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The November Man

In this excitingly nasty but ultimately confused action picture, Pierce Brosnan plays a retired government hitman drawn out of retirement to untangle a global political…

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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.

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A list of the movies that mogul Harvey Weinstein has brutally edited, over their directors' objections; interview with Syd Mead, who helped design "Alien," "Blade Runner," "TRON" and other classic SF films;

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Emmy nominations and reactions; 10 best shows never nominated for a best series Emmy; the screenwriting book that's made every movie feel the same; sexual harassment at ComicCon; remembering The Golden Child, if only to prove that one can; Netflix responds to charges that it crops its movies; Roger and Gene on letterboxing.

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#170 June 5, 2013

Marie writes: Behold a truly rare sight. London in 1924 in color. "The Open Road" was shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Friese-Greene and who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William (a noted cinematographer) had been experimenting with. The travelogues were taken between 1924 and 1926 on a motor journey between Land's End and John O'Groats. You can find more footage from The Open Road at The British Film Institute's YouTube channel for the film. You can also explore their Archives collection over here.

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We have heard the chimes at midnight. "Falstaff," by Orson Welles, free online

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Great Movie / Roger Ebert / June 4, 2006

There live not three good men unhanged in England. And one of them is fat and grows old.

How can it be that there is an Orson Welles masterpiece that remains all but unseen? I refer not to incomplete or abandoned projects that have gathered legends, but to "Chimes at Midnight" (1965), his film about Falstaff, which has survived in acceptable prints and is ripe for restoration. I saw the film in early 1968, put it on my list of that year's best films, saw it again on 16mm in a Welles class I taught, and then could not see it for 35 years.

It dropped so completely out of sight that there is no video version in America, Britain or France. Preparing to attend the epic production of both parts of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, I wanted to see it again and found it available on DVD from Spain and Brazil. Both versions carry the original English-language soundtrack; the Brazilian disc is clear enough and a thing of beauty. What luck that Welles shot in black-and-white, so there was no color to fade.

This is a magnificent film, clearly among Welles' greatest work, joining "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Ambersons," "Touch of Evil" and (I would argue) "The Trial." It is also magnificent Shakespeare, focusing on Falstaff through the two "Henry IV" plays to his offstage death in "Henry V." Although the plays are much abridged, it is said there is not a word in the film not written by Shakespeare.

Falstaff, "this huge hill of flesh," is one of Shakespeare's greatest characters -- the equal, argues Harold Bloom, of Hamlet. He so dominates the Henry IV plays that although Shakespeare promised he would return in Henry V, he reconsidered; the fat knight would have sounded the wrong note in that heroic tale, and so we learn from Mistress Quickly of his death, as he "babbl'd of green fields."

Welles was born to play Falstaff, not only because of the physical similarity but because of the rich voice, sonorous and amused, and the shared life experience. Both men lived long and too well, were at odds with the powers at court and were constantly in debt. Both knew disappointment, and one of the most sublime moments in Welles' career is simply the expression on his face at the coronation of Henry V, when he cries out "God save thee, my sweet boy," and the new king replies, "I know thee not, old man."

Prince Hal, later Henry V, is played in the film by Keith Baxter, who looks dissolute enough in the roistering at the Boars Head Tavern, but as early as Act 1, Scene 2 is an unpleasant hypocrite in the monologue where he admits his present misdeeds but promises to reform at the right time. In Shakespeare, this is a soliloquy; in Welles, Falstaff listens in the back of the shot and is forewarned. Later, in an echo of that composition, the prince looks impatiently toward the field of battle as Falstaff, behind him, questions the concept of honor. That each man hears the other's intended soliloquy adds a dimension to both.

Welles as director uses some of his familiar visual strategies; the vast interiors of Henry IV's castles contrast with the low ceilings and cluttered rooms of bawdy houses, just as the vast space of Kane's great hall contrasts with the low ceilings and dancing girls of the New York Inquirer. Royalty in "Chimes at Midnight" is framed by vast cathedral vaults, with high windows casting diagonals of light. Welles uses dramatic camera angles, craning to look up at the trumpeters atop the battlements as Henry IV rides off to battle.

At Mistress Quickly's, on the other hand, Falstaff and his roisterers have great freedom of movement involving doorways and posts, barrels and vertiginous staircases, barking dogs and laughing wenches. He and other actors circle verticals and one another as they speak, just as Welles and Joseph Cotten circled in "Citizen Kane" and "The Third Man." And watch the use of deep focus when he begins a shot with Hal seated in the background and, as news of his father's death is conveyed, Hal stands and moves forward, finally looming over the camera in foreground. All one shot.

The scene of the battle of Shrewsbury is justly famous. It lasts fully 10 minutes, chaotic action at a brutal pitch, horses and men confused in smoke and fog, steel crashing against steel, cries of pain, desperate struggles, confused limbs caked in mud and blood, men falling exhausted or dead. Barbara Leaming, one of Welles' biographers, says the scene was created by careful framing; Welles at no time had more than about 100 extras, yet seems to have a multitude, and the violence of the struggle was studied by Mel Gibson before he directed "Braveheart."

The battle is intercut with shots of a fat man in armor, hurrying and scurrying out of the way and finally playing dead. When Hal finds Falstaff flat on his back, he cries out, "What, old acquaintance! Could not all this flesh keep in a little life?" We know Falstaff is not dead, and Welles finds a way to let Hal know, too: the frost on the old man's breath puffs out from beneath his visor. Yes, it was cold. Welles shot on location in Spain, in winter; his first shot shows Falstaff as a tiny figure in a vast field of snow, his last shows Falstaff's coffin being pushed across snow toward his grave, and in several of John Gielgud's speeches as Henry IV, we can see the frost on his breath.

That Gielgud played the king and others such as Margaret Rutherford (Mistress Quickly) Jeanne Moreau (Doll Tearsheet) and Fernando Rey (Worcester) also appeared in the film is a tribute to Welles' reputation, for on a budget of less than $1 million he was, like Falstaff, not prompt to pay. Gielgud plays Henry IV as a dying man almost from his earliest scenes, plagued with guilt because of how he won his throne. His son is no consolation; the king envies Northumberland his son Henry Percy, known as Hotspur (Norman Rodway), and wishes "would I have his Harry, and he mine." He excoriates the thief and whoremonger Hal and his low companions, none lower in deportment or loftier in essential humanity than Falstaff.

How good is Falstaff? Consider the way warm affection illuminates the face of Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet caresses and tickles her beloved old rogue. Note the boundless affection Falstaff has for all around him, so real that even Quickly forgives his debts and allows him to contract new ones.

Such scenes illuminate the life Welles poured into "Chimes at Midnight." He came early to Shakespeare; he edited and published editions of some of the plays while still at prep school. On stage and screen, he was also Othello and Macbeth, his voice fell naturally into iambic rumbles, he was large enough for heroes and so small he could disappear before Henry V's scorn. He once asked an audience, reduced by a snowstorm: "Why are there so many of me and so few of you?"

There was not something Falstaffian about Welles, there was everything. As a young man he conquered all that came before him (at Shrewsbury a knight meekly surrenders to the old man, awed by his leftover reputation). Welles grew fat and in debt, took jobs unworthy of him, was trailed by sycophants and leeches, yet was loved by good women and honored by those who could see him clearly. And he battled on, Quixotic as well as Falstaffian, commencing grand schemes and sometimes actually finishing them (indeed, his "Don Quixote" can now be seen in intriguing but incomplete form).

The crucial point about "Chimes at Midnight" is that although it was rejected by audiences and many critics on its release, although some of the dialogue is out of sync and needs to be adjusted, although many of the actors become doubles whenever they turn their backs, although he dubbed many of the voices himself, although the film was assembled painstakingly from scenes shot when he found the cash -- although all of these things are true, it is a finished film, it realizes his vision, it is the Falstaff he was born to direct and play, and it is a masterpiece. Now to restore it and give it back to the world.

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Life as a poker game

"Maverick" starts with the protagonist in the middle of nowhere. He helplessly sits on a horse; his neck is at the end of a noose tied to a tree branch. The men who put him in this vulnerable situation surround him. They drop a bag containing a snake and ride away. If the horse bolts, Bret Maverick dies. It is one of the most attention-grabbing opening scenes in film.

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Get the Gringo: Mad Mel demolishes Mexico

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"Get the Gringo" is available on DirecTV. A wider VOD release, along with DVD and Blu-ray releases, will follow later this year.

"Inmates with guns, that's kinda new," Mel Gibson's Yanqui with No Name (or fingerprints) growls in "Get the Gringo." "I've got a lot to learn about this place." And there is a lot to learn about El Pueblito, a Mexican prison that makes Shawshank look like Otis Campbell's quaint little cell on "The Andy Griffith Show."

Never mind how he got there, it's how he's going to get out that gives "Get the Gringo," formerly titled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation," its Peckinpah-flavored juice. It's potent stuff: gritty and grungy, but not without hard-boiled humor. With a nod to the late Dick Clark: It's got good beatings and you can dance to it, depending on your taste for mariachi music. I rate it a 7.

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Do we NEED to see "Tintin" in 3D?

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Q. I read your review for "Tintin" and it says the 3D works nicely. I have one tiny problem, though, I would have preferred the 2D because our son is autistic and we don't know how he'd take the whole 3D thing. The 2D version is only showing at 9:15 pm. On a scale from 1 to 10, how overwhelming did you think the 3D was in this particular movie? I know it's ultimately our decision, but I'd like to know if anyone thinks it's too overwhelming. Thanks! (Lola Bringas-Garcia)

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#85 October 19, 2011

Lesson for the day: How to have fun while wasting time... Marie writes: welcome to DRAW A STICK MAN, a delightful Flash-based site prompting viewers to draw a simple stick figure which then comes to life!  Ie: the program animates it. You're given instructions about what to draw and when, which your dude uses to interact with objects onscreen. Thanks go to club member Sandy Kahn who heard about it from her pal Lauren, in Portland Oregon.Note: here's a screen-cap of what I drew; I've named him Pumpkin Head.

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#66 June 8, 2011

Marie writes: the ability to explore an image in 360 degrees is nothing new, but that doesn't make these pictures any less cool. In the first of a series, the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore introduces spectacular interactive 360-degree panoramic photographs of Britain's architectural wonders. "You are put in the middle of a space, and using your computer mouse or dragging your iPad screen - you can look in any direction you choose: up, down, sideways, diagonally, in any direction in full 360 degree turn, in three dimensions."

Go here to explore St Paul's Cathedral, London, built 1675-1711.

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Lars von Trier and the Antichrist

May Contain Spoilers

So, Cannes 2011: Malick was booed, Lars von Trier was banned and "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" was presented as hors-concours. If those are any indication, I predict "Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo 3" will win the Palm d'Or in 2012.

But in all seriousness, Cannes: banning von Trier? Really? Persona non grata for making some jokes (yes, in very poor taste, but jokes still) in the same year you had Mel Gibson over? The same Mel Gibson who made anti-semitic remarks, defended his father for denying the Holocaust and was recorded in a racist rant over the telephone?

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What Lars von Trier really said about Nazis...

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... and Germans and Jews and Albert Speer and Susanne Bier, etc., at the post-"Melancholia" press conference at the Cannes Film Circus. The quotations I've seen in print have been fragmentary and/or inaccurate, and understandably can't convey tone. This isn't the whole press conference, either, but, for the record, it should give you a better idea of how the thing actually unraveled, and how it played in the room. It's excruciating to watch somebody flounder and dig himself in like this (how much of it is meant to be a provocative joke? a perverse publicity stunt? an artistic confession?), but from this angle you can also see Kirsten Dunst squirm in mortification. She and the moderator try to interject and rescue him, but he won't give up.

To me, it appears he has some vague idea of where he's going (something about understanding the worst in human nature, perhaps?), but gets hopelessly lost on the way there -- until, in apocalyptic von Trier fashion (hey, he just made a movie about the end of the world), he throws up his hands and drops the bomb in a desperate attempt to dissipate the gathering tension by saying exactly what everybody is fearing (or hoping) he'll say... And what was the question again?

UPDATE (05/19/11): The festival has now declared von Trier "persona non grata," though what that means is not entirely clear. Ben Kenigsberg of Time Out Chicago reports from a post-press conference gang-bang interview with von Trier:

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Dear M. Night Shyamalan

May Contain Spoilers

I hope this letter reaches you with the best of health and spirits. I am reaching out to you not only because I loved your movies, but also because we are of the same generation of Desis. We migrated here with our parents during that first huge wave some forty years ago and now we are both (perhaps in self-perception) regular middle-aged guys from big cities experiencing the next phases of our lives. I am sure that many of your childhood experiences paralleled mine, both in school playgrounds and in our private imaginations. In some ways, we are peers; in some ways I admire your work. The fact that I am writing this letter implies that I am concerned about a progression that seems to be taking place in your films.

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#40 December 8, 2010

From the Big Kahuna: Yes, this is the front of the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, where Ebertfest is held every year. The old marquee was showing its age, and will be replaced by the time Ebertfest 2011 is held on April 27-30. Update: I read in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that the new marquee is still in design, but park officials expect it to be a better complement to the theater's Italian Renaissance-style architecture and resemble the 1921 original marquee. When concepts are finalized, they will go before the park board for approval.

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How much of Pulp is Fiction?

May Contain Spoilers

When I reviewed Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" a few months ago, several readers brought up the point that when a filmmaker constantly uses extreme violence in his films, there surely must be something wrong about the director himself.

I don't buy into that theory, but while watching Quentin Tarantino's films, which I mostly enjoy a lot, I have to admit I have a hard time disassociating my diagnosis of the filmmaker with his own work, especially "Pulp Fiction" which is clearly a film with an amazing understanding of violent criminals, the drug culture and the fine art of original cursing.

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Notes on my homework: The Prestige and Signs

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Knowing that the summer would bring new releases by two of today's most "controversial" (as Entertainment Weekly might put it) auteurs -- M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan (one with a critical reputation on a downward slide, the other on the upswing) -- it seemed like a good time to plug some notable gaps in my experience of their filmographies. I still haven't seen Shyamalan's pre-"Sixth Sense" features, "Praying with Anger" (1992) or "Wide Awake" (1998), or Nolan's pre-"Memento" chronology-shifter, "Following" (1998) -- which, the credits reveal, features a thief named Cobb, like "Inception." More significantly, I suppose, I hadn't seen (all of) Shyamalan's hit "Signs" (2002), or any of Nolan's "The Prestige" (2006) -- the former because it just hadn't held my interest the first time I tried to watch it and the latter because my critic-friends who'd seen it were unanimous in finding it dull and uninspired.

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Apocalypto: Epic in a real jungle

May Contain Spoilers

I truly enjoy Mel Gibson's work as a director. His films, whether he stars in them or not, always reflect a passion and heart like few others. His best work these days, more and more, seems to be coming from behind the camera. It seems to me he really makes the movies for himself first and second for everybody else, no test audience previews to influence the final product.

"Apocalypto" is a film about the demise of the Mayan civilization. It tells the story of Jaguar Paw, whose small village is attacked by a group of hunters from the nearby metropolis, their job literally being to pillage small defenseless groups while looking for "volunteers" for their "most dangerous game": the sacrificing rituals that the city's leaders use to keep the masses entertained.

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"Avatar" wins Golden Globes

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AP -- BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – The science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar" won best drama at the Golden Globes and picked up the directing honor for James Cameron on Sunday, raising the "Titanic" filmmaker's prospects for another Academy Awards triumph.

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TIFF 08: Revolution and starvation, personal and political

"The war is over. The revolution has just begun." -- Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro), after Cuban guerillas have overthrown Batista's dictatorial regime on New Year's Day, 1959, in "Che"

Even without titles or credits, the running time of the gorgeous digital print of Steven Soderberg's "Che" that screened at the Toronto Film Festival was listed as 261minutes (that's four hours and 21 minutes for those of you without calculators). The working title for the epic was "Guerilla," then "Che," and despite Benicio Del Toro's fully-lived performance as Che Guevara, a more suitable title might be "Revolutions." Because this doesn't feel so much like a biopic as a documentary portrait of the recipes for political revolutions, successful and failed, in Cuba and Bolivia. The titles may rhyme, but nobody's going to mistake "Che" for "Ray."

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