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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.

Neil Jordan's Seven Grim Fairy Tales: An Infographic Guide to a Director's Obsessions

May Contain Spoilers
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This piece is about director Neil Jordan's seven most overtly supernatural, fairy tale-like films—The Company of Wolves, High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, The Butcher Boy, In Dreams, Ondine, and his latest, the mother-daughter vampire shocker Byzantium. An infographic analysis of each—please refer to the key for each symbol's meaning—reveals this pattern and confirms Byzantium is the culmination of 30+ years of Jordan exorcising his personal demons on-screen.

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#169 May 29, 2013

Marie writes: Every once in while, I'll see something on the internet that makes me happy I wasn't there in person. Behold the foolish and the brave: standing on one of the islands that appear during the dry season, kayacker's Steve Fisher, Dale Jardine and Sam Drevo, were able to peer over the edge after paddling up to the lip of Victoria Falls; the largest waterfall in the world and which flows between Zambia and Zimbabwe, in Africa. It's 350 feet down and behind them, crocodiles and hippos can reportedly be found in the calmer waters near where they were stood - but then, no guts, no glory, eh? To read more and see additional photos, visit "Daredevil Kayakers paddle up to the precipice of the Victoria Falls" at the DailyMail.

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#154 February 6, 2013

Marie writes:  The late John Alton is widely regarded as being one of greatest film noir cinematographers to have ever worked in Film. He perfected many of the stylized camera and lighting techniques of the genre, including radical camera angles, wide-angle lenses, deep focus compositions, the baroque use of low-level cameras and a sharp depth of field. His groundbreaking work with director Anthony Mann on films such "TMen" and "Raw Deal" and "He Walked by Night" is considered a benchmark in the genre, with "The Big Combo" directed by Joseph H. Lewis, considered his masterpiece. John Alton also gained fame as the author of the seminal work on cinematography: "Painting with Light".

The Big Combo (1955) [click to enlarge]

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To spoil or not to spoil? (Don't worry.)

The guy in the black suit is really the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne who became a caped crusader after his parents were killed. And he's played by Christian Bale, just like in the previous movie, "Batman Begins." Ooops. Is that giving too much away?

Note: There are no "Dark Knight" spoilers in this post. None whatsoever.

There, I said it. Really, what's so difficult about adding a spoiler warning to a review? Ken Tucker, "critic at large" for Entertainment Weekly, is just indignant about the whole idea: Whether I'm writing a review or reading one, I don't want any held-back information to prevent that review from being the most interesting, thought-provoking one possible.

If that means a movie critic reveals a crucial plot point in order to lay out an argument for a film's greatness or its hideousness, so be it. OK, remember we're talking about a deadline-driven review here -- something relatively brief (usually more than seven words and considerably less than 1,000 words in EW) shortly before or after a movie or TV show first becomes publicly available in one or more US cities. Not a longer critical essay targeted at a reader who has already seen the work in question. (See David Bordwell's recent piece about the differences here.)

I feel there are two kinds of ideal readers for release-date-dependent reviews:

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The reviews are in: Let the Funny Games begin!

View image Nudge-nudge. (2008)

UPDATED (03/15/08)

(My review of "Funny Games" is here. See also Your User's Guide to Movie Violence, a discussion below.)

* * * *

"You Must Admit, You Brought This On Yourself" -- advertising tagline, and line of dialog, from "Funny Games" (2008)

"Funny Games" (the 2008 Hollywood movie-star version of the virtually identical 1997 Euro-version) is a conceptual work, an aestheticized test. It's debatable whether the movie (already a replica) is necessary, except as an object that represents the larger concept -- like, say, an Andy Warhol Brillo box or Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners in plexiglass cases.

View image Wink-wink. (1997)

You could say something similar about the high-concept "Snakes On a Plane," and you'd be right. The difference is that the marketing campaign behind the packaging of "Snakes On a Plane" was designed to sell exactly the entertainment experience that the title promised. With "Funny Games," there's a deliberate element of bait-and-switch involved. It's being sold as entertainment, but that's not at all what it intends to deliver. The experience of "Funny Games" exists in the tension between the pitch and the delivery -- which will largely determine the relationship between the viewer and the film he/she sees.

So, the promotional materials for "Funny Games" (poster art, trailers, online videos, etc.) are more than the usual extensions or enhancements of the movie. They frame the experience, but they're also essential elements of the movie itself. Why you decide to watch it (or not) is every bit as central to the movie's concerns as anything in the movie itself. That may be true of any movie, but "Funny Games" puts it right there in the foreground where you can't miss it.

View image Promotional art for the 1997 version.

If you go expecting entertainment and are entertained (or, at least, terrified -- held hostage by your own expectations), that will be one thing. If you go expecting a moral lesson about the appeal of violence in movies, and you feel chastened and sullied, that will be another. If you go expecting a thriller or a comedy and find nothing thrilling or funny about it, that will be something else. If you go expecting to be toyed with and, say, enjoy feeling that you're ahead of the movie (maybe because you've already seen the 1997 version), that will provide yet another experience. If you value writer-director Michael Haneke's other work and want to see why he's chosen to remake this one... well, I hope you get the idea.

So, the first part of the experiment involves your decision to participate or not. The movie is the second part.

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Hidden horrors: Four spine-tingling DVDs

Don't look now, little girl, but the children of rage (mummy's rage) are about to get you.

Los Dias de los Muertos begin today, October 31 (aka "Halloween day") through November 2 (aka All Souls Day -- and Tara Mulan Sweeney's birthday). Time to recycle my appreciation of four critically undervalued horror movies from a few years back: David Cronenberg's "The Brood," Roman Polanski's "The Tenant," Neil Jordan's "In Dreams," and John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness" ("The critics were horrified!!!!"): Critics can be particularly rough on horror pictures. It's so easy -- too easy, sometimes -- to make these spook-shows sound risible and preposterous in synopsis, especially once you remove them from the darkness of the theater and examine them them in the harsh light of black and white newsprint (or monitor pixels). But the horror films I like best are not the abundantly bloody shockers critics love to loathe (though George Romero's extravagantly gory Grand Guignol "Dawn of the Dead" is a treasured favorite), but the ones that are the most atmospheric and creepy -- that suggest far more than they depict. Continue reading here...

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Toronto #8: 'Sleuth' finds itself a Pinter film

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TORONTO, Ont. -- Everyone, including me, was under the impression that Kenneth Branagh’s new film “Sleuth” was a remake of the 1972 film. Same situation: Rich thriller writer is visited in his country house by man who is having affair with his wife. Same outcome: They argue, man is killed. Same visit: Police detective. Same so forth and so on.

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Toronto #1: 2nd city for film festivals

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TORONTO, Ont. -- And now the ecstasy and madness begins. The 32nd Toronto Film Festival opens Thursday with no fewer than 15 films, and that’s before it gets up to speed. The Trail Mix Brigade is armed with their knapsacks, bottled water, instant snacks, text messengers and a determination to see, who knows, six, seven, eight films a day.

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So many films, so little time

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I have before me a schedule of the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs 10 days. I have been looking at it for some time. I am paralyzed. There are so many films by important directors (not to mention important films by unknown directors), that it cannot be reduced to its highlights. The highlights alone, if run in alphabetical order, would take up all my space.

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Opening Shots: 'The Crying Game'

Enlarge image: Your eye just naturally alights on the figure to the right of the support...

Enlarge image: ...who moves slowly along the shore in the opposite direction of the camera. (Here, the person is dead center in the frame.)

From Edward Copeland:

When Jim asked me to submit something about my favorite opening shot from a movie, I was at first flummoxed -- it seemed all the best ones were obvious and would have been written on to death, so I dug through my memory to try to find a less-obvious choice. What I settled on was "The Crying Game." I was fortunate to see "The Crying Game" for the first time long before the hype about the "twist" kicked in, so I was genuinely surprised at the direction the film went in and I think, upon rewatching its opening, that the beginning was helpful to that end. Percy Sledge's great "When a Man Loves a Woman" plays on the soundtrack (the irony of that song will only sink in later) as the camera moves slowly under a bridge across a lake where on the other side sits an amusement park with Ferris wheels and various rides going round and round. If you had no idea going in where this film was headed, you certainly couldn't have figured it out by these images, though you'd be mesmerized nonetheless.

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101 102 Movies You Must See Before...

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EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.

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Toronto #1: Top o' the world!

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TORONTO – Is the Toronto Film Festival the most important in the world, or does it only seem that way? In recent years I’ve described it as second only to Cannes. Now the Toronto critic Liam Lacey says flatly: “Toronto now has the most important film festival in the world -- the largest, the most influential, the most inclusive.” Yes, you say, but he is a Canadian, so of course he thinks that. Lacey is ready for you: “One reason the Toronto festival has probably not received its full recognition is, frankly, because it takes place in Canada.”

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Telluride #4: A cleansing rain of films

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TELLURIDE, Colo. -- Like the rains after a dusty season, the movies of September wash and refresh. You walk out of a screening here and think you have surely seen an Oscar nominee. You leave a second and third, and think the same thing. The 2006 Academy Awards could be populated from this festival, with Toronto still to begin on Thursday. And that doesn’t even account for the riches of the foreign films, and the revived classics, and the program called “Made on a Mac,” of films by such as Laurie Anderson.

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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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The critics were horrified!!!! 4 undervalued scary movies on DVD

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You might say horror movies are the mutant black sheep of the cinema. Some film devotees deem them too ungainly and disreputable to be taken seriously, as if they were deformed, illegitimate stepchildren who should be quietly locked up in the attic and not talked about. And yet... and yet... I suppose you can dislike (if not quite dismiss) entire sub-genres -- Hollywood musicals, maybe, or biblical epics -- but I don't see how you can seriously call yourself a film lover if you don't have some appreciation for horror movies. After all, they are so near the core appeal of the medium: Was there ever a genre better suited for shadowplay, unspooling in the dark before the collective (un-)consciousness of a crowd of spectators?

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Toronto fest signals the opening of Good Movie Season

After Cannes, the Toronto Film Festival is the most important in the world. Last year's festival was ripped in two on Sept. 11. I walked out of a screening, heard the news, and the world had changed. Now comes the 27th annual festival, opening today. Are movies important in the new world we occupy? Yes, I think they are, because they are the most powerful artistic device for creating empathy--for helping us understand the lives of others.

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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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Movie Answer Man (03/01/1993)

Q. I have a love for laserdiscs because they are letterboxed (most of the time), but rarely is a tape that way. The only way for me to see them is to have a friend of mine use his laserdisc player and copy the movie for me so I can watch it in its widescreen splendor. Do I have a potential problem with the FBI? (David Ingersoll, Philadelphia)

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