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The King and the Mockingbird

What a tortured path The King and the Mockingbird has taken to reach theaters in the United States, and what a treat it is for…

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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.

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May Contain Spoilers
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Popular Science shuts off its comments; a letter to Grand Theft Auto's progagonist Niko Bellic; why "Man of Steel" co-writer doesn't buy into a no-kill policy for Superman; a new theater resurrects lost musicals; odd habits of famous writers.

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R.I.P, Elmore Leonard and Albert Murray; Pakistani ex-President Pervez Musharraf charged in Benazir Bhutto's assassination, pleads not guilty; "The Lost Weekend"—the book—revisited; how the violence in Kick-Ass challenged comic book movies; what Quentin Tarantino learned from Elmore Leonard.

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Losing face to your enemy

The plot in "Face/Off" (1997) may sound ridiculous in real life terms but allowing our imaginations to experience and accept such preposterous events, the kind none of us will ever be able to live through, is a prime example of the great feats that cinema can achieve. And what a fantastic concept "Face/Off" had to begin with. There have been recent features where I've had a hard time grasping how boardrooms full of film executives could possibly green light the spending of millions of dollars when being pitched ideas that no filmmaker, however talented, could ever have succeeded with ("A man cures his depression by talking to a puppet beaver!" "A young archer princess grows closer to her mother when a witch turns her into a bear!").

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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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Wally Pfister, The Avengers & the ethics of composition

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Maybe it's a DC vs. Marvel thing. But it's all over the Internet: Wally Pfister, ASC, BSC, the Oscar-winning cinematographer best-known for his work with director Christopher Nolan (the "Dark Knight" movies, "The Prestige," "Inception") took a swipe at rival superhero blockbuster "The Avengers," while admitting that he doesn't much care for the genre anyway. In an interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Pfister was asked "What's most important in shooting a film?" He responded with... something that has since been removed from the newspaper's website but still shows up in the Google Cached version (screenshot below):

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Films on fire: Tony Scott and Christopher Nolan

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"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)

While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.

This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.

Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.

Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:

"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"

"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"

One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:

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The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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Good, bad or mediocre, there's still lots to talk about

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"If you think this movie is mediocre, why have you written so much about it?" That's a comment I sometimes get -- and although I understand where it's coming from, I don't think it makes sense if you stop to think about it for two seconds. I usually respond by saying that I don't see any contradiction there at all. Who hasn't encountered a movie that, afterwards, is more interesting to talk about than it was to actually sit through? Who would argue that the only movies worth analyzing and arguing about are those you think are successful? When I was 18, one of my college film professors told us something I've never forgotten -- that you can often learn as much (or more) about film from a bad movie as you can from a good one.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky raises this same issue in a round-table conversation on "The Dark Knight Rises" at MUBI.com that takes a course similar to the ones we've been having here at Scanners:

... I'd be lying if I said that I don't derive pleasure from trying to crack it and figure out what exactly makes it frustrating or dull. You gotta give credit where credit is due: even when Nolan makes a mediocre film... it's at least fun to talk about. You can't say that about many filmmakers -- but, then again, it would be even better if the movie was as fun to watch as it is to discuss.

My feelings precisely. One more thing, though, before I get back to this MUBI confab, and that's the matter of tone and attribution of motive -- not to the movie or the characters in it, but to those who take part in the discussion. First, as I said previously, I have nothing worth adding to what's already been written about the shootings in Aurora, CO -- and I've avoided reading most of it because, as Dave Cullen wrote in last Sunday's New York Times, almost everything we think we know about the killer and even the circumstances of the incident itself, is wrong.

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Preparing for The Dark Knight to Rise

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So, we're having this wonderful discussion at Scanners about the moral dimensions of superhero movies -- mostly about "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Marvel's The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight." I was bringing up some things from 2008 and 2009 about how some see the Joker as a "nihilist" or an "agent of chaos" and how I see him figuring into the moral design of the movie, and somebody posted this comment:

I'm so confused. You've spent the better part of 4 years slamming the dark knight for not being a "good" film, even though you're now saying its chalked full of thematic material. So am I correct in assuming you like the themes it raises, it's that the execution was poorish? So it's ok to like the themes just not the way it's presented, or that they presented too obviously, sloppily. Please give me a straight answer. I want to understand your interpretation of the material once and for all.

OK! Now, on the eve of the release of "The Dark Knight Rises," is probably a good time to attempt to do that once again -- if only to remind people that, although I have written a lot about "The Dark Knight" and Christopher Nolan (including pieces on "Following," "Memento,"The Prestige" and "Inception"), my reservations about his work have been closely focused on two things, involving writing and direction. Here's my (slightly cleaned-up) reply to that comment above:

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Superheroes: Good vs. Evil isn't really much of a theme

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In the classroom lesson that wraps up the romantic and thematic threads of "The Amazing Spider-Man," a high school English teacher takes issue with the old saw about there being only ten (or so) stories in all of human history. She says she believes there's only one: "Who am I?" This being a remake-reboot of the Peter Parker Becomes Spider-Man origin story, that's a good thing for this, or any, coming-of-age movie to focus on.

An appealing cast headed by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone provides all the special effects the movie needs, and they're far more engaging (for adults, anyway, I would imagine) than the usual clinical computer visuals. (Yes, I *liked* it. Hey, Mikey!) The emphasis is on charm, emotion and comedy -- until the third act CGI blowout, but even those scenes give Spidey some real weight and mass for the first time as he swings through the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan. (There's even a built-in joke about it, with two students of Midtown Science High School discussing some user-uploaded YouTube footage.) The way director Marc Webb ("[500] Days of Summer") and DP John Schwartzman shoot Spidey and the city, they both seem to occupy a common, more-or-less real physical space. The camerawork isn't all "Avatar" floaty and fakey, and there's a lovely shot of Spidey on the Oscorp building with sunlight shimmering off the windows that looks like real glass and steel and sunlight, even though the Oscorp building itself is a CGI creation. (So are the hallways of Morse Science er, Midtown Science High, but you'd never know it.)

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#123 July 11, 2012

Marie writes: club member Sandy Kahn has found some more auctions! Go here to download a free PDF copy of the catalog.

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#120 June 20, 2012

Marie writes: As some of you may know, it was Roger's 70th birthday on June 18 and while I wasn't able to give the Grand Poobah what I suspect he'd enjoy most...

Siskel & Ebert fight over a toy train (1988)

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Mad Men Mania: Delving deep into some ofthe best movies of the last few years

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Please join me and fellow "Mad Men" video essayists Serena Bramble, Kevin B. Lee and Deborah Lipp over at IndieWire's Press Play blog for a fascinating (if I say so myself) Audiovisualcy roundtable about the show and why it's such a natural for video-based exploration. I can't think of another series that offers a fully formed, cinematically sophisticated movie every episode, week after week. A taste of some of the things we get into:

Kevin: (on my video, " The Long Walk"): As one clip cuts to another, I feel a conversation beginning to emerge between them, which you are orchestrating. I start to feel like I am watching the show through another set of eyes. To do this without any explicit commentary, text, elaborate editing or effects, is remarkable.

In fact, I think it's because of this non-invasive approach that the viewer can have a special experience. It gives the viewer room to piece together the connections you are making without being told what they are. It's like playing a puzzle with one's eyes - a quality that distinguishes Mad Men from most other shows in that it leaves a lot of subtexts for the viewer to piece together on their own. Your video compresses and intensifies that experience.

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