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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" doesn't have the electricity of the original, mainly because we've already seen it. Nothing more is really revealed…

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To Be Takei

“To Be Takei” is a conventional documentary that has a surprising emotional heft. A fun, informative exploration of the life of actor, activist and Trekkie…

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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.

Pirates of the Riviera

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It's another cool and overcast day in Cannes, but one that promises to be dominated by pirates and outlaws in the morning, and kids in the afternoon. The out-of-competition premiere European screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was scheduled for the Grand Theatre Lumiere at 8:30 am. This meant that European critics would flock, but Americans like me were freed up to roam elsewhere for our viewing. For my first film I opted to walk down the Croisette to see a pirate of a very different kind in "Porfirio," a Colombian film by Alejandro Landes, in the Quinzaine (Directors Fortnight) section of the festival.

"Porfirio" is a scripted and lightly fictionalized account of the life of a man the Latin American press had dubbed "the air pirate." Actual events reenacted in the film by non-professional actors, including the original central figure in the story, Porfirio Ramirez Aldana. Porfirio made headlines in 2005 for hijacking a plane to Bogota.

What attracted Landes to the case after reading a sensationalized newspaper account was the fact that the hijacker is paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair, and was wearing diapers at the time. The director spent five years working with his subject and his family to develop their trust, and only revealed to the man a few days before shooting began that he would play himself.

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Cannes 2011: All eyes forward

As the opening night of the Cannes International Film Festival approaches, a host of Riviera amenities and services hope to lure my business via solicitous e-mails. Would Madame perhaps like to hire a helicopter for the journey from the Nice airport to the Festival Palais? Rent a limousine with a multilingual driver? Charter a yacht or rent a fully staffed villa with swimming pool (photos handily attached)?

Me, I'm just in the market to rent a no-frills mobile phone with a European SIM card, and I'll be taking an inter-city bus from the airport, but you get the picture. The sparkling goodies of this playground of millionaires are dangled before the thousands of accredited journalists, theater programmers, film buyers, and filmmakers soon to be heading for the legendary festival. Most of us will be pinching the Euros until they scream, but nonetheless enjoying the nonstop spectacle provided by those who get to ride around in helicopters.

The festival opens the night of Wednesday, May 11 with Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." "Monsieur Woodee," as the French are wont to call him, made his first visit ever to Cannes in 2002, when his "Hollywood Endings" opened the festival. Although the film was disappointingly lackluster, it certainly made no difference to his French fans, who hailed him like an emperor. I watched Allen on that occasion from a seat among the hyper-excited audience, marveling at his frail stature, almost inaudible voice, and the shrinking body language that made him seem an incongruous god of cinema.

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The best films of the decade

"Synecdoche, New York" is the best film of the decade. It intends no less than to evoke the strategies we use to live our lives. After beginning my first viewing in confusion, I began to glimpse its purpose and by the end was eager to see it again, then once again, and I am not finished. Charlie Kaufman understands how I live my life, and I suppose his own, and I suspect most of us. Faced with the bewildering demands of time, space, emotion, morality, lust, greed, hope, dreams, dreads and faiths, we build compartments in our minds. It is a way of seeming sane.

The mind is a concern in all his screenplays, but in "Synecdoche" (2008), his first film as a director, he makes it his subject, and what huge ambition that demonstrates. He's like a

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More film polls: Top 150 of Decade, Top 160 of 2009...

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Ow, my brain hurts. So, let's just get these out of the way, shall we? In the annual Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll, announced just before Christmas, 94 critics (including me) came up with 160 nominations for best films of 2009 -- and voted in a bunch of other categories, too, including Best Film of the Decade ("Mulholland Dr."). [My decade favorites are here.]

Meanwhile, Film Comment polled another big batch o' crix (a lot of the same ones, in fact) and came up with a somewhat different 20 Best of 2009 list -- and 150 Best Films of the Decade (topped by... "Mulholland Dr."). Just for fun, let us compare the two groups' Top Dozen for both year and decade:

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Rourke ready to climb off mat with 'Wrestler'

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TORONTO -- Mickey Rourke is back. The legendary tough guy in 1980s movies like "9 1/2 Weeks," "Barfly" and "Year of the Dragon" has never been away. He's been working steadily, with 16 movies just since 2000 -- but his title role in "The Wrestler" is arguably his best career performance and could win him an Oscar nomination. The film, playing here at the 33rd Toronto Film Festival, arrived after winning the grand prize at Venice, and is drawing turn-away crowds. It came to Toronto without a distributor, but was snatched up for $4.5 million by Fox Searchlight.

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TIFF 2007: Movie bloggers EXPOSED!

View image Me with post-festival headcold, after just getting back home and sinking into the comfort of my den-like Man Chair. (all photos by Jim Emerson, except as noted)

My taxi driver to the airport yesterday (he was Ethiopian, but had lived in Toronto for 18 years) asked me if I'd seen any "movie stars" at the film festival. I had to admit I hadn't -- although I've encountered people I consider to be movie stars on the street in past years: Luis Guzman, Liev Schreiber, Brian De Palma, Sara Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne...

View image The ubiquitous (and deservedly so) Girish. A man with cinecurean tastes. (That's a neologism of my own invention that is related to "epicure" and has nothing to do with "sinecure," I don't think.)

Toronto, at least at festival time, is a celebrity-mad city like no place I've ever seen. Celebrities make the front pages of the newspapers just because they're celebrities and they're in Toronto. Rogers cable used to have a non-stop TIFF schedule of celebrity gossip, celebrity interviews, off-the-cuff "reviews," and celebrity press conferences. I don't know if they did that this year, because I never turned on the television in my hotel room. (Meanwhile, TiVo was covering other necessities for me at home.)

View image Andy Horbal plays Mephisto at the foot of the Stairway to Heaven (the escalator to the Varsity Cinemas).

View image The House Next Door's Keith Uhlich took this shot of himself with his MacBook, outside the press office at the Delta Chelsea.

Some journalists and critics were doing celebrity interviews in addition to going to movies, with stars like George A. Romero (whose girlfriend was the bartender at my hotel!) or Jodie Foster or Brian De Palma or Bela Tarr -- in gang-bang roundtables or 15-30-minute individual sessions. The people I was most excited about getting to meet were my fellow movie bloggers. I had lunch with Girish Shambu between screenings in Toronto last year, and it was a pleasure to see him again, particularly since he enjoyed the oblique, androgynous eroticism of the luminous Eric Rohmer movie as much as I did. His highest recommendation was for Barcelona-born director Jose Luis Guerin's "Dans la ville de Sylvia" -- which, unfortunately, I missed. We also thought Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine" was among the very best things we'd seen.

View image Frames within frames within frames -- and film-festival bedhead. Me at work in my Toronto hotel room.

Keith Uhlich, editor of "The House Next Door," organized a mid-fest critics' roundtable podcast, 'round a tiny round table in Nathan Lee's hotel room with Nathan (whose byline should be familiar from the Village Voice, Film Comment, The New York Times), Torontonian eyeWeekly critic Adam Nayman, Keith, and me. It was too much fun -- we ran out of time long before we ran out of stuff we wanted to talk about. Of course, that was the morning I forgot to bring my camera. Too bad, because if you saw Nathan's new-mown haircut, you'd want to rub his head. It's that cool. (I'll post a link to the podcast when it's available, if you want to hear us go on about the trials of film critics filing reports and interviews from festivals, our indelible images from TIFF, Brian De Palma, Bob Dylan, Todd Haynes, semiotics [not much!], and I forget what else.)

View image Christopher Long, in Philly Eagles t-shirt, who has a woman on his right shoulder saying: "Come, have another cup of coffee!" and a man on his other shoulder saying: "No, there's a huge schedule of films to see -- what's next?"

I also got to meet up with Christopher Long, a frequent and valued contributor to Scanners comments, and reviewer for DVDTown and other sites. Chris claims to loathe Paul Haggis's "Crash" (and Sam Mendes's "American Beauty" -- two peas in a pod) even more than me. I don't know if that's possible, but I found him convincing. They both do the same morally corrupt thing, anyway: taking grotesque clichés and then flipping them around so that that they are... even more insulting clichés. All in the name of "enlightenment." We had a nice talk about our mutual admiration for Divine, too. Don't recall how that one came up.

I'm delighted to have more faces to put with the words I've appreciated from these folks for so long.

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The "Best" Non-English-Language Films (Round 1)

View image Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" (or literal English translation: "In the Course of Time"). You may recognize the poster image from outside the theater in which "Duck Soup" is playing in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." This movie can also save your life.

An ad hoc bunch of 51 online movie enthusiasts (online movie critics, bloggers, et al.), organized by Edward Copeland, the eponymous proprietor of "Edward Copeland on Film," recently composed our unordered lists of up to 25 most significant (or enduring or even favorite) "foreign-language" talkies.

Eduardo (as he might be known in, say, Mexico or Spain or Uruguay or Nicaragua or Puerto Rico) took on the gargantuan task of tabulating the ballots and coming up with the initial list of 122 nominees. As he explains: I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.In order to make the final ballot, films had to receive at least three "votes." I'm happy that most of my initial choices made the finals. And there were five I've never seen, so I have these to look forward to: Elem Klimov's "Come and See," Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" (a spaghetti western), Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood For Love," Bela Tarr's 7.5-hour "Satantango," and Hayao Miyazaki's anime "Spirited Away." (And I've never made it all the way through "Amelie" or "Chungking Express.")

This exercise also reminded me of a bunch of movies I need to re-watch, because it's been too long (at least 20 years) and I don't remember them very well, including: Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (always hard to see, but available on Region 2 DVD, at least), Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Days of Wrath," Lucino Visconti's "The Leopard," Kenji Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Late Crysanthemums" (and, for that matter, "The Life of Oharu," which deserved to be on the list and which I have on import DVD), and Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" (which I've been meaning to revisit since his untimely death).

Best of all, the list serves as a reminder that the vast majority of these films, available on DVD, are easier to see now than they have ever been since they were made! Most are just as easy to borrow from NetFlix as "Wild Hogs."

For my Own Personal List, and some observations about the preliminary results, click to continue...

Meanwhile, if any of the participants -- or any readers -- would like to publish their own lists, please feel free to do so in comments! I'll show you mine if...

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Opening Shots: 'Day for Night'

A bus crosses the frame from left to right and we follow a woman in red walking from right to left, who stops to get a magazine. Notice the curves and circles that establish a pattern for the shot -- the curb, the kiosk, the fountain.

View image The bus re-enters in the background, driving around the circle and now moving in the same direction as the lady in red and the camera -- an indication that the shot (and the movie) will loop back upon itself.

From Kathleen Carroll, co-founder and artistic director of the Lake Placid Film Forum (and "non-practicing film critic"):

I still smile at the very thought of Francois Truffaut's opening shot in "Day for Night," the amazingly long tracking shot that gradually reveals the film-within-the-film. I interviewed Truffaut at the time that "Day for Night" was first released in this country. This is how he explained his purpose for making the film. "I wanted to show a film to the public about the making of a film, a film that would give the most information and from which one could learn the technical aspects of movie making. The film will help those who are thinking about making films. And, as far as the ordinary public is concerned, the film doesn't spoil anything."

View image Still following the woman in red, a pair of figures in black appear in the background, moving forward on the diagonal, on a trajectory that just might intersect with the camera's. Will the shot turn out to be about them instead of the lady in red? Or are they somehow connected with the lady in red?

View image The pair in black split up. The woman heads down the subway entrance -- and so does the lady in red. The man in black continues toward the camera. Are we going to meet up with this guy?

During the same interview Truffaut told a funny story about "Jules and Jim" which, as he explained, he deliberately tried to make "like an MGM film." There were those who did not see "Jules and Jim" as just another MGM movie. When the film was first released here, the then all-powerful Legion of Decency (which later became known as The National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures) threatened to give it a condemned rating. Truffaut was asked to speak to a group of priests on behalf of the film. He went reluctantly, feeling "like a little juvenile delinquent."

View image Nope. The man in black falls out of the frame and the lady in red descends into the subway, casting a (fond?) look back as she leaves us. We fix upon another lady, one we saw back at the magazine vendor, walking a dachshund.

"Do you realize the girl in the film is behaving like Elizabeth Taylor?" asked one of the priests. "It was the time of 'Cleopatra,'" and the Taylor-Burton affair was all over the newspapers," recalled Truffaut. "I pretended that I didn't know what he was talking about." "It's in the newspapers," insisted the priest. "I only read film reviews," said Truffaut.

View image Jean-Pierre Leaud comes out of the subway, and turns in the direction the camera is already moving. OK, we're abandoning the lady with the dog. This is who we're going to watch -- he's the star of the movie! (Yes, casting will often tell you how to watch a shot.)

JE: Oh, Kathleen -- joy is right! This really may be the Ultimate Opening Shot in many ways, because we actually get to go back into it and critique it in the movie itself. The whole thing looks perfectly random and natural (I don't want to know how many takes it really took), as if the eye (camera) were just alighting upon one thing and then another as its interest is piqued. But we soon see how carefully and precisely it's all choreographed. Day for night. Illusion for reality. Artifice in the service of art. Notice, too the use of strong colors like red (dress, car, little girl, etc.) and white (car, overcoat, etc.) -- the alternating colors of the awning in the background -- and black (suits, car roof, etc.) to focus our attention. Doesn't this just make you want to go out and make a movie?

(Shot continues after the jump)

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Telluride #1: Premieres & rarities

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TELLURIDE, Colo. – When I first came to the Telluride Film Festival in 1980, screenings were held in Quonset huts and city parks, the old Nugget theater on Main Street, and in the faded glory of the tiny Sheridan Opera House, built when this was a boom town in mining days. The 2005 festival, which will be held over Labor Day weekend, still uses the opera house, but has added so many state-of-the-art theaters, some of them constructed inside the old Mason's Hall and the school gyms, that it feels like the most happening art movie town in America.

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Jones, July, Jarmusch & Cannes gold

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CANNES, France — Tommy Lee Jones walked away from the 58th Cannes Film Festival here Saturday night as a double winner, after his film “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” won him the award as best actor, and the screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga also was honored. The movie stars Jones as a Texas cowboy who kidnaps the border patrolman (Barry Pepper) who has murdered his Mexican friend and forces him on a long journey to rebury the corpse in the man's hometown.

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Cannes #7: Odds and sods

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CANNES, France -- In this festival of smooth, mannered style, what a jolt to encounter "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Here is a film as direct as a haymaker, a morality play where you don't need a dictionary.

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