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Life Itself

A moving, funny, raucous, wide-ranging look at the man who founded this site.

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Closed Curtain

"Closed Curtain" is invigorating and courageous, yet one wishes its director would soon gain the freedom to make other kinds of movies again.

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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.

Insanity Set to Pop Culture Deconstruction

* "Detention" is available on Blu-ray and Amazon Instant, and "Girl Walk//All Day" is available for free on Vimeo.

In its drift from one receptive viewer to the next, a cinematic motif or choice soundtrack selection bristles at the prospect of first exposure. Luis Bacalov's titular, Elvis-aping ballad for "Django Unchained" washed recently for the first time over many filmgoers' ears, and thus became their primary recollection. The same can and should not be said, however, about the western's mid-climax "duet" from 2Pac and James Brown later on, which aimed for adrenaline but landed on awkward bafflement instead. Call that disappointing instance decoupage or mash-up, but a post-modern cut-and-paste can also work wonders under the right framework: Two remarkable films from 2012 - Joseph Kahn's madcap teen genre "Detention" and Jacob Krupnick's feature-length music video "Girl Walk//All Day" - operate on the opposite assumption; that their usage of pop culture sources finds audiences second-hand, and in doing so ensure their unique re-appropriation attains an euphoric fusion overall.

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My new job. In his own words.

My new voice belongs to Edward Herrmann. He has allowed me to use it for 448 pages. The actor has recorded the audiobook version of my memoir, Life Itself, and my author's copies arrived a few days ago.

Listening to it, I discovered for the first time a benefit from losing my own speaking voice: If I could still speak, I suppose I would probably have recorded it myself, and I wouldn't have been able to do that anywhere as near as well as Herrmann does.

My editor, Mitch Hoffman, suggested a few readers he was confident would do a good job. Herrmann's name leaped up from his email.

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Uncle Boonmee as a video installation

May Contain Spoilers

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest movie "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" scored some points from me at the beginning. After the enigmatic opening sequence featuring a cow and the jungle shrouded in strange atmosphere, the following sequence with a car going along some country road drew my attention. The land was different, the trees and plants surrounding the road were also different, and the climate was also different, but the mood was somehow familiar to me.

It was not different from what I remember from our family's occasional short journey to my grandmother's country village. We also went there by a car, we also went along a paved country road, and I used to pensively look at the landscape outside car while a little bored in backseat.

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#40 December 8, 2010

From the Big Kahuna: Yes, this is the front of the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, where Ebertfest is held every year. The old marquee was showing its age, and will be replaced by the time Ebertfest 2011 is held on April 27-30. Update: I read in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that the new marquee is still in design, but park officials expect it to be a better complement to the theater's Italian Renaissance-style architecture and resemble the 1921 original marquee. When concepts are finalized, they will go before the park board for approval.

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Drinking his way to hell

May Contain Spoilers

Spending almost two hours with the relentlessly drunk character is not a pleasant thing at all, and it is also not easy to watch the man who chooses to abandon himself to his own hell. He is almost near at the bottom. All he can do is moving further to the final destination he has been reaching for. He still has some fancy about getting out of his torment, but it only reminds him that he has already crossed the line. He screams out of frustration near the end of the movie, "It's not possible -- not in this world!"

John Huston's "Under the Volcano"(1984) poignantly looks at one of the bleakest states of mind. This is a sad portrayal of a man struggling with his addiction and the agonizing contradiction resulting from it. As one character in the movie says, no one can live without love, but he cannot accept it even if he has desperately yearned for.

The movie is mainly about one unfortunate day of the former British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) who has been stuck in Cuernavaca, Mexico. According to him, he resigned his post for himself, but that may be not true considering his present state. He is a drunkard going through the final stages of alcoholism where the drinking is necessary for getting "sober." He says he can deal with his addiction ("Surely you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between, uh, the shake of too little and, uh, the abyss of too much"), but his abstinence is just the brief moment of looking at his glass. His body soon craves for alcohol, he frantically searches for the bottle, and, after satisfying the need, he passes out.

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Film as battleground: Love, hate, indifference...

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A Jean-Luc Godard movie is required to bewilder, astonish, bore and infuriate its film festival audience -- especially the critical contingent. That's why it's there. JLG's "Film Socialisme," which may or may not be his last directorial effort, premiered at Cannes to a cacophony of criticism, rapturous and contemptuous. Some of it has also been exceptionally entertaining -- almost as much fun to read as the reviews for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" last summer. In the case of Godard, however, the critical debates take on a nearly religious dimension as believers and debunkers argue over whether there's meaning to be found in the sacred text or whether it's all just an inconsequential, obfuscatory fraud.

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Art that reaches backward and points forward

Bruce Eaton, in his 331/3 book on Big Star's "Radio City" (2009):

Beyond talent, there's the often dismissed importance of experience -- in music and life. Does an artist have something interesting to say and the ability to say it in a unique and interesting way? The answer is usually "not really." One of the chief reasons that rock and roll from the 1960s and early 1970s still looms large is that its creators had deep reserves of experience to draw upon when the time finally came to go to the well in the recording studio. Take The Beatles or The Stones, Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. Each knew hundreds upon hundreds of cover tunes -- a disparaged concept today but vital to learning how music works -- and had played endless gigs trying to sell them to indifferent, if not downright hostile, audience. That experience takes patience but it eventually can get you to a point where you can write songs of your own that become a meaningful and permanent part of other peoples' lives.

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Contra-Basterds

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I hope you're enjoying all the arguments swirling around "Inglourious Basterds" as much as I am -- not just here, but all over the place. Since I posted "Some ways to watch Inglourious Basterds [sic]," I've been reading other people's reviews and comments and interviews about the movie and, hell, even Quentin Tarantino doesn't always agree with Quentin Tarantino about what the movie's up to. (And why should he? Like all of us, he contains multitudes.) It's not about the Holocaust, but it is about the Holocaust; it's not real, but it's real; it's not fantasy, but it's fantasy; it's not history, but it's history; it's not amoral, but it's amoral; it's not moral, but it's moral...

What some people have difficulty with is exactly what others delight in: "Inglorious Basterds" is never situated in one reality or another reality. It's always juggling various combinations of reality and unreality -- history, alt-history, war movie (platoon movie, mission movie, spy movie, detective movie, propaganda movie, European art movie...), cartoon, folklore, satire, comic book, revenge fantasy, etc. -- and the combinations change from one moment to the next. And that, I think, is its subject. I don't think there's anything more to it than QT trying to create movie-moments. He does, and some of them are superb. I don't blame people who find its story and characters thin, or factual liberties preposterous, or generic conventions twisted, or (a-)morality ambiguous, or humor offensive, but he's got no reason to apologize for creating his alternative historical universe in a Hollywood movie -- a world in which all of the above are woven into its warp and woof.

Because "Inglourious Basterds" provides so much to talk about and to interpret, I thought I'd put together some fascinating observations (some of which I wish I'd made myself; some of which I think are off-base, but nevertheless revealing of something about the film) and set them bouncing off one another to get your own analytical juices flowing, starting with QT's (and others') takes on the nature of the world in which it unreels:

"I stop short of calling it a fantasy. I present it in this fairytale kind of thing as far as for the masses to take in, but that's not where I'm coming from. Where I'm coming from is my characters changed the course of the war. Now that didn't happen, because my characters didn't exist, but if they had existed, everything that happens in the movie is possible."-- QT, after a Museum of Jewish Heritage screening in Manhattan

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A walk on the 'Wild' side

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Q. I got a chuckle out of the Movie Glossary entry titled "The Walk." This shot, of the characters lined up and walking meaningfully toward the camera, became so hackneyed it was used three times in each and every episode of the reality TV game show "Fear Factor."

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Movie Answer Man (06/01/2003)

Q. I don't know how it is in Chicago, but the critics' screenings in Philadelphia have been heavy with ridiculous security. Critics are scanned, frisked, probed and body-checked. Bags are searched and cell phone are confiscated. At the local screening of Fox's "Down with Love," The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey refused to relinquish her cell phone and was refused admittance to the screening. She demanded an apology from Fox (for being treated "like a criminal") and a refund of the $12 she spent on cab fares to and from the screening. Similar treatment occurred at "X2" and, to a lesser degree, at "The Matrix Reloaded." Do studio officials actually think that full-time, paid professional critics would download one of their films at a screening or be stupid enough to even try? Do you think they take the same precautions at regular paid performances for the public, where such an event is more likely to occur? The thievery of copyrighted works is more likely to occur at those awful evening, radio-sponsored screenings or at public performances. I can't figure out if this is yet another anti-critic ploy by the studios or if it's just another example of the rampant sense of self-importance in the movie industry. (Joe Baltake, film critic, Sacramento Bee)

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Jodie Foster goes to college

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LOS ANGELES - I'm not surprised that Jodie Foster is going to college - to Yale, if she's admitted. Other 17-year-old actresses might want to stay in Hollywood, do three pictures a year and try for a television series. But I've got a hunch that Jodie Foster is different, and she needs all the higher education she can get, because in her 20s she is going to do extraordinary things in the movie business.

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