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Heaven Is for Real

Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

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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.

#176 July 17, 2013

Marie writes: Last week, in response to a club member comment re: whatever happened to Ebert Club merchandize (turned out to be too costly to set up) I had promised to share a free toy instead - an amusement, really, offered to MailChimp clients; the mail service used to send out notices. Allow me to introduce you to their mascot...

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#175, July 10, 2013

Marie writes: I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, dissatisfied in general with the poverty of imagination currently on display at local cinemas. As anyone can blow something up with CGI - it takes no skill whatsoever and imo, is the default mode of every hack working in Hollywood these days. Whereas making a funny political satire in the United States about a Russian submarine running aground on a sandbank near a small island town off the coast of New England in 1966 during the height of the Cold War - and having local townsfolk help them escape in the end via a convoy of small boats, thereby protecting them from US Navy planes until they're safely out to sea? Now that's creative and in a wonderfully subversive way....

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#164 April 24, 2013

Marie writes: Now this is something you don't see every day. Behold The Paragliding Circus! Acrobatic paragliding pilot Gill Schneider teamed up with his father’s circus class (he operates a school that trains circus performers) to mix and combine circus arts with paragliding - including taking a trapezist (Roxane Giliand) up for ride and without a net. Best original film in the 2012 Icare Cup. Video by Director/Filmmaker Shams Prod. To see more, visit Shams Prod.

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#121 June 27, 2012

Marie writes: It was my birthday June 25th. Unlike Roger however, I'm a Crab not a Gemini. So to celebrate and with my brother's help (he has a car), I took my inner sea crustacean to Barnet Marine Park on the other side of Burnaby Mountain... and where our adventure begins....

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Life beyond Rationality and Compassion

May Contain Spoilers

Have you ever been hit so hard that you've been left in a permanent daze? I'm speaking of a defining event that, in a matter of moments, changes everything for you, permanently. Maybe it's a collision. Maybe a life event like a tragedy or a divorce. You're at the epicenter of the calamity. The destruction hits you right between the eyes. And while you make sense of what hit you, if you ever do, your loved ones bear the brunt of the hurricane that you become. Like a set of ripples, it realigns everything you do. Peter Weir's "Fearless" 1993 shows us the effect of a plane crash, and tells us that when we get hit with such cataclysms, no single way resolves the trauma.

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The girlfriend who disappeared from the face of the earth

May Contain Spoilers

"'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the Spider to the Fly." - from the poem "The Spider and the Fly" by Mary Howitt.

The crucial moment in George Sluizer's chilling psychological thriller "The Vanishing"(1988) can be summarized with that quote. The Fly cannot resist the offer, simply because of his intense desire to know. The Spider cannot resist making an offer, only because of his cold curiosity about the result. He has a solid prediction based on his careful calculation, but he wants to know the result in his cruel experiment, like he previously tested himself before.

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Top secret leakage from my 2010 Muriels ballot!

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It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)

You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:

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Three minor notions: 1. The "True Grit" cantata

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I've expressed my admiration for Carter Burwell's Mahleresque orchestrations of American hymns and folk tunes in his score for "True Grit" (2010). Watching the first part of the movie again, it struck me that the movie itself is a sort of cantata for tenor, baritone and bass voices. Certainly Charles Portis's language (which sounds like Coen dialog, after all), and the way it's delivered -- the tempi, rests, rhythms -- are decidedly musical, as the lyrics always are in Coen movies.

Evidently, that's one reason they wanted to make the movie -- and if you compare some of the very same lines in the 1969 film with the 2010 film, you'll immediately hear the difference between speaking and singing. Henry Hathaway tried to make the words sound as conversational as possible; the Coens go for Baroque -- high stylization that's not quite horse-operatic, but in an American vernacular that's like Bach transposed to "Deadwood."

Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) may be the youthful contralto soloist (despite her age, she's no soprano!), but she's surrounded by male voices in the lower registers (which helps to make Josh Brolin's countertenor Tom Chaney all the weirder and funnier). Near the top of the film there's a series of duets, particularly musical in character, beginning with Mattie's post-hanging interrogation of the sheriff, her first encounter with Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, in outhouse for additional resonance), and her negotiation with Colonel Stonehill. The film's deep-vocal culmination, perhaps, is an an off-stage solo by JK Simmons as Mattie's lawyer, J. Noble Daggett (definitely a bass).

Just another example of the many ways the Coens' movies are as much fun to listen to as they are to watch.

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recent Two Thumbs Up® reviews

Linked here are reviews in recent months for which I wrote either 4 star or 3.5 star reviews. What does Two Thumbs Up mean in this context? These films are worth going out of your way to see, or you might rent them, add them to your Netflix, Blockbuster or TiVo queues, get them by VOD, watch for them on cable, anything. Many of the older titles are already streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

"Another Year" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and long and happily married. Their frequent visitor is Mary (Lesley Manville), a unhappy woman with a drinking problem who needs shoring up with their sanity. Mike Leigh's new film is one of his best, placing as he often does recognizable types with embarrassing comic and/or dramatic dilemmas. One of the year's best films. Four stars

"My Dog Tulip" (Unrated, 83 minutes). The story of a man who finds love only once in his life, for 15 perfect years. It is the love of a dog. It may be the only love he is capable of experiencing. This is an animated film combining elating visuals with a virtuoso voice performance by Christopher Plummer. Nor for children. Foe adults who will admire its beauty and profundity. Directed and animated by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. Four stars

"Inspector Bellamy" (Unrated, 110 minutes). Gerard Depardieu stars as a famous Parisian police inspector who is on holiday when a man tells him, "I committed murder...sort of." Claude Chabrol's final film, written with Depardieu in mind, is inspired in part by Simenon's Inspector Maigret, and follows Bellamy as he unwinds the strange story of the murder, while also, like Simenon, becoming fascinated by side characters, such as Bellamy's troubled half-brother. Marie Bunel is warm and supportive of her husband, and a good confidant during pillow talk about crime. Three and a half stars.

"The Illusionist" (PG, 90 minutes). A magician named Tatischeff fails in one music hall after another, and ends up in Scotland, where a young woman takes care of him and believes in him, even when he's reduced to performing in store windows. An animated film based on the final screenplay of Jacques Tati, and directed by Sylvain Chomet ("The Triplets of Belleville"). Four stars

"Barney's Version" (R, 132 minutes). Paul Giamatti stars as an unremarkable Montreal TV producer who drinks too much, smokes too many cigars, and discards two women in quick divorces before finding at last one far too good for him (Rosamund Pike). Dustin Hoffman has a smallish but particularly good role as his father. Giamatti won the 2011 Golden Globe award as best actor. Three and a half stars

"All Good Things" (R, 101 minutes). David (Ryan Gosling) is the rebellious son of a wealthy Manhattan family that owns sleazy 42nd Street real estate. He marries Katie (Kirsten Dunst), and they move to Vermont to open an organic products store. But his father (Frank Langella) pressures him to return to the family business, and he undergoes alarming changes eventually connected to two murders. Based on one of those true stories Dominick Dunne used to write about in Vanity Fair. Three and a half stars

"Blue Valentine" (R, 120 minutes). Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy in two seasons of marriage: Six years ago when love was fact, and today, when love proves unable to support the weight of real life. Director Derek Cianfrance closely observes the details as his couple fail to comprehend the larger picture. Dean thinks marriage is the station. Cindy thought it was the train. Three and a half stars

"The King's Speech" (R, 118 minutes). After the death of George V and the abdication of his brother Edward, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) becomes George IV, charged with leading Britain into World War Two. He is afflicted with a torturous stammer, and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out an unorthodox speech therapist (Lionel Logue) to treat him. Civilized and fascinating, this is the story of their unlikely relationship. (The R rating, for language, is absurd; this is an ideal film for teenagers.) Four stars

"True Grit" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An entertaining remake of the 1969 film, and more. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn easily fills John Wayne's boots, and Hailee Steinfeld is very special as young Mattie Ross, who hires the old marshal to help her hunt down the varmit what killed her old man. Not a "Coen Brothers Film," but a flawlessly executed Western in the grand tradition. Strong support from Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Three and a half stars

"Somewhere" (R, 96 minutes). Johnny Marco Stephen Dorff is a movie star. He has access to sex, booze, drugs, but feels no pleasure. He sits in a Los Angeles hotel room, stuck. His 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay for a few days, but he clearly has no feeling for fatherhood. He's given an award in Milan but hardly notices in the confusion of strangers around him in a hotel suite. He retreats to the same famous West Hollywood where John Belushi died, which for him might have been a recommendation. Sofia Coppola's film, winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, is a masterpiece of observation of hopelessness. Four stars

"Rabbit Hole" (R, 91 minutes) Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying their best to get on with things. This is the tricky and very observant story of how a married couple is getting along, eight months after their 4-year-old ran out into the street and was struck dead by a car. They were leveled with grief. Their sex life stopped. They lived for a time in a daze, still surrounded in the house by the possessions of the child who no longer lives there. I know all this sounds like a mournful dirge, but in fact "Rabbit Hole" is entertaining and surprisingly amusing, under the circumstances. Three and a half stars

"Black Swan" (R, 108 minutes). Natalie Portman in a bravura performance as a driven perfectionist, a young ballerina up for a starring role at Lincoln Center. Her life is shadowed by a smothering mother (Barbara Hershey), an autocratic director (Vincent Cassel) and a venomous rival (Mila Kunis) and her deposed predecessor (Winona Ryder). A full-bore melodrama, told with passionate intensity, gloriously and darkly absurd. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Three and a half stars

"Carlos" (Unrated, 332 minutes). A remarkable portrait of a despicable man, the terrorist Carlos ("the Jackyl"), who from 1975 to 1994 directed a shadowy group of violent militants that dealt in kidnapping and murder. Edgar Ramirez is powerful in the title role, as an egomaniac whose primary cause seems to be himself. With reckless boldness he eludes an international manhunt until finally even his masters grow tired of him. Unflinching, detailed, absorbing. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Three and a half stars

"White Material" (Unrated, 105 minutes). Isabella Huppert plays a French woman in Africa, managing the coffee plantation that was her ex-husband's. War stirs in the land, and she is warned to evacuate. She finds that unthinkable. This is her home, this is her farm, and she will bring in the crop. The movie doesn't sentimentalize or make a political statement; like its heroine, it doesn't have theories. A beautiful, puzzling film; the enigmatic quality of Huppert's impassivity draws us in. Three and a half stars

"I Love You Phillip Morris" (R, 98 minutes) Jim Carrey in the true life story of outrageous con man Steven Russell, who impersonated doctors, lawyers, FBI agents, and corporate executives. He convinced prison officials he had died of AIDS, successfully faked a heart attack, and escaped from jail four times (hint: always on Friday the 13th). Ewan McGregor plays his cellmate Phillip Morris, who Steven falls in love with. Thereafter his life consists of trying to get Steven out of jail, or trying to escape to be with him. Audacious. Jim Carrey's mercurial personality was almost necessary to even make this movie. Three and a half stars

"Hereafter" (PG-13, 129 minutes). Clint Eastwood considers the idea of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. Matt Damon stars as a man who believes he has a genuine psychic gift, and suffers for it. Cecile de France is a French newsreader who has a near-death experience. Frankie McLaren is a small boy seeking his dead twin. The stories converge, but in a way that respects the plausible. Not a woo-woo film but about how love makes us need for there to be an afterlife. Four stars

"Made in Deganham" (R, 113 minutes). Delightful serious comedy about the historic 1968 in Ford's British plant that ended its unequal pay for women, and began a global movement. Sally Hawkins plays Rita O'Grady, who caught the public fancy as a strike leader. Bob Hoskins is a sympathetic union organizer, and Miranda Richardson plays Barbara Castle, the minister of labor who unexpectedly sided with the striking women. Three and a half stars

"Monsters" (R, 93 minutes). An American photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) shepherds the daughter of his boss (Whitney Able) north from Mexico though a dangerous Infected Zone occupied by an alien life form. But this isn't a "monster movie," or an exploitation film. It's an uncannily absorbing journey transformed by the fact of Beings who are fundamentally different from any life form we have imagine. Writer-director Gareth Edwards, who also created the special effects, builds toward a climax combining uncommon suspense and uncanny poetry. Three and a half stars

"Unstoppable" (PG-13, 98 minutes) A runaway train hurtles at 70mph, and the movie is as relentless as the train. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try to stop it, and Rosario Dawson is the hard-driving dispatcher. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film. Directed by Tony Scott. Three and a half stars

"Morning Glory" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Rachel McAdam transforms a conventional plot into a bubbling comedy with her lovable high energy. She plays an ambitious young producer on a last-place network morning news show, who forces a reluctant TV veteran (Harrison Ford) to do the kind of TV he despises. A lot of laughs, including Diane Keaton as Ford's veteran co-anchor, Matt Malloy as a goofy weatherman and Jeff Goldblum as the boss who considers the show dead in the water. Three and a half stars

"127 Hours" (R, 93 minutes). The harrowing true story of James Franco, a rock climber whose arm was pinned to a Utah canyon wall by a boulder. In desperation he amputated his own arm to free himself. James Franco stars in Danny Boyle's film, which is gruesome but not quite too gruesome to watch. It's rather awesome what an entertaining and absorbing film Danny Boyle has made here. Yes, entertaining. Four stars

"Buried" (R, 93 minutes). Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver working for a private contractor in Iraq. He comes to consciousness in blackness. He feels around and finds a lighter. It its flame his worst fears are realized. He has been kidnapped, buried alive, and is a hostage. Taking place entirely within the coffin, this is a superior suspense picture that's ingenious in devising plausible events inside the limited space. Three and a half stars.

"Tamara Drewe" (PG-13, 110 minutes) A mischievous British comedy, set in a rural writer's retreat where egos and libidos are in contention. When a once-homely local girl returns home with newfound fame and an improved nose, all the men perk up with unfortunate results. With Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans and Tamsin Greig. Directed by Stephen Frears. Delightful. Three and a half star

"The Social Network" (PG-13, 120 minutes). The life and times of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who created Facebook, became a billionaire in his early 20s, and now has 500 million members on the site he created. A fascinating portrait of a brilliant social misfit who intuited a way to involve humankind race in the Kevin Bacon Game. Everybody likes Facebook--it's the site that's all about you. With Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the Napster founder who introduced Zuckerberg to the Silicon Valley fast lane, Andrew Garfield as the best friend who gets dumped, and Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins, who sued Zuckerberg for stealing their idea. One of the year's best films. Four stars

"Secretariat" (PG, 116 minutes). A great film about greatness, the story of the horse and the no less brave woman who had faith in him. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, who fell in love with Secretariat when he was born, and battled the all-male ring fraternity and her own family to back her faith in the champion. A lovingly crafted film, knowledgeable about racing, with great uplift. Also with John Malkovich, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell, Nelsan Ellis, Dylan Walsh. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Last Train Home" (Unrated, 87 minutes). Begins as a documentary about an annual New Years migration from cities to villages by 180 million Chinese, and focuses on one family; the parents have labored at low factory wages for 15 years to pay for their children's education back home, and now, as their daughter graduates high school, they may find only heartbreak as repayment. Shot over three years, it's one of those extraordinary films, like "Hoop Dreams," that tells a story the makers could not possibly have anticipated in advance. Works like stunning, grieving fiction. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Inside Job" (Unrated, 108 minutes). Exactly how Wall Street thieves eagerly sold bad mortgages, bet against them, and paid themselves millions in bonuses for bankrupting their own companies. And the Street is having another good year at our expense, because Financial Reform is as far away as ever. An angry, devastating documentary. Four stars

"Let Me In" (R, 115 minutes). A well-made retelling of the Swedish "Let the Right One In," which doesn't cheapen the original but respects it and adds some useful events. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a bullied, neglected boy, and Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz of "Kick Ass") is the girl who moves into the next apartment and has "been twelve for a very long time." The same cold, dark atmosphere of foreboding, in a doom-laden vampire drama. Not for Team Edward. Three and a half stars

"Scrappers" (Unrated, 90 minutes). A portrait of Otis and Oscar, two self-employed collectors of scrap metal, who troll the alleys in their trucks and vacant lots of Chicago for metals that can be sold. They work hard, they support families, they perform recycling on metals that might end up buried in garbage, and they like the work--its freedom, its independence. But metals dropped from $200 to $300 a ton to $20 with the economic collapse, and now their trade is desperate. See this and you'll never look at a scavenger with the same eyes. Three and a half stars

"Never Let Me Go" (R, 104 minutes). In an alternative time line, test-tube babies are created solely for the purpose of acting as Donors for body parts. Raised in seclusion, they accept their role. Are they really human, after all? In this sensitive, teary adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, three of them begin to glimpse the reality of their situation, and its tragedy. With Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins. Four stars

"Nowhere Boy" (R, 97 minutes). The Beatles are only distantly on the horizon in this deeply-felt biopic of young John Lennon growing up in Liverpool. He's at the center of a tricky relationship involving his mother, who he didn't know growing up, and his aunt, who raised him. From these years perhaps came and simultaneous elation and sadness of many of his songs. Aaron Johnson as John, Kristin Scott Thomas as his Aunt Mimi, Anne-Marie Duff as his mother Julia. Three and a half stars

"Waiting for Superman" (PG, 102 minutes). The new documentary by Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") says the American educational system is failing, and dramatizes this failure in a painfully direct way, saying what is wrong, and what is right. He points to existing magnet schools that draw their students by random lottery and virtually guarantee high school graduation and acceptance by a college. He explains why bad teachers who cannot be fired are a national scandal. The film is alarming, fascinating, and in the end hopeful. Three and a half stars

"Easy A" (PG-13, 93 minutes). Funny, star-making role for Emma Stone, as a high school girl nobody notices, until she's too embarrassed to admit she spent the weekend home alone and claims she had sex with a college boy. When word gets around, she uses her undeserved notoriety to play the role to the hilt, even wearing a Scarlet Letter. And she's able to boost the reps of some of her pals by making up reports of their process. Sounds crass. Isn't. Three and a half stars

"The American" (R, 95 minutes). George Clooney is starkly defined as a criminal as obedient and focused as a samurai. He manufactures weapons for specialized jobs. He lives and functions alone. He works for a man who might as well be a master. He used few words. Only his feelings for a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) supply an opening to his emotions. Zen in its focus. Four stars.

"Flipped" (PG-13,90 minutes) Juli (Madeleine Carroll) has adored Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) ever since he moved into the neighborhood in the second grade. Bryce has been running away from her ever since. Now they're 14 and they seem to be flipping: he more interested, she less. Rod Reiner's warm human comedy tells their stories by showing the same crucial events from both their points of view. He returns to the time of his "Stand By Me" with the same endearing insights. Rating: Four stars

"Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" (R, 133 minutes). Continuation of the brutal life of France's most notorious criminal, who survived a 20-year series of bank robberies, kidnappings, prison breaks and murders. Vincent Cassel makes him brutal, ugly, powerful and inscrutable. Winner of French Oscars for best director and actor. Three and a half stars

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (R, 113 minutes) He was a ruthless killer, bank robber, kidnapper and prison break artist--and a self-promoting egomaniac who wrote books some compared to Camus. Vincent Cassel stars in a hard-boiled performance as the French criminal who killed on three continents and was in love with his image. Three and a half stars

"Salt" (PG-13, 100 minutes). A damn fine thriller. It does all the things I can't stand in bad movies, and does them in a good one. Angelina Jolie stars as a CISA agent fighting ingle-handedly to save the world from nuclear destruction. Hardly a second is believable, but so what? Superbly crafted, it's a splendid example of a genre action picture. Directed by Philip Noyce. Four stars

"Inception" (PG-13, 148 minutes). An astonishingly original and inventive thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a men who infiltrates the minds of others to steal secrets. Now he's hired to implant one. Ken Watanabe is a billionaire who wants to place at idea in the mind of his rival (Cillian Murphy). DiCaprio Assembles a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page) to assist him, in a dazzling achievement that rises above the thriller level and enters the realm of mind control--in the plot, and in the audience. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "The Dark Knight"). Four stars

"The Kids are All Right" (R, 104 minutes). A sweet and civilized comedy, quietly satirical, about a lesbian couple, their children, and the father the kids share via sperm donation. When they meet him, they like him, he likes them, and their moms are not so sure. What happens is calmly funny, sometimes fraught, and very human. With pitch-perfect performances by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as the moms, Mark Ruffalo as the dad, and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the 20-something children. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Three and a half stars

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" (R, 129 minutes). Noomi Rapace, electrifying in last year's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," returns for the second film drawn from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Once again she's following the same crimes as journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), but they don't meet until late in the game as a murder trail leads to old family secrets. Well constructed, good cast, not quite up to the "Dragon" standard. Three and a half stars

"Restrepo" (R, 94 minutes). A documentary shot during the 15 months an American company fought under almost daily fire in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, described as "the most dangerous place on earth." The Taliban is a constant presence; the Americans take fire three, four, five times a day; they establish the strategic Outpost Restrepo, named for the first of their number to die, and it seems to turn the tide in the Valley. The 15-month tour is hard duty, and our admiration grows for these men. The film is non-political; the men are fighting above all to simple survive. Four stars

"9500 Liberty" (Unrated, 80 minutes). A law similar to Arizona's controversial recent measure was passed and briefly enforced a few years ago in Virginia's Prince William County, and what happened there may be instructive. This documentary shows the rise and fall of a movement led by a right-wing blogger, and the groundswell of opposition (including many whites and Republicans) that ended it. The cost of the law in higher taxes, exposure to lawsuits and the city's image was startling. The doc shows the rise and fall of the county law, and centers on the American tradition of citizens speaking out in town hall meetings. Three and a half stars

"A Small Act" (Unrated, 98 minutes). A documentary about a Kenyan boy named Chris Mburu who grew up in a mud house, graduated from Harvard Law School, and is today a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. His education was made possible by a $15-a-month gift from Hilde Back, a Swedish schoolteacher whose parents were Holocaust victims. Mburu started a foundation in her honor to grant more scholarships, and in the film they meet and she is honored by his village. To call it "Heartwarming" would be an understatement. Three and a half stars

"Cell 211" (Unrated, 111 minutes). Very effective thriller about a man's attempt to save his life by thinking quickly. A new prison guard, being given a tour, is left behind when a riot breaks out. Pretending to be a new prisoner, he improvises well enough to become a de facto leader of the riot, and develops a subtle relationship with the rock-hard leader of the prisoners. Winner of eight Goya awards, the Spanish Oscars, this year, including Best Picture. Three and a half stars

"I am Love" (R, 120 minutes). A sensuous and fascinating story about a modern family of Italian aristocrats. Tilda Swinton plays a Russian who has married the oldest son, learns her husband and their son will take over the family textile business, then suddenly finds herself in the middle of an unexpected affair. Masterfully direct by Luca Guadagnino. One of the year's best. Four stars

"Cyrus" (R, 91 minutes). Two lonely people (John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei) meet at a party and like each other. She has a 20ish son (Jonah Hill) who welcomes Reilly to their home and invites him to stay for dinner. But a comedy of social embarrassment develops when it becomes clear that the son is jealous and possessive of his mother, and perhaps to physically familiar with her. No, it's not incest; let's call it inappropriate behavior that his mom doesn't seem to discourage. Reilly is caught in an awkward position, which the film simply regards, leaving us to wince in a fascinated way. Three and a half stars

"Winter's Bone" (R, 99 minutes). Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as a 17-year-old girl who father has skipped bail and left his family threatened with homelessness. In a dirt poor area of the Ozarks, she goes seeking him among people who are suspicious, dangerous and in despair. Winner of the Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2010 and the screenwriting award, this film by Debra Granik is one of the year's best. Four stars

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (R, 84 minutes). Rivers was 75 in this film, and never tires of reminding us of that fact. She remains one of the funniest, dirtiest, most daring and transgressive of standup comics, and she hasn't missed a beat. The doc follows her for a year as she relentlessly pursues the career that her daughter, Melissa, says was like having another sister. She violates her own privacy, speaks from the heart, does not know tact, and makes us laugh a lot. If you've only seen Rivers on TV, you ain't seen nothing' yet. Three and a half stars

"The Karate Kid" (PG, 126 minutes). Faithfully follows the plot of the 1984 classic, but stands on its own feet and takes advantage of beg shot on location in China. Jackie Chan dials down convincingly as the quiet old janitor with hidden talents, and Jaden Smith (son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) holds the screen with glowing charisma. The obligatory final fight climax is unusually well-handled. Three and a half stars

"Solitary Man" (R, 99 minutes). Michael Douglas in one of his best performances, as a once rich and famous car dealer, now in hard times but still tireless as closing the hardest sell of all--himself. He's a seducer, a cheater, a user, but running outgo of options, in a smart comedy/drama with an excellent supporting cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer, Danny DeVito and Susan Sarandon. Three and a half stars

"Please Give" (R, 91 minutes). Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt play a Manhattan couple who have a daughter and run an antique store and live next to a mean-tempered old lady (Ann Morgan Guilbert) . When she dies, they can buy her apartment. The old lady has two granddaughters, played by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet. When the couple invites everyone over for dinner, events are set in motion that are true, funny, and ruefully observant. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is so perceptive about women whose lives are not defined by men; that's rare in the movies. Three and a half stars

"Death at a Funeral" (R, 92 minutes). The best comedy since "The Hangover." A big family home is the setting for a funeral that's just one damn thing after another. Remake of a 2007 Brit comedy, but a lot funnier. All-star cast includes Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Loretta Devine, Regina Hall, Zoe Saldana, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson and on and on. Three and a half stars.

"Home" (Unrated, 98 minutes) A family live in a small home in the middle of vast fields and next to the highway, which hasn't been used for ten years. Then big trucks arrive to lay down a fresh coating of asphalt, and the arrival of traffic puts unbearable pressure on a family that seems a little strange from the first. With Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet. 2008 winner of the Swiss Film Prize. Three and a half stars.

"Date Night" (PG-13, 88 minutes) Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a perfectly nice married couple from New Jersey who simply want to have a great night out together in Manhattan. Mistaken for another couple, they're spun into a nightmare involving a mob boss and an unpaid debt. Funny, because they seem halfway plausible. With Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco. Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum"). Three and a half stars

"Greenberg" (R, 107 minutes). Ben Stiller in one of his best performances as a chronic malcontent who returns to L.A. to house-sit, nurture his misery, and reconnect with people who quite rightly resent him. With Greta Gerwig as an aimless but pleasant young college graduate who feels sorry for him, and Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh as survivors of his troublesome past. Directed by Noah Baumbach, of "The Squid and the Whale." Three and a half stars.

"Vincere" (Unrated, 128 minutes) The long-suppressed story of Mussolini's early mistress, who bore him a son and then was pushed into the shadows after he made a respectable marriage. She obsessively follows him, confronts him with their child in public, and is finally locked away by the fascists in an asylum. Giovanna Mezzogiorno's performance as Ida, the mistress, reminds me of Sophia Loren in the way she combines passion with dignity. Directed by the legendary Marco Bellocchio. Three and a half stars

"Leaves of Grass" (R, 105 minutes). Edward Norton plays a dual role as brothers: One a professor of philosophy at Brown, the other still back home in Little Dixie, Oklahoma, growing the best marijuana in the state. He may be the better philosopher. With Susan Sarandon as their mother, and Richard Dreyfuss as the state's drug kingpin. Norton gives two inspired and entirely different performances. Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who also plays the best friend. One of the best films of 2010. Four stars

"45365" (Unrated, 90 minutes). An achingly beautiful portrait of small town America. The title is the zip code of Sidney, Ohio, and brothers Bill and Turner Ross grew up there and spent seven months on 2007 creating this portrait in sound and images of ordinary people, mostly nice, living their lives. No obvious structure, no message, just an appreciation of daily life that becomes haunting in its poetry. Winner of the Truer than Fiction Award at the 2010 Independent Spirits. Four stars (3/27/10)

"Mother" (R, 128 minutes). A mentally-deficient 27-year-old seems almost certainly guilty of murder. His mother, who has protected him all his life, is determined to prove his innocence. She is a remorseless force of nature, in a South Korean thriller that moves far beyond our expectations, into labyrinths deeper than reality. Written and diffracted by Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"). Three and a half stars

"Chloe" (Unrated, 96 minutes). A woman doctor (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating, and hires a young call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to test how he might respond. She is fascinated by the girl's reports. Her jealousy shifts into curiosity. And the call girl? What's in this for her? Egoyan weaves a deceptive erotic web. Three and a half stars

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" (PG, 86 minutes). A privileged inside look at the Disney animation studio from 1984 to 1994, a golden age that essentially recreated feature animation in the form we know it now. From "The Little Mermaid" to "The Lion King," interviews, archives, home movies and interviews recreate a time of creative turmoil and backstage rivalries. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Three and a half stars.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Unrated, for adults, 148 minutes). Compelling thriller with a heroine more fascinating than the story. She's Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a 24-year-old Goth girl with body piercings and tattoos: thin, small, fierce, damaged, a genius computer hacker. She teams up with a taciturn Swedish investigator to end a serial killer's 40 years of evil. Based on the international best-seller. Intense and involving. The planned Hollywood remake will probably have to be toned down. Four stars.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (PG, 92 minutes). Nimble, bright and funny comedy about the hero's first year of middle school. Zachary Gordon stars as the uncertain newcomer, and Robert Capron is his pudgy best pal, who still acts like a kid. Chloe Grace Moretz sparkles as the only student who's nice to them, and the movie amusingly remembers the tortures of early adolescence. Based on the books by Jeff Kinney. Three and a half stars.

"The Green Zone" (R, 114 minutes) Matt Damon and his two-time "Bourne" director Paul Greengrass team up for a first-rate thriller set early in the war in Iraq. Damon's chief warrant officer finds that U.S. intelligence is worthless, and his complaints lead him to discover the secret conspiracy intended to justify the American invasion. Greg Kinnear is the deceptive U.S. intelligence puppet-master, Brendan Gleeson is a grizzled old CIA hand whose agency has always doubted the stories sabot Saddam's WMD, and Amy Ryan plays a newspaper reporter who served Kinnear as a pipeline. Four stars.

"A Prophet" (R, 154 minutes). An unformed young man is imprisoned, and behind bars he terrifyingly comes of age. A remorseless consideration of the birth of a killer. With Tahar Rahim as the clueless young prisoner and Niels Arestrup as the powerful boss of the gang controlling the prison. Swept the 2010 Cesar awards ("the French Oscars"), won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2009, a 2010 Oscar nominee for best foreign film. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Four stars

"The Ghost Writer" (PG-13, 124 minutes). In Roman Polanski's thriller, a man without a past rattles around in the life of a man with too much of one. Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer hired by a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), whose previous ghost has mysterious drowned. In a rain-swept house on Martha's Vineyard, McGregor meets the PM's wife (Olivia Williams) and his assistant/mistress (Kim Cattrall), as an international controversy swirls. A splendidly acted and crafted immersive story. Four stars

"Red Riding Trilogy" (Unrated, for adults, 302 minutes). An immersive experience based on the infamous Yorkshire Ripper killings and the subsequent revelations about deep corruption in the Yorkshire Police Departments. Brilliantly cast, filmed in segments each offering a distinctive look and feel, beginning with a serial killer and then tangling the investigation with deep-seated local corruption. Not so much about what happens objectively as about its surrounding miasma of greed and evil. Four stars

"The Art of the Steal" (Unrated, 101 minutes). The most valuable collection of modern and impression art in the rod, valued at $250 billion, was intended by its rich collector, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, to reside forever in the Barnes Foundation in suburban Philadelphia. He hired the best lawyers to draw up an iron-clad will to assure that would happen after his death. He specified it not go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which he felt had scorned him and his collection. This absorbing documentary tells the story of how and why his art is in that museum today, the film calls it the "art theft of the century." Three and a half stars

"Shutter Island" (R, 135 minutes). Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo are U.S. Marshals called to a forbidding island in Boston bay, the home of an old Civil War fort now used as a prison for the criminally insane. A child murderer has escaped her cell. Martin Scorsese relentlessly blends music, visuals, special effects and all of film noir tradition into an elegant horror film as fragmented as a nightmare. If you're blind-sided by the ending, ask yourself: How should it have ended? How could it have? Three and a half stars

"Fish Tank" (Unrated, adults, 123 minutes). The harrowing portrait of a 15-year-old girl on a reckless path toward self-destruction. Her mother, only about 30, is a drunken slut and she seems on the same path. Covers a few days of fraught experiences with sex and anger. Superbly acted by newcomer Katie Jarvis. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2009. Directed by Andrea Arnold. Four stars.

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Outguess Ebert: It's not over till the king speaks

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On the day the Oscar nominations were announced, I made some quick guesses and toyed with the possibility that “True Grit” (2010) might sneak in. I've changed my mind and now agree with the conventional wisdom that “The King's Speech” will be the year's best picture winner. Still, “True Grit” or “The Social Network” could pull off an upset. You might want to consider that when entering the $100,000 Outguess Ebert contest this year.

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The really important Oscars

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There are two of them that matter most to me, I think -- and not in the Best Picture category. ("The King's Speech" over "The Social Network"? Really? I can only shrug. Forget it, Jim -- it's the Academy...) I'm much more interested in seeing Roger Deakins and Skip Lievsay get their due recognition. DP Deakins, unquestionably one of the handful of great cinematographers working today, is nominated for "True Grit" (2010) -- his ninth nomination in 16 years, and he has yet to win. How can this be? For the record, here are the films for which he has been nominated by the Academy: "The Shawshank Redemption," "Fargo," "Kundun," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "The Man Who Wasn't There" (black-and-white widescreen, my favorite format), "No Country for Old Men" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (both in the same year!), "The Reader" (co-nominated with the also-great Chris Menges, who should have won for "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada") and now, "True Grit." (What? No nomination for "A Serious Man"?!?!) He also photographed "Sid and Nancy," "Stormy Monday," "Mountains of the Moon," "Homicide," "Barton Fink," "The Secret Garden," "The Hudsucker Proxy," "Dead Man Walking" and "The Big Lebowski," among many others.

Watch the impressive featurette/interview above for a few examples of Deakins' brilliance (and, for once, that term is actually intended to refer to the intensity of light!).

The Carpetbagger has a short interview with Deakins today, too (which contains spoilers, although this excerpt does not):

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The speech vs. the network

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – The British monarchy saga "The King's Speech" leads the Academy Awards with 12 nominations, including best picture and acting honors for Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush.

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Oscars: The king vs. the nerds vs. the Rooster

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The 2011 Oscar race seems to be shaping up among the King of England, two nerds, and Rooster Cogburn. "The King's Speech," about George VI's struggle to overcome a stammer, led all nominations with 12. The nerds won eight nominations each for "The Social Network," the story of the founder of Facebook, and "Inception," about a man who hacks into other people's dreams. "The Fighter" followed with seven.

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Can you Outguess Ebert for $100,000?

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Like all film critics, I wait until the last possible moment to make my annual Academy Awards predictions. I ask around, I read, I ponder. I'll do that again this year. But today I'm making my Early Guesses, so you can get a head start at outguessing me in our $100,000 Outguess Ebert Contest.

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Who'll be nominated?

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Although the 2011 Oscar nominations are announced at the crack of dawn Tuesday, many of the names on the list have been foreordained for weeks. Ever since its opening in September, “The Social Network” has been the front-runner for Best Picture — although when the Producers' Guild gave its prize to “The King's Speech” on Saturday night, all the predictions were somewhat shaken.

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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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Jeff Bridges: The Starman within

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• Roger Ebert / December 16th, 1984

When director John Carpenter saw the script of "Starman" for the first time, it looked to him like a special-effects movie, and he thought that was the wrong idea. He was more interested in remaking "It Happened One Night," with an extraterrestrial man in the Claudette Colbert role.

"The screenplay described the special effects in minute detail, but they seemed to be afraid of the story," Carpenter said. "I saw it as the story of two people on the road, learning to deal with each other. They had Starman flying around like Superman. And they were utterly obsessed with how he looked. There was all this emphasis on the big transformation scene, where he turns from an alien into the clone of a human being. But how he looks while he transforms is just hardware; it has nothing to do with the story."

By the time Carpenter came aboard about a year ago, "Starman" had been in various stages of production for four years. According to Hollywood folklore, this was the movie Columbia decided to make instead of "E. T.," which went to Universal instead: Some hapless executive had decided "E. T." was only a children's picture, while "Starman," which opened here Friday, was sort of the same story for adults.

The executive might have been right about the second part of that theory. "Starman" is one of those rare science-fiction movies with genuine emotional content. By the end of the film, when a woman from Earth and a creature from space look into each other's eyes and smile, there is something of the same warmth and heart that "E. T." projected.

There is, however, one very basic difference between the two movies. The challenge in "E. T." was to make an alien seem human. The challenge in "Starman" is to make a human seem alien. When we first see the alien, it is a glowing ball of pure energy, floating out of a wrecked spacecraft somewhere in Wisconsin, and drifting into the living room of a young widow's home. The creature sees a photograph of the widow's late husband, does a quick three-dimensional scan, analyzes a lock of hair for genetic information, and generates itself into a human clone - a dead-ringer for the dead man.

In this form, which it will retain for the rest of the movie, the starman reminds the woman so sharply of her husband that she is at first terrified, then hostile, and only gradually accepting. That process of emotional accommodation could easily have seemed ridiculous, but not in "Starman," where Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges manage to create one of the year's warmest love stories in the unlikely setting of an s-f movie. (That's especially ironic for Allen, whose previous movie, the dreary "Until September," was supposed to be a genuine human romance, and failed abysmally despite Paris as a backdrop.)

"Jeff Bridges and I did a lot of talking about how the starman should look and move and behave," Carpenter said. "He looks like a human but, intelligent as he is, he's had no experience in living inside this human life form. He walks and talks strangely. His head movements are birdlike. We never wanted him to become completely human - and even at the end of the film, after he's had some practice at being a human, there's still something a little strange about him. Jeff took some real chances in playing the role. There was always the question of whether he was going too far or not far enough. A lot of actors would have been afraid of looking ridiculous, but sometimes, after we'd shot a scene, Jeff would offer to do it again, just a little more strangely."

After the starman lands in Wisconsin (his craft was shot down by the Air Force), he enlists the widow to drive him to Arizona, where he has a rendezvous with his mother ship at the Great Meteor Crater. It's at this point that movie buffs will begin to recognize aspects not only of "It Happened One Night," but also of "They Live by Night," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands" and the whole genre of road movies.

The formula remains pretty constant: Man and woman hit the road, pursued by authorities of an uncomprehending, hostile society. At first, they are suspicious of each other, but trust gradually builds into love. The moment of truth arrives in a final confrontation between the refugees and society. There are even some more-or-less obligatory scenes, including the stop at a roadside diner. (Bridges, ordering alien food in a strange land, turns this scene into a quiet extraterrestrial homage to Jack Nicholson's classic chicken-salad scene in "Five Easy Pieces.")

"The story here is a whole lot more important than the science fiction," Carpenter said. "We reduced the s-f down to almost a magical fairy tale." That would continue a tendency in his work that you could see last Christmas in "Christine," the whimsical, terrifying movie about a used car with a mind of its own.

Carpenter has worked within the thriller and supernatural genres for most of his career, but he often seems to be testing their boundaries. After his early "Assault on Precinct 13," a superior police movie shot on a midget budget, his first big hit was the classic thriller "Halloween" (1978), in which an escaped killer turned into an indestructible engine of violence. Then he made such slick thrillers as "The Fog," "Escape from New York," "The Thing" and "Christine." In all of those films, special effects had at least equal importance with character; "Starman" clearly contains Carpenter's most three-dimensional people, even if one of them is from another world. Although there's a tendency to think of the movie as a fairly small one by Carpenter's standards - after all, it's basically about two people in a car, and this is the man who used special effects to make Manhattan into a prison city of the future - Carpenter told me it was a giant logistical job.

"We had 150 people moving across the country in trucks and vans," he said. "The low point was shooting only at night for six weeks. We used 16 helicopters for the scene at the Great Meteor Crater. We used nine simultaneous camera setups for some of the explosions. We had 70 or 80 extras in some of the scenes. This picture probably could have been done on a low budget, shooting around L.A., but the story is about how Starman falls in love as much with Earth as he does with her. We wanted to show the whole sweep of the countryside. Towns, fields, rain, sunrises - a planet seen by eyes that have never seen it before."

If that was the case, then the character played by Karen Allen is a woman seen by eyes that had never seen one before. Carpenter said he saw Allen through fresh eyes himself: "From 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' I got a very definite impression that she was strong, self-willed, with a sort of cute sexuality, I was unprepared for the effect she had when I saw her in person. She is beautiful. I softened her hair from the way she looked in 'Raiders.' I gave her a curl, a permanent, to frame those beautiful eyes, and she's gorgeous in this movie."

That left the tricky problem of casting the starman. "If you used a Hollywood star, a Stallone or a Richard Gere, the audience would have hooted," Carpenter said. "Jeff Bridges is able to disappear into his roles. He's elusive. He looks like he could be a house painter from Wisconsin. And he's not afraid to make a complete fool of himself, which is a special kind of courage for an actor."

Carpenter himself, for that matter, looks like he could be a house painter from Wisconsin. He was wearing a VistaVision sweatshirt, slacks and a pair of sneakers, and he looked more like a scruffy film student than a Hollywood director. He recently became a father for the first time; he and his wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau, have a 7-month-old son named John Cody, who was born in the middle of a tornado in Tennessee during the filming of "Starman."

"When I was going to film school," he said, "what I wanted to be was a commercial filmmaker in Hollywood - that's where I feel I can tell stories. I knew in my heart I could do anything. Musicals, gangster movies, Westerns, love stories. Having grown up on the movies, the only question was: Would they offer me those kinds of projects?"

"Starman" is Carpenter's first love story, of sorts, unless you include the rosy early days of the love affair with Christine the car. Now he's working on a project named "Chickenhawk," about helicopter pilots in Vietnam, drawing from his own experience as a licensed helicopter pilot.

That led inevitably to my next question, about the charges facing director John Landis in connection with the helicopter crash that killed three people during the shooting of "Twilight Zone." Carpenter said he didn't want to comment, apart from observing that a pilot is the unquestioned captain of his ship, with the absolute right to refuse orders he believes are unsafe. "A lot of laymen think it's safe for a helicopter to hover at low altitudes," he said. "It isn't."

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#30 September 29, 2010

"Beware of artists - they mix with all classes of societyand are therefore most dangerous." ~ Queen Victoriastencil by Banksy, British graffiti artistAnd who inspired a recent film about art...

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#20 July 21, 2010

"Twists of fate, love and humour, perseverance and, finally, a philosophical outlook- his story has it all." - Sarah Hampson.(click photo to enlarge) From the Globe and Mail article "You couldn't write this script" published July 19, 2010.From the Grand Poobah: "A young lady with excellent taste". (click to enlarge) "Ever since I was a child messing around with a terrible paint set from K-mart, I have been obsessed with controlling pigment suspended in water. Now I paint with divine, hand-made watercolors from Holland along with brushes ranging from high-end to dirt cheap, but the obsession remains..." - from Kelly Eddington's artist statement. To read more and see her truly wonderful watercolors, visit Kelly Eddington's Website and Gallery.

Ah, watercolors.... so easy to master; only takes decades....

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