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Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

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Finding Fela

Alex Gibney's "Finding Fela," about the legendary African pop star and political activist, feels like the rough draft of a very good 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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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.

Get Shorty

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It is a jungle out there in Hollywood, and "Get Shorty" presents the various kinds of animals residing at the lower strata of that jungle through a pungent but cheerful satire about one nutty pre-production process.

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Sofia Coppola's privilege problem; why "Happy Birthday to You" isn't in the public domain; surveillance in America, and in the movies; five dictators who despise social media.

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"Unforgiven" was Eastwood's turning-point

May Contain Spoilers

Clint Eastwood is one of the few filmmakers whose work I always attend on his reputation alone. This is not to say they've been classics (think of his orangutan movies) but when entering a theater I can be reasonably confident, worst case scenario, of seeing something above average.

Eastwood has had several defined periods, such as his Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and the cop pictures of the 70s and 80s (which arrived a bit late here in Mexico because "Dirty Harry" was censored). In a career that spans five decades and included dozens of features, a single splits it into Pre and Post, and that film is "Unforgiven." It's hard to think of a single feature that puts into perspective a filmmaker's career like this one does for Eastwood, and it opens the door to his current stage which has included some of his best work.

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In memory: Arthur Penn, master director

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Arthur Penn, whose "Bonnie and Clyde" was a watershed in American film, died Tuesday night at 88. Gentle, much loved and widely gifted, he began life in poverty and turned World War Two acting experience in the Army into a career that led to directing in the earliest days of television and included much work on Broadway.

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"They're young, they're in love, and they kill people"

May Contain Spoilers

I remember the first time I watched "Bonnie and Clyde" like it was yesterday. I was seventeen years old and eager to broaden my knowledge in film. On weekends, I would go watch classic movies at my paternal uncles' who was a film buff himself. The only way to watch a movie uncut in Egypt was to purchase the video cassette from Europe or the USA and import it.

That is exactly what my uncle would do. His collection of UK video cassettes kept me busy for months. Every week I would visit him and we would watch one of Hollywood's classics together. It was there, at his living room filled with movie posters, that I was first introduced to such memorable characters as Norman Bates, Antoine Doinel, Tommy DeVito, Hal 9000 and of course Bonnie and Clyde.

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How, exactly, does Jake Scully mate with Neytiri?

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Q. I've read enough of your writing to gather that you admire, or did admire at one time, the film "Pink Floyd - The Wall."  This is one of my all-time favorite films, and you are my all-time favorite film writer. I've read enough of your reviews and commentary to pick up on multiple references to this film, always positive, but have never read your actual full length review of the film.  I assume there must be one.  Maybe there isn't.  I can't find it on IMDb.com or your own website.

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"I saw a Rohmer film once...": The truth behind the Night Moves meme

Arthur Penn's "Night Moves" (1975) is one of the great movies of the '70s. As a detective picture about a private eye with flawed vision -- in this case, a small-time independent dick and former football player named Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman), who'd like to think he's Sam Spade -- it would make a great double bill with "Chinatown," released the previous year. Yesterday, when the news came of French director Eric Rohmer's death, a lot of people who apparently hadn't even seen "Night Moves" (or, perhaps, a Rohmer movie) were freely quoting Moseby's famous wisecrack in pieces about Rohmer without providing any context for it:

"I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry."

It wasn't long before it even became a Twitter meme: #nightmoves. (See examples below, after jump.)

What some (not all) of the quoters didn't seem to realize or remember is that Harry's remark, as scripted by Alan Sharp, is a brittle homophobic jab at a gay friend of his wife's. (Watch the clip above.) Ellen (Susan Clark) invites Harry to join her and Charles (Ben Archibek -- that's him at the end of the clip) for a movie: Eric Rohmer's classic "My Night at Maud's" (1970), about an engaged man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who spends a long, memorable night in conversation with a divorcee (Françoise Fabian). Moseby is asserting his macho credentials, and ends the scene by teasing Charles about going bowling again sometime. "You seem to get some weird kind of satisfaction from this sort of thing, don't you?" Charles replies. Later that night, Harry drives by the theater as the movie is letting out and sees something indicating that his wife may be having an affair.

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Eric Rohmer: In Memory

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We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.

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Action: Steven Spielberg & the need for speed

View image Shot #1 (of this clip -- not of the entire sequence). A fairly conventional shot establishing the red car on the left gaining on the orange one on the right. I'd say these shots look a lot cooler on the page (and probably on the computer storyboards) than they do in "action."

View image Shot #2. Red car driver (Taejo) pulls up alongside Snake Oiler (not that their identities are clear from the movie itself).

View image Shot #3. Back to two-shot.

There's no action No no no there's no action -- Elvis Costello, 1978

When I was four years old I went to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair -- the one where Elvis and Joan O'Brien were, according to the ads, seen "swinging higher than the Space Needle" in "It Happened at the World's Fair" (Norman Taurog, 1963). There was a roller coaster called the Wild Mouse, but I was too afraid to ride on it. I did, however, like The Scrambler, which whirled you around in a logical geometrical pattern (although it felt pretty wild when you were on it) that looked really cool when seen from directly overhead, up on the observation deck of the Space Needle. (For years I had nightmares about falling off of the Needle, and if I'd ever hit the ground I would like to think I would have been extra-scrambled by the Scrambler.)

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Roy Scheider (1932-2008)

View image Roy Scheider in "If I Didn't Care" (2007).

From the Associated Press: Scheider was nominated for a best-supporting actor Oscar in 1971’s “The French Connection” in which he played the police partner of Oscar winner Gene Hackman and for best-actor for 1979’s “All That Jazz,” the autobiographical Bob Fosse film. [...]

“He was a wonderful guy. He was what I call ’a knockaround actor,”’ [Scheider's "Jaws" co-star Richard] Dreyfuss told The Associated Press on Sunday.

“A ’knockaround actor’ to me is a compliment that means a professional that lives the life of a professional actor and doesn't yell and scream at the fates and does his job and does it as well as he can,” he said. [...]

View image A few moments before Scheider utters the now-famous line that he must have known would be quoted in his obituaries.

Dreyfuss recalled Sunday a time during the filming of "Jaws" when Scheider disappeared from the set. As the filming was on hold because of the weather, Scheider “called me up and said, ’You don’t know where I am if they call.’

“He’d gone to get a tan. He was really very tan-addicted. That was due to a childhood affliction where he was in bed for a long time. For him being tan was being healthy,” Dreyfuss said.

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Movie Answer Man (12/20/2007)

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Q. I am a devoted fan of Ian McEwan’s novel "Atonement," one of those books that raises your heartbeat and ignites conflicting emotions and thoughts like fireworks exploding in the sky. So many nights I returned to that book to amuse myself for several hours by just repeating the poetry of McEwan’s prose, its words melting over my tongue like butter.

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Coming to a bad end

View image The "Searchers" shot from the ending of "War of the Worlds." Way more sentimental than John Ford's.

Can a lousy ending really ruin an otherwise good movie? There was a time in Hollywood history when phony "happy endings" were de rigueur. Even if they felt tacked on, audiences understood that they were a convention -- and, in many cases, knew not to take them seriously. So, for example, at the end of Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life" -- a terrifying film about a father (James Mason) who goes berzerk with rage and disgust over his suffocatingly "normal" middle-class family life and comes to believe that his young son should be slain -- the family is reunited around his hospital bed (oh, it was just too much cortisone!)... while a flashing light blinks ominously, as if telling the audience not to buy the false conclusion.

View image "The Magnificent Ambersons": This is the happy ending?

Some have argued that the hollow ending shot by Robert Wise for Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" ruins the movie. I don't think so. It compromises the film somewhat (and I learned from the Criterion laserdisc how it was supposed to have ended in utter desolation), but those last few moments don't negate all the true magnificence that has come before, do they? Watch the last shot: As Eugene (Joseph Cotten) narrates a happy ending that has taken place off-screen, he's walking down the hospital hallway with Fanny (Agnes Moorehead, in maybe the greatest performance ever given by anyone in American movies), they each pass in and out of shadow at different times. He's telling one story, but we're hearing it through her. He's talking about his love for her sister (the love she and her nephew Georgie have sabotaged), and we know Fanny's always secretly loved Eugene. At the end of the shot, they are no longer even in the same frame. She moves into close-up, the camera pans over to him, then they both briefly enter the frame and pass by the camera into darkness. The whole image goes out of focus briefly as they disappear, and we're left looking down an empty, sterile hallway with a red cross lamp at center right. If you're paying any attention to the shot at all, it's still not much of a happy ending! It's an epilogue, an afterthought.

Likewise, the head-spinning ending of Fritz Lang's classic "Woman in the Window" strikes some as contrived, but to me it feels inevitable. In the tradition of noir, a man (Edward G. Robinson) makes one small mistake, one impulsive deviation from his normal path, that leads inexorably to ruin. The movie takes you, step by step, down his road to ruin, until there's No Way Out. Only then does Lang pull the rug out from under you. What's important is the experience you've been through, not where the movie chooses to stop.

Lesser movies, like "Fatal Attraction," can be more seriously damaged by studio-imposed endings. The movie is pretty good at balancing your sympathies up until its grotesquely overblown "the family that slays together stays together" slasher finale. You can feel that this wasn't the way things were meant to go, and the DVD version now contains the original ending that didn't test well with preview audiences, in which Glenn Close's character committed suicide and Michael Douglas was arrested for her murder. It was more of a true film noir ending -- even though there was still a deus ex machina twist when a taped suicide note is discovered.

More recently, Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" concluded with such a ridiculously upbeat happy-family ending (never mind that the world was pretty much destroyed) that it prompted hails of derisive laughter. (On the other hand, would it have been the mainstream blockbuster it was if it had ended in defeat and despair?) The movie sucked me in so deeply, that even when I started backing out of it (right about when things just miraculously -- and arbitrarily -- started turning around, about ten minutes from the end), I still believed the first 106 minutes of the movie, even if I rejected the last ten.

I had a similar problem with the ending of "Children of Men," which (although still ambiguous and in no way assuring the survival of all of mankind) I thought was too sappy and sentimental. The sound of laughing and playing children over the final fade out nearly ruined the whole thing for me, because it was a film of such drive and momentum that I felt it really needed to go somewhere. And it didn't. It tried to have it both ways -- leaving some things unresolved while still leaving the audience with a feeling of optimism -- and I didn't think it worked. (Look for the "Bigger Than Life" blinking beacon in the final shots.) But, again, it didn't make me feel that the entire experience had been negated.

Off-hand, I can think of one movie with an ending so horribly manipulated that it really did destroy everything that came before, and that's Roger Donaldson's "No Way Out" (1987), with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. This was a case where I remember feeling that the final "twist" actually did make mincemeat out of the whole picture. When the final piece of information drops into place, nothing that had happened previously made any sense.

What are movies that have been ruined -- or nearly ruined-- for you by bad endings? What about movies with bad endings that you were willing to overlook because the rest of the movie was so good?

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TIFF: The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Slavoj Zizek in the wake of Melanie Daniels, crossing Bodega Bay in a small motorboat.

At 150 minutes, in three parts, "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema" (catchy title, no?) is probably the fastest-moving, most shamelessly enjoyable film I've seen in Toronto so far this year. There is no story, and only one character -- but what a character he is. He's Slavoj Zizek (more precisely, Žižek), Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and he comes across as a delightfully unhinged Freudian maniac, the sort of heavily-accented mad doctor who might narrate an Ed Wood movie. But, believe it or not, he's the real thing. (I Googled him to be absolutely sure, and now I can't wait to read more of, and about, him.)

And what he does as narrator of this film (directed by Sophie Fiennes, sister of actors Ralph and Joseph) is talk -- and talk and talk and talk -- about movies. He's terrific at it, too. Turns out the good doctor is quite the cinephiliac (with a strong Freudian/Lacanian bent, natch), and in what feels almost like a two-and-a-half-hour free-association, he lets his brilliant and facile mind wander through many of the greatest films ever made -- with a heavy concentration on Hitchcock (emphasis on "Psycho," "Vertigo" and "The Birds"), David Lynch ("Lost Highway," "Blue Velvet," "Mulholland Drive," "Wild at Heart") and Andrei Tarkovsky ("Solaris," "Stalker"). One image, one idea, flows into the next, which makes for an intoxicating strain of film criticism.

This isn't quite the first film of this sort ("A Journey Through American Cinema with Martin Scorsese" springs to mind) -- but there ought to be more. The genre of movies about movies -- in-depth appreciations and evaluations of films that go beyond clip reels like "That's Entertainment!" into something deeper and, well, more entertaining -- is something I hope will blossom over the next few years. It's something I've been thinking about a lot: Film criticism needs to expand beyond mere words, and make better use of other media, including the web and film/video itself, where the images themselves can be seen while they are analyzed.

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Opening Shots: 'Scarecrow'

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From Leonard Maltin:

The one that first comes to mind is from a film I fell in love with thirty-some years ago, "Scarecrow," directed by Jerry Schatzberg and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. I revisited it when it finally came to DVD last year and felt exactly the same way. It opens on a static shot of a wood and wire fence alongside a two-lane highway, as a figure makes his way down a hill toward the fence (and us)...the sky is gray behind him. We're riveted to this image, eager to find out who this is, where he's coming from, and where he's headed. I haven't timed it to see how long the shot actually runs, but it's long, and absolutely mesmerizing: an opening shot that draws you in and makes you want to watch the movie.

JE: Thanks, Leonard -- it's a beauty! The dark gray clouds contrasting with the pale tan of the dry, grassy slope; the light playing across the hillside that makes the clouds shift even darker; the sound of thunder echoing in the distance -- it's the kind of shot where, seconds into the movie, you can almost smell the setting: The ionic scent of the approaching rain, the dusty pollenated aroma of the baked grass. And it's also funny, as Gene Hackman attempts to extricate himself from the fence. Anyone who's attempted to climb over, under or through barbed wire knows the pain and frustration of this moment all too well! It looks like the shot was originally even longer, and is interrupted by a few cutaways to Al Pacino watching from behind a tree -- perhaps to substitute different takes. And you're right: Now I'm going to watch the whole movie. (Love Pacino's introduction: "Hi. I'm Francis.")

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Rally 'round the Cruise, boys!

The Attitude in action. (photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

At first I wasn't going to write anything about last weekend's "disappointing" domestic grosses for "M:I:III" (or, as Stephen Colbert pronounces it, "Miiii"), because, well, who really cares about the box-office numbers of movies like "Miiii" (or Celebs Who Act Out)? Especially when "24" gives you trickier plotting, more believable stunts, top-flight production values, first-class actors (Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Stephen Spinella, William Devane, Ray Wise, Jean Smart...) and characters for whom you can actually feel something besides an indefinable creepy revulsion (though some have that quality, too), week after week (and in digital surround and HDTV, no less) -- making pre-packaged, pre-fab disposable summer action products like "Miiii" seem as dinosaurish and unnecessary as they truly are. (Note to self: How do I really feel?)

But then I saw this headline above a Reuters story Thursday: "Hollywood friends rally around Tom Cruise." Yes, dear readers, Tom needs some friends just now (if only, evidently, to buy batches of opening-weekend tickets to "M:I:III" at the Scientology Celebrity-Center-adjacent ArcLight Theater in Hollywood). It was too absurd to pass up.

So (he said wearily), let's recap:

His Cruiseness's public "approval ratings" (says a USA Today opinion survey) are way down there with the likes of... George W. Bush:

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Christopher Reeve, 1952 - 2004

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Christopher Reeve, who became famous playing a character who could fly around the world, and as a man whose wheelchair did not limit his flights of idealism, died Sunday. He was 52. In the years since he was paralyzed in a riding accident in 1995, he became the nation’s most influential spokesman for research on spinal cord injuries, and never lost the hope that he would someday walk again.

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Movie Answer Man (11/16/2003)

Q. A few critic's groups have cancelled their annual awards in protest of Jack Valenti's ban on sending out DVD screeners to industry and press. Isn't this counter-productive to their cause? Such awards are the perfect way to remind viewers of movies that the Academy will overlook or not see because of the ban. (Michael Chichester, West Chester Pa)

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