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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

* 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.

#213 April 9, 2014

Sheila writes: Anyone with even a glancing familiarity with Roger Ebert's work will know how he felt about director Werner Herzog, the man and his films. Last week, Kevin Lee (critic, video essayist and Ebert friend and colleague), put together a fantastic video essay over at Fandor's Keyframe about Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," using Roger Ebert's words about the film as a structure, almost as though it is a commentary track. You can read Kevin's words and watch the video at Keyframe.

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Susan Seidelman, Survivor

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Susan Seidelman has been making films for over 30 years. Her work includes "Desperately Seeking Susan," the pilot for "Sex and the City," and her new sports comedy "The Hot Flashes." Her story is the story of women in Hollywood: a study in creativity, courage and strength. A profile by RogerEbert.com's Christy Lemire.

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Why whales are beaching themselves; The Lone Ranger was black; Matt Singer out, Sam Adams in at CriticWire; when is Jia Zhangke going to tell us what he really thinks?; Sweet November, from 1968.

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"The Artist" and "Hugo": A very French Oscars

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It was like an episode from "The Twilight Zone." The Academy Award for best picture went to a silent film in black and white. The unstoppable "The Artist," which had nothing going for it but boundless joy, defeated big-budgeted competitors loaded with expensive stars because … well, because it was so darned much fun. Its victory will send Hollywood back to its think-tanks.

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#51 February 23, 2011

Marie writes: In a move which didn't fail to put a subversive smile on my face, works by the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy began to appear recently in Hollywood as Academy Awards voters prepared to judge Exit Through the Gift Shop, which is up for best Documentary. (Click to enlarge.)

The most controversial thus far was painted on a billboard directly opposite the Directors Guild of America HQ on Sunset Boulevard. A poster advertising The Light Group (a property, nightclub and restaurant developer) was stenciled over with images of a cocktail-guzzling Mickey Mouse grasping a woman's breast. As it was being removed, a scuffle broke out between workmen and a man claiming the poster was his "property" - presumably triggered by the fact that an authentic piece by Banksy is worth thousands. To read more visit Banksy targets LA ahead of Oscars at the Guardian.  And to see more pictures go HERE.

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Biggest Acting, Best and Worst: Over the top, Ma!

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I believe it was Gordon Gecko who proclaimed: "Ham is good!"

The "Wall Street" supervillain (superhero?) was not advocating violation of any dietary laws, of course, but simply stating a fact: Sometimes Big Acting can be quite enjoyable. Other times, of course, it can be cringe-worthy, irritating, risible, embarrassing. Only you can decide which is which. For you.

Take for example the story of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" -- she of "No wire hangers!" and "Eat your meat!" (both precursors of "I drink your milkshake!"). Pre-release publicity reports claimed that Dunaway was giving a serious dramatic performance. But from the very first screenings it was painfully (yet fasciatingly) clear that somebody was going off her rocker -- but which actress was it: Crawford or Dunaway?

Performances pitched at the balcony, or the moon, always take the risk of falling somewhere between "tour-de-force" and "trying way too hard," virtuosity and showboating. And opinions may very about where they come down. (See "A Journey to the End of Taste," below.) You may wince at the Method nakedness displayed by Marlon Brando or James Dean in some of their most intense emotional moments ("You're tearing me apart!"). Or you may rejoice at even the most outré dramatic and/or comedic efforts of Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson, Klaus Kinski, Will Ferrell, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Nicolas Cage, Ben Stiller, Tyler Perry, Owen Wilson, Gene Wilder... while others find them excruciating, overwrought or unintentionally campy.

The bigger the performance, the bigger the risks. Or maybe not. Just look over the history of Oscar nominations for acting.

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Flamers

View image Rob Schneider in "yellowface", playing Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."

"Flamers" was the title of a screenplay by Barry Fanaro ("The Golden Girls," "Kingpin," "Men in Black II") that had been re-written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor ("Citizen Ruth," "Election," "About Schmidt," "Sideways"). Once Adam Sandler decided to star in the movie, this script was serially re-written some more by Sandler, his friends, and various others. The result opened this weekend as "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," directed by Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore," "Big Daddy," "The Benchwarmers").

The film has not been well-received by critics (14% at Rottentomatoes.com at this writing). Manohla Dargis, in the New York Times, wrote: Fear of a gay planet fuels plenty of American movies; it’s as de rigueur in comedy as in macho action. But what’s mildly different about “Chuck & Larry” is how sincerely it tries to have its rainbow cake and eat it too. In structural terms, the movie resembles a game of Mother May I, in that for every tiny step it takes forward in the name of enlightenment (gay people can be as boring as heterosexuals), it takes three giant steps back, often by piling on more jokes about gay sex (some involving a priceless Ving Rhames). Into this mix add the stunningly unfunny Rob Schneider, who pops up brandishing buckteeth, glasses and an odious accent in apparent homage to Mickey Rooney’s painful, misguided turn as the Japanese neighbor in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” has been deemed safe for conscientious viewing by a representative of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog group. Given the movie’s contempt for women, who mainly just smile, sigh and wiggle their backdoors at the camera, it’s too bad that some lesbian (and Asian) Glaad members didn’t toss in their two cents about the movie. If Mr. Sandler dares speak in favor of gay love in “Chuck & Larry” — at least when it’s legally sanctioned, tucked behind closed doors and not remotely feminine — it’s only because homosexuality represents one type of love among men. Here, boys can be boys, together in bed and not, but heaven forbid that any of them look or behave like women. But there's a little more to this one than the usual Sandler vehicle. New York Magazine explains some of the backstory in "A Peek at the Movie ‘Chuck & Larry’ Could Have Been":And in the dramatic conclusion of Payne and Taylor's script, Chuck and Larry kiss on the courthouse steps — "not just a timid exchange," the stage notes add, "but the long, passionate melting together of soul-mates. Tongues and everything. Hot. Wow." Needless to say, this scene never made it into the final version.I believe that ending was already perfomed by Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."

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Racial Purity, Part II

Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl

"A Mighty Heart," Michael Winterbottom's film based on Mariane van Neyenhoff Pearl's book about her husband Daniel, a journalist who was kidnapped and executed in Karachi, Pakistan, opens this weekend. I've had my say about the casting of (Czech / Haudenosaunee / American) Angelina Jolie as (Dutch / Cuban / French) Mariane Pearl. And so has Mariane Pearl, who told Newsweek: "This is not about skin color. I wanted her to play me because I trust her. Aren't we past this?"

Marianne Pearl as Marianne Pearl.

Well, some people are. And some aren't. Like, I guess, the people who hired Halle Berry to play white Nevada schoolteacher Tierney Cahill in the upcoming "Class Act." (Berry's at least as much white as she is black. But will she wear "whiteface" in the movie? Do you care?) Or, perhaps, the ones who hired John Travolta to play a woman in "Hairspray." Or even those who think it was just wrong for Marriane Pearl to have married a white Jew in the first place. (Miscegenation!) Let's take that logic to its inevitable extreme. Some people are sticklers for racial, cultural and gender purity. If only race, culture and gender were really that monolithic and clear-cut...

And we're talking about actors here. I'm not advocating blackface or whiteface minstrelsy (that implies bad acting, doesn't it?), but these people are supposed to be able to play characters other than themselves. That's what they do.

Maybe Jolie is terrible and totally miscast in the part. I don't know, I haven't seen the movie yet. But a commenter at the site concreteloop.com succinctly summarizes my own feelings about the matter at this stage: At first it does seem a bit odd, because I am sure there are women of African American or Afro-Cuban descent who could play that role but I would not say this is modern day black-face. If it were some blond-hair, blue-eyed non-talented actress, I would really have a problem. However, I do think Angelina is a great actress and as a matter of fact Mariane Pearl wanted Angelina to portray her in the film. So shouldn’t her wishes be respected?Producer Brad Pitt, who hired his honey for the part, said he was nervous about doing it, but he felt it was the right decision for the movie: "I knew the part had to be played by someone with Mariane's strength and understanding of the world, but I didn't know how to broach the subject. It feels a little like Wolfowitz trying to get his girlfriend a job. [...]

"I know that people are frustrated at the lack of great roles (for people of color), but I think they've picked the wrong example here."

Halle Berry plays Tierney Cahill (pictured -- either the one on the left or the one on the right) in an upcoming movie. You see the resemblance. Gotta problem with that?

I guess it also depends not only on whether you think Mariane Pearl has a (moral? contractual?) right to approve who plays her in a movie made from her own book, but whether you consider Angelina Jolie an actress or just "Brad's girlfriend" you know, half of "Brangelina." (Or even whether women are capable of making such important judgments, since those who cry "racism" here insist that Jolie and Pearl do not have the personal or professional credibility or authority to make such decisions for themselves.)

And whether you consider the fact that both share Northern European / Caucasian heritage. Much of the criticism I've seen has focused on the tabloid "Brangelina" phenomenon (as if that were real anywhere beyond the supermarket checkstands), or has tried to tie this casting into the history of racist portrayals of African-Americans in Hollywood movies. (In that regard, I recommend Donald Bogle's book, "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks.") But is that really an appropriate conclusion to draw in this particular instance?

I agree that actors of color should be offered more and better roles including those that weren't originally written to be one race or another. (Sigourney Weaver played a man's role in "The TV Set" without changing a word. Other parts have been re-written for the actor selected for the part.) But is the problem really one of casting people with the same racial make-up as their characters? Or is it more significant that writers and directors and casting directors are not making films with enough characters of color?

On the practical side... well, a star is a star. Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry are Oscar winners, marquee names, not struggling unknowns. (Not that struggling unknowns or semi-knowns don't deserve a chance, but they're unlikely to get one in such a high-profile project.) Mariane Pearl wanted Angelina Jolie to play her, sought her out, and sold the rights to Brad Pitt's production company. Based on this "package," the film was able to get a greenlight from Paramount Vantage, with the expectation that they would make a profit. The question becomes: Is the only form of "good casting" to make sure the racial balance of the character matches that of the actor?

Is Beyonce really too light or too dark — to have played a character based on Diana Ross in "Dreamgirls"? Is Denzel Washington really too dark to have played light-skinned, reddish-haired Malcolm X? Was it racist to have cast Chinese actress Gong Li as a Japanese woman in "Memoirs of a Geisha"? Were Al Pacino — or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio or Robert Loggia — terrible in "Scarface" (1983) because they are not Cuban? Was it wrong for Benicio Del Toro (Puerto Rican-American) to play a Mexican cop in "Traffic"? If these actors were good or bad in those movies, was it because of their racial background, or because of the roles and their performances in them?

I wonder what happened to a sense of proportion here. This isn't exactly Mickey Rooney playing a grotesque caricature of a Chinese guy in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Doesn't the performance itself count for anything — or is it all about appearances? (OK, if Jennifer Aniston had been cast as Pearl, I'd be a lot more skeptical. Even though she's only two years younger than Pearl, while Jolie is seven years younger. But if Jolie is playing Pearl in 2001-2002, then she's just about the perfect age, no?)

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Absurdity at 30,000 feet

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Q. Have they started serving alcohol at press screenings in your neck of the woods? I ask because I'm a reviewer in Canada, and perhaps we could ask for the same courtesy here; it would help with movies like "Flightplan." This is one of the most ridiculous movies I've seen this year. It doesn't even make sense before the drop into Steven Seagal territory in the last act. No one has seen the daughter, or anyone leading her away? As "Mad TV's" Marvin Tikvah would say: Come on! More importantly, how could anyone be sure she would be on that plane at that time? Nicolas Lacroix, Quebec City

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Telluride #3: Mickey in the limelight

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TELLURIDE, Colo. – It is the longest career in the history of show businesses. Mickey Rooney first appeared on stage when he was 17 months old. He made his first movie in 1925, when he was five, and on Friday night there he was on the stage of the Sheridan Opera House at the Telluride Film Festival, telling stores, doing imitations, singing the song he wrote when Judy Garland died, and then joining his wife in a duet of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”

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Telluride #1: Premieres & rarities

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TELLURIDE, Colo. – When I first came to the Telluride Film Festival in 1980, screenings were held in Quonset huts and city parks, the old Nugget theater on Main Street, and in the faded glory of the tiny Sheridan Opera House, built when this was a boom town in mining days. The 2005 festival, which will be held over Labor Day weekend, still uses the opera house, but has added so many state-of-the-art theaters, some of them constructed inside the old Mason's Hall and the school gyms, that it feels like the most happening art movie town in America.

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Movie Answer Man (08/10/1997)

Q. I noticed that in the credits for "Men In Black" there was the standard mention of Humane Society monitoring but it did NOT say "no animals were harmed." Is this because cockroaches were killed? (Dan Sachs, Merrick, N.Y.)

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Movie Answer Man (10/01/1995)

Q. Agreed with your comment on the MPAA ratings of "Showgirls" (NC-17) and "Seven" (R). I think it was Shelley Winters who said, "If a man cuts off a woman's breast, it's rated R. If he kisses it, it's an X." -- Steven Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.

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Interview with Sally Kellerman

LOS ANGELES - It is a possibility that Sally Kellerman does not own any shirts with buttons above the navel. This thought occurred to me as we sat in the dining room of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel trying to impress each other with how little we were having for lunch. I ordered hearts of palm salad. She topped me with, as I recall, knees of palm salad. Maybe it was fruit salad. Anyway.

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