Writing for RogerEbert.com: Vol. 5

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Spotted taking notes at the 2018 Reykjavík International Film Festival. Photo by Joanna Kedzierska.

While waiting for the Lyft that would take me to my cousin’s home in Brentwood, following my trip to pick up the tux I would wear in the press room of the 2018 Academy Awards, a bird decided to defecate on my umbrella. Luckily, it missed the suit. In disgust, I tossed the umbrella in the garbage and bought a new one later that day. Little did I know that I was destined to lose that umbrella many months later—in Iceland. My Lyft driver reassured me by noting that such a coincidence could be the harbinger of good luck, and if anything, the remainder of 2018 proved that she was absolutely right. It turned out to be the most euphoric year of my professional life, taking me to places and acquainting me with people I never dreamed would cross my path.

When I returned to cover the Academy Awards for the second time in a row earlier this year, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for all the opportunities I was granted by my site’s publisher Chaz Ebert and editor Brian Tallerico over the previous twelve months. Whereas I got to ask three questions in the Oscar press room in 2018, I scored four this time around by remaining patient, not raising my hand until well into the program. The person I was most excited to see enter the room was “Roma” filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who waited until the end of the telecast to field questions while holding his Oscars for Best Director, Cinematography and Foreign Language Film. Skip to the 2:30 mark in the video below, and you’ll hear my question for Cuarón, followed by his moving response…

Of the many films I reviewed over the past year for RogerEbert.com, none of them were entirely without merit. Two of them earned four stars, while the two worst of the bunch received only one-and-a-half. I was honored to see my review of the film that I loved most of all, Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Life and Nothing More,” put on display in the lobby of New York City’s Film Forum. As in past retrospectives, I’m presenting review excerpts for each film, ranked from most to least worth recommending. Click on each film title, and you will be directed to the full review…

Life and Nothing More

“Without ever spelling it out, Esparza shows us how our treatment of one another as members of the same human family is a direct rebuke to the divisions enforced by tyrants to keep us frightened and isolated. In its poetic simplicity, the film’s deeply moving final shot suggests that our estrangement can be mended the moment we choose to lock eyes and listen to each other, allowing our voices to rise above the deafening cries of our presumptions.”

Memoir of War

“Among its many notable achievements, ‘Memoir of War’ is one of the best films I’ve seen about the ways in which grief can pull a person in both directions simultaneously. Whereas the film’s first half plays more like a thriller, the second half proves to be an emotionally wrenching interlude perched on pins and needles. As in ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour,’ the past and present seem to be unfolding all at once, while time appears to have halted altogether for Duras during endless days spent in her dimly lit home.”

Tea with the Dames

“Whereas her beaming expression conveyed a sense of relief in ‘Hook’ and pride in ‘Sister Act,’ the humbled antagonist she played in ‘The Secret Garden’ grinned as if her facial muscles had decided to give geniality a test drive. So deft are Smith and her pals in maintaining an impeccably nuanced pokerface that it is liberating to watch them gab and guffaw here with unvarnished giddiness.”

Giant Little Ones

“This is not a film that ends with contrived reunions and shared, meaningful nods. It acknowledges that some frayed bonds may never be mended, while arriving at a deeper level of satisfaction, enabling its hero to not only find forgiveness within his grasp, but also self-acceptance. I imagine many young people will feel an enormous weight lifted off of them after watching this movie, as the stigma limiting their own personal expression starts to dissolve. What a gift.”

Bathtubs Over Broadway

“Maintaining remarkable deadpan composure, actress SuEllen Estey—dubbed by Patt Stanton Gjonola—gazes at her reflection in a mirror and sings about how her bathroom is ‘a private kind of place’ where ‘I can cream and dream’ while making ‘faces at my faces.’ It’s a schizophrenic domestic rhapsody fit for the family in ‘Hereditary.’”

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Aaron and Amanda Kopp’s “Liyana.” Courtesy of Abramorama.

Liyana

“As tough as the subject matter may get at times, the film is guaranteed to be an uplifting one for viewers of all ages, with its emphasis placed on the joy of its subjects, whether it be in their everyday life or in the midst of their creative process. The kids acknowledge that life will not end happily for everyone, yet that should not prevent us from holding onto hope, utilizing stories like the one they’ve crafted to fuel our collective desire to fight adversity in all forms.”

The Edge of Democracy

“One of the defining aspects of our current political era is the normalization of previously unthinkable headlines, obscuring our outrage in a haze of inevitability. Proven facts have been trumped by sensationalistic memes, causing Lula to be thrown in prison without any irrefutable evidence being presented. ‘Tell me what crime I’ve committed!’ Lula pleads to Moro in a Kafkaesque courtroom sequence that could’ve been lifted directly from The Trial, the doomed protagonist of which—Josef K.—Rousseff laughingly compares herself to, while surveying the obliteration of her legacy with bemused resilience.”

Active Measures

“McCain is among the most poignant and enlightening interview subjects in Bryan’s film, which builds a meticulous and convincing argument for how Russia went about hacking America’s 2016 presidential election. It chillingly illustrates the decline not only of democracy but of moral leadership in our country, while spending its first half detailing how Russian security services created similar upheaval in other nations, relying on three key weapons of political warfare: propaganda, cyber attacks and recruiting agents of influence.”

Echo in the Canyon

“Freedom is also rendered a casualty whenever innocence expires, and it was the liberation of artistic consciousness during this period that caused so many hit songs to be guided by intuition. Buffalo Springfield’s resistance to performing ‘faster’ in the recording studio is certainly shared by David Lynch, who shot down any onset request to move ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ at a quicker pace. What is art if not a dream we enter to make sense of our waking life? Who would want to rush that?”

Bel Canto

“Once again demonstrating that he knows how to stick a landing, Weitz leaves his most indelible fingerprint on the material by setting his wrenching climactic sequence to Vladimir Martynov’s ‘The Beatitudes,’ a spellbinding composition that is nothing less than the musical equivalent of a flower in mid-bloom. Though this track from the Kronos Quartet had already been tinged with heartache when heard over the end credits of Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Great Beauty,’ here Martynov’s music equals the bracing despair of ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ when performed by the violinists aboard the sinking Titanic.”

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Joey King in Becca Gleason’s “Summer ’03.” Courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment.

Summer ’03

“Echoing Scorsese’s ‘The King of Comedy,’ Gleason serves up each layer of absurdity with a straight face, structuring an elaborate set-up for an uproarious punchline arriving in the form of Jamie’s climactic monologue, delivered at Dotty’s funeral. Rather than tie up the film’s numerous dangling plot threads in a tidily contrived manner, Jamie swings from them like Tarzan, cavorting through the embarrassment without ever becoming entangled in its strands.”

The Unicorn

“Like all good titles, ‘The Unicorn’ can be taken to mean many things, and for me, it represents the notion of ‘perfection’ mentioned ad nauseam by Malory’s family that couldn’t possibly exist, and ultimately serves as a facade for masking insecurities. Whether or not Malory and Caleb decide to get married is irrelevant. What matters is that they are together in their pursuit for fulfillment, wherever they may happen to find it.”

Everybody Knows

“Farhadi may be criticized in Iran much like Paweł Pawlikowski is in Poland for refusing to portray his home country in a wholly positive light, yet the themes of both filmmakers’ work can translate to any culture, since their chief preoccupation is the human condition. It’s no coincidence that when Farhadi travels around the world with his movies, he finds viewers having similar reactions regardless of where they happen to live. Few filmmakers have ever been as gifted at affirming the degree to which we are more alike than we may ever have thought possible.”

When Jeff Tried to Save the World

“Goldberg’s warm-hearted movie is a worthy addition to this collection of character portraits, where the most illuminating truths are left unspoken, tucked into the halting pauses between words. So assured is this debut that it reminded me of a Duplass Brothers picture, the title of which it could’ve easily borrowed, albeit with the following revision: ‘Jeff, Who No Longer Lives at Home.’”

J.T. LeRoy

“What this film seems to suggest is that the experience of being LeRoy was as profound a journey of self-discovery for Knoop as it was for Albert, unearthing parts of themselves that had long been buried. At a time when the long-overdue rallying cry for representation has inadvertently limited the type of stories artists have the permission to tell, depending largely on their outward identity, the success of LeRoy’s work—and the countless lives it mirrored—stands as undeniable proof that art should never be constrained by the boundaries of one’s experience.”

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I was thrilled to see my review of Michael Engler’s “The Chaperone” quoted in a New York Times ad.

The Chaperone

“It is largely to the credit of McGovern’s superb performance that Carlisle emerges as a compelling subject, since she also happens to be almost entirely fictional, contrived by Moriarty as the Julie Powell to Brooks’ Julia Child. On the cusp of her character becoming one of the most sexually liberated stars of the silent era, Richardson radiates the allure and sophistication that made Brooks such a revolutionary figure onscreen.”

The Plagiarists

“Adding to the nagging strangeness of the proceedings is a monologue delivered by Clip toward the end of the first act to an awe-struck Anna. It is jarring not because its sublimely articulated recollection of youth is, as Anna judgmentally notes, ‘uncharacteristic’ of Clip’s language, but because Payne’s affect is so flat that he appears to be reading off a teleprompter (and apparently was, according to Parlow). This choice, while audacious, strikes me as a miscalculation since it further renders what could’ve been an intriguing character into an enigmatic prop.”

Who Will Write Our History

“Taking ahold of one’s narrative is all the more crucial in our current cultural moment, when xenophobia is being upheld by those occupying the White House. Just imagine the archive currently being compiled by those incarcerated along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

“This film’s title is a mouthful, no question, yet its plot is spoon-fed simplicity. Never for a moment did I fear that our lead heroine wasn’t destined for the happy ending telegraphed throughout the first act. Sure, stakes are raised on occasion, but never high enough to block the picturesque scenery.”

Five Fingers for Marseilles

“Only Sepoko seems to be enjoying himself, and his enjoyment is infectious. He’s certainly more fun than Honest John (Dean Fourie), a would-be comic relief grafted onto the action, suggesting what ‘The Magnificent Seven’ may have looked like had Mr. Bean joined the cast. The film itself seems so uninterested in him that it forgets to show us whether or not he survived the big showdown.”

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Gerard Canonico, Giancarlo Esposito and Omar Chaparro in Michael Berry’s “Stuck.” Courtesy of Eammon Films.

Stuck

“Rather than have musical numbers spring organically from source ambiance or other sounds, such as the buzzing of earbuds or the tapping of fingers a la ‘Cell Block Tango’ (which are used only fleetingly here), the songs jarringly burst forth in a way that makes one suspect the characters have been possessed by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin’s ghosts from ‘Beetlejuice.’ Speaking of vintage Burton, the title tune’s refrain of ‘Wo-oah! Wo-oah!’ is so inescapably evocative of Danny Elfman’s villain anthem from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ that I kept expecting Lloyd to follow it up with, ‘I’m the Oogie Boogie Man!’”

An Actor Prepares

“Would the film have been funnier had it been released last year, prior to the Weinstein scandal breaking? I doubt it, though watching it now sure makes for a queasier experience, particularly when Matthew Modine turns up as a talk show host blatantly modeled after the disgraced Charlie Rose. Regardless of what happens after the final fade-out, there’s no question Atticus’ days are numbered. If another heart attack won’t end him, the #TimesUp movement will.”

More than perhaps ever before, the interviews I penned for RogerEbert.com weren’t limited solely to standard Q&As. Some of them were edited into a long-form conversation format, such as my sit-downs with cinema masters Claire Denis and Paweł Pawlikowski, while others were part of my extensive festival coverage, including my chats with Monty Python’s own Terry Gilliam and the astonishing “Leave No Trace” star, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie. On a number of these interviews, I got to go as in-depth as I usually do on Indie Outlook, especially with the great Spielberg documentarian, Laurent Bouzereau. You will find excerpts from each published chat below. Click on each subject’s name, and you will be directed to the full article…

“My relationship with my little sister was unique. We had a certain relationship that nobody else had. I often write from life as a way of working out what actually happened, and this is a story that bothered me. I don’t really know why Kathleen killed herself in the end. I can tell you that it wasn’t her first attempt. It was her third time trying. Writing the film was my way of trying to revisit but also to honor and memorialize. It’s my gift to her.”—Denis O’Hare, writer/star of “The Parting Glass”

“One of our famous directors once said, ‘Every time I cast an actor, it’s like a little death.’ What he was saying by that, of course, is, ‘I have an idea of how the actor should portray this role, and once I cast someone, it’s going to be different from what I’ve envisioned.’ I take a different attitude and say, “Every time I cast an actor, there is a birth that occurs.”—Marc Turtletaub, director of “Puzzle”

“Something that was really clear about Ramona was that she was capable of being open. There is this magical little thing that some actors are capable of doing and others aren’t where you can direct your energy at the person you are talking to in a way that stays here [motions to the space between us], because that’s where the scene lives—between your eyes and the other person’s eyes. She is able to do that in a way that feels totally natural.”—Alex Thompson, director of “Saint Frances”

“Watching the film overseas, I felt a little embarrassed for us as Americans. It was interesting watching the film in other countries, seeing and hearing how people were responding and reacting to it. Going back to that idea of language, this film illuminates how people think and talk at their family barbecues. It shows just how divided we are.”—John David Washington, star of “BlacKkKlansman”

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Me and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie mid-interview at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Photo by Stuart McKenzie.

“That experience made me realize how, through acting, I have an opportunity to make a difference. I realized that acting was what I wanted to do, not because of the fame side of it, but because of the reward at the end of knowing that you put a really important story out into the world.”—Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, star of “Leave No Trace”

“I’m basically trying to preserve this freedom in inventing art where you’re not thinking ideologically, where you are just thinking intuitively about the truth of life like in the old great works of Chekov or Shakespeare. We have to keep that a free zone, and it’s difficult not only because of idealogical pressures, but also commercial pressures, which force you to tell simplistic, moralistic tales with goodies and baddies and where everybody’s reduced to some kind of puppet. Elections won’t change that struggle.”—Paweł Pawlikowski, director of “Cold War”

“Whether the threats are real or not, you need them. Homeland security in America has become the Ministry of Information from ‘Brazil,’ and America keeps creating terrorists. ISIS had been so good for a while, but now they look like they’re finished, so there will be another one. We’ve killed enough kids overseas that the ones who survived will grow up and want to bomb something.”—Terry Gilliam, director of “Brazil”

“Carrie is an ugly duckling who has been bullied in school and at home, but at the same time, she is a fearsome entity with hidden supernatural powers. In both cases, De Palma conveys that duality via split screen. The style that he chooses to tell these stories isn’t simply fueled by a need to show off. It reflects the overarching theme of his work, expressing how the same person or event will appear different, depending on your point of view.”—Laurent Bouzereau, De Palma documentarian

“At the micro level of two shots joining together and at the more macro level of two scenes or two sections coming together, there are different ways to skin that cat. You could either try for a fluidity or a mirroring or a similarity—allowing one thing to echo or mirror or somehow flow from another thing seamlessly—or you could go another route and try for juxtaposition and clash, creating energy that way.”—David E. Simpson, co-editor of “America to Me”

“The way to do it new is through the change in medium. Theatre allows you to show the magic—the strings and rods and the actor performing with a mask on his head—and then the audience forgets the technique and gets totally lost in the character. After twenty years, I’ve coined my own phrases, and I call this a ‘double experience,’ where the audience experiences the art of performing as well as the story itself.”—Julie Taymor, director of “The Lion King” on Broadway

“It never seems extreme to jump from a funny scene to a tragic scene in a second. I always think of shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ which did an amazing job of doing exactly that. There’s that famous episode where they are lost in the woods, and they try to bump that guy off, and Paulie’s lost his shoes. It’s hilarious, but then they’re also trying to shoot a man. It just feels very much like that’s what life is, right? Everything’s going great, and you’re having a great time with your friends, and then you get hit by a train.”—Stephen Merchant, co-creator of “The Office”

“I think it’s a politically left statement to not have stupid people in our work. We are existing in a world where there is this normalizing of ignorance, which is dangerous and actually untrue. That’s not how people are. I don’t know very many stupid people in my life, certainly not among disenfranchised people because it is hard to live that way.”—Daveed Diggs, co-writer/star of “Blindspotting”

“The other day, 600,000 teachers struck the LA Unified School District. They were all in front of City Hall in the pouring rain, and they stayed there. Whether we admit it or not, these are the last great heroes of our culture. Their salary should be tripled and they should be treated with the respect of college professors.”—Richard Dreyfuss, star of “Mr. Holland’s Opus”

“At our unit, we were allowed to love our patients. There is a role for professional boundaries, though it’s important to not just apply technology, but to actually see the person, especially if that person is not somebody like you. This is a beautiful challenge, and it lifts everybody up. It lifts you up as a caregiver or a volunteer to see the dignity in somebody who may be sick, but who is an interesting person with all sorts of complexities.”—Guy Vandenberg, inpatient nurse and subject of “5B”

“Olivier was once asked by a director to just ‘play himself,’ and he said, ‘I don’t know how to do that. I really don’t, because I don’t even know who I am. I put on a face for everybody that I think they want to see.’ As actors, I think we really—I speak for myself—are much more comfortable in exploring roles that are very different from what other people perceive us as.”—Cary Elwes, star of “Stranger Things 3”

“Even though the perspective may be different than what you’re used to seeing onscreen, you don’t have to be the ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation of the characters in order to find them relatable. I want to tell stories that build bridges between people, that show how similar we are in a very interesting way.”—Effie T. Brown, producer of “Dear White People”

BOY ERASED

Joel Edgerton in his film “Boy Erased” Photo credit: Focus Features.

“I don’t know if I was ever a homophobe, but I had grown up in a culture of homophobia where I always was part of a pack mentality. When I was touring with ‘The Gift,’ I spoke about how there was part of me, as a kid, who was a bully. I was a bully and I was a victim of bullying. I know that words I’ve used in my past when I was in high school were homophobic slurs.”—Joel Edgerton, director/star of “Boy Erased”

“Progress has to happen, and to be honest with you, I believe ‘Get Out’ is going to bring about some big change. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get Best Picture. I never understand how a film can win Best Screenplay and not get Best Picture too. What does that mean, man? Were the actors bad?”—LilRel Howery, star of “Get Out”

“In France, there are a lot of nice landscapes, and I don’t mean that I am unable to see their beauty. But I know that it is not the same as when I was living in Africa and if I return there someday. When I am facing those landscapes, they are vast even in the mind, in the spirit. It’s not just a continent, it is the origin of the world.”—Claire Denis, director of “High Life”

“I’ve met people who grew up around much grander beauty and history, and sometimes that can have its own oppression. I’m one of those people that doesn’t think you’re a different person if you stay in Austin rather than move to somewhere like Hollywood. I’ve never been a person chasing ‘where it was happening,’ because it’s all happening right here.”—Richard Linklater, director of “Before Sunrise”

“The heart that happens to exist in this young man is big, and he has a really beautiful opportunity to show that. Of course, I wanted to play the scene much angrier, but that would’ve missed the whole point. We shot that scene of Dixon throwing Red out the window about six or seven times. We had a great crew, a great Stedicam operator and a great stuntman named John. He rolled down into a truck, and the truck pulled away.”—Caleb Landry Jones, star of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“You’ve wrecked so much, you’ve broken so much, and you’re so ashamed of it all that the only way out is to use more. This cycle continues until you OD without necessarily wanting to die. The way Nic explained that cycle made it viscerally understandable for me, and for the first time in my life, I could grasp why people do that.”—Felix van Groeningen, director of “Beautiful Boy”

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Victor Polster in Lukas Dhont’s “Girl.” Courtesy of Netflix.

“The one thing that immediately became clear to me was that casting a trans girl for this part would be a very big responsibility in the sense that this film showcases someone in mid-transformation. It required quite heavy scenes that would portray the body’s physicality at a certain moment in the girl’s life, and I felt casting a trans girl who isn’t in full transformation and might never want to remember this period in her life after the whole process is complete was a responsibility that we could not take.”—Lukas Dhont, direct of “Girl”

“Communities can have this self-policing aspect to them, and it just adds to the problem by causing things to repeat themselves in cycles. We’ve seen that it in the Catholic Church. At what point do we put the needs of the community above preventing the cyclical pain, suffering and torture of individual people?”—Bing Liu, director of “Minding the Gap”

“No one has ever referenced that exchange between Ms. Crudstaff and Cindy Green in an interview before. Those scenes remind me of the moment in ‘Gilbert Grape’ that still wrecks me to this day, when Bonnie arrives at the jail to get Arnie. She goes over to the sheriff and says, ‘C’mon, Jerry. Give me my son.’ So yeah, you’ve busted me. There is a repeated motif in my work of mothers doing the extraordinary on behalf of their kids.”—Peter Hedges, writer of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”

“My grandparents had worked in puppet theatre, and I grew up with the Norwegian fairy tales that they performed. The monsters in these stories externalized the fear of things in life that are too terrifying for children to fully comprehend. I thought that element would fit naturally into this family drama, where we are authentic in the psychology without allowing it to become the sort of social realist picture that bores me to death.”—Camilla Strøm Henriksen, director of “Phoenix”

“That visit to the video store is a good, wholesome time for families because it allows them to talk a little bit and have an experience together, rather than simply point their remote at the TV and click. It’s like riding bikes with your kids down to the local soft-serve ice cream parlor. There aren’t many of them anymore, but they are around.”—Keith Hoogland, president of Family Video

“I live in a bubble, as most artists do. My home is in Berlin, which is quite queer-aware and experimental. In my bubble, it’s kind of normal to show vulnerability, and it would be very weird to be the kind of man who feels strong in a group of males that drink beer. I don’t really know these people.”—Franz Rogowski, star of “Transit”

In addition to these interviews and film reviews, I also covered Part I of Netflix’s hit series, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” as well as penned a spirited defense of Rob Marshall’s pleasingly old-fashioned musical “Mary Poppins Returns,” which ended up on my Best of the Year list (trust me, the “Dumbo” and “Aladdin” remakes won’t be anywhere near my Top 10 of 2019). As Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” proved to be a serious Oscar contender, I wrote an extensive analysis of the tale’s five screen adaptations, explaining why I felt George Cukor’s 1954 version starring Judy Garland was by far the best. I also got to review nine selections at Chicago’s annual DOC10 Film Festival, several of which are among my very favorite films of 2019 thus far, including Penny Lane’s “Hail Satan?” and Nanfu Wang’s “One Child Nation.”

In 2018, I had the tremendous privilege of covering not one but two international film festivals overseas, each tucked in two of the most breathtaking corners of the world. This past October, I attended the Reykjavík International Film Festival held in the capital of Iceland, and my dispatches included as much vivid detail about the location as they did regarding the films themselves. I spoke with the godfather of American avant-garde cinema, Jonas Mekas, via Skype just months prior to his death at age 96, and his spirit couldn’t have been livelier. I also had a lovely chat with Shailene Woodley at the house of Icelandic president Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, watched “The Fifth Element” in a heated swimming pool filled with spellbound cinephiles and paid a visit to the amusing Phallological Museum featured in Jonah Bekhor and Zach Martin’s documentary, “The Final Member.” Oh yeah, and I also published daily reviews of films such as Sergey Loznitsa’s “Donbass,” Wolfgang Fischer’s “Styx,” László Nemes’ “Sunset,” Heui Son’s “Daughter’s Table,” Yann Gonzalez’s “Knife + Heart” and Benedikt Erlingsson’s Reykjavík-set “Woman at War.”

Mere months prior, I was publishing my 2018 anniversary retrospectives for Indie Outlook while in the press room of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. As if the setting—a staggeringly gorgeous spa town in the Czech Republic—wasn’t magical enough, I also had numerous unforgettable encounters (including a few meals) with people whose work I had long admired. The first was Eliska Krenková, star of Olmo Omerzu’s marvelous “Family Film,” who coincidentally happened to share my long, picturesque ride from the airport in Prague to Karlovy Vary. Her latest collaboration with Omerzu, “Winter Flies,” won the festival’s Best Director prize, and was among the films I reviewed in my daily dispatches, along with such titles as Darya Zhuk’s “Crystal Swan,” Lukas Dhont’s “Girl” and Gaspar Noé’s “Climax.” My final dispatch also contained highlights from a press conference with director Barry Levinson, whose 1989 Best Picture Oscar winner, “Rain Man,” wound up snagging the festival’s audience award. I got the chance to ask him about his uproarious scene (embedded above) in Mel Brooks’ 1977 Hitchcock parody, “High Anxiety,” where he played the deranged bellhop. His response had me doubled over with laughter…

“I was one of three writers who worked with Mel Brooks on the film, and we would throw ideas around. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. At one point, I started talking about Bernard Herrmann’s music for the shower scene in ‘Psycho’—‘EEE! EEE! EEE!’ I started putting lines to it and went, ‘HERE! HERE! HERE!’ The idea simply came from me imitating the music. And Mel said, ‘That’s so insane—if we do that, you’ve got to play the bellhop.’ That is how that scene came about. Not long ago, I was going through security on my way to Los Angeles, and I was just about to step through before realizing that I had my key in my pocket. I got my key and put it on the conveyer belt, but the agent said that I could come through with it. I said, ‘But my key is metal and it’ll beep,’ and he said, ‘No, just come through.’ So I stepped through, it beeps, and he immediately said, ‘Get into the machine.’ He told me where to put my feet for the full-body scan, and then he leans in and says, ‘I loved you in ‘High Anxiety.’ Hands up over your head!’”

To read Part I of my anniversary retrospective, which compiles my interviews and essays published over the last twelve months at Indie Outlook, click here.

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