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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.

The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.

To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")

When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.

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"Big men in tights!"

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This week in reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times and RogerEbert.com, I was pleased to be able to quote from Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink" regarding the tradition of the wrestling picture in general and "Legendary" in particular:

Ah, the wrestling picture. In Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink," a New York playwright is lured to Hollywood (for the cash) and is assigned to write a wrestling movie for Wallace Beery at Capitol Pictures. Audrey, the companion of the great Southern novelist-turned-screenwriter and epic alcoholic Bill Mayhew, explains the formula to Barton:

"Well, usually, they're... simple morality tales. There's a good wrestler, and a bad wrestler whom he confronts at the end. In between, the good wrestler has a love interest or a child he has to protect. Bill would usually make the good wrestler a backwoods type, or a convict. And sometimes, instead of a waif, he'd have the wrestler protecting an idiot manchild. The studio always hated that."

"Legendary" has most of that and lots more (minus the idiot manchild), turned inside out and all twisted up like a pretzel, but just as simple and formulaic. Yet even though this picture stars a real WWE wrestler and was produced by the new WWE Studios, it's not just a wrestling picture. ("Big men in tights!" as another Capitol Pictures executive exclaims.) It's a wrestling tearjerker.

Also reviewed by me: "Soul Kitchen", a goofy comedy by Fatih Akin ("Head-On," "The Edge of Heaven").

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jim's annotated best favorite movies of 2008 part 2

... continued from here...

5. "Wendy and Lucy" (Kelly Reichardt, heartbreaker). A couple bad breaks and a stubborn act of unkindness push a girl and her dog over the edge, from a marginal migratory existence into near-invisibility. Wendy (Michelle Williams) is driving to Alaska with her dog Lucy to find work in the fishing industry, probably in a cannery. (Note to Eastern critics who found this notion strange or fanciful: It's not even unusual. Many people, especially young people, in the Pacific Northwest head to Alaska for good-paying seasonal work.) Only a few acts of kindness manage to keep her from falling off the map entirely. This (almost) opening shot (again, I present only a chunk from the middle) is scored to the humming in her head, and represents a perfect miniature of the movie as a whole: Wendy and Lucy walking in the woods, playing fetch, moving in and out of the frame, passing through light and shadow, occasionally disappearing behind trunks and thickets, then emerging on the other side. (Christopher Long has a beautiful appreciation of the shot and the film at DVDTown.)

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Jones, July, Jarmusch & Cannes gold

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CANNES, France — Tommy Lee Jones walked away from the 58th Cannes Film Festival here Saturday night as a double winner, after his film “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” won him the award as best actor, and the screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga also was honored. The movie stars Jones as a Texas cowboy who kidnaps the border patrolman (Barry Pepper) who has murdered his Mexican friend and forces him on a long journey to rebury the corpse in the man's hometown.

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