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La La Land

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Jackie

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

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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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#109 April 4, 2012

Marie writes: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for finding this - as I'd never heard of the Bregenz Festival before, despite the spectacular staging of Puccini's opera Tosca and which appeared briefly in the Bond film Quantum of Solace; but then I slept through most of it. I'm not surprised I've no memory of an Opera floating on a lake. Lake Constance to be exact, which borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria near the Alps...

Tosca by Puccini | 2007-2008 - Photograph by BENNO HAGLEITNER(click to enlarge)

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Is it time for best movies of the decade already?

Yes it is, I'm afraid. Or almost. Good grief, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet and they've already got the festive "Best Of" decorations up in the stores! And I know lots of critics who've been told by their editors to start working on their big '00s lists -- so, reluctantly, I've begun to ponder mine, as well. I haven't even taken a first stab at it but I can tell you this: It will probably not resemble the Top 100 list published a few days ago in the Times of London. Oh, sure, I can conceive of putting together some kind of list that includes "Crash" (#98), "Bowling for Columbine" (#77), "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (#28), "Slumdog Millionaire" (#6) and the like -- but such a ranking would not be comprised of movies that I hold in high esteem. (Have any of the decades' movies plummeted in reputation more dramatically than "Columbine" and "Crash"?)

If you want to page through the Times' list, you can go ahead and start here. It's not all so bad. Meanwhile, here are the top 20 -- with links to things I've written about some of the titles:

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Brüno is WWE wrestling

If those screwball lovers Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner ever hooked up and had sex, they'd do it the way Brüno and his "pygmy" paramour do in "Brüno": with ACME slingshots, projectiles, champagne bottles and a customized Rube Goldberg device that appears to have been built with materials from Home Depot by George Clooney's character in "Burn After Reading." The matinee audience with whom I saw "Brüno," Sacha Baron Cohen's partially improvised Üniversal Pictures remake of RW Fassbinder's "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" (with a happy ending!), howled at the grossness, the perversity, the preposterousness of it -- the same way audiences laughed and groaned at the explicitly cartoony perv-sex in John Waters movies of the 1970s. "Brüno" is rather tame compared to "Pink Flamingoes" or "Female Trouble" -- in part because it's 2009 and not 1974, and the experience of "shock value" has changed considerably. Truth is, it's hard to be too terribly shocked by anything in the bland, artificial cocoon of the mall-tiplex, no matter what's playing.

Inevitably, in all comedy, the joke comes down to: What is the joke? I've had a grand old time reading bewildered critics -- amused, disgusted, even shocked -- try to puzzle out what Borat and Brüno (the characters and the movies) are really saying. The most entertaining explanations are by writers who don't necessarily know they're bewildered, or how much they're revealing about their own prejudices when they claim the movie is revealing the prejudices of the "real folks" on screen. (Hint: Even more so than in "Borat," the butt of the joke is the title character, not the "real people" with whom he interacts. Tricking people is not exactly the same as making fun of them -- and most of those who get punk'd react about the way you'd expect them to.)

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TIFF 08: The Divine and the "Religulous"

The only real blasphemies in Bill Maher's anti-religion documentary, "Religulous," are that it's not terribly smart and only sporadically funny. Three or four big laughs, a lot of snide, pompous misfires and innumerable fish-in-a-barrel potshots do not make for much of a movie, or a coherent case against the incoherence of faith or organized religion. Maher's line is that he is pro-doubt, that he really "doesn't know," that he's "just asking questions." That's a load of crap (he's not really promoting doubt any more than anti-abortionists are "pro-life"), but what makes it offensive is that Maher's smart-ass tone sounds as dead-certain, smug, smarmy and self-righteous as Jerry Falwell or Ted Haggerty.

But I kid.

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'Dolls' triggers flood of great memories

It may be one of the 10 best movies of the 1970s, as the critic Richard Corliss once said, or it may be saddled with a script by a neophyte screenwriter, as Gene Siskel once said, but "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" was one of the great experiences of my life. When Russ Meyer, the King of the Bs, called up in 1969 to ask me to write a screenplay at 20th Century Fox, he began an adventure later described as the maniacs taking over the studio. In six reckless weeks, starting with only a title, we created the movie from scratch. "This is not a sequel!" the ads said. "There has never been anything like it!"

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Sundance holds great promise

PARK CITY, Utah--I have just spent an hour with the 2003 program for the Sundance Film Festival, and I am churning with eagerness to get at these films. On the basis of track records, this could be the strongest Sundance in some time--and remember, last year's festival kicked off an extraordinary year for indie films.

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