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Magic in the Moonlight

While Allen’s new picture, "Magic In The Moonlight," isn’t even close to being a disaster (for that, see, well, "Scoop"), I don’t think it’s unreasonable…

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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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.

"The ultimate liberation": "Shoah" on Blu-ray reminds us of why it is essential cinema

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Patrick Z. McGavin writes about "Shoah," which was just issued on Blu-ray by Criterion in a thorough package that makes the film's unique storytelling more transparent to the layperson. "Lanzmann has said the form and construction is the key to understanding his film," McGavin writes, "and with this new version, that process has never been more intuitive."

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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 art films of 2010

This is the last of my lists of the best films of 2010, and the hardest to name. Call it the Best Art Films. I can't precisely define an Art Film, but I knew I was seeing one when I saw these. I could also call them Adult Films, if that term hadn't been devalued by the porn industry. These are films based on the close observation of behavior. They are not mechanical constructions of infinitesimal thrills. They depend on intelligence and empathy to be appreciated.

They also require acting of a precision not necessary in many mass entertainments. They require directors with a clear idea of complex purposes. They require subtleties of lighting and sound that create a self-contained world. Most of all, they require sympathy. The directors care for their characters, and ask us to see them as individuals, not genre emblems. That requires us to see ourselves as individual viewers, not "audience members." That can be an intimate experience. I found it in these titles, which for one reason or another weren't on my earlier lists. Maybe next year I'll just come up with one alphabetical list of all the year's best films, and call it "The Best Films of 2011, A to Z."

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Avatar, the French New Wave and themorality of deep-focus (in 3-D)

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In 1959 Jean-Luc Godard famously proclaimed that tracking shots are a matter of morality -- an inversion of fellow Cahier du cinéma critic Luc Moullet's formulation that "morality is a matter of tracking shots" ("morale set affaire de travellings," sometimes translated as "morality is in the tracking shots"). The evangelical theorists behind what became known as the French New Wave had a tendency to ascribe moral values to cinematic style and technique.¹ André Bazin and the late Eric Rohmer, especially, championed the moral as well as aesthetic superiority of mise en scène over montage, of Hawksian "invisible cutting" over dictatorial Eisensteinian editing, and of deep-focus over a more selective, shallow depth-of-field. Bazin praised directors such as Orson Welles and William Wyler (in collaboration with cinematographer Gregg Toland) for staging shots so that "the viewer is at least given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend."

As David Bordwell summarized:

Their "deep-focus" style, he claimed, produced a more profound realism than had been seen before because they respected the integrity of physical space and time. According to Bazin, traditional cutting breaks the world into bits, a series of close-ups and long shots. But Welles and Wyler give us the world as a seamless whole. The scene unfolds in all its actual duration and depth. Moreover, their style captured the way we see the world; given deep compositions, we must choose what to look at, foreground or background, just as we must choose in reality. [...]

[Bazin wrote that deep-focus] "forces the spectator to participate in the meaning of the film by distinguishing the implicit relations" and creates "a psychological realism which brings the spectator back to the real conditions of perception."

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Name That Director!

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Click above to REALLY enlarge...

UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Lisa Nesselson from Paris: On the man who made you think you spoke French

May Contain Spoilers

Paris, Jan. 11 -- The phone rang at 5:30 p.m.. It was France's around-the-clock cable news station France24 asking if I could speak about the death of Eric Rohmer, live, in about 10 minutes. The news was very fresh in France and this was the first I'd heard of it.

Except for François Truffaut and Louis Malle, who both died relatively young, the most prolific talents of the French New Wave era are still at it. Claude Chabrol makes at least one film a year; Jacques Rivette and Alain Resnais released new features in 2009; Agnes Varda is busy mounting conceptual installations when she's not making her delightful documentaries; Jean-Luc Godard is still tinkering away on digital video.

You begin to think they're immortal -- that much like symphony conductors who live to ripe old ages because waving their arms around is excellent exercise, that "pointing into the distance" pose so characteristic of film directors may be a boon to their longevity.

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Eric Rohmer: In Memory

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We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.

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So many films, so little time

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I have before me a schedule of the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs 10 days. I have been looking at it for some time. I am paralyzed. There are so many films by important directors (not to mention important films by unknown directors), that it cannot be reduced to its highlights. The highlights alone, if run in alphabetical order, would take up all my space.

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Edward Yang, 1947 - 2007

Edward Yang in 2001. (AP photo)

Director Edward Yang, perhaps most familiar to US audiences for his 2000 epic "Yi Yi" (which won him Best Director honors at the Cannes Film Festival), died Friday at age 59, another victim of colon cancer. The Shanghai-born, Taipei-raised filmmaker died in Beverly Hills.

In the latest issue of cinema scope, Jonathan Rosenbaum writes: For $17 you can acquire Edward Yang’s greatest film, "A Brighter Summer Day" (1991) with English subtitles from www.asiafilm.com. On the back of my copy, one can read, “This masterpiece film is not currently being distributed in any video format worldwide, so we are making this available as a service to film lovers. If you know how we can contact Edward Yang to try to distribute BSD on DVD in North America, please contact us at (940) 497-FILM. Thank you and enjoy!” The only problem with all this is that this one-disc edition is perversely subdivided into only two chapters while the $15, two-disc version available from www.superhappyfun.com, also subtitled, has more normal chapter divisions. (The four-disc English-subtitled VCD version, which has no chapter breaks at all, no longer appears to be available.) Also, the asiafilm version is 228 minutes long, whereas IMDb rightly or wrongly lists the film’s original running time as 237 minutes. I can’t vouch for the running time of the two-disc version, except to point out that it starts and ends in the same way as the asiafilm version. (The inferior three-hour version, which Yang was originally talked into editing in order to get the film released in any form, appears to have vanished, like the two-hour version of Jacques Rivette’s "L’amour fou" [1969]; I say good riddance)"Yi-Yi" is available in a Criterion Collection DVD edition.

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Tavernier looks beyond usual suspects

During the Nazi Occupation of France, when the country was governed by the German-controlled Vichy administration, 220 films were made by French filmmakers. Bertrand Tavernier is fascinated by this fact: "None of them was anti-Semitic, pro-German, pro-collaboration, or pro-even Vichy. Except for one film which has two dubious lines, you never had a anti-Semitic remark in the films of that time--even though you had plenty in the 1930s. I wanted to try to understand why."

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Cannes 2001: Awards full of surprises

The jury stunned but did not displease a black-tie audience here Sunday night, with the awards for the 54th Cannes Film Festival. It's not that the winners were unpopular, but that they were unexpected. Everyone predicted Nanni Moretti's "The Son's Room," the story of an Italian family devastated by the death of a son, would win something but not the Palme d'Or, or top prize. Everyone expected French legend Isabelle Huppert to win as best actress for her searing performance in "The Piano Teacher," and she did -- but not that the film also would win for best actor and take home the special jury prize.

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French greats in top form

CANNES, France -- The old men still have the right stuff. Jean-Luc Godard at 70 and Jacques Rivette at 73, two founders of the French New Wave, have returned in triumph to Cannes with their new films for Rivette, the first in 10 years. And three younger rebels also scored, as this year's festival bounced back from its early doldrums. Sean Penn's "The Pledge" and David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" were cheered, and the Italian director Nanni Moretti is a front-runner for a major prize after the premiere of his "The Son's Room."

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Giants return to Cannes

CANNES, France-- Forty-one years after his "Breathless" swept in the French New Wave and helped herald the modern era of filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard is back at the Cannes Film Festival with a new movie. The onetime enfant terrible is now 71, and the 1960s "film generation" that marched under his banner is old and gray, but his very presence inspires a certain trembling in the air as the 54th Cannes festival opens. The giants are back in town.

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Star Power and Small Gems Get Equal Time at Festival

In the autumn march of film festivals, Chicago's comes after Montreal, Telluride and Venice, and is held at about the same time as New York. All of these festivals are essentially fishing in the same pond, so the remarkable thing about the 31st annual Chicago event is how many new or unfamiliar titles have been discovered.

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Emmanuelle Beart in Cannes

She sits on the balcony outside a hotel suite at the Cannes Film Festival and smokes a cigarette and looks very serious. I have met a lot of French actresses, and two things they are very good at is smoking cigarettes and looking serious. Not many of them look this good while they are doing it.

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