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Mr. Turner

Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…

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Annie

The new version of "Annie" is fashionably artificial and not very well directed, but its unabashed good cheer is very welcome.

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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.

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Revisiting the Black Dahlia case, 'Disneyfying' famous women, a profile of TCM host Robert Osborne, Patti Smith on Lou Reed and the story behind a notorious SNL skit.

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This cripple is a Smart Ass

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Some of the fiercest and most useful satire on the web right now is being written by a man who signs himself Smart Ass Cripple. Using his wheelchair as a podium, he ridicules government restrictions, cuts through hypocrisy, ignores the PC firewalls surrounding his disability, and is usually very funny. Because he has been disabled since birth, he uses that as a license to write things that others may think but do not dare say.

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More sex please, we're French

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"Sexual Chronicles of a French Family" (76 minutes) is available via IFC On Demand.

Let's play a game. It's 3 AM and you can't sleep. A channel roulette session with the remote control stops your TV on a certain network synonymous with softcore erotica. Do you: a) Roll your eyes and keep flipping the dial before falling asleep to some warped infomercial?

b) Realize you need something more substantial and order "Chicks Who Dig Odienator 29" off the Adult On Demand Channel?

c) Drop the remote and make a date with Rosy Palm and her Five Sisters? If you answered a, Alex Trebek is here to say "OOH I'M SORRY!!" We've got some nice consolation prizes for you as you leave this blog. If you answered b, I thank for your $9.95, but you will also have to leave this blog. Today's entry is most definitely not your speed. But if you answered c, have I got a movie for you. It's called "Chroniques sexuelles d'une famille d'aujourd'hui" or "Sexual Chronicles of a French Family," and you can watch it in the privacy of your own home. I won't tell, and I certainly won't cast aspersions. After all, I pitched this movie to review here at The Demanders. After discovering the title, and its French origins, my exact pitch to our editor was "Mmmm! FILTH!" So this sinner casts no stones.

Unfortunately, this sinner has issues with this "Chronicles of Labia," the least of which is how to review a movie like this. I could take the high road, but if you've read this far, you are expecting me to traverse the lowest road possible. To review a comedy, one must admit if it inspired laughter. To review an erotic picture, one must more uncomfortably cop to whether it resulted in the upping of a body part that isn't a thumb. In that regard, I respectfully submit that this film didn't do it for me. I expected something a little less squeamish (read: dirtier) than what I got.

"Sexual Chronicles of A French Family" is Cinemax with subtitles, or "Le Çinemax." It has the same frustrating "hide the good stuff" camera angles as your average straight-to-cable softcore knock-off, and the same repeated positions. In its defense, the film does not contain Cinemax's ubiquitous bad boob jobs, the ones so dreadful that they turn breasts into triangles, squares and other shapes nature never intended for headlights. The boob job in this film looks fine. "Chronicles" also has a more intriguing plot than any sex film on cable at 3 AM, though this is somewhat squandered.

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Johnny Carson: The man behind the curtain

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"Johnny Carson: The King of Late Night" (120 minutes) premieres on PBS' "American Masters" at 9:00pm Monday, May 14th (check local listings). The film will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 17th.

As I reflect on my life, I grow increasingly grateful for having witnessed the greatest half-century in the history of the United States. Consider just a few of the crucial events that have shaped us during the past 50 years: The civil rights movements for African-Americans, women and the disabled; the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK; the war in Vietnam and its domestic fallout; landing on the moon and exploring the outer reaches of the universe; the global trauma of AIDS and seemingly perpetual threats of war and terrorism; and, perhaps most important, the emergence and meteoric rise of the digital age, exemplified by the Internet and social media with the power to literally change history through an exponential expansion of human connectedness.

If you've witnessed these decades through the multicolored lenses of popular culture, the rewards have been astonishing. Consider the careers we've seen in that time: Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Springsteen, Madonna, The Clash, U2, Nirvana... Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey... Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Werner Herzog... We could all make our own long lists and we'd all arrive at the same conclusion: The past half-century has been nothing short of phenomenal.

And one way or another, it all comes down to "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

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#60 April 27, 2011

The Grand Poobah shared the following recently and which struck me as just the thing to put in here - for it amounts to someone inventing a moving still akin to those seen on the front page of Harry Potter's famous newspaper."You know how people sometimes say that jazz is the only truly American art form? Animated GIFs are like the jazz of the internet: they could only exist, and be created and appreciated, online. That said, PopTart Cat is not exactly on par with Thelonious Monk. But photographer Jamie Beck and motion graphics artist Kevin Burg may have finally found a way to elevate the animated GIF to a level approaching fine art, with their "cinemagraphs" -- elegant, subtly animated creations that are "something more than a photo but less than a video." - fastcodesignAnd sadly, they won't work in here; Movable Type doesn't like animated gifs. It's easily solved however, just visit Far Better Than 3-D: Animated GIFs That Savor A Passing Moment to see an assortment in play!

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To those who were offended...

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@jeeemerson god. Pretty soon we won't be able to tell a knock knock joke, for fear of hurting a doors feelings. STFU

That's an offended tweeter's response to my previous post, "The "gay" Dilemma: If it's a joke, what does it mean?" -- except that it's not really a response, exactly, since it doesn't address anything I actually, you know, said.¹ It's a tweet. Still, it expresses a fairly common attitude among those who are easily offended that others take offense to things they are not offended by: Why are people hurting my feelings by getting their feelings hurt over what I say or what I like? So, to those whose feelings have been bruised in this way, I want to say: Don't stop whining. Don't stop making it all about you. Keep on complaining that your sensibilities are being hurt because you feel that other people should not express opinions other than your own. How dare other people claim that things you honestly feel are funny are not only not funny to them, but maybe even painful or insulting!?! What if that's not even what you meant at all? Just remember, when your feelings are hurt by somebody who says you've hurt their feelings, it's all their fault for being so sensitive to what words mean and being so rude as to tell you. Blame them. You shouldn't have to accept responsibility for what you do or say or laugh at. That's just not fair!

But seriously, folks...

Several of yesterday's commenters mentioned comedic treatments of the anti-gay epithets "fag" and "faggot" on "South Park" ("The F Word") and Louis CK's series, "Louie," which is where the clip above comes from. A group of comedians are discussing the implications of using the word "faggot" in Louis's stage act. Louis asks Rick, the only gay comic at the table, if he thinks he shouldn't use the word. Rick says, "I think you should use whatever word you want... but are you interested to know what it might mean to gay men?"²

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The "gay" Dilemma: If it's a joke, what does it mean?

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On the day after the near-mystical cosmic alignment of Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day (did the Postal Service suspend delivery on the day Columbus came out in 1492?), and the very day that a US district judge issued a worldwide injunction ordering the Department of Defense to stop enforcement of its absurd, 17-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for kicking gays out of the military (best of all, the case was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans!), I have found myself reading about a stupid gay joke that's been removed from trailers for the upcoming Ron Howard comedy "The Dilemma," starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.

I saw the trailer in front of "The Social Network," October 1. Vaughn's character is speaking to some automotive businessmen (is this a follow-up to Howard's "Gung-Ho"?) and says: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper reportedly went on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and said he was "shocked" that Universal "thought that it was OK to put that in a preview for the movie to get people to go and see it." Universal responded by quickly pulling the scene from the trailer. No word on whether it will remain in the movie, which opens in January.

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Apatow on how to learn nothing from a near-death experience

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If there is a King of Comedy right now in Hollywood, that would be Judd Apatow. I have a list here of a dozen comedies he has produced and/or directed just in the last five years, and I left out the titles I didn't like. He has been writing since he was a kid, producing since he was 23, and then he directed "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) and "Knocked Up" (2007) himself. He is only 41. I think he's hitting his stride.

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Parrot asks, "What'd the frozen turkey want?"

A joke should have the perfection of a haiku. Not one extra word. No wrong words. It should seem to have been discovered in its absolute form rather than created. The weight of the meaning should be at the end. The earlier words should prepare for the shift of the meaning. The ending must have absolute finality. It should present a world view only revealed at the last moment. Like knife-throwing, joke-telling should never be practiced except by experts.

For many laymen, a joke is a heavenly gift allowing them to monopolize your attention although they lack all ability as an entertainer. You can tell this because they start off grinning and grin the whole way through. They're so pleased with themselves. Their grins are telling you they're funny and their joke is funny. The expert knows not to betray the slightest emotion. The expert is reciting a fact. There is nothing to be done about it. The fact insists on a world that is different than you thought. The fact is surprising and ironic. It is also surprising--you mustn't see it coming. That's why the teller should not grin. His face shouldn't tell you it's coming. If the joke is also vulgar, so much the better, but it must never exist for the sake of vulgarity. That's why "The Aristocrats" is not only the most offensive joke in the world, but also, in the wrong hands, the most boring.

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A Journey to the End of Taste

View image Their hearts will go on, even if they're all wet.

Who says there's no accounting for taste?¹ Maybe there is. New Yorker music critic and Alex Ross (whose brilliant book "The Rest is Noise" I wrote about last month) mentioned another book on his blog and now I've gotta get ahold of it (as Barak Obama maybe sorta allegedly did).²

It's called "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste," by Toronto Globe and Mail pop music critic Carl Wilson, and it critiques a Celine Dion album. The one with the "Titanic" love theme on it. Well, kind of.

If you've been following posts and discussions around these parts recently ("Moviegoers Who Feel Too Much," "Are Movies Going to Pieces?," "Don't let this affect your opinion of Juno..."), you'll know why that title immediately grabbed my attention. And it's not because I'm a Celine Dion fan.

From a review by Sam Anderson in New York Magazine: Wilson’s real obsession here is not Céline but the thorny philosophical problem on which her reputation has been impaled: the nature of taste itself. What motivates aesthetic judgment? Is our love or hatred of “My Heart Will Go On” the result of a universal, disinterested instinct for beauty-assessment, as Kant would argue? Or is it something less exalted? Wilson tends to side with the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who argues that taste is never disinterested: It’s a form of social currency, or “cultural capital,” that we use to stockpile prestige. Hating Céline is therefore not just an aesthetic choice, but an ethical one, a way to elevate yourself above her fans—who, according to market research, tend to be disproportionately poor adult women living in flyover states and shopping at big-box stores. (As Wilson puts it, “It’s hard to imagine an audience that could confer less cool on a musician.”)

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Black humor: Stepin Fetchit to Richard Pryorto Tyler Perry (Part II)

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"We need to examine the history of blacks in film to appreciate their deep roots.... Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, the top comedy stars of the 80s, have a strange, subversive ancestor in Stepin Fetchit, America's first black millionaire actor." -- Richard Corliss, Time, "The 25 Most Important Films on Race"

See: "Stepin Fetchit to Denzel Washington (Part I )"

"Stepin Fetchit, then and now" by Jim Emerson (2005)

* * *

The day Clarence Thomas was nominated by George H.W. Bush for the Supreme Court, I was interviewing 23-year-old writer-director John Singleton about his upcoming movie "Boyz N the Hood" (1991). Singleton was sitting in front of a hotel-room TV tuned to CNN and the first words out of his mouth were: "He's the biggest Uncle Tom."

That memory came back again recently as I was reading Harvard Law Professor and Supreme Court bar member Randall Kennedy's book, "Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal." [1] Kennedy writes: Sometimes "Uncle Tom" is used interchangeably with "sellout." In a Washington Post profile of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, two journalists write that "Uncle Tom is among the most searing insults a black American can hurl at a member of his own race." They describe "Uncle Tom" as a "synonym for sellout, someone subservient to whites at the expense of his own people."

How to Act Black: "Black Acting School" from "Hollywood Shuffle" (see clip below).

This usage is ironic. The original Uncle Tom -- Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom -- was a character who chose death at the hand of his notorious owner, Simon Legree, rather than reveal the whereabouts of runaway slaves. Still there are those who use "Uncle Tom" to refer to any black whose actions, in their view, retard African-American advancement. Others are more discriminating. For many of them, the label "sellout" is more damning than "Uncle Tom" or kindred epithets -- "Aunt Thomasina," "Oreo," "snowflake," "handkerchief head," "white man's Negro," "Stepin Fetchit"....

View image The late Richard Pryor, All-African-American. Negative criticism of Pryor is usually limited to his acceptance of inferior material.

Of course, all those terms aren't synonymous, either. The name of Stepin Fetchit is nearly as well-known, and almost synonymous with "Uncle Tom" -- and that, too, may be somewhat ironic. Fetchit (born Lincoln Perry, 1902-1985) was a tremendously popular movie star with black and white audiences. But his act, on stage and screen, was also vilified for perpetuating a stereotype of African-American men as lazy, shuffling, bowing and scraping buffoon. (Other stereotypes of black men as pimps, gangstas, rapists, con artists, drug pushers/addicts, violent criminals, woman-abusers would come from elsewhere, and long outlive him.) He was admired and in many ways emulated by Muhammad Ali, with whom he converted to the Nation of Islam, and he was honored with an NAACP Image Award in 1976.

But how many people today have actually seen him in a movie?

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Stepin Fetchit to Denzel Washington (Part I)

View image Denzel Washington in "American Gangster" (2007).

Richard Corliss at Time presents his choices for "The 25 Most Important Films on Race. "The films span nine decades, and reveal a legacy that was tragic before it was triumphant." More about the list after the jump, but the following passage from RC's intro struck a chord with me: We need to examine the history of blacks in film to appreciate their deep roots. [Sidney] Poitier, [Will] Smith and Denzel Washington, all radiating a manly cine-magnetism, are the sons of Paul Robeson, who was the first great black movie star — or would have been, if Hollywood and America hadn't been steeped in racism. Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, the top comedy stars of the 80s, have a strange, subversive ancestor in Stepin Fetchit, America's first black millionaire actor.Both Corliss and Odie Henderson (aka Odienator) take personal approaches to examining black film history, and so far (Odie is on his 11th consecutive day of a month-long "Black History Mumf" series) they haven't even overlapped much. Odienator has written, analytically and often nostalgically, about the Hudlin Bros.' Kid 'n' Play comedy "House Party" (1990), "football players-turned-actors, "Schoolhouse Rock," actress Diana Sands," Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" (1988), Joseph Mankiewicz's "No Way Out," (1950) with Sidney Poitier and Richard Widmark, the opening credits of Spike Lee's "Crooklyn" (1994), "Sparkle" (1976), "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times" and the one with my favorite headline: One Drop of Black Cinema: Joel Schumacher. That's just the beginning.

Odienator has been concentrating on films that aren't necessarily in the traditional African-American Canon, but neither he nor Corliss have (so far) written about certain titles some might consider the obvious or officially sanctioned landmarks/classics: "Showboat" (1936), "Cabin in the Sky" (1942), "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "A Raisin in the Sun" (1961), "Lilies of the Field" (1963), "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), "Putney Swope" (1969), "Shaft" (1971), "Sounder" (1972), "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (TV, 1974), "The Color Purple" (1985), "New Jack City" (1991), "Malcolm X" (1992), "Crash" (2005)...

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Jerry Seinfeld: Bee society is very human, only more evolved

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Jerry Seinfeld has been known to enjoy the odd bungee jump, but dressing up like a bee and throwing himself off the roof of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes was new for him. This was last May. The studio attached a steel cable to the hotel, 130 feet in the air, and Jerry glided down to the photographers and bee-lovers below. It was a stunt to promote the new animated film, “Bee Movie,” which opens Friday.

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Richard Pryor: 1940-2005

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(Note from Roger Ebert: Cynthia, who now lives and works in Tucson, was a features writer at the Sun-Times in the 1970s, where our desks faced each other and we shared everything from coffee to the mysteries of the new computers. She sent me this after the death of Richard Pryor.)

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The 'Confederacy' conspiracy

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Q: I recently found out that David Gordon Green's film "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore, has been canceled. Green is one of my favorite directors and I have high hopes for his career. What is the story behind the cancellation and what will this do to his career? Jonathan Warner, Evanston

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Morgan Freeman: "Which me?"

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Morgan Freeman was tired. He said he hadn't been able to sleep all night. It was the end of the afternoon, and he was relaxed and unwound and in a stream-of-consciousness mood. We set in a Chicago hotel room with a coffee pot. I had come to talk about his new thriller, "Along Came A Spider," but the conversation poked into this corner and that, and took us to places I might not have asked about. Listen to him as he speaks:

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Yaphet Kotto: "Blue Collar"

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“You know where this movie goes?” Yaphet Kotto was asking. “It goes right past ‘On the Waterfront,' that's where it goes. Paul Shrader took that ‘Waterfront' myth and smashed it, that's what he did. I like this picture so much, I even went to see it. It's the first movie I've ever been in that I went to see.”

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