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John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

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Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children, without explaining…

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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.

#87 November 2, 2011

Marie writes: It occurred to me that I've never actually told members about the Old Vic Tunnels.  Instead, I've shared news of various exhibits held inside them, like the recent Minotaur. So I'm going to fix that and take you on a tour!  (click image to enlarge.)

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#76 August 17, 2011

"I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan. I was an indifferent student except at subjects that interested me, and those I followed beyond the classroom, stealing time from others I should have been studying. I was no good at math beyond algebra. I flunked French four times in college. I had no patience for memorization, but I could easily remember words I responded to. In college a chart of my grades resembled a mountain range. My first real newspaper job came when my best friend's father hired me to cover high school sports for the local daily. In college a friend told me I must join him in publishing an alternative weekly and then left it in my hands. That led to the Daily Illini, and that in turn led to the Chicago Sun-Times, where I have worked ever since 1966. I became the movie critic six months later through no premeditation, when the job was offered to me out of a clear blue sky."Visit "I was born inside the movie of my life" to read the opening pages from Roger's forthcoming memoir to be published September 13, 2011.

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#70 July 6, 2011

Marie writes: Gone fishing...aka: in the past 48 hrs, Movable Type was down so I couldn't work, my friend Siri came over with belated birthday presents, and I built a custom mesh screen for my kitchen window in advance of expected hot weather. So this week's Newsletter is a bit lighter than usual.

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The Fall of the Revengers

The day will come when "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" will be studied in film classes and shown at cult film festivals. It will be seen, in retrospect, as marking the end of an era. Of course there will be many more CGI-based action epics, but never again one this bloated, excessive, incomprehensible, long (149 minutes) or expensive (more than $200 million). Like the dinosaurs, the species has grown too big to survive, and will be wiped out in a cataclysmic event, replaced by more compact, durable forms.

Oh, I expect the movie will make a lot of money. It took in $16 million just in its Wednesday midnight opening. Todd Gilchrist, a most reasonable critic at Cinematical, wrote that it feels "destined to be the biggest movie of all time." I don't believe "Titanic" and "The Dark Knight" have much to fear, however, because (1) it has little to no appeal for non-fanboy or female audiences, and (2) many of those who do see it will find they simply cannot endure it. God help anyone viewing it from the front row of a traditional IMAX theater--even from the back row. It may benefit from being seen via DVD, with your "picture" setting dialed down from Vivid to Standard.

The term Assault on the Senses has become a cliché. It would be more accurate to describe the film simply as "painful." The volume is cranked way up, probably on studio instructions, and the sound track consists largely of steel crashing discordantly against steel. Occasionally a Bot voice will roar thunderingly out of the left-side speakers, (1) reminding us of Surround Sound, or (2) reminding the theater to have the guy take another look at those right-side speakers. Beneath that is boilerplate hard-pounding action music, alternating with deep bass voices intoning what sounds like Gregorian chant without the Latin, or maybe even without the words: Just apprehensive sounds, translating as Oh, no! No! These Decepticons® are going to steal the energy of the sun and destroy the Earth! The hard-pounding action music, on the other hand, is what Hollywood calls Mickey Mouse Music, so named because, like the music in a Mickey Mouse cartoon, it faithfully mirrors the movements on screen. In this case, it is impatient and urgent. I recommend listening to it on your iPod the next time you have difficulty at the doctor's office filling the little plastic cup.

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"Critic" is a four-letter word

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A critic at a performance is like a eunuch at a harem. He sees it done nightly, but is unable to perform it himself. --Brendan Behan

A lot of people don't know what "critic" means. They think it means, "a person who criticizes." They don't like people who do that. It seems an impotent profession. Critics are nasty, jealous, jaded and bitter. They think it's all about them. They're know-it-alls. They want to appear superior to everyone else. They're impossible to please. They don't understand the tastes of ordinary people. They love to tear down other people's hard work. Those who can do it, do it. Those who can't do it, criticize. What gives them the right to have an opinion? We'd be better off without them.

Criticism is a destructive activity. If I like something and the critics didn't, they can't see what's right there before their eyes because they're in love with some theory. They don't have feelings; they have systems. They think they know better than creators. They praise what they would have done, instead of what an artist has done. They use foreign words to show off. They're terrified of being exposed as the empty poseurs they are. They are leeches on the skin of art.

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Consensus and the Big Film Poll Blowout of 2007

View image Conspiracy or coincidence? "There Will Be Blood" opened nationwide on Friday and won the Village Voice/LA Weekly film poll and the National Society of Film Critics poll the same weekend! What can it mean?

"There Will Be Consensus": That was the headline for the intro by Village Voice film critic (and self-described "lapsed structuralist") J. Hoberman, accompanying the results of the annual film critics' poll co-sponsored by the Village Voice and the L.A. Weekly, which are both published by Village Voice Media (along with the SF Weekly, Seattle Weekly, Kansas City Pitch, Nashville Scene, Cleveland Scene, Dallas Observer, Miami New Times, Phoenix New Times, Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, and several more). Unless you read the same piece by Hoberman in the LA Weekly, in which case the headline was "If It Bleeds, It Leads." I don't know what the headline was in those other weeklies, but you can look it up if you like.

Here, then, is the bleeding consensus, which is, as you might expect, practically everything you would expect in a consensus -- which is to say hardly anything that you would not expect. (Like Iowa.) 1. "There Will Be Blood" (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA) 2. "No Country for Old Men" (Joel & Ethan Coen, USA) 3. "Zodiac" (David Fincher, USA) 4. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (Cristian Mungiu, Romania) 5. "I'm Not There" (Todd Haynes, USA) 6. "Syndromes and a Century" (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria) 7. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Julian Schnabel, France/USA) 8. "Killer of Sheep" (Charles Burnett, USA, 1977) 9. "Ratatouille" (Brad Bird, USA) 10. "Colossal Youth" (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland)No surprises there -- at least not if you've been paying any attention to mainstream movie reviews coming out of New York, Los Angeles or the major international film festival circuit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto -- the launching pads for most of the above) in both 2006 and 2007. Compare to the indieWIRE poll results, which are almost identical -- with late-December opener "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" at #13 (IW) instead of #7 (VV/LA); "Assassination of Jesse James" at #7 (IW) instead of #12 (VV/LA); and -- the most dramatic difference! -- "Ratatouille" at #20 (IW) instead of #9 (VV/LA).

I wonder: Were it not for DVDs -- especially DVD critics' screeners -- and, to a lesser extent, On Demand distribution channels like HDNet and IFC First Take, how many of these films would have had the chance to become critical favorites outside of New York (and maybe LA) by the end of 2007? What are the odds that films that never even played theatrically in more than one or two American towns ("Syndromes and a Century," "Colossal Youth"), or that don't open in more than a few until 2008 ("There Will Be Blood," "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") would have placed so strongly in national critics' polls with mid-December deadlines? I think I'm impressed... unless, wait a minute, the success of such films is actually further evidence of insular critical hype and inbred groupthink. But why choose to think of it in that way?

From this link you can see all the vote-getters by category (feature films, performances, documentaries, first films, undistributed films, worst film), or look at the individual contributors' ballots here. Including mine, although I immediately regretted impulsively citing "Southland Tales" as the "worst" movie I saw in 2007 and still do. I'd much rather make a case against the bloodless literalism of "Sweeney Todd" (musically, sexually and politically neutered) or "Youth Without Youth" or "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." But let's keep things in perspective. None of those movies expressed a cinematic worldview quite as reductive as those reviews of "No Country for Old Men" that invoked this year's most hackneyed substitute for criticism, summarized in this clip from Hoberman's intro: In formal terms, the Coen brothers' latest pinball machine is obviously superior to 90 percent of the year's releases. But it's also a soulless enterprise, with nothing more on its mind than the expert manipulation of the spectator, critics included.The Voice didn't run a Hoberman review of "No Country for Old Men" (it reprinted Scott Foundas's admiring piece from the LA Weekly), so we may never know more precisely what Hoberman thinks he is "obviously" saying about the movie, or the movies, or himself. (Some of my responses to similar autonomic spasms can be found here and elsewhere. In what language can something that is "obviously superior to 90 percent" of movie recent releases "in formal terms" be considered the equivalent of a "pinball machine" -- one that manipulates instead of being manipulated? What is the nature or significance of such "formal" superiority if we're drawing comparisons between movies and pinball machines? Is a wristwatch formally superior to a Mondrian? Which one? Why? The answer, obviously, is Salvador Dali's 1937 movie script for the Marx Brothers, "Giraffes on Horseback Salad.")

Hoberman offers the opinion that "NCFOM" might well be his choice for the year's "Most Overrated" picture if there were such a category as that. And in his next paragraph he announces he's pleased that the strenuously over-praised and over-maligned "Southland Tales" tied with the comparably ambitious and significant "The Bucket List" for the year's Worst Film -- though each really only received five votes -- just ahead of "300" and "Hostel: Part II" with four each, and "Juno," "Margot at the Wedding," "Redacted" and "Trade" with three): You know something's happening when "Southland Tales" also headed three critics' lists as the year's Best Film [Melissa Anderson, Bill Krohn, Nathan Lee]. Time constraints have made it impossible to calculate the 2007 poll's Passiondex— my formula to measure the degree of ardor with which critics voted for particular movies—but my heart tells me that "Southland Tales" is the obvious winner. Here is a movie that some people love and others love to hate. That's double passion! And that's good.Yes, doubleplusgood passion. Something must be happening. Hoberman predicts that Pedro Costa's "Colossal Youth" (#10) might have been the year's choice for Worst Film "had more critics seen it" ... although, in fact, nobody did vote for it in that category, including critics who had seen it. This makes me wonder if, perhaps, there might have been any other films this year that some critics loved and others just hated... Nah.

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'Baby' stages late-round Oscar rally

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HOLLYWOOD - "Million Dollar Baby" scored a late-round rally Sunday night at the 77th annual Academy Awards as Clint Eastwood's movie about a determined female boxer won for best picture and took Oscars for actress (Hilary Swank), supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) and director (Eastwood).

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Who will take home Oscar?

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Last year was the Year of the Hobbit at the Academy Awards. This year the academy will move away from the land of blockbusters and honor a film whose budget was less than the cost of the opening week's ads for just one-third of the "Rings" trilogy. Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," which seemed to appear out of nowhere in mid-December, which had no pre-release publicity, which played no festivals and was screened for no focus groups, will win the Oscar as best picture.

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'Aviator' leads Oscar nominations

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"The Aviator" leads with 11 nominations. Jamie Foxx was nominated in two categories. A little film named "Sideways" won five nominations, but one of them was not for its star, Paul Giamatti. "Finding Neverland" was the dark horse, in a tie with "Million Dollar Baby" with seven nominations apiece.

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