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The Lens

The Lens: Over the moon for 'Moon'

Jul 31, 2019

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 31, 2009 - Science-fiction movies are typically big-name/big-studio/big-budget affairs, but “Moon” is an independent first feature film by industry veteran Duncan Jones. It recalls “Gattaca” (1997) in its hard questions about the uses of technology, the ethics of corporations and nation-states – and the meaning of being human.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 18, 2008 - The Shady Oak theater has bowed to the wrecking ball. While some may see this as a time for goodbyes, I suspect that those who actually patronized the theater paid their last respects long ago.

The Lens: Double feature

Jul 20, 2017

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: May 30, 2008 - Almost immediately after dropping a completely irrelevant and pointless reference to the deservedly obscure film "Wicked, Wicked"  in an earlier post, I learned that the dear archivists at Turner Classic Movies  have actually programmed this disaster for a rare screening.

The Lens: Western roundup

Jul 17, 2017

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: John Ford (“The Searchers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Stagecoach,” “My Darling Clementine”), Howard Hawks (“Rio Bravo,” “Red River”), Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven,” “The Outlaw Josie Wales”) and Sergio Leone (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “For a Few Dollars More”).

The Lens: Jason Reitman is down on romance

Jan 11, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 11, 2012 - First, note that this essay contains spoilers. Late in Jason Reitman's most recent film, "Young Adult," the principal character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), shows up at the house of a man she knew 20 years ago in high school, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt).

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 27, 2010 - On Oct. 29-30, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (www.stlsymphony.org) commemorates the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" with screenings that feature live performances of Bernard Herrmann's score. I wrote about the film for the SLSO Playbill program that previewed the concerts, but space limitations forced me to take a knife to it. (Hitchcockian pun very much intended.) Here's the unexpurgated version, with cuts restored:

Knowing nothing about 'Nowhere Boy'

Oct 15, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2010 - Knowing nothing about 'Nowhere Boy' Leonard Maltin claims that he saw "Nowhere Boy" - which he likes a great deal more than I did - without having the slightest clue that the film was about the early life of John Lennon. While I have no reason to doubt the estimable Maltin (though I think he might have guessed the subject from the title), I find it interesting that he says his complete ignorance about the subject matter was "the best possible way" to see a film. Is total innocence about a film's subject the best way to approach it?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 11, 2010 - Although he's the most significant filmmaker to emerge from France in thepast 15 years or so, Olivier Assayas is a difficult man to categorize. He's made films that capture the rhythms of ordinary life and invite comparisons to Eric Rohmer (the recent "Summer Hours" is perhaps the best example), but he's also drawn to surreal mashups of genre films, eurothrillers ("Boarding Gate") and paranoid suspense ("Demonlover") plots.

Fantastic 'Fantomas'

Sep 23, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2010 - "To her great relief, the Grand Duchess did not recognize the dead man."

That almost-ridiculous title card is the kind of thing that makes "Fantomas," Louis Feuillade's 5 and a half hour adventure serial such an unexpected treat.

Eight films open a window into French cinema

Sep 16, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2010 - Qu'est-ce que le cinema Francais? Is the nation that gave birth to the flickering image still home to the gritty melancholy of "L'Atalante" and "La Jour se Leve"? Does the spirit of the nouvelle vague still inspire fresh young filmmakers to run into the streets, turning generic conventions upside down with nothing more than a reel of film and a pack of like-minded cinephiles? Does it even make sense to speak of a "national cinema" anymore, when Hollywood has colonized the screens of every country from Bahrain to Bulgaria?

Eight films open a window into French cinema

Sep 16, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2010 - Qu'est-ce que le cinema Francais? Is the nation that gave birth to the flickering image still home to the gritty melancholy of "L'Atalante" and "La Jour se Leve"? Does the spirit of the nouvelle vague still inspire fresh young filmmakers to run into the streets, turning generic conventions upside down with nothing more than a reel of film and a pack of like-minded cinephiles? Does it even make sense to speak of a "national cinema" anymore, when Hollywood has colonized the screens of every country from Bahrain to Bulgaria?

Summer 2010: Goodbye to all that

Sep 14, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 14, 2010 - As the summer movie season began, the first thing one might have detected was a sense of irrelevancy. That there would be a phalanx of sequels, comic book heroes and retreads of well-known pop-culture material was to be expected. What was less evident at first was a sense that many of this year's offerings were not just familiar but ... unnecessary.

Claude Chabrol, 1930-2010

Sep 13, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 13, 2010 - The death of Claude Chabrol this weekend provides further proof that the masters of the Nouvelle Vague, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year (depending on how you determine its origin), are all in their sunset years even as their films, new and old, continue to shine.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 1, 2010 - James Cameron's To-Do List

____ 1. December 2009. Release "Avatar" in theaters. Make quadrozillion dollars.

(Note: Whine loudly when Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" pushes it off screens three months later.Those are my theaters, Tim!)

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 29, 2010 - Let's look back at some of the key events of the last few decades:

1975: Most of the world is killed as the result of biological warfare between the U.S. and China. Charlton Heston survives.

1980: The first Annual Transcontinental Road Race, later known as the "Death Race."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 24, 2010 - The unnamed protagonist in Marco Ferreri's "Dillinger is Dead" (1969) is clearly having a bad night. Played by the great Michel Piccoli, he's a designer of gas masks, bored with his job. He comes home to find his pill-popping wife (played by Anita Pallenberg, best known as Keith Richard's girlfriend or the villain with the eyepatch in "Barbarella") too loopy to get out of bed. So he fixes dinner, seduces the maid (Annie Girardot), watches home movies and quietly goes insane.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 22, 2010 - I'm sure you've heard that the movie business is in the middle of a revolution. Roughly one dozen stereoscopic films were released in 2009, a number that will certainly grow this year. Theatre owners are scrambling to upgrade their projection booths and investing in glasses (which can cost more that $20 a pair), hoping that the increased ticket prices and "Avatar"-sized grosses will pay for the costs of conversion. (Hey, it's not the silliest thing movie houses have invested in. Not by a long shot.)

T.A.M.I.'s in love

Mar 16, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 16, 2010 -The current popularity of live events broadcast into theaters (like the weekly Metropolitan Opera performances at several local sites) has taken me by surprise. I remember the days when "closed-circuit" events - boxing matches, the Indianapolis 500 and the infamous Evel Knievel canyon jump - were common, but I thought that competition from cable TV and pay-per-view distribution had made that sort of thing extinct.

The Lens: And the Oscar goes to ...

Mar 4, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 4, 2010 - As we come to the final round of Academy Award speculation, a strange pattern develops in our remaining categories. Pardon me if my selections below sound a little bit familiar, but this time around the Conventional Wisdom is probably right.

Not that there haven't been surprises. Remember last November when "Up In the Air" looked like it was unbeatable for best picture, best actor and probably best Ddirector?

The Lens: Oscar prognostication - part 3

Mar 1, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2010 - Eight categories down, 16 to go. Just one-third finished, but we're already at the stage at which panic may set in while filling out your ballot.

How am I supposed to know the difference between sound editing and sound mixing? Has anyone actually seen the documentary shorts? I can understand taking notice of the Vulcan ears and Romulan brows in “Star Trek,” but what was special about the make-up in “The Young Victoria”? How am I supposed to determine a good screenplay when the industry itself can't even agree on who wrote it?

The Lens: Some categories can't be handicapped

Feb 25, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 25, 2010 - Having already said that the Academy Award for best original song will be handed to "Crazy Heart"'s "The Weary Kind," it's worth remembering that the rules governing the musical awards seem to change every year. Last year Bruce Springsteen's song for "The Wrestler" was ignored, reportedly because the Academy's musical panel had decided to downplay music that only appears during end credits (!?).

The Lens: The Oscar sure things

Feb 23, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 23, 2010 - Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds." No argument there, right?

The Lens: Deciphering the Oscar voting system

Feb 22, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 22, 2010 - It's the time of year when William Goldman's dictum about Hollywood - "Nobody knows anything" - is perhaps at its most pertinent.

On March 7, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be handing out its annual awards for the 82nd time; and as usual, a great deal of guesswork, speculation, counter-intelligence and just plain nonsense is being issued from reporters, voters, bloggers and would-be prophets - this writer included - who, for the most part, don't know anything.

The Lens: Remember: Salinger hated the movies

Feb 16, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2010 - Here's a short list of actors who never played Holden Caulfield: Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Perkins, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Toby McGuire, Jesse Eisenberg, Robert Pattinson. I thank my good fortune to have never seen a movie trailer with the words: "Michael Cera is Holden Caulfield." And I like Michael Cera.

The Lens: Bad, Lieutenant

Feb 10, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 10, 2010 - In one of the least expected trends to hit the Internet, a handful of short videos have appeared in the last few weeks on YouTube and elsewhere satirizing Werner Herzog, the German film director known for treating each of his films as a Sisyphean struggle for survival.

The Lens: Court Marshall

Feb 8, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 8, 2010 - Perhaps I’ve prematurely entered my curmudgeon stage, but I find the endless promos for Garry Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day” more off-putting than enticing. A romantic comedy populated by a seeming infinitude of stars (e.g., Julia Roberts, Jessicas Biel and Alba, Taylors Swift and Lautner, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Ashton Kutcher), “Valentine’s Day” seems of an irritating piece with such other Marshall “entertainments” as “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Diaries,” glossy fairytales of love thwarted and, after much contrived complication, finally fulfilled.

The Lens: Critic should understand madness

Jan 25, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 25, 2010 - I'm not much of an admirer of the work of David Thomson, the critic, novelist and professional name-dropper, so I hadn't really made plans to read his latest book, "The Moment of Psycho," a critical study published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Hitchcock's great film. But surely it deserves better than the tossed-off treatment it receives from Neil Genzlinger in the most recent "New York Times Book Review." 

The Lens: Dennis Hopper - A wild, uneasy ride

Jan 20, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 20, 2010 - Having recently found out about the death of Eric Rohmer, I was sorry to hear that Dennis Hopper is said to be losing his fight against prostate cancer. Hopper has survived so much in his life and career – substance abuse, blackballing, even the Russian Dynamite Death Chair - that it became easy to think of him as constantly evolving - maybe even immortal.

The Lens: A cult above

Jan 14, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 14, 2010 - There are many kinds of cult movies: Those depending on a feverish fan base ("The Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "Rebel Without a Cause"), those that crept up from the underground ("Eraserhead," John Waters' films), even those that simply became recognized for a level of ineptitude so great that dumbfounded late-night TV viewers simply couldn't believe what they were watching (the films of Ed Wood and Oscar Micheaux).

The Lens: Blue smoke

Jan 5, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 5, 2010 - The people behind the Smoke Free Movies Initiative - the ones who want the MPAA to slap an "R" rating on any film depicting smoking (a re-release of "Now Voyager" would get an NC-17, of course) want you to know that James Cameron's "Avatar" is a very dangerous movie (also very long and tiresome, but that's a subject for another day...).

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