The Man Who Knew Infinity
An account of a remarkable person should strive to be as equally remarkable as its subject, not the timid and tidy boilerplate special of a…
* 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.
On Trayvon and Questlove and feminism and racism; why the American right hates Detroit; Elliott Gould tells tales out of school; why somebody should adapt Stephen King's 'The Long Walk.'
"The Godfather Part III" is one of my favorite movies. I admit a personal obsession with the film that would have never existed had it simply been either good or bad. Some fans of the series clearly love to hate it; they equate Sofia Coppola's presence to that of Jar Jar Binks in the "Star Wars" trilogies, but I believe this is an over-simplification. "Part III" is an uneven picture that could and should have been great. That's what's maddening about it.
It was the opening day of the Disney-MGM studios in Orlando. The stars were there with their children. There was an official luncheon at the Brown Derby, modeled after the legendary Hollywood eatery. I was beside myself. I was in a booth sitting next to Jack Brickhouse, the voice of the Chicago Cubs. A man walked over and introduced himself. "Bob Elliott." Oh. My. God. Bob, of Bob and Ray.
For me he was the biggest star in the room. Who, after all, compared to even one half of Bob and Ray, was Tom Hanks? Whoopi Goldberg? Art Linkletter? "Gosh all whillikers, Mr. Science!" I said, "What's that long brown object???" Bob didn't miss a beat: "That's known as a board, Roger."
Another man was steaming toward us through the throng. A middle-aged man, well-dressed, tanned, with a pleasant smile. "Hi, Jack!" he said. "Say, I hear Ernie Banks is invited. Yeah, I was just talking to Michael and that's what he said." Jack turned to me and said, "Roger, this is a man I want you to meet. You're going to be seeing him again many times over the years. Say hello Jerry Berliant."
Psychologists say that depression is rage turned inward. Stand-up comedy, on the other hand, is rage turned back outward again. (I believe George Carlin had a routine about the use of violent metaphors directed at the audience in comedy: "Knock 'em dead!" "I killed!") In the documentary "Heckler" (now on Showtime and DVD) comedian Jamie Kennedy, as himself, plays both roles with ferocious intensity. The movie is his revenge fantasy against anyone who has ever heckled him on stage, or written a negative review... or, perhaps, slighted him in on the playground or at a party or over the phone or online.
"Heckler" (I accidentally called it "Harangue" just now) is an 80-minute howl of fury and anguish in which Kennedy and a host of other well-known and not-well-known showbiz people tell oft-told tales of triumphant comebacks and humiliating disasters, freely venting their spleens at those who have spoken unkindly of them. At first the bile is aimed at hecklers in club audiences (with some particularly nasty invective for loudmouthed drunken women), then it shifts to "critics" -- broadly defined as anybody who says something negative about a figure whose work appears before a paying public. Some of the critics are actually interested in analysis; some are just insult comics who are using the Internet as their open mic. It gets pretty ugly, but it's fascinating -- because the comics, the critics and the hecklers are so much alike that it's no wonder each finds the others so infuriating.
What does it feel like to resemble the Phantom of the Opera? You learn to live with it. I've never concerned myself overmuch about how I looked. I got a lot of practice at indifference during my years as the Michelin Man.
Yes, years before I acquired my present problems, I was not merely fat, but was universally known as "the fat one," to distinguish me from "the thin one," who was Gene Siskel, who was not all that thin, but try telling that to Gene:
"Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."
"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy," I observed.
"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm," Gene said. "Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"
The real Phantom: Lon Chaney in 1925
"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from 'Saturday Night Fever,'" I said.
"Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?" asked Buzz the floor director. "Enquiring minds want to know."
"He wanted to wear it today," I said, "but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."
"Ba-ba-ba-boom !" said Buzz.
"Here's an item that will interest you, Roger," Gene told me one day, paging through the Sun-Times, his favorite paper, during a lull in the taping of our show. We taped in CBS Chicago's Studio One, home of the Kennedy-Nixon debate.
"It says here, the Michelin Man has been arrested in a fast food court in Hawaii for attempting to impersonate the Pillsbury Dough Boy."
View image Me. And some other people.
One of the best educations in filmmaking that you can ever get is to spend a day on a set -- even (or maybe especially) as an extra, because that puts you right in the middle of the action, as it were. (When I was doing a Seattle Times story on the shooting of Alan Rudolph's "Trouble in Mind," Alan decided to stick me and my pal Eden, who was also working on the film, into the tiki bar scene, where I could observe everything that was going on all around. We appear as blurs behind the heads of Kris Kristofferson and Lori Singer.)
Anyway, back in 1986 (or early 1987?) my friend Nancy Locke, a longtime Seattle movie publicist, and I were invited to be extras on David Mamet's directorial debut feature, "House of Games." We showed up at Bagley Hall at the University of Washington (my alma mater) and I was put in a classroom, where Lilia Skala was our psych professor. In explaining the scene to us, Mamet mentioned we could now say that we had been directed by David Mamet. So, I'm sayin'.
I don't remember where they used Nancy, or if she made the final cut. (I'll have to ask her.) I do remember we did another semi-surreal scene in the hallway between classes, where we students brushed passed Lindsay Crouse while her character walked in a dazed, almost trance-like state. It was an experiment. They didn't use it.
I was reminded of this experience while looking at the new Criterion Collection edition of "House of Games." Roger Ebert gave the movie four stars, and in 1999 selected it as one of his Great Movies. It's pure Mamet -- hypnotic, suspenseful, surprising -- a noirish con game that reminds me of a Fritz Lang thriller, with stylized performances that hint of Bresson, Fassbinder, or Herzog's "Heart of Glass" (in which the director actually hypnotized the cast), but I've never seen anything quite like it. Three of my favorite actors -- Joe Mantegna, J.T. Walsh and Ricky Jay -- also star. Are you in?
James Bond (Daniel Craig) in "Casino Royale." With every move he makes, another chance he takes. Odds are...
What accounts for the movies' fascination with gambling? That's a question I mull over in a survey of pictures (from "Gilda" to "Barry Lyndon" to "Casino" to "California Split" to "The Cooler") about the addictive alchemy of luck, chance, fate and skill at MSN Movies. Making a movie is itself a grand gamble. You never know how it's going to turn out, and the results have as much to do with circumstance as they do with talent or craftsmanship. An excerpt from "High Rollers": Gambling does not rank among the "seven deadly sins." It doesn't have to. Just about all the capital vices can be found in the psyche of the gambler, and not just in the usual suspects, greed and envy. There's also plenty of room for gluttony (overindulgence, addiction, substance abuse); wrath (rage, vindictiveness); sloth (indifference, jadedness, existential apathy); lust (licentiousness, dissolution); and, the deadliest of all sins: pride (hubris, arrogance, usually expressed in the form of cheating, or a misplaced belief in a dubious "system" designed to beat the odds).
The grandest "Casino Royale" -- the ultimate gamble -- is, of course, the game of life itself: a series of cosmic wagers in which the stakes vary wildly from day to day, bet to bet. Some people seem to go "all in" all the time, some ante up just enough to get them through each hand they're dealt, and others are perpetual folders who try to opt out of the game entirely in order to avoid risking too much.
But since the time of Oedipus the central question has always been: How much of the outcome is governed by free will and how much by predestination? The answer depends on the (rigged?) nature of the game you're playing, and whether the winners and losers are predetermined, either by some higher interventionist power (appeased by superstitious rites, such as blowing on dice or disingenuously proclaiming the need for new footwear for one's tot), or by a simple calculation of the odds that invariably favor "the house."
Although one can only play the hand one is dealt, a poker or blackjack player retains a small degree of influence over his fate, as some game variables are subject to decision-making based on statistical knowledge and experience. Those who gamble on a roll of the dice or a spin of the wheel, however, rely on pure chance. Or, as it is known in gaming circles, "luck."
The odds of winning are never better than 50-50 (red or black in roulette), which is why most gambling stories -- and gambling movies -- are either about chance, or about cheating. As in the 1946 classic film noir, "Gilda," with Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth, these tales are of the men and women who learn to "make their own luck."
The only way to increase your luck without trickery is with skill -- by learning to read the odds based on the cards that have already been played, or by learning to read the people who play them. In Curtis Hanson's new "Lucky You," hot-headed poker player Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) has to learn how to do both if he wants to woo songstress Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore). As his father, L.C. (Robert Duvall), tells him: "You've got it backwards, kid. You play cards the way you should live life, and you live life the way you should play cards."
That's the lesson movie gamblers are always trying to learn. Everybody has a "tell" -- a little unconscious tic that reveals when they're bluffing. In David Mamet's "House of Games," renowned psychoanalyst Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) thinks she understands human behavior until she is schooled by Mike (Joe Mantegna) in the ways of gamblers and con men who avoid being understood. The big gamble comes down to a matter of pride -- and the skill and intuition to fool the other players.
In the most recent "Casino Royale" film, the hubris of James Bond (Daniel Craig) costs him a high stakes game, and nearly costs him his life. Every scene in the movie involves a bet, a bluff, or a calculated risk. Whether the game is espionage, romance, the stock market, or poker, the rules are basically the same: Outwit, outplay and outlast your opponents....
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Transcript of Roger Ebert's Hollywood Walk of Fame remarks
CALCUTTA, India I have been here at the Calcutta Film Festival for five days without once hearing the word "Miramax." No one has discussed a deal. There has been no speculation about a film's box-office prospects. I have not seen a single star. I have been plunged into a world of passionate debate about film - nonstop talking about theory, politics and art. For the visiting American, dazed and sedated by the weekly mumbo-jumbo about the weekend's top 10, this is like a wake-up plunge into cold water.
CALCUTTA, India--I have been here at the Calcutta Film Festival for five days without once hearing the word "Miramax." No one has discussed a deal. There has been no speculation about a film's box office prospects. I have not seen a single star. I have been plunged into a world of passionate debate about film--nonstop talking about theory, politics and art. For the visiting American, dazed and sedated by the weekly mumbo-jumbo about the weekend's ten grossers, this is like a wakeup plunge into cold water.
CALCUTTA, India - I have been here at the Calcutta Film Festival for five days without once hearing the word "Miramax." No one has discussed a deal. There has been no speculation about a film's box office prospects. I have not seen a single star. I have been plunged into a world of passionate debate about film--nonstop talking about theory, politics and art. For the visiting American, dazed and sedated by the weekly mumbo-jumbo about the weekend's ten grossers, this is like a wakeup plunge into cold water.
Q. Help me settle something. If Writer A and Writer B both wrote their opinions on a film--both with diligence and pride in their work--what difference in the two pieces would identify Writer A as a Film Critic and Writer B as someone just offering an opinion? Take the weekly feature you see in some papers, where kids review films. At what point do they cross the line, and can be called Critics as opposed to Reviewers? Is there some sort of certification program, like taking the Sally Struthers correspondence course in gun repair? (Andy Ihnatko, Westwood, Mass.)
LOS ANGELES -- Any kid can play a war hero. But it takes a real man to play a busted-down real estate salesman. Al Pacino has been preparing for years for a role like Ricky Roma, one of the losers in "Glengarry Glen Ross," and as Ricky looks around the shabby office that represents his world, you can see the anger in his tired eyes. Perhaps that rage was once the fire of zeal, joy, dedication. Now it simply reflects his refusal to be counted out.
Ebert's Best Film Lists 1967 - present
CANNES, France, May 10 -- How to have lunch at the Cannes Film Festival:
NEW YORK -- Woody Allen found the first ticklings of inspiration for "Alice" (opening Tuesday in Chicago at the Fine Arts) by getting a sty in his eye. One of those annoying little bumps by the tear ducts. That was why he went to the acupuncturist. And then the incident began to grow in his imagination, flowering and folding in upon itself, and finally it became a story about Mia Farrow as a rich New York trophy wife who is compelled to evaluate every aspect of her life after a strange old man in Chinatown gives her special herbs for her tea.
Ebert's Best Film Lists1967 - present
There is a scene in "Things Change" where Don Ameche is in a steam room with a towel draped across himself, and this is not a man who looks 80 years old. You look at the scene and you reflect that he made "Ramona" in 1936 and has two movies coming out in the autumn of 1988 and you wonder what his secret is. He is glad to share it with you. His secret is clean living.
Ebert's Best Film Lists 1967 - present