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Penguins of Madagascar

The pacing is so zany, the jokes are so rapid-fire and the sight gags are so inspired that it’s impossible not to get caught up…

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Horrible Bosses 2

The law of diminishing returns, which has afflicted so many comedy sequels over the years, strikes again in “Horrible Bosses 2,” further proving that just…

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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.

When Silence is not Golden

Dedicated to all those who lost family members prematurely, and to two students -- one struggling with addiction, and the other who lost her father.

This is grief. The silence that comes with a loved one's death is like no normal silence. It is in our culture that we respond to this stillness with stillness upon stillness. We try to think of death as that leap into some great beyond, perhaps finally letting our loved one's fluorescent inner radiance free. In the process, those loved ones take with them the air from within our lungs. So, in coping, we respond to their perceived new freedom by restricting ourselves with strict boundaries. And, as we cope with loss, we find relief in reunions. Time begins to jump around as we sit in the moment in front of us, leaping between moments in the past, frightened by the cloud in the future. The reunions open old happy memories that help turn that searing, salty burn of the tears into a blankety warmth. But, in our culture, the reunions often end quickly, leaving us alone in the darkness, unable to sleep. This is grief. And, this is what I observed in the first half hour of Susanne Bier's soft-spoken "Things we Lost in the Fire" (2007).

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Six keys to "Cloud Atlas"

"Cloud Atlas" (2012), directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, is a thing of beauty, the likes of which I have not seen in American Cinema. While I regard Rian Johnson's "Looper" as easily the best film of the year thus far, this film might be the best film of the decade. Nevertheless, considering how many people walked out of the screening within the first hour, I suspect that this film will successfully alienate or confuse most of its viewers, earning more appreciation in the years to come, long after most of us have expired. If you have the patience, it might take forty minutes to begin to understand it, and to subsequently immerse yourself into it. In that way, it also reminded me of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011). It is that good. It is so good that I can tell you everything about this movie, and I will still have told you nothing.

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A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

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I'm posting this review of "Cloud Atlas" both on my web site and as a blog entry, because the blog software accepts comments and I want to share yours. At the end, I have added the post-screening press conference at Toronto.

Even as I was watching "Cloud Atlas" the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I've seen it the second time, I know I'd like to see it a third time--but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill's description of Russia, "it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." It fascinates in the moment. It's getting from one moment to the next that is tricky.

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#137 October 10, 2012

Marie writes: I may have been born in Canada, but I grew-up watching Sesame Street and Big Bird, too. Together, they encouraged me to learn new things; and why now I can partly explain string theory.That being the case, I was extremely displeased to hear that were it up Romney, as President he wouldn't continue to support PBS. And because I'm not American and can't vote in their elections, I did the only thing I could: I immediately reached for Photoshop....

(Click image to enlarge.)

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Toronto #3: "Cloud Atlas" and a new silent film

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I know I've seen something atonishing, and I know I'm not ready to review it. "Cloud Atlas," by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, is a film of limitless imagination, breathtaking visuals and fearless scope. I have no idea what it's about. It interweaves six principal stories spanning centuries--three for sure, maybe four. It uses the same actors in most of those stories. Assigning multiple roles to actors is described as an inspiration by the filmmakers to help us follow threads through the different stories. But the makeup is so painstaking and effective that much of the time we may not realize we're seeing the same actors. Nor did I sense the threads.

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#133 September 12, 2012

Marie writes: As TIFF 2012 enters its last week and the Grand Poobah nurses his shoulder in Chicago (having returned home early for that reason) the Newsletter presents the final installment of Festival trailers. There was a lot to chose from, so many in fact there was no room for theatrical releases; they'll return next week. Meanwhile, enjoy!

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#126 August 1, 2012

Marie writes: As I'm sure readers are aware, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are now underway!  Meanwhile, the opening ceremony by Danny Boyle continues to solicit comments; both for against. (Click image to enlarge.)

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#103 February 22, 2012

Marie writes: yet again, we have intrepid club member Sandy Kahn to thank for the following find. She sent me some links devoted to automata and how I ultimately discovered the amazing work of artist Keith Newstead...

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How to Win an Academy Award

The Academy Award winners for the past thirty years have followed consistent molds, primarily in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. It is a very simple set of templates that I will explain with excessive evidence. This is not to say that the Academy Awards are a conspiracy run by some secret society, although that idea would be quite fun. Rather, at the very least, there is a subtext to American culture that plays out in the ideas and ideals in American cinema, and it plays out consistently. At the very least, I'm illustrating some unwritten ideals in American culture. Whether or not they are healthy or corrupt, they are there in us. So, "Best Picture" is not a great movie; rather, it is a great movie that fulfills the mold.

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#39 December 1, 2010

Leslie Nielsen (February 11, 1926 - November 28, 2010) Marie writes: If ever an actor embodied what it means to "be" Canadian, it was Leslie Nielsen... and the pair of fart machines he always used to carry around; one built by himself using plans sent by a friend and another called the "Farter" - a commercial device complete with remote control. For with each perfectly timed "pfft" he invited everyone to laugh with him and see the humour in life. And it's for that laughter he is now best remembered.The much-beloved actor died in his sleep with his wife Barbaree at his side, this past Sunday at the age of 84 in a Florida hospital due to complications from pneumonia. Nielsen has stars on both Hollywood's and Canada's Walk of Fame and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002. Remembering Leslie Nielsen...and what's that strange noise? - Montreal GazetteLeslie Nielsen: a career in clips, Guardian UKLeslie Nielsen, RIP. "And don't call me Shirley" - Roger Ebert

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Hillary and Bill: The movie

I woke up at about 3:30 a.m. and went online to see if Obama had pulled a victory out of Indiana. He had narrowed Clinton's head to two points by midnight and later added a few more votes, but the story was basically about the same: Clinton's winning margin was so small that it didn't much count, and Obama would be the likely Presidential nominee. Then I started wondering, in the vaporous midnight hours, about how you could make a movie of this primary campaign.

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CIFF: All our capsule reviews

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UPDATED 10/16: Here are brief reviews of all the Chicago Film Festival movies we have seen, in alphabetical order, written by Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert. More will be added as we view them. For a full CIFF schedule, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call (312) 332-FILM.

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Racial Purity, Part II

Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl

"A Mighty Heart," Michael Winterbottom's film based on Mariane van Neyenhoff Pearl's book about her husband Daniel, a journalist who was kidnapped and executed in Karachi, Pakistan, opens this weekend. I've had my say about the casting of (Czech / Haudenosaunee / American) Angelina Jolie as (Dutch / Cuban / French) Mariane Pearl. And so has Mariane Pearl, who told Newsweek: "This is not about skin color. I wanted her to play me because I trust her. Aren't we past this?"

Marianne Pearl as Marianne Pearl.

Well, some people are. And some aren't. Like, I guess, the people who hired Halle Berry to play white Nevada schoolteacher Tierney Cahill in the upcoming "Class Act." (Berry's at least as much white as she is black. But will she wear "whiteface" in the movie? Do you care?) Or, perhaps, the ones who hired John Travolta to play a woman in "Hairspray." Or even those who think it was just wrong for Marriane Pearl to have married a white Jew in the first place. (Miscegenation!) Let's take that logic to its inevitable extreme. Some people are sticklers for racial, cultural and gender purity. If only race, culture and gender were really that monolithic and clear-cut...

And we're talking about actors here. I'm not advocating blackface or whiteface minstrelsy (that implies bad acting, doesn't it?), but these people are supposed to be able to play characters other than themselves. That's what they do.

Maybe Jolie is terrible and totally miscast in the part. I don't know, I haven't seen the movie yet. But a commenter at the site concreteloop.com succinctly summarizes my own feelings about the matter at this stage: At first it does seem a bit odd, because I am sure there are women of African American or Afro-Cuban descent who could play that role but I would not say this is modern day black-face. If it were some blond-hair, blue-eyed non-talented actress, I would really have a problem. However, I do think Angelina is a great actress and as a matter of fact Mariane Pearl wanted Angelina to portray her in the film. So shouldn’t her wishes be respected?Producer Brad Pitt, who hired his honey for the part, said he was nervous about doing it, but he felt it was the right decision for the movie: "I knew the part had to be played by someone with Mariane's strength and understanding of the world, but I didn't know how to broach the subject. It feels a little like Wolfowitz trying to get his girlfriend a job. [...]

"I know that people are frustrated at the lack of great roles (for people of color), but I think they've picked the wrong example here."

Halle Berry plays Tierney Cahill (pictured -- either the one on the left or the one on the right) in an upcoming movie. You see the resemblance. Gotta problem with that?

I guess it also depends not only on whether you think Mariane Pearl has a (moral? contractual?) right to approve who plays her in a movie made from her own book, but whether you consider Angelina Jolie an actress or just "Brad's girlfriend" you know, half of "Brangelina." (Or even whether women are capable of making such important judgments, since those who cry "racism" here insist that Jolie and Pearl do not have the personal or professional credibility or authority to make such decisions for themselves.)

And whether you consider the fact that both share Northern European / Caucasian heritage. Much of the criticism I've seen has focused on the tabloid "Brangelina" phenomenon (as if that were real anywhere beyond the supermarket checkstands), or has tried to tie this casting into the history of racist portrayals of African-Americans in Hollywood movies. (In that regard, I recommend Donald Bogle's book, "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks.") But is that really an appropriate conclusion to draw in this particular instance?

I agree that actors of color should be offered more and better roles including those that weren't originally written to be one race or another. (Sigourney Weaver played a man's role in "The TV Set" without changing a word. Other parts have been re-written for the actor selected for the part.) But is the problem really one of casting people with the same racial make-up as their characters? Or is it more significant that writers and directors and casting directors are not making films with enough characters of color?

On the practical side... well, a star is a star. Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry are Oscar winners, marquee names, not struggling unknowns. (Not that struggling unknowns or semi-knowns don't deserve a chance, but they're unlikely to get one in such a high-profile project.) Mariane Pearl wanted Angelina Jolie to play her, sought her out, and sold the rights to Brad Pitt's production company. Based on this "package," the film was able to get a greenlight from Paramount Vantage, with the expectation that they would make a profit. The question becomes: Is the only form of "good casting" to make sure the racial balance of the character matches that of the actor?

Is Beyonce really too light or too dark — to have played a character based on Diana Ross in "Dreamgirls"? Is Denzel Washington really too dark to have played light-skinned, reddish-haired Malcolm X? Was it racist to have cast Chinese actress Gong Li as a Japanese woman in "Memoirs of a Geisha"? Were Al Pacino — or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio or Robert Loggia — terrible in "Scarface" (1983) because they are not Cuban? Was it wrong for Benicio Del Toro (Puerto Rican-American) to play a Mexican cop in "Traffic"? If these actors were good or bad in those movies, was it because of their racial background, or because of the roles and their performances in them?

I wonder what happened to a sense of proportion here. This isn't exactly Mickey Rooney playing a grotesque caricature of a Chinese guy in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Doesn't the performance itself count for anything — or is it all about appearances? (OK, if Jennifer Aniston had been cast as Pearl, I'd be a lot more skeptical. Even though she's only two years younger than Pearl, while Jolie is seven years younger. But if Jolie is playing Pearl in 2001-2002, then she's just about the perfect age, no?)

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Chris Rock: Blacks more electable than retarded

My problem with Chris Rock (who belongs with Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia in the category of Comics I Don't Think are Funny) is that he too often fails to base his shtick on accurate or meaningful observations. It's just dumb shtick, and he'll say anything (no matter how pointless) to get a laugh. It's all about his hacky delivery rhythms -- Catskills via Brooklyn. What he says hardly matters as long as he sounds like he's being funny. He could be speaking Ancient Greek and he hits you so hard you'd still know exactly where you're supposed to laugh, whether it's funny or not.

Take the following, from his "SNL" appearance to promote his already-vanished movie, "I Think I Love My Wife." Most of his jokes are older than John McCain (and in the '80s these same jokes were told about Reagan and in the '90s about Bob Dole). His stuff about Giuliani being good in a crisis is fine, but the pit bull analogy is stretched to the point of desperation.

Then Rock sets up the race for the Democratic nomination: "Everybody's saying the same thing: Hillary or Obama? A black man or a white woman? It's so hard to make up my mind! Like it's a suffering contest. And even if it was, how can you compare the suffering of a white woman to the suffering of a black man?" I don't know, Chris. How can you? And who's making the comparison? Well, Rock is: "I mean, white women burned their bras. Black men were burned alive!" Lame set-up, phony-outrageous non-sequitur punchline. That's Rock in a nutshell. (This might have been funny, in a Colbert-esque way, if Rock had been in character as Nat X. Does Rock know the difference? If not, what's the point? Is anybody saying Hillary is more oppressed than Obama? It might have worked if Rock had cited an example that he could riff on.)

The line about nobody hating white women as much as white women do is pretty good. Women are certainly Hillary's main problem. And the crack about how blacks would elect Halle Berry for half a term was kind of clever, but the audience was still laughing at the idea that black voters would elect OJ.

I'd love to know what would happen if someone else -- say, Joseph Biden or Hillary or Obama -- were to toss off this line: "Is America ready for a black president? I say: Why not? We just had a retarded one!" Hey, folks: What the hell -- even black politicians are better than retarded ones, right? I wish I could say that Rock is an articulate comedian. Or an insightful one. Or a funny one. But I don't think he is. Does anyone want to explain if/why they think this monologue is funny?

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How do you solve a problem like the Oscars?

Academy Award-winning Cher in her "serious actress" Oscar ensemble.

Almost every year for the last 20 or so I've had to think seriously about that question. I mean, what is there to write about the Oscars that hasn't already been done? I had a great time with my recent piece for MSN Movies ("Your Oscar speech: How not to blow it"), but I was fully aware I wasn't the first (or even, probably, the 1,000th) to write something similar in approach.

So, let's recap the angles: We can look at it as a horserace [check] and place bets on the odds [check]; as an election or popularity contest [check]; as a poker game [check -- I did that for MSN one year, with each nominee holding a "hand" based on previous awards-season honors]; as the "Gay Super Bowl" [check]; as a fashion show [check]; as Hollywood's version of "American Idol" [check]...

Some people would probably like watching the Academy Awards broadcast better if all the nominees gave speeches and the winner was decided by who gave the best one. (Maybe Academy members could call 900 numbers to vote for their favorites or there could be an Academy-approved panel of judges: say, Halle Berry, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Roger Moore.) I find the speeches to be generally excruciating. (But, then, I thought the best Oscars ever was the Allan "Can't Stop the Music" Carr-produced one with Rob Lowe and Snow White because it was so astoundingly grotesque that I laughed so hard I cried. The Academy has tried to deep-six all evidence of that one, and Disney even threatened to sue over the use of Snow White. C'mon, YouTube!)

Here's another idea: A former resident of Mexico wrote to me with the following proposal: In Older Mexican Award Shows, the recipient of the award was not allowed to speak. Each nominee was presented along with a few seconds of their song (or movie clip) and then the winner was named. The winner would walk on stage, accept the award, wave or blow kisses at the audience and then walk off stage. It was fantastic. The newer Mexican award shows are becoming more “Americanized” now unfortunately. Most now allow the winners to speak which just makes me long for the good old days. So I say Don’t Let Them Speak. We don’t care who you have to thank, who allowed this moment to happen, how much you love God, or how inspiring your parents were. All we care about is that you won…. And what you’re wearing. But that’s it!I kinda like that. They could stretch out the Red Carpet Walk of Shame if they want, or even require that the major nominees do interviews afterwards, with Rosie O'Donnell or Dr. Phil or Chris Matthews. Sort of like the publicity clauses in actors' contracts that stipulate they must do a certain amount of promotion in exchange for their salary on a given film: If you want an award, you're going to have to submit to a sit-down with Brit Hume or someone similarly slimy and daft (and, preferably, as humorless).

And if they need to make the show itself longer (to sell commercial time), they could make "In Memoriam" last ten minutes or so (more clips!) and do even bigger, more vapid and elaborate musical numbers -- not for the best songs, but for ALL the top nominees!

The Oscars are about the show. It's entertainment, loosely defined. Nominees, it is not about you. It's about we, the millions (not billions) who watch the satellite-cast on TV and have parties with our friends and laugh and cry and sigh and gasp and ridicule. (If we don't have to work.) That's the only approach that matters.

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