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This Is Where I Leave You

The family gathering comedy is one of the more difficult genres to pull off. Good for Levy for trying something different. But next time he…

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The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.

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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.

A man living at the edge

May Contain Spoilers

Hi, this is Gerardo Valero and today I'd like to talk to you about "Changing Lanes" in which Ben Affleck plays the typical bright but self-absorbed, school-smart Yuppie who gets to marry the boss' daughter but his knowledge of the ways of the world are rather limited, specially since he's mastered the art of lying to himself all his life. His best friend and ex-lover played by the always excellent Toni Colette is much more self-aware than him but she doesn't have his ambitions, or simply put, she knows the ways of the world too well to want anything to do with what it would require from her, to take the next step in life. It is only because of her love for Banek that she tries to help him by providing ill-advised solutions to his problems, which despite her good intentions only make things worse.

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A personal vision with international scope

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CHAMPAIGN-URBANA -- Michael Tolkin, the writer-director of 1994's "The New Age," which played at Ebertfest on Thursday, surveyed the packed house from the stage of Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and said, "This now doubles the number of people who saw this film on its first release."

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Notes on Ebertfest: Day 1 & 2

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Took the train down from Wilmette (well, Glenview) yesterday afternoon and, although was publishing new reviews on RogerEbert.com on opening night, I was able to watch the post-film discussions from my room at the Illini Union via Ustream. You can, too. And they've been archived here, as well.

A few notes, tweets, observations from Day 1 & 2:

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Ebertfest: Synecdoche, Champaign-Urbana

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Charlie Kaufman, the writer and director of "Synecdoche, New York" (2008), my choice for the best film of the decade, will appear after the screening of his masterpiece at Ebertfest 2010. The 12th annual festival will be held April 21-25 at the landmark 1,600-seat Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, and for the first time ever, all festival Q&A sessions and panel discussions will be streamed live on the Internet.

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#3: March 24, 2010

I AM SO PROUD that eight of the Far-Flung Correspondents will be attending Ebertfest 2010, and so sincerely moved that they're providing their own tickets! A shout-out to Ali Arikan, Seoungyong Cho, Weal Khairy, Michael Mirasol, Omar Moore, Omer Mozzafar, Gerardo Valero, and Grace Wang. Only Robert Tan, who has been under the weather, will be missing. They're all bloggers, and will be on a panel Friday morning about the Global Web of Filmlovers.

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Griffin Mill and 'The Return of the Player'

He's baaaaack. And he's miserable.

Michael Tolkin, who wrote the novel and screenplay on which Robert Altman's "The Player" was based, has published a sequel in which studio executive Griffin Mill, now 52, is trying to get out of Hollywood. Tolkin has this to say about the state of movies, in a New York Times interview: “The movies haven’t been very good the last three or four years, they really haven’t,��? he said. “Everybody knows that. At least that, maybe more. And what they were will never return.��?

The source of all this creative- industrial- complex angst is the death of what he both eulogizes and parodies: the classic journey-of-the-hero story structure, analyzed by Joseph Campbell in the 1940’s, popularized a generation ago by George Lucas through “Star Wars,��? spouted and shorthanded by studio executives ever since, and all but trampled to death, Mr. Tolkin said, by nearly every subsequent action movie and thriller that Hollywood has turned out.

Or as Griffin puts it: “Physics cracked the atom, biology cracked the genome and Hollywood cracked the story.��? What he's talking about, of course, is the ubiquity of screenwriting guru Robert McKee's story structure techniques, satirized in "Adaptation." with Brian Cox playing McKee.

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Chasing the image: Office spaces

View image: "The Crowd" (King Vidor, 1928)

View image: "The Apartment" (Billy Wilder, 1960)

View image: "The Rapture" (Michael Tolkin, 1991)

View image: "Fight Club" (David Fincher, 1999)

View image: "Office Space" (Mike Judge, 1999)

Ken Wiley, a jazz historian and musician, has a radio show called "The Art of Jazz" that airs Sunday afternoons on my favorite station, KPLU-FM in Seattle (and online at Jazz24). He has a reocurring feature in which he chases down a musical element -- a melody, a set of chord changes, developments on a solo -- through a number of records. I've often wanted to do something similar with movies, and in researching my MSN Movies feature, "Wither While You Work" (Dave McCoy came up with that headline; I wish I had), a few ideas occured to me.

This one starts with King Vidor's great 1928 "The Crowd." The camera climbs up the side of a skyscraper (a miniature) looks through a window and a dissolve takes us to an overhead shot of an enormous diagonal grid of desks, emphasizing the regimentation and depersonalization of working life in the big city.

In one of the most famous homages in movies, Billy Wilder paid tribute to Vidor at the beginning of 1960's "The Apartment" with a tilt up the side of the building and a dissolve to the famous image of the sea of desks. Wilder shoots it straight on, from above desk level, but keeps both floor and ceiling in view, the receding lines of desks and fluorescent light fixtures converging into infinity. The scale is so immense, it's funny. Later, when 5:20 p.m. arrives and the bell rings, everybody gets up, places covers over their adding machines, puts on their coats and goes home... and another dissolve shows us C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) all alone in this vast office space, knowing there's no point in heading back to his apartment just yet.

Michael Tolkin's "The Rapture" opens with a maze of modern cubicles at a directory assistance facility. (And, yes, this is soon to be an Opening Shots entry.) Tolkin actually moves into the maze, rather than simply surveying it from above. The camera begins by rising above a cubicle wall in the foreground, then moves across to the left, down one of the paths, then back to the right until it floats over another cubicle wall and comes to rest nearly on top of Mimi Rogers' monitor. (You may be able to spot her if you enlarge the accompanying image here -- she's in the fourth box back, just right of center.) Notice how Tolkin also uses the overhead lighting to add forced perspective, a sense that the room extends even further than it actually does. And the lighting is so muted that the shot almost seems to be in black and white.

In "Fight Club," Edward Norton's anonymous narrator stands in front of a copier and describes experiencing the world through his depression as being like seeing "a copy of a copy of a copy." He's placed his Starbuck's coffee on the copier in front of him, and it rides back and forth on the top. When we look out at the office from his POV (fixed perspective), his copier lid moves back and forth in the foreground. Three people, also standing in front of copiers at perpendicular angles to the camera, are drinking their Starbuck's simultaneously, moving every bit as mechanically as the office machines. A man pushing a cart comes in from the left and moves in perfect sychronization with the foreground copier motion. The whole world has become a grid, populated by monochromatic automatons.

That's the same feeling conveyed by the relatively short, stationary shot in Mike Judge's "Office Space," where Peter (Ron Livingston) comes to work and passes across the screen in the foreground from right to left (not unlike the copier lid in "Fight Club"). This one, especially, reminds me of newspaper newsrooms I've worked in. Again, the lines of the cubicles and the fluorescent ceiling lighting converge in the distance. Whenever I see this image now, I'm reminded of dominoes -- how one thing leads to another and Peter and his friends from the office eventually knock down these walls, literally and figuratively.

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A prophet for the 'New Age'

TELLURIDE, Colo.--Michael Tolkin once sold office supplies over the phone. He called up people and told them they were finalists for valuable prizes, and some of them got so excited they bought rollerballs and staplers and manila folders. In Tolkin's new film, "The New Age," his hero begins as a high-paid ad man, and eventually finds himself on the phone, selling office supplies.

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The vying game

Hollywood has been waiting a long time to give Clint Eastwood an Oscar, and my hunch is, the wait is over. Eastwood's "Unforgiven," an elegiac Western about a retired gunfighter who pulls himself together for one final campaign, will win the best picture award when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gathers on the night of Monday, March 29.

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Once again, a 'Player'

There is the temptation to write this article from the obvious angle, which is that Robert Altman, the perennial Hollywood maverick and outsider, has skewered the establishment with his savage new comedy named "The Player." There would be some truth there.

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'The Rapture': waiting for the end of the world

In one way or another, I have been waiting for the apocalypse all of my life. Most people, I imagine, never think about it, and those who do probably fear it. Not me. I expect to be filled with joy during the final battle between good and evil, while those fearsome horsemen thunder through the sky - because at least then I'll know for sure that something exists beyond the material universe, and therefore it is possible to escape from death. These days, I no longer really think of the end of the world in literal terms. I envy the faith of those who do. When I was in parochial school, the notion of Judgment Day filled me with a rush of danger, as I imagined the Lord evaluating billions of lifetimes, and then turning a particularly stern eye on a certain fifth-grader from Urbana, Illinois.

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