Best of Enemies
A rich, extraordinarily fascinating account of the Buckley-Vidal debates that’s sure to have many viewers’ minds constantly shuttling between then and now.
* 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.
The importance of engaging in all aspects of film analysis, even the -isms, and even in summer blockbusters.
With another Police Story film opening this week, 30 years after the original, Simon Abrams offers a primer.
"Legend of Korra" is subversive; 50 underground filmmakers; How headlines change the way we think; The millennial job paradox; Michelle MacLaren is the best director on TV.
Matt Fagerholm picks his favorite piece of Roger's writing.
A look at the cinematic and political history that resulted in Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer."
Angela Bassett on directing Houston biopic; Indie film's real threat; Welcome back "Edge of Darkness"; Remembrances of matinees past; Chaz Ebert on Roger.
A video essay on Bong Joon-ho, the director of "Snowpiercer," "Memories of Murder," "The Host," and "Mother."
Roger Ebert's least-read reviews; Sadness baking inspired by "Transformers"; Stop the anti-spoiler paranoia; Self-control is a limited resource; How Seinfeld paved the way for Tony Soprano.
What mise-en-scène is and why it matters; Naked dating shows are the new trend; Women in Michael Bay films; How Brando broke the movies; Ben Franklin on "Transformers."
An introduction to and examination of Kevin B. Lee's "Transformers: The Premake."
TNT & USA are premiering or returning eight series in the next two weeks and yet they get half the press of other networks. What are they doing right and are any of the new shows worth a look?
Writer Susan Wloszczyna responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Michael Mirasol muses on "Pacific Rim" and the strange antagonism to the film, and on its relationship to its inspirations.
Nick Schager ponders the new crop of action directors, who bring 'serious film' cred to the genre, but can't seem to show personality where it counts the most.
The biggest taboo in American cinema may be the direct-to-video (DTV) market. Director John Hyams was dropped by his agent after making the DTV "Universal Soldier: Regeneration." Fellow director Isaac Florentine has said "I discovered that being a straight to DVD director is…worse than saying you have malaria." To some extent, one can understand why DTV films have such a bad reputation: just watch the SyFy channel on Saturday night, or Cinemax at 2 am any night. Yet there's a certain freedom in making genre films without the budget to use extravagant CGI effects, and Hyams and Florentine have put it to good use. Over the past few years, a handful of critics, like ex-con Steven-Seagal-expert Vern and RogerEbert.com contributor Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, have championed their work. As the concept of vulgar auteurism has become a hot topic among the cinephile blogopshere recently, something's gotten lost in all the debate about whether Michael Bay and Tony Scott should be taken seriously. At heart, what seems worthwhile to me about vulgar auteurism is its championing of the best DTV genre films. Most 1950s intellectuals would have been horrified by the notion of taking Edgar G. Ulmer's "Detour" or Sam Fuller's "The Steel Helmet" seriously, and today they're considered essential. Isaac Florentine's "Undisputed III: Redemption" (2010) suffers from a surface cheesiness that manifests itself in several ways. The most obvious is the fact that the cast seems to have been assembled as much for its fighting ability as its acting talent. However, that turns out to be a strength in the end. Vin Diesel, pumped-up muscles and all, is no longer so convincing as a tough guy. Scott Adkins, who has teamed up with Florentine six times, is thoroughly believable as a man who's spent years in jail, and the rest of the actors who play prisoners look equally rough. Adkins plays Boyka, a Russian boxer forced to compete in a contest where eight prisoners fight each other for the amusement of depraved gamblers and jailers; the winner supposedly gets his freedom.The Smashing Machine," about boxer Mark Karr, seems relevant here.) I'm not sure where the film was shot, but one can practically smell the odor of industrial decay. Cinematographer Peter Hyams, the director's father and an accomplished director in his own right, livens up the film, particularly its fight scenes, with an array of blue, red, gray and gold filters. Rarely does "Regeneration" look naturalistic—it creates its own world, with a distinctive and unique feel. Like Florentine, Hyams avoids CGI, apart from blood-splatter effects."Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" brings back van Damme, Lundgren and Arlovski, and introduces Scott Adkins to the "Universal Soldier" world, yet it feels very different from "Regeneration". It begins with the murder of John's (Adkins) wife and daughter by a group of thugs led by Luc. He falls into a coma and wakes up after nine months, but he seems to be suffering from mental problems. "Day of Reckoning" shows off Hyams' cinephilia, drawing first-person camerawork from Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void," ominous walks down corridors from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and a boat trip down a swamp from Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." It's slightly less stylized than "Regeneration"; shot in Baton Rouge, its images sometimes resemble the real world, but that only makes John's psychological collapse more disturbing. Dozens of sci-fi films have drawn from Philip K. Dick's novels over the past thirty years; "Day of Reckoning" is one of the few to get his sense that everyday life could turn into a hallucination at any moment."Day of Reckoning" relies on the notion of living and dealing with implanted memories for its emotional charge. But what is cinema if not the art of implanting false memories? The film's DVD box features two separate quotes touting its brutal nature, and it is indeed startlingly violent. (Hyams himself describes the NC-17 cut as an endurance test.) Yet there's more to the violence than meets the eye. In an interview with Sara Freeman for the website MUBI, Hyams shows that he's thought seriously about the ethics of depicting bloodshed. "Day of Reckoning" takes place in a world where life is spectacularly cheap due to the proliferation of clones. This technology allows it to bring back a character who died in "Regeneration." Its ending shows a man dying and immediately being replaced by his clone. Both in its treatment of violence and the theme of memory, "Day of Reckoning" evokes the visceral power of good fiction and its ultimate artificiality. It's not cynical: its final scenes affirm the force of emotion, even if separated from real life.Hyams, Reine and Florentine's work seems at once part of a Hollywood tradition—their fight scenes look like Raoul Walsh or Allan Dwan compared to the chaotic blur of mega-budgeted blockbusters like "World War Z"—and hyper-modern. Beyond the genre tropes, they capture the physical and psychological pressures of the world we're living in. Florentine and Reine's films are less ambitious, but "Undisputed 3: Redemption" and "12 Rounds 2: Reloaded" evoke the same kind of weight as Hyams' "Universal Soldier" films. They may be working in the DTV ghetto—technically, "Day of Reckoning" played for one week in a New York theater last year—but they're describing the same world as a more prestigious filmmaker like Olivier Assayas. (Without making a big deal of it, Florentine uses casts drawn from all over the world.) I can't say that I've been impressed by the entire vulgar auteurist canon, but in the DTV arena, its critics have made some real discoveries.
Marie writes: I was looking for something to make Roger laugh, when the phone rang. It was a bad connection, but this much I did hear: "Roger has died." That's how I learned he was gone, and my first thought was of the cruel and unfair timing of it. He'd been on the verge of realizing a life long dream: to be the captain of his own ship.
This is a free sample of the Newsletter members receive each week. It contains content gathered from recent past issues and reflects the growing diversity of what's inside the club. To join and become a member, visit Roger's Invitation From the Ebert Club.
Marie writes: Not too long ago, Monaco's Oceanographic Museum held an exhibition combining contemporary art and science, in the shape of a huge installation by renowned Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, in addition to a selection of films, interviews and a ballet of Aurelia jellyfish.The sculpture was inspired by the sea, and reflects upon maritime catastrophes caused by Man. Huang Yong Ping chose the name "Wu Zei"because it represents far more than just a giant octopus. By naming his installation "Wu Zei," Huang added ambiguity to the work. 'Wu Zei' is Chinese for cuttlefish, but the ideogram 'Wu' is also the color black - while 'Zei' conveys the idea of spoiling, corrupting or betraying. Huang Yong Ping was playing with the double meaning of marine ink and black tide, and also on corruption and renewal. By drawing attention to the dangers facing the Mediterranean, the exhibition aimed to amaze the public, while raising their awareness and encouraging them to take action to protect the sea.
Like Mary Poppins, Disney World is "practically perfect in every way." But what our jolly 'oliday with Mary didn't reveal were the slight imperfections alluded to by that phrase's quantifier: Practically perfect? I'll bet Ms. Poppins' small glitches were legendary when they occurred. Maybe her umbrella flights damaged the ozone layer, or her spoonfuls of sugar helped wreck Dick van Dyke's Cockney accent. I speculate about near-perfection because I've been to Walt's Orlando resort 19 times, and while most of these visits went off without a hitch, when things did go wrong, they went wrong in unforgettable, spectacular fashion.
Marie writes: Kudos to fellow art buddy Siri Arnet for sharing the following; a truly unique hotel just outside Nairobi, Kenya: welcome to Giraffe Manor.
The Grand Poobah writes: "No man has a better wife than Chaz."
"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)
While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.
This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.
Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.
Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:
"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"
"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"
One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:
Or: Do comic-book movie blog posts display traffic superpowers?
New York Times film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis held a discussion of comic-book movies and that subset known as "superhero movies" in advance of the Marvel re-boot, "The Amazing Spider-Man," which opens Tuesday, July 3. (The article will appear in the paper July 1, but is now online.) This, I think, goes to the heart of the matter:
SCOTT:What the defensive [superhero] fans fail or refuse to grasp is that they have won the argument. Far from being an underdog genre defended by a scrappy band of cultural renegades, the superhero spectacle represents a staggering concentration of commercial, corporate power. The ideology supporting this power is a familiar kind of disingenuous populism. The studios are just giving the people what they want! Foolproof evidence can be found in the box office returns: a billion dollars! Who can argue with that? Nobody really does. Superhero movies are taken seriously, reviewed respectfully and enjoyed by plenty of Edmund Wilson types.
I've made some of these arguments many times before, but the one that really stands out for me here is the seriousness with which mainstream critics and intellectuals now approach comic books and comic-book movies. That's unprecedented. Distinctions between popular culture and high culture aren't nearly as rigid as they used to be. Movies that would once have been treated as nothing more than commercial entertainment products are now given serious consideration as artistic achievements. Because they can be both at the same time.
We all live in our own little subcultures. In mine -- loosely categorized as international film-festival cinephiliacs -- big-name contemporary filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke and the Dardennes brothers (yes, they've all won the Palme d'Or at Cannes) are huge, huge stars. In fact, some of us, whether we like them or not, feel they are overexposed, on the verge of becoming more than famous: ubiquitous. Like Kardashians or something. (I'll be honest: I don't know what a Kardashian is, but I keep hearing the term.) I mean, good god, the Dardennes have been all in your face throughout the 21st century, making movie after movie and picking up awards everywhere you look. And don't even get me started on Kiarostami. That guy became the international flavor-of-the-film-fest-cicruit in the 1980s, achieved his biggest commercial success in 2010, and has a new film in competition at Cannes right now.
I suppose it's true that, to most people outside our own little coterie, the Cannes Film Festival means just about nothing. Its impact on the American box office is negligible (although Kiarostami's Palme-winner "Taste of Cherry" grossed a pretty impressive $312 thousand in the US in 1998. That's about what "Marvel's The Avengers" took in while you were reading the last sentence). I guess fame -- or importance -- depends on your perspective.
A few things got me to thinking about this. One was Manohla Dargis's NY Times dispatch from Cannes. I love her observations: