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Winter Sleep

The running time of his new picture Winter Sleep, three hours and change, suggests weight, but at it happens, this movie struck me as both…

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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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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.

Noir at its nastiest: The Killer Inside Me

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Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's "The Killer Inside Me" is one of the deepest, darkest films noir ever made -- an unflinchingly nasty, nihilistic piece of work that pulls no punches, literally or figuratively. This is what noir is all about: facing the worst possibilities of human nature, a bottomless sense of dread that makes you feel like you're drowning in fetid bog of blood (see "Macbeth"). And it's all your fault, the undeniable consequences of following your own overpowering desires, of making your own messy mistakes. And maybe some rotten luck -- the kind you invariably bring on yourself.

Not that we totally identify with our deadpan sociopathic narrator and main character, but that's precisely what happens to Lou Ford, the clean-cut young deputy sheriff of Central City, Texas, (Casey Affleck, in another masterful performance to rank with his work in "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford"), a small-town psycho with a taste for compulsive, 1950s pulp sadism (really dirty, dangerous stuff -- let's say S&M without the safe word). One murder becomes necessary to cover the previous one until Lou is stepp'd in blood so far that, should he wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.

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The Telluride Widget!

Werner Herzog is a regular. One time I met a man in a cowboy hat on Main Street and he was Jimmy Stewart. I saw Andre Tarkovsky and Richard Widmark exchange shots on the Sheridan Opera House stage (though not on the same night). Krzysztof Zanussi translated forTarkovsky and showed his miraculous "Imperativ." Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern strolled around town, hand-in hand, wearing matching seafoam green outfits and white shoes the year of "Blue Velvet." I was greeted heartily by Crispin Glover, who momentarily mistook me for director Tim Hunter ("River's Edge," "Tex"). I bowed down and kissed Hannah Schygulla's hand....

Continued below, after jump...

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Ebert's back in the saddle!

View image Roger Ebert at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival. (photo by jim emerson)

In the middle of the week, while I was away at the Conference on World Affairs so beloved by Roger Ebert, I got my first e-mail (via Treo) from Roger since he underwent his latest surgery January 24. He said he was "Back in the saddle." The next e-mail, hours later, contained an obit/tribute for Charlton Heston and Richard Widmark. Ebert does not waste time.

Sunday's New York Times features a appreciation of Roger's return by A.O. Scott who, as he so often does with movies, gets right to the heart of his subject ("Roger Ebert: The Critic Behind the Thumb"): For his loyal readers Mr. Ebert’s resumption of reviewing (April 1 happened to be the 41st anniversary of his debut in The Sun-Times) is a chance to pick up an interrupted conversation. For those who labor beside or behind him in the vineyards of criticism it is an incitement to quit grousing and pick up the pace.

Not that any of us could hope to match his productivity. Nor could we entertain the comforting fantasy that the daunting quantity of the man’s work — four decades of something like six reviews a week, as well as festival reports, learned essays on classic films and the occasional profile — must entail a compromise in quality. As A. J. Liebling said of himself, nobody who writes faster can write better, and nobody better is faster. The evidence is easy enough to find: in the Web archive, in his indispensable annual movie guides and in a dozen other books.

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The Telluride legend of Richard Widmarkand the art of entertainment

View image Richard Widmark, straight shooter.

You may have heard some version of this story about Richard Widmark, who died last week at age 93. I was there, at the Telluride Film Festival in 1983 when it happened, in the Sheridan Opera House for the tributes to Andrei Tarkovsky and Widmark. Emotions were heightened, perhaps, not only by the thin mountain atmosphere, but but by a terrifying Cold War showdown between Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan's USA (I don't know which scared me more at the time) over the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which we didn't learn about until we got to Telluride. Things were chilly up there.

The emotions associated with my memories are indelible, even if their precision has faded. But the gist of what Richard Widmark said that weekend, and the eloquence with which he said it, will always stay with me. Shortly after Widmark's death, I contacted Gary Meyer, director of the Telluride Film Festival (whom I'd known as co-founder of Landmark Theatres), to see if Widmark's tribute speech was transcribed anywhere, because I would love to reprint it. Those were relatively early days for the Telluride festival (which began in 1974 and seemed much more remote than it is now) and Gary couldn't find any record of the speech, which I remember Widmark reading from notes he produced from his jacket pocket. But he did find some 1983 press coverage, from which I have pieced together the following "story."

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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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The Ultimate Movie Quiz (and Free Personality Inventory!)

The Van Helsing Quiz at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

Some of you thought my "101 102 Movies You Must See Before You Die" list was a little too, well, rigorous. I still think it only covers the basics of what you need to have seen (and appreciated) in order to hold your own in intelligent conversations about movies these days. Maybe that makes me (shudder) an "elitist." Ahem. I think it just means I have standards.

But whether you find my list off-putting or not, you may enjoy "The Van Helsing Quiz" over at one of my favorite personal movie blogs, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, which you will also find in my permanent list of favored links in the column at right.

Owner/proprietor Dennis Cozzalio posted the quiz itself back in April. There, you can see it in its un-filled form. But a month later, Cozzalio himself submitted to the quiz, and his answers are even more entertaining and provocative than the naked quiz.

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Sundance #6: The talent among us

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PARK CITY, Utah -- There's a man named Andrew Wagner who lives in the same condo where I'm staying at Sundance. At least, I think he does, although he seems to spend a great deal of his time hanging around outside the door. Three times I have encountered him there, and heard his pitch for "The Talent Given Us," the movie he has directed in this year's Sundance festival.

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Interview with Jerry Paris

"You name it, I played it," said Jerry Paris. "I was the co-pilot, the best friend, the roommate, the Army buddy. In three movies, I was second banana to Bonzo the monkey. Remember Bonzo? He was the number one monkey in Hollywood, bigger even than Cheetah the Chimp, until he was killed in a tragic fire. Let's see. I was in 'Bonzo Goes to College,' and in 'Monkey Business,' and another one. 'Monkey Business,' also had Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant, but as I recall Bonzo got equal billing.

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