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Make Your Move

With camerawork and editing that allows us to truly enjoy the footwork of its stars, "Make Your Move" is a vibrant, fun dance 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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* 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.

In Defense of Armond White

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Walter Biggins defends Armond White, the City Arts critic and editor who was recently expelled by the New York Film Critics Circle, as a provocative but necessary voice in movie criticism.

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#189 October 16, 2013

Sheila writes: We're all familiar with the horror movie cliche: someone (usually a woman) is alone, creeped out, and investigating a sound she finds ominous. Naturally, it turns out to be just a cat, but that cat can give a pretty good scare. Thankfully, we now have "Supercut: It's Just a Cat" to get our feline scare-fix all in one place.

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Thumbnails 10/9/2013

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Fiona Apple fumes; defending "The Story of Film"; bringing "Gravity" lovers back to earth; inside the Tenenbaum house; David Byrne on how the 1% Are Ruining New York.

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#187 October 2, 2013

Sheila writes: BAFTA-award winning "Pitch Black Heist" is a 13-minute film directed and written by John Maclean, starring Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (reunited after their 28-minute one-take scene in Steve McQueen's 2008 film "Hunger"). Here, they play two criminals hired to crack a safe. The only catch is that they must do their work in the dark: any light at all will trigger the alarm. Elegantly filmed in black-and-white, it's a taut fun little thriller with a twist ending. In case the video doesn't work here, you can also view it at Cinephilia and Beyond.

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"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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Ca va bien: Two Godard Films New to DVD and Blu-ray

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Distribution company Olive Films has released two obscurities by Jean-Luc Godard, 1976's "Comment Ca Va" and 1987's "Soigne ta Droite" (known in the U.S. as "Keep Your Right Up") and while these films may not have the immediate impact of his better-known works, they both reveal a filmmaker who has spent his career challenging himself, his viewers and the very medium of cinema itself in ways that are oftentimes fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

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Cannes 1968: A video essay

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For the second in his ongoing series, filmmaker and blogger Scout Tafoya looks at the remarkable Cannes Film Festival of 1968, when the festival came to a screeching halt in the face of real-world upheaval. (Check out his amazing look at Cannes 1960 here.)The complete transcripts:Part 1

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My coverage of the first Sundance Film Festival, held in *July* 1981

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July 5th, 1981

The 1st Annual Sundance Festival

By Roger Ebert

Robert Redford's experiment: a struggle for independents

Sundance, Utah--Up here above Provo, in the resort he has carved out of a little mountain meadow, Robert Redford is conducting an experiment that Hollywood regards with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. He has selected 10 low-budget films that are in the middle-to-late stages of preparation and invited their directors to spend the summer at Sundance working on their scripts in the company of established directors, writers and editors.

On the surface, this seems like an admirable and uncomplicated idea, a cinematic summer camp at which you bring home a screenplay instead of a woodcarving and an Indian belt. But the movie industry is not so sure. Rumors float around that Redford is starting his own studio, that his dream is to be a major producer of independent features, that just as Francis Ford Coppola wants his own major Hollywood studio, so does Redford want his own mini-¬studio here on the mountain he is developing.

The truth is apparently somewhere in be¬tween. Redford says he has no desire to produce personally any of the movies that are under construction at Sundance. But he might hope that eventually the Sundance Institute, a non¬profit foundation headquartered here, will be¬come a clearinghouse for independent film¬makers working outside the studio system. There are countless summer writers' workshops nestled away in the wilds of Vermont and Iowa - why not a workshop for filmmakers?

There is one difference: The filmmakers at Sundance did not pay to attend. After their projects were selected from more than 100 entries, they were invited to settle down in residence here at the expense of Redford's institute and several foundation grants. The facilities are spartan. The filmmakers are guests in several condo-cabins squirreled away in the hills above Sundance. Meals are served buffet¬-style in the small lodge building, and movies are scrutinized in a garage that has been converted into a screening room. There are videotape facilities at Sundance, and some of the film¬makers are conducting trial runs of their mate¬rial by taping some of their scenes.

None of the footage shot at Sundance will turn up in the finished films. It's all preparation, rehearsal and deep thought up here, reflecting Redford's personal belief that independent fea¬tures will not make greater inroads at the American box office until they are (hold your breath) of higher quality.

This is probably true. Most independent American films are made on very low budgets (from a rock bottom of $20,000 for "The Whole Shootin' Match", through a middle range, of $75,000 for "Return of the Secaucus Seven", up to a high of $1.2 million for "Heartland"). Most of them lack well-known actors, although very occasionally a famous actor will lend himself to a project. Most of them have limitations on locations, special effects, costumes, period de¬tails and scenery - because film is the most expensive art form except for grand opera.

But most of all, Redford believes, most of them could benefit from more intensive pre¬production work - things like script revision, close analysis of the story, and an occasional pointed question about the worth of it all. Because independent filmmakers are often the only people who believe in their projects (or even care about them), they are sometimes inclined to treat a film as a crusade rather than as a work in progress.

This first summer at Sundance is highly tentative. Redford and his associates say they are uncertain about exactly what they hope for from the experiment. "We started this with no rigid expectations," Redford said over lunch in his small office at Sundance. "They say I'm starting my own studio, I'm challenging the studios... Actually, I have no idea what this will turn out to be. I know that it's getting increasingly hard to get a movie well distributed in this country unless it has the potential to make millions of dollars. I think these projects here have a lot of promise, and I guess the idea is that they'll turn out better if the filmmakers have the opportunity to work on them with some experienced professionals."

Independent filmmakers got a boost here in Utah three years ago with the founding of the U.S. Film and Video Festival, which is held every January in another ski resort, Park City, and specializes in independently produced fea¬tures. Now maybe Sundance will help generate independent films to be shown at Park City.

The problem, however, is not getting a new low-budget movie shown in Park City. The problem is getting it shown anywhere else. Two weeks ago, as part of his summer-long institute, Redford held a weekend conference of most of the major exhibitors and distributors of "specialized" films - a category that includes independent U.S. features, foreign films, "art films," cult films, revivals and almost anything else that isn't a big-budget, first-run standard Hollywood production.

Most of the independent exhibitors and dis¬tributors accepted Redford's invitation, and it was astonishing, seeing them all together in the same place, to realize how few of them there were. The big studios and the big movies dominate play dates on most of the nation's movie screens, and there are only a handful of houses in most cities that will even consider booking a "specialized" film. Some 45 theater owners, bookers and distributors sat in the bright sunlight in the meadow at Sundance and agreed, almost without discussion, that:

-There are only seven or eight cities in North America in which a "specialized film" can get a decent booking and have any chance of a good run. They are New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco and, surprisingly, Seattle, which is the best city in the country to open a movie that's out of the ordinary.

-College campuses used to supply large audi¬ences for foreign, art and underground movies, but these days the kids go for action blockbust¬ers like "The Empire Strikes Back", just like everybody else.

-Big chains are completely uninterested in booking offbeat films. Like supermarkets, they're concerned only with the turnstile. Chains with four- or six-screen multiplex the¬aters don't even consider booking one of the screens with specialized films.

-Unless it's a rare breakthrough like "La Cage Aux Folies", foreign films are up against a wall at the American box office. There are only about 100 theaters in America that will book a serious, subtitled film, even if it's by Ingmar Bergman or Federico Fellini.

-There is still a market for specialized films among local and campus film societies, but the backbone of that market, rental of movies in 16-mm. prints, is being under-minded by the widespread and illegal practice of videotaping movies and then showing them on video cas¬settes instead of renting them again. (Almost every campus in the country rips off films that way, it was agreed; even, though they're break¬ing the law.)

-Exhibitors talked about the "strong want¬-to-see" factor that fuels blockbuster hits like "Superman II", contrasting it with the curious "desire not to see" that handicaps specialized films. The average moviegoer is under 25. Ten or fifteen years ago, young moviegoers were more enthusiastic about offbeat, anti-establishment independent and foreign films. Now they are much more conformist. More sophisticated big-¬city teen-agers who once attended films by Jean-Luc Godard have now regressed to the level of "Friday the 13th, Part II". Today's young filmgoers have a herd instinct and are reluctant to take a chance. In a sense, they "wear" movies like they wear clothes, attend¬ing a movie that their fashion-sense suggests will look good on them.

The outlook, everyone agreed, was gloomy. Various alternatives looked just as, gloomy. Public television stations like New York's WNET have attracted large audiences for prime-time telecasts of quite esoteric indepen¬dent films, but TV exposure, an exhibitor complained, removes the aura of a "special event" that a movie must have for a theatrical booking.

The brightest ray of hope at Sundance came from Seattle, where there are 13 theaters successfully showing specialized films. (By contrast. Chicago has only two first-run houses, the Biograph and the Sandburg, two showcase operations in Facets and the Film Center, occasional specialized bookings at the Three Penny, and several reper¬tory theaters.) Seattle used to be a lousy town to open an art film - everyone agreed - and the secret to its success was creative exhibition. Audiences were lovingly nurtured, leafleted, mailing-listed and cajoled. Lacking effective coming-attractions trailers, some exhibitors sim¬ply got up with a microphone and told their audiences what was coming next week, and what they thought about it.

No firm conclusions were reached at Sun¬dance. Various visionary schemes were suggest¬ed to establish a national support network for independent features - but without a steady supply of good movies in the pipeline, it would have trouble supporting itself. Success stories were recited about the few breakthrough films like "Secaucus Seven", "A Woman Under the Influence", "Penitentiary", "Gal Young Un" and a handful of foreign hits. Everyone agreed that if there were more good films, there would be larger audiences. But statements like that tend¬ed to lead into winsome silences.

Meanwhile, up in the hills in their cabins, Sundance's filmmakers-in-residence were work¬ing on their scripts. They were consulting every day with experienced professionals such as director Sidney Pollack ("They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"), screenwriter Waldo Salt ("Midnight Cowboy"), cinematographer Caleb Des¬chanel ("The Black Stallion") and actress Amy Robinson ("Mean Streets"). Would 10 really fine independent films come from their labors? Maybe. Maybe five. At least it is a noble experimentt ¶

I was there before the Beginning, in January 1981, for the third annual Park City Film and Video Festval. I wrote Sundance before it was Sundance .

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Films on fire: Tony Scott and Christopher Nolan

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"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)

While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.

This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.

Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.

Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:

"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"

"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"

One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:

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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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#119 June 13, 2012

Marie writes: Next door, across a long narrow drive and beyond the row of cedar hedges which run parallel to it, there resides an elementary school dating back to 1965, along with an assortment of newer playground equipment rendered in bright, solid primary colors...I'm sure you know the sort I mean...

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"There's a fungus between my toes that speaks to me."

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by Barbara Scharres

Cannes has become hot and uncomfortably muggy in a way that has me thinking longingly of the blankets and socks of earlier in the week. As the festival closes in on the final days, I'm hoping for some big excitement on the screen.

When the stiff, futuristic Brandon Cronenberg film "Antiviral" played a few days ago, it gave me cause to look forward even more to today's premiere of "Cosmopolis" by his father David Cronenberg, anticipating that the contrast between generations would also point up the difference between a wannabe and a seasoned master. Boy, was I wrong. I'm sorry to say that they're both among the worst films I've seen here this year. I've never been this disappointed in a David Cronenberg film.

"Cosmopolis" opens with a shot of a row of white stretch limos parked on a city street. The interior of one of them will become a primary location in this film, functioning as the office away from the office for mega-millionaire money manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an arrogant and powerful 28-year-old. Seemingly inspired by the Occupy movement in the U. S., the story is set in New York in the near future (although what we see of the urban landscape never looks like anything but Toronto; even the CN Tower is seen in the background). The president of the United States is due at any moment, a situation tying up the streets with blockades and large-scale protests.

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"Avenge me! AVENGE ME!"

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Although I generally find it difficult to care about superheroes and the movies that franchise them, I liked Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series -- a lot -- so, if I go to see his Marvel Comics packaging-event "The Avengers," it will be because of him and not so much because of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America or Nick Fury. (I should also say I'm intrigued by the idea of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk and, like everybody else, I got a kick out of Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man," too.)

Yes, I know I wrote a piece on taking superhero movies seriously back in 2008, but neither the movies nor their fans have shown much interest in doing that. Instead, these movies have become mere team sports (like American politics), pep-rally occasions for fans to cheer and sneer, in person or online. (There's another essay to be written on the fratty/bully co-optation of geek culture, perhaps...) So, A.O. Scott gives "The Avengers" a measured review in the New York Times ("Superheroes, Super Battles, Super Egos") and Super Ego Superhero Samuel L. Jackson strikes back with a tweet: "#Avengers fans,NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let's help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!"

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David Simon: Damn right Omar is cool. Get over it.

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"The number of people blogging television online -- it's ridiculous. They don't know what we're building. And by the way, that's true for the people who say we're great. They don't know. It doesn't matter whether they love it or they hate it. It doesn't mean anything until there's a beginning, middle and an end. [...]

I do have a certain amused contempt for the number of people who walk sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along. It's selling more DVDs now than when it was on the air. But I'm indifferent to who thinks Omar is really cool now, or that this is the best scene or this is the best season. It was conceived of as a whole, and we did it as a whole. For people to be picking it apart now like it's a deck of cards or like they were there the whole time or they understood it the whole time -- it's wearying. Because no one was there in the beginning, or the middle, or even at the end. Our numbers continued to decline from Season 2 on.* -- David Simon, creator of "The Wire," "Generation Kill," "Treme"

I've heard some very good film critics make this argument before, too. Of course, a movie has a beginning, a middle and an end (although, as Jean-Luc Godard reminded us, not necessarily in that order). That's the fabled "three-act structure" all the screenplay manuals talk about. Wim Wenders and other great directors have observed that they always make at least two movies: the one they set out to make and the one they discover while they're trying to make the first one. Same goes for watching a movie or TV series: there's always the show you watch when its destination is unknown, and the one you reconsider after you know how it ended up.

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