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War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

Growing up with James Bond

I find it mind-boggling that something as trivial as an action film series could become such a constant presence in my life but that's been the case with the James Bond movies. It's not so much that their span happens to equal mine (to the very week, by the way) as I didn't start following them until I was 9 years old -- but ever since, they've always been around one way or another: from big theatrical openings to re-re-releases in the beat up movie houses of old; from Betamax tapings of network T.V. broadcasts (pausing the machine to edit the commercials), to the great looking discs of today. Every couple of years or so they have made their appearance and I've watched each one dozens of times regardless how good or bad they were, an odd fact for which I've had no reasonable explanation.

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A great deal of solace

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I'm double-posting my review of "Skyfall" to encourage comments, which my main site can't accept.

In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the disappointing "Quantum of Solace" (2008) still in our minds, "Skyfall" triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever made. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played well in "Casino Royale," not so well in "Quantum"--although it may not have been entirely his fault. I don't know what I expected in Bond #23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating.

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#141 November 7, 2012

Marie writes: "let's see what happens if I tickle him with my stick..."(Photo by Daniel Botelho. Click image to enlarge.)

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#137 October 10, 2012

Marie writes: I may have been born in Canada, but I grew-up watching Sesame Street and Big Bird, too. Together, they encouraged me to learn new things; and why now I can partly explain string theory.That being the case, I was extremely displeased to hear that were it up Romney, as President he wouldn't continue to support PBS. And because I'm not American and can't vote in their elections, I did the only thing I could: I immediately reached for Photoshop....

(Click image to enlarge.)

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The Master: Who are you?

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I apologize for the lack of postings the last few weeks. A recent flare-up of heart problems left me with little energy to write. But as the emaciated old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says: "I'm feeling much better!"

At one point well into Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" I thought that the movie was going to reveal itself as a story about the meaninglessness of human existence. But that notion was based on a single piece of aphoristic, potential-thesis-statement dialog that, like much else, wasn't developed in the rest of the movie. Which is not to say that "The Master" isn't about the meaninglessness of human life. The line, spoken by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the cult guru known to his acolytes as Master, is addressed to the younger man he considers his "protégé," a dissolute mentally ill drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and the gist of it is that the itinerant Freddie has as much to show for his life as somebody who has worked a regular 9-to-5 job for many years. The point being, I suppose, that for all Freddie's adventures, peculiarities and failures, he isn't all that much different from anybody else. Except, maybe, he's more effed-up.

(spoilers)

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#131 August 29, 2012

Marie writes: It's that time of the year again!  The Toronto International Film Festival is set to run September 6 - 16, 2012. Tickets selection began August 23rd. Single tickets on sale Sept 2, 2012. For more info visit TIFF's website.

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#126 August 1, 2012

Marie writes: As I'm sure readers are aware, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are now underway!  Meanwhile, the opening ceremony by Danny Boyle continues to solicit comments; both for against. (Click image to enlarge.)

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#116 May 23, 2012

Marie writes: I've never seen this done before - and what an original idea! Gwen Murphy is an artist who breathes new life into old shoes, transforming them from fashion accessories into intriguing works of art. Thanks go to club member Cheryl Knott for telling me about this. (Click to enlarge.)

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#102 February 15, 2012

Marie writes: my art pal Siri Arnet sent me following - and holy cow! "Japanese artist Takanori Aiba has taken bonsai trees, food packaging, and even a tiny statue of the Michelin Man and constructed miniature metropolises around these objects, thus creating real-life Bottled Cities of Kandor. Explains Aiba of his artwork:"My source of creations are my early experience of bonsai making and maze illustration. These works make use of an aerial perspective, which like the diagram for a maze shows the whole from above (the macro view) while including minute details (the micro view). If you explore any small part of my works, you find amazing stories and some unique characters." ( click to enlarge.)

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#58 April 13, 2011

Marie writes: Yarn Bombing. Yarn Storming. Guerilla Knitting. It has many names and all describe a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted cloth rather than paint or chalk. And while yarn installations may last for years, they are considered non-permanent, and unlike graffiti, can be easily removed if necessary. Yarn storming began in the U.S., but it has since spread worldwide. Note: special thanks go to Siri Arnet for telling me about this cool urban movement.

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You see me here, you gods, a poor old man

May Contain Spoilers

It's always difficult to put a play on the stage. Actors and crews work hard amid many setbacks that can happen on and behind the stage. If they are lucky, they will survive today's performance with descending curtain and some fulfillment. Then they will have to struggle for another performance tomorrow with today's performance faded into yesterday.

It sounds gloomy, but people in "The Dresser"(1983) stick together and try to go on while believing they are accomplishing something in spite of their mundane reality in and out of theater. At one moment, one character confides to the other about her life spent on theater business: "No, I haven't been happy. Yes, it's been worth it." Norman, played by Tom Courtenay, can say the same thing if asked.

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Drinking his way to hell

May Contain Spoilers

Spending almost two hours with the relentlessly drunk character is not a pleasant thing at all, and it is also not easy to watch the man who chooses to abandon himself to his own hell. He is almost near at the bottom. All he can do is moving further to the final destination he has been reaching for. He still has some fancy about getting out of his torment, but it only reminds him that he has already crossed the line. He screams out of frustration near the end of the movie, "It's not possible -- not in this world!"

John Huston's "Under the Volcano"(1984) poignantly looks at one of the bleakest states of mind. This is a sad portrayal of a man struggling with his addiction and the agonizing contradiction resulting from it. As one character in the movie says, no one can live without love, but he cannot accept it even if he has desperately yearned for.

The movie is mainly about one unfortunate day of the former British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) who has been stuck in Cuernavaca, Mexico. According to him, he resigned his post for himself, but that may be not true considering his present state. He is a drunkard going through the final stages of alcoholism where the drinking is necessary for getting "sober." He says he can deal with his addiction ("Surely you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between, uh, the shake of too little and, uh, the abyss of too much"), but his abstinence is just the brief moment of looking at his glass. His body soon craves for alcohol, he frantically searches for the bottle, and, after satisfying the need, he passes out.

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The dogs are loose! (Part 2)

My MSN Movies gallery feature article about Great Movie Underdogs (i.e., dogs whose proper names are not in the titles), is live. And, after the jump, the answers to last week's movie dog quiz -- and a couple of delicious bonus treats.

Regarding great movie doggerel doggies:

My dog Edith does not much like dog movies. At least I don't think she does. Whenever a canine appears on our 55-inch HDTV screen, or any of the surround speakers, she lunges, barking, growling, whining and emitting other noises that sound like a wounded vacuum or a gargling siren.

If Edith were a bit less excitable and territorial, if she were better able to maintain a critical distance, she would appreciate how many fine screen performances have been given by members of her species, if not of her particular mixed-breed-of-color. [...]

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Scorsese does Hitchcock

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Q. My wife and I saw "Awake" with some friends the other night. I knew nothing about the movie, and wasn't thrilled when I heard it was a thriller with Jessica Alba. I figured it would be a typical superficial piece of garbage aimed at teenagers. I went anyway to be with my wife. I was very pleasantly surprised. I liked that the twists were delivered with subtlety, and I wasn't able to predict one of them.

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The evolution of a hat

View image Figure #1.

View image Figure #2.

(My final contribution to the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door, which just wrapped.)

Warning: This post (and the short film montage/hommage I put together to accompany it, above) may contain spoilers.

Jesus, Tom, it's the hat.

Take a look at the four shots from Joel and Ethan Coen's "Miller's Crossing" on this page: three close-ups of the same hat and a long shot of another one with a body under. The hat in all three close-ups, hat belongs to Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne). The other one is on the head of his boss and friend, Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney). But let's re-wind a little bit.

The movie is set into motion with a close-up of three ice cubes plopped into a glass tumbler. We don't see Tom, our main character until the next shot, where he appears behind the bald head of a man (Johnny Casper, played by Jon Polito) who's delivering a lecture into the camera -- or just past it -- about friendship, character, ethics. Tom is the one who put the cubes into the glass and poured himself some whiskey. He crosses the room out of focus, moves past the camera, and when we see a reverse angle, he's standing behind and to the side of Leo. His tumbler of whiskey is in the frame, but his head isn't. When we finally do get a look at his mug, he's not wearing a hat. Meanwhile, Casper's henchman, the cadaverous Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman) stands behind his boss, holding his hat. And wearing one. It's a sign of respect.

View image Figure #3.

View image Figure #4.

When Tom leaves the room at the end of the scene, he puts on his hat. Then there's this strange credits sequence, like a dream in a forest, with a canopy of autumnal branches overhead. On the forest floor, a hat falls into the foreground of the frame, the title of the film appears (Figure #1), and the hat blows away into the distance. In the next close-up, Tom is roused from a stuporous slumber. He sits up and feels his head, for his hangover and for his hat.

"Where's my hat?" Tom asks.

"You bet it, ya moron," says the friend who woke him up. "Good thing the game broke up before you bet your shorts."

Turns out, the hat left with Mink and Verna. Together, they are the link between Tom's hat and his shorts. We've already heard, in the opening scene, that Mink (Steve Buscemi) is "the Dane's boy." Mink appears only in one brief scene at the Shenandoah Club, explains the whole movie ("as plain as the nose on your -- Turns out he's also involved with "the Schmatte," bookie Bernie Birnbaum (John Turturro), who also happens to be the brother of Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), Leo's twist and Tom's secret squeeze and the subject of Johnny Casper's opening rant.

Got that, or do I have to spell it out for ya?

OK, here's the deal:

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CIFF: All our capsule reviews

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UPDATED 10/16: Here are brief reviews of all the Chicago Film Festival movies we have seen, in alphabetical order, written by Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert. More will be added as we view them. For a full CIFF schedule, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call (312) 332-FILM.

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Toronto #9: Everybody must get cloned

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TORONTO, Ont. -- “The Walker” is another of Paul Schrader’s “man in a room” films, and his best film since “Affliction” (1997). It’s a fascinating character study with as fine a performance as Woody Harrelson has given, and certainly the most unexpected. Schrader defined the films as centering on the image of a man in a room preparing to go out and do something, and then doing it, while remaining focused by his preparation. That would define Schrader’s “American Gigolo” (1980), with Richard Gere in training for his profession as a professional lover of women. And “Light Sleeper” (1992), with Willem Dafoe as a drug dealer who is also a recovering addict.

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The drinker and the drunk

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The movies are full of drunks, from literary drunks ("Factotum") to frat-boy binge drinkers ("Beerfest"). Some of these drunks are funny ("Arthur," "Bad Santa," W.C. Fields), some are tragic ("Ironweed," "Leaving Las Vegas") and some are not meant to be thought of as drunks, but as alcoholics, subjects for treatment ("28 Days," "When a Man Loves a Woman"). Like the prostitute, the drug addict and the mentally or physically challenged, the drunk has provided actors with fabulous opportunities to chew the scenery (quite tasty with a single-malt scotch) and win awards (pop open the champagne!).

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Mad Mel's mouth

Mel Gibson with a player in his upcoming film "Apocalypto," who is undoubtedly not of the Hebrew persuasion.

Drunk people say the darndest things. Like Mel Gibson, who was arrested on DUI charges Friday (blood alcohol level: 0.12; legal limit: 0.08). He seized the occasion, around three in the morning, to offer the arresting officers his assessment of the role of Jewry in world affairs. And, really, who wouldn't, under the circumstances? Field sobriety tests present splendid opportunities to expound on a range of subjects, especially if you can't focus on any one of them for too terribly long. You've kind of got a captive audience (or vice-versa), and if the cops will listen and record what you say, what a handy way to organize your religious and political opinions before they put you in a detox cell! According to the incident report obtained by AOL's TMZ.com and summarized in the New York Daily News: The "Passion of the Christ" director repeatedly said, "My life is f----d," according to the report by Los Angeles County Deputy James Mee... [...]

"F-----g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," Mee's report quotes him as saying.

"Are you a Jew?" Gibson asked the deputy, according to the report.

The actor also berated the deputy, threatening, "You motherf----r. I'm going to f--- you," according to Mee's report.

The actor also told the cop he "owns Malibu" and would spend all his money "to get even with me," Mee said in his report.

TMZ quoted a law enforcement source as saying Gibson noticed a female sergeant on the scene and yelled at her, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar t--s?"

Deputy Mee then wrote an eight-page report detailing of the incident, but higher-ups in the sheriff's department felt it was too "inflammatory" to release and would merely serve to incite "Jewish hatred," TMZ said. (Note: Officer Mee's last name is not a traditional Hebraic one.) TMZ.com, which broke the story and the allegations of a police cover-up of Gibson's Jew-hating tantrum, reports that Malibu police had stopped Gibson two other times for DUIs -- three years ago and last year -- but let him slide. Not Friday, though.

Everybody and her pedicurist has been weighing in on this, but the first thing I thought of was how alcohol loosens the inhibitions that usually prevent people from saying what they really feel. Drunken free-speech probably more accurately reflects someone's true attitudes than sober, publicist-crafted press statements. Gibson has apologized, saying he has a problem with alcohol. But it sounds to me like he has a bit more of a problem with Jews. And as Albert Finney said in John Huston's film of "Under the Volcano": "There are some things you can't apologize for." A commenter over at Anne Thompson's Hollywood Reporter Risky Biz Blog sums up my own feelings about Mel's Latest Disgrace:

Wow, that booze is pretty potent stuff. Like Mel Gibson, I can say that some of my best friends are Jews. It's quite disturbing to think that I might denounce them with obscenities and blood-libel accusations if I drank too much alcohol.

Jeepers. Yeah. Jeepers creepers.

MEL UPDATE (8/1/06): Mel Gibson issued another apology (this time to Jews -- oops, he forgot the first time), asking for forgiveness, and announcing that he will check into rehab. We assume he means the Shylock Center for Jew Abuse, but maybe not. Classic stuff from the horse's... mouth: "There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark.... [Note: It's the remark that is inexusable, whether silently thought or said aloud, not the anti-Semitism itself.] But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith." And yet... hatred of any kind is almost always said to go against any faith -- and yet, it's that same faith that people use to justify their hatred. Maybe Mel needs to detox on whatever virulent strain of renegade Catholicism he's infected with...

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Sundance #2: Breaking conventions

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PARK CITY, Utah – John Cooper, who has been programming films at Sundance for almost 20 years, had a particular tone in his voice as he introduced "Somebodies" Friday afternoon. This wasn’t a routine introduction. "Certain moments at Sundance we remember," he said, "because they were the beginning of something great."

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