In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

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John Wick

The film breathes exhilarating life into its tired premise, thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals and–most importantly–a vintage anti-hero performance from Keanu Reeves.

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Low Down

Preiss' movie does a consistently excellent job of explaining the lure of jazz, and the psychology of addicts, their enablers and their children, without explaining…

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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.

Why we love zombies

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I made a wisecrack recently that, as far as I can tell, the zombies on AMC's "The Walking Dead" are metaphors for zombies. (Fortunately the show has the sense to hire guest stars like my friend Scott Wilson to add a human dimension to the endless splatter.) Another wise and talented friend, Kathleen Murphy, wrote something about the undying appeal -- and flesh-creeping significance -- of zombies a few years back that, unfortunately, can no longer be found on the web. But she was kind enough to send me the introduction ("It's alive!"), which I happily resurrect from the abyss for you here. Dig in:

Back to back, belly to belly I don't give a damn, I done dead already Oho back to back, belly to belly At the Zombie Jamboree

by Kathleen Murphy

In the hierarchy of horror movies, zombies usually come in dead last, behind glam monsters like vampires and demons, witches and werewolves. Ambulatory corpses are rarely pleasant to look at, and it's devilishly difficult to project personality through all that putrefaction, what with your fleshy bits constantly dropping off. Mostly zombies just shamble and chomp, activity that falls somewhat short of the meat-and-potatoes of high-class drama. 

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Blackie come home

Every time I see a dog in a movie, I think the same thing: I want that dog. I see Skip or Lucy or Shiloh and for a moment I can't even think about the movie's plot. I can only think about the dog. I want to hold it, pet it, take it for walks, and tell it what a good dog it is. I want to love it, and I want it to love me. I have an empty space inside myself that can only be filled by a dog.

Not a cat. I have had cats and I was fond of them, fonder than they ever were of me. But what I want is unconditional love, and therefore I want a dog. I want to make its life a joy. I want to scratch behind its ears, and on its belly when it rolls over. I want to gently extend its tail so the dog can tell it's a fine tail indeed. I want to give it a shampoo, and sneak it bites from the table, and let it exchange the news with other dogs we meet on the street. I want it to bark at the doorbell, be joyous to see my loved ones, shake hands, and look concerned if I seem depressed. If I throw a ball I want the dog to bring back the ball and ask me to throw it again.

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Siskel & Ebert at the Jugular

What does it feel like to resemble the Phantom of the Opera? You learn to live with it. I've never concerned myself overmuch about how I looked. I got a lot of practice at indifference during my years as the Michelin Man.

Yes, years before I acquired my present problems, I was not merely fat, but was universally known as "the fat one," to distinguish me from "the thin one," who was Gene Siskel, who was not all that thin, but try telling that to Gene:

"Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."

"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy," I observed.

"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm," Gene said. "Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"

The real Phantom: Lon Chaney in 1925

"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from 'Saturday Night Fever,'" I said.

"Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?" asked Buzz the floor director. "Enquiring minds want to know."

"He wanted to wear it today," I said, "but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."

"Ba-ba-ba-boom !" said Buzz.

"Here's an item that will interest you, Roger," Gene told me one day, paging through the Sun-Times, his favorite paper, during a lull in the taping of our show. We taped in CBS Chicago's Studio One, home of the Kennedy-Nixon debate.

"It says here, the Michelin Man has been arrested in a fast food court in Hawaii for attempting to impersonate the Pillsbury Dough Boy."

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You wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin'

That's the hard-boiled Dragline, speaking of Cool Hand Luke.

After she read my obituary of Paul Newman, my wife Chaz asked me, "Why didn't you write more about his acting?" She was right. Why didn't I? I've been asking myself that. Maybe I was trying to tell myself something. I think it was this: I never really thought of him as an actor. I regarded him more as an embodiment, an evocation, of something. And I think that something was himself. He seemed above all a deeply good man, who freed himself to live life fully and joyfully, and used his success as a way to follow his own path, and to help others.

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A Fan's Notes

I don't usually do this (and have no intention of making a habit of it), but I wanted to share a couple of appreciations of Roger Ebert, on the occasion of his first public appearance (at his Overlooked Film Festival, aka Ebertfest) since complications from surgery last July. I know Roger doesn't want me to turn this or RogerEbert.com into a big bouquet of flowers for him -- but let's just take a moment to celebrate his return to public life (and more reviewing!). Over the last ten months or so, many have written, in public and private, about what Roger and his writing have meant to them, and two recent notes struck me as especially eloquent.

The first is from Ted Pigeon, whose blog The Cinematic Art is a favorite of mine. (Check out his piece about critics and blockbusters, too.) Ted begins by observing: Like so many young film lovers, I first discovered my love of film criticism through Roger's engaging and intelligent movie reviews. His work showed me that film criticism is important, that it can be the source of great feeling and knowledge of cinema, and that criticism is essential to the advancement of cinema as an art form. It is a necesary companion to the experience of watching films for those who care deeply about films.The other piece was e-mailed to me by Peter Noble-Kuchera of Bloomington, Indiana, who recently attended Ebertfest. With Peter's permission, I'm publishing his entire article after the jump. This paragraph really resonated with me:To know Ebert by his TV show is not to know him at all. You have to read him. He was the first film critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and one of only three ever to have been so acknowledged. He is the only American critic to review virtually every film in major release. His essays, while without the crabby flashiness of Pauline Kael’s, are marked by the groundedness of a Midwesterner, exacting writing, deep insights, and more than that, deep compassion. More than any critic, Ebert seems to understand that the movies are made by people who, with all their flaws, were trying to make a good film. He is a tireless champion of small movies of worth, and no critic has done more to leverage his influence in order to bring those films to the attention of America.As I've said many times before, it wasn't until I started reading (hundreds, thousands) of Roger's reviews when I was the editor of the Microsoft Cinemania CD-ROM movie encyclopedia in the mid-1990s that I came to appreciate what terrific critic and writer the man really is. I feel more strongly than ever about that after three and a half years as the founding editor of RogerEbert.com. He's so very much more than the sum of this thumbs.

The rest of Peter's report (lightly edited) below...

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"We can't stop the dancing chicken!": Ebertfest photos #2

View image David Bordwell (who needs no introduction to readers of Scanners), Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, and Werner Herzog discuss Herzog's "Stroszek."

"Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you'll know. It's the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world." -- Werner Herzog

I could listen to Werner Herzog talk all night. And I have. (See this transcript from Ebertfest 2005, for example.) Watching the marvelous "Stroszek" (I think of it as Herzog's Fassbinder movie), with Werner, as everyone calls him, seated in the audience two rows behind me, the famous dancing chicken at the end reminded of the quote above. ("Stroszek" has one of the great final lines in movies: "We have a 10-80 out here, a truck on fire, we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off and we can't stop the dancing chicken. Send an electrician. We're standing by..." Those of us who are not waiting for Godot are indeed waiting for the electrician, or someone like him...)

View image The vibe you get from this picture perfectly captures what Ebertfest feels like. Here, David Bordwell shows off his midnight-hour chocolate-banana shake at the Steak 'n Shake (yes, there's only one apostrophe in that). Somehow, when he began drinking it, he got the banana and the chocolate to stay separate on either side of the plastic straw, too. These are the things that make life worth living. (You see, the chocolate represents the movies and the banana represents the people and Roger is the glass and Chaz is the whipped cream and cherry on top and...)

Later I asked Herzog if he had changed his mind about chickens, dancing or otherwise. "I only like eating them," he said. In response, I naturally quoted a great exchange from "Chinatown":

Noah Cross (John Huston), peering at a fish on J.J. Gittes's plate: I hope you don't mind. I believe they should be served with the head.

J..J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson): As long as you don't serve the chicken that way.

View image Writer Anna Thomas ("El Norte") interviews Prof. Samba Gadjigo (director of "The Making of Moolade"), actress Fatoumata Coulibaly, and actress/activist Marcia McBroom-Small ("Beyond the Valley of the Dolls") for "Moolade."

I also asked Herzog if he'd seen Michael Winterbottom's fantastic bio-comedy about the Manchester music scene, "24 Hour Party People" (perhaps second only to "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" among my favorite films of the new millennium -- and the one I've enjoyed re-watching the most), in which the lead singer of Joy Division commits suicide with the last scene of "Stroszek" playing on television in the background. Herzog said he'd heard about it, but hadn't seen the movie. Well, he has something to look forward to.

View image Filmmaker Eric Byler ("charlotte sometimes") and actor Scott Wilson ("Come Early Morning") -- both Eberfest vets.

If you'd like to listen to part of the discussion between Herzog, David Bordwell and Michael Barker (a low-fi MP3 recording made on my Treo 680 -- have I mentioned how much I love my Treo 680, the life-changing "TiVo" of handheld gadgets?), click here.

It was remarkable to see how the Angry Young Herzog I remember from the '70s and '80s (in Seattle and especially Telluride) has evolved into such a congenial elder statesman. As his friend Paul Cox (who cast Herzog to play the father in "Man of Flowers," a film he described as being about "male loneliness") lamented technology (Cox is irrationally terrified of computers and cell phones), and proclaimed the imminent end of mankind's time on Earth, Herzog was more genial and philosophical. Yes, he said, it may be our turn to become extinct, like many species before us, but that's no reason to be "gloomy" in the time we have left: "Let's keep making films and treasuring friendships and drinking beers."

(When Cox, who spoke of women almost as if they were another species -- claiming they were "closer to the soil" in a way that made them sound almost bovine -- said that he couldn't think of any films about "female loneliness," Kristin Thompson came up with three masterpieces off the top of her head: Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Blue," Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman," and Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Gertrud.")

OK, now a few more pictures from Ebertfest 2007, after the jump...

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My Ebertfest 2007 photo blog #1

Director and longtime Ebert favorite Werner Herzog ("Stroszek") visits with Roger before the noon Sunday screening of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

An experience like Ebertfest 2007 is beyond my capacity to convey in words -- and I'm not just talking about the movies. At one point I asked Roger if he was having as much fun as I was. He wrote on his pad: "The time of my life!" Sitting in his recliner in the back row of the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL, (his customary spot -- but this time with cushier accommodations and more legroom) he sure looked like he was having a blast. The rest of us had a fine time, too, as I hope you will see from these photos I took...

View image Roger Ebert listens to Chaz's introduction at the opening night reception.

View image Chaz Ebert introduces her husband to the opening night crowd from the stage of the Virginia Theatre.

View image Roger with "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" star Marcia McBroom-Small (Petronella, aka "Pet").

View image The crowd is in the house and all is quiet outside, just before "La Dolce Vita" hit the screen Friday night.

View image Werner und Ich. (photo by Eric Byler -- with my camera)

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"This is where he wanted to be, this is where he is..."

Roger and Chaz Ebert on opening night. Roger gets his own La-Z-Boy recliner in the back of the Virginia for the duration of the fest! (Thompson-McLellan photo)

Three cheers for Roger Ebert, for the 9th Overlooked Film Festival (aka Ebertfest, now in progress) and for technology! I wrote and filed the following story for Thursday's Sun-Times, sitting on the stairs to the balcony in the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL, Wednesday night -- between 7:30 and 8:30. Had my PowerBook G4, which I typed on. Then transferred the story (via synch) to my Treo 680, and wirelessly e-mailed it to the paper in Chicago. More about Ebertfest soon -- I'm kind of in the middle of things, and I'm waiting to borrow a cable or card reader to retrieve my own photos; for some reason mine can't read the XD card....

"It's my happening and it freaks me out!" said Chaz Ebert on behalf of her husband, Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, on stage at opening night of the ninth Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign-Urbana. The line (memorably quoted by Mike Myers in the first "Austin Powers" movie) is from the Ebert-penned screenplay for Russ Meyer's 1970 cult classic "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," which is among the titles in this year's festival.

It was Ebert's first public appearance since he suffered complications from surgery last June, and it brought down the full house at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. As he announced in a message featured in the Sun-Times and on his web site (rogerebert.com) Tuesday, Ebert is not able to speak now, pending further surgery, so Chaz had to do the talking for him. As Ebert wrote on a pad before the screening, "After we go onstage, Chaz will read one line from me that will say it ALL."

View image Jim Emerson, Boy Reporter, at Roger's first public appearance -- a reception at the house of U of Illinois President Joseph White (and his wife Mary and dog Webster) Wednesday night. Roger's head is in the lower left; Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribute is also comfortably seated on the floor at the right. (Thompson-McLellan photo)

Chaz recounted how the festival was nearly cancelled late last year, when Ebert was in the hospital and the pace of his recovery was uncertain. But Festival Director Nate Kohn visited Ebert in his Chicago hospital room with a message from Mary Susan Britt, the festival's Associate Director: "The festival passes sold out in a little over a week in November. You have to get out of that hospital bed and come down to Champaign-Urbana."

"At that moment," Chaz said, "Roger made a commitment. If it was at all possible, he would be here tonight.... This is where he wanted to be, this is where he is, this is where he's staying," she said, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.

Through his wife, Ebert reminded the audience of the personal importance of Champaign's Virginia Theatre, the restored movie palace in which the Ebertfest films are screened. "I saw 'Gone With the Wind' here, and my father saw the Marx Brothers on this very stage."

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Ebertfest '07: "It's his happening and it freaks him out!"

Supergroup: The Carrie Nations jam with the Strawberry Alarm Clock in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." The latter band will also perform at Ebertfest '07, after a screening of the film.

Set your Strawberry Alarm Clocks: The annual spring ritual of Roger Ebert's Film Festival in Urbana-Champaign (now in its ninth year) runs April 24 -29, 2007, at the gorgeous old Virginia Theatre. The name of the fest has always been rather flexible: "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival," "The Overlooked" (sounding like something from "The Shining"), "Ebertfest"... Next year, the event will been officially re-named: Ebertfest -- the Roger Ebert Film Festival.

The tradition of appreciating "overlooked" films (by any criteria Ebert chooses to apply) continues, however. The festival will climax with a closing-day screening of Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (screenplay by Ebert himself) and a live performance by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the psychedelic rock band featured in the film (and in Jack Nicholson's 1968 "Psych-Out," as well).

Roger Ebert will be there, introducing the festival and watching the films with the audience, but because he's still recuperating from surgery, will rely on an "expert group of colleagues" to conduct the on-stage interviews this year.

Other guests of the fest will include Werner Herzog (appearing with "Stroszek," Paul Cox (director of "Man of Flowers"), actress Fatoumata Coulibaly ("Moolaade"), writer-director Joey Lauren Adams and festival favorite, actor Scott Wilson ("Come Early Morning"), director Andrew Davis ("Holes"), film scholars David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Samba Gadjido, musician Jim White, producer/distributor Michael Barker (Sony Classics), and plenty more.

The 13 films featured in this year's Ebertfest are listed below, with titles linking to Ebert's original reviews of the films, where applicable. Other blurbs come from the festival's official web site, where the complete schedule and details can be found: www.ebertfest.com.

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Attack of the Giant Amphibian!

"Run away! Run away!"

From my review of "The Host" on RogerEbert.com: A horror thriller, a political satire, a dysfunctional family comedy, and a touching melodrama, Bong Joon-ho's "The Host" is also one helluva monster movie. It's the recombinant offspring of all those science-fiction pictures of the 1950s and '60s in which exposure to atomic radiation (often referred to as both "atomic" and "radiation") or hazardous chemicals (sometimes also radioactive) results in something very large and inhospitable: "Them!" (giant ants), "Tarantula" (giant spider), "Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People" (giant fungi), "The Amazing Colossal Man" (giant bald guy), "The Giant Behemoth" (giant behemoth -- both giant and a behemoth, but more precisely a radioactive ocean-dwelling Godzilla clone), "Frankenstein Conquers the World" (giant Frankenstein's monster atomically regenerated from the beating heart of the original monster after the A-bomb is dropped on Hiroshima), and so on.

In "The Host" (a k a "Gwoemul"), the mutagen is a simple aldehyde, HCHO (possibly even a radioactive variety). The movie opens in the year 2000 at the Yongsan U.S. Army base in Seoul, where an American mortician (the always superb Scott Wilson, clearly having fun) orders a Korean subordinate to dump dusty bottles of "dirty formaldehyde" into the sink ... which empties into the Han River. When the underling objects, the American insists, "The Han River is very... broad, Mr. Kim. Let's try to be broad-minded about this." Had Al Gore been present, he would have made a persuasive counter-argument with colorful charts and graphs about the dangers of poisoning our fragile planet, but an order is an order, so down the drain the noxious stuff goes.

(This scene is based on a notorious incident involving Albert McFarland, an American civilian mortician at the Yongsan military base, who in 2000 ordered his staff to pour 120 liters of formaldehyde into the morgue's plumbing. Although the chemicals passed through two treatment plants before reaching the Han, source of Seoul's drinking water, the scandal sparked an anti-American uproar in South Korea.)

At the movie's center is the Park family, a clan no less eccentric than the Hoovers of "Little Miss Sunshine." (Think "Little Miss Sashimi.")...

The creature -- just like (spoiler warning) the Moroccan kids who accidentally shoot the American employer of the Mexican nanny with the rifle formerly belonging to the Japanese businessman with the deaf daughter who is sexually provocative in "Babel" (end of spoiler warning) -- unknowingly precipitates an international incident. And in the ensuing pandemonium, the Parks are forced to fend for themselves....

Continued at RogerEbert.com...

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Call him "Mr. Contrarian"

Latest Contrarian Week News:

In his New York Observer year-end wrap-up (and ten-best list), Andrew Sarris attempts to steal the thunder of one of his New York "alternative weekly" rivals.

Sarris writes: Fortunately, modern technology makes it almost impossible for a good movie to get “lost” because of end-of-the-year mental exhaustion. So, with the proviso that I still have a great deal of catching up to do, here are my considered choices for the various 10-best categories, and one of my patented 10-worst lists under the provocative heading of “Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t.” I am not at all deterred in dishing out my annual supply of negativity by the correspondent who informed me last year that he preferred all the films on my 10-worst list to all the films on my 10-best list. I have long ago become resigned to my fate as a reviled revisionist ever since my first column in The Village Voice in 1960 hailed Alfred Hitchcock as a major artist for "Psycho," and inspired more hate mail than any Voice column had received up to that time. That clinched my job at the ever-contrarian Voice, and I have simply gone on from there.So, how contrarian is the "reviled revisionist" 46 years later? Let's see:

"The Departed" as best film of the year. (Only in New York!)

"Blood Diamond" as #5.

Best Supporting Actresses: 1) Jennifer Connelly, "Blood Diamond" 2) Gong Li, "Miami Vice" 3) Maggie Gyllenhaal, "World Trade Center"

And then there's this: Other striking male performances were provided by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin and Anthony Anderson in The Departed; Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber and Toby Jones in The Painted Veil; Wim Willaert in When the Sea Rises; Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths in Venus; Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Inside Man; Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shido Nakamura in Letters from Iwo Jima; Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine; Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell in The Illusionist; Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Gregg Edelman and Ty Simpkins in Little Children; Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer and Dylan Walsh in The Lake House; Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena and Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center; Tim Blake Nelson, Pat Corley, Jeffrey Donovan, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson in Come Early Morning; Ryan Gosling and Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson; Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, and Danny Huston in Marie Antoinette; Matt Damon, Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Ivanir and Joe Pesci in The Good Shepherd; Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones and Ben Foster in X-Men: The Last Stand; Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Simon Abkarian, Sebastien Foucan, Jesper Christensen and Tobias Menzies in Casino Royale; Ebru Ceylan and Mehmet Eryilmaz in Climates; Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck and Bob Hoskins in Hollywoodland; Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Hinton Battle in Dreamgirls; Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Trevor Fehrman, Kevin Smith and Jason Lee in Clerks II; Justin Kirk and Jamie Harrold in Flannel Pajamas; Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Adrian Grenier in The Devil Wears Prada; Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hulce in Stranger Than Fiction; Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Sam Jones III and Brian Presley in Home of the Brave; Harris Yulin, Ty Burrell and Boris McGiver in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore and Nick Swardson in Art School Confidential; Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Alec Baldwin in Running with Scissors; Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Ciarán Hinds, Justin Theroux, Barry Shabaka Henley, Luis Tosar and John Ortiz in Miami Vice; Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam and Tim McMullan in The Queen; Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Anthony Mackie, Marlon Sherman and Clarke Peters in Freedomland; Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Raul Esparza in Find Me Guilty; Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley in Lucky Number Slevin; Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Chris Klein, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Cho, Tony Yalda, Sam Golzari and Willem Dafoe in American Dreamz; Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane in A Scanner Darkly; Adam Beach, Ryan A. Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, John Benjamin Hickey, Jon Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker and Robert Patrick in Flags of Our Fathers; Chow Yun-Fat in Curse of the Golden Flower; Sergi López, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo and Federico Luppi in Pan’s Labyrinth; Bill Nighy in Notes on a Scandal.Take that, A----- W----!

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TIFF: Monsters & suicide

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TORONTO -- "The Host" (2007) (or "Gue-mool," which sounds better) is a South Korean monster movie in which a mutant amphibious creature swims beneath the Han River, scampers among the girders beneath its bridges, prowls its sewers, and occasionally leaps onto its banks to grab some human souvenirs. The creature is just doing whatever it's bred -- or mutated -- to do, but the monsters who created it, and who mischaracterize the nature of the threat, thereby making the thing practically impossible to catch or contain, are Americans -- portrayed as the world's most aggressive exporter of bureaucratic incompetence and misinformation.

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TIFF: Monsters

Take me to the river, drop me in the water...

"The Host" (or "Gue-mool," which sounds better) is a South Korean monster movie in which a mutant amphibious creature swims beneath the Han River, scampers among the girders beneath its bridges, prowls its sewers, and occasionally leaps onto its banks to grab some human souvenirs. The creature is just doing whatever it's bred -- or mutated -- to do, but the monsters who created it, and who mischaracterize the nature of the threat, thereby making the thing practically impossible to catch or contain, are Americans -- portrayed as the world's most aggressive exporter of bureaucratic incompetence and misinformation.

In the first scene, set in 2000, a U.S. military official in scrubs (Scott Wilson -- setting the funny/horrific tone for the entire movie) directs a reticent Korean subordinate to empty potently toxic chemicals into the Han. After all, it's a big river. By the end of the film, a Senate investigating committee finds that the U.S. bungled the whole thing, and then compounded the damage by covering it up. Imagine.

Of course, the lives affected by this particular adventure in imperialistic hysteria aren't Americans, but Koreans -- in particular, the comically fractured Park family whose patriarch runs a riverside refreshment stand. On the political as well as the horror/science-fiction level, this time it's personal. The marvelous creature (part squid, part gecko, part salamander, part sandworm, part vagina dentata, created by San Francisco's The Orphanage), snatches the youngest Park (a uniformed schoolgirl of 13), and the rest of the clan reunites to avenge her.

Director Bong Joon-ho shifts tones with quicksilver dexterity, cannily keeping the audience (and the film) just on the edge of losing its balance and splashing into the Han. Humor turns to horror and back again in a flash, while generic requirements are both fulfilled and cleverly overturned. Even the pathos works, because it's a little bit cock-eyed. How does the movie do all this? Must be something in the water...

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Overlooked Film Festival, Take 8

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Some films are born overlooked. Others have it thrust upon them. Among this year's festival entries, "Ripley's Game" has never had a theatrical release in the United States, and "Duane Hopwood" had a release so spotty it seemed designed to hide the film. Yet these are the kinds of films a movie critic views with joy: Films that are a meeting of craft and art. Being able to share them is an incalculable pleasure; everybody should have their own Overlooked Film Festival in the glorious Virginia Theater, all the year around. You have no idea how much fun it is.

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Sundance #5: From Judd to Jesus

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PARK CITY, Utah – Most of Ashley Judd ‘s biggest hits have been thrillers, but most of her very best work has been in closeup character studies. That was true of her first film, “Ruby in Paradise,” and it’s true again of “Come Early Morning,” the story of a small-town woman whose pattern is to get drunk, sleep with a guy she picks up in a bar, and make a quick getaway the next morning.

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Cannes coda: Why it's all worth it

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CANNES, France -- Suddenly calm has descended on Cannes, like a movie without sound. The traffic has returned to sanity. Housewives stroll through the market, filling their wicker baskets with artichokes and lettuces. The awards will be announced tonight, but most of the buyers and sellers and big shots have already flown out of the Nice Airport, and the festival is left in the custody of its most faithful guests: The press, the cineastes, the paparazzi and the fans.

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Interview with Robert Blake

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Robert Blake said he was fed up with being interviewed and smiling at strangers. He wanted to go someplace and listen to loud music. Fate led him to The Store, that famous Rush Street place where all the young folk congregate who aren't getting any younger.

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