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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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* 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.

The prom night from Hell

May Contain Spoilers

Streaming on Netflix Instant

"Carrie" (1976) was based on standard horror material but became memorable thanks to Brian De Palma's ability to keep an audience unnerved every step of the way. Think for a moment of the nature of telekinesis, the film's supernatural gimmick. The ability to mentally transport things is surely not as intriguing or frightening as the gifts of other Stephen King characters, but the director seems to realize that once the public buys it, he can then take liberties and add it to other dimensions related to the protagonist's fears and obsessions. That's s what made the picture unsettling. Some of the De Palma's other films have felt more like exercises in movie craftsmanship ("Body Double," "Raising Cain," "Snake Eyes") but this particular story lent itself particularly well to his usual directorial traits and they felt fresher at this stage of his career.

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#34 October 27, 2010

Welcome to a special Halloween edition of the Newsletter! Marie writes: the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, in addition to being the final resting place of many a famous name. From Édith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Chopin to Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Georges Méliès, the well-known sleep on the tree-lined avenues of the dead and which you can now explore in a virtual 360 degree tour...

ENTER Père-Lachaise

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Inglourious Basterds: Real or fictitious, it doesn't matter...

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Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is about World War II in roughly the same way that, I suppose, Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is about a haunted hotel. The war is indeed the setting, but that's not so much what the movie is about. I also don't see it as an act of Holocaust denial or an anti-vengeance fable in which we are supposed to first applaud the Face of Jewish Revenge, and then feel uncomfortable sympathy for the Nazis. The movie comes down firmly on the side of the Jews, and of revenge, of an early end to the war and the saving of thousands of lives, with barely a quibble.

But while "Inglourious Basterds" is indisputably a WW II revenge fantasy (and, of course, a typically Tarantinian "love letter to cinema"), a theme that is central to nearly every moment, every image, every line of dialog, is that of performance -- of existence as a form of acting, and human identity as both projection and perception. As you would expect from a film that is also an espionage picture and a detective movie, it's shot through with identity games, interrogations, role-playing and people or situations that are not what they appear to be...

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Can a movie ruin a good review?

Here's a question for you: Can a movie ruin a good review? Conversely, can a review actually improve upon a movie? Sure, good criticism (whether positive or negative) should encourage you to see a film in new ways you may not have recognized before. Just as cinema itself is a way of looking at the world through someone else's eyes, criticism is a way of looking at movies through someone else's eyes. Yet, the movies themselves don't change -- only our perceptions of them (we'll put aside William Friedkin's "French Connection" Blu-ray for the moment). On the one hand, a piece of film criticism is kind of like an adaptation. It offers an interpretation of the original, but does not replace it. Other "versions" still exist, just as they always did.

I can think of several examples of criticism that I think is superior to the work being criticized, in the sense that the critic is writing about an idealized version of what's on the screen -- the movie we might wish was on the screen, rather than (or in addition to) the one that's actually there. A clarification: This has nothing to do with whether the critic is divining the filmmaker's intentions or not. It has everything to do with what the critic is seeing in, and getting out of, the film.

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Reality: What a concept

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Ah, reality. So malleable. I've seen a few documentaries and reality shows in my day, and I always enjoy watching how the filmmakers set about shaping "characters" and narratives from carefully chosen bits and pieces of footage, dialog and narration.

Take Susan Boyle, one of the hottest celebrities in the Western World since her appearance on BBC ITV's "Britain's Got Talent" last Saturday -- a performance that has now been seen by untold millions on YouTube. (One clip alone -- several are posted -- registers nearly 14 million views as I write this; a similar one of Paul Potts, the opera-singing mobile phone salesman from 2007, shows nearly 44 million views.)

If you haven't seen it yet, watch this version, which shows how Boyle's audition was set up for the television audience. (Is this show broadcast live, or edited later? How many cameras do they have in that auditorium? Watch how the reaction shots are inserted.) After making a joke about the one thing that's been missing from Glasgow is "talent," the hosts introduce the rather frumpy looking Boyle with comical music and a shot of her taking a big bite out of a sandwich. "Next up is a contestant who says she has what it takes to put Glasgow on the map," they say. The offscreen audience laughs. She's from West Lothian, 47 years old, unemployed but looking, never married ("Never been kissed," she says, "Shame -- but that's not an advert!").

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De Palmania!

View image Look back in Angora: An Ed Wood moment between Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson in Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia."

In anticipation of Brian DePalma's "The Black Dahlia," which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to bi-polar reviews and opens in the US September 15, a number of sites are celebrating the modern master of the rapturous moving camera. (See De Palma a la Mod for all the latest on De Palma and the Dahlia.) Dennis Cozzalio has an excellent round-up of who's doing what at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and adds his own illuminating thoughts to the heady mix. (And don't forget to check out his Opening Shots submission for De Palma's "Femme Fatale" here at Scanners.)

Peet Gelderblom also has some good stuff about the "unofficial De Palma blogathon" at Lost in Negative Space. And I finally took the advice of That Little Round Headed Boy and caught up with De Palma's much-maligned "Mission to Mars," which has moments of astonishing beauty and suspense, despite being hobbled by a terrible script (original screenwriters joined by an ampersand; re-writer Graham "Speed" Yost tacked on with an "and") and one of the most lifeless performances I have ever seen from Connie Nielsen. (How could she not have been fired after the first day? She's heavier-than-leaden in almost every single moment she has on screen -- except the marvelous weightless dance sequence to [and you have to appreciate the humor] Van Halen. Other than that, like a Martian tornado she sucks.) De Palma is a terrific director of women (Margo Kidder, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, Amy Irving, Carrie Snodgress, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickinson...) but Nielsen is really Not of This Earth. (TLRHB also features some informative comments about "Mission to Mars," including a link to Matt Zoller Seitz's round-up of reviews, from pans to raves.)

I've said this many times before about De Palma, but give this guy a decent screenplay and he can work wonders. Look what he can do even when he doesn't have one. So, give the guy a good script, already!

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Tracing the image #2: The rebirth of 'The Descent'

Whenever you watch a movie, you're also probably watching just about every other movie you've ever seen. The images that flash by trigger associations in your brain -- some of them deliberately planted by the filmmakers, others not. Still, you've got all these images and memories banging around in your head and they're going to connect with something no matter what.

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As I wrote in my review of "The Descent" and subsequent postings, director Neil Marshall quite deliberately conjures up memories of other movies (especially, but not exclusively, horror movies) to evoke emotions and effects that have lingered in viewers' imaginations.

Take the "rebirth" of one character, who emerges from the ground coated in blood, like a baby from the womb. This image resonates with memories from a number of terrific movies. Before I get to a more detailed discussion, the usual **SPOILER ALERT** is in order -- not only for "The Descent," but several of its antecedents, including "Deliverance," "Carrie," "Evil Dead 2" and "The Third Man." OK, let's give these movies a hand!

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