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

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Magic in the Moonlight

While Allen’s new picture, "Magic In The Moonlight," isn’t even close to being a disaster (for that, see, well, "Scoop"), I don’t think it’s unreasonable…

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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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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Greg Salvatore on the LA premiere of "Life Itself"; How John Oliver Changed TV; Michael Mirasol on "Do the Right Thing"; 2014 fails The Bechdel Test; Steve James talks to The Daily Beast.

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#225 July 2, 2014

Sheila writes: Welcome to the "Life Itself" Special Edition of the Ebert Club newsletter! The film, directed by Steve James, opens on July 4 in select cities (and on demand), with more dates and cities to follow. You will find more information about that below, as well as an exclusive for the newsletter: an interview with Ebert Club member Greg Salvatore, who won tickets to the L.A. premiere of "Life Itself" at the Google+ Hangout held on Roger's birthday. He was generous enough to share his thoughts with us and let us experience the L.A. premiere vicariously. There's lots more below. Here is the official trailer for "Life Itself."

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Fiona Apple fumes; defending "The Story of Film"; bringing "Gravity" lovers back to earth; inside the Tenenbaum house; David Byrne on how the 1% Are Ruining New York.

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Remembrances of Roger

UPDATED (4/17/13): A selection of tributes and memories from those who knew, and read, Roger Ebert. More will be added as we collect them:

"For a generation of Americans -- and especially Chicagoans -- Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive -- capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.

"Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient -- continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."

-- President Barack Obama, April 4, 2013

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Piracy isn't always that simple

Matt Singer wrote a thoughtful piece against piracy a few days ago here on Criticwire. I read it with great interest. And I believe that he is correct, provided that Piracy fits a certain context. Let me try and provide some background.When I started writing movie reviews, I was living in the Philippines, a third-world country. Movie-going is deeply tied into our entertainment habits. The masses, most of whom are not able to afford most forms of entertainment, at least have theaters we can go to to escape the hardships of reality.

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Santa Barbara Film Festival 2012

May Contain Spoilers

It's a sunny, unseasonable 80 degrees as the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicks in, but all I want is to be indoors. When you peer at a schedule listing nearly 200 films jammed into 10 days, and you just can't wait, you know you're an addict. This is my third SBIFF so I recognize the signs.

Suddenly each January, there's an extra bustle in this appealing, laid-back town. Downtown on lower State Street, trucks appear bearing vivid banners, soon to be festooned overhead. Special lights and rigging go up at 2 central venues - the precisely restored, historic Lobero and Arlington Theatres. Locals watch to see whether Festival Director Roger Durling changes his hair: one year it was spikey, another year purple. This time it's rather like Heathcliff - longer, romantic.

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The Artist, Shame and hype-season backlash

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Over the last ten days or so I have been serially obsessed with "A Dangerous Method," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "Margaret," "Moneyball," "A Separation" -- and I haven't had time to really devote myself to following these obsessions because I must get to the next movie on my end-of-year "must-see" list, which grows and mutates by the day. Of course, I never do make it to all of them by my deadlines, but between Thanksgiving and mid-December, those of us who whip up those inevitable year-end ten-best lists of movies and who participate in film critics' polls and/or awards balloting feel a little like those wretched souls at Wal-Mart on Black Friday (or is it Black Thursday now?), busting down doors to get to screenings and screeners so we can see and evaluate everything in the rush before voting day.

It's a joy to have these opportunities to see new stuff that might not be released in many cities until late December or sometime in 2012, and to catch up with things that slipped by earlier in the year. But ithe pressure to evaluate everything in "ten best" terms, rather than just watching the movies and thinking about them and writing about them and considering "listworthyness" later on, can also be frustrating. Especially while award-bestowers -- I'm talking about you, New York Film Critics Circle -- have moved their year's-best announcements earlier and earlier (right after Thanksgiving weekend!). So, even as I'm watching things, they're being honored or ignored in various quarters.

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#89 November 16, 2011

Marie writes: I was browsing the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest Galleries and came upon this amazing shot - click to enlarge!

The Birth Of Earth: Photo by Terje Sorgjerd"Getting close or getting too close? Photo taken of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption that would grind most of europe air traffic. This is the scariest moment in my life, and also the most beautiful and frightening display of raw force I have ever seen." - Terje Sorgjerd

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For the love of film (noir)

It's Valentine's Day, and what better occasion to coincide with the second annual Film Preservation Blogathon, For the Love of Film (Noir)co-hosted by Self-Styled Siren and Marilyn Ferdinand. Not only is it great readin', it's a benefit for The Film Noir Foundation. Last year, the project raised $30,000 for the Foundation.

This year... well, I'll just quote one of the blogathon contributors, Leonard Maltin:

The film to be rescued this year is Cy Endfield's "The Sound of Fury," also known as "Try and Get Me!" (1950), a lynch-mob drama written by Jo Pagano, starring Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges. It's an "orphan" picture that's in need of proper preservation, and the Film Noir Foundation is spearheading the project. Blogger Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films, who has once again organized this mass fundraising project along with The Siren of Self-Styled Siren, explains, "A nitrate print of the film will be restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, using a reference print from Martin Scorsese's personal collection to guide them and fill in any blanks. Paramount Pictures has agreed to help fund the restoration, but FNF is going to have to come up with significant funds to get the job done. That's where we come in."

So, a big black-and-white Valentine goes out to the Siren and Marilyn -- and a special one to Greg Farrara of Cinema Styles, who created the splendid, atmospheric montage above to help publicize the event. Watch it, get into the spirit, and get yourself over to For the Love of Film (Noir), Sugar -- here or here.

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2009: Best of movie years... or not so much?

Roger Ebert on Twitter: "2009 is one of those magic movie years like 1939 or 1976."

Leonard Maltin on his iPhone Movie Guide app: "'Up in the Air' is the best film I've seen all year. Frankly, that isn't much of a compliment..."

Jim Emerson, right here and now: "For my money, 2005 and 2007 were the best movie years of the decade."

Discuss.

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Wild Things, Take 2

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In his groovy new iPhone app movie guide, my friend Leonard Maltin writes that "Where the Wild Things Are" "puts me in an awkward situation as someone who is supposed to deliver a clear-cut opinion of a film: I didn't love it, yet there are passages in it that are so magical I don't think I'll ever forget them." I'm with you there, Leonard. And because the lively discussion from my previous post about the movie, "Where the Mopey Things Are," has been so stimulating, I thought I'd offer excerpts from two impressive reviews -- one positive and one negative -- with which I (almost) completely agree. That is to say, I can absolutely see how people might come down on one side or the other, but I remain ambivalently in-between.

First, from Ty Burr at the Boston Globe:

Let's dispense with the preliminaries: What do the experts think of "Where the Wild Things Are''? As the end credits rolled, my 12-year-old daughter and her bestest friend turned to me with faces like the twin masks of comedy and tragedy on a Broadway playbill. One girl's eyes were wet with tears of sadness and profound joy; "I loved it,'' she sighed. The other looked as if someone had stuck an egg-beater in her ear and scrambled her brains. "That is not a children's movie,'' she growled.

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Hecklers as critics, critics as hecklers and comics as critics

Psychologists say that depression is rage turned inward. Stand-up comedy, on the other hand, is rage turned back outward again. (I believe George Carlin had a routine about the use of violent metaphors directed at the audience in comedy: "Knock 'em dead!" "I killed!") In the documentary "Heckler" (now on Showtime and DVD) comedian Jamie Kennedy, as himself, plays both roles with ferocious intensity. The movie is his revenge fantasy against anyone who has ever heckled him on stage, or written a negative review... or, perhaps, slighted him in on the playground or at a party or over the phone or online.

"Heckler" (I accidentally called it "Harangue" just now) is an 80-minute howl of fury and anguish in which Kennedy and a host of other well-known and not-well-known showbiz people tell oft-told tales of triumphant comebacks and humiliating disasters, freely venting their spleens at those who have spoken unkindly of them. At first the bile is aimed at hecklers in club audiences (with some particularly nasty invective for loudmouthed drunken women), then it shifts to "critics" -- broadly defined as anybody who says something negative about a figure whose work appears before a paying public. Some of the critics are actually interested in analysis; some are just insult comics who are using the Internet as their open mic. It gets pretty ugly, but it's fascinating -- because the comics, the critics and the hecklers are so much alike that it's no wonder each finds the others so infuriating.

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Arthur C. Clarke: Star hero

No teenager could possibly have hurried more eagerly to an Elvis Presley concert on that day in the late 1950's when I led a delegation of the Urbana High School Science Fiction Club to attend a speech on the campus of the University of Illinois. The speaker was Sir Arthur C. Clarke, our hero not only for his great science fiction, but also for such concepts as the triangulated space satellite and the "space elevator." The first has paid off already with global communication. The second is still seriously proposed as using infinitely strong strings of Buckyballs to link earth to a space station.

Clarke was erudite, witty, friendly, and signed all my books. It was years later that I met him in connection with his screenplay for "2001: A Space Odyssey," still the greatest of all science fiction films. And years after that when I began receiving reproaches from his home in Sri Lanka that he had not received his quarterly update to the Cinemania CD-ROM. Cinemania, edited by Jim Emerson (now editor of this site), linked reviews, info and bios of movie people with the reviews of such as Pauline Kael, Leonard Maltin and myself.

It was a brilliant idea and became for a time the top-selling consumer CD, but Bill Gates was correct that the future of CDs was on the Internet, as the Internet Movie Database so abundantly proves. Also, IMDb got its content for free, and Cinemania actually paid for its reviews.

I explained sadly to Sir Arthur why there was not and never could be another update of Cinemania, but he died at 90 still unconsoled, and still writing indignant notes to Gates.

He was the most diligent of Answer Man sources. Once one of my reader's complained that in the vacuum of space he should not have been able to hear a tiny "click" when the astro-stewardess grabbed a floating ballpoint pen.

Clarke invited two friends, one a space expert, the other a blind friend with acute hearing, to listen for the click. Just as he thought, he said, there was no click.

Clarke was in the great tradition of classic science fiction -- converted by his first sight of Amazing Stories magazines, welding hard science speculation to robust adventures, and adding some whimsy in the form of "Tales from the White Hart." He died convinced Bill Gates had made a big mistake in not keeping the Cinemania CD-Rom in print.

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What is a film?

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Our reader Christian Trapp sent a seemingly simple but actually boundless question: "What is a film?" We asked for an expert reply from Kristin Thompson, Ph.D., silent film expert and film historian at the University of Wisconsin, and co-author with Prof. David Bordwell of "Film History: An Introduction." The letter and reply follow.

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Leonard Maltin: Still "Movie Crazy"

It's a newsletter and a web site!

Nobody does a better job of reminding us that movies are always in the present tense, no matter how long ago they were made, than movie historian, critic, and (above all) enthusiast Leonard Maltin, who's celebrating the fifth anniversary of his own, personal movie-zine, "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy" ("A Newsletter for People Who Love Movies"). That's right -- it's a newsletter. As in, printed on paper and snail-mailed to you. The "Collector's Corner" of the most recent issue (which just arrived in my mailbox today), appropriately features some vintage promotional envelopes -- one from RKO studios, and one "Direct From Location" in Old Tucson, AZ, for Wesley Ruggles' "Arizona," starring Jean Arthur. I love Jean Arthur. Almost as much as Barbara Stanwyck.

Though he also has a web site (and writes a "Journal" -- not a blog!), I love that someone of Leonard's stature still puts out a good, analog-style newsletter. (Could we consider it "artisanal"?) But, of course, it's also perfectly in character for Leonard, someone whose passion for movies has always been deeply personal as well as professional. (I take pride in getting Leonard on the web in the first place. He used to fax his weekly columns to me at Cinemania Online, which was a bit "klugey," as we used to say. So, I went to his house and set him up on e-mail in 1996 or so. Leonard was an ebay early-adopter -- for his astounding collection of movie memorabilia, of course -- and once he discovered e-mail, he took to it like a sprocket to celluloid.)

The new issue features an interview with 92-year-old Leslie Martinson, a television director and former MGM script supervisor who worked for Vincente Minnelli, John Huston, Sam Wood, Rouben Mamoulian and others, and who has plenty of stories to tell -- including anecdotes about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. "Long before I had any real awareness of directors and their careers, I knew the name Leslie H. Martinson," Leonard writes, recalling his days as a budding auteurist. "No one who watched television in the 1950s and '60s could have avoided seeing that name. It was emblazoned on countless TV shows, ranging from "Topper" and "The Millionaire" to every Warner Bros. show imaginable, when that studio dominated the airwaves..." Martinson directed episodes of such series as "Maverick," "Hawaiian Eye," "77 Sunset Strip," "Mannix," "Mission: Impossible," "ChiPs," and "Dallas" -- and some movies, too ("Lad: A Dog," "PT 109," the 1966 feature "Batman," based on the hit TV show).

The cover story, "Grade B -- But Choice," is devoted to an obscure 1934 musical called "Young and Beautiful," featuring "budding starlets, grade-A character actors, grade-B musical numbers, a pair of vaudevillians, a look behind the scenes of Hollywood, bogus appearances by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and a script by Dore Schary" [later famous as a producer of films such as "Crossfire," "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," "They Live By Night" and "The Red Badge of Courage"].

Maltin describes "one of the most bizarre musical numbers ever staged, in which actors wearing full-face masks of major stars appear on stage together," along with the WAMPAS girls, beauties selected by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers -- an organization that, between 1922 and 1934, chose an annual list of promising "Baby Stars," which included Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Fay Wray, Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Lupe Valez, Jean Arthur (!), Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart.

These stars were not on display in "Young and Beautiful," however. (Betty Bryson, anyone? Dorothy Drake? Hazel Hayes? Lucile Lund? Neoma Judge?) Imagine this: At first, youre not sure whether or not to believe your eyes; many of the caricature masks are quite good. Some of the performers adopt the actors' body language, and appear in costumes from the stars' most recent roles: John Barrymore as he appeared in "Reunion in Vienna," Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa from "Viva Villa," George Arliss as "The Iron Duke," Joe E. Brown in uniform from "Son of a Sailor," Eddie Cantor in costume from "Roman Scandals," along with Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier, Adolphe Menjou, Jimmy Durante, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. After an introductory sequence, the bogus stars participate in a kind of elaborate parade with the WAMPAS lovelies.If that doesn't sound tantalizing, I don't know what will.

Believe it or not, "Young and Beautiful" is still available on VHS from Turner Classic Movies.

Thanks, Leonard! Here's to five -- or 55 -- more years of film fanaticism. You're right: "We movie nuts have to stick together..."

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Opening Shots: 'Scarecrow'

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From Leonard Maltin:

The one that first comes to mind is from a film I fell in love with thirty-some years ago, "Scarecrow," directed by Jerry Schatzberg and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. I revisited it when it finally came to DVD last year and felt exactly the same way. It opens on a static shot of a wood and wire fence alongside a two-lane highway, as a figure makes his way down a hill toward the fence (and us)...the sky is gray behind him. We're riveted to this image, eager to find out who this is, where he's coming from, and where he's headed. I haven't timed it to see how long the shot actually runs, but it's long, and absolutely mesmerizing: an opening shot that draws you in and makes you want to watch the movie.

JE: Thanks, Leonard -- it's a beauty! The dark gray clouds contrasting with the pale tan of the dry, grassy slope; the light playing across the hillside that makes the clouds shift even darker; the sound of thunder echoing in the distance -- it's the kind of shot where, seconds into the movie, you can almost smell the setting: The ionic scent of the approaching rain, the dusty pollenated aroma of the baked grass. And it's also funny, as Gene Hackman attempts to extricate himself from the fence. Anyone who's attempted to climb over, under or through barbed wire knows the pain and frustration of this moment all too well! It looks like the shot was originally even longer, and is interrupted by a few cutaways to Al Pacino watching from behind a tree -- perhaps to substitute different takes. And you're right: Now I'm going to watch the whole movie. (Love Pacino's introduction: "Hi. I'm Francis.")

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Snakes on a ... zzzzzzz

It's about snakes. On a plane, bitch!

For many months we've been hearing about the "brilliant" high-concept of "Snakes on a Plane." Hey, the whole premise is right there in the title! I guess after "Die Hard on a Plane" ("Die Hard 2") and "Die Hard on a Boat" ("Under Seige") and "Die Hard on Another Plane" ("Passenger 57") and "Die Hard on a Bus" ("Speed") and "Die Hard on Another Boat" ("Speed 2") and "Die Hard on an Island" (that would be Manhattan, in "Die Hard with a Vengeance"), they decided "Die Hard on a Plane with Snakes" was just too complicated. So they shortened the title.

Next, we saw the stories about how they went back and shot some additional stuff to get the film an R rating, and to give Samuel L. Jackson the requisite old-school Schwarzenegger-ish punch lines, like: "I want these m-----f--king snakes off this m-----f--king plane!" (Isn't this the same old joke as Dave Chappelle's ad for Samuel Jackson beer?)

OK, we recognize the package, and we know exactly what's in it. Jackson himself told Collider.com: "That's the only reason I took the job: I read the title. You either want to see that, or you don't." Well, maybe. It's not so much that I don't want to see it. It's that the movie doesn't open for two more months and I feel like I already have. I'm with my friend Leonard Maltin on this: I would never steer anyone away from a movie who’s interested in seeing it; I don’t think that’s the function of a critic or reviewer. I hope people go and make up their own minds.

But I, for one, am already tired of the summer movie blockbuster season, when every film is built up as An Event. Can’t a movie just be a piece of entertainment? "Mission: Impossible III" was well-made and fun to watch, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of fast food: easily digested and just as easily forgotten. "Poseidon" had everything money can buy except characters worth caring about. "The Da Vinci Code" will be much talked-about for a few more days, I expect, and then gradually recede into memory, while really great thrillers like the Hitchcock classics will live on forever. (To tell the truth, I haven't much wanted to see "Miiii" or "Poseidon" or "The Da Vinci Code" or "X-Men: The Last Stand" or "The Omen" or "Cars" or "Pirates of the Caribbean: Whatever," either -- in part for the same reason: All are blatantly derivitave products, from other movies or best-selling books or comicbooks, and I felt like I'd already sat through them before they even opened. Don't tell me these movies are Special Events. They are neither. They're routine summer product.) Meanwhile, for people who love movies: It's three more (long) months until the Toronto Film Festival....

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The critics were horrified!!!! 4 undervalued scary movies on DVD

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You might say horror movies are the mutant black sheep of the cinema. Some film devotees deem them too ungainly and disreputable to be taken seriously, as if they were deformed, illegitimate stepchildren who should be quietly locked up in the attic and not talked about. And yet... and yet... I suppose you can dislike (if not quite dismiss) entire sub-genres -- Hollywood musicals, maybe, or biblical epics -- but I don't see how you can seriously call yourself a film lover if you don't have some appreciation for horror movies. After all, they are so near the core appeal of the medium: Was there ever a genre better suited for shadowplay, unspooling in the dark before the collective (un-)consciousness of a crowd of spectators?

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And they called it bunny love...

Q. Regarding your recent Answer Man item on interspecies dating in Disney cartoons: I'm sure I won't be the first to point out that while Disney tends to keep things pretty strict, over at Warner Bros., it's "Toons Gone Wild."

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