In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_9gm3ll8jmttmc3w4bmnmcurldl8

Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

Thumb_5tzuowodx4f3ngozwzozwmdy9ze

War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

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…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

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…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

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.

Shall we gather at the river?

The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.

Wayne died on June 11, 1979. Stomach cancer. "The Big C," he called it. He had lived for quite a while on one lung, and then the Big C came back. He was near death and he knew it when he walked out on stage at the 1979 Academy Awards to present Best Picture to "The Deer Hunter," a film he wouldn't have made. He looked frail, but he planted himself there and sounded like John Wayne.

John Wayne. When I was a kid, we said it as one word: Johnwayne. Like Marilynmonroe. His name was shorthand for heroism. All of his movies could have been titled "Walking Tall." Yet he wasn't a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his duty. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in "The Quiet Man," or vulnerable, as in "The Shootist," or lonely and obsessed, as in "The Searchers," or tender with a baby, as in "3 Godfathers."

Continue reading →

#64 May 25, 2011

Marie writes: There's a glorified duck pond at the center of the complex where I live. And since moving in, my apartment has been an object of enduring fascination for Canadian geese - who arrive each Spring like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission in France, to run a sweeping aerial recon my little garden aka: playhouse for birds... (click to enlarge)

Continue reading →

The best animated films of 2010

I found some good animated films in 2010, but I didn't find ten. And it's likely that only two of them are titles most moviegoers have had the chance to see. My list reflects a growing fact: Animation is no longer considered a form for children and families. In some cases it provides a way to tell stories that can scarcely be imagined in live action. The classic example is the Japanese "Grave of the Fireflies" (left), about two children growing up on their own after the Bomb fall.

Continue reading →

Blake Edwards: In Memory

Primary_eb20101216people101219981ar

Blake Edwards, the man who gave us Inspector Clouseau, breakfast at Tiffany's and a Perfect 10, is dead at 88. A much-loved storyteller and the writer of many of his own films, he was a bit of a performer himself. He directed 37 features and much TV, and was married for the past 41years to Julie Andrews, who was at his side when he died.

Continue reading →

Kirk Douglas: I've killed so many Romans, so many Vikings, so many Indians...

Primary__20_20_20_20_20_20_20_20actdouglasspartacus-thumb-350x160-28686

By Roger Ebert ©Esquire magazine 1970

This was a restless man. He rocked on the balls of his feet. He looked, turned, looked back to where he'd turned from. Demons were gaining. He peered out the window. Opened the door. Closed the door. Peered out the window. Evoked a pastoral image.

"There was a lovely little picket fence," Kirk Douglas said. "And a mailbox with my name on it, and a soft little carpet of green grass out there in the middle of the desert. It got to be a joke. But I've spent so much of my life on locations that after awhile . . . well, we had that goddamn trailer fixed up like a garden spot. The crew members used to compete to see who could think of something new to add."

And that was on . . .

"That was on this one. 'There Was a Crooked Man.' The last of my current trilogy and my fiftieth picture. Jesus!"

Douglas took a seat on the very edge of a sofa. He leaned forward, his elbows braced on his knees. Then he slammed his hands together, looked down at the carpet and shook his head.

"Fifty pictures." His voice caressed the words. "That's what it all amounts to, you know. Staying power I was a star before I even heard of Julie Andrews."

He smiled the Kirk Douglas smile, half nostalgic, half rueful, half ferocious.

"I remember meeting Tito once. The English ambassador had been waiting six months to present his credentials. Tito sent his private plane to pick me up, and we talked for three hours. Turned out he'd seen just about every one of my movies. He sees one or two movies a night. He said they take his mind off his problems.

"And that's where it's at. That's what movies do. Take 'Lonely Are the Brave.' There was a movie that communicated on all levels. Maybe it was anti-Establishment, or maybe it was about a kooky cowboy. A movie like that is so much better than some foreign horseshit about an actor chewing for twenty minutes.

"But you never know. I made a movie two years ago, 'A Lovely Way to Die.' They pushed me into it. (ital) Kirk, they said, you oughta make a cop picture. (unital) It was a bomb. Well, why was 'Bullitt' a success? Nobody understood 'Bullitt.' It had two good elements in it: the chase, and the killing in the bedroom. Otherwise, it was as hard to understand as 'Last Year at Marienbad.' I didn't know what that was about (ital) either. (unital) The foreign directors are always fumbling about in obscurity, and the critics are always writing about the juxtaposition of black and white and the existential dilemma and all that shit, to disguise the fact that they don't understand the first damn thing about it either . . ."

Douglas wore frayed denims, no shirt, boots. Hair long and combed back like Ratso in 'Midnight Cowboy.' He'd just come from the set. Now he went into the bedroom of his bungalow on the Warner Brothers lot and came back wearing a blue terry-cloth robe.

"But now, yes, I've made a trilogy I'm proud of. My forty-eighth, forty-ninth and fiftieth pictures. 'The Brotherhood,' 'The Arrangement,' and 'There Was a Crooked Man.' It gives me a certain measure of pride to look back at these three pictures and realize I've come this far and remained intact."

He backed into a corner of the room, and stood looking up at the ceiling.

"'The Brotherhood.' I got a lot of indirect messages from the boys on that one. They wanted to meet me."

The Mafia?

Silence.

He was gently tapping his head against the wall.

You weren't ... uneasy?

A sharp laugh. He advanced from the corner, sat in a chair. "I know Italians and I like them. A lot of my father's best friends were Italians. I responded to that in making the picture. I put a lot of warmth into that character. Those immigrants were tough, more intensive than people are these days. I'd love to discuss the picture with the boys. I'm not interested in movies, anyway; I'm interested in people. I love talking to interesting people, people like O. J. Simpson, Andretti ... I love champions. A champion has something (ital) special (unital) about him."

Douglas was filled with nervous energy, raw vitality. He couldn't remain still. It was in a sense actually wearying to be caged in a room with so much restlessness. Douglas walked halfway across the room and then whirled, fixing me on the quivering tip of a rhetorical point.

"I preceded a lot of this youthful revolution," he said. "And Thoreau did too, back in 1825. Compared to Thoreau, Saint Francis of Assisi was peanuts. And don't get me wrong. There's nothing the matter with building castles in the air. It wasn't so much Thoreau as his philosophy. It's like, you ever hear that song? It's gotta be me, just gotta be me . . ."

Douglas sat again on the couch, as the last notes lingered. He was quieter now, subdued, called back to the present.

"Too often," he said slowly, "I have not been what I wanted to be I've succumbed to pressures. Yes, I have. The things I've done that I liked, I've always done against advice. The bad films everybody was high on. The good films, they advised me against. But by God! From now on, it's gotta be me!

"'Champion,' for example. I had a chance to be in a picture with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner over at Metro. I said, no, I want to make this picture 'Champion.' The agents thought I was nuts. On the other hand, I let myself be pushed into 'A Lovely Way to Die,' and what a load of shit that was. And 'War Wagon.' Well, 'War Wagon' wasn't bad. It was entertainment. I rather enjoyed it. But that woman, Pauline Kael--did you see that piece she wrote about it, about 'War Wagon?' If Pauline Kael were sitting here right now," he said, indicating an empty chair, "I'd tell her, you're a bright dame, but you're full of shit."

He stood up, continuing to address Miss Kael.

"Don't crucify me because of what your idea of a movie star is," he said, pointing a finger at the chair. "I didn't start out to be a movie star. I started out to be an actor. You people out in the East have no idea what goes on out here." He punctuated his speech with short thrusts of the finger. "No awareness or knowledge whatsoever. You lose track of the human being behind the image of the movie star."

Leaving Pauline Kael speechless, Douglas turned back to me.

"You know," he said, "sometimes an interviewer will look at me and say - you're bright! They're actually surprised I might be bright. Well, I say, what if I wanted to be a writer? I just might be better at it than you are! Ever think of that? There are a lot of journalists who are just plain dumb.

"And I understand what's going on here, for example. The subtleties of the situation. An interviewer is not simply reporting what somebody said. It's a point of view toward that person. It incorporates the point of view of the interviewer."

He jerked his thumb over his shoulder toward the chair where Pauline Kael was not sitting.

"I don't need a critic to tell me I'm an actor," he said "I make my own way. Nobody's my boss. Nobody's ever been my boss. Your only security is in your talent I didn't get into this business as a pretty boy. I've made good pictures, bad pictures, I've been a maverick, I've never been under contract, except for one year at Warner's after 'Champion' - l've made my own way!

"You know what it makes me think of sometimes? My picture 'Young Man with a Horn.' Bix Beiderbecke in his lonely personal quest to hit that unattainable note. I like to play that role. The rebel. The guy fighting against society. The champion!"

Douglas lay down flat on the floor and braced his feet on top of the coffee table. He rested his head on his hands, and looked up to the ceiling. He talked in a faraway, thoughtful, pensive, reflective, philosophical voice.

"In all dramatic stories," he said, "death is the inevitable end. There aren't many songs you have to sing They're all variations on a theme. I'm attracted and fascinated by how difficult it is to be an individual. The thing of being a so-called movie star works against you. Sure, you can always make exciting pictures, adventure pictures, but when you try something different they dump on you because you're a star. And yet that theme of the individual, fighting against society ... it's always obsessed me. 'Lonely Are the Brave' ... 'Spartacus' ... 'Champion' ... it doesn't matter if you're a nice guy or you're a bastard. What matters is -- you won't bend!"

He swung his legs off the coffee table and rolled over onto his stomach, resting his chin on his hands, sighting along the hallway toward the kitchen, where lunch was being prepared.

"Somebody who won't bend. That's what 'The Brotherhood' was about. But a star's image is determined by what the public wants They want me to be tough. A loved enemy. Neither the public nor the critics want you to do something they don't want you to do."

He sat up now, cross-Iegged on the floor.

"That's why the perfect movie star is John Wayne. I was in a lousy picture with him once, 'In Harm's Way.' I used to think about John Wayne that he brings so much authority to a role he can pronounce literally any line in a script and get away with it. But I figured 'In Harm's Way' had a line even John Wayne couldn't get away with. It was) I need a fast ship because I mean to be in harm's way. I thought, oh, shit, I've gotta hear him say this line. But you know what? He said it, and he got away with it. Now that's John Wayne . . ."

Lunch was served: vegetable soup with herbs, relish plate, rolls and butter, cold cuts if you wanted some but nobody did.

"And there's nothing wrong with a John Wayne movie," he said. "I hate arty-farty pictures. What you always hope to make is a good, honest picture with balls. We did that with 'Spartacus.' That was the best big spectacle ever made. 'Ben-Hur' made almost three times as much money and didn't even compare. In our spectacle, the characters dominated the setting. It was a picture about men, not production values. Well, it made money. But my best pictures have seldom been my most successful. 'Lust for Life' wasn't a big money-maker. 'Paths of Glory' has now finally broken even. 'Lonely Are the Brave' ... boy, the non-artists really balled that one up. Instead of putting it in a little theatre and waiting for the reviews, they shoveled it into saturation bookings before anybody heard about it.

"That's what I mean, it's gotta be me! You got to fight!" He clenched his fist and shook it, and clenched his teeth, too. "In 'The Brotherhood,' that great scene in the bedroom with Irene Papas, where I'm drunk and we both have all our clothes on and, Jesus, that scene was erotic! It could have easily fallen on its ass, and Martin Ritt wanted to cut it out of the script, but, no, you got to fight for those things.

"But then you make the money on the others. I was offered a million and a half to star in 'The Fall of the Roman Empire.' And you know something? Now that I look back, I was a fool not to take it."

Douglas wasn't hungry. Too wound up. He dabbed at his soup with a roll and finally stood up and paced back and forth, chewing celery sticks.

"I have a 16-millimeter print of every movie l ever made," he said. "It was a fight to get them! But I can look at those prints, fifty prints after this one, and I know there's good stuff there, great things in those pictures, and they can't take that away from me.

"Like in this forty-ninth picture, 'The Arrangement.' A-ha!" He smacked his fist into his palm. "Working with Kazan was a real experience. An actor's director. He relates to the actors. He'll do anything short of committing a homosexual act to get the best out of his actors."

Smack! "But you've got to fight for what you believe in. I remember in 'War Wagon,' I fought with them for the nude scene. Remember, where I was walking away from the camera bare-ass? I said that's the only honest way to shoot it. I'm in the sack, see, and John Wayne's knocking at the door, and we've already established that I wear a gun at all times. So we play the whole scene at the door, me with my gun on, and when I walk back to bed you see the gun is the only thing I'm wearing! Great! You put pants on the guy, the scene isn't honest anymore.

"I'm not surprised, though, they wanted to destroy the scene. Dealing with Universal is always ... well, they were the aces who got me where I lived on 'Lonely Are the Brave.' I wanted to call it 'The Last Cowboy.' It had a simplicity to it. But the aces put it through a computer and came up with a nothing title. And things like that and 'A Lovely Way to Die' ... I hated that one ... I said, from now on I'm only doing what I want to do. And now, after fifty pictures and the last three damn good ones, it's time to take inventory."

Douglas collapsed on the couch, legs outstretched, heels digging into the carpet, arms crucified on the sofa's back. He sighed.

"I'm getting to be a tired warrior," he said "I've killed so many Romans, and so many Vikings, and so many Indians."

He sighed again.

"The killing must stop."

A pause. A silence. It became a long silence.

"What I need," he said again, "is a pause to take inventory."

He twisted to lie flat on the sofa, head braced against one arm, feet propped up on the other "You know what I did the other day?" he said. "I did a crazy thing. I took a walk out there on the back lot of Warner's. Back there behind Stage 19. And it was like it was haunted . . ."

Very slowly, he lifted his feet and swung them around to rest them on the carpet again. And then he rested his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands and it was like he was looking back in time, remembering other days, other rooms . . .

"There were staircases," he said. "Dozens of staircases. You've never seen so many staircases. And you could imagine ghosts on them. Cagney. Flynn." He chuckled nostalgically. "Bogey." His voice took on a wondering quality "And you couldn't help thinking, one day these staircases were seething with activity. And as you walked among them, that line of poetry came to your mind. You know, the one about what town or peaceful hamlet or something or other. Well, I can't remember how it goes . . . 'Ode to a Grecian Urn,' that's the one. And you can't help thinking, Jesus! The ghosts that walk here at night. Because movies are filled with the stuff of everyone's dreams, and you know what a studio is? A dream factory. Staircases . . . barrooms . . . barbershops . . ."

Another silence. Douglas stood up, put his hands in his pockets, looked out the window. His voice came back over his shoulder.

"And then it occurred to me, hell, I'm a star, too. And the final test is staying power. After forty-seven pictures, I was still in there, working in interesting movies. I was glad I had those 16-millimeter prints. It's a rough business. You lose that freshness. It's a struggle to stay alive in every picture . . . and, hell, I don't know.

"I turned down 'Stalag 17,' Holden won an Oscar. I turned down 'Cat Ballou.' Marvin won the Oscar. But, hell, you never know. Decision making . . . I'll tell you one thing. Five pictures in a row like 'Paths of Glory,' and I'd have been out of business. And then when you try something ambitious, like when I went back to Broadway in Kesey's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.' Van Heflin warned me. He said, They hate actors who've made it. They'll kick you in the ass if they can. But, hell, I was just like any other regular fellow making a couple of million a year." He laughed at that "I knew Kesey early on, and then I met him again later. I did the play because I believed in it. But Kesey . . . Christ, I don't give a shit what anybody does. But to destroy a talent is wholly unjustified. God, Kesey looked bad when I saw him again.

"There is something sad and dramatic about the disintegration of a talent. At the start, Brando was the best. And now . . . well, it was a damn shame he had to miss with Kazan. Kazan, of course, wanted Brando to play the lead in 'The Arrangement.' The two of them, together again. But after Kazan talked with Brando, he felt Brando wasn't quite with it . . . didn't have the old enthusiasm . . . but, hell I don't want to get into that. And yet, you know something?"

Douglas turned away from the window now and sat on the floor. His knees were pulled up and he bridged them with his arms.

"Being a star doesn't really change you. If you become a star, you don't change-everybody else does. Personally, I keep forgetting I'm a star. And then people look at me and I'm reminded. But you just have to remember one thing: the best eventually go to the top. I think I'm in the best category, and I'll stay at the top or I'll do something else. I'm not for the bush leagues. I remember as a kid of twenty, on Broadway, I had a chance to take a good role with a road company, or stay in New York playing a walk-on and an offstage echo. I stayed. I wanted that association with champions."

Douglas looked up almost fiercely.

"Champions!"

The next morning, the door to his Beverly Hills home was opened by a maid who hadn't been informed that anyone had an appointment with Mr. Douglas. The housekeeper also looked suspicious. They thought perhaps a mistake had been made. A misunderstanding. Perhaps if . . .

"Hi, I know who you are," Peter Douglas said. "He's okay," Peter told the servants. "Come on in here and have a seat. I knew you were coming. I like to keep in touch around here . . ."

Peter was perhaps twelve, sandy-haired, personable, looked like his father. He wore tennis shoes and a T-shirt.

"Dad'll be down after awhile," he said. "You want some pretzels? No? I'd offer you something else, but at the moment," he sighed dramatically, "it's pretzels and that's it."

Peter shrugged his shoulders stoically. "Know the one I'd like to make a movie out of? 'Fail-Safe.' I'm Peter, by the way. I'm just a slave here."

Peter headed toward the pool. The room he left was a sort of den and library, half open to the living room and the bar. There were several animal skins on the floor, and a two-year run of Time magazine laid flat on a shelf with the spines overlapped. And there were a lot of books on the shelves, and a display of primitive carvings and statues, and . . .

"How about a cup of coffee?" Kirk Douglas said. He had entered silently on bare feet "It'll be here in a minute." He grinned in anticipation. "That first cup ... ah!"

He touched one of the skins with a bare toe. "How do you like that leopard skin?" he said. "Isn't it a beauty?" He sat down and his voice became serious. "What a terrible thing it is to kill. I impulsively went on one safari. I thought, Jesus, I can't shoot an animal. But once we left Nairobi, I discovered the real me. A killer. I shot about thirty animals. I was shocked and embarrassed. I was confused. I asked myself, Do I really want to kill? The philosophers say, know thyself. But what really counts is how honest and how brave you are. You ask of a man, where is he strong? Where is he weak? The bully with the low voice may be secretly frightened . . ."

The coffee came, and with it a plate of chocolate-chip cookies. Douglas picked up his saucer in his hand, sipped, considered his cup. "The home of the brave," he said finally. "What a violent nation we are! A violent people. That's why there's so much violence in the movies. The Greeks had a word for it. It's catharsis. Audiences love gangsters. Virtue is not photogenic. Christ, even Disney bakes people into cookies."

He paused to nibble a chocolate-chip, and then held it up. "Great? The best! They have to be. They were made by my cook. But the West ... there was a certain simplicity and directness there."

He leaped to his feet, balanced the coffee cup in his left hand, adopted a shoot-out stance (legs wide, right hand poised) and snarled. "Smile when you say that!" Then he shook his head in resignation. "It's childlike," he said "No one can be an artist without a childlike quality. If I were really sophisticated, how could I, a grown-up man, carry a gun in a movie?"

He put down his cup and picked up one of the primitive statues in the room. "Take this," he said. "Childlike in its innocence. Look here. On this side, you can see it's a woman. And then you turn it around and, well, on this side, it's pretty obviously a man. It has an innocent bisexuality. It comes from a society where all things mix naturally together.

"Reminds me." He sat down again, still considering the statue in his hands. "Kubrick once had this great idea. We'd make the world's greatest pornographic film. Spend millions on it. And then maybe only show it in one country, like Switzerland, and fly people in to see it. Kubrick. A great director. I thank him for so much that is good in 'Paths of Glory' and 'Spartacus.' You know, at one time with 'Paths of Glory,' even Kubrick wanted to cop out. He wanted to rewrite the script, make it a sort of B picture, a commercial thing. But I'm glad we stood by our guns. There's a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don't have to wait fifty years to know that; I know it now. Certain pictures have a universality of theme. 'Champion' did. Audiences are all the same. They love the guy who's up there on top. And yet, you know, in real life . . ." He sighed and finished his coffee.

"Somebody asked me not long ago if I was going to write an autobiography. Well, I have one good enough reason. I'd write it for my four sons. But nobody else would be interested. My life's too corny and typical to make a good autobiography. I wouldn't even do it as a movie. My life's a B script. My life. The violins playing . . . the kid who didn't have enough to eat . . . the parents who were Russian immigrants . . .

"I taught my mother to write her name. It's like my parents came out of the middle ages, and in one generation I jumped to here." He indicated the room with a sweep of his hand "My parents did the one essential thing. They didn't miss the boat. I grew up in Amsterdam, New York. My parents never did understand my success. I'd say, Ma! I just signed a million-dollar contract! But son, she'd say, you look so thin . . ."

He leaned forward intensely. "And yet my mother was a great woman," he said. "She had little formal knowledge, but she knew much about life. They used to come to her with sores, with boils. She'd take out an old, moldy loaf of bread and apply it to the sore, as a poultice. And this was years before penicillin."

He gave a wry twist to his mouth. "My life," he said. "A B picture. And yet my life is an American life. Because the real American life, the typical one, is a B picture. Like mine - the kid who worked up from abject poverty to become the champion. But you got to fight! Our forefathers set the bar so high we keep trying to go under it, instead of over . . ."

He stood up again now, and looked out the window to where two of his sons were swimming in the backyard pool.

"Look at those kids, he said. "Olympic material."

He smiled, watching as Peter did a racing dive off the edge of the pool. Then he spoke again, slowly. "At this period of my life," he said, "I look at this trilogy, these last three pictures, and I must admit I feel I'm functioning well. You have to set your own standards. I was nominated for 'Champion.' Broderick Crawford won that year I was nominated for 'Lust for Life,' but Yul Brynner won. You set your own standards. You have to. And then these arty-farty foreign movies come along, and . . ."

He whirled and strode away from the window, his fist slamming into his palm. The softness was gone from his voice; he was angry.

"You know why they criticize me?" he said "I'm criticized because I can jump over two horses! And they sneer. Hollywood, they say. Hollywood. Well I for one am plenty proud of Hollywood They go over there to Europe and they forget their roots and they lose the nourishment of Hollywood. I say if you want to grow a plant, put it where there's some good horseshit to grow in!"

He walked rapidly toward the bookcase, and indicated a set of matched volumes "See those?" he said. "It's a rare edition: 150 Years of Boxing. It's all in there, and it's all the same. Acting is like prizefighting. The downtown gyms are smelly, but that's where the champions are."

Sydney Pollack introduces "Champion."

var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

Continue reading →

Shall we gather at the river?

The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.

John Wayne died 30 years ago on June 11. Stomach cancer. "The Big C," he called it. He had lived for quite a while on one lung, and then the Big C came back. He was near death and he knew it when he walked out on stage at the 1979 Academy Awards to present Best Picture to "The Deer Hunter," a film he wouldn't have made. He looked frail, but he planted himself there and sounded like John Wayne.

John Wayne. When I was a kid, we said it as one word: Johnwayne. Like Marilynmonroe. His name was shorthand for heroism. All of his movies could have been titled "Walking Tall." Yet he wasn't a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his duty. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in "The Quiet Man," or vulnerable, as in "The Shootist," or lonely and obsessed, as in "The Searchers," or tender with a baby, as in "3 Godfathers."

Continue reading →

The Tina Fey-Palin scenario

We've gotta cash in on this quick, so here's my pitch:

Tina Fey plays Sarah Palin as Tina Fey as Sarah Palin in a semi-remake of "Dave."

Animal Control nabs Palin off the street, mistaking her for a stray pit bull whose previous owner tested makeup on animals. Palin is asked to host "SNL" the week before the election, but nobody notices she's missing because the McCain campaign is so successful at keeping her away from the press that they forget where they put her. Security is airtight. Because Fey does a better Palin than Palin does, she is forced to do the show as Palin as Fey as Palin.

Continue reading →

Robert Downey Jr. plays it black

Who's that black guy in between the blonde Jack Black and the tattooed Ben Stiller? It's Robert Downey, Jr.

One of these days I'm gonna play it black Play it black One of these days... -- misquoted Elvis Costello song from "My Aim is True"

What will the Jim Crow "one-droppers" who didn't think Angelina Jolie was "African enough" to play Dutch-Jewish / Cuban-black-Hispanic-Chinese Mariane Pearl make of this? The actor in the center of the accompanying image is Robert Downey Jr., a white German-Scottish / Irish-Jewish actor. He's playing a white actor who is cast in a part originally written for a black actor, so he decides to play it black. The movie, "Tropic Thunder," is a satire of Hollywood actors making an epic war movie. It's directed by Stiller, co-written by Etan Cohen ("Idiocracy," "My Wife is Retarded" -- note that the "h" is not in the first name but the last; he's no relation to Joel) and Justin Theroux (who played a director in "Mulholland Dr." and an actor in "Inland Empire"). Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan also star -- along with some big names in cameo appearances.

As Downey told Entertainment Weekly, "If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell." [...]

Continue reading →

Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon: Let the perversity begin!

JJ Hunsecker is calling YOU to participate in the Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon!

Presidents' Day Special: What the heck, it's a three-day weekend for some of us in the States. Now you have an extra day to contribute your contrarian wisdom -- through Monday!

And thanks to all those who have already contributed and helped to spread the word. We've had submissions from all over the US -- and Canada, France, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, the Philippines...

>

This weekend we're saying to hell with the conventional wisdom. We usually say that anyway, but consider the Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon (Friday through Sunday Monday) an excuse to express how you really feel. You know, like Valentine's Day is supposed to be, only more perverse. (Yes, more perverse!) So, I hope you're feeling cranky.

Check back here for contributions that are sure to get you riled up or make your head explode with satisfaction as you appreciate the inherent wisdom of the cases made by cine-sthetes from across the blogosphere. Please send your contributions to me at the e-mail link above (jim at scannersblog dot com).

And please feel free to COMMENT on the submissions below. This endeavor requires some back-and-forth, don't you think?

"For serious critics ... the second-best thing to perfection is often the near-miss, the disreputable and even the despised. Next to discovering a new director, planting a flag in an uncharted national cinema or sitting next to Zooey Deschanel at an event, few things please a critic more than polishing a tarnished career or taking on a dubious cause, particularly if everyone else really hated it." -- Manohla Dargis, New York Times, February 14, 2007

"I deeply believe that taste is a kind of prison for oneself – when a critic finds himself or herself always rigidly repeating the same opinions, the same positions, the same likes and dislikes (that is the kind of bad posture which Pauline Kael bequeathed to criticism). Critics should feel free to bring in their own emotional reactions to films – it is hard to keep them out of writing – but the phenomenon known as the ‘gut feeling’ or gut reaction can become a terrible end in itself: ‘this film makes me angry or it makes me happy, so it's a rotten film or a great film, and I’m not going to discuss it any further.’ The important thing is always argument, analysis, logic. I have an irrational side (critics need it), but my rational side believes in logical demonstration: if you can prove to me that what are saying about a film makes internal sense, if you can marshal the evidence from the film itself to back up what you say, then I too can be persuaded to disregard my own first gut reaction and explore that film again in a new, more open way." -- Adrian Martin, Cinemascope, January - April, 2007

"There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear." -- Daniel Dennett

Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon (Feb. 16 - 1819, 2007)(UPDATED: 5 p.m. PST, Monday)

Kristin Thompson: Classical cinema lives! New evidence for old norms Think classical film style is dead? Think again.

Peet Gelderblom @ Lost in Negative Space: Au Contraire (cartoon) "The contrarian critic took issue with just about everything..."

Evan Qatsi: "You've Got Mail," Gnosticism and Movie Snobbery "YGM": Reprehensible, but fun!

flickhead: It's boring, but is it art? "Last November I was sent a DVD screener of Theo Angelopoulos’s 'The Weeping Meadow,' and was so horrifyingly bored that I felt that all film in general was no longer worth writing about."

Pacheco @ bohemiancinema: "Starship Troopers": In Defense Of..." "They'll Keep Fighting, And They'll Win!"

Piper @ Lazy Eye Theatre: Grandpa Joe The Imposter "Contrary to what everyone has come to believe, Grandpa Joe is not the sweet, lovable old-man everyone thought he was."

Squish @ filmsquish.com (The Film Vituperatem): "L' Age d'or": Weird & Wacky "There's the kind of film that deserves the highest of praise, and there's the kind that needs to be strung up and beat like a piñata until its guts give its treasures.... but sadly this movie isn't worth any of these intense emotions."

Peet Gelderblom @ Lost in Negative Space (encore!): Boys like Peet are not afraid of wolves "The best animated picture of 2006 wasn’t made by Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Warner Bros. or Sony Pictures.... Hell, it wasn’t even released in the US last year."

Oggs Cruz @ Oggs' Movie Thoughts: "The Fountain" "I viewed the three storylines of 'The Fountain' as existing in different dimensions..."

Brian Thomson @ stereoroid.com: Jackassism "The shopping cart, a harmless symbol of domestic consumption, becomes a conveyance; delivering its contents to the terminal checkout..."

C. Jerry Kutner @ Bright Lights After Dark: Why Murch's "Touch of Evil" Doesn't Make the Cut! "I can’t imagine that Welles would have approved this evisceration of his work.... If you want to see the superior Second Studio Cut, you would have to know someone who has it on videotape or laserdisc."

Bob Westal @ Forward to Yesterday: The Big Sleep -- A Confession "I am a filmnambulist. And it’s not just austere minimalists who can lull me into one of my cinematic siestas. If I’m tired enough, I can sleep through any universally acclaimed auteur."

Jeremy Mathews @ The Same Dame: Contradicting the Contrarian "If nothing else, the contrarian serves to push those in the majority to really express themselves, instead of standing around agreeing with one another."

Kenneth R. Morefield @ the matthew's house project: Contrarianism, "Munich" and Effective Arguments "...I think that the usefulness of a contrarian review depends more upon the ethos of the reviewer than the rhetorical style or technique of his or her argument."

Kenneth R. Morefield (redux!) @ All Things Ken: MacGuffins of Men "In this day of marketing hype and review saturation, the difference between a contrarian review and an assenting review is often little more than a matter of which the viewer trusts more -- the consensus opinion or his or her own two eyes."

Campaspe @ Self-Styled Siren: Do the Contrarian: "Once Upon a Time in the West" "... Leone's camera doesn't seem to care if we ever get interested or not. Again and again we return to the basic pattern of long shot (flat, sun-bleached, not terribly interesting desert) to close-up (flat, sun-creased, not terribly expressive face), close-up to long shot."

Dennis Cozzalio @ Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule: Nuts to "Brazil" "... [T]oo much the showman, or the eager kid who wants to shock his parents by playing with poop and get pats on the back for it, Gilliam wears his depressive inclinations on his court jester’s sleeve. He wants credit for being a scatological imp and a serious buzz-kill at the same time."

Harry Tuttle @ Screenville: Outlandish Dargis Empire "This is a gameplay of course, as Dargis is a great critic and my tentative analysis is pretentious. Nitpicky mode intentionally exaggerated. For the fun of being contrarian, at least let's not bash a little helpless reviewer, let's go for the best and see where it takes us."

Ted Pigeon @ The Cinematic Art: Transcending Time and Space: The Guilty Pleasure and the Problem With Film Criticism "Which brings me back to the "Guilty Pleasure." Such an idea only exists within an understanding of cinema as plot, and "content." We then become conditioned to like certain genres and dislike others on the grounds of the kind of narrative they may embody. Coming from the approach that form creates content, we can open ourselves up to understanding that any plot or narrative can be executed effectively and interestingly in the medium of moving images we know as cinema. Viewers should not feel guilty for enjoying something."

GD Williamson @ Where the Green Ants Dream: An Odyssey Through Contrarianism in Society "This is why an American Contrarian, whether that's Chomsky or White, is usually so angry and so fearful of dark conspiracies who push 'their' influence on the general public (and thereby reduce the influence of whichever Contrarian is complaining about it?). Britain, meanwhile, breeds people like Xan Brooks and the anonymous author of '101 Movies To Avoid'; people who can barely muster the energy to raise their eyelids, but want you to know that they're dangerous and controversial all the same."

Reilly Owens: Sancho Panza at the Wedding Feast: Last Action Hero "Among the many amazing things Alfonso Cuarón’s 'Children Of Men' does is hang its story on the acts of an antihero. Not antihero in the classic Bogart sense -- although Theo Faron seems to fit that mold: rumpled trench coat, hangdog expression, 'I stick my neck out for nobody' attitude. No, this character is something different, a new breed. He goes against the grain of the common action hero; he is a passive hero."

Robert Humaneck @ The House Next Door: The Unscrupulous Side of Kubrick: "A Clockwork Orange" "Real horrorshow, yes, but Kubrick’s orchestration of so much mayhem is lacking a much-needed ideological backbone.... Kubrick never takes the necessary next step in subverting the violence he engages us with."

Tom Shipp (Comment): "Sunset Boulevard": A Stylish Load of Hooey (My Contrarian Opinion) "'Sunset Boulevard' is a cheap shot exploitation film wrapped in sheep's clothing. Norma Desmond is a one note caricature beginning and ending the film cartoonish, one dimesional, and completely to blame for everything."

Steve Carlson @ Blogcritics: "I Spit on Your Grave" "As it turns out, 'I Spit on Your Grave' is not the hateful nadir of cinema. It is, instead, the 'Unforgiven' of the rape-revenge genre, in that it is simultaneously the perfect expression of and the eulogy for the genre. It's as brutal and confrontational a cinematic work as I've yet seen; Zarchi reduces the genre ito its barest elements and in doing so asks the audience to consider why they are there in the first place."

Dan Eisenberg @ Cinemathematics: More Like the Big Snoozefest "I must have seen 'The Big Sleep' at least three times, trying to find out what is so good about it.... And so far I've come up empty handed. It doesn't work as a noir or as a romance. And I've tried to make it work. I've looked at praises for it to see what I'm missing. Or maybe it's what they're missing."

Neil @ The Bleeding Tree: "The Exorcist" "Ultimately, the most reprehensible aspect of the movie is its unsubtle metaphor for a single mother raising an out of control child and her responsibility for allowing the Devil as well as 'the devil' to take her child's mind and soul."

Nobody @ Any Eventuality: Deconstructing "Babel": "Epic Movie" and the Illusion of Continuity "I can think of no more pretentious and self-important film than "Babel," and "Epic Movie" is a devastating critique of the illusion of continuity attempted by Inarritu and Arriaga."

Piper @ Lazy Eye Theatre (extra!): When Oil and Water Mix it's "Punch Drunk Love" "This movie is more than Adam Sandler and Paul Thomas Anderson going against type."

Jeff Ignatius @ Culture Snob: Conventional Contrarianism: A Practical Guide "A good contrarian will anticipate the buzz-and-backlash cycle of popular culture and must carefully position an opinion for maximum contrarian durability. Yesterday’s contrarian can quickly become today’s peddler of safe opinions."

Noel Vera @ Critic After Dark "The Exorcist": Scary Movie? "... [After] after all is said and done, 'The Exorcist' isn't exactly the great horror classic it's all pumped up to be -- certainly not one that can't stand a little revision, and I'll tell you why: It just isn't evil enough."

Andy Horbal @ No More Marriages! Some Possibly "Contrarian" Thoughts On Blogging and Blog-a-Thons "They're more valuable for collecting a variety of extant positions on a subject than they are for promoting a discussion on a subject, for moving towards a reconception of that subject. For someone who prides himself on being part of a community focused on conversation this upsets me to a certain degree."

Andy Horbal @ No More Marriages! (x2!) Why I Like Jonathan Rosenbaum and Armond White "I did not come here to defend these critics--that would, again, require legwork I haven't done--but instead to talk about why I'm always interested in their criticism and suggest a possible approach for identifying (or not identifying) them as bona fide contrarians."

Andy Horbal @ No More Marriages! (x3!) The Black Maria Film Festival "I've been itching to write about the Black Maria Film Festival since I returned from the Pittsburgh screening of their touring program this Saturday, and I offer this post now in the "contrarian" spirit of championing contemporary "unseen cinema."

Steve Carlson (the sequel!) @ The Ongoing Cinematic Education of Steven Carlson "Freddy Got Fingered," or: Daddy, Would You Like Some Dada? "In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and called it art. In 2001, Tom Green waggled a horse's penis and called it a movie. The line of separation between the two actions is a lot thinner than would seem apparent."

Pacheco @ bohemiancinema (he's back!): "Any Given Sunday": In Defense Of..." "'Any Given Sunday' didn't polarize the way 'Natural Born Killers' did, and after Oliver Stone made Alexander, the public's new punching bag, his football opus seemed to fall off the radar, which I would argue is an even worse place to be."

Pyko Moose @ Confessions of a Flick Junkie: A Pervert's Guide to Faith: "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly "But the film does not so much function as a criticism of faith as a meditation on its nature. In the opening shot we witness the creation of Man: First a landscape, still and silent in its endless deadness. A dog howls somewhere beyond our range of perception, calling into existence (and into frame) an ugly, twisted face...."

Counter-arguments & subjects for further investigation:(These pieces weren't necessarily written in response to Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon posts, but nevertheless contribute to further exploration of some of the posts above...)

Chris Cagle @ Category D: A Film and Media Studies Blog: Post-ClassicismA response to Kristin Thompson's post, above.

CK Dexter, Scanners Comment: Re: Taste into Theory & "You've Got Mail" "Of course there are good and bad movies.... Those who say otherwise do so in bad faith, as part of a pragmatic social contract in which I graciously grant you your own private You've-Got-Mail's so that you, in return, will grant my own egregious lapses in taste an equal amount of tolerance."

Matt Zoller Seitz @ The House Next Door: Theo Angelopoulos' "The Weeping Meadow"(For HarryTuttle's Contemplative Cinema Blog-a-Thon, January 2007) "It finds a cool-headed but empathetic visual analogy for the way we tend to envision history: as anecdotes about masses of unknown people moving from place to place, enduring unimaginable suffering, then shaking off the pain, reinventing themselves and moving on."

girish: On Film CriticismA terrific ongoing discussion in response to the Adrian Martin piece quoted above.

jmac @ girishshambu.com/blog: Comment "There is such CONFORMITY in writing movie reviews, and furthermore, most people seem to ACCEPT this PROSAIC approach to WRITING a review. It's horrible!!!... Manohla Dargis's review was the first step in introducing some CREATIVITY to the NYT movie section.... I actually think that Manohla Dargis's review of 'Inland Empire' was beautiful."

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: L'Age d'or "Thanks to his mastery of montage, Buñuel naturalizes Dalí's images into a duplicitous rhythm of normality and outrage. The film suggests instances of sex and violence far more extreme than any actually represented while contriving effronteries so offhanded you can't believe you've actually seen them."

Kim Newman, Empire Magazine (UK): "Once Upon a Time in the West" "Leone showed with 'Once Upon a Time in the West' that it was possible to honour the Western tradition while raising the artistic bar to such a level that nobody has made a better Western since. In fact, nobody has made a better Western, period."

Preparatory postings:

Peet Gelderblom: The contrarian fallacy: Armond White vs. the Hipsters

David Bordwell: Indie Guignol

Dennis Cozzalio: Julie Andrews: Governess of Goodness or Nanny from the Netherworld?

Scanners: Do the Contrarian (Part I)

Scanners: Do the Contrarian (Part II)

Jim Emerson: The Big Lie Yes, long before "Crash" there were movies that claimed to do one thing while actually doing the very opposite...

Continue reading →

Movie Answer Man (08/12/2001)

Q. In the new "Planet of the Apes" movie, where did the horses come from? In the original, the ending tells us where the horses came from. By changing the "origin" of the Planet of the Apes in this version, they made the speaking of English by the apes reasonable but the presence of horses impossible. (Cort Jensen, Missoula MT)

Continue reading →

Movie Answer Man (02/21/1999)

Q. I recently saw Roberto Benigni's terrific "Life is Beautiful," and wonder about a possible oversight. What ever came of the last riddle Dr. Lessing presented to Guido at the dinner party--the one he thought represented a duck? I kept waiting for the answer and it never came. (Matt Ramm, Birmingham, AL)

Continue reading →

Elegant Role Model Could Not Be Typecast

She was, a critic once wrote, the last of the silent stars - because her eyes almost made it unnecessary for her to speak. She was a movie superstar for 20 years, but more than that, she was a role model: Teenage girls cut their hair like Audrey Hepburn's, and how many young women watched "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and decided that it would be wonderful to live in New York City?

Continue reading →

Interview with John Wayne (1969)

NEWPORT BEACH, CA. -- "I've been working all day on the boy's room," John Wayne said. "The boy got it into his head that he wanted a bunk bed. We tore out this wall here and pushed it back - you can see the original boundary on the floor there - and we're going to put the bunk right in here. And there'll be a goddam porthole in the wall." He shook his head, amused.

Continue reading →

Interview with Kirk Douglas

Primary_eb19690601people50221003ar

LOS ANGELES -- This was a restless man. He rocked on the balls of his feet. He looked, turned, looked back to where he'd turned from. Demons were gaining. He peered out the window. Opened the door. Closed the door. Peered out the window. Evoked a pastoral image.

Continue reading →