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Transcendence

"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.

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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.

#180 August 14, 2013

Marie writes: Much beloved and a never ending source of amusement, Simon's Cat is a popular animated cartoon series by the British animator Simon Tofield featuring a hungry house cat who uses increasingly heavy-handed tactics to get its owner to feed it. Hand-drawn using an A4-size Wacom Intuos 3 pen and tablet, Simon has revealed that his four cats - called Teddy, Hugh, Jess and Maisie - provide inspiration for the series, with Hugh being the primary inspiration. And there's now a new short titled "Suitcase". To view the complete collection to date, visit Simon's Cat at YouTube.

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#174 July 1, 2013

Marie writes: The West Coast is currently experiencing a heat wave and I have no air conditioning. That said, and despite it currently being 80F inside my apartment, at least the humidity is low. Although not so low, that I don't have a fan on my desk and big glass of ice tea at the ready. My apartment thankfully faces East and thus enjoys the shade after the sun has crossed the mid-point overhead. And albeit perverse in its irony, it's because it has been so hot lately that I've been in the mood to watch the following film again and which I highly recommend to anyone with taste and a discerning eye.

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My mom, the criminal; two new books that want to be the next Lolita; heart disease cut in half, but we're not cheering; how to take care of your smartphone battery; remembering the actress Elizabeth Hartman; R. Crumb's rejected gay marriage New Yorker cover; the most popular movies outside the United States

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Toronto #2: Victory at any price?

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Ramin Bahrani, the best new American director of recent years, has until now focused on outsiders in this country: A pushcart operator from Pakistan, a Hispanic street orphan in New York, a cab driver from Senegal working in Winston-Salem. NC. His much-awaited new film, "At Any Price," is set in the Iowa heartland and is about two American icons: A family farmer and a race car driver. It plays Sunday and Monday in the Toronto Film Festival.

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Verdant Vertigo: Dreaming in Technicolor

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This appreciation is a slightly revised-for-2012 version of an article originally published online at Microsoft Cinemania in 1996. It was just one of several pieces in a package celebrating the 70mm restoration release of "Vertigo" that year.

Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" is one of the most ravishing Technicolor films ever made -- all the more so in its VistaVision-to-70mm restored version. And color plays a key part in the mystery, emotion and psychology, of the film. Colors evoke feelings, and while Hitchcock liked to say that "Psycho" (made two years later) was "pure cinema" in black-and-white, "Vertigo" is a symphony of color, its multi-hued themes and motifs as vividly orchestrated as Bernard Herrmann's famous score.

I first saw "Vertigo" on network television in the late 1960s or early 70s, shortly before it was withdrawn from release. I think I was somewhere between 12 and 14 years old -- I know I saw it by myself on my parents' new 19-inch color TV one night when mom and dad went to some neighborhood grown-up party -- and I'm sure I didn't understand the half of it. But it stayed with me -- haunted me, you might say -- between that fateful evening and its re-release in the mid-80s. By then, "Vertigo" had become, if not quite the Holy Grail of the American Cinema (after all, "Rear Window" and "The Manchurian Candidate" had been unavailable for years, too -- and a great deal of "The Magnificent Ambersons" is still at the bottom of the ocean), then at least one of its most coveted (and fetishized) treasures.

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A few calm words about The List

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The king is dead. Long live the king. Welles' "Citizen Kane" has been dethroned from the Sight & Sound list of the greatest films of all time, and replaced by Hitchcock's "Vertigo." It's not as if nobody saw this coming. The list first appeared in 1952, and "Vertigo" (1958) made the list for the first time only in 1982. Climbing slowly, it placed five votes behind "Kane" in 2002. Although many moviegoers would probably rank "Psycho" or maybe "North by Northwest" as Hitch's best, for S&S types his film to beat was "Notorious" (1946). That's the one I voted for until I went through "Vertigo" a shot at a time at the University of Virginia, became persuaded of its greatness, and put it on my 2002 list.

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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.

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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Before "Airplane!" there were the Airport movies

May Contain Spoilers

There's nothing quite like the movies if you want to learn what people's hopes and dreams were during the period in which they were made. Take for instance the recent "Up in the Air". In the present when air travel has turned into something to be endured, George Clooney's Ryan Bingham showed us how it can become an enticing way of life. The same subject was also portrayed extensively, under a very different light, some forty years as the "Airport" movies dealt with our fears of dying in new and horrible ways, while glamorizing our dreams of flying first-class, surrounded by a movie star in every seat. As the trailer for one of these features once put it: "on board, a collection of the rich and the beautiful!" They also marked the advent of a new genre (the Disaster Film) as well as the "Ark movie" which Ebert's Little Movie Glossary defines as "mixed bag of characters trapped in a colorful mode of transportation". How many films can claim to this kind of impact?

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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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#74 August 3, 2011

Marie writes: I love illustrators best in all the world. There's something so alive about the scratch and flow of pen & ink, the original medium of cheeky and subversive wit. And so when club member Sandy Kahn submitted links for famed British illustrator Ronald Searle and in the hopes others might find him interesting too, needless to say, I was quick to pounce; for before Ralph Steadman there was Ronald Searle... "The two people who have probably had the greatest influence onmy life are Lewis Carroll and Ronald Searle."-- John LennonVisit Kingly Books' Ronald Searle Gallery to view a sordid collection of wicked covers and view sample pages therein. (click to enlarge image.) And for yet more covers, visit Ronald Searle: From Prisoner of War to Prolific Illustrator at Abe Books.

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I, Witness: A small masterpiece of voyeurism and projection

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The way I see it, Jerzy Skolimowski's "Four Nights with Anna" is small-scale masterpiece about voyeurism, movies, and the limits of perception -- including what we think we can know about people from observing their behavior. The thing is, this 2008 movie never received a theatrical release in the U.S. (though it played the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals), and remains, incredibly, really hard to see (I ordered a Polish all-region DVD because I wanted a copy so badly). But it's playing this weekend as part of the Museum of the Moving Image's Skolimowski series, so if you're in New York, here's your window of opportunity, as it were. I wrote about "Four Nights with Anna" when I first saw it at the Toronto Film Festival, and I delve a little deeper in this piece ("I, Witness") at Alt Screen:

"Four Nights with Anna" -- such a romantic title, conjuring wistful images of a brief but passionate affair that its impetuous young lovers will cherish for a lifetime. Well, yes and no. This is a movie that very much belongs to its director, Jerzy Skolimowski, so at some point things are bound to plummet off the deep end.

As it turns out, the subversive Polish filmmaker's 2008 return to directing (after a 15-year hiatus), is a heartbreaking romantic black-comedy in which the obsessed lover (Artur Steranko) is smitten as can be, but his beloved (Kinga Preis) isn't conscious of their trysts. (What do you expect from the guy who got his start co-writing Knife in the Water with Roman Polanski?) Though they share precious hours together at her place, she spends them in a drugged slumber, which puts her at a disadvantage, fling-wise. OK, it's an unconventional relationship -- intense, intimate, unbalanced, mortifying -- but it's also touching and oddly sweet. You just sense from the title that it probably doesn't have much of a future.

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On "The Rack" with Paul Newman and Stewart Stern

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• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.

For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.

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The dying of the light

Do you remember what a movie should look like? Do you notice when one doesn't look right? Do you feel the vague sense that something is missing? I do. I know in my bones how a movie should look. I have been trained by the best projection in the world, at film festivals and in expert screening rooms. When I see a film that looks wrong, I want to get up and complain to the manager and ask that the projectionist be informed. But these days the projectionist is tending a dozen digital projectors, and I will be told, "That's how it's supposed to look. It came that way from the studio."

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A vast Waste Land (with footnotes) Part II

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In his essay about pop culture references in television comedy, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote: "'Krusty Gets Kancelled' is one of the greatest of all "Simpsons" episodes, but if it were a poem, it would need to have nearly as many footnotes as 'The Waste Land' -- and the further away from its original air date we get, the truer that's going to be."

A reader sent him a provocative 2000 Hermenaut essay by Keith Gessen called "'Simpsons' at the Gates: Intimations of the Coming Barbarism." In it, Gessen argues (somewhat facetiously, but not entirely) that the "loss of a referenceable reality will, in all likelihood, eventually destroy our civilization..." He recalls correcting his aunt when she insists that Cary Grant starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (1954). He's correct that it was James Stewart, not Grant, in the picture, but the thing is, he's never actually seen "Rear Window." He'd seen a "Simpsons" episode that referenced it. This troubles him:

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#48 February 2, 2011

Take a breath and be brave. Very, very brave.... smile....Behold the "Willis Tower" in Chicago (formerly the Sears Tower) - the tallest building in North America and its famous attraction, The Skydeck.  In January 2009, the Willis Tower owners began a major renovation of the Skydeck, to include the installation of glass balconies, extending approximately four feet over Wacker Drive from the 103rd floor. The all-glass boxes allow visitors to look directly through the floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below. The boxes, which can bear five short tons of weight (about 4.5 metric tons), opened to the public on July 2, 2009.

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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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Intimate connections

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The Self-Styled Siren (aka Farran Smith Nehme) makes no apologies for her passion for pre-1960s movies. In a particularly lovely piece called "Intimacy at the Movies" she examines the mysterious forces behind her "old-movie habit." You see, the New York Film Festival was in October, and the Siren devoted herself to catching some of the big cinephiliac treasures of the fall, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes-winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," Raoul Ruiz's "Mysteries of Lisbon"... and she loved them, but...

Sometime around the two-week mark the withdrawal became too much and I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was going to dig up a pre-1960 movie and watch it to the last frame. Maybe some followers thought I was being cute about how much I needed to do this. I was as serious as "All Quiet on the Western Front."

And I watched "Ivy" [Sam Wood, 1947; starring Joan Fontaine and Herbert Marshall]. And it was good. So good I started to wonder if this was simple addiction. It did feel uncomfortably like I was one of those people who went to sleep in Shreveport and woke up in Abilene. "Come on, Oscar nominee from 1934, let's you and me get drunk." But surely nobody ever wound up in rehab because they couldn't stop quoting Bette Davis movies. I can, in fact, stop anytime I like. Don't look at me like that. I have a Netflix copy of "Zodiac" right there on my dressing table, you just can't see it because it's under the eyeshadow palette. I've had it three weeks and haven't watched it yet, but I'm telling you I could watch it right now if I felt like it and if my daughter weren't already downstairs watching the 1940 "Blue Bird." I just don't want to. I'll watch "Zodiac" this weekend. Right now I need to keep watching old movies, I have too much else going on to quit something that isn't harming me anyway. Hey, did anybody else notice some benevolent soul has posted "Hold Back the Dawn" on Youtube?

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#36 November 10, 2010

Actress Jill Clayburgh, whose portrayal of women in the 1970s helped define and and reshape the role of leading lady, died last week of chronic lymphocytic leukemia at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut; she was 66. She's best known for her Academy Award nominated roles in "An Unmarried Woman" (Winner: Best Actress Cannes 1978) and "Starting Over." Roger has remembered her on his site: Jill Clayburgh: In Memory.

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#27 September 8, 2010

The Grand Poobah writes: I saw this stag in the Michigan woods near our country place, where I am still working on my memoir. (click to enlarge)

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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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Falling: The Architecture of Gravity

or: Ways to Fall (in one or more pieces)

The first part of this little movie provides an overview of different approaches filmmakers from Buster Keaton to Alfred Hitchcock to Christopher Nolan have taken to shooting falls and/or jumps from high places. (It wouldn't do anyone much good to fall or jump from a low place.) The second part examines, in vital but nit-picky detail, a twelve-shot sequence from "The Dark Knight" and makes suggestions for improving it, based solely on what's already there.

TWO WARNINGS: Part I includes possible spoilers for "In Bruges" (two reminders of what makes it one of the best-directed films of the year), "The Fall," "The Tenant" and "Infernal Affairs" -- as well as not-so-spoily clips from "Vertigo," "Superman," "This Gun for Hire," "Our Hospitality" and "The Dark Knight." Some parts are a little gruesome, too. Part II delves into a brief segment of "The Dark Knight" repeatedly, shot by shot. If that places unreasonable demands on your time or patience, you're at the wrong place on the Interwebs, so don't subject yourself to it. There's a little button at the lower left of the movie player that will stop it. You have been warned (and will be again).

Some notes about falling down:

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Thank you for smoking

This stamp honoring Bette Davis was issued by the U. S. Postal Service on Sept. 18. The portrait by Michael Deas was inspired by a still photo from "All About Eve." Notice anything missing? Before you even read this far, you were thinking, Where's her cigarette? Yes reader, the cigarette in the original photo has been eliminated. We are all familiar, I am sure, with the countless children and teenagers who have been lured into the clutches of tobacco by stamp collecting, which seems so innocent, yet can have such tragic outcomes. But isn't this is carrying the anti-smoking campaign one step over the line?

Depriving Bette Davis of her cigarette reminds me of Soviet revisionism, when disgraced party officials disappeared from official photographs. Might as well strip away the toupees of Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart. I was first alerted to this travesty by a reader, Wendell Openshaw of San Diego, who wrote me: "Do you share my revulsion for this attempt to revise history and distort a great screen persona for political purposes? It is political correctness and revisionist history run amok. Next it will be John Wayne holding a bouquet instead of a Winchester!"

The great Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski took one of the most famous portraits of Davis. I showed him the stamp. His response: "I have been with Bette for years and I have never seen her without a cigarette! No cigarette! Who is this impostor?" I imagine Davis might not object to a portrait of her without a cigarette, because she posed for many. But to have a cigarette removed from one of her most famous poses! What she did to Joan Crawford in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" wouldn't even compare to what ever would have happened to the artist Michael Deas.

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