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Trashy, goofy, and surprisingly sincere, this superhero fantasy is better than you expect but not as good as it should be.

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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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* 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.

#119 June 13, 2012

Marie writes: Next door, across a long narrow drive and beyond the row of cedar hedges which run parallel to it, there resides an elementary school dating back to 1965, along with an assortment of newer playground equipment rendered in bright, solid primary colors...I'm sure you know the sort I mean...

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It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion): Thoughtson movie technique and movie criticism

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"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)

"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review

"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review

"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism

"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹

- - -

In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.

So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²

Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.

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Films that are not for the dying so much

There are two good films at Toronto about the same thing: Romance that begins during the last months of life for a person with cancer. I wrote earlier about Gus Van Sant's "Restless," and now here is "50/50" by Jonathan Levine, with a screenplay by Will Reiser that is said to be semi-autobiographical. As a person who has been in love while dealing with cancer, these films inspire introspection, and while I admire them I realize they are to some degree escapism--poised at the "Bargaining" position at the center of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief.

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The art of sexual belt-notching

May Contain Spoilers

Mike Nichols' 1971 drama "Carnal Knowledge" is part of a canon of American films of the late 1960s to mid-1970s that mirrored the freewheeling sexual culture and society from which they emerged. These films ("Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice", "Shampoo" and others) examined varied notions of commitment, companionship and sex. "Carnal Knowledge", written by playwright, author and cartoonist Jules Feiffer, shows men talking casually, bluntly and frankly about women, their bodies, of strategies to get sex and of sexual belt-notching, though not necessarily much about the specific act of sex.

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Gary Winick: A valediction forbidding mourning

May Contain Spoilers

He had these smiling eyes. And a self-deprecating manner which seemed to belie his very good looks ("He's so cute," my 19-year-old assistant exclaimed), about which he was fairly oblivious. Most of all, he was simply a very good guy.

Gary Winick, a many-hats-wearing filmmaker and digital pioneer, died of complications following a 2 year battle with brain cancer on February 27th, the day of the Academy Awards --- an especially sad irony for a vital man, weeks shy of 50, whose passion for film and storytelling had filled the decades of his adult life.

The private memorial service was held at the Time-Warner Center in Winick's beloved New York. Overlooking Central Park as the sun set, an invited group of 400 (some going back to childhood, some famous, many with whom he'd worked, even some he'd made sure got a decent meal when they were struggling) assembled to watch film clips, to hear and tell stories - to cry, yes, but also to laugh at so many experiences they certainly cherish now.

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#64 May 25, 2011

Marie writes: There's a glorified duck pond at the center of the complex where I live. And since moving in, my apartment has been an object of enduring fascination for Canadian geese - who arrive each Spring like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission in France, to run a sweeping aerial recon my little garden aka: playhouse for birds... (click to enlarge)

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Elizabeth Taylor, pagan goddess

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Camille Paglia is known for being both brilliant and wacky (possibly wacko) -- often at the same time, which is probably when she's at her most inspired. A founding contributor at Salon.com (and co-star of "It's Pat: The Movie"), Paglia spoke on the phone to Salon editor Kerry Lauerman yesterday after the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death, and offered up an extraordinary tribute. I just wanted to share some of it with you. Lauerman begins by quoting something Paglia wrote about Taylor in Penthouse in 1992:

"She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm." Paglia takes it from there:

Exactly. At that time, you have to realize, Elizabeth Taylor was still being underestimated as an actress. No one took her seriously -- she would even make jokes about it in public. And when I wrote that piece, Meryl Streep was constantly being touted as the greatest actress who ever lived. I was in total revolt against that and launched this protest because I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep's command of a certain kind of technical skill. [...]

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