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Lucy

Scarlett Johansson is an intriguing blank in Luc Besson's "Lucy," which is stranded somewhere between a stranger-in-a-strange-land action thriller and apocalyptic science fiction.

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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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.

Days of Ebertfest: The 2013 schedule

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PRESS RELEASE: CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Terrence Malick's 1978 film "Days of Heaven" won an Oscar for best cinematography, and Roger Ebert likely found that no surprise. It is "above all one of the most beautiful films ever made," Ebert said in a 1997 review. So it's only appropriate that the film will open the 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival on April 17 in the big-screen, newly renovated Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.

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A pretty good set of nominees

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The Oscars are the most important way the American film industry can honor what it considers the year's best work. But for millions of movie lovers all over the globes, they are something else: A show.

That's why I suspected last June that Quvenzhané Wallis might win a nomination. The pride of Hounduras Elementary School in Houma, LA, has now become, at nine, the youngest nominee in history for Best Actress. Her story is even better: She was five when she auditioned for the role, and six when she performed it.

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Ebert's Top Movies of 2012

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A funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars. Not to the Oscars. To me. I sustained a hairline fracture of my left hip. I didn't fall. I didn't break it. It just sort of... happened to itself. Most of the time, it causes me no pain at all. But my left leg won't bear any weight, nor can I walk on it. This pain is off the charts. It has nothing to do with cancer. It's plain bad luck.

The good news is that I've seen the films of one of the best recent years in cinema. I wrote more than 300 reviews in 2012 -- a record -- and it was unusually difficult to leave out many of the quote-unquote "best" films in 11th place.

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And the nominees are...

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With the 2013 Oscarcast moved up to Feb. 24, movie fans are already in a lather over the possible nominees, especially since again this year there can be "up to" ten finalists in the Best Picture category. I claim no inside knowledge (I'm still waiting to hear from my friend Deep Oscar), but it's never too early to speculate.

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#137 October 10, 2012

Marie writes: I may have been born in Canada, but I grew-up watching Sesame Street and Big Bird, too. Together, they encouraged me to learn new things; and why now I can partly explain string theory.That being the case, I was extremely displeased to hear that were it up Romney, as President he wouldn't continue to support PBS. And because I'm not American and can't vote in their elections, I did the only thing I could: I immediately reached for Photoshop....

(Click image to enlarge.)

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#99 January 25, 2012

Marie writes: many simply know her as the girl with the black helmet. Mary Louise Brooks (1906 - 1985), aka Louise Brooks, an American dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress famous for her bobbed haircut and sex appeal. To cinefiles, she's best remembered for her three starring roles in Pandora's Box (1929) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) directed by G. W. Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930) by Augusto Genina. She starred in 17 silent films (many lost) and later authored a memoir, Lulu in Hollywood."She regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her." - Roger, from his review of the silent classic Pandor's Box.

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#79 September 7, 2011

Marie writes: I've always found the ocean more interesting than space and for invariably containing more delights and surprises. Case in point, discovering the existence of an extraordinary underwater museum...

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Did Sean Penn really pee on The Tree of Life?

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You've probably read that Sean Penn, in an interview with Le Figaro, said this about working with Terrence Malick on "The Tree of Life": "I didn't at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I've ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly."

What you probably didn't read was what else he said, which was translated and posted as a comment by Guy Lodge in response to an article at InContention.com headlined "Sean Penn bitch-slaps 'Tree of Life'": "But it's a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It's up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved." (InContention.com followed up with "Penn on Malick, part deux.")

Back in May, the great production designer Jack Fisk, who has known Malick for many years, told Dennis Lim in the New York Times: "I was shocked by how personal the story was when I first read it. But when I watched the film I just think how universal it is." Or, as Richard Brody, who writes "The Front Row" for The New Yorker, aptly quotes Fritz Lang in Godard's "Contempt": "In the script it is written, and on the screen it's pictures."

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Days of Heaven: "Somewhere, I don't know, over there..."

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"Troops of nomads swept over the country at harvest time like a visitation of locusts, reckless young fellows, handsome, profane, licentious, given to drink, powerful but inconstant workmen, quarrelsome and difficult to manage at all times. They came in the season when work was plenty and wages high. They dressed well, in their own peculiar fashion, and made much of their freedom to come and go.

"They told of the city, and sinister and poisonous jungles all cities seemed in their stories. They were scarred with battles. They came from the far-away and unknown, and passed on to the north, mysterious as the flight of locusts, leaving the people of Sun Prairie quite as ignorant of their real names and characters as upon the first day of their coming."

-- Hamlin Garland, "Boy Life on the Prairie" (1899), epigraph for Terrence Malick's screenplay for "Days of Heaven," revised June 2, 1976

At some point in 1976, "Days of Heaven" was a screenplay that contained conventionally discrete scenes, developed exchanges of dialog and a fairly straightforward (melo-)dramatic narrative structure. Principal photography took place that year in the plains of Alberta, Canada (standing in for the Texas panhandle shortly before World War I), and the movie that emerged in 1978, after two years of editing, did away almost all of it. What the movie became -- as everyone couldn't help but notice at the time of its original release -- is a film in which the "background" (nature, the landscape) moves into the foreground and the human characters recede into macrocosmic expanses of earth and sky, and microcosmic observations of flora and fauna. And bugs.

Terrence Malick's vision is reflected in his process, whereby an enormous amount of material -- scripted and unscripted, A-roll and B-roll -- is pared down, peeled back, opened up.¹ Camera operator John Bailey, in an interview on the Criterion Blu-Ray edition of "Days of Heaven," describes how the so-called "second unit" work. The close-ups of animals or plants, or the pastoral images of trees or streams are "very, very inserty-type shots, and yet they have the same kind of dramatic impact" as the spectacular wide shots -- or, for that matter, the scenes involving the lead actors. Some complained about that at the time -- that the film was gorgeous but insufficiently developed as human drama, that characters were cyphers, that the technique was "intolerably artsy" and "artificial."²

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Jeff Bridges: The Starman within

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• Roger Ebert / December 16th, 1984

When director John Carpenter saw the script of "Starman" for the first time, it looked to him like a special-effects movie, and he thought that was the wrong idea. He was more interested in remaking "It Happened One Night," with an extraterrestrial man in the Claudette Colbert role.

"The screenplay described the special effects in minute detail, but they seemed to be afraid of the story," Carpenter said. "I saw it as the story of two people on the road, learning to deal with each other. They had Starman flying around like Superman. And they were utterly obsessed with how he looked. There was all this emphasis on the big transformation scene, where he turns from an alien into the clone of a human being. But how he looks while he transforms is just hardware; it has nothing to do with the story."

By the time Carpenter came aboard about a year ago, "Starman" had been in various stages of production for four years. According to Hollywood folklore, this was the movie Columbia decided to make instead of "E. T.," which went to Universal instead: Some hapless executive had decided "E. T." was only a children's picture, while "Starman," which opened here Friday, was sort of the same story for adults.

The executive might have been right about the second part of that theory. "Starman" is one of those rare science-fiction movies with genuine emotional content. By the end of the film, when a woman from Earth and a creature from space look into each other's eyes and smile, there is something of the same warmth and heart that "E. T." projected.

There is, however, one very basic difference between the two movies. The challenge in "E. T." was to make an alien seem human. The challenge in "Starman" is to make a human seem alien. When we first see the alien, it is a glowing ball of pure energy, floating out of a wrecked spacecraft somewhere in Wisconsin, and drifting into the living room of a young widow's home. The creature sees a photograph of the widow's late husband, does a quick three-dimensional scan, analyzes a lock of hair for genetic information, and generates itself into a human clone - a dead-ringer for the dead man.

In this form, which it will retain for the rest of the movie, the starman reminds the woman so sharply of her husband that she is at first terrified, then hostile, and only gradually accepting. That process of emotional accommodation could easily have seemed ridiculous, but not in "Starman," where Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges manage to create one of the year's warmest love stories in the unlikely setting of an s-f movie. (That's especially ironic for Allen, whose previous movie, the dreary "Until September," was supposed to be a genuine human romance, and failed abysmally despite Paris as a backdrop.)

"Jeff Bridges and I did a lot of talking about how the starman should look and move and behave," Carpenter said. "He looks like a human but, intelligent as he is, he's had no experience in living inside this human life form. He walks and talks strangely. His head movements are birdlike. We never wanted him to become completely human - and even at the end of the film, after he's had some practice at being a human, there's still something a little strange about him. Jeff took some real chances in playing the role. There was always the question of whether he was going too far or not far enough. A lot of actors would have been afraid of looking ridiculous, but sometimes, after we'd shot a scene, Jeff would offer to do it again, just a little more strangely."

After the starman lands in Wisconsin (his craft was shot down by the Air Force), he enlists the widow to drive him to Arizona, where he has a rendezvous with his mother ship at the Great Meteor Crater. It's at this point that movie buffs will begin to recognize aspects not only of "It Happened One Night," but also of "They Live by Night," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands" and the whole genre of road movies.

The formula remains pretty constant: Man and woman hit the road, pursued by authorities of an uncomprehending, hostile society. At first, they are suspicious of each other, but trust gradually builds into love. The moment of truth arrives in a final confrontation between the refugees and society. There are even some more-or-less obligatory scenes, including the stop at a roadside diner. (Bridges, ordering alien food in a strange land, turns this scene into a quiet extraterrestrial homage to Jack Nicholson's classic chicken-salad scene in "Five Easy Pieces.")

"The story here is a whole lot more important than the science fiction," Carpenter said. "We reduced the s-f down to almost a magical fairy tale." That would continue a tendency in his work that you could see last Christmas in "Christine," the whimsical, terrifying movie about a used car with a mind of its own.

Carpenter has worked within the thriller and supernatural genres for most of his career, but he often seems to be testing their boundaries. After his early "Assault on Precinct 13," a superior police movie shot on a midget budget, his first big hit was the classic thriller "Halloween" (1978), in which an escaped killer turned into an indestructible engine of violence. Then he made such slick thrillers as "The Fog," "Escape from New York," "The Thing" and "Christine." In all of those films, special effects had at least equal importance with character; "Starman" clearly contains Carpenter's most three-dimensional people, even if one of them is from another world. Although there's a tendency to think of the movie as a fairly small one by Carpenter's standards - after all, it's basically about two people in a car, and this is the man who used special effects to make Manhattan into a prison city of the future - Carpenter told me it was a giant logistical job.

"We had 150 people moving across the country in trucks and vans," he said. "The low point was shooting only at night for six weeks. We used 16 helicopters for the scene at the Great Meteor Crater. We used nine simultaneous camera setups for some of the explosions. We had 70 or 80 extras in some of the scenes. This picture probably could have been done on a low budget, shooting around L.A., but the story is about how Starman falls in love as much with Earth as he does with her. We wanted to show the whole sweep of the countryside. Towns, fields, rain, sunrises - a planet seen by eyes that have never seen it before."

If that was the case, then the character played by Karen Allen is a woman seen by eyes that had never seen one before. Carpenter said he saw Allen through fresh eyes himself: "From 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' I got a very definite impression that she was strong, self-willed, with a sort of cute sexuality, I was unprepared for the effect she had when I saw her in person. She is beautiful. I softened her hair from the way she looked in 'Raiders.' I gave her a curl, a permanent, to frame those beautiful eyes, and she's gorgeous in this movie."

That left the tricky problem of casting the starman. "If you used a Hollywood star, a Stallone or a Richard Gere, the audience would have hooted," Carpenter said. "Jeff Bridges is able to disappear into his roles. He's elusive. He looks like he could be a house painter from Wisconsin. And he's not afraid to make a complete fool of himself, which is a special kind of courage for an actor."

Carpenter himself, for that matter, looks like he could be a house painter from Wisconsin. He was wearing a VistaVision sweatshirt, slacks and a pair of sneakers, and he looked more like a scruffy film student than a Hollywood director. He recently became a father for the first time; he and his wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau, have a 7-month-old son named John Cody, who was born in the middle of a tornado in Tennessee during the filming of "Starman."

"When I was going to film school," he said, "what I wanted to be was a commercial filmmaker in Hollywood - that's where I feel I can tell stories. I knew in my heart I could do anything. Musicals, gangster movies, Westerns, love stories. Having grown up on the movies, the only question was: Would they offer me those kinds of projects?"

"Starman" is Carpenter's first love story, of sorts, unless you include the rosy early days of the love affair with Christine the car. Now he's working on a project named "Chickenhawk," about helicopter pilots in Vietnam, drawing from his own experience as a licensed helicopter pilot.

That led inevitably to my next question, about the charges facing director John Landis in connection with the helicopter crash that killed three people during the shooting of "Twilight Zone." Carpenter said he didn't want to comment, apart from observing that a pilot is the unquestioned captain of his ship, with the absolute right to refuse orders he believes are unsafe. "A lot of laymen think it's safe for a helicopter to hover at low altitudes," he said. "It isn't."

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That's why they call it 'acting'

The big news is that TLRHB (That Little Round-Headed Boy) is back! And here he is, asking some pertinent questions about the art and craft of acting in response to Hilary Swank's comment in the Los Angeles Times: "You can't play Amelia Earhart and not learn how to fly. That would be a huge flaw. I'd be fired immediately."

I always get a chuckle every time I read about a group of pretty-boy actors going to a three-week "boot camp" to learn how to play a soldier. Imagine asking Spencer Tracy or Gable to go to a boot camp. Did John Wayne go to Western Camp to learn how to ride horseback? Did Bogie go to detective school? Did Cary Grant study paleontology before filming "Bringing Up Baby"? Did Errol Flynn go to pirate camp? (I bet Johnny Depp didn't, either. He created his Jack Sparrow persona out of the pure creativity in his mind, and a little bit of vampishness and Keith Richards.) [...]

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TIFF 2007: Robert Zimmerman Bob Dylan Revisited

View image Todd on Bob: Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), as one incarnation -- a name-dropping bluesman in 1959 (with tales of Blind Willie McTell and Gorgeous George) who seems to think he's still in the Great Depression. Others include Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), Jack Rawlins/Pastor John (Christian Bale) and "Billy" McCarty (Richard Gere).

"I was born a poor black child..." -- Steve Martin, "The Jerk"

"God, I'm glad I'm not me." -- Bob Dylan, on reading an article about himself in 1965 (quoted in the press kit for Todd Haynes' movie, originally titled "I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan")

Folk-turned-electric singer/songwriter Jude Quinn (looking for all the world like Bob Dylan circa 1965 and played by Cate Blanchett) is riding in a big black limousine when, unaccountably, Allen Ginsburg (David Cross) appears on a golf cart in the rear window, smiling and waving with his frizzy hair blowin' in the wind. Ginsburg pulls up alongside the limo, Quinn rolls down the window, and they travel along parallel trajectories (past a cemetary) while having a brief exchange about an interview Ginsburg had done with a reporter in which the Beat poet was asked about Quinn's musical motives as if all Voices of Their Generation were pretty much one and the same. "They asked you that?!?" Quinn laughs.

View image Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) in "I'm Not There" in "Don't Look Back" in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in black and white.

That's a little taste of what it's like to watch Haynes' "I'm Not There," which is not only a kaleidoscopic view of events in the life, music and myth of Bob Dylan, but a critical deconstruction and synthesis of Dylan's various media representations -- from D.A. Pennebaker's legendary "Don't Look Back" to Dylan's own "Reynaldo and Clara" to Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan." In some ways, it's the natural companion to "Don't Look Back" (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted "Reynaldo and Clara" to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted "Velvet Goldmine" to be. It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" and "Petulia," Godard's "Masculin-Feminin," Fellini's "8 1/2" and others, too) -- and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings -- and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie.

View image Christian Bale (this guy can do anything) as Jack Rawlins.

The earlier film was about the glam era, freely mixing bits and pieces of fact and lore from the lives of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Ferry and others (don't forget Oscar Wilde, who is deposited on earth by a UFO), and that's the kind of thing Haynes is up to here -- mostly with Dylan, but also with "real" and fictional characters around him. Some are identified by their familiar names (like John, Paul, George, and Ringo), some are thinly disguised (or undisguised) stand-ins. And this time he has the music rights, too. Just about the only thing missing is Donovan.

View image Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger).

Do you have to know about, or have lived through, the life and legend of Dylan to "get" this film? I don't know. I don't think so, but you'll certainly understand it on more levels if you've seen the Pennebaker, Dylan & Sam Shepard, Scorsese, Peckinpah, Godard, Lester, Fellini, et al. movies mentioned above. And if you know at least some of the music, and something about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene and the war in Vietnam and the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest and Joan Baez (and "Diamonds and Rust") and Sara and Swinging London and the Beats and Albert Goldman and The Hawks (and The Band) and The Basement Tapes and the Rolling Thunder Revue and "Tarantula" and Columbia Records and the motorcycle accident and the "electric" debut at the Newport Folk Festival and the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert in 1966 ("Judas!" "I don't believe you...") which actually took place at Manchester's Free Trade Hall (just another part of the legend) and Elvis Presley movies and James Dean movies Marlon Brando movies and Montgomery Clift movies... and so on.

View image Jude Quinn (Almighty).

I was a senior in high school when "Blood on the Tracks" came out and utterly changed my life (not the first time Dylan would do that for me), so although most of '60s Dylan predated my awareness of his actual records (we sang "Blowin' in the Wind" in my fourth grade homeroom, with Miss Kwinsland on ukelele, but I didn't know it was a Dylan song; we sang Woody Guthrie tunes, too), I absorbed a lot of this stuff simply by being a young American with an interest in politics and art and pop culture. But do you have to be familiar with all of this in order to appreciate "I'm Not There"? I don't think so. (But consider this: Bruce Greenwood plays Quinn's BBC interviewer/adversary, Mr. Jones, and Pat Garrett.)

A Dylanophile friend was asked if he was in "Dylan heaven" after the film. He thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah. I guess I am." I don't know about that. But I'm at least knockin' on heaven's door.

That's all I'll say for now, because I'm salivating over the prospect of seeing and writing about this movie in more detail later....

Oh, just one other thing. I've talked to five or six people who, unprovoked, described exactly the same response to different moments in the movie. But they all involved having the experience of consciously thinking: "I am in love with Cate Blanchett."

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Toronto #9: Everybody must get cloned

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TORONTO, Ont. -- “The Walker” is another of Paul Schrader’s “man in a room” films, and his best film since “Affliction” (1997). It’s a fascinating character study with as fine a performance as Woody Harrelson has given, and certainly the most unexpected. Schrader defined the films as centering on the image of a man in a room preparing to go out and do something, and then doing it, while remaining focused by his preparation. That would define Schrader’s “American Gigolo” (1980), with Richard Gere in training for his profession as a professional lover of women. And “Light Sleeper” (1992), with Willem Dafoe as a drug dealer who is also a recovering addict.

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Cannes #8: Sex, awards & film

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CANNES, France – It probably won’t happen this way, but wouldn’t everyone be pleased if Gerard Depardieu won the best actor award at Cannes this year. The festival’s awards are given out Sunday night (12:30 p.m. CDT), and Depardieu received a tumultuous ovation Friday as the star of “Quand j’etais Chanteur,” or “The Singer.” Depardieu’s character reminded many audience members of the actor himself: A beefy middle-aged artist still slugging away at a job he loves, smoking too much, adamantly on the wagon, given new hope by his feelings for a much younger woman (Cecile De France). “I’ve been written off a lot of times,” he tells her, “but I always bounce back.”

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'Bee' girl carries film

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TORONTO -- Flora Cross is a beautiful young girl and a wise old soul. She has a gravity about her. By that I do not mean that she is sad, but that she weighs matters, considers what they are, and says what she thinks. That is a rare quality in anyone. Flora Cross is 12.

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Toronto #5: A memorable film season

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TORONTO – At the halfway point of the 2005 Toronto Film Festival, one thing is clear: This is the best autumn movie season in memory. One film after another has been astonishingly good. Critics gathered in the hallways after the Varsity press screenings, talking in hushed tones as if witnesses to a miracle.

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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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'Million Dollar' misrepresentations

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For more information on the controversies over "Million Dollar Baby," please see the related articles section in the left column. We also recommend Jeff Shannon's pieces for New Mobility Magazine:

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'Chicago' leads the parade

"Chicago" waited 27 years to make the transition from stage to screen, but finished strong, winning 13 nominations Tuesday as the 75th annual Academy Awards nominations were revealed. After last year's best-picture nod for "Moulin Rouge," the movie's front-runner status signals a rebirth of the movie musical.

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