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John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

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Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children, without explaining…

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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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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.

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Drew Tobia on "See You Next Tuesday"; Charles M. Blow: "Up From Pain"; Talking about Kevin Smith; Rob Walker on "The Haunting"; Joe Berlinger on the changing market for documentaries.

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"Tower Prep" was cancelled because it was too girl-centric; the year's 10 best movie quotes; the year's worst movie titles; the real sins of the Welfare Queen; the aptly named Wiseman speaks.

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Django America

Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (2012) is a very good Tarantino movie. Save for "Pulp Fiction," I tend to appreciate and respect Tarantino movies more than I enjoy them. "Pulp Fiction," however, was so entertaining that I did not want it to end. Such were my feelings with "Django Unchained." As a mash of bloody pulp cinema with great aspirations, it is as entertaining as anything I have seen from Tarantino. For Tarantino diehards it is as Tarantino-esque as everything else from him.

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Is Bill Maher a performer, a preacher, or a pimp?

May Contain Spoilers

On Netflix and Amazon Instant.

Considering that we normally think of documentaries as some sort of academic discourse at the fringes of popular cinema, this relatively new genre of Celebrity-driven docs is something peculiar. That we now watch documentaries starring Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, and Bill Maher is something inevitable, I suppose. We already have that tradition of following on-screen directors as characters in their features, including Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen. But, the point here is that we watch some documentaries because of their host celebrities, more than the topic, even though the topics seem to be extensions of those same celebrities.

I suspect few people outside of his fan base will watch this movie: in Larry Charles' documentary "Religulous," (2008) popular Television talk show host Bill Maher is a playful microphone-toting cynic, roaming the landscapes of Christianity, with a few references to Judaism, Islam, and Scientology. The film is very strong and vastly entertaining in finding absurdities in absurd places, but fizzles when it attempts any serious commentary.

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the Your Movie Sucks™ files

Gathered here in one convenient place are my recent reviews that awarded films Two Stars or less. These are, generally speaking to be avoided. Sometimes I hear from readers who confess they are in the mood to watch a really bad movie. If you're sincere, be sure to know what you're getting: A really bad movie. Movies that are "so bad they're good" should generally get two and a half stars. Two stars can be borderline. And Pauline Kael once wrote, "The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn't go at all."

"Just Go With It" (PG-13, 116 minutes). This film's story began as a French farce, became the Broadway hit "Cactus Flower," was made into a 1969 film and now arrives gasping for breath in a witless retread with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker. The characters are so stupid it doesn't seem nice to laugh at them. One star.

"Sanctum" (R, 109 minutes). A terrifying adventure shown in an incompetent way. Scuba-diving cave explorers enter a vast system in New Guinea and are stranded. But this rich story opportunity is lost because of incoherent editing, poor 3D technique, and the effect of 3D dimming in the already dark an murky caves. A "James Cameron Production," yes, but certainly not a "James Cameron Film." One and a half stars

"I Am Number Four" (PG-13, 110 minutes). Nine aliens from the planet Mogador travel across the galaxy to take refuge on earth and rip off elements of the Twilight and Harry Potter movies, and combine them with senseless scenes of lethal Quidditch-like combat. Alex Pettyfer stars as Number Four, who feels hormonal about the pretty Sarah (Dianna Agron), although whether he is the brooding teenage Edward Cullen he seems to be or a weird alien life form I am not sure. Inane setup followed by endless and perplexing action. One and a half stars

"Certifiably Jonathan" (Unrated, 80 minutes). Jonathan Winters deserves better than this. Jim Pasternak's mockumentary is not merely a bad film, but a waste of an opportunity. Nearing 80, Winters is still active and funny, and deserves a real doc, not this messy failed attempt at satirizing--what? Documentaries themselves? Lame scenes involving an art show, a theft and the "Museum of Modern Art" fit awkwardly with cameos of too many other comics, who except for the funny Robin Williams seem to be attending a testimonial. One star.

"The Green Hornet" (PG-13, 108 minutes) An almost unendurable demonstration of a movie with nothing to be about. Although it follows the rough storyline of previous versions of the title, it neglects the construction of a plot engine to pull us through. There are pointless dialogue scenes going nowhere much too slowly, and then pointless action scenes going everywhere much too quickly. One star.

"The Nutcracker in 3D" (PG, 107 minutes) A train wreck of a movie, beginning with the idiotic idea of combining the Tchaikovsky classic with a fantasy conflict that seems inspired by the Holocaust. After little Mary (Elle Fanning) discovers her toy nutcracker can talk, he reveals himself as a captive prince and spirits her off to a land where fascist storm troopers are snatching toys from the hands of children and burning them to blot out the sun. I'm not making this up. Appalling. And forget about the 3D, which is the dingiest and dimmest I've seen. One star

"I Spit on Your Grave" (Unrated; for adults only. Running time: 108 minutes) Despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film "I Spit On Your Grave." This one is more offensive, because it lingers lovingly and at greater length on realistic verbal, psychological and physical violence against the woman, and then reduces her "revenge" to cartoonish horror-flick impossibilities. Oh, and a mentally disabled boy is forced against his will to perform a rape. Zero stars.

"Life As We Know It" (PG-13, 113 minutes). When their best friends are killed in a crash, Holly and Messer (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) are appointed as joint custodians of their one-year-old, Sophie. Also, they have to move into Sophie's mansion. But Holly and Messer can't stand one another. So what happens when they start trying to raise Sophie. You'll never guess in a million years. Or maybe you will. One and a half stars

"Hatchet II" (Unrated, 85 minutes). A gory homage to slasher films, which means it has its tongue in its cheek until the tongue is ripped out and the victims of a swamp man are sliced, diced, slashed, disemboweled, chainsawed and otherwise inconvenienced. One and a half stars

"The Last Airbender" (PG, 103 minutes). An agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. Originally in 2D, retrofitted in fake 3D that makes this picture the dimmest I've seen in years. Bad casting, wooden dialogue, lousy special effects, incomprehensible plot, and boring, boring, boring. One-half of one star.

"The A-Team" (PG-13, 121 minutes). an incomprehensible mess with the 1980s TV show embedded within. at over two hours of Queasy-Cam anarchy it's punishment. Same team, same types, same traits, new actors: Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson. One and a half stars

"Sex & the City 2" (R, 146 minutes). Comedy about flyweight bubbleheads living in a world where their defining quality is consuming things. They gobble food, fashion, houses, husbands, children, and vitamins. Plot centers on marital discord between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth), a purring, narcissistic, velvety idiot? Later, the girls are menaced for immodest dress during a luxurious freebie in Abu Dhabi. Appalling. Sure to be enjoyed by SATC fans. One star

"The Good Heart" (R, 98 minutes). Oh. My. God. A story sopping wet with cornball sentimentalism, wrapped up in absurd melodrama, and telling a Rags to Riches story with an ending that is truly shameless. That fine actor Brian Cox and that good actor Paul Dano and that angelic actress Isild Le Besco cast themselves on the sinking vessel of this story and go down with the ship. One and a half stars.

"Kick-Ass" (R, 117 minutes). An 11-year-old girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), her father (Nicolas Cage) and a high school kid (Aaron Johnson) try to become superheroes to fight an evil ganglord. There's deadly carnage dished out by the child, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. A comic book satire, they say. Sad, I say. One star

"Nightmare on Elm Street" (R, 95 minutes). Teenagers are introduced, enjoy brief moments of happiness, are haunted by nightmares, and then slashed to death by Freddy. So what? One star

"The Bounty Hunter" (PG-13, 110 minutes). An inconsequential formula comedy and a waste of the talents of Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. He's a bounty hunter, she's skipped bail on a traffic charge, they were once married, and that's the end of the movie's original ideas. We've seen earlier versions of every single scene to the point of catatonia. Rating: One and a half stars.

"Cop Out" (R, 110 minutes). An outstandingly bad cop movie, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as partners who get suspended (of course) and then try to redeem themselves by overthrowing a drug operation while searching for the valuable baseball card Willis wants to sell to pay for his daughter's wedding. Morgan plays an unreasonable amount of time dressed as a cell phone, considering there is nothing to prevent him from taking it off. Kevin Smith, who directed, has had many, many better days. One and a half stars.

"The Lovely Bones" (PG-13). A deplorable film with this message: If you're a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they realize what a wonderful person you were. Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") believes special effects can replace genuine emotion, and tricks up Alive Sebold's well-regarded novel with gimcrack New Age fantasies. With, however, affective performances by Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan as the victim. One star.

"The Spy Next Door" (PG, 92 minutes). Jackie Chan is a Chinese-CIA double agent babysitting girl friend's three kids as Russian mobsters attack. Uh, huh. Precisely what you'd expect from a PG-rated Jackie Chan comedy. If that's what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. It's not what I was looking for. One and a half stars.

"Old Dogs" (PG, 88 minutes). Stupefying dimwitted. John Travolta's and Robin Williams' agents weren't perceptive enough to smell the screenplay in its advanced state of decomposition. Seems to have lingered in post-production while editors struggled desperately to inject laugh cues.Careens uneasily between fantasy and idiocy, the impenetrable and the crashingly ham-handed. Example: Rita Wilson gets her hand slammed by a car trunk, and the sound track breaks into "Big Girls Don't Cry." When hey get their hands slammed in car trunks, they do. One star. View the trailer.

"Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (PG-13, 103 minutes). Feuding couple from Manhattan (Hugh Grant and Jessica Sarah Parker) are forced to flee town under Witness Protection Program, find themselves Fish Out of Water in Strange New World, meet Colorful Characters, survive Slapstick Adventures, end up Together at the End. The only part of that formula that still works is The End. With supporting roles for Sam Elliott and Wilford Brimley, sporting the two most famous mustaches in the movies. One and a half stars.

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (PG-13, 130 minutes). The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. The sequel to "Twilight" (2008) is preoccupied with remember that film and setting up the third one. Sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return in their original roles, she dewy and masochistic, he sullen and menacing. Ah, teenage romance! One star

"The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day" . (R, 21 minutes) Idiotic ode to macho horseshite (to employ an ancient Irish word). Distinguished by superb cinematography. The first film in 10 years from Troy Duffy, whose "Boondock Saints" (1999) has become a cult fetish. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are Irish brothers who return to Boston for revenge and murder countless enemies in an incomprehensible story involving heavy metal cranked up to 12 and lots of boozing, smoking, swearing and looking fierce and sweaty. One star. View the trailer.

"Gentlemen Broncos". (PG-13, 107 minutes) Michael Angarano plays Benjamin Purvis, a wannabe sci-fi Doctor Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Alas. the great man rips off the kid's book, just when get kid has sold the miniscule filming rights. All sorts of promising material from Jared Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite"), but it's a clutter of jumbled continuity that doesn't add up, despite the presence of Jennifer Coolidge. Two stars. View the trailer.

"The Fourth Kind". (PG-13, 98 minutes). Nome, Alaska (pop. 3,750) has so many disappearances and/or alien abductions that the FBI has investigated there 20 times more than in Anchorage. So it's claimed by this pseudo-doc that goes to inane lengths to appear factual. Milla Jovovich is good as a psychologist whose clients complain that owls stare at them in the middle of the night. One and a half stars. View the trailer.

21 and a Wakeup . (R, 123 minutes). A disjointed, overlong and unconvincing string of anecdotes centering around the personnel of an Army combat hospital in Vietnam. Amy Acker plays an idealistic nurse who is constantly reprimanded by absurdly hostile officer (Faye Dunaway). Plays like a series of unlikely anecdotes trundled onstage without much relationship to one another. One episode involves an unauthorized trip into Cambodia by a nurse and a civilian journalist; it underwhelms. One and a half stars. Visit the website.

"Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant". (PG-13, 108 minutes) This movie includes good Vampires, evil Vampanese, a Wolf-Man, a Bearded Lady, a Monkey Girl with a long tail, a Snake Boy, a dwarf with a four-foot forehead and a spider the size of your shoe, and they're all boring as hell. They're in a traveling side show that comes to town and lures two insipid high school kids (Josh Hutcherson and Chris Massoglia) into a war between enemy vampire factions. Unbearable. With Joh C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit, and other wasted talents. One star. View the trailer.

"Couples Retreat" (PG-13, 107 minutes). Four troubled couples make a week's retreat to an island paradise where they hope to be healed, which indeed happens, according to ages-old sitcom formulas. This material was old when it was new. The jolly ending is agonizing in its step-by-step obligatory plotting. I didn't care for any of the characters, and that's about how much they seemed to care for one another. Starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk. Two stars. View the trailer.

"Fame.". (PG, 90 minutes). A pale retread of the 1980 classic, lacking the power and emotion of the original. A group of hopeful kids enroll in the New York City School of the Performing Arts and struggle through four years to find themselves. Their back stories are shallow, many seem too old and confident, the plot doesn't engage them, and although individual performers like Naturi Naughton sparkle as a classical pianist who wants to sing hip hop, the film is too superficial to make them convincing. Two stars. View the trailer.

"All About Steve". (PG-13, 87 minutes ) Sandra Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle constructor who on a blind date falls insanely in love with Steve, a TV news cameraman (Bradley Cooper, from "The Hangover"). The operative word is "insanely." The movie is billed as a comedy but more resembles a perplexing public display of irrational behavior. Seeing her run around as a basket case makes you appreciate Lucille Ball, who could play a dizzy dame and make you like her. One and a half stars. View the trailer.

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The Return of the Autobiographical Dictionary of Film

Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.

To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")

When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.

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I am pleased to do Kevin Smith a small favor

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I believe Kevin Smith has said all this before, but now he's got another movie to promote (called "Red State," due in 2011), so he's evidently saying it again. WorstPreviews.com reports that Smith is "taking to Twitter and radio" with this message:

Smith says that he doesn't hate critics, but simply disagrees with the fact that they get to see movies for free in order to write a review. His argument is that critics are just doing their jobs and sometimes don't want to see a certain movie, which means that they probably go into the theater hating it. He adds that he would rather show his movies to 100 fans and let them write reviews even if they don't have a newspaper.

Makes sense to me. Smith would prefer to have his movies reviewed by his fans -- those who've seen his other movies and who are predisposed to like them -- rather than by critics who have seen his other movies and therefore may be predisposed to not like them, so that sounds like a good proposition for him. (And I agree he should let the fans write reviews even if they don't have a newspaper, or a blog or a keyboard or a napkin and a Bic.) Not screening his movies for critics (or making them pay) also sounds like a pretty good deal for the critics who don't want to see or write about his work. They could watch or write about something else instead -- and not have to worry about all the ethical dilemmas involved in paying or not paying to see a Kevin Smith movie. The world would be a cleaner and more orderly place.

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#20 July 21, 2010

"Twists of fate, love and humour, perseverance and, finally, a philosophical outlook- his story has it all." - Sarah Hampson.(click photo to enlarge) From the Globe and Mail article "You couldn't write this script" published July 19, 2010.From the Grand Poobah: "A young lady with excellent taste". (click to enlarge) "Ever since I was a child messing around with a terrible paint set from K-mart, I have been obsessed with controlling pigment suspended in water. Now I paint with divine, hand-made watercolors from Holland along with brushes ranging from high-end to dirt cheap, but the obsession remains..." - from Kelly Eddington's artist statement. To read more and see her truly wonderful watercolors, visit Kelly Eddington's Website and Gallery.

Ah, watercolors.... so easy to master; only takes decades....

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Thought experiment: Are some movies better if you don't see them?

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It's a question to ponder -- especially when they're Andy Warhol movies (whether or not Andy Warhol actually had anything to do with them besides putting his name on them). Consider this story from Reid Rosefelt at My Life as a Blog:

... I was a huge fan of Warhol's films, despite the fact that I had never seen a single one. Most, if not all of the films had been withdrawn from circulation, or very rarely shown, certainly not in Madison. That didn't stop me. I read everything I could about them, and I was totally fascinated.

Spotting Warhol standing at an appetizer table, plastic cup in one hand and plate in the other, during a late-1970s party in New York, RR worked up the nerve to approach the artist. It went something like this:

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Succeeds beyond all expectations, sort of

Q. After seeing "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," on the car ride home, we couldn't help but discuss how different an American version of the film would be. Besides the obvious sexual situations and probably the villains' background, we came upon an obvious difference. An American film would have to explain to the audience the titular tattoo. It was great to see a movie leave so many plot threads unanswered. (Mark Coale, Editor/Publisher, www.odessasteps.com)

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The blogs of my blog

One of my favorite pastimes, especially when I should be doing something else, is moseying around the blogs of my readers. You may have noticed that when the name of a poster is displayed in blue, that means it's a link -- usually to the author's blog, although you might be surprised. Assembled here is a distinctive readership of interesting people, not least because I am vigilant about never posting idiotic or perfunctory comments. A certain civil tone is (usually) maintained, avoiding the plague of flame wars.

More than a year ago, when the blog was somewhat new to me, I wrote: "Your comments have provided me with the best idea of my readers that I have ever had, and you are the readers I have dreamed of. I was writing to you before I was sure you were there. You are thoughtful, engaged, fair, and often the authors of eloquent prose. You take the time to craft comments of hundreds of words. Frequently you are experts, and generous enough to share your knowledge."

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John Hughes: In Memory

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Few directors have left a more distinctive or influential body of work than John Hughes. The creator of the modern American teenager film, who died Thursday in New York, made a group of films that are still watched and quoted today.

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The Evil, the Bad and the (Self-)Important

When she put "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" on her Worst Movies of 2008 list, Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwartzbaum referred to the Holocaust melodrama as "Honey, I Gassed the Kids." And, if she honestly believes the movie is as awful as she describes it (and I have no reason to think she doesn't), it is her moral duty as a critic to pummel it with everything she's got. A "dumb summer comedy" can be awful, undendurable; an irresponsible or simpleminded film that exploits and trivializes a "powerful subject" (genocide, racism, pedophilia, rape, suicide, torture, any number of historical atrocities) can be flat-out evil -- precisely because it presents itself as Serious (or Risky or Important or Challenging) Cinema. If filmmakers choose to play with fire, they'd better be morally and artistically equipped to handle the responsibility, or they deserve to get burned.

"The moral of this outrageous, British-accented nonsense appears to be that if you build a death camp, sometimes the wrong people get killed," Schwarzbaum wrote. "Not for the last time, alas, has the Holocaust been co-opted into a kitschy 'universal' story of 'tolerance' about how we're all 'one.' But this one is supposed to be a story for children!"

I can't vouch for Schwarzbaum's take on "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (although that title made me throw up in my mouth a little, as they say) because I haven't seen it, but I know exactly what she means. I feel the same way about the denial fable of "Life is Beautiful." (Protect your kid from the cruelty and stress of immediate danger by telling him death camps are just fun 'n' games! While you're at it, why not tell him that if he throws himself under a truck it will just bounce off him? And he can really fly if he wants to, too! Don't shatter his dreams!)

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Rourke ready to climb off mat with 'Wrestler'

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TORONTO -- Mickey Rourke is back. The legendary tough guy in 1980s movies like "9 1/2 Weeks," "Barfly" and "Year of the Dragon" has never been away. He's been working steadily, with 16 movies just since 2000 -- but his title role in "The Wrestler" is arguably his best career performance and could win him an Oscar nomination. The film, playing here at the 33rd Toronto Film Festival, arrived after winning the grand prize at Venice, and is drawing turn-away crowds. It came to Toronto without a distributor, but was snatched up for $4.5 million by Fox Searchlight.

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TIFF 08: The omnivore's dilemma

How to plan my Toronto schedule when there are a few dozen movies screening every day and I want to keep from knowing much of anything about them before I see them, so that I can (as much as humanly possible) avoid preconceptions, false expectations, artificial festival "buzz," and other distractions that have little or nothing to do with what's on those screens? (See last year's accounting: "What did I know and when did I know it?")

The first thing I look for are the names of directors whose work I'm interested in following (or whose work I think I would like to follow). This year, for example, Danny Boyle, Kevin Smith, Rod Lurie and (as previously mentioned) Guy Ritchie all have films in this year's festival -- which, in my case, leaves more room to accommodate movies by directors I like. Not only for megastar filmmakers like the Dardennes and the Coens, but for Terence Davies ("The Long Day Closes"), Rian Johnson ("Brick"), Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop"), Katherine Bigelow ("Blue Steel"), Jerzy Skolimowski ("Deep End"), Kelly Reichardt ("Old Joy"), Michael Winterbottom ("A Cock and Bull Story" -- who makes two or three movies a year, it seems)... Those parenthetical titles, of course, are earlier films by these filmmakers. I don't even remember most of the titles from this year yet, because I haven't seen the movies. I've just been circling times and places on my screening schedule.

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Starting off the season

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TORONTO -- In the beginning, its organizers were happy to sell out a 500-seat theater. Now the Toronto Film Festival requires 35 theaters and assorted screening rooms, starting with the 2,800-seat Roy Thomson Hall. If you're a moviegoer in central Toronto and want to avoid the festival, you've got your work cut out for you.

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Simply the worst

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How good, or bad, does a movie have to be in order to make an impression -- enough of one, anyway, so that you can remember it, or even still feel like talking about it, 15 minutes after you've seen it? Inspired by "The Hottie and the Nottie," Joe Queenan suggests criteria for The Worst Movies of All Time ("From hell") in The Guardian.

Among the movies he considers: "Futz!" (a 1969 satire, based on a hit LaMaMa Broadway production, about a man who marries a pig), Marco Ferreri's "La Grande Bouffe" (1973), John Huston's "A Walk With Love and Death," Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salo: 120 Days of Sodom," Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful" ("as morally repugnant -- precisely because of its apparent innocence -- as any film I can name"), Kevin Costner's "The Postman," Martin Brest's "Gigli" and Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate." Queenan writes: A generically appalling film like "The Hottie and the Nottie" is a scab that looks revolting while it is freshly coagulated; but once it festers, hardens and falls off the skin, it leaves no scar. By contrast, a truly bad movie, a bad movie for the ages, a bad movie made on an epic, lavish scale, is the cultural equivalent of leprosy: you can't stand looking at it, but at the same time you can't take your eyes off it. You are horrified by it, repelled by it, yet you are simultaneously mesmerised by its enticing hideousness....

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The slick and the raw

View image Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is no city slickster. Still, he thinks knowing how to use a camera might possibly be a good thing when it comes to making a movie.

Two sentences in the New York Times story announcing the line-up for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival jumped out at me as symptomatic of a fashionable but misguided attitude toward the art and craft of filmmaking today: And some of the more striking, original documentaries were quite unpolished, [Sundance festival director Geoffrey] Gilmore said. “You’d get a sense they’d never touched a camera before.”Now, I am all for striking, original films -- including unpolished ones. Among my favorite documentaries of recent years are Chris Wilcha's "The Target Shoots First" and Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation" -- both films made with small consumer video cameras by people recording their own experiences over long periods of time. Neither man considered himself a "filmmaker" when he started shooting, but both discovered what they needed to express while making these films. I could not be more enthusiastic about the means of production finally being within the reach of the proletariat (people like me).

But, as I've been wondering for some time now: What is behind this popular and patently false critical suspicion that a "well-crafted" movie is automatically phony or inauthentic, while a film that is "unpolished" is considered genuine -- automatically real or truthful? This is especially troubling to me when the people expressing this attitude fail to convey a recognition of the distinctions between artistry and production values -- or between validity and lack of skill.

Likewise, I've never understood why a so-called "independent film" (a term that usually refers to the source[s] of the production financing, if that) should be appreciated or evaluated any differently than a studio-bankrolled film (which may well be a negative pick-up distributed by a major or one of its "dependent" arms). It's unbelievably hard to get a film made either way, and just because you have studio financing doesn't mean you won't be fighting for money or time or resources (and, probably, creative control as well). It definitely means that more of your budget will go to overhead costs. Studios also force you to deal with development execs who may consume a lot of your time and energy trying to put their unwelcome fingerprints on the movie (just to justify their salaries). But even if you get your movie made more or less the way you want to with your indie financiers, there's no guarantee that your indie distributor (if you get one) won't demand cuts or changes that don't necessarily make the film any better or more marketable.

I've seen plenty of big-budget Hollywood films made by professionals who evidently knew little or nothing about what they were doing. It's like they'd never touched a camera (or an editing table or a mixing board) or even encountered an actor before. And it's not pretty. It isn't any good, either, but there it is. I've also seen low-budget films, shot on video or 16 mm, that exhibit an affinity for cinema, for communicating through images and sound, that no budget or payroll could ever buy. And I've seen way, way too many indie movies that have no reason to exist except as somebody's lottery ticket for a Hollywood deal. They're as empty as any studio product, just more dishonest about their commercial ambitions.

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