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Men, Women & Children

A potentially interesting premise is handled so badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of…

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Time Is Illmatic

An excellent documentary that focuses more on why the Illmatic album came to be than how successful it became. Prepare to be schooled in many…

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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.

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Peter O'Toole 1932-2013; revisiting the Boston bombings; when Shaft ruled Hollywood; why we need more than three genders; how "Gravity" harkens back to film's silent era.

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The racial empathy gap in moviegoing; the struggle to preserve old videotape; how critics view the "bad mothers" in "The Killing"; candidates for the best modern black-and-white films; Questlove reflects on the Trayvon Martin verdict.

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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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#173 June 26, 2013

Marie writes: There was a time when Animation was done by slaves with a brush in one hand and a beer in the other. Gary Larson's "Tales From the Far Side" (1994) was such a project. I should know; I worked on it. Produced by Marv Newland at his Vancouver studio "International Rocketship", it first aired as a CBS Halloween special (Larson threw a party for the crew at the Pan Pacific Hotel where we watched the film on a big screen) and was later entered into the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It spawned a sequel "Tales From the Far Side II" (1997) - I worked on that too. Here it is, below.

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Venus if you will, send a girl for me to thrill

Sometimes an actor's face tells so much about his character that the movie doesn't have to waste its time describing the character's past to us. Roger Michell's "Venus" (2006) doesn't tell us in details how famous its hero was as an actor, but that's not a problem because he is played by Peter O'Toole, a living legend who gave us a bunch of memorable larger-than-life characters including Henry II of England, Eli Cross, the 14th Earl of Gurney, Alan Swann, and, above all, Lawrence of Arabia. When we look at him in the movie, we instantly remember how magnificent he was, and that aspect is naturally incorporated into his character.

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Symbols more real than reality

May Contain Spoilers

A few years ago, while sitting in the mosque during a Friday sermon, I noticed a man in the center of the second row. This is an octagonal mosque with bare white walls. On the outside, its bluish brick and yellow dome consciously invoke the Dome of the Rock, which itself, incidentally is not a mosque. This man was sitting on the blue carpet with the rest of us, about six feet away from the preaching Imam, yet interestingly, he was not looking at him. The Imam was dressed in a white thobe, white skull cap, and that contrasted his thick jet-black beard. Instead, the man of salt-and-pepper beard was staring at the giant projection of this Imam on a screen above. I don't remember what the Imam was speaking about that day, which might explain why I was probably staring curiously at this man as he stared at the live video projection of the preacher standing right in front of him. But, for reasons I will explain below, that moment comes to mind when I think of Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" (2012).

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"The buffet of the universe."

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Every day at the Cannes festival opens up the possibility of surprises, upsets, or major revelations. As Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia" said, "Nothing is written." Film history is made here all the time, and I think some history was made today with the international debut of the American independent film "Beasts of the Southern Wild," by Benh Zeitlin, screening in the "A Certain Regard" section of the festival.. A first feature, it competes for the Camera d'Or. The world premiere was at Sundance back in January (where it won the Grand Jury Prize), but the high profile Cannes exposure will surely bring the film and its young star the worldwide attention it deserves.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is set in a wild coastal swamp on the Gulf coast, in a watery area referred to as "the Bathtub," where the towers and smokestacks of chemical plants and refineries spread across the distant horizon. It's a post-Katrina allegory that adopts many of the real-life images and circumstances of that disaster to create a purely mythic fable full of visceral visions, primal emotions, and haunting reminders of the inescapable cycle of birth, life, death, and decay.

At the center of the film is Hushpuppy, a feisty, unafraid six-year-old who lives with her sickly and often unstable dad in an isolated wilderness squatters' community where they live off the land by trapping and fishing. Their home, such as it is, is the wreck of a small ramshackle trailer; their boat is the bed of an old pickup truck floating over 55-gallon drums. That mankind lives within nature's unforgiving food chain is a daily reality for these two. As Hushpuppy's teacher Miss Bathsheba reminds her handful of students, "Everything that lives is meat. I'm meat; y'all's asses is meat; all part of the buffet of the universe."

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#109 April 4, 2012

Marie writes: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for finding this - as I'd never heard of the Bregenz Festival before, despite the spectacular staging of Puccini's opera Tosca and which appeared briefly in the Bond film Quantum of Solace; but then I slept through most of it. I'm not surprised I've no memory of an Opera floating on a lake. Lake Constance to be exact, which borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria near the Alps...

Tosca by Puccini | 2007-2008 - Photograph by BENNO HAGLEITNER(click to enlarge)

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#26 September 1, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Here in Michigan Oink's ice cream parlor exerts a magnetic pull on helpless citizens for miles around. I can no longer sample their countless flavors, but not log ago I took Kim Severson there. She is a New York Times writer doing a piece on The Pot. Oink's is run by my friend Roger Vink, who says, "May the Oink be with you."

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#24 August 18, 2010

The Grand Poobah's report from the Michigan woods: I'm still out here flashing back for my memoirs. We drove to nearby Sawyer to load up on groceries for one of my recipes for The Pot; we're having the neighbors in for dinner. It is impossible to visit Sawyer without my assistant, Carol Iwata, visiting the soda fountain at Schlipp's Pharmacy. Here she's just finished slurping up a chocolate milk shake made with chocolate ice cream. If you look hard you can see the pharmacist in the mirror.

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#14 June 9, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Our Far-Flung Correspondent Gerardo Valero writes: During Ebertfest, Monica and I were able to shoot a few videos which I downloaded in you tube and which I think you all may enjoy. Since she was the one to shoot most of the panel videos; they mostly consist of my own participation but there's plenty of stuff for everybody (our multiple presentations, dinner at the Green Room and what have you) I apologize in advance for the quality of the material. I tell Monica she would be fired from filming a Bourne movie because her cinematography is too shaky. Go HERE to see all the videos.Marie writes: this one is my favorite!  Roger and Chaz at Stake n' Shake!

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How to read a movie

At left: Hitchcock's "Notorious." Bergman on strong axis. Grant at left. Bergman lighter, Grant shadowed. Grant above, Bergman below. Movement toward lower right. The attention and pressure is on her.

I've mentioned from time to time the "shot at a time" sessions I do at film festivals and universities, sifting through a film with the help of the audience. The e-mails I receive indicate this is perceived as some kind of esoteric exercise. Actually, it's something anyone can do, including you, and you don't need to be an expert, because the audience, and the film itself, are your most helpful collaborators. Of course it would be wise to research a film you hope to dismantle in public, and be familiar with its director and context, but I believe the process in its pure form could be applied to a film you've never even heard of. I want to tell you how.

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Ebert's Oscar predictions (2007)

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In a year when the Academy Award nominations are more diverse and international than ever before, it's anyone's guess who will win best picture. "Dreamgirls" garnered more nominations than any other movie, but was passed over for both picture and director.

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Fight of the Century: John Cassavetes vs. Eleanor of Aquitaine

Hep Kate: "'Faces'? How's this for a face?"

Gosh, ever wonder how entire groups of people often wind up making unsatisfactory and unwise collective decisions? Sometimes it's just a matter of a few wayward votes. (Even on the Supreme Court, where there are only nine.) I came across this story about the New York Film Critics Circle balloting in 1968, which boiled down to a fierce battle between John Cassavettes' "Faces," Anthony Harvey's "The Lion in Winter"... and the dark horse, Carol Reed's "Oliver!" (which won the Best Picture Oscar that year). Keep in mind, this was the year of "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Rosemary's Baby," "Petulia," "Stolen Kisses," etc.

Now that we know how, last year, "Brokeback Mountain" actually won the popular vote while "Crash" was really selected Best Picture by the now-retired Sandra Day O'Connor (I made that up), here's something to help keep Movie Awards Season in perspective, from the 2003 edition Tom O'Neil's Variety book, "Movie Awards." After voting six times, resulting in dead heats or technically inconclusive results, the NYFCC gang indulged in a record seventh ballot: The results were surprising: The rival pics ["Faces" and "Lion"] received 11 votes each, "Oliver!" took 1 and there was 1 abstention. The crix had accepted the tie and already moved on to decide another category when someone noted that, according to the group's bylaws, "Oliver!" should have been dropped from consideration after the last ballot. The judges then backtracked and conducted an eighth polling and "Lion" re-emerged the champ, 13 to 11.

That's when the meeting became "most heated" and "extremely acrimonious," according to later press reports. Variety reported that "Faces" advocates Renata Adler and Vincent Canby of the Times "staged a mutiny" and were joined by new recruit Richard Schickel of Life [the august newspaper group had just begun accepting members from lowly, glossy magazines], who denounced the group's old members as "deadwood." The fight became so fierce that some members "had tears in their eyes," noted Variety. Four of the new members banded together and resigned.

The New York Times reported, "The resignations were withheld pending a meeting of the organization to discuss a possible change in voting procedure." Meantime, the rebels remained in the conference room of the New York Newspaper Guild and continued to vote in subsequent races. "Lion" won no more awards from the Gotham crix that year, with current Oscar nominee Alan Arkin ("The Heart is a Lonely Hunter") and Joanne Woodward ("Rachel, Rachel") taking acting honors (instead of Peter O'Toole or Katharine Hepburn), and the screenplay award went to Lorenzo Semple, Jr. for "Pretty Poison."

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The meaning of "articulate"

View image Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." The New York Times asks: Which Best Actor Oscar nominee is the bestest articulater: Whitaker or Peter O'Toole? (Answer: Neither.)

Senator Joseph Biden praised (or faintly damned) Senator Barack Obama last week by calling him "the first sort of mainstream African-American [presidential candidate], who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." OK, we know Jesse Jackson's record isn't exactly squeaky clean, what with the "Hymietown" and infidelity/paternity scandals and all. (I'm assuming that Biden was talking about the cleanliness of candidates' public images, not their personal hygiene.) Shirley Chisolm, Elizabeth Dole, Hillary Clinton and Carol Moseley Braun are not guys. Al Sharpton is not all that mainstream (how many people outside New York know who he is?) and -- at least when wearing a track suit -- not particularly nice-looking.

View image Peter O'Toole in "Venus."

So, that leaves Obama, who is male and partly African-American. (He was born in Hawaii to a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas). He may also be all those other things Biden said, but it was the "African-American" part and the "articulate" part that got Biden in the most trouble. Obama said he didn't think Biden was making a subconscious racial slur. But as Lynette Clemetson wrote in a piece called "The Racial Politics of Speaking Well" in Sunday's New York Times: "Being articulate must surely be a baseline requirement for a former president of The Harvard Law Review.... It would be more incredible, more of a phenomenon, to borrow two more of the senator’s puzzling words, if Mr. Obama were inarticulate."

Good point. But if the former president of the Harvard Law Review cannot properly be described as "articulate," then who can? Just because somebody has achieved a certain position in life does not necessarily mean that person is articulate ("Expressing oneself easily in clear and effective language: an articulate speaker."). Clemetson notes that President Bush has also called Obama "articulate" -- which reminds me of when Bush called the late Gerald Ford "decent" and "competent." Mr. Bush went to Yale University (and is President of the United States of America) and yet he is about as articulate as Lindsay "Be Adequite" Lohan. Listen to him talk sometime. He appears to be painfully unaware of the meanings of the words he attempts to pronounce -- especially, perhaps, "decent," "competent" and "articulate." (Some Disassembly Required.) From his mouth, those words sound like insults. Given his record and the way he speaks, what indication do we have that he understands them?

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Ebert's take on the Oscar picks

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Oscar is growing more diverse and international by the year. This year's Academy Award nominations, announced Tuesday, contain a few titles that most moviegoers haven't seen and some they haven't heard of. That's perhaps an indication that the Academy voters, who once went mostly for big names, are doing their homework and seeing the pictures.

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'Dreamgirls' snubbed -- with 8 noms

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The peppy musical "Dreamgirls" led Academy Awards contenders Tuesday with eight nominations, but surprisingly was shut out in the best picture category for which it had been considered a potential front-runner. The sweeping ensemble drama "Babel" was close behind with seven, including best picture and acting honors for two newcomers to U.S. audiences, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi.

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