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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

To Roger, from far-flung friends

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Longtime readers of the Chicago Sun-Times are familiar with Roger Ebert's "One-Minute Reviews." These are capsule reviews (roughly 75-150 words or so), condensing his responses to current movies. As any writer knows, the short versions can be harder to write than the full-length ones.

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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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"Sheep, Galloway, Sheep!" Paul Galloway, a beloved legend

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We will never hear the Sheep Story again. Nor will we enjoy his presence in a room, which was an invitation to good cheer. Paul Galloway, the most incomparable raconteur I ever met in a newsroom, is dead. Everyone who knew him will know what a silence that creates.

I loved the guy. I introduced him to his wife, Maggie. I couldn't see enough of them. It will be impossible to share with you the joy of his company, but I am going to try. Let others write the formal obituaries. All I know is, Paul died at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, at their "winter home" in Tulsa, Okla. There's a Winter Home Story. With Paul, there was a story about everything. He was somewhere in his 70s. When you get to be our age, "somewhere" is close enough.

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"Sheep, Galloway, Sheep!"Paul Galloway, a beloved legend

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Paul Galloway as Tootsie on Michigan Ave. (Photo by Jack Lane)

Chicago Sun-Times / February 3, 2009

We will never hear the Sheep Story again. Nor will we enjoy his presence in a room, which was an invitation to good cheer. Paul Galloway, the most incomparable raconteur I ever met in a newsroom, is dead. Everyone who knew him will know what a silence that creates.

I loved the guy. I introduced him to his wife, Maggie. I couldn't see enough of them. It will be impossible to share with you the joy of his company, but I am going to try. Let others write the formal obituaries. All I know is, Paul died at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, at their "winter home" in Tulsa, Okla. There's a Winter Home Story. With Paul, there was a story about everything. He was somewhere in his 70s. When you get to be our age, "somewhere" is close enough.

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This cripple is a Smart Ass

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Some of the fiercest and most useful satire on the web right now is being written by a man who signs himself Smart Ass Cripple. Using his wheelchair as a podium, he ridicules government restrictions, cuts through hypocrisy, ignores the PC firewalls surrounding his disability, and is usually very funny. Because he has been disabled since birth, he uses that as a license to write things that others may think but do not dare say.

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#83 October 5, 2011

Marie writes: I love photography, especially B/W and for often finding color a distraction. Take away the color and suddenly, there's so much more to see; the subtext able to rise now and sit closer to the surface - or so it seems to me. The following photograph is included in a gallery of nine images (color and B/W) under Photography: Celebrity Portraits at the Guardian."This is one of the last photographs of Orson before he died. He loved my ­camera - a gigantic Deardorff - and decided he had to direct me and tell me where to put the light. So even in his last days, he was performing his directorial role perfectly, and ­bossing me around. Which was precious." - Michael O'Neill

Orson Welles, by Michael O'Neill, 1985

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Does anyone want to be "well-read?"

"Death disports with writers more cruelly than with the rest of humankind," Cynthia Ozick wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic.

"The grave can hardly make more mute those who were voiceless when alive--dust to dust, muteness to muteness. But the silence that dogs the established writer's noisy obituary, with its boisterous shock and busy regret, is more profound than any other.

"Oblivion comes more cuttingly to the writer whose presence has been felt, argued over, championed, disparaged--the writer who is seen to be what Lionel Trilling calls a Figure. Lionel Trilling?

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Black History Mumf IV: The Year We Rewrite History

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This introduction to Odienator's Fourth Annual Black History Mumf, a celebration of what we used to call African-American Popular Culture, needs no introduction. Especially to Scanners readers, who've been following it since he challenged Miss Ross's fashion designs in 2008. Of those early days, Odienator (think Odie N. Ator, as in Frank N. Furter, or possibly Meatloaf Aday) now writes:

When I started this series in 2008, I made fun of the Black History Month curriculum we were fed every February in grammar school. I wanted to make my own version of that curriculum, using movies and TV and events from my life to fill in all the holes where public school was lacking. All they told us, in a nutshell, was that we were slaves, we were freed by Abraham Lincoln, and then Martin Luther King showed up. This happened every year, usually sponsored by Budweiser. Boy was I snarky about the lack of depth and detail back then! But now I've been humbled, because as anemic as it may have been, at least they told us the truth and didn't try to change it.

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Midnight at the oasis

Everywhere I go, as much as I can, I listen to National Public Radio. It's an oasis of clear-headed intelligence. Carefully, patiently, it presents programming designed to make me feel just a little better equipped to reenter the world of uproar.

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Video games 13,823, Huck Finn 8,088

If they had their choice, 63.1% of people would value "a great video game" over Huckleberry Finn. That's the result of a completely unscientific survey I conducted in two places: Twitter, and my recent blog about video games.

The choice approached the abstract, because I didn't specify they had to play the game or read the novel. Like all web-based surveys, this one is a 100% accurate representation of whoever chose to vote, for whatever reason, whoever they were. In theory, no one could vote twice.

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Okay, kids, play on my lawn

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn't seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

At this moment, 4,547 comments have rained down upon me for that blog entry. I'm informed by Wayne Hepner, who turned them into a text file: "It's more than Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and The Brothers Karamazov." I would rather have reread all three than vet that thread. Still, they were a good set of comments for the most part. Perhaps 300 supported my position. The rest were united in opposition.

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The New Yorker. No, The New Yorker.

The most perfect cartoon caption I've ever seen was created by James Thurber, and ran in the New Yorker in 1932. It showed two fencers. One had just sliced off the other's head. The caption was: Touche! You may know some that are funnier. What bothers me is that I will have written none of them. I have entered the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest almost weekly virtually since it began, and have never even been a finalist. Mark Twain advised: "Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for." I have done more writing for free for the New Yorker in the last five years than for anybody in the previous 40 years.

It's not that I think my cartoon captions are better than anyone else's, although some weeks, understandably, I do. It's that just once I want to see one of my damn captions in the magazine that publishes the best cartoons in the world. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I'm too oblique for them. The New Yorker's judges seem to live inside the box, and too many of their finalists are obvious--even no-brainers, you could say.

Example. An executive is seated at a desk, interviewing a giant lobster. Winning aption: "And why did you leave your job at Red Lobster?" I mean, come on! That's level one. It's obvious. It's not even funny. Let's work together on this. Let's try lateral thinking. A perfect caption should redefine the cartoon, and yet seem consistent with it.

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Movies that are made for forever

I have feelings more than ideas. I am tired, but very happy. My 11th annual film festival has just wrapped at the Virginia Theater in my home town, and what I can say is, it worked. There is no such thing as the best year or the worst year. But there is such a thing as a festival where every single film seemed to connect strongly with the audience. Sitting in the back row, seeing these films another time, sensing the audience response, I thought: Yes, these films are more than good, and this audience is a gathering of people who feel that.

Let me tell you about the last afternoon, the screening of a newly restored 70mm print of "Baraka." The 1,600 seats of the main floor and balcony were very nearly filled. The movie exists of about 96 minutes of images, music and sound. Nothing else. No narration. No subtitles. No plot, no characters. Just the awesome beauty of this planet and the people who live on it. The opening scene of a monkey, standing chest-deep in a warm pool in the snow, looking. Looking in a very long and patient shot, which invites us to see through his eyes. Then the stars in the sky above. "Baraka" is a meditation on what it means to be awake to the world.

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A slow boat to anywhere

I came across a statistic the other day that claimed only about ten percent of Americans have traveled outside their country. There is no reason for this. The recession is not an explanation; the survey was taken back when Bear, Sterns was still paying its rent. This is the richest and least-traveled of "developed" nations, and I have a feeling many Americans thank heaven every day that they have never had occasion to leave it.

But this will not be a column boasting about my travels to every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and how as a wee lad I saved up my 75-cent an hour salary and boarded a DC-6 that took me to London by way of Gander, Reykjavík and Aberdeen. No, not even though I just googled Antarctica and this is all I found on the page: "stu is a legend and the good guy has cheap sales." That piece of internet vandalism, no doubt created by a friend of Stu's, was authored (I somehow know) by an American [1] who has never walked three steps outside his own state--of mind. I am enlisting a cyber-posse to track him down and airlift him to the South Pole with a hooded sweatshirt bearing the legend "I'm With Stupid" and an arrow pointing to a penguin. We will leave him with two cans of Ensure and a match.

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Well, here's what I think

I was watching Tony Scott on the Charlie Rose program, and he said, in connection with "The Reader," that he was getting tired of so many movies about the Holocaust. I didn't agree or disagree. What I thought was, "The Reader" isn't about the Holocaust. It's about not speaking when you know you should.

That's something I'm guilty of. I hold my tongue all the time, especially in social situations where my opinions might cause unhappiness. Those often involve politics and religion, two subjects that a lot of mothers tell their kids never to discuss at a dinner party--unless, of course, everybody at the table agrees, and then what's the point?

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Perform a concert in words

But don't forget: you and I reached this conclusion nearly 50 years ago, in the Union, over a cup of coffee, listening to the chimes of Altgeld Hall. So we beat on...

That cup of coffee in the Union cemented one of my oldest friendships. Bill Nack was sports editor of The Daily Illini the year I was editor. He was the editor the next year. He married the Urbana girl I dated in high school. I never made it to first base. By that time, I think he may have been able to slide into second and was taking a risky lead and keeping an eye on the pitcher. We had a lot of fun on the Daily Illini. This was in the days before ripping stuff off the web. He insisted on running stories about every major horse race. We had only one photo of a horse. We used it for every winner. If it was a filly, we flipped it. Of this as his editor I approved.

After college, I was out of the basement of Illini Hall with its ancient Goss rotary press, and running up the stairs. I immediately sat down right here and started writing this. Nack went to Vietnam as Westmoreland's flack and then got a job at Newsday. On Long Island, he and Mary raised their three girls and a boy. One year at the paper's holiday party he jumped up on a desk and recited the names and years of every single winner of the Kentucky Derby. Bill told me:

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The 6th Man: A Corleone Mystery

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Q. In the Answer Man for Aug. 17, Phil Giordano asks about a Sixth Man in “The Godfather” who is never identified when the Corleones plan the execution of a police captain. The person he is wondering about is Rocco Lampone, played by Tom Rosqui, who is uncredited in the film, according to the IMDB. Mr. Giordano will remember the earlier scene in the film where Rocco executes Paulie in the car as Clemenza urinates outside (the “leave the gun, take the cannoli” scene).

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Cannes #3: Dreamgirls deferred

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CANNES, France -- One of the traditions at Cannes is the dramatic unveiling of advance footage from a blockbuster scheduled to open next Christmas. I avoid these opportunities. I prefer to see movies all at once. Therefore I turned down an invitation to the preview party for "Dreamgirls," the big musical scheduled to open Dec. 6.

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Richard Pryor: 1940-2005

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(Note from Roger Ebert: Cynthia, who now lives and works in Tucson, was a features writer at the Sun-Times in the 1970s, where our desks faced each other and we shared everything from coffee to the mysteries of the new computers. She sent me this after the death of Richard Pryor.)

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Movie Answer Man (04/14/1996)

Q. You have stated that "Braveheart" is the most violent film to ever win the Oscar as best picture. That ignores cinema history: See "Silence of the Lambs," "Unforgiven," "Godfather 1 and 2," and "Platoon." Mel Gibson reacted with stunned aplomb to your question on TV, and rightly so. (James Buchanan, Antioch, Calif.)

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