Category Film

“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band”

Some people are just born for the camera and stage and storytelling. Robbie Robertson was 16 years old and a high school dropout (not because he was a ne’er-do-well stoner, but because he had a serious jones for music-making) when he sold one of his guitars to finance a train ticket from his native Toronto to Arkansas, where he joined up to become one of the “Hawks” backing noted rock & roller Ronnie Hawkins.

Hawkins had first noticed Robertson playing locally when Hawkins toured in Canada, then invited him to come explore the possibilities of joining up with him in Arkansas. Robertson wound up writing two songs that Hawkins used, launching the teen on a songwriting and guitar-playing mission that has served him well over his subsequent 60-year career...

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Two Popes Make for One Great Movie

Early in the current Netflix release, “The Two Popes,” I recalled the outlandish, unexpected success of “My Dinner With Andre,” Louis Malle’s 1981 film featuring two guys talking—and talking, and talking, for 111 minutes—across a café table in Manhattan. That was pretty much it as far as plot and characters go, but oh, what glorious talk it was.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles’s “The Two Popes” features quite a bit more dramatic backdrop and tension than did Malle’s film, but in its essence, it’s a kind of intellectually, theologically combative buddy movie that features two marvelously gifted (and hard-working!) actors reveling in sometimes solemn, sometimes fierce, and often enough humorous, even tender dialogue about matters of great import to themselves, their church, and the world beyond.

Two Welsh actors do virtually all the lifting required by producer and writer Anthony...

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Two Guys in a Lighthouse: What Could Go Wrong?

The sum total of what I knew before walking into the theater to see “The Lighthouse” last night: “Two guys in a lighthouse, and things go south.” Wasn’t hard to foresee a taut psychological thriller, full of insight into the difficulty of human relations set amidst the extreme conditions of solitude that residing in a lighthouse would bring. Count me in!

What I wasn’t ready for—and quickly had to steel my defenses against—was an unrelenting 109 minutes (felt like 109 hours…) of human misery, wretchedness, crudity, homoerotic violence, loud clanging noises from the lighthouse, loud farting noises from an ancient mariner’s lower orifice, flashbacks, hallucinations, guilt, desperate masturbation, mermaid sex, hostile seagulls, even more hostile seas, and having to look at Willem Dafoe’s artfully rotted teeth, which showed prominently behind the beard that often seemed to contain outsized shards o...

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On “Rocketman” and Artists, and Rocking One’s World

Prodigies rarely have it easy. No matter how much fame or wealth they may manage to accumulate on the basis of their outsized talent, they often wind up leading desperate lives, besieged by an inner desert of radical isolation from everything—loved ones included—that would offer them comfort and a reason to go on.

Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Phil Ochs, David Foster Wallace: barely the tip of a vast iceberg of genius talents who struggled mightily before cutting short their own lives when their inner demons overpowered the seemingly all powerful will-to-live that animates all life forms.

Despite multiple dark circumstances that had him pushing toward and then hovering on the edge of such self-destruction over many years, British rock star Elton John has managed to escape a place on that list, at least as of today, well into his 72nd year...

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The Holy Ground of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“I saw people throwing pies in each others’ faces, and I thought: ‘This could be a wonderful tool. Why is it being used this way?’” So says a lanky, exceedingly soft-spoken Presbyterian minister with the classic middle America name of Fred Rogers, a man who turned children’s television in the latter part of the 20th century into a kind of ode to basic human decency rather than the casually cruel and empty-headed drivel it often was and still too often remains.

By the end of his 31-year tenure ministering to children’s souls via a daily half-hour public television show, Rogers had earned such a revered place in American culture that a documentary about his life’s work, entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is currently packing theaters around the country with adults who, if the viewing I took in yesterday and again this morning is any indication, mostly sob their way through the film’s 9...

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