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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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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 best greatest movies ever list

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UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.

Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.

Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)

Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.

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The Loving Story: A romantic interracial landmark

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"The Loving Story" premieres on Valentine's Day, February 14, at 9 p.m. on HBO (check local listings), and is available via HBO On Demand and HBO Go thereafter.

"The Loving Story" is as modest and taciturn as its subject, an interracial couple who, in 1958 rural Central Point, Virginia, just wanted to be left alone. For the most part, they were, and that was the problem as much as it was their fervent wish. When the local sheriff busted into their bedroom at 4 am and hauled them off to jail for violating the Racial Integrity Act, there was no national audience, in contrast to the fire hosings, bombings and other acts of racist terror that couldn't help but make the evening news at the time. The whole world was not watching. It's hard to fathom why after seeing the luminous 16mm footage uncovered in "The Loving Story." Documenting many pivotal moments in the case, it adds a dash of something rarely seen in the grand narrative of the American Civil Rights struggle: romance.

In the footage and iconic photographs, the Lovings appear to be deeply in love. Richard is a silent, barrel-chested Ed Harris lookalike; Mildred is shy and beautiful, the essence of poised intelligence. How could a story this simple and universal, with two photogenic romantic leads captured in a Life magazine feature, get lost in the Civil Rights shuffle?

The Loving case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, and all along the way, the couple insisted upon discretion and privacy. Only a small documentary crew -- filmmaker Hope Ryden and cinematographer Abbot Mills -- gained access to their home, but they made the most of it. The photography is as discreet but watchful as Mildred herself. When she, well, lovingly buckles her little daughter's suede shoe as they prepare for an outing, the camera isolates the mother's slender brown arm steadying her child's pale leg. In the film's context, as assembled by producer-director Nancy Buirski, moments like this one simply cry out, "Why on earth would a decent person want to disrupt this beautiful life?"

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Gary Winick: A valediction forbidding mourning

May Contain Spoilers

He had these smiling eyes. And a self-deprecating manner which seemed to belie his very good looks ("He's so cute," my 19-year-old assistant exclaimed), about which he was fairly oblivious. Most of all, he was simply a very good guy.

Gary Winick, a many-hats-wearing filmmaker and digital pioneer, died of complications following a 2 year battle with brain cancer on February 27th, the day of the Academy Awards --- an especially sad irony for a vital man, weeks shy of 50, whose passion for film and storytelling had filled the decades of his adult life.

The private memorial service was held at the Time-Warner Center in Winick's beloved New York. Overlooking Central Park as the sun set, an invited group of 400 (some going back to childhood, some famous, many with whom he'd worked, even some he'd made sure got a decent meal when they were struggling) assembled to watch film clips, to hear and tell stories - to cry, yes, but also to laugh at so many experiences they certainly cherish now.

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The AFI Class of '92

May Contain Spoilers

Call it a bloodbath. Not literally, of course, but it sure felt like one.

It was a Friday afternoon in late spring 1993 at The American Film Institute. The Class of 1992, which had pretty much killed itself making short films ("cycle projects") since starting the program in September, was waiting for a list. Dreading it, too. Because everybody'd known all year that of 168 "Fellows," as AFI calls them --- only 40 (or just 8 across 5 disciplines - directing, producing, cinematography, editing, production design) would be invited back, making that coveted Second Year cut for the opportunity to produce a second year film.

A top secret selection committee debated late into the day. Even I, then Special Projects Coordinator and right hand to the Dean of Studies, didn't know who was meeting. There was tension everywhere, clinging like the humidity of a Midwestern summer, as the committee decided, and the Fellows waited.

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TIFF 2007: Robert Zimmerman Bob Dylan Revisited

View image Todd on Bob: Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), as one incarnation -- a name-dropping bluesman in 1959 (with tales of Blind Willie McTell and Gorgeous George) who seems to think he's still in the Great Depression. Others include Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), Jack Rawlins/Pastor John (Christian Bale) and "Billy" McCarty (Richard Gere).

"I was born a poor black child..." -- Steve Martin, "The Jerk"

"God, I'm glad I'm not me." -- Bob Dylan, on reading an article about himself in 1965 (quoted in the press kit for Todd Haynes' movie, originally titled "I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan")

Folk-turned-electric singer/songwriter Jude Quinn (looking for all the world like Bob Dylan circa 1965 and played by Cate Blanchett) is riding in a big black limousine when, unaccountably, Allen Ginsburg (David Cross) appears on a golf cart in the rear window, smiling and waving with his frizzy hair blowin' in the wind. Ginsburg pulls up alongside the limo, Quinn rolls down the window, and they travel along parallel trajectories (past a cemetary) while having a brief exchange about an interview Ginsburg had done with a reporter in which the Beat poet was asked about Quinn's musical motives as if all Voices of Their Generation were pretty much one and the same. "They asked you that?!?" Quinn laughs.

View image Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) in "I'm Not There" in "Don't Look Back" in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in black and white.

That's a little taste of what it's like to watch Haynes' "I'm Not There," which is not only a kaleidoscopic view of events in the life, music and myth of Bob Dylan, but a critical deconstruction and synthesis of Dylan's various media representations -- from D.A. Pennebaker's legendary "Don't Look Back" to Dylan's own "Reynaldo and Clara" to Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan." In some ways, it's the natural companion to "Don't Look Back" (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted "Reynaldo and Clara" to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted "Velvet Goldmine" to be. It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" and "Petulia," Godard's "Masculin-Feminin," Fellini's "8 1/2" and others, too) -- and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings -- and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie.

View image Christian Bale (this guy can do anything) as Jack Rawlins.

The earlier film was about the glam era, freely mixing bits and pieces of fact and lore from the lives of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Ferry and others (don't forget Oscar Wilde, who is deposited on earth by a UFO), and that's the kind of thing Haynes is up to here -- mostly with Dylan, but also with "real" and fictional characters around him. Some are identified by their familiar names (like John, Paul, George, and Ringo), some are thinly disguised (or undisguised) stand-ins. And this time he has the music rights, too. Just about the only thing missing is Donovan.

View image Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger).

Do you have to know about, or have lived through, the life and legend of Dylan to "get" this film? I don't know. I don't think so, but you'll certainly understand it on more levels if you've seen the Pennebaker, Dylan & Sam Shepard, Scorsese, Peckinpah, Godard, Lester, Fellini, et al. movies mentioned above. And if you know at least some of the music, and something about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene and the war in Vietnam and the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest and Joan Baez (and "Diamonds and Rust") and Sara and Swinging London and the Beats and Albert Goldman and The Hawks (and The Band) and The Basement Tapes and the Rolling Thunder Revue and "Tarantula" and Columbia Records and the motorcycle accident and the "electric" debut at the Newport Folk Festival and the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert in 1966 ("Judas!" "I don't believe you...") which actually took place at Manchester's Free Trade Hall (just another part of the legend) and Elvis Presley movies and James Dean movies Marlon Brando movies and Montgomery Clift movies... and so on.

View image Jude Quinn (Almighty).

I was a senior in high school when "Blood on the Tracks" came out and utterly changed my life (not the first time Dylan would do that for me), so although most of '60s Dylan predated my awareness of his actual records (we sang "Blowin' in the Wind" in my fourth grade homeroom, with Miss Kwinsland on ukelele, but I didn't know it was a Dylan song; we sang Woody Guthrie tunes, too), I absorbed a lot of this stuff simply by being a young American with an interest in politics and art and pop culture. But do you have to be familiar with all of this in order to appreciate "I'm Not There"? I don't think so. (But consider this: Bruce Greenwood plays Quinn's BBC interviewer/adversary, Mr. Jones, and Pat Garrett.)

A Dylanophile friend was asked if he was in "Dylan heaven" after the film. He thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah. I guess I am." I don't know about that. But I'm at least knockin' on heaven's door.

That's all I'll say for now, because I'm salivating over the prospect of seeing and writing about this movie in more detail later....

Oh, just one other thing. I've talked to five or six people who, unprovoked, described exactly the same response to different moments in the movie. But they all involved having the experience of consciously thinking: "I am in love with Cate Blanchett."

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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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Movie Answer Man (03/23/1997)

Q. Re the problem of motion sickness in films that make use of hand-held cameras: Actually the easiest way to get over it is just close your eyes and the sensation passes quickly. (Doug Fletcher, RN, Journal of Nursing Jocularity, Mesa, AZ)

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Movie Answer Man (03/19/1995)

Q. In a theater lobby I saw the poster for the new movie "Bye, Bye Love," and there seemed to be something uncannily wrong about it. After staring at it for a long time, I realized what. The stars of the movie are all lined up smiling, including a small boy in the second row who is giving a "thumbs up" sign. If you compare the size of his hand with the size of the hand of the small girl also in the same row, you will see that his hand is about three times larger than her hand--almost as big as his face, in fact. Do you think this is really his own hand? Or has it been painted in by the ad agency, as a subliminal way of giving the movie "thumbs up?" (Sheila Chesham, Chicago)

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