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The Last of Robin Hood

A title as good as "The Last of Robin Hood" deserves a better movie. In fact, it deserves a good movie.

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As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

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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.

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Tilda Swinton, interviewed; The story behind "Boy With Appple"; Analyzing how rape is depicted in television; "Poptimism" and music criticism; Thoughtful reflections on Roger Ebert.

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A list of the movies that mogul Harvey Weinstein has brutally edited, over their directors' objections; interview with Syd Mead, who helped design "Alien," "Blade Runner," "TRON" and other classic SF films;

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#167 May 15, 2013

Marie writes: The unseen forces have spoken! The universe has filled a void obviously needing to be filled: there is now a font made entirely of cats. Called Neko Font (Japanese for "cat font") it's a web app that transforms text into a font comprised of cat pictures. All you need to do is write something in the text box, press "enter" on your keyboard and Neko Font instantly transforms the letters into kitties! Thanks go to intrepid club member Sandy Kahn for alerting the Ebert Club to this important advancement in typography. To learn more, read the article "There is now a font made entirely of cats" and to test it out yourself, go here: Neko Font. Meanwhile, behold what mankind can achieve when it has nothing better to do....

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#138 October 17, 2012

Marie writes: the ever intrepid Sandy Khan recently sent me a link to ArtDaily where I discovered "Hollywood Unseen" - a new book of photographs featuring some of Hollywood's biggest stars, to published November 16, 2012."Gathered together for the first time, Hollywood Unseen presents photographs that seemingly show the 'ordinary lives' of tinseltown's biggest stars, including Rita Hayworth, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. In reality, these "candid' images were as carefully constructed and prepared as any classic portrait or scene-still. The actors and actresses were portrayed exactly as the studios wanted them to be seen, whether in swim suits or on the golf course, as golden youth or magic stars of Hollywood."You can freely view a large selection of images from the book by visiting Getty Images Gallery: Hollywood Unseen which is exhibiting them online.

(click to enlarge image)

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The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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Richard Leacock (1911-2011): "Screw the tripod!"

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Chicago digital filmmaker Nelson Carvajal recently quoted the late Direct Cinema / Cinéma vérité pioneer Richard Leacock in a post at Free Cinema Now in which he defends -- for personal, aesthetic reasons -- the fashionable handheld camera technique known variously as the shaky cam, the queasy-cam and (when combined with chaotic cutting) the snatch-and-grab:

Anyone who knows my shooting style knows that I'm not a fan of tripods. To me, most static "pretty" shots that I see from other indie filmmakers represent an analogy for an elusive Hollywood-esque model of moviemaking. Ever been on a student film set and notice how much of the day goes to laboring over a shot that really doesn't grab you in the end? We go to the movies and are swept away by the big budget vistas and then for some reason we're convinced that our camcorder, a tripod and a light set will accomplish the same feel. And when it doesn't, we're surprised. But we shouldn't be. At the end of the day, it's all about the content of what we're trying to show, say or provoke in an audience. So instead of trying to mimic or recreate a sense of grandness without the necessary resources (like an outrageous Hollywood budget for example), why not create our own language for the cinema? Let Hollywood make "Sucker Punch." We'll instead focus on breaking away and discovering new ways to tell our stories.

I suppose this is why I embrace "direct cinema" filmmaking so strongly. I love grabbing the camera and just improvising as I go. It's a shooting style that liberates my senses; it awakens me.

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#50 February 16, 2011

Behold a most wondrous find...."The Shop that time Forgot" Elizabeth and Hugh. Every inch of space is crammed with shelving. Some of the items still in their original wrappers from the 1920s. Many goods are still marked with pre-decimal prices."There's a shop in a small village in rural Scotland which still sells boxes of goods marked with pre-decimal prices which may well have been placed there 80 years ago. This treasure trove of a hardware store sells new products too. But its shelves, exterior haven't changed for years; its contents forgotten, dust-covered and unusual, branded with the names of companies long since out of business. Photographer Chris Frears has immortalized this shop further on film..." - Matilda Battersby. To read the full story, visit the Guardian.  And visit here to see more photos of the shop and a stunning shot of Morton Castle on the homepage for Photographer Chris Fears.

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Public Edition #1

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Edited by Marie Haws, Club SecretaryFrom Roger Ebert: Club members receive the complete weekly Newsletter. These are abridged and made public on the site three weeks later. To receive the new editions when they're published, annual dues are $5. Join here.From The Grand Poobah: Reader Steinbolt1 writes in: "Mark Mayerson has been putting together mosaics of all the scenes from specific Disney animated films, and is currently working through Dumbo. Each scene has the specific animator(s) who worked on the film listed above it. This is my favorite post on Dumbo, so far: Mayerson on Animation: Dumbo Part 5 "The only humans we've seen previously are in sequence 3. They are all white and wearing uniforms that clearly mark them as circus employees. When we get to this sequence, the only humans we see are black. As they are disembarking from a railroad car, we know that they are also employees, but they don't get uniforms. The roustabouts are the ones who do the heavy lifting, regardless of the weather. Why aren't the rest of the employees helping? I guess the work is beneath them. Let's not forget that the circus wintered in Florida, at the time a Jim Crow state." - Mark Mayerson; animator, writer, producer, director, Canadian.

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#19 July 14, 2010

From The Grand Poobah: Reader Steinbolt1 writes in: "Mark Mayerson has been putting together mosaics of all the scenes from specific Disney animated films, and is currently working through Dumbo. Each scene has the specific animator(s) who worked on the film listed above it. This is my favorite post on Dumbo, so far:

Mayserson on Animation: Dumbo Part 5"The only humans we've seen previously are in sequence 3. They are all white and wearing uniforms that clearly mark them as circus employees. When we get to this sequence, the only humans we see are black. As they are disembarking from a railroad car, we know that they are also employees, but they don't get uniforms. The roustabouts are the ones who do the heavy lifting, regardless of the weather. Why aren't the rest of the employees helping? I guess the work is beneath them. Let's not forget that the circus wintered in Florida, at the time a Jim Crow state." - Mark Mayerson; an animator, writer, producer, director and Canadian. :-)

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Name That Director!

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UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Jim's favorite movies of 2009: The movie

Once again, my favorite movies of the year engage in overlapping cinematic conversation with one another, blurring stylistic, thematic, national, linguistic, philosophical, theological and proprietary boundaries. No one is playing the blame game here. Happy new year!

(list and links after the jump...)

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Avatar plunges into the Uncanny Unimaginative Valley

Shortly after getting gut-shot, one of the characters in James Cameron's "Avatar" wisecracks: "This could ruin my whole day." I know the feeling. The line, like so many others, lands with a hollow thud.

To my eyes (and ears), "Avatar" is the first Cameron feature that's a near-total failure. Obviously, I'm not talking about ticket sales, since the movie just opened today, or the early reviews, most of which were ecstatic. I emphasize "my eyes" because: 1) the golden-saucer eyes of the lovely, elongated blue protagonists, the Na'vi, are their most entrancing features; 2) the movie is explicitly about the act of seeing ("I see you" is one of its catch phrases, and the title of the Celine Dion-ish end-credits theme song that goes on and on); 3) the central problem with the movie is not its less-than-impressive technology but the triteness of its artistic vision; and 4) the 3D process -- at least for me, with my particular prescription lenses behind those Polarized glasses -- is continually distracting. And yet, "Avatar" strikes my retinas as an achievement that amounts to something considerably less than meets the eye.

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(Kar-) Wai, Oh Why?

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It's confession time again here at Scanners: I've never gotten into Wong Kar-Wai (aka -wai, aka -Wei). I watched about half of "Chungking Express" and it seemed like better-than-average Tony Scott, but that didn't particularly interest me. (I guess I was hoping for something more like the hilariously deadpan first segment of Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train," which is what various descriptions had led me to expect.) So, while humming Peggy Lee ("Is That All There Is?"), I turned it off and vowed to give it another shot at some future date. Never happened. And I wanted to see "2046" (despite my, er, reservations), but when I found out it was a semi-sequel, I felt like I should first see its predecessor, "In the Mood For Love" and (although I have both saved on my TiVo -- in HD, no less) I've never gotten 'round to either.

Now my friend (and MSN Movies Editor) Dave McCoy, who's disliked more Wong than I've even seen (but likes "In the Mood for Love"), writes about the shade-sporting hypester's English-language "Blueberry Nights" from Cannes. This would have been ideal for the Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon: I'll admit it: I don't get Wong Kar-Wai. I don't get his movies, I don't get his silly dark glasses that everyone else finds chic and cool, and I especially don't get the universal adoration heaped upon him. It's one of those things I know I should probably appreciate more. Like Björk. Or Thomas Pynchon. Or golf. Or brussels sprouts.

When the Hong Kong (by way of China) filmmaker burst on the international scene with "Ashes of Time" and, more prominently, "Chungking Express" in 1994, he immediately became both a critical darling and cult fan favorite. I found both films boring stylistic exercises. Friends told me his next film, "Fallen Angels," would turn me around. "It's got multiple story lines; you like Altman!" they said. I couldn't make my way through it. "Happy Together," an emotionally brutal gay love story, won him Best Director at Cannes in 1997. I fell asleep during it. His last film, "2046," an experimental sci-fi/time-travel thingy was so pretentious and infuriating and laughable to me that I walked out of the press screening. Of course, it topped numerous critics' top 10 lists in 2004 and that's when I started referring to the director as Wong Kar-WHY? But what about "In the Mood for Love," you ask? OK, I'll give you that one, in that he toned down the "look at me" cheap theatrics and for the only time made me feel something for Kar-Wai's tragic characters. And Tony Leung's performance killed me. [...]

But here's the thing: I always give WKW another chance. I always feel like, yes, this is the one that will turn me around! [...]

Look folks, I tried ... but "My Blueberry Nights" flat blows.... It's atmospheric ... it looks cool, man. And all of his other showy, decorative tricks made the trip to America, as well: the lingering slo-mo shots of actors looking into space (soooo deep), the claustrophobic framing, the melancholy soft focus -- everything, we suddenly realize, to take our mind away from a thin story about lost love and shattered souls that we've seen hundreds of times.... It'll probably win the Palme d'Or.

My one consolation happened when I was sitting in a movie theater before the next screening. Two prominent critics were talking to one another. One asked how the other was doing, and he replied, with lovely sarcasm, "I just flew in today and had Wong Kar-Wai inflicted on me." Right on, my brother. You don't by any chance hate brussels sprouts, too? A few notes:

1) Brussels sprouts are my favorite green vegetable. Steamed with butter, garlic and a little lime juice. I'm telling you...

2) Although Dave is perfectly correct to characterize lead actress Norah Jones as "the pleasant singer whose CD is found in every soccer mom's gas-guzzling SUV" (and, yes, she's probably been the subject of as much fashionably middlebrow hype as the Great Wong), she has achieved one moment of sublimity, a year or two before her rather bland debut album. Listen to her sing Roxy Music's "More Than This" on Charlie Hunter's "Songs From the Analog Playground." It's heaven.

3) Read the whole piece, with Dave's specific observations about "Blueberry Nights" (is that a wine spritzer?), and please feel free to rise to Wong's defense with your comments.

4) My advice: Beware of films bearing Natalie Portman, the Julia Ormond of the 00's. Or at least approach them with trepidation. (OK, I did think she was good in "Closer." So good I forgot it was her.)

5) Anybody feel similarly about other much-ballyhooed contemporary sacred cows (and Cannes winners) like, say, Abbas Kiarostami, or Lars von Trier, or Theo Angelopoulos, or Quentin Tarantino, or... ?

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Ebert reviews Johnny Depp

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Just think: Johnny Depp could have had the career of, say, Richard Grieco. In 1988, they were both break-out stars, young TV cops working undercover as high school students in the fledgling Fox network's first hit show, "21 Jump Street."

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Opening Shots: 'Stranger Than Paradise'

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From Christopher Long, Reviewer and Features Editor, DVDTown.com:

In terms of narrative structure, the opening shot of Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise" is a perfect "mini-movie." The film opens with a shot of Eva (Eszter Balint, seen from behind) standing to the far right of the frame; in the background, we see a plane park on an airport runway. Eva watches a plane land, very slowly picks up her luggage (a ratty suitcase and a shopping bag), turns around (glancing around in almost a full circle) then walks (again, very slowly) left and towards the camera until she exits the frame.

The shot lingers, however, long after Eva has departed to witness the parked plane as it begins its takeoff. Here is the entire story laid out in miniature: "Stranger Than Paradise" begins with an arrival by plane (Eva coming to America from Hungary) and ends with a departure by plane (Willie [John Lurie] flying to Budapest).

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Jarmusch shows 'the Money'

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He always wanted to work with Bill Murray, Jim Jarmusch said. "He's got a big-brush style where he's a comic genius. But he can also paint with a one-haired brush." That was the Murray that Jarmusch wanted, the one he had seen in "The Razor's Edge," "Mad Dog and Glory," "Ed Wood," "Rushmore" and "Lost in Translation." So it should have been simple. Jarmusch worked on a screenplay for four or five months, went to Cannes in 2002 to raise the money for it, and came home with most of the financing in place.

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