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Transcendence

"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.

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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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Cast and Crew

* 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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Movie blogger calls 911 over cell phone use at Toronto Film Festival; what Harun Farocki taught; why TV is, if not wholly better than movies these days, then at least more compelling; stop it with the Oscar predictions, already, it's only September; no more open letters to Miley Cyrus, please, ladies; Batman rescues kitten from burning building; video for MGMT's third album.

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"Dawn of the Dead", Japanese-style; the effects of the depression in Greece; what happens when blogs go silent; revisiting Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone"; Fassbinder/Foley.

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The evolution of Superman's cape; the de-evolution of women's roles in film and TV; joke plagiarist sort-of apologizes for stealing from Patton Oswalt & other pros; David Cronenberg does race cars; Vince Vaughn, salesman; fans bring their Game of Thrones grief into therapy; astounding animated short made entirely from 3-D paper models.

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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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It's not nice to call a superhero a "unitard"

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Or: Do comic-book movie blog posts display traffic superpowers?

New York Times film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis held a discussion of comic-book movies and that subset known as "superhero movies" in advance of the Marvel re-boot, "The Amazing Spider-Man," which opens Tuesday, July 3. (The article will appear in the paper July 1, but is now online.) This, I think, goes to the heart of the matter:

SCOTT:What the defensive [superhero] fans fail or refuse to grasp is that they have won the argument. Far from being an underdog genre defended by a scrappy band of cultural renegades, the superhero spectacle represents a staggering concentration of commercial, corporate power. The ideology supporting this power is a familiar kind of disingenuous populism. The studios are just giving the people what they want! Foolproof evidence can be found in the box office returns: a billion dollars! Who can argue with that? Nobody really does. Superhero movies are taken seriously, reviewed respectfully and enjoyed by plenty of Edmund Wilson types.

I've made some of these arguments many times before, but the one that really stands out for me here is the seriousness with which mainstream critics and intellectuals now approach comic books and comic-book movies. That's unprecedented. Distinctions between popular culture and high culture aren't nearly as rigid as they used to be. Movies that would once have been treated as nothing more than commercial entertainment products are now given serious consideration as artistic achievements. Because they can be both at the same time.

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Prometheus: Alien origins:The skeleton beneath the exoskeleton

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The visceral impact that Ridley Scott's "Alien" had in 1979 can never quite be recaptured, partly because so many movies have adapted elements of its premise, design and effects over the last three decades -- from John Carpenter's remake of "The Thing" (1982) to David Cronenberg's remake of "The Fly" (1986) to "Species" (1998) and "Splice" (2009). No movie had ever looked like this. And it still works tremendously -- but let me tell you, in 1979 a major studio science-fiction/horror film that hinted darkly of interspecies rape and impregnation was unspeakably disturbing. (It got under my skin and has stayed there. We have a symbiotic relationship, this burrowing movie parasite and I. We nourish each other. I don't think Ridley Scott has even come close to birthing as subversive and compelling a creation since.)

The thing is, the filmmakers actually took out the grisly details involving just what that H.R. Giger " xenomorph" did to and with human bodies (the sequels got more graphic), but in some ways that made the horror all the more unsettling. You knew, but you didn't know. It wasn't explicitly articulated. Dallas (Tom Skerrit) just disappears from the movie. The deleted "cocoon" scene (with the haunting moan, "Kill me...") appeared later on a LaserDisc version of the film, and then was incorporated into the 2003 theatrical re-release for the first time. The deleted footage:

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#119 June 13, 2012

Marie writes: Next door, across a long narrow drive and beyond the row of cedar hedges which run parallel to it, there resides an elementary school dating back to 1965, along with an assortment of newer playground equipment rendered in bright, solid primary colors...I'm sure you know the sort I mean...

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Twins playing a macabre game

May Contain Spoilers

When Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for his icy but humorous performance in "Reversal of Fortune" (1990), he thanked David Cronenberg at the end of his acceptance speech. He had a very good reason; in Cronenberg's unforgettable medical drama "Dead Ringers" (1988), he gave a stunning performance, or a pair of stunning performances, as the peculiar but prodigious twin gynecologists who are threatened by real emotions and then plunged into the self-destructive chaos where the only exit for them may be becoming one again, as they were conceived at first in their mother's womb.

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"There's a fungus between my toes that speaks to me."

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by Barbara Scharres

Cannes has become hot and uncomfortably muggy in a way that has me thinking longingly of the blankets and socks of earlier in the week. As the festival closes in on the final days, I'm hoping for some big excitement on the screen.

When the stiff, futuristic Brandon Cronenberg film "Antiviral" played a few days ago, it gave me cause to look forward even more to today's premiere of "Cosmopolis" by his father David Cronenberg, anticipating that the contrast between generations would also point up the difference between a wannabe and a seasoned master. Boy, was I wrong. I'm sorry to say that they're both among the worst films I've seen here this year. I've never been this disappointed in a David Cronenberg film.

"Cosmopolis" opens with a shot of a row of white stretch limos parked on a city street. The interior of one of them will become a primary location in this film, functioning as the office away from the office for mega-millionaire money manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an arrogant and powerful 28-year-old. Seemingly inspired by the Occupy movement in the U. S., the story is set in New York in the near future (although what we see of the urban landscape never looks like anything but Toronto; even the CN Tower is seen in the background). The president of the United States is due at any moment, a situation tying up the streets with blockades and large-scale protests.

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#117 May 30, 2012

Marie writes: Recently, a fellow artist and friend sent me the following photos featuring amazing glass mosaics. She didn't know who the artists were however - and which set me off on a journey to find out!  I confess, the stairs currently continue to thwart me and thus remain a mystery, but I did uncover who created the "glass bottle doorway" and was surprised to learn both its location and the inspiration behind it. (click image.)

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A letter from Chaz

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• Chaz Ebert at Cannes

Dear Roger: "We were once indivisible from every atom in the cosmos," and that is how I feel when I am sitting in the Palais watching movies at Cannes with a screen spread out as wide as the galaxy, the audience circling around like protons and neutrons breathing as one in empathy.

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If it's springtime, it must be Cannes

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In just a week the French Riviera will come alive with the hoopla of the 65th Cannes International Film Festival, running this year from May 16 through 27. Despite the international proliferation of film festivals, like it or not, Cannes remains the biggest, most hyped, glitziest and most diverse event the world of film has to offer, the envy of every other festival.

As if the world at large also trembled at the import of the approaching festivities, previous Cannes festivals have been prefaced by volcanic eruptions, hurricane-force storms, national strikes, and bomb threats. What can we expect this year, when the festival officially becomes a senior citizen? Don't look for any rocking chairs along the Croisette, for one thing. Judging by the lineup of major directors represented in the Competition and other official sections, it's more likely that major revelations will be rocking the Palais. And if it's like other years, we can expect the festival will manage to rock a headline-grabbing major controversy or two as well.

For the fourth year in a row, Cannes will open with an American production, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," guaranteeing that name stars including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton will be gracing the red carpet on Wednesday, May 16 for a glamorous kick-off. Judging by the trailer available online, the real stars may be the large cast of kids in a comedy/drama that looks to be strong on surreal wackiness.

Even a quick glance at the list of films in competition yields an eye-popping number of famous names, including David Cronenberg (Canada), Michael Haneke (Austria), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Ken Loach (UK), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Alain Resnais France), Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Walter Salles (Brazil), and many more. This competition could be a veritable Olympics of the cinema gods...or not, as sometimes happen, because even world-class filmmakers and certified masters can disappoint.

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#114 May 9, 2012

Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn discovered the following Danish designers "Monstrum" who make extraordinary playgrounds for children. I think they're the stuff of dreams, whatever your age. Indeed; behold the Rahbek kindergarten in Frederiksberg, Denmark, and Monstrum's first playground...

The Rocket and The Princess Tower! "Just like a set design, a playground must have an inspiring front that attracts children, and a functional backside with climbing, sliding and relaxing options. The idea of the playground is to combine a girl's mind with a boy's approach into one big common playground. The princess tower consists of three floors, and the rocket has two floors. From the top floor of the Rocket, you can slide down the 6 m long double slide together with an astronaut friend." (click to enlarge.)

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#112 April 25, 2012

Marie writes: I recently heard from an ex-coworker named Athena aka the production manager on an animated series I'd painted digital backgrounds for. She sent me some great photos she'd found on various sites. More than few made me smile and thus inspired, I thought I'd share them with club members. I've added captions for fun but if you can come up with something better, feel free to submit your wit by way of posted comment. Note: I don't know who the photographers are; doesn't say. (Click pics to enlarge.)

"I want a peanut for every photo you took of me..."

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The Arikan Agenda: The Best Films of 2011

A few weeks ago on Facebook -- that sly keeper of family secrets, whose memory seems to have increased incrementally with its new Timeline mumbo-jumbo -- an actor of some repute posted a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, as compiled by a wholly forgettable outlet. He had been placed relatively highly, and someone commented that it was a very subjective list. Apart from the fact that taking issue with "a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, lol" is by definition absurd, the statement presented a logical fallacy (I am fully aware of the irony of regarding a throwaway Facebook comment in such depth). All lists are subjective: that's why they're lists. Nonetheless, this fairly simple fact gets lost in the year-end frenzy as interested parties start calling for the list-maker's head, like angry villagers wielding pitchforks, if and when their favoured books, albums, films, etc fail to place on a given critic's compilation of the year's best.

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My First 2011 "Ten Best" List

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(Picture the headline above in Comic Sans.) MSN Movies contributors have selected our Top 10 Movies of 2011. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies "the best"? Are they our favorites? Are they "movies we got to see before the deadline"? In my case, it's some combination of all three -- but I'm really quite happy with the aggregate results. As for my own contribution, as usual I hadn't seen everything I wanted to by the deadline ("A Separation," "Hugo," "The Artist," "Mysteries of Lisbon," "Midnight in Paris" among them), and still haven't, but them's the breaks. My lists will evolve in coming days (Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, indieWIRE Critics Poll, and so on), but I do want to say that I went all-in with my emotions. I picked these movies 'cause I love 'em, not because I merely admire them or appreciate them.

The Big List starts here; the individual lists start here.

Of course, as much as we love lists, the best thing about the MSN feature is that we have short appreciations of the top 10 movies, written by some very perceptive and eloquent people. And me, too. You will find the Group List, with excerpts and links to the full mini-essays, below -- and my personal ballot at the bottom. Let me know what you think -- and be sure to read the previous post ("Idiocracy and the ten-best trolls") for a good laugh:

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A piece of David Cronenberg's mind

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(Photo by Roger Ebert)

In his splendid Salon.com interview with David Cronenberg focusing on "A Dangerous Method," Andrew O'Hehir begins by noting that Cronenberg is "a beloved interview subject for film journalists" -- both because of the richness of his work and the stimulating quality of his conversation. I can testify to this, having interviewed Cronenberg several times over the years (starting with "Dead Ringers" in 1988, which in retrospect seems to have begun the second phase of his career). As O'Hehir says, Cronenberg is "a genuine intellectual in a realm crowded with poseurs and pretenders. He can talk easily about almost any topic you bring up; if he hadn't turned out to be one of the premier cinematic visionaries of his generation, it'd be easy to imagine him as a writer or philosopher or historian." Few filmmakers are as articulate about their own work.

What immediately struck me about the five paragraphs I'm about to quote -- in response to O'Hehir's first suggestion -- is the breadth and depth of Cronenberg's understanding of his own filmmaking process... and even the impetus and history behind auteurism. Cronenberg is a man who thinks when he speaks, exploring and refining his ideas as he communicates them. In the fast-serve business of media-coached mini-interviews and rigid, publicist-enforced talking points, that's a rarity.

O'Hehir raises an idea from Charles Drazin's book, French Cinema, "where he talks about the difference between old-school French movies, what they used to call the 'tradition de qualité,' mostly literary adaptations and historical dramas, and the auteurism of the New Wave, where you had to be a writer-director. It struck me that in your career you've almost gone backward, from the second kind of cinema to the first."

Cronenberg responds:

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#79 September 7, 2011

Marie writes: I've always found the ocean more interesting than space and for invariably containing more delights and surprises. Case in point, discovering the existence of an extraordinary underwater museum...

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About this whole Netflix pricing thing...

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I understand. That is to say, I understand Netflix's reasons for raising prices and offering DVD-only and streaming-only plans (they were losing money, they want to push customers to streaming which has lower delivery costs, etc.) and I understand the anger long-time subscribers feel at suddenly being faced with an up-to-60-percent price-hike (see Edward Copeland's "Dear Netflix: Drop Dead.") What concerns me most is that the Netflix Instant service still isn't up to snuff.

I'm not talking about the technology; the quality of the streaming has greatly improved (I watch via TiVo over my home Wi-Fi network on a 55-inch HD screen) and, technology being technology, will undoubtedly get better. I'm not even talking about the spotty selection, which I trust will also improve greatly as media conglomerates catch up with reality and figure out that this is a lucrative opportunity. The more serious problem is that too many of the movies themselves (even the good ones) are being made available in lousy prints: not just shabby public-domain versions (the equivalent of the old 16 mm local TV station prints that used to circulate through low-end nontheatrical distributors), but films shown in the wrong aspect ratio (beware of anything with the Starz logo on it) or even obsolete pan-and-scan (shame on you, Warner Bros.). What good is streaming delivery if you have to watch a digital mastering job that looks like it was done in 1986? I thought these battles were fought (and won) long ago, in the VHS and early DVD era. Surely the dominance of 16:9 HDTVs has accustomed mainstream movie and television watchers to the previously foreign concept of widescreen and "letterboxing." (Now some people actually distort their TV picture on purpose -- grotesquely stretching 4:3 images just so they'll fill up the whole screen horizontally. Oy!)

A recent anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) movie like "Let Me In" shown in "full screen" (16:9)? Not acceptable. Albert Brooks' "Lost in America" (1.85:1) in 4:3? Outrage! (Actually, that particular movie doesn't look so bad, but why crop it? The Amazon $2.99 Instant Video 48-hour rental is in the right ratio.) And the mangled movies aren't even labeled, the way they would be if they were hacked up for television or DVD: "This film has been modified from its original version: it has been formatted to fit your screen." (Although, that too is bull: Parts of the picture have been cut off so that the smaller image gives the illusion of looking bigger. Properly presented letterboxed or windowboxed movies "fit your screen" just fine.)

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#68 June 22, 2011

Marie writes: this past Monday, the Chicago Sun Times updated "Movable Type" - a program used to create blogs. Roger's journal for example. Other newspapers might use "Word Press" instead; same idea though. Any-hoo, it's hosted on the "new" server at the Sun-Times and as is customary, you have to login to use it. It's online software. Meaning you're totally at the mercy of any freakiness that might be going on.I mention this because there was indeed some weirdness earlier (server choked) and that, plus the fact Movable Type does things differently now, put me behind schedule. So I don't really have anything for the front page. I can go look, though!  Meanwhile, just continue reading and if I find anything interesting, I'll let you know....Ooo, clams...

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