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Make Your Move

With camerawork and editing that allows us to truly enjoy the footwork of its stars, "Make Your Move" is a vibrant, fun dance movie.

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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.

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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Johnny Carson: The man behind the curtain

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"Johnny Carson: The King of Late Night" (120 minutes) premieres on PBS' "American Masters" at 9:00pm Monday, May 14th (check local listings). The film will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 17th.

As I reflect on my life, I grow increasingly grateful for having witnessed the greatest half-century in the history of the United States. Consider just a few of the crucial events that have shaped us during the past 50 years: The civil rights movements for African-Americans, women and the disabled; the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK; the war in Vietnam and its domestic fallout; landing on the moon and exploring the outer reaches of the universe; the global trauma of AIDS and seemingly perpetual threats of war and terrorism; and, perhaps most important, the emergence and meteoric rise of the digital age, exemplified by the Internet and social media with the power to literally change history through an exponential expansion of human connectedness.

If you've witnessed these decades through the multicolored lenses of popular culture, the rewards have been astonishing. Consider the careers we've seen in that time: Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Springsteen, Madonna, The Clash, U2, Nirvana... Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey... Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Werner Herzog... We could all make our own long lists and we'd all arrive at the same conclusion: The past half-century has been nothing short of phenomenal.

And one way or another, it all comes down to "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

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"The Artist" and "Hugo": A very French Oscars

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It was like an episode from "The Twilight Zone." The Academy Award for best picture went to a silent film in black and white. The unstoppable "The Artist," which had nothing going for it but boundless joy, defeated big-budgeted competitors loaded with expensive stars because … well, because it was so darned much fun. Its victory will send Hollywood back to its think-tanks.

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#89 November 16, 2011

Marie writes: I was browsing the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest Galleries and came upon this amazing shot - click to enlarge!

The Birth Of Earth: Photo by Terje Sorgjerd"Getting close or getting too close? Photo taken of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption that would grind most of europe air traffic. This is the scariest moment in my life, and also the most beautiful and frightening display of raw force I have ever seen." - Terje Sorgjerd

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#87 November 2, 2011

Marie writes: It occurred to me that I've never actually told members about the Old Vic Tunnels.  Instead, I've shared news of various exhibits held inside them, like the recent Minotaur. So I'm going to fix that and take you on a tour!  (click image to enlarge.)

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#85 October 19, 2011

Lesson for the day: How to have fun while wasting time... Marie writes: welcome to DRAW A STICK MAN, a delightful Flash-based site prompting viewers to draw a simple stick figure which then comes to life!  Ie: the program animates it. You're given instructions about what to draw and when, which your dude uses to interact with objects onscreen. Thanks go to club member Sandy Kahn who heard about it from her pal Lauren, in Portland Oregon.Note: here's a screen-cap of what I drew; I've named him Pumpkin Head.

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#74 August 3, 2011

Marie writes: I love illustrators best in all the world. There's something so alive about the scratch and flow of pen & ink, the original medium of cheeky and subversive wit. And so when club member Sandy Kahn submitted links for famed British illustrator Ronald Searle and in the hopes others might find him interesting too, needless to say, I was quick to pounce; for before Ralph Steadman there was Ronald Searle... "The two people who have probably had the greatest influence onmy life are Lewis Carroll and Ronald Searle."-- John LennonVisit Kingly Books' Ronald Searle Gallery to view a sordid collection of wicked covers and view sample pages therein. (click to enlarge image.) And for yet more covers, visit Ronald Searle: From Prisoner of War to Prolific Illustrator at Abe Books.

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Parrot asks, "What'd the frozen turkey want?"

A joke should have the perfection of a haiku. Not one extra word. No wrong words. It should seem to have been discovered in its absolute form rather than created. The weight of the meaning should be at the end. The earlier words should prepare for the shift of the meaning. The ending must have absolute finality. It should present a world view only revealed at the last moment. Like knife-throwing, joke-telling should never be practiced except by experts.

For many laymen, a joke is a heavenly gift allowing them to monopolize your attention although they lack all ability as an entertainer. You can tell this because they start off grinning and grin the whole way through. They're so pleased with themselves. Their grins are telling you they're funny and their joke is funny. The expert knows not to betray the slightest emotion. The expert is reciting a fact. There is nothing to be done about it. The fact insists on a world that is different than you thought. The fact is surprising and ironic. It is also surprising--you mustn't see it coming. That's why the teller should not grin. His face shouldn't tell you it's coming. If the joke is also vulgar, so much the better, but it must never exist for the sake of vulgarity. That's why "The Aristocrats" is not only the most offensive joke in the world, but also, in the wrong hands, the most boring.

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The Tropic Thunder publicity stunt boycott

I will not give away any jokes here (though too many reviews will), just one small concept: In "Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller plays a not-very-talented actor who has made a widely loathed movie called "Simple Jack" (explicitly a parody of Sean Penn's "I Am Sam") that flopped ignominiously, failing to earn him the Oscar nomination he so desperately, transparently (and cynically) expected. Both Penn and "I Am Sam" are mentioned by name -- as are the Oscar-winning performances by Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man" and Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump." They should have thrown in Robin Williams in "Patch Adams." (Look for the glimpse of Penn and some other well-known actors in award-seeking stunt-roles near the end.)

From start to finish, the target of the satire here is Hollywood. As Roger Ebert describes it: "The movie is a send-up of Hollywood, actors, acting, agents, directors, writers, rappers, trailers and egos..." There's even a funny moment with a key grip that's even funnier if you know what a key grip is.

And yet, according to an article in Monday's New York Times: "A coalition of disabilities groups is expected as early as Monday to call for a national boycott of the film 'Tropic Thunder' because of what the groups consider the movie's open ridicule of the intellectually disabled."

This has got to be a joke.

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Robert Downey Jr. plays it black

Who's that black guy in between the blonde Jack Black and the tattooed Ben Stiller? It's Robert Downey, Jr.

One of these days I'm gonna play it black Play it black One of these days... -- misquoted Elvis Costello song from "My Aim is True"

What will the Jim Crow "one-droppers" who didn't think Angelina Jolie was "African enough" to play Dutch-Jewish / Cuban-black-Hispanic-Chinese Mariane Pearl make of this? The actor in the center of the accompanying image is Robert Downey Jr., a white German-Scottish / Irish-Jewish actor. He's playing a white actor who is cast in a part originally written for a black actor, so he decides to play it black. The movie, "Tropic Thunder," is a satire of Hollywood actors making an epic war movie. It's directed by Stiller, co-written by Etan Cohen ("Idiocracy," "My Wife is Retarded" -- note that the "h" is not in the first name but the last; he's no relation to Joel) and Justin Theroux (who played a director in "Mulholland Dr." and an actor in "Inland Empire"). Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan also star -- along with some big names in cameo appearances.

As Downey told Entertainment Weekly, "If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell." [...]

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

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"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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Ten Movies That Shook The World

View image Emission accomplished!

"Ten Movies That Shook The World" (1977 - 1999), the semi-sequel to my piece on "How "Star Wars" Changed Everything," is now at MSN Movies.

Excerpt:

"Beverly Hills Cop" (1984)

It's a comedy. It's an action movie. It's a fish-out-of-water story. It has Eddie Murphy. It's the '80s in a nutshell! Here we have the quintessential example of the "high concept" movie that has lit the light which is green at studios from Burbank to Culver City. I saw it with Eszter Balint, the then-18-year-old Hungarian-American actress who played cousin Eva in "Stranger Than Paradise." She told me afterward that she felt bad for the families of all the expendable characters who were killed in the gunfight and car chase scenes. With its (some would say rather callous) synthesis of comedy and violence, "BHC" (and Walter Hill's "48 HRS") brought a slicked-up exploitation-movie sensibility into the mainstream, paving the way in the 1990s for "Pulp Fiction" and its imitators.

"Top Gun" (1986)

A breakthrough in the portrayal of homoeroticism in Hollywood movies (we've all seen Quentin Tarantino's monologue about how it's the gayest movie ever, right?), as well as the apotheosis of the slick, MTV-style action picture produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (now just Bruckheimer, since Don Simpson OD'd on Tinseltown decadence). The deliberate, disorienting music-video cutting, the contemporary pop soundtrack, the shameless celebration of testosterone-injected buddy love -- it's all here, from Tony Scott ("The Last Boy Scout," "Beverly Hills Cop II," "Domino") to Michael Bay ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor") and beyond. One could argue that Adrian Lyne's 1983 celluloid video about the lady welder who was "a maniac, maniac" for dancing under buckets of water at gentlemen's clubs (aka "Flashdance") deserves this spot, but it lacks the militaristic gay element that became so prevalent in popular movies. "Brokeback Mountain" may have been sired out of "Red River," but "Top Gun" also blazed a trail for it.

Go here for the complete list and overview...

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What if they didn't spend millions to advertise "Norbit"?

"Norbit": Un filme de Brian Robbins.

Brian Robbins has been making himself and others quite rich recently as the director of the Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit" and the co-producer of last weekend's top-grossing movie, "Wild Hogs." But guess what? He's distraught that his motion pictures were not accorded a more positive critical reception. (He's almost as upset that more music critics aren't fans of "American Idol," but can't bring himself to talk about that just yet.) As he complained in The Hollywood Reporter: "How does a movie score in the 90s with an audience and get a 9% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes?" Robbins said, referring to "Norbit's" onslaught of negative reviews as summarized on the review compilation site, rottentomatoes.com. "How do you figure that? Is the audience that stupid? Is America's taste that bad? I don't think so."

While the jury may still be out on America's intelligence, Robbins has given up making movies for critics.

"If you read reviews on a consistent basis on all films, you realize that the majority of films just get murdered," Robbins said. "The only films that get good reviews are the ones that nobody sees. I just don't think you can make movies for critics." Oh, Brian, Brian, Brian. You are so right... and yet, so wrong.

Let me ask you: Did you make "Norbit" and "Wild Hogs" to please critics? Did you expect those movies to get good reviews? Do you think moviegoers read the negative reviews and then just decided to buy their tickets anyway? If that's the case, then what are you complaining about? You want glory and money? How often does that happen in Hollywood?

So, consider this: Did you ever entertain the possibility that perhaps "Norbit" and "Wild Hogs" were neither designed for, nor marketed to, people who pay all that much attention to movie critics? Why in the world would you think that general audiences and movie critics should agree? (See ancient analogy about McDonald's and food critics.)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe "Norbit" (the movie that some speculate may have cost Eddie Murphy his "Dreamgirls" Oscar because it was released during the Academy voting period) was screened for critics. I don't remember about "Wild Hogs" because, well, that was so long ago. Seems like they may have screened it on a Thursday night for an opening the next day. But, really, why did you bother? Do you think most critics would go see your movies if they didn't get paid to? Do you realize that critics probably make up 0.0001 percent of the moviegoing population -- or less?

So, if you don't pre-screen the movie, then what more are you gonna do? Keep critics from buying movie tickets like everyone else (because their editors want reviews, even of trash)? Make all moviegoers agree to keep non-positive opinions to themselves -- you know, in case they have blogs or friends or something and might spread negative word of mouth? Ask more rhetorical questions?

I like this: "If you read reviews on a consistent basis on all films, you realize that the majority of films just get murdered."

YES!!! It may be just a coincidence, but most movies are also crap! Even if they're relatively enjoyable at the time, they're forgettable and disposable, like yesterday's lunch. Imagine if you had to spend more time writing about movies than you actually do seeing them. Because most reviews take longer than 90 minutes to write, which is probably why many critics prefer writing about films that give them something to write about. Something that may be worth thinking about after you pay for your parking.

And then there's this: "The only films that get good reviews are the ones that nobody sees. I just don't think you can make movies for critics."

You are so right about that! Nobody sees "The Departed" (RT: 93%) or "Casino Royale" (94%) or "Little Miss Sunshine" (92%) or "Borat" (90%) or "The Devil Wears Prada" (76%) or "Cars" (76%) or "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (89%), to name some of the top-grossing and/or most profitable movies of 2006. ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" rated a 53%.) So, you should just stop right now trying to make movies like "Norbit" and "Wild Hogs" for critics. Don't waste your time on us ungrateful scribes who fail to sufficiently appreciate the joy you are attempting to introduce into our humdrum workaday lives! Here's the deal: You take the multi-million dollar ad campaigns and let the wretched critics scribble about those tiny little movies that can't afford those kind of expenses -- you know, "the ones that nobody sees" because aren't advertised in every conceivable medium for weeks before they are released. Deal? Deal!

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Ebert's Oscar predictions (2007)

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In a year when the Academy Award nominations are more diverse and international than ever before, it's anyone's guess who will win best picture. "Dreamgirls" garnered more nominations than any other movie, but was passed over for both picture and director.

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Ebert's take on the Oscar picks

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Oscar is growing more diverse and international by the year. This year's Academy Award nominations, announced Tuesday, contain a few titles that most moviegoers haven't seen and some they haven't heard of. That's perhaps an indication that the Academy voters, who once went mostly for big names, are doing their homework and seeing the pictures.

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'Dreamgirls' snubbed -- with 8 noms

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The peppy musical "Dreamgirls" led Academy Awards contenders Tuesday with eight nominations, but surprisingly was shut out in the best picture category for which it had been considered a potential front-runner. The sweeping ensemble drama "Babel" was close behind with seven, including best picture and acting honors for two newcomers to U.S. audiences, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi.

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Dreamgirls and Soul Man

Eddie Murphy and back-up singers in a soul revue from "Dreamgirls."

Atlantic, Stax/Volt, Motown... Those are three (four?) of my favorite record labels -- and two of 'em are in the news now. Of course, Bill Condon's film of the 1981 musical "Dreamgirls" is loosely based on a slice of Motown history involving Diana Ross and the Supremes. (The slick diva lead singer is named Deena. Subtle.) "Dreamgirls" is playing roadshow engagements in LA, NY and SF -- and opens around the rest of the country on Christmas.

But on a far more significantly note: Last week, music mogul Ahmet Ertegun, founder of the great soul/jazz/pop/rock label Atlantic, died at age 83. Ertegun, along with several others whose names on LP jackets I came to associate with great music (his brother Neshui, Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin...), made Atlantic into one of the greatest recording imprimaturs in American history. (In no small part thanks to its partnership with Memphis-based Stax and Volt.)

Today, the Atlantic/Stax/Volt legacy is in the hands of the brilliant archival label, Rhino, which recently released a terrific box set: "What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-77)" from the vaults of Atlantic, Atco and Warner Bros. Records (which includes stuff from Curtom, Cotillion, Reprise... -- labels are as fascinating to me as movie studios, and some have equally distinctive house styles). An earlier indispensable Rhino collection -- "Beg, Scream & Shout! The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul" -- has a lot of the Stax/Volt material, and comes in a replica carrying case for 7" 45 rpm singles. And I'm thrilled and relieved to see that the 203-track, 8-disc "Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974" (which I originally had on LP, then repurchased on CD in the 1980s) is still in print -- along with many of the original albums.

The best appreciation of Ertegun and Atlantic that I've read is from That Little Round-Headed Boy, who even includes a convenient 45 adapter for use on 33 1/3 rpm long-playing turntables! (Bur remember: For best results observe the R.I.A.A. high frequency roll-off characteristic with a 500 cycle crossover.) Not only that, TLRHB adds his own list of favorite Atlantic sides. (And, yes, I've always had a soft spot for Clarence Carter's "Patches," too... and I fervently believe that Aretha Frankin's "Until You Come Back to Me" is to Atlantic what the Temptations' "My Girl" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" are to Motown/Tamla -- single-slices of heaven on Earth.)

This is a mono posting and may be played on stereo equipment.

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Cannes #3: Dreamgirls deferred

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CANNES, France -- One of the traditions at Cannes is the dramatic unveiling of advance footage from a blockbuster scheduled to open next Christmas. I avoid these opportunities. I prefer to see movies all at once. Therefore I turned down an invitation to the preview party for "Dreamgirls," the big musical scheduled to open Dec. 6.

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Richard Pryor: 1940-2005

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(Note from Roger Ebert: Cynthia, who now lives and works in Tucson, was a features writer at the Sun-Times in the 1970s, where our desks faced each other and we shared everything from coffee to the mysteries of the new computers. She sent me this after the death of Richard Pryor.)

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