that he curated a film series at the Museum of Modern Art.) 

            Sondheim loved pure entertainment as well, but only if it was cleverly imagined and assembled. There are no stupid or slovenly films on Sondheim's list; even the silly comedies he cites, such as "This is Spinal Tap," are written, directed and performed with ambition and intelligence. Sondheim co-wrote a gem of a murder mystery, 1973's "The Last of Sheila," with his friend and fellow puzzle-lover Anthony Perkins that showed how thoroughly he understood how to manipulate an audience.

            He could do that. And he did, in production after production. 

            The fun aspects of a Sondheim musical were what allowed him to take risks everywhere else. He knew entertaining could be a Trojan horse for art. He viewed art as work. Not work as in drudgery: work as in a task, a process, a thing that had to be done

            He was never precious about his own work. He regretted (and occasionally revised) lines that he'd written decades earlier (he seems never to have been entirely satisfied with his efforts on his first major production, 1955's "West Side Story"). 

            And even when the lyrics were acrobatically graceful, showy in the way that a gymnast could be, he rarely used words that you had to look up. Most of the sentences were short. Most of the words were simple. And there was always an idea in there that you could actually see or feel or otherwise grab onto. He wasn't big on abstractions in lyrics, or bromides, or general sentiments. He liked for things to be concrete, their expression direct. 

            In an interview with National Public Radio to promote his classic two-volume book about the creative process, "Finishing the Hat," Sondheim pulled two examples from Hammerstein to illustrate the values that he prized in lyric writing. First, he quoted "All the Things You Are," written for Very Warm for May, as an example of a "lyrical cardinal sin:"

            You are the promised kiss of springtime That makes the lonely winter seem long You are the breathless hush of evening That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
            "Those are all very pretty words, but what do they mean?" Sondheim told NPR. "Take a look at those images. I don't know what they mean. I also don't know how they apply personally to anybody. I just think they are poesy" -- in the sense of forced, sentimentalized poetic writing -- "and not poetry. Oscar did a lot of poetic writing, which I would call poesy, using images that are not germane to what's going on. I think that's just a writer trying to be poetic."
            But Hammerstein, said Sondheim, could also be genuinely poetic. Take, for example, the opening lines to Oklahoma's "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'":
            Oh, what a beautiful mornin', Oh, what a beautiful day. I got a beautiful feelin' Ev'rythin's goin' my way!
            Sondheim says that though that lyrics don't sound exciting on paper, they soar when set to Richard Rodgers' score.
            "This is a lyric that doesn't look interesting, but it's thrilling," he says. "It's made for music."

            "Finishing the Hat," the phrase as well as the song itself, feels in some ways like a summing-up of Sondheim's sensibility. A hat isn't an object one thinks of as artistic, though there is an art as well as a craft to hatmaking. A hat is an article of clothing meant to protect the head and convey something about the wearer's personality, their job, or some other bit of information. It's functional. Making a hat is work. You design it, and then you make it. If there are difficulties or mistakes along the way, you deal with them as they arise. The creative process is a process, a physical as well as intellectual act. And it never ends. It's about...

            How you have to finish the hat How you watch the rest of the world From a window while you finish the hat

            And it's about how...

            There's a part of you always standing by
            Mapping out the sky, finishing a hat
            Starting on a hat, finishing a hat

            The reward can be found in the next two lines:

            Look, I made a hat
            Where there never was a hat.

            By: Matt Zoller Seitz
            Posted: November 28, 2021, 10:52 pm

            • Entertainer
              Entertainer published a blog post The Beatles: Get Back


              John Lennon: "I'd like a fifth Beatle."

              Paul McCartney: "It's bad enough with four."

              This exchange occurred in January, 1969, on Day 15 of the 22-day marathon rehearsal process for a television special/album/concert/documentary (the nature of the project changed by the day, sometimes by the hour). During those weeks they would lose George Harrison for a couple of days, and gain keyboardist Billy Preston. Sometimes John was a total no-show. On one day, only Ringo showed up. McCartney murmurs ominously at one point, "And then there were two." "And then there were one." And then there were none.

              "Let It Be", the film patched together from the mounds of footage by director Michael Lindsay Hogg, was released in 1970, right after the Beatles broke up. Because of that unfortunate bit of timing, the film was viewed not as a fascinating glimpse of four superstars in a working process, but almost entirely as foreshadowing, a retrospective portrait of the break-up as well as a commentary on "why" they went their separate ways. Yoko Ono, present in every scene by Lennon's side, was reviled, and there are still people who think she is the reason the Beatles broke up. The overall result of the film is fairly grim, particularly for Beatles fans. They all look so glum and serious, there's no sense of playfulness or even shared creativity. They sit holed up in separate corners, bickering, and there's a sense that things are falling apart, and none of them care to stop the disintegration. It all culminates in the famous rooftop concert, with John, Paul, George and Ringo performing in the open air, like glorious wind-blown gargoyles hovering over the London streets. The album of the same name—the Beatles' twelfth and final studio album - was released around the same time, and that, too, has a distinct thrown-together quality (but still! It's the Beatles! They always leave you with something!). The footage of the "Let It Be" sessions (what we have seen, at least, thus far) has stood as the final word for fifty years, evidence that the band that changed the world went out with a whimper, not a bang.

              Life, of course, is complicated, and cannot be summed up in 80 fragmented minutes. Peter Jackson's dream was to get his hands on all 60 hours of the original footage, plus the 150 hours of audio, to see what else might be there, what didn't make it into the depressing final cut. Jackson is not alone. The Beatles fandom has been waiting for this moment for decades. "Get Back", released in three parts, encompasses almost seven hours, and gives an extraordinarily intimate and complicated picture of that month, when the Beatles gathered first at Twickenham Studios (this was when they still thought they would be doing a television special), and then at the recently-constructed Apple Studio (and its famous roof). Seeing all of this footage is a revelation, not just for how it provides a necessary counter to the prevailing narrative, but also because the visuals look like a total dream, pristine, sharp and clear, with no fuzz or distortion.

              The first episode opens with a history of the Beatles from 1956 until 1969, presented at the speed of light. Jackson doesn't linger on the preface. It's a bulleted list—Hamburg to Liverpool to the Ed Sullivan Show to India and beyond!—a whirlwind, but necessary backstory. After deciding to stop performing live in 1966, the fab four retreated to the studio. Their experiments in over-dubbing and multitrack recording resulted in some of the most famous and influential albums of all time, but almost meant they didn't need to be in the same room at the same time anymore. This new project, though, was going to be different: For two weeks, they would "come together" and write a batch of new songs, which they would then perform live for an audience. The entire process, start to finish, would be filmed, for theatrical or television release. Director Lindsay-Hogg had directed episodes of England's popular television show "Ready, Steady, Go!", as well as the concert film "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" - in which John Lennon had appeared.

              At first glance, things don't get off to a good start. There's a lot of messing around, a lot of playing the music that got them going in the '50s - Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, etc. There's no sense of urgency. Two weeks in, they still don't know what it is they're trying to even create. An album? A live television special? In two weeks? With what material? They keep coming back to the question of the live show and where it should take place. McCartney thinks it would be great to do it in the House of Parliament and get dragged away by the cops. Lindsay-Hogg repeatedly mentions an amphitheater in Libya. There are serious discussions for days on end of hiring a boat to bring an audience to Libya with them. It's madness. Meanwhile, though, the real question looms: they're supposed to be writing music to perform at this hypothetical live show. But ... there's no writing going on.

              Until there is.

              "Get Back" provides precious footage of famous songs coming into being, from start to finish, transforming from an idea, a hook, a chord, to a finished product. Paul creates "Get Back" out of thin air, and "out of thin air" is the artistic process: first there is nothing, and then there is something. It's mysterious how it happens (even to artists) and it is such a gift to watch a song take shape, through trial and error, and repeat attempts to get to the core of what the song wants to be. From Paul trying out those opening chords in Twickenham to the four gargoyles howling the finished song up into the open air on the roof of Apple Studio is just a two-week period. There are other songs that came out of those sessions—"Let It Be", for example—and we get to watch their creation as well. Ringo comes in with "Octopus' Garden" and shows it to George, who helps him bring the idea into a fuller reality.

              Even more of a revelation, though, is the overall vibe. Watching the original 1970 film, you can't believe those glum guys didn't break up sooner. Here, though, it's not as clear-cut. There are so many moments of levity, of laughter, John and Paul goofing off, cracking each other up. (There's a beautiful moment when they start jitter-bugging together.) Yes, there are moments of tension and disagreement, but that's a normal part of any artistic process. When George quits, John and Paul have a private discussion, unaware of a microphone in the flower pot. The conversation is a breath-taking glimpse of their relationship. They decide to go and ask George to come back to the band. George does return, and Billy Preston arrives at almost the same time. Preston, an amazing pianist whom they befriended in Hamburg, joins the sessions, injecting a sense of purpose and focus into what had been rather aimless.

              Yoko is there all the time, but so is Linda Eastman (later Linda McCartney), and Linda's small daughter Heather (who is a much more disruptive presence than Yoko Ono!). Ringo's wife shows up for some of the sessions. George Harrison brings a couple of Hare Krishna buddies, who sit in the corner rocking and praying. There was a lot more going on in those rooms than Yoko sitting next to John and tapping her foot. "Get Back" leaves so much space for the different rhythms of each day: sometimes things click, sometimes they don't. John is always late. Paul gets irritated. Ringo is calm and beloved by all. George is over being treated like a hired hand.

              It's easy to forget just how young they all were at this point. Not one of them was thirty years old yet. John and Ringo were 29, Paul was 27, and George Harrison was just 25 years old. No wonder George flounced off after being bossed around. He was 25!

              While there is so much here to discuss and debate and digest, what Peter Jackson has done is not so much "correct" the narrative as provide a wider perspective, allowing those four weeks in January 1969 to breathe, and giving those men—two of whom can no longer speak for themselves—space to show themselves to us with all their nuance, complexity, humanity.

              Whole series screened for review. Now on Disney+.

              By: Sheila O'Malley
              Posted: November 25, 2021, 3:24 pm

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              Happy Thanksgiving! Please allow me to share with you in gratitude a few selected highlights from my series "My Happy Place." As you gather with family and friends today please remember those who may not be as fortunate. I am grateful to the people who donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Their kind acts will ensure meals for people today and throughout the holiday season.

              We also pay tribute to Aidan Sheahan, the son of Tara Sheahan, who together with Aidan contributed the Yoga Breathing video to help us destress. Aidan passed away this year and we will share Tara's beautiful sentiments about him: "Sometimes Angels on Earth are called back to Heaven." We are also posting their breathing video to help you this Thanksgiving day. 

              Last year during Quarantine, JoAnn Seagren and Scott Lang started impromptu cooking classes to bring their family together. The Zoom cooking sessions became so popular that JoAnn put together a cookbook that we are sharing with you today. We are also reprinting the recipes for her Frosted Banana Cookies that so many of you wrote to say you found particularly yummy.

              And last, but not least, we are republishing the message from actress Rashada Dawan, who knew she wanted to help the community find a pathway out of some of the gun violence in Chicago. When she returned from touring in the "Lion King," she started Karaoke for Peace. In a new update she is bringing back her B.Fli Summer Camp for Performing Arts to give children on the Southside of Chicago an avenue to express their creativity, and a way to bring joy to the community. 

              Without my Editors (Brian Tallerico, Matt Zoller Seitz, Matt Fagerholm, Nick Allen and Nell Minow) and the contributing writers at, we couldn't bring you these reviews and series. I am so grateful to have such a smart and caring bunch of people to work with. Happy Thanksgiving to them and their families. 

              To see previous installments of My Happy Place, click here for parts one, two, three, four and five.Chaz Ebert


              Donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository

              imageCourtesy of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

              There is great joy found in giving to those in need, and I cannot think of a better place to contribute a Thanksgiving gift than The Greater Chicago Food Depository. It consists of a network of more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs that provide food where it is most needed in Cook County. Other benefits and job training programs are also in place to support the community. 

              You can make a donation here or by sending a check payable to Greater Chicago Food Depository to the following address: Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Pl, Chicago, IL, 60632. You can also find out how to get involved here. For more information on the Greater Chicago Food Depository or to make a donation, see here.

              UPDATE: I want to express my utmost appreciation to three people in particular who refused payment for work done at and, who instead, allowed us to donate their compensation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Their acts of kindness will help feed people this Thanksgiving Day and throughout the holiday season. They are Attorney and Assistant Editor Nell Minow, Karen Horne, Senior Vice President of Equity and Inclusion at WarnerMedia, and Actor David Moses. 


              JoAnn Seagren, Managing Director of JA Glynn Private Wealth


              In my previous life, (BC: Before Covid), leaving the fast track of work and social obligations to take a pit stop long enough to have meaningful conversations with my two children, ages 26 and 28, was rare. Not that we didn’t want to do this - we did - but we are all highly motivated, hard workers who love the outdoors and being with friends, and somehow weeks and even months would slip by without a spoken word between us. 

              But as the pandemic hit, we found a happy place we never anticipated: Family FaceTime Cooking. It all started with my son Parker’s request for Banana Cookies the first weekend of March 2020. I was about to bake them and pack them into a box headed for Seattle, and then I had an idea: I’d teach him how to bake his own cookies. His sister and her boyfriend in Boston heard we were doing this and they said, “We’re in!” and my husband decided he’d be the baker here in Chicago. A night of conversation, laughter, delicious soft, frosted banana cookies, and of course, excessive consumption, ensued on FaceTime. 

              We decided to avoid sweets for a while and cook dinner instead the following weekend, and I sent a simple recipe they loved from their childhood: Chicken Colorado with rice and a salad. Week after week, we found our happy place with cooking and conversation and we didn’t miss a single week for 5 months! We have even celebrated 3 birthday dinners so far. I imparted motherly cooking wisdom and motherly advice sometimes, too. I received comfort and inspiration every week, despite the stress of quarantine.


              We used our Family Cooking text group throughout the week to follow up on ideas discussed during cooking, and we’d share serious and humorous thoughts, podcasts, articles and videos. In August, scheduling got harder and I suggested we might put Family Cooking on hold for a while, but there was a resounding NO! and so we adjusted to every other week or so. 

              I’m compiling all of the recipes, photos of the dishes we cooked, and some screen shots of our video calls in what we voted to name the Covid Comfort Cooking Cookbook. I’m sending it to family and friends for the holidays, along with my gratitude for the truly meaningful time we experienced as we engaged face-to-face virtually, sharing an activity that paved the way for genuine and inspired conversations, love and laughter.


              Frosted Banana Cookies

              ¾ cup butter
              ¾ cup sugar
              1 egg
              ½ tsp. vanilla
              2 mashed ripe bananas
              ¼ tsp. salt
              1 tsp. baking soda
              2 cups flour
              Cream butter.

              Add sugar and blend. Add egg, vanilla and bananas. Sift together flour, salt and soda. Add to egg mixture. Place dough by teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 350 degrees for 8 minutes. They should be golden on the edges only when you remove from oven. Cool on wire rack with a piece of waxed paper. Makes about 3 dozen.


              6 TB brown sugar
              4 TB butter
              4 TB cream or whole milk
              2-3 cups of powdered sugar
              ½ tsp. vanilla

              Place brown sugar, butter and milk in pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add enough powdered sugar to make spreadable, not too thick, not too runny. Add vanilla. Return pan to lowest heat so frosting remains soft while you frost the cookies. Frost the cookies when they have slightly cooled. The frosting cools fast and “hugs” the cookies.


              Chicken “Colorado” (Serves 4)

              Preheat oven to 375 degrees

              ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
              4 TB minced fresh parsley
              1 tsp dried oregano
              1 clove of garlic, minced
              ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
              4 medium chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
              3 TB melted butter

              Combine Parmesan, parsley, oregano, garlic and pepper with a fork in a broad, flat medium bowl. Using tongs, dip chicken breasts quickly in melted butter  - both sides - then roll in cheese mixture. Place in shallow baking dish. Drizzle any extra butter and any extra cheese coating over the chicken. 

              Bake at 375 degrees for 25 min. until tender. Pour the juices over rice or couscous or potatoes or other veggies you choose to serve with the chicken.

              Also good left over cold (picnics!). It can make sandwiches or be put in salad, too.

              UPDATE: JoAnn and her husband Scott have recently sent family and friends their 86-page Covid Comfort Cooking cookbook full of recipes, articles, and other inserts to amuse you while you are cooking. You can read it in full here.


              Tara remembers her son, Aidan (Sunfeather) Case Sheahan (1992-2021)


              Last year, we shared Tara Sheahan's Breathelab video scored by her son Aidan ‘Sunfeather’ Case Sheahan, who passed away this year. We join Tara in paying tribute to him in her words and in passages from his obituary...

              Tara Says: "Sometimes Angels on Earth are called back to Heaven. Aidan received that call on June 9th, 2021. And reflecting on his life as a pro slopestyle skier, soaring off huge jumps, sometimes landing backwards on purpose, we realized he always knew how to fly. "  

              He shared his mom Tara’s passion for yoga and meditation and made a movie called "Insight," produced by his friend Matt Hobbs of Vital Films, about meditation as key to training and competing in action sports.

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              Aidan Sheahan - "Insight" from Vital Films on Vimeo.

              His dad Casey was an extraordinary role model for Aidan through his own love of skiing and traveling the world as the former writer, editor, and publisher of Powder Magazine. He had him on the slopes at 3 years old and Aidan would fearlessly go straight down the hill with a smile that lit up the mountain. Casey also taught Aidan how to fly fish when he was just big enough to hold a fly rod. They journeyed both with the family and as just the two of them to rivers and lakes all over the Rocky Mountains, camping and bonding over a fire, under the stars, in the beauty of wild places. His brother Caelin, who loved sharing technology with Aidan and teaching him how to play video games which they played together their whole life, is now a gifted ‘coder’ and project manager in Denver for a healthcare company. He was also Aidan’s ‘bestie,’ and they bonded as toddlers watching "Thomas the Tank Engine," digging forts in the snow, navigating new schools together and catching fire flies. 

              Known as DJ Sunfeathr, Aidan loved performing his own electronic music at venues from Aspen to Denver. Aidan and Tara created Breathelab for a TED Talk in Kansas City to inspire kids to meditate by combining music and breathing practices together.

              Tara says: "Aidan’s girlfriend and soulmate Alyssa, a yoga teacher and skier who lived with Aidan in Snowmass, Colorado, crossed over from cancer in May 2020. After her passing, Aidan just wasn’t sure where he belonged.    

               I lived with Aidan for his last year on this Earthplane, and realized that when someone goes through their ‘dark night of the Soul,’ the only place to find peace is to be peace. I meditated on the emotions that Aidan was stalking: tranquility, self-acceptance, self love and stillness. Casey, Caelin and I did everything we could to keep him here. In the end, his Soul chose to go the Creation. He may have left in his physical form, but his Presence never left.  

              The morning of his passing, I spoke to Chaz about our shared knowing that Aidan and Roger were One with the life force energy that flows through all things. We could feel it in one another. That bliss of knowing we truly are Spirits in a body having a human experience. We are never alone. We are loved unconditionally. We are free."

              We are now pleased to present, once again, Tara Sheahan's Yoga Breathing Exercise...

              Tara shares how she finds her Happy Place teaching Breathelab natural nose breathing to millions of people who want an instant way to find a burst of uplift. Her music is created by son Aidan "Sunfeather." He created this track for Erica Ford’s New York Peace Week, an event to end gun violence with love-in-action. 

              "We’re designed to breathe through our nose - it’s how we secrete ‘feel good’ hormones by activating the lower lobes of the lungs," says Tara. She learned the neurobiology of breathing when she was 42 years old and training for the Winter Olympics in cross country skiing. She then studied and taught meditation and breath work for 20 years. "I wanted a quick way to get the benefits of a more quiet mind and inner happiness. And believe it or not your Nose knows how to get you there," says Tara.

              Tara gives us a tip if we want to continue. "You can find more Breathelab practices at newly launched, an extraordinary wellness program from the comfort of your own home!"


              Rashada Dawan, actor and founder of Karaoke for Peace


              My #happyplace used to be telling stories on stage. As an actress and singer I had the privilege of traveling all over the world performing in "The Lion King" and other plays and musicals, but while on tour I kept hearing so much sad news about gun violence in Chicago and particularly in my neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. I came home and kept hearing the same and knew I wanted to be part of the solution. I didn't have a lot of money but I could donate my time and talent. I took cardboard boxes and paper and pasted them on foam board to make signs. I copied sheets with lyrics to songs, and I went to the areas where there had been the most gun violence and set up my Karaoke for Peace stand. I wanted to reach out through song and compassion to inspire peace. Part of my performance was done in collaboration with a memorial for a policeman who was killed. And what I found is that lots of people wanted the same thing, to come together for peace. Some sang with me, some wanted hugs, some shed tears. But in the coming together we found a shared humanity, and for at least those brief moments, peace. 


              To be honest, the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine sent me into the process of grieving. We were in the middle of a production of “Intimate Apparel” which was to be featured at the Northlight Theater in April, and we had to stop abruptly after the dress rehearsal. I cried after I left the stage with my theater family. However, amidst acknowledging my aching heart, I am grateful to say that I have also found another happy place: in my home and in my community! As a proud South Shore resident, time has been given to me to help bring healing to my neighbors and to my home as a mother to my two daughters. I love being present to help my teenager stumble through her teens and to watch my 3-year-old discover the lyrics to “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen and “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s "Moana". So, I’m learning that happy places can be in more than one place and for that, I am grateful. 

              Rashada Dawan's Karaoke for Peace program was covered two years ago by CBS Chicago's Audrina Bigos.

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              UPDATE: Rashada Dawan will be operating her six-week B.FLI Performing Arts Summer Camp for children ages 7 to 17 next year. Everyday, students will explore various disciplines including improv and sketch, dance, creative communication through hip-hop, acting and vocal performance. Students will start the day with a daily affirmation, then break out into groups to experience an intense schedule of instruction to become well-rounded, advance-level performers while embracing and enhancing their natural abilities in performing arts. Professional performing artists currently employed in the business will teach their specialty each day. A performance will be held at the end of the 6-week program for artists to show off their skills in front of a live audience. For more information, click here.

              By: Chaz Ebert
              Posted: November 25, 2021, 5:13 pm

              • Entertainer
                Entertainer published a blog post Drive My Car


                There’s a brief transition early in the three hours of Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s astonishing “Drive My Car” where the wheels of the movie’s integral automobile morph into the spinning reels of a cassette tape in a recorder. For an instant, they fuse, almost as if the voice captured on that device functioned as the vehicle’s fuel. And in a sense it does, since that audio accompanies the driver like a sonic ghost mile after mile. 

                Understated in its extraordinary rewards, this is the second Hamaguchi-helmed feature released this year (the other being “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”), which gleans its premise from one of Haruki Murakami’s short stories in the collection Men Without Women. Selected as Japan’s entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar—the first time the filmmaker’s work received the honor—“Drive My Car” marks his deserved breakthrough.

                Basking in post-coital serenity, actor and theater director Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his wife, screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima), verbally build a story for her next television project. They speak of a teenage girl so infatuated with a classmate she infiltrates his home to steal unmissed souvenirs. Their spontaneous fiction sets in as one of the storytelling layers that eventually overlap with self-referential grace under the auspicious narrative guidance of Hamaguchi and co-screenwriter Takamasa Oe.

                Two years after a personal tragedy laced with unresolved resentment, Yûsuke moves to Hiroshima, a city with its own history of disaster, to put on a new stage version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, performed by actors speaking their respective native tongues. As part of the job, he must agree to have a chauffer, a condition he is reluctant to. Getting behind the wheel of his outdated, two-door model is ritualistic in its importance.

                Burning bright red through the streets and highways, the artist’s car is a temple of freedom and solitude, the embodiment of the return and the departure, the way back home to his beloved and the escape from the fallout of their present. It’s in the silence of that moving space that Oto’s voice comes through the speakers via the aforementioned tape feeding him lines, a lifeline. What she recites might come from the classic text or perhaps directly from her, but the distinction doesn’t matter. Both become one and the same in a continuum.

                First from the removed safety of an unnoticed reflection on a mirror, then with the up-close intensity of two people listening to one another as if the world around them had faded into irrelevance, “Drive My Car” contemplates Yûsuke’s inner plight with softhearted tact, never pushing too strongly but letting the pain unfurl on its own time. Crumbling in a piecemeal manner, when Yûsuke finally receives the divine relief of catharsis from Hamaguchi, the long emotional containment makes for a staggering, shared release.

                Unassumingly shattering, a description just as applicable to the film as a whole, Nishijima’s turn astounds for its unshowiness. As a grief-stricken husband and father masking his continued distress with professional diligence, he maintains strenuous composure until he can no longer swallow his anger towards the person he loved most. The actor’s stoic gestures provide an impenetrable fortress unwilling to give away any hint of his true self.

                That energy, of wanting to remain unnoticed and unquestioned, is matched by his assigned personal driver, Misaki (Tôko Miura), a young woman in turn running from her own guilt buried in the ruins of a previous life more than a safe distance away. While observing Yûsuke’s daily rehearsals with his cast, including embattled star Kôji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), a slowly constructed affinity with Misaki comes to the foreground. Miura’s modestly assertive performance amplifies a sentiment of mutual confidentiality, and later of the guilt that numbs them both. 

                A reserved Misaki initially limits her interaction to pressing play on his recording. But a dinner scene where he praises her smooth driving skills dismantles whatever air of servitude was left in the power imbalance imposed on them. Hamaguchi further speaks of an unspoken understanding between people in the way Yûsuke’s international thespians perform with one another from sensorial memory, often not comprehending what the other says through language but feeling alone.

                Bountiful in subtle imagery from cinematographer Hidetoshi Shinomiya, the film mines majestic visual symbolism from seemingly ordinary occurrences. Take for example a shot of Yûsuke and Misaki’s hand through the car’s sunroof holding cigarettes as to not let the smoke permeate their sacred mode of transportation—an unspoken communion of respect. Long conversations in the back seat of the tried and tested four-wheeled co-star force the camera to stay on their faces, registering the enunciation and reaction of the other without other embellishments, honoring what's being said and how the other is receiving it. That back and forth between two interlocutors nakedly spewing sincerity feels riveting in its simple composition.

                There are no flashbacks in this spanning, humanistic epic, a choice that coincides with the theme of what’s ahead and not what’s in the rearview mirror of the past. Characters come alive not in visions of who they were but in the product of those experiences, in who they are now. In the delicate, patient touch of Hamaguchi’s directing, characters cease to be idealized confections made of words and ideas on the page of a scribe. Their transmutation into the bodies of the cast members happens by osmosis, it appears, to impart not patronizing wisdom but an empathetic revelation that feels lived-in. A thoughtful and tearful ride in which the destination is a spiritual confrontation with oneself, “Drive My Car” devastates and comforts through its vehicular poetry of the sorrow from which we run, the collisions that awaken us, and the healing gained from every bump in the road. 

                Now playing in select theaters.

                By: Carlos Aguilar
                Posted: November 24, 2021, 2:27 pm

                • Entertainer
                  Entertainer published a blog post The Unforgivable


                  I know what unrepented sins I’ve committed to deserve the Divine punishment that is Netflix’s “The Unforgivable,” but you have a chance to be penitent and avoid it. This is three movies in one, each of which is progressively worse. We start with a tale of repentance, which leads to a brief lawyer drama before descending into a distasteful kidnapping and assault thriller. It is based on a TV series, unseen by me, so perhaps this explains how overstuffed this feels. Sandra Bullock has reason to appear in this—she’s also the producer—but great veterans like Vincent D’Onofrio, W. Earl Brown, and Viola Davis have no excuse. In particular, Davis’ scenes are questionable; she has a throwaway line that I’m sure the filmmakers didn’t intend for me to seriously consider. But it’s such a jarring, out of place comment that it colored my own analysis.

                  Not that the omission of the line would have made this a better film. Had the filmmakers interrogated its meaning, it might have elevated the work, however. Here’s the context: Bullock’s Ruth Slater gets out of prison and makes her way to the house of Liz and John Ingram (Davis and D’Onofrio, respectively). It’s in the middle of nowhere in a rural area outside Seattle. Slater used to live here. In fact, her crime was committed in this very house. “The Murder House,” the newspapers called it, a fact that neither member of the married couple knew beforehand. This is how “The Amityville Horror” started! But I digress. Slater was convicted of killing a cop and served a 20-year sentence. Now she’s trying to find Katie, the sister she left behind while incarcerated.

                  Jim invites this complete stranger, who looks like she’s been riding the rails in a Depression-era movie, into his house. Liz’s “did you just invite this suspicious-looking White woman into my house” look is priceless. Slater lies about her intentions, but once she finds out Jim’s a lawyer, she levels with him about trying to legally locate Katie. Jim drives her back to the bus station as they chat. Meanwhile, Liz does some research of her own and, when Jim returns home, he gets the Viola Davis lecture that’s her stock in trade. It includes the line I’ve been questioning: “She killed somebody in cold blood,” Liz tells her oddly sympathetic husband. “If that had been any of your Black sons who had been in the system, they would be dead.”

                  Liz is right, but why is this mentioned here? “The Unforgivable” keeps giving the impression that we should have some empathy for Slater, a woman who served her time, but it can’t help tripping over references to her privilege and making us apathetic. She even gets out of prison early for good behavior, which sets the stage for the revenge subplot. For most of the movie, we don’t know why Slater feels entitled to seek out the sister who may have been too young to remember her at all. Katie’s guardians (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond) make this valid point during the lawyer drama scenes. What good would it serve? It just seems like she’s being a troublemaker. Katie (Aisling Franciosi) already has enough stress. In the opening scene, we see her black out and get into a major car accident.

                  Director Nora Fingscheidt and writers Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles keep Slater’s reasons for reuniting with Katie from you in the hopes of generating mystery-based suspense. To do this, they use one of my biggest pet peeves: repeated flashback snippets that only show bits and pieces of the sheriff’s murder. They’re done in that clichéd soft-focus, then edited with the quick flashes that always telegraph that what we think happened most definitely did not. Here, it’s the same shots over and over, as if the flashback budget was $1.39. By the sixth time I saw a screaming little girl burying her face in a disembodied shoulder, I was ready to scream with her.

                  I wish I could tell you the infuriating cop-out “The Unforgivable” employs regarding its murder mystery. But I can tell you about that aforementioned revenge subplot. The sons of the murdered sheriff are none-too-happy that Slater’s out of jail. One brother wants to let it be, the other is following her and dreaming of kidnapping, violence and murder, especially when he finds out about Katie. Of course, it’s the passive one who will turn out to be vicious, but what’s the point of suddenly turning this into a thriller? If it’s meant to inspire sympathy for Slater, this plotline, and a scene where she’s brutally beaten by the daughter of another cop, does so by making law enforcement out to be a hotbed of violent, immoral cops and the barbaric children they’ve raised. Was that the intention?

                  Bullock walks through this with a perpetual scowl and a lack of makeup that screams “please, sweet Jesus, let me win another Oscar.” Rob Morgan has a few good scenes as her parole officer where he dispenses advice while scolding her for being so damn clueless. “You’re a cop killer everywhere!” he tells her as she unwisely believes her life will go back to normal. She’s shockingly remorseless, and we eventually learn why, but waiting for it doesn’t make good drama. Davis is intense, but she’s completely wasted. Her scene where she succumbs to Slater’s bogarting when the latter starts crying crocodile tears is a complete betrayal of Davis’ character.

                  I guess the biggest question I took away from this movie was “who is the ‘unforgivable’ of the title?” Is it Slater? The violent brothers? The system? The adopted parents who lied to Katie? This movie can’t decide. Perhaps the TV show, with the benefit of time to flesh out all aspects of its story, did a better job handling all this and providing a satisfactory level of either answers or ambiguity. At under two hours, this movie is an unwatchable, punishing hot mess that doesn’t earn its last scene of catharsis. You can’t feel any relief if you just don’t care.

                  Now playing in select theaters and available on Netflix on December 10th.

                  By: Odie Henderson
                  Posted: November 24, 2021, 2:27 pm

                  • Entertainer
                    Entertainer published a blog post The Summit of the Gods


                    A funny thing might happen to you while watching this film. Its story, of a photographer pursuing a legendary and legendarily reclusive mountain climber as he prepares to try and scale the south side of Everest, may prove sufficiently compelling that you’ll believe you’re watching a documentary. That would be quite an achievement for any dramatic film, but in this case it would be even more so. Because “The Summit of the Gods,” directed by Patrick Imbert, adapting a manga by Jirô Taniguchi and Baku Yumemakura, is an animated movie.

                    The picture’s art direction isn’t all that elaborate, and the animation, while solid and realistic, doesn’t present as all that value-added. And although almost all the movie’s characters are Japanese, the dialogue is in French. (With English subtitles of course; Netflix also offers an English-dubbed option.) But the movie’s narrative, its steady-rolling conviction, and its insights into the minds of obsessive climbers give it a remarkable pull.

                    The tale is narrated by Makoto Fukamachi, a magazine photographer who’s disgusted with the poor shots he got during an abortive Everest climb. At a bar, he’s approached by a strange man with an old camera. A camera, he says, that was used on a long-ago attempt to top Everest. A real-life one, as it happens, attempted by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924, decades before anyone succeeded in getting to the summit.

                    Fukamachi dismisses the peddler but regrets it almost immediately. He connects the man with the camera to another climber (this one fictional), Habu Joji, who seems to have disappeared from the climbing scene after establishing his legend, and nearly losing his life in an avalanche.

                    So the movie sets up a potential nesting-egg narrative, with Mallory and Irvine in the outer layer, Habu Joji in the middle, etc. That’s not what the movie delivers—the 1924 expedition is not the main concern of “Summit.” Fukamachi’s pursuit of Joji is, and it pays off. After recounting various feats of irrational daring undertaken by the climber—including a hair-raising ascent up something called the “Demon Wall”—Fukamachi catches up with the mountain man and is, predictably, rebuffed. The photographer tells the climber that his achievement—if it is indeed achieved—will mean less if there’s no chronicle of it. Joji eventually agrees to take Fukamachi along, provided the photographer doesn’t interfere with the climber.

                    Does Joji give in because he buys Fukamachi’s pitch? It’s clear that he doesn’t. Long years have taught Joji what he may have sensed all along: that the doing is all. Climbing is when he “feels most alive,” and that’s enough.

                    Fukamachi, who of course has some experience in the field, finds himself tested as he’s never been. Among other things, he learns that hypothermia is a red condition rather than an ice-blue one. It’s in the climbing sequences that the movie’s animation is at its most imaginative, creating effects both exhilarating and harrowing. 

                    Now playing in theaters and available on Netflix on November 30.

                    By: Glenn Kenny
                    Posted: November 24, 2021, 2:27 pm


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