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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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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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Of the feel of theaters and audiences, and eight films from Sundance

I saw my final film of Sundance 2010 here in Chicago. It was my best Sundance experience, and I want to tell you why. The film was "Jack Goes Boating," the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It played here in the Music Box, as part of the "Sundance USA" outreach program, which has enlisted eight art theaters around the country to play Sundance entries while the festival is still underway.

The Music Box is the largest surviving first run movie palace in Chicago. It is deeper than it is wide, and has an arching ceiling where illusory clouds float and stars twinkle. Many shows are preceded by music on the organ.

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Opening Shots: 'Halloween'

The Myers house: October 31, 1963

Young lovebirds.

Through the side window, the teenagers make out on the couch.

Boyfriend grabs a clown mask.

From Robert C. Cumbow:

(An excerpt from my book, "Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter):

Following the main title shot-a slow track-in on a leering jack-o'-lantern-the opening sequence of Halloween is a spectacular tour-de-force, a four-minute single take that builds up to the brutal murder of a teenage girl in a quiet home in a quiet neighborhood in quiet Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween, 1963. The take ends as the murderer's mask is removed and a shock cut reveals the clown-suited killer to be the victim's six-year-old brother. The camera stares, then backs off, becoming a 15-second crane shot up away from the silent, blank-faced boy holding the bloody knife as his parents look on, questioning.

Thereafter, as in "Jaws," the shift to subjective camera often deliberately signals the presence, or possible presence, of the beast. In addition to imputing guilt to the audience, the subjective camera also serves the purpose of concealing the killer's identity in the crucial opening scene. The subjective camera technique was taken up by "Friday the 13th" and the raft of "Halloween" imitators that followed and became such a convention that it was parodied in the opening to Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" [1981]. But it became a convention for a purely utilitarian reason -- preventing us from seeing the killer's face -- and acquired the unfortunate side effect of creating a sadistic woman-killing persona as the point of audience identification, something many critics and viewers reacted against.

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Errol Morris: Megatron, Son of Interrotron

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PARK CITY, Utah -- There is a tall curtain at one end of the room, and from time to time, Errol Morris peeks out from behind it like the Wizard of Oz. All of the seats are taken in the House of Docs for his demonstration of his latest interviewing device -- Megatron, Son of Interrotron -- at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Technicians scurry about, wearing ski parkas instead of white lab coats, but nevertheless looking like the minions of a James Bond villain, about to demonstrate a device that will (cackle) gain control of mankind.

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Six from Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah -- A jilted transsexual, a city priest, a rock musician, a man with no memory, a Jewish anti-Semite and a headless chicken. Six movies ranging from good to great. After two more days at the Sundance Film Festival, I review my notes.

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