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Things to Come

Things to Come is the detailed tapestry of one woman’s life, as she moves through an important transition.

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Jackie

There are two movies in "Jackie." One of these movies is just OK. The other is exceptional. The first one keeps undermining the second.

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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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* 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.

#163 Special Edition

Marie writes: I was looking for something to make Roger laugh, when the phone rang. It was a bad connection, but this much I did hear: "Roger has died." That's how I learned he was gone, and my first thought was of the cruel and unfair timing of it. He'd been on the verge of realizing a life long dream: to be the captain of his own ship.

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#145 December 5, 2012

Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn has found another Hollywood auction and it's packed with stuff! From early publicity stills (some nudes) to famous movie props, costumes, signed scripts, storyboards, posters and memorabilia...

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The Master: Who are you?

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I apologize for the lack of postings the last few weeks. A recent flare-up of heart problems left me with little energy to write. But as the emaciated old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says: "I'm feeling much better!"

At one point well into Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" I thought that the movie was going to reveal itself as a story about the meaninglessness of human existence. But that notion was based on a single piece of aphoristic, potential-thesis-statement dialog that, like much else, wasn't developed in the rest of the movie. Which is not to say that "The Master" isn't about the meaninglessness of human life. The line, spoken by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the cult guru known to his acolytes as Master, is addressed to the younger man he considers his "protégé," a dissolute mentally ill drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and the gist of it is that the itinerant Freddie has as much to show for his life as somebody who has worked a regular 9-to-5 job for many years. The point being, I suppose, that for all Freddie's adventures, peculiarities and failures, he isn't all that much different from anybody else. Except, maybe, he's more effed-up.

(spoilers)

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Too much frosting, not enough cake

May Contain Spoilers

Is Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects" (1995) one of the greatest films ever made? I admit there was a time, right after I saw it, that it seemed special. For most of my first viewing, I thought I was watching a standard crime thriller when suddenly it caught me off-guard and left me stunned. Once the DVD came out, I rushed to buy it but then, as the years went by, I noticed it had been left on its shelf abandoned as I had little interest in watching it again. I couldn't remember much about the characters or the plot, in fact, there was only one thing that stuck in my mind about it. Readers who've previously watched it will instantly know what I'm taking about.

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Steve Park: A funny man, serious and significant

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Meet Steve Park. You may know him as Sonny, the Korean store owner in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989) -- or perhaps as a regular on "In Living Color" during the 1991-1992 season. While recently going through the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man" (2009) with an audience for a week during the Ebert Cinema Interruptus at the Conference on World Affairs, I came to the startling realization that the Steve Park who played Japanese-American Mike Yanagita in "Fargo" (1996) and the Stephen Park who played Korean-American Mr. Park 13 years later in "A Serious Man" were one and the same.

The Coens sometimes give a single-scene appearance to a relatively minor character who provides the key to understanding (or at least defining) the film's mysteries. In "Miller's Crossing" (1990) it's Mink (Steve Buscemi) who, in a rapid-fire exchange with Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) at the Shenandoah Club lays out the movie's convoluted map of relationships before we can take in everything that's being thrown at us.

In "No Country for Old Men" it's Ellis (Barry Corbin), cousin of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who, in the quiet scene that begins the last movement of the picture, spells out the harsh realities of the past, present and future for the retiring lawman who feels overmatched in the modern world and wants to opt out of it: "You can't stop what's comin'. Ain't all waitin' on you. That's vanity."

Park has the honor of appearing in two such key scenes for the Coens, years apart. His Mike Yanagita is funny, with a delectable Minnesota accent to bounce off Marge Gunderson's, but he's also a disturbing and even tragic figure. Mr. Park (Clive's father) is one of many forces buffeting Larry Gopnick. And, unlike Larry, he's a man who knows exactly what he wants, even if Larry's rationalist worldview can't comprehend him. (Watch the video, above.)

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For Your Consideration: Anton Chigurh, Supporting Actor

View image Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem): You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't.

(A comment by Phillip Kelly in reply to an earlier post made me chuckle and got me thinking. He wrote: "I guess my theorizing [of] Anton Chigurh as main character doesn't stand now that Miramax is touting him for Best Supporting Actor. Too bad." That's the jumping-off place for this entry.)

The New York Film Critics Circle gave Javier Bardem its 2007 Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Anton Chigurh ("shi-GUR") in Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men" (which was also named Best Picture). The funny thing is, so much of the discussion of the of the movie centers around Chigurh that you'd think he was was the lead. And critical reservations about "No Country" tend to focus on interpretations of Chigurh, and whether the critic accepts him as a character or a mythological presence or a haircut or some combination thereof.

"No Country" traces the path of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), from his opening narration to his closing monologue, from his nostalgia about the "old times" and his fear of the violence in this modern world to his account of two dreams about his father. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), sets things in motion by taking the satchel of drug money, and Chigurh spends most of the film relentlessly tracking him down, while Ed Tom follows a trail of blood to catch up with them both. None of these characters is a conventional "lead." We never even see Moss or Ed Tom come face-to-face with Chigurh. He exists in the physical world, but his presence is strongest when it's felt by these other two characters, even though they don't share screen space with him.

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The evolution of a hat

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View image Figure #2.

(My final contribution to the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door, which just wrapped.)

Warning: This post (and the short film montage/hommage I put together to accompany it, above) may contain spoilers.

Jesus, Tom, it's the hat.

Take a look at the four shots from Joel and Ethan Coen's "Miller's Crossing" on this page: three close-ups of the same hat and a long shot of another one with a body under. The hat in all three close-ups, hat belongs to Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne). The other one is on the head of his boss and friend, Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney). But let's re-wind a little bit.

The movie is set into motion with a close-up of three ice cubes plopped into a glass tumbler. We don't see Tom, our main character until the next shot, where he appears behind the bald head of a man (Johnny Casper, played by Jon Polito) who's delivering a lecture into the camera -- or just past it -- about friendship, character, ethics. Tom is the one who put the cubes into the glass and poured himself some whiskey. He crosses the room out of focus, moves past the camera, and when we see a reverse angle, he's standing behind and to the side of Leo. His tumbler of whiskey is in the frame, but his head isn't. When we finally do get a look at his mug, he's not wearing a hat. Meanwhile, Casper's henchman, the cadaverous Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman) stands behind his boss, holding his hat. And wearing one. It's a sign of respect.

View image Figure #3.

View image Figure #4.

When Tom leaves the room at the end of the scene, he puts on his hat. Then there's this strange credits sequence, like a dream in a forest, with a canopy of autumnal branches overhead. On the forest floor, a hat falls into the foreground of the frame, the title of the film appears (Figure #1), and the hat blows away into the distance. In the next close-up, Tom is roused from a stuporous slumber. He sits up and feels his head, for his hangover and for his hat.

"Where's my hat?" Tom asks.

"You bet it, ya moron," says the friend who woke him up. "Good thing the game broke up before you bet your shorts."

Turns out, the hat left with Mink and Verna. Together, they are the link between Tom's hat and his shorts. We've already heard, in the opening scene, that Mink (Steve Buscemi) is "the Dane's boy." Mink appears only in one brief scene at the Shenandoah Club, explains the whole movie ("as plain as the nose on your -- Turns out he's also involved with "the Schmatte," bookie Bernie Birnbaum (John Turturro), who also happens to be the brother of Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), Leo's twist and Tom's secret squeeze and the subject of Johnny Casper's opening rant.

Got that, or do I have to spell it out for ya?

OK, here's the deal:

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Opening Shots: 'Miller's Crossing'

Enlarge image: Clink!

Enlarge image: Gurgle.

From Dave McCoy, Editor, MSN Movies:

The Coen Brothers love to use objects as symbols for characters, especially before we actually meet them. Think of the tumbling tumbleweed that starts "The Big Lebowski" -- blowing from the outskirts of Los Angeles, through the city streets and finally making its way, aimlessly, down a beach to the sea. And is there a better metaphor for The Dude (Jeff Bridges)? "He's the man for his time and place," says The Stranger (Sam Elliott), our narrator. "He fits right in there. And that's The Dude, in Los Angle-ess." In a matter of seconds, the Coens both introduce us to our hero's wandering demeanor and the film's casual, quirky and directionless tone.

But in their 1990 masterpiece, "Miller's Crossing," it takes the Coens but one quick shot to establish their cool, hard-as-nails, no-nonsense protagonist, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne).

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'Bowling for Columbine,' looks at the gun culture in the United States

TELLURIDE, Colo.--At some point early in his life, Michael Moore must have found himself wearing a baseball cap, a windbreaker, and a shirt hanging outside his jeans, and decided he liked the look. That's what he was wearing when I met him at the Telluride Film Festival in 1989, and that's what he was wearing here Saturday. It is also what he wears in "Bowling for Columbine," his new documentary film, when he goes calling on K-Mart executives and Charlton Heston, the spokesman for the National Rifle Association. He is not necessarily wearing the same shirt and jeans, you understand. His closet must look a lot like Archie's and Jughead's, with rows of identical uniforms. The clothes send a message: Here is a man of the people, working-class. He may be on television but he is not of television. In his films, he is a huge hulking presence at the edge of the screen, doggedly firing questions at people who desperately wish they were elsewhere. His face is usually in shadow because of the baseball cap.

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Movie Answer Man (10/15/1995)

Q. You didn't like "The Usual Suspects" because of the ending. I liked the ending, the dark atmosphere director Bryan Singer created, the acting (especially by Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey and Chazz Palminteri), and the movie as a whole. The last time I had this much fun at the movies was at "Pulp Fiction." Maybe you should ask random people from the audience, because you could be the only one who didn't like the trick ending. (Mike D'Alessandro, Acton, Mass.)

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