In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

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Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

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Finding Fela

Alex Gibney's "Finding Fela," about the legendary African pop star and political activist, feels like the rough draft of a very 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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Cast and Crew

* 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.

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Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize in literature; film critic Stanley Kauffmann dies at 97; SF Film Society director Ted Hope steps down; documentary oversaturation; Will Self on the changing role of the critic.

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A Kiss is Still a Kiss: Editor Donna Martin Recalls Working with Roger Ebert

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A remembrance by Roger Ebert's book editor Donna Martin: "I had never even seen "Siskel & Ebert" on television when I knew I wanted to publish Roger's first book. John McMeel, president of Universal Press Syndicate/Andrews McMeel Publishing in Kansas City, had met Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom back when John was selling syndicated features to newspapers."

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#166 May 8, 2013

Marie writes: the great Ray Harryhausen, the monster innovator and Visual Effects legend, passed away Tuesday May 7, 2013 in London at the age of 92. As accolades come pouring in from fans young and old, and obituaries honor his achievements, I thought club members would enjoy remembering what Harry did best.

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#150 January 9, 2013

Marie writes: Behold the amazing Art of Greg Brotherton and the sculptures he builds from found and re-purposed objects - while clearly channeling his inner Tim Burton. (Click to enlarge.)

"With a consuming drive to build things that often escalate in complexity as they take shape, Greg's work is compulsive. Working with hammer-formed steel and re-purposed objects, his themes tend to be mythological in nature, revealed through a dystopian view of pop culture." - Official website

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The Girl: Putty in Hitch's hands

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"The Girl" premieres on HBO at 9:00pm (8:00pm Central) on Saturday, Oct. 20. It will also be available on HBO GO.

by Jeff Shannon

October, 1961: A New York fashion model on the verge of Hollywood stardom, 31-year-old Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) is invited to a celebratory lunch with legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his wife Alma (Imelda Staunton), who's also his long-time collaborator. A divorced single mother (of future actress Melanie Griffith, then four years old), Hedren is plucked from obscurity to star in "The Birds," Hitchcock's highly anticipated follow-up to his phenomenally successful 1960 thriller, "Psycho." After Alma sees her in a TV commercial ("I like her smile," she says to "Hitch"), she arranges a meeting. Secretly smitten, Hitchcock directs Hedren's screen test in his own Bel Air home and, shortly thereafter, offers a toast.

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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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#136 October 3, 2012

Marie writes: It's that time of year again!  Behold the shortlisted nominees for The Turner Prize: 2012.  Below, Turner Prize nominee Spartacus Chetwynd performs 'Odd Man Out 2011' at Tate Britain on October 1, 2012 in London, England.

(click image to enlarge.)

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Tom Shales lunches with Siskel & Ebert

My good friend Tom Shales won the Pulitzer Prize while writing for The Washington Post from 1972 to 2010.

Sixteen years after the article below appeared, when Gene Siskel fell ill we needed a substitute on the first shows Gene would miss, and we both immediately agreed on the same man: Tom Shales.

Tom retired in 2010. The loss to journalism was immense. Now it gives me the greatest pleasure to announce that Tom will be writing a regular blog for this site!

By Tom Shales / September 4, 1983

The Washington Post

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel are the two best-known movie critics in the country, and, now that Archie and Edith have left us, probably the country's most celebrated squabblers as well. They splooshed into the mainstream with "Sneak Previews" on PBS and last year left that show to start their own commercially syndicated series of film reviews, "At the Movies."

Of course the American dream now is to be a star first and whatever else you are second, but though people ask them for autographs and they are recognized on the street--and though they've been parodied on "SCTV Comedy Network" and were offered the chance to play themselves in the current comedy hit "Strange Brew" (they declined)--Ebert, 40, and Siskel, 37, insist they're still a pair of unspoiled balcony-haunters who spend hour upon hour in the dark with their passion, the movies. Next month they begin their second season of "At the Movies"; in Washington, the program moves from WDCA-TV (Channel 20) to WJLA-TV (Channel 7), although a station spokesman says it's not known yet exactly where the show will be slotted.

The wee little pointy-heads who run such TV stations initially elected to put "At the Movies" on past midnight, when hardly anyone could see it. Now, the spokesman says, a likelier, if not wildly more attractive, spot is 3:30 Sunday afternoons.

And there Roger-the-fat-one and Gene-the-balding-one will be, holding forth in a style that has become increasingly entertaining. No matter how nutty their opinions may be (Roger loved "Four Friends," that egregious howler about a flock of drips stumbling through the '60s; Siskel thinks the so-so "Slap Shot" was "a fabulous movie, a marvelous film"), it is sheerest understatement to say they work well together on television.

It is also sheerest understatement to say they are cheered and relieved to be out of public television.

"Everything that you think about commercial TV--the playing to the lowest common denominator, and so on--we experienced on occasion in public TV, and we have yet to experience in commercial syndication," says Siskel, who leans forward when he talks and whose right hand is always gesturing as if it were pulling great thoughts out of the air. He is the film critic of the Chicago Tribune.

"By PBS, we mean Channel 11 in Chicago, which is the only station we ever dealt with it produces "Sneak Previews" ," says Ebert, who compulsively folds and unfolds his napkin into little squares at lunch and is film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. "We never met anyone from PBS; we never talked with anyone from PBS."

And this despite the fact that with Ebert and Siskel at the helm, "Sneak Previews" logged the best ratings of any weekly half-hour show in PBS history.

"We'll tell you some interesting stories--maybe," says Ebert. "We got things like, I wasn't allowed to use the word 'boudoir.' They said, 'Nobody knows it.' It was a French boudoir comedy we were reviewing! In January of 1982, we had an idea for a theme show on homosexuals in the movies, because for the first time major studios were making big-budget pictures with recognizable stars who played homosexuals. It took us 3 1/2 months to get that show on the air. Their argument was 'Guys, nobody wants to hear about that stuff, it's just unpleasant.' "

Tribune Entertainment Co., which produces and syndicates "At the Movies," has placed the show on 122 stations for the new season, and a producer there expects the number to go up to 132 soon. Siskel and Ebert were on at least 100 more stations with PBS, but most of those were UHF stations with small audiences. Siskel and Ebert say ratings show they are reaching 11 million viewers a week now, compared to about 4 million on PBS, and Ebert says "fewer compromises" have to be made today than when they played PBS.

When the team quit "Sneak Previews," it looked like a case of the galloping greeds. They didn't like their puny PBS salaries and became six-figure Sammies when the Tribune Co. took over. But the two critics say that it isn't that simple.

"Well, we felt we were going to be viewed as the venal guys who said 'We're leaving PBS to get rich,' " Siskel says. But he claims WTTW planned to take the show away from PBS stations and go into the commercial syndication business with it itself. William J. McCarter, president and general manager of WTTW, says from Chicago that the charge isn't true, and sounds mystified by the rancor of his two former Sunshine Boys.

"I'm just kind of amazed at all of this," says McCarter. "I'm surprised at the hostility. I think this is an attempt to elicit an argument where there is none."

Ebert says of McCarter, "The only time we were ever in his office was when we walked in to quit." He also says he and Siskel took a big risk leaving the sure-thing of the PBS cocoon and venturing out into the competitive TV syndication business, where many a fortune has not been won, many another fortune lost: "We gambled everything. We could have been off the air watching 'Sneak Previews' and feeling pretty silly."

"We were scared to death," says Siskel.

"We were scared ----less," says Ebert.

"I'm gonna hear that opening jingle and my name ain't gonna be on that candy box!" exclaims Siskel, referring to the opening of the program and the way the credits pop up.

Whatever one may think of Siskel and Ebert, they have their qualities. The Midwesternness of the show, and of their points of view, is refreshing, especially when contrasted with the self-righteous bombast of the New York film reviewing school. On television, they have little competition. In city after city, movies are reviewed on local stations by knuckleheaded rubes rendered helpless with laughter at their own lame jokes. Gene Shalit, of the NBC "Today" show, has been nothing more than a hired fool for years.

And then there are the two New York yokels who replaced Siskel and Ebert on PBS: Jeffrey Lyons, to whom the notion of insight or analysis is more foreign than Jupiter, and Neal Gabler, who talks down to viewers as if they were all 3 years old and looks into the camera the way Dracula regards a vacant neck. They are both pitiful. Ebert and Siskel are asked to comment on their successors and the big talent hunt that produced them.

"Let me put it this way," Ebert begins.

"I think I'm going to like this," Siskel says, grinning.

"First of all, we were not consulted. Although we had our candidates, if anybody had asked us. I would have put a woman on, for example. When we were hired, there was no thought of 'casting' and there was no thought of 'chemistry.' We were hired because we were the two movie critics at the two daily papers in Chicago. We had no auditions."

"This is so true about the way people try to force things and screw it up," says Siskel. "It's a classic."

"I mean," says Ebert playfully, "they hired Siskel, so you knew they weren't looking for anything--"

"Roger had NO television experience," Siskel interrupts. "Virtually none!" Siskel had been doing reviews since 1974 on the CBS-owned station in Chicago, WBBM-TV; he was hired by Van Gordon Sauter, now the president of CBS News, then the news director of the station.

"In the last analysis," says Ebert, "all the auditions were overruled, and the producer who had created 'Sneak Previews' was overruled, by Mr. McCarter. So the auditions meant nothing. Well, one of the two guys did audition. But one of the demoralizing things at WTTW is that people sifted through 350 applications and 45 tapes and did two rounds of 11 auditions each and were eventually overruled by a man who said, 'No, we're going to take the other guy.' And they had to get two people who they have to fly in from New York every week! There must have been people outside New York who could do that show well."

"All right, all right," says Siskel, "and I'll give you something else, Rodge. There might have been two people inside New York who could have done that show well, too."

Oooooooo! Meannnnnn!

"Well, we don't envy them," says Ebert of the new duo. "We were able to develop in obscurity; they had to come in and take over. What I'm surprised at is that they didn't do anything at all to change the format of the show."

"The best moments in our show are when the camera disappears, and it happens quite often with us, when we start talking to each other, and it's colleagues talking," says Siskel. "And I think those guys Lyons and Gabler are heavily rehearsed."

"They have no spontaneous crosstalk provided for," says Ebert. "It's all read. Knowing something of the producer they're working for, I have the feeling we are hearing the fourth or fifth takes of those jokes of theirs."

"I say it's rehearsed," says Siskel, "and I'll also say--here's what I honestly think: I don't find them interesting as individuals or as a couple. I find us mildly interesting as individuals and more than mildly interesting as a couple. And I believe that, I'm not embarrassed to say it, and I don't care what happens to me if I do say it."

And now, on to Aroma the Educated Skunk!

Siskel and Ebert ended each "Sneak Previews" with a "Dog of the Week," each critic's pick for most resounding clinker, heralded by the arrival in the show's little prop balcony of Spot the Wonder Dog. But Spot left the show under mysterious circumstances (the trades were abuzz with speculation). We wanted the real story.

"You want the story of Spot, I'll tell you the story of Spot," says Ebert. "Spot was fired by PBS because of his salary demands. He was getting $40 a week."

"No, I think he'd gotten higher--65 a show," says Siskel. "And there was a fee negotiated, apparently, for extra time. If we had a retake or a lunch break or a camera screwed up, the time sequence might change and the dog would have to stay longer. And I think what happened was they wouldn't pay Bob Hoffmann, his owner, the overtime for his dog. You can laugh about it, but a deal's a deal, and they tried to back off."

Pooch Ankles Chi Crix Skein.

"So Spot left," says Ebert. "Unceremoniously. And they hired this new dog, Sparky. Sparky died of kidney failure. Sparky would leave the set during the show. Once, in the middle of the Dog-of-the-Week segment, Sparky hurled himself over the balcony! Now it's only a three-foot drop, but from the camera's point of view, you figure it's got to be 25 feet to the floor, so it looked like Sparky was killing himself! Sparky would p--- on the set, he would leave, he would bark. He would make all kinds of noises. Spot was no trouble at all. He came in, did his job, and he'd leave. He wouldn't have recognized us on the street."

"That was a totally arrogant little dog," says Siskel admiringly. "He was a star. His trainer called him The Farrah Fawcett of Dogs."

"That was when they were negotiating," says Ebert. "The trainer said, 'You don't understand, this is the Farrah Fawcett of Dogs.' The producer said, 'In that case, we're looking more for the Marjorie Main of dogs.' "

When they went to commercial TV, the critics thought of trying to get Spot to make a comeback. But "he wasn't getting any younger," Ebert recalls, and then hatched the notion of hiring another of trainer Hoffman's pets, Aroma the Educated Skunk, who became a regular on the show's renamed Stinker-of-the-Week segment. Except that this season he'll be an irregular, says Siskel, appearing only from time to time.

What effect this will have on the ratings, of course, remains to be seen.

Ebert and Siskel both say they agree on movies more than they disagree, but it's the disagreements that keep the show bubbling. This summer, Ebert gushed over "Zelig" and Siskel thought it was not very good. Siskel liked "Octopussy"; Ebert didn't. Ebert thought the aliens in the basement-budget sci-fi film "Wavelength" were kind of cute but Siskel thought the whole thing was dreadful.

It's really fur-flying time, though, when Ebert brings up two movies Siskel liked last spring and winter: "Table for Five" and "Six Weeks," a pair of tearjerkers that got the heave-ho from the public as well as most critics. Ebert thinks Siskel was susceptible because he was charmed by the kids in the film and that he was starting to have heavy paternal thoughts himself. And lo, it was subsequently revealed that Siskel and wife Marlene are expecting their first child Sept. 28.

Ebert and Siskel argue so loudly over the two films that other people in the restaurant look over at the table. But they should feel honored. Having Ebert and Siskel spat in person is like having Pavarotti sing outside your window, or, well, almost.

" 'Six Weeks' is easily the worst movie of last year, 'Table for Five' is easily the worst movie of this year," says Ebert. "Those movies are absolutely awful."

"Number one," says Siskel, "I'm sorry for you that you didn't have the joyful experience that I had at those films."

"Ha ha. You had a joyful experience at 'Six Weeks'?"

"Okay now, look, wait a second. . . . "

"I'm sorry," Ebert huffs. "Go right ahead! You hardly ever get a chance to talk."

"One, I will make a statement between the two films. I liked 'Table for Five' more than 'Six Weeks.' Roger is completely opposed to every element of 'Six Weeks,' apparently."

"Much of it was in focus," scowls Ebert.

"Now wait a minute! I want to ask you a question about two elements of 'Six Weeks' and every element of 'Table for Five.' Is there a single performance you can fault in 'Table for Five'?"

"Jon Voight," says Ebert. Voight was the star of the film.

"The performance, or the character as written--which, Rodge?"

"The performance was quite distracting. Performance and character are very closely related here."

"Not to me! Not to me! I'm able to keep them apart!"

"That is an ad hominem argument if I ever heard one!"

"Now, you know you use the word 'ad hominem' whenever you're wrong," Siskel says.

"Once Gene said to me, 'If you like the woman so much, why don't you ask her out?' " Ebert confides.

"That's my favorite for you, big fella," Siskel says, laughing. "When you compared Katherine Herrold's performance in 'The Sender' to Ingrid Bergman in 'Gaslight.' And I said, 'Roger, just ask her out for a date.' " Siskel smiles gleefully.

"That was an idiotic statement, really brilliant," growls Ebert. "I'll tell you about Jon Voight . . ."

"Deal with the performance, not the film! I know what you're going to do; you're going to deal with the plot structure, and you're going to deal--"

"Let me talk! You asked me a question, I'd like to answer!"

"All right, but answer on the grounds I asked it."

"I will, I will!" He regains his composure. "Voight's performance is so bizarrely mannered that it is impossible for us to accept the character as a plausible person who should have happen to him what the plot argues should happen to him."

"There you go--plot!" gloats Siskel. "I knew you wouldn't go to performance!"

"But you're making some kind of bizarre distinction here."

"No, it's the words that are written on the page and the way they are performed. And I asked you about the way they are performed."

"Okay," says Ebert, gathering up his strength and enunciating very carefully. "He performed them in a way that made it almost painful for me to watch him. I'm looking at this guy and thinking, 'He needs help.' "

"The character needs help?"

"What is this, rhetoric class? You asked me about the performance, not the character; I told you about the performance, now you accuse me of talking about the character!"

"You were talking about the character!"

"I'm talking about the performance!"

And on they go, Alphonsing and Gastoning like this for many more minutes. Earlier, before the fight, Siskel briefly waxes philosophic. "This is how I feel about movies," he says. "I'm still a newspaper man at heart. I feel that I'm on the national dream beat. Because I think that movies, particularly successful ones or patterns that float up, are the coalesced vapors of the consciousness of a society."

"Whooooooo!" whistles Ebert. He rolls his eyes sarcastically. Siskel laughs. Ebert laughs. These guys not only have their act together; they are eminently capable of taking it on the road, and it travels pretty well. © 1983, Washington Post 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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#89 November 16, 2011

Marie writes: I was browsing the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest Galleries and came upon this amazing shot - click to enlarge!

The Birth Of Earth: Photo by Terje Sorgjerd"Getting close or getting too close? Photo taken of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption that would grind most of europe air traffic. This is the scariest moment in my life, and also the most beautiful and frightening display of raw force I have ever seen." - Terje Sorgjerd

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#85 October 19, 2011

Lesson for the day: How to have fun while wasting time... Marie writes: welcome to DRAW A STICK MAN, a delightful Flash-based site prompting viewers to draw a simple stick figure which then comes to life!  Ie: the program animates it. You're given instructions about what to draw and when, which your dude uses to interact with objects onscreen. Thanks go to club member Sandy Kahn who heard about it from her pal Lauren, in Portland Oregon.Note: here's a screen-cap of what I drew; I've named him Pumpkin Head.

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#45 January 12, 2011

Marie writes: I love cinematography and worship at its altar; a great shot akin to a picture worth a thousand words. The best filmmakers know how to marry words and images. And as the industry gears up for the Golden Globes and then the Oscars, and the publicity machine starts to roll in earnest, covering the Earth with a daily blanket of freshly pressed hype, I find myself reaching past it and backwards to those who set the bar, and showed us what can be accomplished and achieved with light and a camera...

Cinematography by Robert Krasker - The Third Man (1949) (click to enlarge images)

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#44 January 5, 2011

Roger and Chaz outside the CBC Studios. They were recently featured on CBS News Sunday Morning to discuss the launch of their new show "Ebert Presents At The Movies".

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Power to the people

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Q. I'm just curious, what led you to give "Black Swan" a rating of 3.5 stars, while "The Wrestler" got 4? The two films have been compared a lot, so I'm interested to hear why you thought one was slightly better than the other.  (Sarah S. Evans, Indianapolis)

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Angelina Jolie: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"

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The reviews of "Salt," re-teaming Angelina Jolie with director Phillip Noyce, fell into two distinct camps: those that treated it as an action/espionage thriller, and those that saw it as something rarer: an old-fashioned star vehicle. Of course it's both, but (as I said in my second paragraph) I think it's even more fascinating as an examination and appreciation of Jolie's persona, on- and off-screen.

Kathleen Murphy observed that Noyce "has turned 'Salt' into a movie about being a movie star, about gorgeous Angelina Jolie dressing up and down, working up a sweat, displaying her exotic self for our voyeuristic pleasure...."

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Salt: It's a movie! It's a spy! It's a nuclear antiproliferation treaty!

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Phillip Noyce's (and definitely Angelina Jolie's) lean and unpretentious "Salt" is proof positive that dumb summer thrillers don't have to be stupid. That is, it revels in absurd implausibilities that are as outrageous as in the movie playing the next auditorium down the hall (and the one next to that), but it never breaks a sweat trying to convince you that it's anything other than what it is. The difference between "Salt" and most ludicrous trying-too-hard action movies is a matter of grace under pressure: a veteran director with a firm command (and respect for) the integrity of screen space; a stripped-down screenplay that gives you just enough exposition to create suspense and keep you guessing about what's going on (What's she doing? Why is she doing it? Does she know why she's doing it?); and an iconic leading lady whose poise is exceeded only by her stubborn resilience.

And then there's her face, which is the real subject of the film. You won't find a more thrilling moment in summer movies than the shot -- "Queen Christina" via "The Scarlet Empress" -- of Jolie's Evelyn Salt, wearing a Russian fur hat and wrap, standing on the Staten Island Ferry, with Ellis Island in the distance. The camera moves in on her from behind, causing the distant silhouette of the Statue of Liberty to sweep across the horizon from right to left, then swings around her into a breathtaking close-up profile. The whole movie is contained in that shot, from a far shot of the abstract Lady Liberty, into a close-up of another statuesque lady of questionable loyalties. (I couldn't help but think of Truffaut dollying around the stone bust of the Greek goddess with the serene, unreadable expression in "Jules and Jim" -- Jolie's Eve(lyn) being as mysterious and even more deadly than Jeanne Moreau's Catherine who, after all, was not CIA.) The shot has nothing to do with the plot; it just serves to get Salt to a rendezvous with a Russian sleeper cell. But it's a great movie-star moment, the kind of image you could imagine being built around Garbo or Dietrich or Ingrid Bergman.

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Where I'm coming from...

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"I don't think you go to a play to forget, or to a movie to be distracted. I think life generally is a distraction and that going to a movie is a way to get back, not go away." -- writer/director/actor Tom Noonan (see epigraphs at right)

The whole reason I keep at this blog is because it gives me the freedom to write about whatever I want and not have to write about anything I don't. And it lets me communicate with Viewers Like You. After many years on what we used to call the "review treadmill" of unidirectional daily and weekly newspaper movie reviewing (with tight deadlines and/or tight space restrictions), this is a luxurious change of pace for me. I can freely obsess over minutiae in obscure (or mainstream) films, new and old, if it strikes my fancy. And I have the liberty to virtually ignore things I don't care about that are being obsessively covered elsewhere ("Twilight," Lindsay Lohan's jail time, Harry Potter, Comic-Con, Oscars, box-office). Then again, if some pop-culture phenomenon piques my curiosity (say, a new movie by James Cameron or Christopher Nolan, or The Return of 3-D), I may just find myself compelled to say something about it. Then we can examine it, look at it from different angles, and bandy it about.

But in the more than five years since I started writing Scanners as a separate editorial offshoot (an annex, really) of RogerEbert.com, I've never sought to give equal coverage to all kinds of motion pictures. This is a blog about looking critically at movies -- based on my ideas of film criticism (of which I have many after doing it for so long) and my kinds of movies, and positive and negative examples that serve to illuminate both. That's all.

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Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a friend have been debating about my qualities as a film critic, and they've involved a considerable critic, Dan Schneider, in their discussion. I will say that he has given the question a surprising amount of thought and attention over the years, and may well be correct in some aspects. What his analysis gives me is a renewed respect and curiosity about his own work.

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The Eleven Worst Ambiguous Movie Endings

Everybody hates it when they don't explain everything that happened by the time the movie is over. What we need at the end is not open-endedness but clarity, loose-end tying-up, closure. We need more movies like "Psycho" (unfortunately Simon Oakland has passed, but Larry King is still with us) and "Mulholland Dr." -- movies that take a little time to explain exactly what happened so we're not left feeling stupid all the way home. You know what they say: The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you end the story. Well, the same goes for the ending: The difference between a good ending and a bad ending is how good the ending is. Here are eleven of the most outrageously unsatisfactory ambiguous endings in movie history:

"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Scarlett O'Hara says, "I'll go home. And I'll think of some way to get him back. After all... tomorrow is another day." That's not the ending of a movie -- that's the beginning of act three! Put up or shut up, Scarlett. Clark Gable has just said the word "Damn" at you and that's it? If tomorrow is such another day, then bring it on!

"Casablanca" (1942) What do you mean Ingrid Bergman goes off with Paul Henreid and all Bogart's left with is the barest hint of a homosexual future with Claude Rains? At the end he puts her on a damn plane (something about how she doesn't amount to a hill of beans) and he and Rains walk off into the fog together as Bogart says, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Whoa! What the hell happened then? What if "Brokeback Mountain" ended right after Heath Ledger threw up? What kind of ending would that be? And how does Peter Lorre figure into it?

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How to read a movie

At left: Hitchcock's "Notorious." Bergman on strong axis. Grant at left. Bergman lighter, Grant shadowed. Grant above, Bergman below. Movement toward lower right. The attention and pressure is on her.

I've mentioned from time to time the "shot at a time" sessions I do at film festivals and universities, sifting through a film with the help of the audience. The e-mails I receive indicate this is perceived as some kind of esoteric exercise. Actually, it's something anyone can do, including you, and you don't need to be an expert, because the audience, and the film itself, are your most helpful collaborators. Of course it would be wise to research a film you hope to dismantle in public, and be familiar with its director and context, but I believe the process in its pure form could be applied to a film you've never even heard of. I want to tell you how.

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