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La La Land

This is a beautiful film about love and dreams, and how the two impact each other.

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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.

Shall we gather at the river?

The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.

Wayne died on June 11, 1979. Stomach cancer. "The Big C," he called it. He had lived for quite a while on one lung, and then the Big C came back. He was near death and he knew it when he walked out on stage at the 1979 Academy Awards to present Best Picture to "The Deer Hunter," a film he wouldn't have made. He looked frail, but he planted himself there and sounded like John Wayne.

John Wayne. When I was a kid, we said it as one word: Johnwayne. Like Marilynmonroe. His name was shorthand for heroism. All of his movies could have been titled "Walking Tall." Yet he wasn't a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his duty. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in "The Quiet Man," or vulnerable, as in "The Shootist," or lonely and obsessed, as in "The Searchers," or tender with a baby, as in "3 Godfathers."

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Three minor notions: 1. The "True Grit" cantata

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I've expressed my admiration for Carter Burwell's Mahleresque orchestrations of American hymns and folk tunes in his score for "True Grit" (2010). Watching the first part of the movie again, it struck me that the movie itself is a sort of cantata for tenor, baritone and bass voices. Certainly Charles Portis's language (which sounds like Coen dialog, after all), and the way it's delivered -- the tempi, rests, rhythms -- are decidedly musical, as the lyrics always are in Coen movies.

Evidently, that's one reason they wanted to make the movie -- and if you compare some of the very same lines in the 1969 film with the 2010 film, you'll immediately hear the difference between speaking and singing. Henry Hathaway tried to make the words sound as conversational as possible; the Coens go for Baroque -- high stylization that's not quite horse-operatic, but in an American vernacular that's like Bach transposed to "Deadwood."

Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) may be the youthful contralto soloist (despite her age, she's no soprano!), but she's surrounded by male voices in the lower registers (which helps to make Josh Brolin's countertenor Tom Chaney all the weirder and funnier). Near the top of the film there's a series of duets, particularly musical in character, beginning with Mattie's post-hanging interrogation of the sheriff, her first encounter with Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, in outhouse for additional resonance), and her negotiation with Colonel Stonehill. The film's deep-vocal culmination, perhaps, is an an off-stage solo by JK Simmons as Mattie's lawyer, J. Noble Daggett (definitely a bass).

Just another example of the many ways the Coens' movies are as much fun to listen to as they are to watch.

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The Duke on Rooster: "My first good part in 20 years"

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By Roger EbertDecember 8th, 1968

Hollywood, California -- Over in a comer of the big sound stage, John Wayne was playing chess. He was leaning against a packing crate and studying the board in complete oblivion to the commotion Henry Hathaway was raising 10 yards away.

Hathaway got into the movie business as a juvenile in 1908 and has been directing action and Western pictures since 1918. His directing style remains unchanged; he gets excited about three times a day and starts shouting at people. But he has white hair and looks gentle, as opposed to Otto Preminger, who has no hair and looks dangerous, and so Hathaway is known as a terror but regarded with affection.

Just now he was haranguing a group of extras who were supposed to be a courtroom crowd. "You're all waiting for the other fellow to sit down," he was saying. "Now it's clear as day that some of you have got to sit down before the rest of you do. So when the judge comes in, don't everybody stand around with his hands in his pockets." His tone was that of an eminently reasonable ship's captain addressing a cargo of madmen in the hold. "Now let's try it."

"Here we go," Wayne said. He plays the part of Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit," a Western comedy, adventure, satire or what-have-you based on the best-seller by Charles Portis. The press releases describe Rooster as a mean, ornery, one-eyed, no-good, low-down rapscallion, and Wayne obviously enjoys the part. He took another look at the chess board, decided not to move until the scene had been shot, got up and moseyed over to the set.

It turned out that the light men hadn't arranged the lights to their satisfaction, so Hathaway decreed a 10-minute break and Wayne walked back off the set, pushing his eye-patch up on his forehead.

"This is, oh, maybe the fifth or sixth picture I've made with. Hathaway," Wayne recalled. "Every director has his own way of handling actors. John Ford, now, had a rapier wit and if he wanted to zing somebody he'd hit 'em quick and pull back. Henry, on the other hand, uses a club."

What was the last picture by Wayne and Hathaway?

"Let's see. That would be 'Sons of Katie Elder.' I don't care for it much, myself. I had just got over that cancer operation and I thought I could hear myself breathing all the time. Everybody said it was my imagination. Well, old Henry was very thoughtful of me, of course, since I was recuperating and all. He took me up to 8,500 feet to shoot the damned thing and the fourth day of shooting he had me jumping into ice water. Very considerate."

Wayne chuckled. "All the same, give Hathaway a good story, and that's what 'True Grit' is, and he's great. He's not so good on his own stories; I found that out. He can't quite get objective about them. But I love this story. I tried to buy the rights and then I found out Hal Wallis was bidding on it. Between us we pushed the price clear to the sky, and then Wallis got it and cast me anyway."

The story involves a spunky little frontier girl (played by Kim Darby) who sets off to avenge her father's murder and hires Rooster as her paid gunman. Glen Campbell, the hot young country singer and TV host, makes his screen debut in the film as a Texas Ranger.

"The picture's got to make a bundle," Wayne said. "And for a change I have a good part. I'd say this is my first good part in 20 years."

There were protests from Wayne's listeners. "Well," he said, "what the hell has there been? I'm always the straight guy who heaves the pack up on his back shouts, 'Follow me!' Everybody else in picture gets to have funny little scenes, clever lines, but I'm the hero so I stand there.

"Howard Hawks worked out a whole system based on that. He'd just stand me up as a target and run everybody at me. 'EI Dorado,' that was just a remake of an earlier picture by Hawks, 'Rio Bravo.' And in both pictures you had Robert Mitchum or Dean Martin as the drunken sheriff, and you had the old deputy and the young kid, and where did that leave me?

"And in that picture, Who Killed What's-His-Name? Yeah, the John Ford picture: 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.' They had Lee Marvin as the colorful heavy, and that young Irish fellow playing the intellectual, and Andy Devine playing the best friend, and Jimmy Stewart to get a laugh kicking the horse crap out of his way, and what was left? Try to wind your way through that one..."

Wayne said he was talking in professional terms. "What I mean is, I haven't been short of good roles in terms of starring roles, but I've gotten damn few roles you could get your teeth into and develop a character. Until Rooster in 'True Grit,' I haven't had a role like that since 'The Searchers' (1956). And before that, maybe 'Sgt. Stryker' or 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,' another great Ford picture.

"But look at 'The Quiet Man.' Everybody was a character but me. For three fourths of the movie, I had to keep alive just walking through it. Those are the tough ones to do. At least in 'Rio Bravo,' I had a couple of gags in addition to furnishing the father image."

He unwrapped some peanut brittle and took a bite. "And old Rooster is going to be a lovely role. When this picture's over I got to go to work and get some of this weight off." He grinned. "But it's pretty nice playing a fat old man."

Hathaway walked over, slapped Wayne on the shoulder, and said, "All right then, Duke, let's get to work. Always assuming, of course, that I can get those damn fools to sit down when the judge comes in."

"Heah come de judge," said Wayne.

Some 200 of my TwitterPages are linked at the right. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

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Dennis Hopper: In memory

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Dennis Hopper's career began as an actor of alienation in movies like "Rebel Without a Cause." His career as a director began with "Easy Rider." His career as an art collector began went he bought one of Andy Warhol's soup can paintings for $75. His career as a drug abuser began at around the same time, and he told me, simply and factually, "I spent some time in a rubber room."

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Shall we gather at the river?

The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.

John Wayne died 30 years ago on June 11. Stomach cancer. "The Big C," he called it. He had lived for quite a while on one lung, and then the Big C came back. He was near death and he knew it when he walked out on stage at the 1979 Academy Awards to present Best Picture to "The Deer Hunter," a film he wouldn't have made. He looked frail, but he planted himself there and sounded like John Wayne.

John Wayne. When I was a kid, we said it as one word: Johnwayne. Like Marilynmonroe. His name was shorthand for heroism. All of his movies could have been titled "Walking Tall." Yet he wasn't a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his duty. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in "The Quiet Man," or vulnerable, as in "The Shootist," or lonely and obsessed, as in "The Searchers," or tender with a baby, as in "3 Godfathers."

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The Huckabees Harangues

Why is this stuff coming out now? Coincidence?

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has the best coverage anywhere of the whole "I (Heart) Huckabees" on-set "maelstrom" (as proprietor Dennis Cozzalio calls it), including the now-infamous YouTube clips of the battles between Lily Tomlin and writer-director David O. Russell. There's also an excerpt from the Playboy interview with George Clooney discussing various meltdowns during the shooting of "Three Kings," and an appearance by Tomlin and co-star Dustin Hoffman on "Good Morning America," promoting "Huckabees." Plus, there's a fantastic string of comments that you won't find anywhere else.

Dennis wonders: Can working with a volcanic director actually be good for the creative process? If not, why (besides the money) would actors and crew members tolerate such behavior? Is this kind of threatening, off-the-rails, abusive behavior somehow actionable? And if not, why would anyone want to work with Russell again? "Huckabees" may be brilliant, it may be a mess, but one could hardly call it complacent—it’s in there scrapping for slivers of enlightenment and understanding right along with the people who made it and the audiences who choose to see it and run with it, and perhaps some of this striving, searching, reckless clashing of tones and spirits that are vital to the movie can be directly traced to this kind of passion, however misplaced it might seem. These are the questions. I have no answers.Over at The Hot Blog, David Poland cites a few excerpts from Sharon Waxman's 2004 New York Times set-visit piece on the turmoil of "Huckabees" ("The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In"). Here's another piece from that story that sets the scene for one of the clips:

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Awake in the Dark: Best of Ebert

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"Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert," just published by the University of Chicago Press, achieves a first. Though the Sun-Times film critic remains the dean of American cineastes, his essential writings have never been collected in a single volume until now. "Awake in the Dark" surveys his 40-year catalog, including reviews, essays and interviews. The following is an excerpt from the book's introduction, and for the next five weeks we'll publish excerpts here from the collection's highlights in each decade, from the '60s to the '00s.

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The vying game

Hollywood has been waiting a long time to give Clint Eastwood an Oscar, and my hunch is, the wait is over. Eastwood's "Unforgiven," an elegiac Western about a retired gunfighter who pulls himself together for one final campaign, will win the best picture award when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gathers on the night of Monday, March 29.

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Interview with John Wayne (1969)

NEWPORT BEACH, CA. -- "I've been working all day on the boy's room," John Wayne said. "The boy got it into his head that he wanted a bunk bed. We tore out this wall here and pushed it back - you can see the original boundary on the floor there - and we're going to put the bunk right in here. And there'll be a goddam porthole in the wall." He shook his head, amused.

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Interview with George Peppard

Suite 1705 of the Ambassador East Hotel includes a glass-enclosed luncheon porch overlooking the city. There are windows on three sides. On the fourth, there are steps that lead back into the living room. From there you go out into the hall down the elevator and back to reality.

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