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As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

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The Last of Robin Hood

A title as good as "The Last of Robin Hood" deserves a better movie. In fact, it deserves a 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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* 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.

Django Unchain my heart (and set me free)

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Quentin Tarantino has found his actor in Christoph Waltz -- someone who can speak Tarantinian fluently and still make it his own. When Waltz uses a self-consciously ostentatious word like "ascertain" (as in, "I was simply trying to ascertain..." -- the kind of verbiage QT is as likely to put in the mouth of a lowlife crook as a German dentist, or a Francophile plantation slavemaster, for that matter), it sounds right. As someone to whom Tarantino's dialog often sounds cliche-ridden and cutesy, it's a pleasure to hear Waltz saying the words in character rather than simply as a mouthpiece for the writer-director.

Oh, stop. This isn't sounding the way I want it to.

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On "The Rack" with Paul Newman and Stewart Stern

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• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.

For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.

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Vacancy: Filled

I saw Oliver Stone's "W." a week or two ago, and I almost forgot. Believe me, it felt even more worn out before the election. I kept thinking I'd seen it before in some other form. Not just as in every day for the last eight years, or as in some other slab of Stone. This one reminded me of Woody Allen's "Zelig" or Robert Zemeckis's "Forrest Gump" -- about a nobody who stumbles into history. Then I realized it was more like a reworking of Hal Ashby and Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There" -- the story of a vacancy.

That impression was magnified Tuesday night as I watched Barack step up to fill it. In that one solemn but hopeful election night speech in Grant Park he did more to steady, strengthen and solidify the union for tough times than I've seen any president do in my lifetime. It wasn't just a matter of commanding screen space or being ready for his close-up (although the camera loves him). But after so many years of looking at a skittish hamster-in-the-headlights, squinting or staring blankly into the lens, how dramatic it was to see somebody there at last -- a solid somebody with a firm sense of who he is, and what it means to lead and to strive and to inspire. No smugness, no self-congratulation, no condescension, no desperation. A grown-up. I felt an enormous sense of confidence and relief. And I didn't feel alone in feeling that.

Which brings me back to the hollowness of W. and "W."...

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50 greatest music films ever

Barbie as Karen in "Superstar."

Maybe there should just be a category in the right column for "Lists." Here's one from the film and music writers of Time Out London (which will always be the only real Time Out) called "50 greatest music films ever except for 'Spinal Tap'." No, I added those last four words, but the editors explain in their intro that "we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians."

As if David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls never actually toured in the flesh? As if they aren't at least as "real" as, say, KISS or the Monkees or Hootie and the Blowfish, which contained no one named "Hootie" and nobody named "Blowfish." (BTW, the Ramones weren't really "Ramones"! Those were just stage names!) Oh, and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was about a guy named "Blake." Michael Pitt looked like Kurt Cobain, but it was only about Cobain in the sense that "Velvet Goldmine" is about Bowie or Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, or "Grace of My Heart" is about Carole King or Brian Wilson or any of the Brill Building writers (even though a lot of them wrote songs for the movie). Then there's "'Round Midnight" (which is on the list) with Dexter Gordon playing Dale Turner, a fictionalized version of Bud Powell...

View image Downey, CA: "What happened?" Third shot of "Superstar." Compare to second shot of "Zodiac" -- establishing a neighborhood, from a car on the street...

So, OK: No "Spinal Tap." But no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco"? No "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson"? No "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"? No "X: The Unheard Music"? No "The Girl Can't Help It"? No "Wattstax"? No "Woodstock"? No "The Kids are Alright"? No "No Direction Home"? No "The Buddy Holly Story"? No "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey"? No "Heart of Gold"? No "The Filth and the Fury"? No "We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen"? No "La Bamba"? No "Kurt and Courtney"? See how much fun this is? Really, though, I'd substitute any of these for several of the selections on the list.

But, OK, many of my favorites are included: "24 Hour Party People," "Jazz on a Summer's Day," "Stop Making Sense," "DIG!," "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (his autobiography, "Straight Life," is the best account of addiction I've ever read), "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I and II (The Metal Years)"...

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At the toppermost of the poppermost: Todd Haynes' 1987 "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," a 45-minute lo-fi "dramatization" that was never officially released because of music clearance troubles (that is, brother Richard wouldn't let Haynes use any Carpenters tunes). Still, after 20 years as an "underground" item, it's available from Google Video here. It's something you really need to see: a documentary-style biopic of Karen Carpenter performed mostly by Barbie dolls. Yes, its a parody (so are most musical biopics, including others on the list -- see the upcoming Jake Kasdan/Judd Apatow picture, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" for more on that score). But it presents straightforward facts about anorexia that could have been excerpted from any PBS or 16mm educational doc of the period. It's also a formula showbiz melodrama. But for all the layers of artifice, like Haynes' Sirk opera "Far from Heaven," it becomes strangely, hypnotically -- and genuinely -- moving. Prepare yourself for Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There," by watching "Superstar" and "Velvet Goldmine."

ASIDE: From an interview with Haynes at The Reeler: I actually think that it's easier for people who know less about Dylan to go with it, if they're up for something different. Clearly, that's the first thing: Whether you know Dylan or not, you have to surrender to the movie to have a good time at all and get anything out of it. If you have a lot of Dylanisms in your head, it's kind of distracting, because you're sitting there with a whole second movie going on. You're annotating it as you go. It's kind of nice to sit back and let it take you. I think people get it: Even if you don't know which are the true facts and which are the fictional things, and when we're playing with fact and fiction, from the tone of it, you know that it's playing around with real life. In a way, that's what biopics always do. They just don't tell you that they're doing it, and they don't make it part of the fun. You have to follow the Johnny Cash story and just sort of think, "This is what really happened." Of course, you know it's being dramatized, but you're not in on the joke. You're not in on the game of that. In this movie, at least, you get tipped off to it.Oh yeah, but about that list. Here it is. Make of it what you will:

1 "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" (Todd Haynes, 1987) 2 "Don't Look Back" (DA Pennebaker, 1967) -- Bob Dylan 3 "Gimme Shelter" (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) --Rolling Stones 4 "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) -- Manchester scene 5 "Topsy-Turvy" (Mike Leigh, 1999) -- Gilbert and Sullivan 6 "Monterey Pop" (DA Pennebaker, 1968) -- concert 7 "Be Here to Love Me" (Margaret Brown, 2004) -- Townes Van Zandt 8 "Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould" (Francois Girard, 1993) -- Glenn Gould 9 "Cocksucker Blues" (Robert Frank, 1972) -- Rolling Stones 10 "Bird" (Clint Eastwood, 1988) -- Charlie Parker 11 "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese, 1978) -- The Band & Friends farewell concert 12 "Rude Boy" (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980) -- The Clash 13 "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" (Stephen Kijak, 2006) -- Scott Walker 14 "Bound for Glory" (Hal Ashby, 1976) -- Woody Guthrie 15 "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II" (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988) -- LA punk; '80s metal & hair bands 16 "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) -- Daniel Johnston 17 "Sweet Dreams" (Karel Reisz, 1982) -- Patsy Cline 18 "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (Don McGlynn, 1982) -- Art Pepper 19 "Elgar" (Ken Russell, 1962) -- Edward Elgar 20 "Rust Never Sleeps" (Neil Young, 1979) -- Neil Young 21 "The Future is Unwritten" (Julien Temple, 2006) -- Joe Strummer 22 "DiG!" (Ondi Timoner, 2004) -- Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols 23 "Some Kind Of Monster" (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) -- Metallica 24 "A Hard Day's Night" (Richard Lester, 1964) -- The Beatles 25 "Jimi Hendrix" (Joe Boyd, 1973) -- Jimi Hendrix(more)

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The 100 Greatest Directors of... what?

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I was not familiar with TotalFilm.com, until I spotted a link over at Movie City News.

Thanks a lot, guys.

The link was to a pair of articles listing Total Film's choices for "The Greatest Directors Ever" Part 1 (100 - 49) and Part 2 (50 - 1).

Will I return to this site? I think probably not. Why am I linking to it now? Because it's my shameless attempt to stimulate discussion, which I hope will be on a more informed level than this list. Or maybe it's just to have a laugh. Or a moment of sadness. What do I think of the list itself? Well, let's see:

Baz Luhrmann is #97.

Tony Scott is #74, just edging out Milos Forman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Satyajit Ray, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Buster Keaton, who comes in at #88.

Bryan Singer is #65, two slots below Robert Bresson, who immediately follows Sam Raimi.

Rob Reiner is #35.

Michael Mann (#28) is on the list, but Anthony Mann is not.

Bernardo Bertolucci is... not on the list.

Otto Preminger is... not on the list.

Richard Lester is... not on the list.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is... not on the list.

Max Ophuls is... not on the list.

George Cukor is... not on the list, but George Lucas (#95) is.

Andrei Tarkovsky is... not on the list.

Eric Rohmer is... not on the list.

Claude Chabrol is... not on the list.

Luchino Visconti is... not on the list.

Vittorio De Sica is... not on the list.

Michelangelo Antonioni is... not on the list. Not even the top 100.

What's worse are the little names they have for each director. Sophia Coppola (#99) is "The dreamer" ("Dreamy, brave and cool, this Coppola is doing it for herself"). Singer is "The new Spielberg." Robert Altman (#26) is "The outsider" -- oops, but so is Hal Ashby (#58). Somebody ran out of labels. Well, at least they are not outside all alone; they are outside together. Sam Fuller (#50) is "The hack." Mike Leigh (#49) is "The grouch." Quentin Tarantino (#12) is "The motormouth."

OK, that's enough. Have at it if you feel like it. If you don't feel like it, you'll probably live.

ADDENDUM: A reader, spleendonkey, describes TotalFilm as a British magazine aimed at teens and pre-teens, designed to broaden their film horizons. For the record, here's the mag's description of itself on its subscription page:In 2007, Total Film celebrates its tenth year of being the only film magazine that nails a monthly widescreen shot of the whole movie landscape. It’s the essential guide for anyone who’s passionate about movies - whether they’re into Cruise or Cusack, Hollywood or Bollywood, multiplex or arthouse, popcorn or - er - sweetcorn. Each issue is pumped full of reviews, news, features and celebrity interviews on all the latest cinema releases. The all-new home entertainment section, Lounge, is the ultimate one-stop-shop for everything you should care about in the churning world of DVDs, books, videogames and, occasionally, film-related novelty furniture. The mag regularly features highly desirable, Ebay-friendly FREE stuff - exclusive film cells, posters, postcards, DVDs… We’re currently in discussions with Health & Safety operatives about sticking a magical compass to the cover when "His Dark Materials" comes out. Subscribe to Total Film now, or forever be belittled by precocious children in discussions about what’s best and worst in movieland.Doesn't sound all that different from Entertainment Weekly to me, but there you go...

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László Kovács: In Memory

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László Kovács (May 14, 1933 – July 22, 2007)

Kovács emigrated to the United States with his lifelong friend Vilmos Zsigmond, who became another great Hungarian-American cinematographer.

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For me, perhaps the most indelible image in Kovács' work is the last shot of "Five Easy Pieces" (Bob Rafelson, 1970), a long stationary take of a gray, rainy stretch of Pacific Northwest highway, stuck in the muddy pavement outside an isolated gas station. The only camera movement is a slight pan. All the loneliness, frustration and alienation of the whole movie culminates (in a diminuendo, if that's possible) in this damp, atmospheric image.

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Other notable Kovács films include:

"Psych-Out" (Richard Rush, 1968) "Targets" (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) "Easy Rider" (Dennis Hopper, 1969) "That Cold Day in the Park" (Robert Altman, 1969) "Getting Straight" (Rush, 1970) "Alex in Wonderland" (Paul Mazursky, 1970) "The Last Movie" (Hopper, 1971) "What's Up, Doc?" (Bogdanovich, 1972) "The King of Marvin Gardens" (Bob Rafelson, 1972) "Paper Moon" (Bogdanovich, 1973) "Shampoo" (Hal Ashby, 1975) "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (Steven Spielberg, 1977 -- additional photography) "New York, New York" (Martin Scorsese, 1977) "The Last Waltz" (Scorsese, 1978 -- additional photography) "Ghostbusters" (Ivan Reitman, 1984) "Mask" (Bogdanovich, 1985) "Say Anything..." (Cameron Crowe, 1989) "Radio Flyer" (Richard Donner, 1992) "My Best Friend's Wedding" (P.J. Hogan, 1997)

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Trash and Art: Critics on/of Pauline Kael

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A follow-up on contrarian criticism, from an Artforum section published in 2002, after the death of Pauline Kael, called Prose and Cons:

Gary Indiana:

When Artforum invited me to write 800 words on Pauline Kael, I asked the editor why we couldn't dispense with 799 of them, as I could certainly summarize my opinion of Ms. Kael with even greater economy than that with which her opinions had for so many years been splashed across movie ads and even, for a time, theater marquees. Besides, the definitive autopsy on Ms. Kael's oeuvre had already been performed, twenty-one years earlier, in the pages of the New York Review of Books, by Renata Adler ("The Perils of Pauline"), and I consider Adler's an impossible act to follow. I have a fond memory of devouring that essay with Susan Sontag, peering over each other's shoulder, in the donut shop that used to occupy the corner of Third Avenue and Fourteenth Street, both of us nearly gagging with laughter at the sly, inexorable trajectory of every sentence, the devastating conclusion of every paragraph, the utterly damning thoroughness with which Ms. Kael's grotesquely inflated, even sacrosanct reputation had been laid out like a corpse for burial. [...]

The coercive effect of Kael's technique was not simply contrarian, which might have had its praiseworthy aspects; "For Keeps" makes it clear, as Adler noted years ago, that this is a critic who brooks no contradiction and turns herself into a pretzel to stun the reader into agreement that a worthless film has moments that outshine, and outmerit, actual masterpieces, if for no better reason than that the film was made by one of the directors she routinely fawned over, like De Palma. When it suits her, Kael does a complete volte-face and fetishizes the transcendent artistry of De Sica's "Shoeshine," for example, or treats us to an extremely long, extremely ill-informed analysis of how things work in Hollywood to explain "why today's movies are so bad." It is, perhaps, the absence of any real sensibility rooted in any consistent method of analysis that makes Pauline Kael's collections of reviews the kinds of books I don't like having in my house. She's not a real voice but more like a suet of arbitrary, extemporized pronouncements. She is Gertrude Stein's Oakland; There's no there there.

Paul Schrader:

Pauline changed criticism in a number of ways:

... Taking film criticism to the average filmgoer. She wrote for people who went to movies, not for those who read magazines--a technical distinction, but an important one. [...]

She validated film reviewing. Difficult as it is to believe today, at the height of America's countercultural upheaval movies truly mattered: It mattered which movies were made, which movies audiences saw, and what they thought of the movies they did see. Godard was important, Bunuel was important, Paul Mazursky and Hal Ashby were important. Art was not happening in the museums; it was in the streets and movie houses. Kael was the pied piper of reviewers who made readers believe that movies, even disreputable movies, were important. If movies were important, it followed that movie reviewing was important.

A considerable achievement, and I wish I could say a wholly beneficial one. Cultural history has not been kind to Pauline. She was able to rail against critical snobbery and High Art, defend mass-audience taste and extol "trash" because she never feared for culture. She knew that there would always be standards. Because she had standards. She appreciated great art and literature and opera; no amount of "trash" could change that.

Not long before she died, Pauline remarked to a friend, "When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture." That's exactly the point. She and her foot soldiers won the battle but lost the war. Mass taste has become acceptable taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film's worth. The pop films Kael most loved, such as "Hud" (1963), if made today, would be considered art-house fare.

Geoffrey O'Brien:

Returning to her writing after so many years, I'm still puzzled by a central ambivalence in her judgments that seems to gravitate around the notions of "art" and "trash." In her celebrated essay "Trash, Art, and the Movies" (Harper's, February 1969)--the closest she came to a general statement of intentions--she wants to celebrate the gaudy pleasures of cinematic vulgarity: "I don't trust anyone who doesn't admit having at some time in his life enjoyed trashy American movies.... Why should pleasure need justification?" She directs withering scorn at those stuffed-shirt humanists who admire "Judgment at Nuremberg" or "Wild Strawberries" but can't appreciate "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968). But she's equally at odds with anyone who likes trash a little bit too much, likes it enough to think that "trash" is perhaps a term of doubtful use: "If an older generation was persuaded to dismiss trash, now a younger generation, with the press and schools in hot pursuit, has begun to talk about trash as if it were really very serious art." It doesn't help that her examples of yesterday's kitsch now mistaken for art are "Shanghai Express" and -- amazingly for someone who would go on to grossly overpraise the Hitchcock imitations of Brian De Palma -- "Notorious." She goes in circles on this theme, churning up perplexities about pleasure and puritanism, bourgeois complacency and radical transgression, without ever coming to a comfortable resting point. What is clear is that there is no party of which she wishes to be a member; if she has to declare for anything it will be the sovereignty of her own taste.

Comments, anyone...?

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Udderly bull

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Q. Please help before it's too late! There is still time for the producers of the animated movie "Barnyard" to redub the soundtrack. No wonder Americans are becoming known as the world's stupidest people: apparently we don't even know that milk comes from mommies, not daddies. The brain trust behind this movie spent a fortune to animate "cows" with very prominent udders -- all of which are dubbed with MALE VOICES. Oh, the horror. Eva Sandor, Chicago

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Interview with Paul Mazursky (1980)

LOS ANGELES - Paul Mazursky, in 1980, is very much an outsider in contemporary Hollywood. At a time when the bosses of the major studios are engaged in games of musical chairs, when few studio chiefs give any thought to long-term filmmaking philosophies. When the creative deal is more highly regarded than the creative film, when bloated budgets are poured into films that will become either monster hits or complete write-offs...at a time like this, Paul Mazursky is so out of date he seems almost Victorian.

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