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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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* 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.

#173 June 26, 2013

Marie writes: There was a time when Animation was done by slaves with a brush in one hand and a beer in the other. Gary Larson's "Tales From the Far Side" (1994) was such a project. I should know; I worked on it. Produced by Marv Newland at his Vancouver studio "International Rocketship", it first aired as a CBS Halloween special (Larson threw a party for the crew at the Pan Pacific Hotel where we watched the film on a big screen) and was later entered into the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It spawned a sequel "Tales From the Far Side II" (1997) - I worked on that too. Here it is, below.

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#135 September 26, 2012

Marie writes: It's no secret that most Corporations are evil - or at the very least, suck big time. And while I have no actual proof, I'm fairly certain there is a special level of Dante's Hell reserved just for them. (Map of Dante's Hell.)That being the case, when my younger brother Paul wrote me about a cool project sponsored by Volkswagen, I was understandably wary and ready to denounce it sight-unseen as self-serving Corporate shyte. As luck would have it however, I was blessed at birth with curiosity and which got the better of me and why I took a look. For what I found was nothing less than extraordinary....

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Ants in Your Pants of 2006

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"The Ant Bully" is now available through HBO On Demand and HBO Go until December 18.

A boy, a wizard and a war--that's the basic formula for many children's adventure stories. In "The Ant Bully," as the name suggests, this story takes place in the insect world, but the bully is the boy named Lucas (voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen). This modest morality tale doesn't go for big laughs but does deal with situations that young kids will inevitably face.

Based on John Nickle's 1999 book by the same name, this 2006 feature was the first animated film produced by Legendary Pictures. "The Ant Bully" followed two better known 1998 ant-themed films: DreamWorks' "Antz" and Disney's "A Bug's Life." All three movies have messages, but are aimed at different audiences.

"The Ant Bully," rated PG for mild violence, is definitely targeted at young children--preteen kids who might feel powerless, so far outside of the adult world. In the movie, 10-year-old Lucas has no friends and is the target of the neighborhood bully. He turns his frustrations on the anthill in his front yard, causing the ants to scurry about when he floods the anthill.

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Opening Shots: The Player

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From Jason Haggstrom (haggie), Reel 3:

The opening shot of Robert Altman's "The Player" establishes the film as a self-reflexive deconstruction of the Hollywood system and those who run it. With its prolonged shot length, the take is also designed as a means to introduce the bevy of players who work on the lot and to setup the film's general plot--or at least its tone--as a thriller/murder mystery.

The first image in this extended opening shot is of a film set--a painting of one, to be precise. We hear the sounds of a film crew before a clapper pops into the frame. The (off-screen) director shouts "And... action" informing the audience that the film should be viewed as a construct, a film. The camera tracks back to reveal its location on a Hollywood studio lot where movies are described not in accolades of quality, but of quantity with an oversized sign that reads, "Movies, now more than ever."

The lot is filled with commotion. Writers come and go (some invited, some not) as do executives, pages, and assistants. The political hierarchy is highlighted through dialog and interactions that expose the value system of Hollywood. The most powerful arrive by car; high-end models pervade the mise-en-scène in all of the take's exterior moments. An assistant is made to run (literally, and in high heels) for the mail, and then -- before she even has a chance to catch her breath -- to park an executive's car.

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Faces in the crowd: Here's looking at you, Nashville

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For some reason I have the notion that the guy with the camera, getting the low-angle shots of Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) against that American flag that stretches across the Parthenon from sea to shining sea, is the cinematographer Paul Lohmann. Is that right?

I didn't know it at the time, but 35 years ago the course of my life was set into motion. It began, no doubt, the previous summer with Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," followed the next June by Robert Altman's "Nashville." If those two movies -- seen at the impressionable ages of 16 and 17 -- don't thoroughly transform your world, then I don't know what would. I'd always loved the arts, but from that moment on I knew for certain that movies were the art form of the century -- my century -- because never before could such vibrant, kinetic masterpieces have been born. They made me feel fortunate to have come into the world just at the moment in human history when, at long last, such miracles became possible.

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On actors who are too gay to be in the Musicals

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Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:

1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.

2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.

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CIFF: All our capsule reviews

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UPDATED 10/16: Here are brief reviews of all the Chicago Film Festival movies we have seen, in alphabetical order, written by Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert. More will be added as we view them. For a full CIFF schedule, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call (312) 332-FILM.

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Toronto #9: Everybody must get cloned

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TORONTO, Ont. -- “The Walker” is another of Paul Schrader’s “man in a room” films, and his best film since “Affliction” (1997). It’s a fascinating character study with as fine a performance as Woody Harrelson has given, and certainly the most unexpected. Schrader defined the films as centering on the image of a man in a room preparing to go out and do something, and then doing it, while remaining focused by his preparation. That would define Schrader’s “American Gigolo” (1980), with Richard Gere in training for his profession as a professional lover of women. And “Light Sleeper” (1992), with Willem Dafoe as a drug dealer who is also a recovering addict.

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The Huckabees Harangues

Why is this stuff coming out now? Coincidence?

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has the best coverage anywhere of the whole "I (Heart) Huckabees" on-set "maelstrom" (as proprietor Dennis Cozzalio calls it), including the now-infamous YouTube clips of the battles between Lily Tomlin and writer-director David O. Russell. There's also an excerpt from the Playboy interview with George Clooney discussing various meltdowns during the shooting of "Three Kings," and an appearance by Tomlin and co-star Dustin Hoffman on "Good Morning America," promoting "Huckabees." Plus, there's a fantastic string of comments that you won't find anywhere else.

Dennis wonders: Can working with a volcanic director actually be good for the creative process? If not, why (besides the money) would actors and crew members tolerate such behavior? Is this kind of threatening, off-the-rails, abusive behavior somehow actionable? And if not, why would anyone want to work with Russell again? "Huckabees" may be brilliant, it may be a mess, but one could hardly call it complacent—it’s in there scrapping for slivers of enlightenment and understanding right along with the people who made it and the audiences who choose to see it and run with it, and perhaps some of this striving, searching, reckless clashing of tones and spirits that are vital to the movie can be directly traced to this kind of passion, however misplaced it might seem. These are the questions. I have no answers.Over at The Hot Blog, David Poland cites a few excerpts from Sharon Waxman's 2004 New York Times set-visit piece on the turmoil of "Huckabees" ("The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In"). Here's another piece from that story that sets the scene for one of the clips:

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Revulsion

Screeeeech! The "jewel"-encrusted Sidekick doesn't help.

Edward Copeland asks: Do certain performers affect you like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? He lists Danny Huston, Kevin Costner, Kate Capshaw and Kim Cattrall among his most shudder-worthy. Some have charisma on the screen, and some don't. Or, at least, some of us are mystified by what others see in them (I could never understand the whole Ronald Reagan-as-president thing; he always seemed to me like a minor audioanimatronic attraction at Disneyland: Doddering Moments With Mr. Reagan, the Non-Communicator).

For me, it really is an involuntary, visceral response. I'm not sure I can adequately explain my instinctive revulsion for the following (in some cases the reaction has developed over time, like an allergy, as if I've built up antibodies against them), but here they are, in no particular order:

Tom Cruise. Incapable of convincingly expressing any emotion beyond grim determination. Unless it's intensely focused ambition.

Adam Sandler. Pauly Shore, but with a more limited range. Always looks as though he's going to start laughing at how funny he thinks he is. (Yes, I make an exception for "Punch Drunk Love," but I still would rather have been watching someone else. And that one had Mary Lynn Rajskub. She saves America every week on "24," and she saved Sandler's behind in this movie.)

Robin Williams. Not well-cast in human roles. (See all of the above.)

Cuba Gooding, Jr. His career after he won an Oscar for "Jerry Maguire" has made it almost impossible to sit through any of the good stuff he did before then. Tried to watch "Boyz N the Hood" recently? It's so preachy and sanctimonious it almost looks like a Matty Rich film now, but in fairness that's probably more John Singleton's fault than Gooding's alone.

That blonde heiress with the dead-trout eyes who's famous for her night-vision porno video and being in the tabloids a lot. Perfect example of "horrisma." She's like Ann Coulter in drag. Or not in drag. I'm not really sure which. But both have all the appeal of impetigo.

Chris Rock. The comedy version of Tom Cruise. Always trying way too hard to convince you... of something.

Sandra Bullock. Like watching a coconut on a stick.

Mel Gibson. "Braveheart" finally did it for me (and that was a whole five years before "What Women Want"). He enjoyed torturing himself way, way too much. Just as there is Young Elvis and Fat Elvis, there's Young Mel (pre-"Lethal Weapon 2") and Creepy Mel ("Air America" forward). Watching "The Road Warrior," it's hard to comprehend what later became of that cool guy who once played Mad Max.

Harrison Ford. Once he had a sense of humor about himself -- on screen, at least. It doesn't help that he hasn't made a decent movie ("Clear and Present Danger") in 13 years. He's great in "The Conversation," though.

Katie Holmes. Zombified. Why do I even know who she is?

Shaved vagina girl. Has she made any movies or is she just on the Internets?

Lindsay Lohan. From Mean Girl to Lucky Girl (cast with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin in an Altman movie). Now it's over. She's the Alicia Silverstone of tomorrow, but without the comic timing. Ten years ago, John Waters might have been able to salvage her career. Now it's too late. (OK, I'm sorry: That Alicia Silverstone crack was too mean -- to Alicia Silverstone.)

Jim Carrey. See Chris Rock, above.

Natalie Portman. It's as though she aspires to be forgettable, like generic "citrus"-flavored Pixy Stix. For some reason she reminds me of Veruca Salt on Xanax and I want her to swell up into a big blueberry. But I feel that way about nearly everyone who appeared in the "Star Wars" prequels.

More comments at Copeland's place.

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Rob Lowe, Snow White, "Proud Mary" & the Oscars

Lowe does Snow -- live!

Oh, and so much more. Here's the ideal warm-up for Sunday's Academy Awards festivities: the infamous Allan Carr-produced 1989 Oscar opening number that also features Army Archerd, Merv Griffin, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Vincent Price and Coral Browne, Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin, Dorothy Lamour, Alice Faye, Lily Tomlin, and more stars than there are east of Hobart! (Just look at the celebs in the audience trying to conceal their mortification as Snow White touches and bleats to them.) I was just pining for this the other day, and once again YouTube has delivered! This, truly, is the vision of the man behind "Grease," "Grease 2," "Can't Stop the Music" and "Where the Boys are '84" -- all of which he made before the Academy hired him to produce the Oscarcast. No matter what happens Sunday, you can bet it won't top this, although somehow this mega-production-number almost seems quaint and naive by today's standards. Almost.

I had forgotten the new "Proud Mary" lyrics they wrote for Rob to sing to Snow (whose voice is more Billie Burke than Adriana Caselotti, if you ask me):

Now you made it big in the movies Came to Hollywood, learned to play the game You became a star Miss Animated Mama Earned yourself a place in the Walk of Fame

Klieg lights keep on burnin' Cameras keep on turnin' Rollin', rollin' Keep the cameras rollin'! They just don't write 'em like that anymore...

What I wouldn't give for Ellen Degeneres to begin the show as Snow White and bring on Rob Lowe for a reprise...

(Thanks to Chris for passing this along.)

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Johnie's Broiler, RIP

Johnie's Broiler, 7447 Firestone Blvd., Downey, CA.

The Googie landmark Johnie's Broiler in Downey, CA (known as Harvey's Broiler when it opened in 1958), was ground into dust overnight last weekend, to expand a used car lot. Local preservationists were not pleased, and said the demolition was "illegal." As of today, the Johnie's sign is still standing, but the building has been destroyed.

Moviegoers may remember it as Lily Tomlin's place of work in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts." It was also featured in "Reality Bites," "What's Love Got To Do With It" and "Unstrung Heroes."

More reports on the demise of Johnie's at The LA Times and Roadside Peek, which is where I found the picture used here.

Anybody know of other movies in which Johnie's played a role?

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Pearl of the South: A tale of two reviews

John Fitzgerald Kennedy's early cameo appearance in "Nashville," at Lady Pearl's Old Time Picking Parlor.

Please consider this my initial contribution to Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon -- happening all weekend at No More Marriages!

View image Inside Pearl's Parlor: Red, white and bluegrass. Kenny Fraiser (David Hayward) enters from behind the flag at center.

How can two critics see (or remember) the same movie, and have such contradictory interpretations of how it works and what it means? And what better case-in-point than Robert Altman's 1975 "Nashville" -- now being remembered in the wake of Altman's death last week, and seen through the prism of Emilio Estevez's recent release about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, "Bobby"?

View image Lady Pearl: "The only time I ever went hog wild, 'round the bend, was for the Kennedy boys. But they were different."

From two reviews of "Bobby":

View image "... and the asshole got 556,577 votes."

Watching the movie, I kept thinking of "Nashville." And not just because Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece remains the most politically and psychologically astute big-ensemble/where-America's-at movie ever made (it's got a presidential campaign and ends with a beloved public figure gunned down, too). There's a minor character in it, played by Barbara Baxley, who's a Kennedy-loving Yankee married to a country music star. In one boozy monologue, she expresses all that was both hopeful and delusional about what the dead Kennedys represented for progressive citizens. I've never forgotten that speech, while the more simplistic and diffuse "Bobby" is already starting to fade from memory.

-- Bob Strauss, LA Daily News

View image Alone at Mass.

Despite its reputation as an exuberant classic, "Nashville" knows zip and cares even less about country music or the city of Nashville (where it was shot) -- which doesn't prevent it from heaping scorn on both. It even ridicules a dowager who tearfully reminisces about John and Bobby Kennedy, and it shamelessly encourages viewers to share its contempt for the rubes. The relentless cynicism that Nashville brandishes as proof of its hipness ultimately gives way to glib, high-flown rhetoric in the climactic repeated shots of an American flag filling the screen while a nihilistic pseudocountry anthem, "It Don't Worry Me," builds to a crescendo, asserting the concert audience's unembarrassed cluelessness.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

First, I want to point out the obvious: Bob Strauss is right even when he's wrong (I don't think Baxley's character is minor or a Yankee) and Jonathan Rosenbaum is wrong even when he's right (Altman admitted he wasn't interested in making a movie about the real Nashville or country music; after all, he let the actors write their own songs). Rosenbaum's preoccupation with his own perception of "hipness" (which he deems extremely uncool) appears to have obscured his view (or his memory) of what's happening on the screen in Altman's movie. As I said in a comment over at The House Next Door, using "Bobby" to bash "Nashville" makes as much sense as using "Neil Simon's California Suite" to bash "Short Cuts" -- or "The Towering Inferno" to belittle "Playtime." Yes, there are superficial similarities (as Bob points out), but in terms of ambition, complexity, vitality and sheer movieness, there's no comparison.

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Altman: Life beyond the frame

"Nashville" 25th reunion. (photo by Jim Emerson)

When the doctor says you're through Keep a'goin! Why, he's a human just like you -- Keep a'goin!

-- Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) in "Nashville"

View image 24 of your favorite stars.

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally

-- Kurt Cobain, "Pennyroyal Tea"

It's true that all the men you knew were dealers who said that they were through with dealing every time you gave them shelter

-- Leonard Cohen, opening lyrics for "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"

View image "Nashville" 25th reunion. Note gigantic Oscar at right; Altman got his own, regular-sized one six years later. (photo by Jim Emerson)

"However, the cortex, which is dwarfed in most species by other brain areas, makes up a whopping 80 percent of the human brain. Compared with other animals, our huge cortex also has many more regions specialized for particular functions, such as associating words with objects or forming relationships and reflecting on them. The cortex is what makes us human."

-- John J. Ratley, M.D., "A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain"

I'm not sure what, if anything, meaningfully connects these fragments to the passing of Robert Altman -- or his films, as alive now as they ever were -- but they were all things I encountered during a day spent thinking about Altman and, to my surprise, not wanting to speak out loud about him to anyone. I talked to my mother on the phone. She asked hesitantly, "Have you heard any news today?" "Yeah," I said, and changed the subject. What can I say that isn't trivial? (Rhetorical question, please.)

In this state of grief, nothing I'm writing or thinking about Altman is adequate, or even makes much sense, in large part because a whole moviegoing lifetime of engagement with his movies (beginning at age 15) has so profoundly shaped who I am and how I experience the world. Like hundreds, thousands (millions?) of cinephiles and cinephiliacs, I found life (and, paradoxically, shelter) in Robert Altman's movies. "Nashville" is my church, to which I return again and again for joy, insight, inspiration and sustenance. (I haven't written about it for years, but I also know that I'm almost never not writing about "Nashville.")

To this day, I am in some deep but irrational sense convinced that the characters in "Nashville" (even though I know they're played by 24 of my very favorite stars!) continue to exist outside the parameters of the movie itself. I've met and interviewed, for example, Ned Beatty, but there's Ned Beatty the actor and then there's Delbert Reese, who is someone else entirely. Delbert exists, imaginatively independent of the great actor (one of my all-time favorites) who inhabited him in "Nashville." (This is most unlike the other most-influential movie in my life, Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," made just the year before "Nashville," which is as "closed" a film as "Nashville" is "open." "Chinatown" ends so definitively that, "Two Jakes" aside, any life beyond the final frame is unthinkable.)

Right now I just want to share another fantastic memory: In 2000, I heard there was going to be a 25th anniversary reunion screening of "Nashville" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. I'd moved back to Seattle by this time, but I bought tickets the moment they became available (for five bucks apiece) and went to LA for the event: My favorite movie, in a pristine print, in one of the finest movie theaters in the world, with most of those 24 favorite stars in attendance. It was... transplendent (as a Shelley Duvall character once said). I'll post an update with IDs later, but for now, see if you can identify the people onstage (taken with a now-primitive, but still beloved, Canon Digital Elph)

Pauline Kael's famous, ebullient review of "Nashville" here reminds us how exciting and innovative the movie was in 1975.

Principal population of "Nashville" after the jump:

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'Crash'-ing a joyous Oscar party

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LOS ANGELES - "Crash," a film about the complexities of racism in the American melting pot, was named the year's best picture here Sunday at the 78th Academy Awards. It tells interlocking stories about many of America's ethnic groups, and cops and criminals, the rich and the poor, the powerful and powerless, all involved in racism. The film's circular structure shows how a victim on one day could be a victimizer on another, and doesn't let anyone off the hook.

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Oscarcast: Rappin' with the stars

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LOS ANGELES -- Sunday night's Oscarcast may be the first in recent history where the presenters and performers outdraw the nominees. This year's field of films and actors is of an unusually high standard, which translates to a smaller audience, given the general rule that the better something is on TV, the fewer people watch it. Consider that "Dancing With the Stars" outdrew the Olympics.

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The 'Confederacy' conspiracy

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Q: I recently found out that David Gordon Green's film "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore, has been canceled. Green is one of my favorite directors and I have high hopes for his career. What is the story behind the cancellation and what will this do to his career? Jonathan Warner, Evanston

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Robert Altman invents his life as it goes along

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Does anyone ever really think about the director of an opera? I'm not talking about opera professionals or music critics, who know all about such things. I'm thinking of ordinary ticketholders. We think about the singers above all, and then, in descending order, about the composer, the sets, the costumes, the plot, and the conductor. There's the libretto, which we think of primarily as a framework for the music. There's lighting, which we notice, and the person in front of us, who we notice even more if our view is blocked. Directors? Don't operas direct themselves?

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Dolly Parton: Gee, she's really nice

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Update, 2008: This 1980 interview is all quite true, but it entirely misses something. It must have happened at a different time, and I can't track down the piece. Here's what I remember. I had a one-on-one interview with Parton in a hotel suite. As we spoke, I found myself enveloped by her presence. This had nothing to do with sex appeal. Far from it. It was as if I were being mesmerized by a benevolent power. I left the room in a cloud of good feeling. Next day, Siskel and I were sitting next to each other on an airplane. "This will sound crazy," he said, "but when I was interviewing Dolly Parton, I almost felt like she had healing powers."

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