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Citizenfour

Though superlatives can mischaracterize any movie’s qualities, it is not an overstatement, I think, to call “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’ film about Edward Snowden, the movie…

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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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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.

Early returns: The ascent of the Stephanopoulos

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Polls may be open somewhere, results in many races remain inconclusive, but I am willing to make one fearless projection: ABC News is the winner in 2012's Election Night coverage. In fact, ABC's coverage of the entire campaign has generally left competitors red in the face if not green with envy, though that hardly means it was without its own fumbles, stumbles and wretched excesses.

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Game Change: Not mavericky, but nice

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"Our slogan's 'Country First.' Lieberman and Pawlenty are 'Country First' choices. Sarah Palin will be perceived as a self-serving political maneuver. You may not only lose this election, John, you just might lose your reputation right along with it." -- prescient warning by McCain advisor Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) in "Game Change"

First, there's this: Austin Pendleton as Joe Lieberman. I just want to mention that casting masterstroke up-front because, even though he only gets about two minutes of screen time (and most of it is in the background) it's one of those little touches that shows the people who made "Game Change" have an eye for the telling detail. I had so much fun watching this movie. The funny thing is, it isn't exactly satire, maybe because that's already inherent in the real-life material. It's a comedy (I think), but the humor is fairly mild, certainly not as funny as Sarah Palin's public appearances actually were. I guess we're just used to her now.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed "Game Change," which goes out of its way to demonstrate understanding and sympathy for Palin, and absolves John McCain of all responsibility for his unconscionable campaign in 2008. (Spoiler alert: It was his advisers who screwed up!) Honestly, McCain and Palin should drop down on their knees and thank everybody involved in this picture for their kindness and discretion: director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers," "Recount") and writer Danny Strong ("Recount"), who adapted the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and a top-notch cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as McCain advisor Steve Schmidt (who is really the main character), Julianne Moore as Palin and Ed Harris as McCain. It's just a shame Harris doesn't have a bigger part to play in the proceedings.

"Game Change" is patterned on redemptive Frank Capra and Preston Sturges archetypes (a dash of "Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington" and maybe quite a lot of "Hail, the Conquering Heroine" -- minus the hero's moral torment over misrepresenting himself), even if the screwball energy is missing. Although, things get fairly dark (as they often do in Capra and Sturges) when Palin shuts down and goes catatonic, overwhelmed by the advisers who are trying to make her into someone and something she is not (neither a conventional politician, nor a credible candidate for Vice President of the United States), she finally snaps out of it, drawing strength from her love of family and state and country, and "goes rogue" in the third act, rediscovering her unique voice and her true spirit. That's a generous assessment of her character, but it's left up to you to decide whether the Real Sarah Palin is someone who oughtta be in politics.Above: The Real Thing

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The greatest actress in American political history

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Sarah Palin lacked the preparation or temperament to be one heartbeat away from the presidency, but what she possessed in abundance was the ability to inflame political passions and energize the John McCain campaign with star quality. That much we already knew. What I didn't expect to discover after viewing "Game Change," a new HBO film about the 2008 McCain campaign, was how much sympathy I would feel for Palin, and even more for John McCain.

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#59 April 20, 2011

Marie writes: Ever since he was a boy, photographer John Hallmén has been fascinated by insects. And he's become well-known for photographing the creatures he finds in the Nackareservatet nature reserve not far from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. Hallmén uses various methods to capture his subjects and the results are remarkable. Bugs can be creepy, to be sure, but they can also be astonishingly beautiful...

Blue Damsel Fly [click to enlarge photos]

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Frost/Nixon/Milk: Get Real

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are swell as David Frost and Richard Nixon in the adapted-from-the-stage-adaptation movie, but I feel -- and I believe the above clips demonstrate -- that these five minutes provide more compelling drama and suspense (and adrenaline) than the entire feature film. Frost presents himself as a much stronger, more flamboyant "prosecutor" than he is in the movie. And watch the incredible range and focus of Nixon's performance: the deliberate rhetorical emphases and repetitions; the flashes of steely anger and startling shifts into unctuousness/condescension when he seems like he could burst into inappropriate laugher or tears or flames; the (strategic?) digressions and circumlocutions; the hand-gestures, head-shakes, eye-blinks; the splintered syntax and mispronunciations-under-pressure when he gets flustered... At least you can tell (unlike certain modern politicians one could name) that he's actually thinking as he talks, sifting through evidence and debate tactics and talking points in his head, not just going blank and letting his lips flap. THIS is an endlessly fascinating character in peak performance mode...

* * * *

"Frost/Nixon" and "Milk" are glossy products of the Hollywood awards season, prestige pictures in the grand red-carpet tradition of fashioning uplifting, larger-than-life entertainments out of semi-fictionalized semi-recent historical events. The thing is, both have been treated far more thrillingly on documentaries that are available on DVD. Think "Frost/Nioxon" provided compelling drama, suspense and astoundingly rich performances? It can't approach the actual interviews , which have just been released as "Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews." Think "Milk" was a moving look at a charismatic public figure and a key period in American civil rights? You have not begun to be moved until you see Rob Epstein's Oscar-winning "The Times of Harvey Milk" (clips after the jump), which is also a more complex, less hagiographic portrait of the man and his heady times.

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From Wasilla to Fargo: Sarah Palin in Rashomon

Michael Cera, on his decision to act in "Juno" (or "Juneau"):

"Well, I had a feeling when I took the part that something like that would happen, that Sarah Palin would run and her teen would be pregnant, and so I'm glad that it finally was fulfilled."

☺☺☺☺

The Fargo Interview, with Marge Gunderson:

Gosh darn it, whether ya just love her or ya can't stand her, there's something about that Sarah Palin that's got everybody talkin' -- whether it's tryin' to talk her kinda plain ol' "Say it ain't so, Joe Sixpack" Hockey Mom talk, or just tryin' to figure out what the heck the gal is sayin'! Can ya tell what she thinks she means when she flaps that lipstick, or do ya just like the sparkle motion she makes when the words come out? Get back to me on that! Anyways, here we go again, with a buncha ways of looking at that Sarah Palin Talk that everybody's talkin' about:

Linguist Steven Pinker, "Everything You Heard Is Wrong," New York Times, October 4, 2008:

Since the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, two opposing myths have quickly taken hold about Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. The first, advanced by her supporters, is that she made it through a gantlet of fire; the second, embraced by her detractors, is that her speaking style betrays her naïveté. Both are wrong. [...]

But it would be unfair to question the authenticity of her accent or to use it as a measure of her intellect or sophistication. The dialect is certainly for real. Listeners who hear the Minnewegian sounds of the characters from "Fargo" when they listen to Ms. Palin are on to something: the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska, where she grew up, was settled by farmers from Minnesota during the Depression.

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Why movie critics make such darn good political pundits

One of the things film critics do for a living is to pay close attention to how people behave, and how that behavior is presented through visual media. This applies not only to actors playing characters, but to people who play themselves, in fictional or nonfictional settings, on and off the screen. It should come as no surprise to learn that some of our best movie critics have backgrounds in psychology.

When Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sex with that woman," it now seems impossible to believe that he fooled anyone at that particular moment. But if any movie critic misread Clinton's voice and body language, that critic should have been impeached. As opaque as the clumsy verbal gymnastics of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin may often be, behind the contortions it's hard to avoid seeing the painful truth, which is simply that they don't know what their own words mean, and even when they know what they've been told to say they don't know how to communicate it. As actors, they're thoroughly unconvincing: You can see the wheels turning inside their heads -- only the gears aren't even engaged. There's a lot of whirring and spinning, but nothing happens. That can be excruciating to watch, but it's also the stuff of modern comedy. Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and the whole Judd Apatow crew come to mind.

Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, argues that film critics like Roger Ebert, sophisticated in their knowledge of media presentation and human behavior, make more insightful political pundits than the usual beltway-bubble spin-docs employed by television, radio, print and online outlets. In a piece called "From film critic to political pundit," Goldstein writes:

To me, film critics, like TV and theater critics, are especially well equipped to analyze today's politics, which is why Frank Rich made such a seamless transition from theater to media and political commentator. In fact, in some ways film critics are probably better equipped to assess the political theater of today's presidential campaigns, since our campaigns are -- as has surely been obvious for some time -- far more about theater and image creation than politics.

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Study: 'Daily Show' as substantive as network news

Unbelievable? You bet! Here's your Fox News: See, on Bill O'Reilly's Nothing But Spin Zone, they simply turned Mark Foley into a Democrat, even though he's a Republican. Who cares about basic facts? Hey, the Fox slogan doesn't say anything about being "accurate."

I'm supposed to be "on vacation" this week, but this was just too good. People are always complaining about studies that simply "prove" the obvious, but in-depth studies and analysis are absolutely needed in a country where majorities of people believe things that are factually wrong (say, that Saddam did indeed have WMDs) or disbelieve things that have long ago been demostrated to be true (say, evolution). So, here comes a journalism study from Indiana University that finds news coverage on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is as substantive as network news. The only part of this I question is the word "as." It should be "more." If you don't read newspapers and listen to NPR, you might not even understand what's being satirized on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." If you got most of your news from network evening newscasts, you wouldn't know what the hell was going on. (See this transcript from a recent Katie Couric CBS Evening Gossipcast, posted on the blog of a prominent conservative.)

No, Stewart and Colbert may claim to be the "fake news," but they are firmly rooted in the "reality-based community" -- and provide more incisive cut-through-the-bull analysis of current events than anything on commercial television. (Only "Frontline" goes deeper -- the show that, as at least one TV critic pointed out earlier this week, would have told the powers in the White House and the Pentagon and the intelligence community the things they needed to know, but now claim they didn't, if they'd only bothered to watch it. It's on PBS, Condi!)

From the official announcement of the "Daily Show" study, to be published in the Journal of Broadcast and Electronic Media, published by the Broadcast Education Association: BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Which would you think has more substantive news coverage -- traditional broadcast network newscasts or "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"?

Would you believe the answer is neither?

Julia R. Fox, assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University isn't joking when she says the popular "fake news" program, which last week featured Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a guest, is just as substantive as network coverage.

While much has been written in the media about "The Daily Show"'s impact, Fox's study is the first scholarly effort to systematically examine how the comedy program compares to traditional television news as sources of political information.

The study, "No Joke: A Comparison of Substance in 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' and Broadcast Network Television Coverage of the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign," will be published next summer...

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