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Men, Women & Children

A potentially interesting premise is handled so badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of…

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The Boxtrolls

"The Boxtrolls" is a beautiful example of the potential in LAIKA's stop-motion approach, and the images onscreen are tactile and layered. But, as always, it's…

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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.

#186 September 25, 2013

Sheila writes: Todd Sanders is a self-taught neon sign artist. Roadhouse Relics, the gallery of his work in Austin, Texas, is filled with his beautiful vintage-inspired signs. His designs are all hand-drawn. He collects old magazines from the 1920s, 1930s, etc., to get inspiration for his neon signs. He does custom signs as well. You can check out Sanders' work, bio, and press kit at Roadhouse Relics. Neon brings up all kinds of automatic images and associations: seedy hotels, burlesque joints, cocktail bars. His signs evoke those images, but much more. For instance, look at his beautiful "Fireflies In a Mason Jar".

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#171 June 12, 2013

Marie writes: Welcome to "Good Books", an online bookseller based in New Zealand. Every time you buy a book through them, 100% of the retail profit goes directly to fund projects in partnership with Oxfam; projects which provide clean water, sanitation, develop sustainable agriculture and create access to education for communities in need. To increase awareness of Good Books' efforts to raise money for Oxfam, String Theory (New Zeland based agency) teamed up with collaborative design production comany "Buck" to create the first of three videos in a digital campaign called Good Books Great Writers. Behold the award winning animated Good Books Metamorphosis.

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#157 February 27, 2013

Marie writes: It's a long story and it starts with a now famous video of a meteor exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Followed by alien conspiracies fueled by the internet and which led me to investigate further. Where did it come from? Does anyone know..? Yes! According to The NewScientist, the rock came from the Apollo family of near-Earth asteroids, which follow an elongated orbit that occasionally crosses Earth's path.That in turn led me to yet another site and where I learned a team of scientists had discovered two moons around Pluto, and asked the public to vote on potential names. They also accepted write-in votes as long as they were taken from Greek and Roman mythology and related to Hades and the underworld - keeping to the theme used to name Pluto's three other moons. And how I eventually learned "Vulcan" has won Pluto's moon-naming poll! and thanks to actor William Shatner who suggested it. Behold Vulcan: a little dot inside a green circle and formally known as P5.

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The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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Greatest Films of All Time: Where's the funny?

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The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.

I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?

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The best greatest movies ever list

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UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.

Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.

Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)

Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.

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Andrew Sarris, auteurism, and his take on his own legacy

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"All of us will always owe him everything." -- Glenn Kenny on Andrew Sarris, quoting Jean-Luc Godard on Orson Welles

Andrew Sarris, "who loved movies" (as Roger Ebert described him), was long considered the "dean of American film critics." Reading the accounts and appreciations of him today, I was surprised to see how many people perpetuated the myth that Sarris and Pauline Kael were like the print era's Siskel & Ebert who, instead of facing off with each other over new movies on TV week after week, carried on a robust public debate about auteurism and film theory for decades. That didn't happen. And that mischaracterization does a disservice to Sarris, to Kael and to Siskel & Ebert, all of whom were taking their own distinctive and original approaches to movie reviewing and criticism. I think what's most important on the occasion of Sarris's passing is to acknowledge that his substantial critical legacy cannot be defined in terms of anything Pauline Kael wrote about him and the politique des auteurs in 1963 -- and certainly not in the way his and the Cahiers du Cinema critics' views were misrepresented in Kael's famous snipe, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris."

Let's get this straight: Sarris, who had spent some time in France and acquainted himself with the Cahiers du Cinema critics (Andre Bazin, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, et al.), published an essay in Film Culture called "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (download .pdf here). In it he set out to explain the French notion of what he called "auteurism" for an American audience.*

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Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012: In Memoriam

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Andrew Sarris, who loved movies, is dead at 83. He was the most influential American film critic of his time, and one of the jolliest. More than anyone else, he was responsible for introducing Americans to the Auteur Theory, the belief that the true author of a film is its director. Largely because of him, many moviegoers today think of films in terms of their directors.

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Tinker Tailor, Moneyball: Between the lines (Part 1)

May Contain Spoilers
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I would never want to read a screenplay before seeing the movie based on it. As a critic, in fact, it would be a violation of my responsibilities (and ethics) to do that. The film has to be seen on its own, as a completed work; a critic shouldn't rummage through the drafts before experiencing the finished piece -- whether it's a movie or a painting or a symphony. I'm even ambivalent about reading certain books before seeing the movie versions, too, and for the same reason that I don't like to see trailers, particularly of films I'm likely to write about: I don't want to harbor preconceived ideas (even unconscious impressions) when I watch the picture. As we all know, it's hard enough to get a clean look at a movie after all the advertising and interviews and seasonal previews and reviews...

But if you want to gain some understanding of how movies are actually made (movies in general and any movie in particular) it's often enlightening to go back and take look at how the screenplay (or various drafts, re-writes, polishes) evolved into the movie that eventually wound up on the screen. Some filmmakers like Clint Eastwood often claim to simply shoot a script "as written" (though he and Dustin Lance Black did some re-working, including adding a voiceover, on the "J. Edgar" screenplay). But it can be fascinating to see how the writer(s), director(s) and editor(s) shape the material throughout the entire process -- and how moving (or removing) images and lines from one context and placing them in another changes their meaning. This is now easier to do than ever before, because so many screenplays are available online -- legitimately (For Your Consideration at studio sites) and otherwise.

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Desert island DVDs (Matt's & mine & yours)

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Matt Zoller Seitz devotes his final Friday Night Seitz slideshow at Salon (he's starting as New York Magazine's TV critic Monday -- most deserved congrats!) to a list of his "Movies for a desert island." His rules: ten movies only, plus one short and one single season of a TV series, for a total of 12 titles. "Part of the fun of this exercise," he writes, "is figuring out what you think you can watch over and over, and what you can live without."

Matt's titles include "What's Opera, Doc?," Season One of "Deadwood," Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz," Terrence Malick's "The New World" (surprise!), Terrence Davies' "The Long Day Closes" (my #1 film of 1992), Joel & Ethan Coen's "Raising Arizona" (a movie I like, but consider among their lesser efforts) and Albert and David Maysles' "Salesman." Click here to see the complete list and Matt's comments.

OK, I'm game. So, the challenge, as MZS sets it up, is not just to pick "favorites," but to choose pictures that will stand up to repeated viewing since nobody is going to get you (or vote you) off the island and "It is assumed that you'll have an indestructible DVD player with a solar-recharging power source, so let's not get bogged down in refrigerator logic, mm'kay?"

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A piece of David Cronenberg's mind

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(Photo by Roger Ebert)

In his splendid Salon.com interview with David Cronenberg focusing on "A Dangerous Method," Andrew O'Hehir begins by noting that Cronenberg is "a beloved interview subject for film journalists" -- both because of the richness of his work and the stimulating quality of his conversation. I can testify to this, having interviewed Cronenberg several times over the years (starting with "Dead Ringers" in 1988, which in retrospect seems to have begun the second phase of his career). As O'Hehir says, Cronenberg is "a genuine intellectual in a realm crowded with poseurs and pretenders. He can talk easily about almost any topic you bring up; if he hadn't turned out to be one of the premier cinematic visionaries of his generation, it'd be easy to imagine him as a writer or philosopher or historian." Few filmmakers are as articulate about their own work.

What immediately struck me about the five paragraphs I'm about to quote -- in response to O'Hehir's first suggestion -- is the breadth and depth of Cronenberg's understanding of his own filmmaking process... and even the impetus and history behind auteurism. Cronenberg is a man who thinks when he speaks, exploring and refining his ideas as he communicates them. In the fast-serve business of media-coached mini-interviews and rigid, publicist-enforced talking points, that's a rarity.

O'Hehir raises an idea from Charles Drazin's book, French Cinema, "where he talks about the difference between old-school French movies, what they used to call the 'tradition de qualité,' mostly literary adaptations and historical dramas, and the auteurism of the New Wave, where you had to be a writer-director. It struck me that in your career you've almost gone backward, from the second kind of cinema to the first."

Cronenberg responds:

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#84 October 12, 2011

Marie writes: Behold an extraordinary collection of Steampunk characters, engines and vehicles created by Belgian artist Stephane Halleux. Of all the artists currently working in the genre, I think none surpass the sheer quality and detail to be found in his wonderful, whimsical pieces...

Left to right: Little Flying Civil, Beauty Machine, Le Rouleur de Patin(click images to enlarge)

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Top secret leakage from my 2010 Muriels ballot!

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It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)

You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:

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#49 February 9, 2011

Marie writes: They call it "The Shard" and it's currently rising over London akin to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and dwarfing everything around it, especially St. Paul's in front. I assume those are pigeons flying over-head and not buzzards. Ie: not impressed, but that's me and why I'm glad I saw London before they started to totally ruin it.Known as the "London Bridge Tower" before they changed the name, when completed in 2012, it will be the tallest building in Europe and 45th highest in the world. It's already the second highest free-standing structure in the UK after the Emley Moor transmitting station. The Shard will stand 1,017 ft high and have 72 floors, plus another 15 radiator floors in the roof. It's been designed with an irregular triangular shape from base to top and will be covered entirely in glass. The tower was designed by Renzo Piano, the Italian architect best know for creating Paris's Pompidou Centre of modern art with Richard Rogers, and more recently the New York Times Tower. You can read an article about it at the Guardian.  Here's the official website for The Shard. Photograph: Dan Kitwood.

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#46 January 19, 2011

The Grand Poobah writes: Here's a behind the scenes lookinside our control room! This is where the magic happens.

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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.

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