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Penguins of Madagascar

The pacing is so zany, the jokes are so rapid-fire and the sight gags are so inspired that it’s impossible not to get caught up…

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Horrible Bosses 2

The law of diminishing returns, which has afflicted so many comedy sequels over the years, strikes again in “Horrible Bosses 2,” further proving that just…

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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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My mom, the criminal; two new books that want to be the next Lolita; heart disease cut in half, but we're not cheering; how to take care of your smartphone battery; remembering the actress Elizabeth Hartman; R. Crumb's rejected gay marriage New Yorker cover; the most popular movies outside the United States

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In the Cut, Part II: A Dash of Salt

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In the Cut: Piecing together the action sequencePart I: Shots in the Dark (Knight)Part III: I Left My Heart in My Throat in San Francisco (Bullitt, The Lineup, The French Connection)

From the introduction to my latest deconstruction of a modern action sequence over at Press Play:

In Part I of In the Cut we looked at part of an action sequence from "The Dark Knight" and examined many questions, ambiguities and incongruities raised by the ways shots were composed and cut together. In Part II, we delve into a chase sequence from Phillip Noyce's Salt (2010) that uses a lot of today's trendy "snatch-and-grab" techniques (quick cutting, shaky-cam, but very few abstract-action cutaways -- I spotted one doozy, but I didn't mention it; see if you notice it).  And yet, there's very little that isn't perfectly understandable in the moment.

There are certain directors I think of as "one-thing-at-a-time" filmmakers. That is, they seem to be incapable of composing shots that have more than one piece of information in them at a time. This makes for a very flat, rather plodding style. You see what the camera is pointed at in each shot, but you get very little sense of perspective when it comes to relating it to other elements in the scene. Noyce's technique is much more fluid, organic and sophisticated. He keeps things from one shot visible in the next, even when shifting perspective -- whether it's only a few feet or clear across several lanes of traffic.

In Part I: A Shot in the Dark (Knight) I asked (rhetorically) whether the techniques used made the action more exciting or just more confusing. I left the question unanswered because it's something viewers are going to have to decide for themselves. And, as usual in criticism, the goal is not to find the "right" answers but to raise the relevant questions. Noyce himself raised a good one when he said he thinks viewers are not looking for coherence but for visceral experiences. And yet, his filmmaking is quite coherent (grammatically, if not "realistically"). "Visceral," like "realism," is in the eye of the beholder....

"In the Cut" is presented by Press Play, Scanners and RogerEbert.com. Part I is here. Part III will examine a classic San Francisco car chase from "The Lineup" (1958), directed by Don Siegel ("Dirty Harry," "Escape from Alcatraz," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Charley Varrick"...).

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Name That Director!

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UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Termite booster: Manny Farber 1917-2008

"I get a great laugh from artists who ridicule the critics as parasites and artists manqués -- such a horrible joke. I can't imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism. I can't imagine anything more valuable to do." -- Manny Farber, quoted in Roger Ebert's appreciation of the late, great critic

Painter and critic Manny Farber, whose book "Negative Space" is one of the essential collections of visual-arts criticism, has died at the age of 91. Farber's writing was scrappy, unpretentious and iconoclastic, not unlike the films and filmmakers he favored, from the genre pictures of Sam Fuller, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah and John Wayne, to the visionary and experimental work of Werner Herzog, R.W. Fassbinder, Andy Warhol and Chantal Akerman. (See pages from the expanded 1998 edition here.)

Unquestionably his most famous and reverently-quoted essay was 1962's "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art." Modern art, he wrote, had become "a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition: far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turned into mannerisms by the padding, lechery, faking required to combine today's esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art."

Farber is as much fun to read as he is to agree -- and argue-- with. I can think of no better tribute than to cite a few excerpts from his "termite art" treatise:

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101 102 Movies You Must See Before...

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EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.

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The golden age of Eastwood

Clint Eastwood looks more like Clint Eastwood than ever. The furnace of time has burned away everything that is not essential. He comes to Chicago for a lifetime achievement award and jokes about being 72, but he does not look young or old, only perfected.

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The vying game

Hollywood has been waiting a long time to give Clint Eastwood an Oscar, and my hunch is, the wait is over. Eastwood's "Unforgiven," an elegiac Western about a retired gunfighter who pulls himself together for one final campaign, will win the best picture award when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gathers on the night of Monday, March 29.

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Interview with David Brown

David Brown came to lunch at Chez Paul carrying a little brown paper bag, but not because he'd brought sandwiches. No, the bag contained a portable tape recorder, and Brown asked if I'd mind if he and Richard Zanuck taped part of the interview. Now THAT'S curious, I thought, since I'm the one who's doing the interview, and all I brought was my Pentel Rolling Marker.

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