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Transcendence

"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.

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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

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A case for abolishing apostrophes; new Newsweek owner accused of labor violations; why we need a documentary about the D.C. snipers (sorry, "Blue Caprice"); a PBS exec kvells over literary adaptations; who really writes letters to the editor?

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#111 April 18, 2012

Marie writes: Recently, we enjoyed some nice weather and inspired by the sunshine, I headed out with a borrowed video camera to shoot some of the nature trails up on Burnaby Mountain, not far from where I live. I invariably tell people "I live near Vancouver" as most know where that is - whereas Burnaby needs explaining. As luck would have it though, I found a great shot taken from the top of Burnaby Mountain, where you can not only see where I live now but even Washington State across the Canadian/US border...

(click image to enlarge)

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The Moth Diaries: Young hearts aflutter

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"The Moth Diaries" is now available via IFC On Demand, Sundance Now, iTunes and other outlets. It opens in theaters April 20th.

A secret co-star of "The Moth Diaries" is cinematographer Declan Quinn. He brings to this tale of supernatural incidents at a girl's boarding school a palette of navy, teal and black to match the school uniforms, and pale flesh tones out of Vermeer. No great innovation there, but quite striking in the service of the story. Director Mary Harron makes sure these images don't overwhelm the drama by casting young ladies with powerful presences.

Model-actress Lily Cole's broad face and wide set eyes are terrifyingly beautiful, or maybe just terrifying. Either way, her turn as Ernessa, the mysterious new girl on campus, gives the "The Moth Diaries" a more solid reason for being than its familiar, "Twilight"-tinged plot. She's a head taller than the rest of the girls, striking an improbable balance between willowy and robust. Her famously red hair is dyed a deep brown (or covered in a masterfully applied wig), providing a stark frame for that porcelain doll face. In one scene, without the aid of special effects, her fleshy yet spindly arms seem to stretch out of proportion, like some Tim Burton creation. (It's easy to imagine Burton tripping over himself to add her to his gallery of living 19th century humanoids, alongside Lisa Marie, Christina Ricci and Helena Bonham-Carter.) The mystery: Is Ernessa some kind of vampire, witch, ghost or... what?

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Michael Jackson, transformer

I saw "The Wiz" (1978) and I saw "Captain EO" (1986) and I never saw Michael Jackson the movie star. For the longest time, it seemed, he was supposed to grow up to become one, but it didn't happen that way. Not long after 1982's Thriller he began transforming into something almost unrecognizable, unphotographable -- something that allegedly had to do with Diana Ross, hyperbaric chambers and, perhaps, the Elephant Man's bones. Whether an illness or a form of self-mutilation, it was a shame. The appealingly handsome young man on the cover of Off the Wall and Thriller morphed (as in the famous "Black or White" video) into a synthetic science-fiction construction that could only have inhabited an artificial universe like those of his two best-known big-screen appearances. He still worked for large crowds on stage, but -- for cosmetic and psychological reasons we may never understand -- close ups came to seem like a very bad idea.

As alien and unreal as he presented himself by the mid-1980s, the one thing that seemed genuine about him was his damage. His music became as polished and mask-like as his visage, and equally devoid of mature emotion. It may have been pop music for theme parks, but it wasn't for adults -- and he didn't seem to want to be thought of as one.

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Rally 'round the Cruise, boys!

The Attitude in action. (photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

At first I wasn't going to write anything about last weekend's "disappointing" domestic grosses for "M:I:III" (or, as Stephen Colbert pronounces it, "Miiii"), because, well, who really cares about the box-office numbers of movies like "Miiii" (or Celebs Who Act Out)? Especially when "24" gives you trickier plotting, more believable stunts, top-flight production values, first-class actors (Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Stephen Spinella, William Devane, Ray Wise, Jean Smart...) and characters for whom you can actually feel something besides an indefinable creepy revulsion (though some have that quality, too), week after week (and in digital surround and HDTV, no less) -- making pre-packaged, pre-fab disposable summer action products like "Miiii" seem as dinosaurish and unnecessary as they truly are. (Note to self: How do I really feel?)

But then I saw this headline above a Reuters story Thursday: "Hollywood friends rally around Tom Cruise." Yes, dear readers, Tom needs some friends just now (if only, evidently, to buy batches of opening-weekend tickets to "M:I:III" at the Scientology Celebrity-Center-adjacent ArcLight Theater in Hollywood). It was too absurd to pass up.

So (he said wearily), let's recap:

His Cruiseness's public "approval ratings" (says a USA Today opinion survey) are way down there with the likes of... George W. Bush:

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