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Listen Up Philip

The terrific cast all delves into the material full-bore, which contributes to its peculiar resonance. Perry may hate everyone and everything, but in making a…

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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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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.

#143 November 21, 2012

Marie writes: When I first learned of "Royal de Luxe" I let out a squeal of pure delight and immediately began building giant puppets inside my head, trying to imagine how it would look to see a whale or dragon moving down the street..."Based in Nantes, France, the street theatre company Royal de Luxe performs around the world, primarily using gigantic, elaborate marionettes to tell stories that take place over several days and wind through entire cities. Puppeteers maneuver the huge marionettes - some as tall as 12 meters (40 ft) - through streets, parks, and waterways, performing their story along the way." - the Atlantic

(Click images to enlarge.)

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A last shot at redemption

"The Godfather Part III" is one of my favorite movies. I admit a personal obsession with the film that would have never existed had it simply been either good or bad. Some fans of the series clearly love to hate it; they equate Sofia Coppola's presence to that of Jar Jar Binks in the "Star Wars" trilogies, but I believe this is an over-simplification. "Part III" is an uneven picture that could and should have been great. That's what's maddening about it.

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#139 October 24, 2012

Marie writes: The countdown to Christmas officially begins the day after Halloween, which this year lands on a Wednesday. Come Thursday morning, the shelves will be bare of witches, goblins and ghosts; with snowmen, scented candles and dollar store angel figurines taking their place. That being the case, I thought it better to start celebrating early so we can milk the joy of Halloween for a whole week as opposed to biding adieu to the Great Pumpkin so soon after meeting up again...

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Charlatan, Louisiana

May Contain Spoilers

On Netflix Instant

Robert Duvall's "The Apostle" (1997) is the story of a preacher who believes he has unique permission to phone call the Divine. As is the case with such preachers, the rules of goodness and morality seem to apply to everyone else before they apply to him. Meaning, he is above the law until he gets frightened for breaking the law. So, his combination of impious exhilaration, impatient devotion, and self-righteous rage reveals a man in sunglasses, open palms, and fiery sermons, who plants trees while burning bridges. I love this movie as much as I despise its central character. This movie exists only because of its central character.

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#125 July 25, 2012

Marie writes: Once upon a time, a long time ago and in a childhood far, far away, kids used to be able to buy a special treat called a Frosted Malt. Then, with the arrival of progress and the subsequent destruction of all that is noble and pure, the world found itself reduced to settling for a frosty at Wendy's, at least where I live. Unable to support a "second rate" frosted malt for a second longer, I decided to do something about it!

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#123 July 11, 2012

Marie writes: club member Sandy Kahn has found some more auctions! Go here to download a free PDF copy of the catalog.

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Hemingway & Gellhorn: Corny and canny

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"Hemingway & Gellhorn (160 minutes) debuts on HBO May 28th, and will be available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand May 29th.

"If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it." -- Ernest Hemingway

by Odie Henderson Philip Kaufman's epic HBO movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" is old-fashioned, corny as hell and not above using cliché. None of these characteristics is necessarily a bad thing, especially if the filmmakers know they are employing them. This film evokes the rainy Sunday afternoon old-movie fare I grew up watching on TV, movies with a tough, macho hero, a smart, brassy dame and the undeniable chemistry between them. Kaufman updates the formula to modern times with belts of profanity and jolts of sex, but "Hemingway and Gellhorn" maintains the feeling of an era long since passed, wherein its leads could have been played by Gable and Harlow or Bogie and Betty Bacall.

The titular characters are Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn is widely considered one of the greatest war correspondents in journalism history, covering wars well into her 80's. Yet, she was constantly overshadowed by her more famous ex-husband. Theirs was a torrid affair, started while Hemingway was married to his Catholic second wife and continuing through their coverage of several wars. "We were good at wars," Gellhorn said, "and when there was no war, we made our own." The screenplay, by Barbara Turner ("Georgia") and Jerry Stahl ("Permanent Midnight") is filled with prose like this, and I enjoyed devouring every purple morsel of it. "Hemingway and Gellhorn" even opens with the now-elderly Gellhorn telling us what a lousy lay she was.

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#117 May 30, 2012

Marie writes: Recently, a fellow artist and friend sent me the following photos featuring amazing glass mosaics. She didn't know who the artists were however - and which set me off on a journey to find out!  I confess, the stairs currently continue to thwart me and thus remain a mystery, but I did uncover who created the "glass bottle doorway" and was surprised to learn both its location and the inspiration behind it. (click image.)

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"Hey, Boo": The private life of To Kill a Mockingbird

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"Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird" (82 minutes) premieres on the PBS series "American Masters" on Monday, April 2nd, at 10 p.m. (check local listings). The film is also available on-demand via Netflix and iTunes.

by Jeff Shannon

To Kill a Mockingbird was published on July 11th, 1960, and Harper Lee's first and only novel has been a publishing phenomenon ever since. Although its first printing by the venerable publishing house of J.B. Lippincott was a mere 5,000 copies, it was an immediate bestseller, and has consistently sold a million copies a year for over 50 years. It was a shoo-in for the Pulitzer Prize, and is frequently cited as the second-most beloved book of all time, after the Holy Bible. Some British librarians went a step further: In a 2006 poll, they ranked Mockingbird at the top, above the Bible, in a list of books "every adult should read before they die." Despite some early objections to its use of racial epithets (specifically the "N-word"), the novel has been required, if sometimes controversial, classroom reading for decades.

With its potent themes of racial injustice, inequality, courage, compassion and lost innocence in the noxiously segregated American South, Lee's novel preceded and fueled the civil rights movement that erupted in its wake. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that To Kill a Mockingbird is the most influential novel of the 20th century, considered by many to be America's national novel. The equally beloved, Oscar-winning 1962 film version -- famously adapted by Horton Foote and directed by Robert Mulligan -- was immediately embraced as an enduring classic worthy of its source material.

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Berlinale 2012: The tantalizing and the taboo

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What does it take to get your film into a world class festival? That's the question asked with gleeful irreverence by "The Woman in the Septic Tank," which screened at the recently concluded 2012 Berlinale, one of the world's foremost festivals. This hilarious satire of international art filmmaking finds two aspiring auteurs sitting in a Manila café, jealously regarding a rival's Facebook photos taken at the Venice film fest. They vow to devise the ultimate movie to win festival audiences and prizes: a single mother of five suffering in the slums is forced to sell her son to a rich pedophile. But like Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (1968), the project gets out of hand, and before we know it we're watching a musical version with the pedophile singing "Is this the boy / who'll bring me endless hours of joy?" It's one of many delightful detours taken by these filmmakers seeking the road to art house glory.

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The Clothes of Kay Corleone

May Contain Spoilers

Every and each year, I take a day to watch The Godfather trilogy back-to-back-to-back. If I manage to do that more than once a year, I feel even better about myself. I've been deeply in love with these films since I first discovered them so many years ago - and every time someone asks me what's my favorite movie (a question that a film critic hears quite often), I never hesitate before answering "The Godfather - all nine hours of it".

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#69 June 29, 2011

Marie writes: Allow me to introduce you to Bill and Cheryl. I went to Art school with Bill and met his significant other Cheryl while attending the graduation party; we've been pals ever since. None of which is even remotely interesting until you see where they live and their remarkable and eclectic collection of finds. (click to enlarge images.)

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Robert Duvall: "Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that"

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• Roger Ebert / August 25, 1983

They honored Robert Duvall the other night at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto, dedicating their annual Tribute to an actor's actor who is only now entering into stardom after two decades of great character performances.

Duvall was accompanied onstage by Gene Siskel and me, on a guided tour of clips from a lot of his best movies, and when we got to one of his key scenes in "The Godfather" (1971), you could have heard a pin drop.

The scene was the famous one where Duvall, as Tom Hagen, Don Corleone's trusted family lawyer, goes to Hollywood to persuade a studio boss to give Johnny Fontane, the mob-connected singer, a starring role in a movie. "Godfather" fans will recall that the sequence ends with the boss refusing Hagen's request, and waking up the next morning in the same bed with the severed head of his beloved racehorse.

Anyway, when the scene was over, Duvall got to talking about the film's director, Francis Coppola.

"It's not widely known that when Coppola made 'The Godfather,' the studio had a substitute director standing by at all times," Duvall said. "One false move and Francis would have been replaced. That was incredible pressure for him to work under. It's a great picture, but under the circumstances it's a miracle he even finished it. As for Francis himself, he's like a kid with an all-day sucker. He wants his Hollywood studio, and a vineyard in Northern California, and an apartment in Paris. He's a great director, but he loves all his toys."

All this could be checked out, at first hand, because Coppola himself was a surprise guest, lurking in the back of the theater. Wearing a Panama hat, he marched down the aisle, took a seat on the stage and shared his notions of acting, directing, Duvall and "The Godfather."

"That was a strange scene to show," Coppola said, "because in the long shot it isn't even Bobby. We shot Bobby's scenes on the East Coast, and for the West Coast exteriors we used a double."

"You can tell," Duvall said, "because he doesn't have my bow-legs."

Coppola and Duvall began remembering moments from "The Godfather," especially an early rehearsal dinner.

"I assembled the whole cast for a dinner at Pearl's restaurant in New York," Coppola said. "There they all were -- Brando eating everything in sight, and Pacino looking tragic, and Duvall doing his Brando imitations every time Marlon turned his back. It was like the Corleone family having dinner. It was that night I knew the picture would work."

After two more clips from "Godfather, Part Two," we viewed perhaps the most famous single scene Coppola or Duvall has ever been involved with: The beach landing in "Apocalypse Now" that begins with a flight of helicopters playing Richard Wagner over loudspeakers, and ends with Duvall's famous line: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It seems like . . . victory!"

"One take," Coppola said. "We did that scene in one take, the first take."

That made it all the more extraordinary, because the scene is not only an exercise in logistics, but a demonstration of physical courage. While jets thunder overhead, helicopters make close passes and shells go off within yards of Duvall, he remains totally unaffected. He doesn't even twitch an eyelash at the special effects explosions, and marches around on the sand talking obsessively about the great surfing beach he has just occupied.

"There wasn't any time to think," Duvall said. "I heard over the intercom that we only had the use of the jets for 20 minutes. One fly-by and that was it. I just got completely into the character, and if he wouldn't flinch, I wouldn't flinch."

As Duvall reviewed his career from "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1963) to "Tender Mercies" (1983), his acting approach was clearly revealed: He believes in giving himself over to the character. He talked about spending time with homicide cops before making "The Detective" (1968), and hanging out with good ol' boys from Texas to find his character, a country singer, for "Tender Mercies."

"Not to brag, but I got calls from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson telling me I had the character just right," he said.

Robert Duvall has long been known as an accomplished actor, but the range of his acting career was dramatized by the three-hour program. The scenes ranged from "True Grit" (he faced John Wayne in that great shoot-out in the mountain meadow) to "The Chase" (Duvall and Brando) to George Lucas' "THX 1138" (Duvall as a puzzled automaton) to Robert Altman's "MASH" (Duvall's love scene with Hot Lips) to "True Confessions" (Duvall as a cop, Robert DeNiro as his brother, a priest) and "The Great Santini" (Duvall as a military pilot who demands perfection from his family).

Two things stood out as the scenes marched past; Duvall never plays the same character twice, and he makes other actors look good. He brings a quality to his listening, his reactions, that charges a scene even when he's not talking.

One of the movies shown at Toronto was unfamiliar. It was "Tomorrow," a 1972 adaptation of a William Faulkner short story. The movie was never widely released, but Duvall says his performance in it, as a poor dirt farmer that loves and loses a woman and her child, is the one he likes best. "It's got the most of me in it," he said.

And what, at mid-career, what has he learned about acting? "Give yourself completely to the moment."

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100 Great Moments in the Movies

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Roger Ebert / April 23, 1995

For the centennial of cinema, 100 great moments from the movies:

Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind":

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Buster Keaton standing perfectly still while the wall of a house falls over upon him; he is saved by being exactly placed for an open window.

Charlie Chaplin being recognized by the little blind girl in "City Lights."

The computer Hal 9000 reading lips, in "2001: a Space Odyssey."

The singing of "La Marseillaise" in "Casablanca."

Snow White kissing Dopey Bashful on the head.

John Wayne putting the reins in his mouth in "True Grit" and galloping across the mountain meadow, weapons in both hands.

Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo," approaching Kim Novak across the room, realizing she embodies all of his obsessions - better than he knows.

The early film experiment proving that horses do sometimes have all four hoofs off the ground.

Gene Kelly singin' in the rain.

Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta discuss what they call Quarter Pounders in France, in "Pulp Fiction."

The Man in the Moon getting a cannon shell in his eye, in the Melies film "A Voyage to the Moon."

Pauline in peril, tied to the railroad tracks.

A boy running joyously to greet his returning father, in "Sounder."

Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock face in "Safety Last."

Orson Welles smiling enigmatically in the doorway in "The Third Man."

An angel looking down sadly over Berlin, in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire."

The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination: Over and over again, a moment frozen in time.

A homesick North African, sadly telling a hooker that what he really wants is not sex but couscous, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Fear Eats the Soul: Ali."

Wile E. Coyote, suspended in air.

Zero Mostel throwing a cup of cold coffee at the hysterical Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks' "The Producers," and Wilder screaming: "I'm still hysterical! Plus, now I'm wet!"

An old man all alone in his home, faced with the death of his wife and the indifference of his children, in Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story."

"Smoking." Robert Mitchum's response, holding up his cigarette, when Kirk Douglas offers him a smoke in "Out of the Past."

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg wading in the fountain in "La Dolce Vita."

The moment in Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" when a millionaire discovers that it was not his son who was kidnapped, but his chauffeur's son - and then the eyes of the two fathers meet.

The distant sight of people appearing over the horizon at the end of "Schindler's List."

R2D2 and C3PO in "Star Wars."

E.T. and friend riding their bicycle across the face of the moon.

Marlon Brando's screaming "Stella!" in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Hannibal Lecter smiling at Clarise in "The Silence of the Lambs."

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" The first words heard in the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer," said by Al Jolson.

Jack Nicholson trying to order a chicken salad sandwich in "Five Easy Pieces."

"Nobody's perfect": Joe E. Brown's last line in "Some Like It Hot," explaining to Tony Curtis why he plans to marry Jack Lemmon even though he is a man.

"Rosebud."

The shooting party in Renoir's "Rules of the Game."

The haunted eyes of Antoine Doinel, Truffaut's autobiographical hero, in the freeze frame that ends "The 400 Blows."

Jean-Paul Belmondo flipping a cigarette into his mouth in Godard's "Breathless."

The casting of the great iron bell in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev."

"What have you done to its eyes?" Dialogue by Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby."

Moses parting the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments."

An old man found dead in a child's swing, his mission completed, at the end of Kurosawa's "Ikiru."

The haunted eyes of the actress Maria Falconetti in Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc."

The children watching the train pass by in Ray's "Pather Panchali."

The baby carriage bouncing down the steps in Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin."

"Are you lookin' at me?" Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver."

"My father made them an offer they couldn't refuse:" Al Pacino in "The Godfather."

The mysterious body in the photographs in Antonioni's "Blow-Up."

"One word, Benjamin: plastics." From "The Graduate."

A man dying in the desert in von Stroheim's "Greed."

Eva Marie Saint clinging to Cary Grant's hand on Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest."

Astaire and Rogers dancing.

"There ain't no sanity clause!" Chico to Groucho in "A Night at the Opera."

"They call me Mr. Tibbs." Sidney Poitier in Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night."

The sadness of the separated lovers in Jean Vigo's "L'Atalante."

The vast expanse of desert, and then tiny figures appearing, in "Lawrence of Arabia."

Jack Nicholson on the back of the motorcycle, wearing a football helmet, in "Easy Rider."

The geometrical choreography of the Busby Berkeley girls.

The peacock spreading its tail feathers in the snow, in Fellini's "Amarcord."

Robert Mitchum in "Night of the Hunter," with "LOVE" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, and "HATE" on the other.

Joan Baez singing "Joe Hill" in "Woodstock."

Robert De Niro's transformation from sleek boxer to paunchy nightclub owner in "Raging Bull."

Bette Davis: "Fasten your seat belts; it's gonna be a bumpy night!" in "All About Eve."

"That spider is as big as a Buick!" Woody Allen in "Annie Hall."

The chariot race in "Ben-Hur."

Barbara Harris singing "It Don't Worry Me" to calm a panicked crowd in Robert Altman's "Nashville."

The game of Russian roulette in "The Deer Hunter."

Chase scenes: "The French Connection," "Bullitt," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Diva."

The shadow of the bottle hidden in the light fixture, in "The Lost Weekend."

"I coulda been a contender." Brando in "On the Waterfront."

George C. Scott's speech about the enemy in "Patton:" "We're going to go through him like crap through a goose."

Rocky Balboa running up the steps and pumping his hand into the air, with all of Philadelphia at his feet.

Debra Winger saying goodbye to her children in "Terms of Endearment."

The montage of the kissing scenes in "Cinema Paradiso."

The dinner guests who find they somehow cannot leave, in Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel."

A knight plays chess with Death, in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

The savage zeal of the Klansmen in Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation."

The problem of the door that won't stay closed, in Jacques Tati's "Mr. Hulot's Holiday."

"I'm still big! It's the pictures that got small!" Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."

"We're a long way from Kansas!" Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."

An overhead shot beginning with an entrance hall, and ending with a closeup of a key in Ingrid Bergman's hand, in Hitchcock's "Notorious."

"There ain't much meat on her, but what's there is choice." Spencer Tracy about Katharine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike."

The day's outing of the mental patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

"I always look well when I'm near death." Greta Garbo to Robert Taylor in "Camille."

"It took more than one night to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express."

"I'm walkin' here!" Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy."

W.C. Fields flinching as a prop man hurls handfuls of fake snow into his face in "The Fatal Glass of Beer."

"The next time you got nothin' to do, and lots of time to do it, come up and see me." Mae West in "My Little Chickadee."

"Top o' the world, Ma!" James Cagney in "White Heat."

Richard Burton exploding when Elizabeth Taylor reveals their "secret" in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Henry Fonda getting his hair cut in "My Darling Clementine."

"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" Alfonso Bedoya to Humphrey Bogart in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

"There's your dog. Your dog's dead. But there had to be something that made it move. Doesn't there?" Line from Errol Morris' "Gates of Heaven."

"Don't touch the suit!" Burt Lancaster in "Atlantic City."

Gena Rowlands arrives at John Cassavetes' house with a taxicab full of adopted animals, in "Love Streams."

"I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again." Jimmy Stewart to the angel in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embrace on the beach in "From Here to Eternity."

Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria, in "Do the Right Thing."

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning," dialogue by Robert Duvall, in "Apocalypse Now."

"Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above." Katharine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen."

"Mother of mercy. Is this the end of Rico?" Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar."

☑ Click to expand. Comments are open.

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#18 July 7, 2010

The grand Poobah writes: I have been assured by many posters on my video games blog entry that it took decades for the cinema to gain recognition as an art form. Untrue. Among the first to admire it was Leo Tolstoy, and I reprinted his late 19th-century reaction in my Book of Film. In 1908, Tolstoy and his family appeared in an early motion picture, and if you saw The Last Station (2009) you may want to compare your memories with the real thing. Here is some information about those in the film.

The Last Station (2009) Director Michael Hoffman. Cast: James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon."The Last Station" focuses on the last year of Count Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), a full-bearded Shakespearian figure presiding over a household of intrigues. The chief schemer is Chertkov (Giamatti), his intense follower, who idealistically believes Tolstoy should leave his literary fortune to the Russian people. It's just the sort of idea that Tolstoy might seize upon in his utopian zeal. Sofya (Helen Mirren), on behalf of herself and her children, is livid." - Ebert.   You can read Roger's full review HERE.

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Indie security alert level: Severe

Every year good films show at the Toronto Film festival that never open anywhere near you. This year some good films played that may never open anywhere, even if you live in Toronto--or New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin or upstairs over a Landmark Theater multiplex. Toronto is traditionally a lively marketplace for the purchase of film rights for new non-studio product: Indies, docs, foreign films. This year Harvey Weinstein paid $1 million for "A Single Man," and that was that. One sale, one movie, one million -- probably as little as Harvey has paid for a movie in some time.

Stands at yellow, rising toward orange

The makers of independent films don't have to send to learn for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for them. The bottom fell out of the market. That doesn't mean there were no other offers, but it means there were none that the sellers felt able to accept. It shows a collapse of confidence in the prospects of independent film distribution.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to Anne Thompson, who always knows what she's talking about. In her blog Thompson on Hollywood, she leads: "The old independent market is over." She quotes the producer Jonathan Dana: "It's a massacre. It's the end of funny money."

Thompson names a few of the films going home without deals, and it's depressing:

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Stark beauty, dark vision

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Q. In your review for "The Dark Knight," you say that the Joker is a product of his father's poor treatment, but that's just one story he uses to explain his scars. Another is that he did it for his wife, and Batman interrupts before he offers a -- most likely -- different story. I think the point was that he doesn't have a cause. Who's wrong here?

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Best and Worst Oscar Actors

View image Ernest Borgnine ("Marty"), Oscar-winner for Best Actor, 1955.

Edward Copeland announces the results of his third annual Oscar survey, this year devoted to the best and worst choices for Best Actor, 1927 - 2006. Survey participants chose Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hanks and Jeremy Irons among the best best actors, but guess for which films? Worst best actors included Dustin Hoffman, Russell Crowe, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

My own choices are below, after the jump...

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Dusty Cohl: In Memory

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Nobody ever seemed to know what Dusty Cohl did for a living. He was a lawyer, and it was said he was "in real estate," but in over 30 years I never heard him say one word about business. His full-time occupation was being a friend, and he was one of the best I've ever made.

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High rollers and lowlifes

James Bond (Daniel Craig) in "Casino Royale." With every move he makes, another chance he takes. Odds are...

What accounts for the movies' fascination with gambling? That's a question I mull over in a survey of pictures (from "Gilda" to "Barry Lyndon" to "Casino" to "California Split" to "The Cooler") about the addictive alchemy of luck, chance, fate and skill at MSN Movies. Making a movie is itself a grand gamble. You never know how it's going to turn out, and the results have as much to do with circumstance as they do with talent or craftsmanship. An excerpt from "High Rollers": Gambling does not rank among the "seven deadly sins." It doesn't have to. Just about all the capital vices can be found in the psyche of the gambler, and not just in the usual suspects, greed and envy. There's also plenty of room for gluttony (overindulgence, addiction, substance abuse); wrath (rage, vindictiveness); sloth (indifference, jadedness, existential apathy); lust (licentiousness, dissolution); and, the deadliest of all sins: pride (hubris, arrogance, usually expressed in the form of cheating, or a misplaced belief in a dubious "system" designed to beat the odds).

The grandest "Casino Royale" -- the ultimate gamble -- is, of course, the game of life itself: a series of cosmic wagers in which the stakes vary wildly from day to day, bet to bet. Some people seem to go "all in" all the time, some ante up just enough to get them through each hand they're dealt, and others are perpetual folders who try to opt out of the game entirely in order to avoid risking too much.

But since the time of Oedipus the central question has always been: How much of the outcome is governed by free will and how much by predestination? The answer depends on the (rigged?) nature of the game you're playing, and whether the winners and losers are predetermined, either by some higher interventionist power (appeased by superstitious rites, such as blowing on dice or disingenuously proclaiming the need for new footwear for one's tot), or by a simple calculation of the odds that invariably favor "the house."

Although one can only play the hand one is dealt, a poker or blackjack player retains a small degree of influence over his fate, as some game variables are subject to decision-making based on statistical knowledge and experience. Those who gamble on a roll of the dice or a spin of the wheel, however, rely on pure chance. Or, as it is known in gaming circles, "luck."

The odds of winning are never better than 50-50 (red or black in roulette), which is why most gambling stories -- and gambling movies -- are either about chance, or about cheating. As in the 1946 classic film noir, "Gilda," with Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth, these tales are of the men and women who learn to "make their own luck."

The only way to increase your luck without trickery is with skill -- by learning to read the odds based on the cards that have already been played, or by learning to read the people who play them. In Curtis Hanson's new "Lucky You," hot-headed poker player Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) has to learn how to do both if he wants to woo songstress Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore). As his father, L.C. (Robert Duvall), tells him: "You've got it backwards, kid. You play cards the way you should live life, and you live life the way you should play cards."

That's the lesson movie gamblers are always trying to learn. Everybody has a "tell" -- a little unconscious tic that reveals when they're bluffing. In David Mamet's "House of Games," renowned psychoanalyst Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) thinks she understands human behavior until she is schooled by Mike (Joe Mantegna) in the ways of gamblers and con men who avoid being understood. The big gamble comes down to a matter of pride -- and the skill and intuition to fool the other players.

In the most recent "Casino Royale" film, the hubris of James Bond (Daniel Craig) costs him a high stakes game, and nearly costs him his life. Every scene in the movie involves a bet, a bluff, or a calculated risk. Whether the game is espionage, romance, the stock market, or poker, the rules are basically the same: Outwit, outplay and outlast your opponents....

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Kevin Costner back in the saddle again

Kevin Costner's new Western is about "what kind of person you are when you look around and no one is watching," he says. It's called "Open Range," it opens Friday, and Costner directs. He won an Oscar for directing "Dances with Wolves," and again turns to the post-Civil War West for his setting.

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