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Nightcrawler

A perfect engine of corrosive satire, this drama follows the adventures of an amoral cameraman to its logical and unsettling end.

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Horns

There are some clever ideas in the script from Keith Bunin, based on the novel by Joe Hill, but they get mixed up in some…

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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.

Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013: An Appreciation

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The first rule in Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing is "Never open a book with the weather." It could never be a "dark and stormy night" in Leonard's universe. Instead, he opened his novels with nonchalant statements of character-driven fact. "Rum Punch" begins "Sunday morning, Ordell took Louis to watch the white-power demonstration in downtown Palm Beach." "The Hot Kid" informs us that "Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and killing at Deering's drugstore." And "Glitz"'s opening line kicks off two and a half of Leonard's most readable pages with "The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming." Elmore Leonard got straight to the point. His characters were sometimes in love with their verbosity, but Leonard the narrator did not share this predilection. The omnipotent voice running through Dutch Leonard's work told you who said what, who did what, and the darkly comic repercussions of both. No writer wrung more color out of simply telling you what happened than Dutch Leonard. "Melanie was holding it in both hands now, arms extended, aimed at Gerald. "He tossed the shotgun to land on the sofa, looked up at Melanie and said 'Okay, now you put that down, honey, and I won't press charges against you.' Confident about it, as though it would settle the matter."Melanie didn't say anything. She shot him." –"Rum Punch"Leonard's characters were a multi-racial motley crew of cops, criminals, outlaws, lawyers, cowboys and sociopaths. They did not always follow the crime fiction novel's gender conventions. Strong, brutal women and weak, emotional men were not verboten. Leonard's characters were beholden to their own self-defined notions of ethics and morality. They were often much less clever than they thought; their flaws of nemesis underestimation became their undoing. Those who survived sometimes found themselves in other novels. Leonard never passed judgment as his characters flamed out in pitch black comic blazes both pathetic and glorious. To do so would violate his last and most important rule of writing: "Leave out the parts readers tend to skip." Much of the pleasure of reading Elmore Leonard was in the dialogue, which is why so many of his books became movies and TV series. Leonard followed his rule of "avoiding detailed descriptions of characters" by having his people talk to each other. He had an ear for the way conversations flowed, whether they were conducted on the street, in the precinct, or on the range. For a White guy, he certainly knew how to sound convincingly like the Black dudes who populated many of his novels. He captured the cadences of their speech, and did so without stereotype. His Brothers sounded like the guys I heard on the street in my old neighborhood; his cops sounded like cops I knew. Leonard embraced and elevated what they said, letting them ramble on whenever necessary. This love of casual chatter is probably what drew Tarantino to adapt "Rum Punch" as "Jackie Brown." It's certainly what made him pull entire chunks of Leonard's dialogue verbatim into the "Jackie Brown" script.The labyrinthine plots Leonard dragged his characters through were overly complicated yet always compelling. Even in something as spare and nasty as "52 Pick-Up," the first book of his I read, Leonard toyed with the expectations of where his stories took us. Even in the most convoluted plots, there was a feeling that the reader got entangled in this mess by virtue of the characters' machinations, not the author's. Before turning to the Florida-set crime stories that became his trademark, Elmore Leonard wrote Westerns. "3:10 to Yuma" and "The Tall T" were based on his work, as was Paul Newman's 1967 film "Hombre." Starting with "The Big Bounce" (made with Ryan O'Neal in 1969), Leonard changed his genre but kept many of the characteristics of a good Western. For example, "Mr. Majestyk" features a character protecting his "homestead" in much the same way as Jimmy Stewart or Randolph Scott would have. And of course, "Justified"'s Raylan Givens is the perfect synthesis of both genre halves of Leonard's work. Is there another author besides Shakespeare and Stephen King whose prolific output inspired so many movie adaptations? And by directors as varied as Abel Ferrara, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Budd Boetticher, John Frankenheimer, Barry Sonnenfeld and Burt Reynolds (whom I'm sure Leonard wanted to shoot after seeing "Stick"). The stories vary from tales of Hollywood to big money heists to sleazy exploitation. Regardless of quality—and it varied from film to film—the spirit of Dutch Leonard's prose was felt by the viewer. Since I was 17, Elmore Leonard has been my favorite writer. I told him so the one time I met him. It was at the now defunct and long-gone Waldenbooks on Exchange Place and Broadway in Manhattan. He was there to sign copies of "Rum Punch," which was eerily prescient since it was the basis of my favorite film adaptation of Leonard's work. He was a very nice man, patiently listening to the 22-year-old aspiring writer whose excited rambling violated Leonard's fourth rule of writing ("Keep your exclamation points under control!"). When I was done, he verified the spelling of my name, signed my book and wished me luck with my writing.I hadn't thought about that meeting in a while, but when I heard that Leonard died today, it rushed back to me with the immersive force of a good Elmore Leonard set piece. There was casual chatter, a cool as a cucumber experienced character, and a matter of fact, straightforward rendering of events. Nobody got shot, which is a good thing for me, but that didn't make my run-in with Mr. Leonard any less memorable. Rest in peace, Dutch.

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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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Agents of chaos

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Chaos Cinema Part 1 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.

Matthias Stork, a German film scholar now based in Los Angeles, has created a most stimulating two-part video essay on a subject near and dear to my heart: "Chaos Cinema." At Press Play, it's given the sub-head "The decline and fall of action filmmaking," while an analysis at FILMdetail considers it from the angle of technology: "Chaos Cinema and the Rise of the Avid." Stork, who also narrates his essay, describes his premise this way:

Rapid editing, close framings, bipolar lens lengths and promiscuous camera movement now define commercial filmmaking.... Contemporary blockbusters, particularly action movies, trade visual intelligibility for sensory overload, and the result is a film style marked by excess, exaggeration and overindulgence: chaos cinema.

Chaos cinema apes the illiteracy of the modern movie trailer. It consists of a barrage of high-voltage scenes. Every single frame runs on adrenaline. Every shot feels like the hysterical climax of a scene which an earlier movie might have spent several minutes building toward. Chaos cinema is a never-ending crescendo of flair and spectacle. It's a shotgun aesthetic, firing a wide swath of sensationalistic technique that tears the old classical filmmaking style to bits. Directors who work in this mode aren't interested in spatial clarity. It doesn't matter where you are, and it barely matters if you know what's happening onscreen. The new action films are fast, florid, volatile audiovisual war zones. [...]

Most chaos cinema is indeed lazy, inexact and largely devoid of beauty or judgment. It's an aesthetic configuration that refuses to engage viewers mentally and emotionally, instead aspiring to overwhelm, to overpower, to hypnotize viewers and plunge them into a passive state. The film does not seduce you into suspending disbelief. It bludgeons you until you give up.

It seems to me that these movies are attempting a kind of shortcut to the viewer's autonomic nervous system, providing direct stimulus to generate excitement rather than simulate any comprehensible experience. In that sense, they're more like drugs that (ostensibly) trigger the release of adrenaline or dopamine while bypassing the middleman, that part of the brain that interprets real or imagined situations and then generates appropriate emotional/physiological responses to them. The reason they don't work for many of us is because, in reality, they give us nothing to respond to -- just a blur of incomprehensible images and sounds, without spatial context or allowing for emotional investment.

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Sidney Lumet: In Memory

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Sidney Lumet was one of the finest craftsmen and warmest humanitarians among all film directors. He was not only a great artist but a much-loved man. When the news of his death at 86 arrived on Saturday, it came as a shock, because he had continued so long to be so productive.

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Richard Harris: Don't let it be forgot

By Roger Ebert / June 26, 1974

Richard Harris, dressed from head to toe in black, sprawled on the couch in his hotel suite and sang, not at all badly, a few warmup lines of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." It was afternoon, although apparently not for him, and he was in Chicago with Ann Turkel, his bride of 13 days, to promote a new movie they costar in.

The name of the movie is "99 44/100% Dead," and that is what most of its villains are, after they encounter Harris. Unlike the soap, however, they do not float, and the movie opens and closes with scenes of a macabre fraternity of the deceased: gangland victims encased in concrete and sent to wait at the bottom of the East River.

"The only way to view this movie," Harris explained, "is to see it as sort of a comic strip, to be enjoyed and laughed at on a strictly one-dimensional level. Once you ask yourself the first question about it, you're lost."

Harris plays the world's greatest hit man, who is imported to New York as a big gun in a war between Little Eddie and Fast Joey, or Little Joey and Fast Eddie ("We never quite explain who either one of them is"), and Ann Turkel plays his girl friend. She is a schoolteacher, who drives the getaway school bus.

"I was petrified," she said, looking, however, definitively the opposite on the couch next to Harris. "I had never driven a stick shift in my life before, and they gave me about two hours' lessons and set me loose in Los Angeles traffic."

"You almost killed the camera crew, luv," said Harris.

"I almost turned us over," she said. "They had a stunt man in the back, but I can't figure out how he was going to help me."

"He was scared shitless," Harris observed.

Their movie, which has been directed as sort of a cross between Steve Canyon and Fearless Fosdick, is a very flatsurfaced, exaggerated, popart fantasy by John Frankenheimer, whose other credits include "The Manchurian Candidate."

"When he sent me the script," Harris recalled, "I got to the line that said, 'This town isn't big enough for both of us,' and I threw it aside. What the hell kind of line is that? It went out with the 1930s. But then I thought if the script's so bad, what's a class director like Frankenheimer doing sending it to me? So I picked it up again, and got the joke. It's a comic strip put-on, done perfectly seriously."

It is the latest of a great many movies, most of them ("This Sporting Life," "Man in the Wilderness," "Camelot") successful for Harris, but it's Ann Turkel's first role. She's a Westchester County girl, daughter of a clothing manufacturer, who did a lot of modeling and television commercials before Frankenheimer saw her screen test, liked it and put her opposite Harris. Casting about for the most original question I could imagine, I asked if it had been love at first sight.

"Not exactly," said Ann, a tall and slender brunet with wide eyes and, sigh, lots of other qualities. "Actually, first sight was five years ago. We met then, but Richard doesn't even remember."

"I had my head up my . . . in the clouds," Harris explained.

"When he found out that I'd been cast for the movie, he wanted me fired," she said.

"There are too bloody many good actresses unemployed already, so why give this unknown a job, was my line," Harris said.

"There was an item in one of the London papers, all about Ann Turkel vs. the Ogre," Ann said.

"I looked up ogre in the dictionary and I didn't like it one bit," Harris said.

"We were both in London at the time and scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on the same flight," she said. "I was so frightened of Richard I changed my ticket to tourist class to escape him."

"That was unnecessary," Harris said, because I bloody well didn't fly back at all. Then Frankenheimer called me up and told me to stop being a bloody fool and trust his judgment, because he'd seen the screen test.

"By the time I finally walked on the set, I was feeling rather guilty, and so I sort of helped her, you know, and we became friends. But she still had her boy friend back in London. One day, after about six months, we were sitting by the pool, and I said, 'Ann, dearest, do you think there's something going on between us and we don't know about it?'"

"Maybe it's a case of opposites attracting," Ann said.

"That's it," said Harris. "She used to go out with tall, sleek, wellgroomed men, and I went out with buxom blonds. There are thousands of girls on the streets like the ones in Hollywood today, but not many girls of the more elegant type, refined . . . I think Annie has a real gift."

Their next movie together might be a sequel to his very successful "Man in the Wilderness," he said. That one grossed around $15 million and was about a civilized English man surviving in the wild.

"I almost got killed on that one," he recalled. "I was suspended from the top of the tepee for the manhood ceremony, and the rope broke and I fell. I could have landed in the fire or impaled myself on a buffalo horn, but I missed and landed between them. Remembering my early training in tavern brawls, I sprung quickly to my feet, because when you're on the floor, they kick you. Only THEN did I pass out."

Harris, it's been noted, is very likely the only living actor who has starred not only in a Doris Day picture ("Caprice") but also in a Michelangelo Antonioni picture ("Red Desert"). I asked if he brings the same acting techniques to both kinds of movies.

"The only advice I ever got on acting that did me any good," he said, "was a long time ago when I was just starting out and I made a picture in Ireland with James Cagney. It was called 'Shake Hands with the Devil.' I'll never forget, one day, Cagney summoned me to his suite at the Shelbourne Hotel for a couple of drinks.

"And then be said, 'Kid, you'll do OK. You'll make it.' Harris was doing his Cagney imitation. 'But remember this: When you're in a movie and they want you to go from one place to another, walk in a straight line. A straight line. That's how they'll know you're the star. Too many of these goddamned English actors are walking in curves all the time!"

Richard Harris at the Toronto Film Festival, 2001. (Photo by Ebert. Mentioned in obituary below.)

In Memory: Richard Harris.

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You better you better you best: The better of the best lists

If all the year-end and decade-end lists (even though we realize the decade isn't actually over until 2011) have left you dizzied and depleted, take heart! Perhaps you've missed out on some of the more invigorating, far-sighted list-based ventures. Over at Some Came Running, for example, Glenn Kenny conducted an ingenious and fascinating project, going back and taking a look at the late Manny Farber's Best Films of 1951. Meanwhile, at The Crop Duster, Robert Horton is engaged in surveying the year's best -- in non-chronological order -- from, oh, about 1919 or so, to the present, posting a new list every Sunday. What fantastic delights are to be found in these itemized accounts...

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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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101 102 Movies You Must See Before...

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EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.

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Telluride #3: Mickey in the limelight

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TELLURIDE, Colo. – It is the longest career in the history of show businesses. Mickey Rooney first appeared on stage when he was 17 months old. He made his first movie in 1925, when he was five, and on Friday night there he was on the stage of the Sheridan Opera House at the Telluride Film Festival, telling stores, doing imitations, singing the song he wrote when Judy Garland died, and then joining his wife in a duet of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”

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Janet Leigh dies at age 77

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Among Janet Leigh's last interviews was one she gave in July to the Sun-Times' Miriam Di Nunzio about the DVD release of "The Manchurian Candidate." Some excerpts: On working with directors John Frankenheimer, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles: "They were all geniuses. Hitchcock ['Psycho'] did not like ad-libbing at all because everything was timed to perfection in his scenes. Orson loved ad-libbing. The whole ['Touch of Evil'] script was skeletal. Frankenheimer liked spontaneity, but 'Manchurian Candidate' was too closely honed a story to really ad-lib much. There wasn't a whole lot of that going on during filming."

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John Frankenheimer: A master craftsman

To understand the special gift of John Frankenheimer, it is better to start with his stories instead of his movies. Yes, he made some of the most distinctive films of his time (and began and ended as one of the most gifted directors of drama on television) but the films were mostly serious, and Frankenheimer was a very funny man.

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What is the Cold War good for? A director's career

On the one hand, John Frankenheimer is of course pleased that the Cold War seems to be over. On the other hand, the timing was disastrous for his filmmaking career. After the success of "52 Pickup" (1986), he made "Dead Bang" (1989), an unhappy experience marked by sharp differences with the star, Don Johnson, and then in 1989, began shooting "The Fourth War," a splendid political thriller starring Roy Scheider as a hot-headed U.S. Army officer assigned to a sensitive border post opposite Soviet troops.

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