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Jackie

There are two movies in "Jackie." One of these movies is just OK. The other is exceptional. The first one keeps undermining the second.

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Things to Come

Things to Come is the detailed tapestry of one woman’s life, as she moves through an important transition.

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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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Cast and Crew

* 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.

Looper: Dig that crazy cloud

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I think my very favorite thing in Rian Johnson's "Looper" is a squiggly cloud. It hangs there in the sky above a cornfield and you can't help but notice it. Which is good, because this is a time-travel movie and the cloud comes in handy later when something happens again in this same spot and the cloud tells you what time it is. Thanks to that cloud, you know this is a re-run.

In one version of the present-future-past, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shoots his future self (Bruce Willis) and in another he doesn't. I couldn't remember why that happened at first just now, but then it came back to me. Johnson brought in Shane Carruth, writer-director of the meticulously planned and way more convoluted time-travel thriller "Primer" (2004) to do some special effects work, which indicates to me that RJ is fairly serious about his science-fiction. (He also wrote and directed "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom," both of which contain some nifty, well-plotted twists.)

(Update: Here's a "Looper" timeline/infographic.)

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Can a movie ruin a good review?

Here's a question for you: Can a movie ruin a good review? Conversely, can a review actually improve upon a movie? Sure, good criticism (whether positive or negative) should encourage you to see a film in new ways you may not have recognized before. Just as cinema itself is a way of looking at the world through someone else's eyes, criticism is a way of looking at movies through someone else's eyes. Yet, the movies themselves don't change -- only our perceptions of them (we'll put aside William Friedkin's "French Connection" Blu-ray for the moment). On the one hand, a piece of film criticism is kind of like an adaptation. It offers an interpretation of the original, but does not replace it. Other "versions" still exist, just as they always did.

I can think of several examples of criticism that I think is superior to the work being criticized, in the sense that the critic is writing about an idealized version of what's on the screen -- the movie we might wish was on the screen, rather than (or in addition to) the one that's actually there. A clarification: This has nothing to do with whether the critic is divining the filmmaker's intentions or not. It has everything to do with what the critic is seeing in, and getting out of, the film.

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Blu-ray: Higher fidelity to what?

The announcement of a pristine, digitally enhanced Blu-ray release of Edgar G. Uhlmer's grimy 1945 noir "Detour" got me thinking in granular terms...

The first CD I ever bought was Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America." I had hundreds (thousands?) of LPs by that time, but it was the first thing I got on CD -- because of the dynamic range of the music and the recording, and the really quiet passages that always showed off the flaws in the vinyl pressing (rumble, ticks and pops from imperfections, static, scratches, dirt, etc.), no matter how careful you were with the record. There was a vinyl shortage in the 1970s, and most American records sounded terrible. Vinyl was mixed with cheaper plastics and additives (don't get me started on RCA Dynagroove), LPs got thinner and less uniformly flat, contaminants (like bits of label from recycled records) got pressed right into the grooves... I got used to the idea that I'd have to take back one out of every three or four records I bought for audible -- and often visible -- defects.

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Indie Spirit Awards: Good news & bad news

"Man Push Cart."

Full list of nominees here.

I haven't seen all the nominees ("The Dead Girl," "American Gun," "Wristcutters: A Love Story," etc.), but, as always, there are some most welcome nominations. (Links below go to my reviews, festival coverage -- or even Opening Shots.)

"Man Push Cart," for best first feature (director Rahmin Bahrani), male lead (Ahmad Razvi) and cinematography (Michael Simmonds). Opening Shot treatment here.

"Half Nelson," for best feature, director (Ryan Fleck), first screenplay (Anna Boden & Fleck), male lead (Ryan Gosling), female lead (Shareeka Epps)

"Pan's Labyrinth," for best feature and cinematography (Guillermo Navarro). (But not Guillermo del Toro for director and screenplay?!?!?!)

"Old Joy," for the John Cassavettes Award.

Paul Dano for "best supporting male" (that's the IFP's category) in "Little Miss Sunshine," which is also nominated for best feature, screenplay, directors -- and Alan Arkin, also nominated for supporting male. I love Arkin (it's all about "Little Murders," people!), but I thought Steve Carell and Dano stole the movie, with Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear close behind.

Catherine O'Hara for best female lead in "For Your Consideration."

Robert Altman, best director for "A Prairie Home Companion."

Biggest disappointments: No documentary nominations for "51 Birch Street" or "The Bridge." The former may have been too deceptively simple and artless (in truth, it's a complex work of art) and the latter too cold and disturbing for many in the Indie tent-party crowd.

I'm still technically on break, but I'll be back to blogging (and editing) Wednesday.

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Brian De Palma and The Pink Dahlia

An attempted "Chinatown" shot from "The Black Dahlia."

I've been holding back my thoughts about Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia" since I saw it at the end of July, and now (especially after ten days at the Toronto Film Festival) those thoughts are more distant and disorganized than ever. I had intended to review the movie for RogerEbert.com, but that proved to be nigh impossible -- I've just been too busy with Toronto and other stuff, and I found the movie rather flat and ininspiring, so I didn't feel passionately motivated to write about it. (I'm still in Toronto as I write this.)

So, I'm going to offer just a few general comments (including some mild spoilers about particular shots and sequences), and then I'd very much like to hear your comments about the movie.

As I think back on the film, I'm surprised to find that the predominant color I associate with it is a rosy pink. Not black. Not blood red. But a mild color that Vilmos Zsigmond has used in his peculiar pastel palette for the film. That's not what I expected of a De Palma film of James Ellroy's "The Black Dahlia," but there it is. And somehow that characterizes what I think is wrong with the movie: After the first hour or so, which seems like a good set-up for a De Palma extravaganza, it grows pale and indistinct. From the start it's too controlled, rarely risky or dangerous. By the end, lots of people are getting shot (in pretty unimaginative ways for De Palma), just so it seems the filmmaker can hurry up and get the movie over with. Things fall apart. I didn't feel like De Palma cared about the picture anymore at this point, and so neither did I. You can feel the filmmaker losing interest in his own movie.

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Opening Shots Quiz 2: Answers

"I am your host! Und sagen..."

Here they are, eleven of the most famous opening shots in movie history, plus a bonus that I threw in just because I like it. Prepare to smack your head and say, "D'oh! I knew that!" But don't give up -- keep sending in your nominations for great opening shots, along with your explanations for why they set up the movie so well, to: jim AT scannersblog dot com.

Congrats to Daniel Dietzel, who got all ten right, but did not hazard a guess about the two bonus shots -- and to Jeremy Matthews, who got nine out of the top 10, but also correctly identified both the bonus/tiebreakers!

And come back Sunday for the answers to the original Opening Shots Pop Quiz.

Now, the answers to the Opening Shots Quiz 2: 10 Easy Pieces (+2):

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Politics, celebs and movie critics

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"You should learn to keep your opinions OUT of your reviews!" Every critic I know has received at least one letter like that from an indignant reader. Of course, it's an absurd proposition; critics are paid to express their opinions, and the good ones (who exercise what is known across all disciplines as "critical thinking") are also able to cite examples and employ sound reasoning to build an argument, showing you how and why they reached their verdict.

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