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Heaven Is for Real

Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

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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.

#156 February 20, 2013

Marie writes: As some of you may have heard, a fireball lit up the skies over Russia on February 15, 2013 when a meteoroid entered Earth's atmosphere. Around the same time, I was outside with my spiffy new digital camera - the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. And albeit small, it's got a built-in 20x zoom lens. I was actually able to photograph the surface of the moon!

(click to enlarge)

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"America is not a country, it's a business."

So says professional killer Jackie Cogan at one point in Killing Them Softly, the third film by New Zealander Andrew Dominik - and considering the filmmaker's efforts to establish a connection between the events in the movie and the economic crisis started in the late 2000s thanks to the greed and lack of scruples of Wall Street, it is easy to see Cogan as an ordinary employee of any company complaining about the lack of vision of his bosses and, on the other hand, the big bankers as Armani-dressing versions of the violent mobsters who inhabit the crime section of the newspapers. More than that: fearful due to the financial disaster caused by their colleagues in Wall Street, the bad guys presented by Dominik are miles away from those gangsters who used to throw hundred dollar bills on the ground or distribute tips in exchange of a smile; instead, here they need to haggle prices with professional killers and negotiate with theirs superiors before approving a sum of a thousand dollars for framing someone.

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Gangsters, renegades and rebels

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Today looks to be a day of renegades and gangsters from the start, with "Killing Them Softly" by Andrew Dominik, the second American film to premier in competition, first thing in the morning. The all-male cast is headlined by Brad Pitt, who also starred in the director's Oscar-nominated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. " This is a talky tough-guy movie that is heavy on long interchanges among thugs with odd accents and/or speech impediments. Talking like a tough guy means modifying every noun with the f-word (and I wonder what the grand total would be for this film).

"Killing Them Softly" is set in New Orleans, although pains are taken to avoid any distinctly identifying landmarks. The grey, wet, boarded-up desolation of the landscape could only be the post-Katrina lower 9th Ward, and I found the film's fleeting glimpses of that more electrifying than the introduction of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a pair of lowlifes setting up a robbery with Squirrel (Vincent Curatola).

The two bumblers manage, just barely, to pull off the robbery of a high-stakes poker game, which makes it only a matter of time before they're marked men. It also makes Markie (Ray Liotta), the pudgy mid-level gangster who was running the game a suspect. Whatever higher authority these thugs answer to calls in its enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort it out.

The first and only woman, who is also the first and only black person in the story, makes her appearance one hour into the film. She's a prostitute who's treated like garbage in her approximately two minutes on the screen. This is not only a man's world, it's a white man's world.

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Our neighbors the sociopaths

May Contain Spoilers

While revisiting David Michôd's "Animal Kingdom" (2010), I wondered what it was like for its passive teenager hero to live with his heroin addict mother at their small home. We can only assume that she definitely could not get the Mother of the Year award, considering the mundane but eerie opening sequence. It's around afternoon, and her son is watching some TV show, and she seems to be asleep next to him on couch - but we soon learn she died from an overdose.

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Top secret leakage from my 2010 Muriels ballot!

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It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)

You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:

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Scanners' Exploding Head Awards 2010

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Things in movies that made me feel as if my head would explode, in joy or disgust or both, during 2010.

Shot of the year: That's part of it, up there. "Sweetgrass" (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Ilisa Barbash)

Best opening shot: "Mother" (Bong Joon-ho)

Best final shot: The terrifyingly comedic/nihilistic ending of "The Ghost Writer" (Roman Polanski). It all comes down to this: meaningless chaos, scattered and swirling in the wind...

Most astounding shot: A slow zoom-in on a mountainside that outdoes the opening of Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God": "Sweetgrass"

Best movie-star shot: The one on the Staten Island Ferry that glides up behind Angelina Jolie and turns into a magnificent profile close-up. "Salt" (Phillip Noyce)

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A roll of whose dice?

Is the universe deterministic, or random? Not the first question you'd expect to hear in a thriller, even a great one. But to hear this question posed soon after the opening sequence of "Knowing" gave me a particular thrill. Nicolas Cage plays Koestler, a professor of astrophysics at MIT, and as he toys with a model of the solar system, he asks that question of his students. Deterministic means that if you have a complete understanding of the laws of physics, you can predict with certainty everything that will happen after (for example) the universe is created in the Big Bang.

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