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Winter Sleep

The running time of his new picture Winter Sleep, three hours and change, suggests weight, but at it happens, this movie struck me as both…

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Mr. Turner

Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…

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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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Searching for David Chappelle; Susan Faludi on "lean in" feminism; Jonathan Franzen's cranky nonfiction; Judging TV on its own merits; David Bordwell on the changing VIFF.

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What Dave Chappelle's walk-off says about the relationship between black entertainers and white audiences; Rising Sun revisited; the gender gap wage lie; nine things introverts do all the time, such as stalking Mark Ruffalo; those appliances you think are off might not be off; your neighborhood airport might be on the decline; a consideration of the selfie.

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Larry Sanders: Changing television and changing lives

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August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.

A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.

by Edward Copeland

"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."

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Black humor: Stepin Fetchit to Richard Pryorto Tyler Perry (Part II)

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, 1902 -1985

"We need to examine the history of blacks in film to appreciate their deep roots.... Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, the top comedy stars of the 80s, have a strange, subversive ancestor in Stepin Fetchit, America's first black millionaire actor." -- Richard Corliss, Time, "The 25 Most Important Films on Race"

See: "Stepin Fetchit to Denzel Washington (Part I )"

"Stepin Fetchit, then and now" by Jim Emerson (2005)

* * *

The day Clarence Thomas was nominated by George H.W. Bush for the Supreme Court, I was interviewing 23-year-old writer-director John Singleton about his upcoming movie "Boyz N the Hood" (1991). Singleton was sitting in front of a hotel-room TV tuned to CNN and the first words out of his mouth were: "He's the biggest Uncle Tom."

That memory came back again recently as I was reading Harvard Law Professor and Supreme Court bar member Randall Kennedy's book, "Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal." [1] Kennedy writes: Sometimes "Uncle Tom" is used interchangeably with "sellout." In a Washington Post profile of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, two journalists write that "Uncle Tom is among the most searing insults a black American can hurl at a member of his own race." They describe "Uncle Tom" as a "synonym for sellout, someone subservient to whites at the expense of his own people."

How to Act Black: "Black Acting School" from "Hollywood Shuffle" (see clip below).

This usage is ironic. The original Uncle Tom -- Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom -- was a character who chose death at the hand of his notorious owner, Simon Legree, rather than reveal the whereabouts of runaway slaves. Still there are those who use "Uncle Tom" to refer to any black whose actions, in their view, retard African-American advancement. Others are more discriminating. For many of them, the label "sellout" is more damning than "Uncle Tom" or kindred epithets -- "Aunt Thomasina," "Oreo," "snowflake," "handkerchief head," "white man's Negro," "Stepin Fetchit"....

View image The late Richard Pryor, All-African-American. Negative criticism of Pryor is usually limited to his acceptance of inferior material.

Of course, all those terms aren't synonymous, either. The name of Stepin Fetchit is nearly as well-known, and almost synonymous with "Uncle Tom" -- and that, too, may be somewhat ironic. Fetchit (born Lincoln Perry, 1902-1985) was a tremendously popular movie star with black and white audiences. But his act, on stage and screen, was also vilified for perpetuating a stereotype of African-American men as lazy, shuffling, bowing and scraping buffoon. (Other stereotypes of black men as pimps, gangstas, rapists, con artists, drug pushers/addicts, violent criminals, woman-abusers would come from elsewhere, and long outlive him.) He was admired and in many ways emulated by Muhammad Ali, with whom he converted to the Nation of Islam, and he was honored with an NAACP Image Award in 1976.

But how many people today have actually seen him in a movie?

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Stepin Fetchit to Denzel Washington (Part I)

View image Denzel Washington in "American Gangster" (2007).

Richard Corliss at Time presents his choices for "The 25 Most Important Films on Race. "The films span nine decades, and reveal a legacy that was tragic before it was triumphant." More about the list after the jump, but the following passage from RC's intro struck a chord with me: We need to examine the history of blacks in film to appreciate their deep roots. [Sidney] Poitier, [Will] Smith and Denzel Washington, all radiating a manly cine-magnetism, are the sons of Paul Robeson, who was the first great black movie star — or would have been, if Hollywood and America hadn't been steeped in racism. Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, the top comedy stars of the 80s, have a strange, subversive ancestor in Stepin Fetchit, America's first black millionaire actor.Both Corliss and Odie Henderson (aka Odienator) take personal approaches to examining black film history, and so far (Odie is on his 11th consecutive day of a month-long "Black History Mumf" series) they haven't even overlapped much. Odienator has written, analytically and often nostalgically, about the Hudlin Bros.' Kid 'n' Play comedy "House Party" (1990), "football players-turned-actors, "Schoolhouse Rock," actress Diana Sands," Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" (1988), Joseph Mankiewicz's "No Way Out," (1950) with Sidney Poitier and Richard Widmark, the opening credits of Spike Lee's "Crooklyn" (1994), "Sparkle" (1976), "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times" and the one with my favorite headline: One Drop of Black Cinema: Joel Schumacher. That's just the beginning.

Odienator has been concentrating on films that aren't necessarily in the traditional African-American Canon, but neither he nor Corliss have (so far) written about certain titles some might consider the obvious or officially sanctioned landmarks/classics: "Showboat" (1936), "Cabin in the Sky" (1942), "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "A Raisin in the Sun" (1961), "Lilies of the Field" (1963), "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), "Putney Swope" (1969), "Shaft" (1971), "Sounder" (1972), "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (TV, 1974), "The Color Purple" (1985), "New Jack City" (1991), "Malcolm X" (1992), "Crash" (2005)...

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