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Lucy

Scarlett Johansson is an intriguing blank in Luc Besson's "Lucy," which is stranded somewhere between a stranger-in-a-strange-land action thriller and apocalyptic science fiction.

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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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.

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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Is Bill Maher a performer, a preacher, or a pimp?

May Contain Spoilers

On Netflix and Amazon Instant.

Considering that we normally think of documentaries as some sort of academic discourse at the fringes of popular cinema, this relatively new genre of Celebrity-driven docs is something peculiar. That we now watch documentaries starring Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, and Bill Maher is something inevitable, I suppose. We already have that tradition of following on-screen directors as characters in their features, including Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen. But, the point here is that we watch some documentaries because of their host celebrities, more than the topic, even though the topics seem to be extensions of those same celebrities.

I suspect few people outside of his fan base will watch this movie: in Larry Charles' documentary "Religulous," (2008) popular Television talk show host Bill Maher is a playful microphone-toting cynic, roaming the landscapes of Christianity, with a few references to Judaism, Islam, and Scientology. The film is very strong and vastly entertaining in finding absurdities in absurd places, but fizzles when it attempts any serious commentary.

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The "gay" Dilemma: If it's a joke, what does it mean?

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On the day after the near-mystical cosmic alignment of Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day (did the Postal Service suspend delivery on the day Columbus came out in 1492?), and the very day that a US district judge issued a worldwide injunction ordering the Department of Defense to stop enforcement of its absurd, 17-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for kicking gays out of the military (best of all, the case was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans!), I have found myself reading about a stupid gay joke that's been removed from trailers for the upcoming Ron Howard comedy "The Dilemma," starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.

I saw the trailer in front of "The Social Network," October 1. Vaughn's character is speaking to some automotive businessmen (is this a follow-up to Howard's "Gung-Ho"?) and says: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper reportedly went on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and said he was "shocked" that Universal "thought that it was OK to put that in a preview for the movie to get people to go and see it." Universal responded by quickly pulling the scene from the trailer. No word on whether it will remain in the movie, which opens in January.

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The blogs of my blog

One of my favorite pastimes, especially when I should be doing something else, is moseying around the blogs of my readers. You may have noticed that when the name of a poster is displayed in blue, that means it's a link -- usually to the author's blog, although you might be surprised. Assembled here is a distinctive readership of interesting people, not least because I am vigilant about never posting idiotic or perfunctory comments. A certain civil tone is (usually) maintained, avoiding the plague of flame wars.

More than a year ago, when the blog was somewhat new to me, I wrote: "Your comments have provided me with the best idea of my readers that I have ever had, and you are the readers I have dreamed of. I was writing to you before I was sure you were there. You are thoughtful, engaged, fair, and often the authors of eloquent prose. You take the time to craft comments of hundreds of words. Frequently you are experts, and generous enough to share your knowledge."

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Hecklers as critics, critics as hecklers and comics as critics

Psychologists say that depression is rage turned inward. Stand-up comedy, on the other hand, is rage turned back outward again. (I believe George Carlin had a routine about the use of violent metaphors directed at the audience in comedy: "Knock 'em dead!" "I killed!") In the documentary "Heckler" (now on Showtime and DVD) comedian Jamie Kennedy, as himself, plays both roles with ferocious intensity. The movie is his revenge fantasy against anyone who has ever heckled him on stage, or written a negative review... or, perhaps, slighted him in on the playground or at a party or over the phone or online.

"Heckler" (I accidentally called it "Harangue" just now) is an 80-minute howl of fury and anguish in which Kennedy and a host of other well-known and not-well-known showbiz people tell oft-told tales of triumphant comebacks and humiliating disasters, freely venting their spleens at those who have spoken unkindly of them. At first the bile is aimed at hecklers in club audiences (with some particularly nasty invective for loudmouthed drunken women), then it shifts to "critics" -- broadly defined as anybody who says something negative about a figure whose work appears before a paying public. Some of the critics are actually interested in analysis; some are just insult comics who are using the Internet as their open mic. It gets pretty ugly, but it's fascinating -- because the comics, the critics and the hecklers are so much alike that it's no wonder each finds the others so infuriating.

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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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Jerry Seinfeld: Bee society is very human, only more evolved

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Jerry Seinfeld has been known to enjoy the odd bungee jump, but dressing up like a bee and throwing himself off the roof of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes was new for him. This was last May. The studio attached a steel cable to the hotel, 130 feet in the air, and Jerry glided down to the photographers and bee-lovers below. It was a stunt to promote the new animated film, “Bee Movie,” which opens Friday.

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'Dogma' keeps the faith

CANNES, France -- Kevin Smith's "Dogma" had its first public screening here Friday night, and the world did not end. Not even in the film. The apocalyptic comedy, which has stirred charges of blasphemy in some Catholic circles, played at midnight Friday in the festival, after press screenings earlier in the day. There was much laughter and no visible outrage.

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