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Heaven Is for Real

Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

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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.

#152 January 23, 2013

Marie writes: Behold the entryway to the Institut Océanographique in Paris; and what might just be the most awesome sculpture to adorn an archway in the history of sculptures and archways. Photo @ pinterest

(click to enlarge.)

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#151 January 16, 2013

Marie writes: And so it begins!  A new year and another season of Film Festivals and Award shows. The Golden Globes have come and gone and in advance of quirky SXSW, there's Robert Redford's Sundance 2013...

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#146 December 12, 2012

Marie writes:  For those unaware, it seems our intrepid leader, the Grand Poobah, has been struck by some dirty rotten luck..."This will be boring. I'll make it short. I have a slight and nearly invisible hairline fracture involving my left femur. I didn't fall. I didn't break it. It just sort of...happened to itself." - Roger

(Click to enlarge)

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Looper: Dig that crazy cloud

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I think my very favorite thing in Rian Johnson's "Looper" is a squiggly cloud. It hangs there in the sky above a cornfield and you can't help but notice it. Which is good, because this is a time-travel movie and the cloud comes in handy later when something happens again in this same spot and the cloud tells you what time it is. Thanks to that cloud, you know this is a re-run.

In one version of the present-future-past, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shoots his future self (Bruce Willis) and in another he doesn't. I couldn't remember why that happened at first just now, but then it came back to me. Johnson brought in Shane Carruth, writer-director of the meticulously planned and way more convoluted time-travel thriller "Primer" (2004) to do some special effects work, which indicates to me that RJ is fairly serious about his science-fiction. (He also wrote and directed "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom," both of which contain some nifty, well-plotted twists.)

(Update: Here's a "Looper" timeline/infographic.)

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Southland Tales: No sparkle, no motion

View image The evil queen and her dwarves. How clever. This was the shot that almost prompted me to walk out. I can't believe they used it for a production still. Yes I can.

Sometimes I doubt Richard Kelly's commitment to Sparkle Motion. The first time was the "Director's Cut" of "Donnie Darko," which de-emphasized all that was mysterious and exciting about the original film by insisting on a literal explication of the time-warp theories of Roberta Sparrow (aka "Grandma Death"). Huge mistake -- as bad as showing us the inside of the mothership in the "Special Edition" of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." At least Spielberg knew that was an error, and removed it from his Director's Cut: He'd wanted to tweak things he'd had to rush in order to meet his deadline (after all, the fate of Columbia Pictures was riding on this picture), and to flesh out some character details. But Columbia let him go back and fine-tune his blockbuster on the condition that he show Richard Dreyfuss inside the ship -- something we really didn't want to see, because it ruined the uplifting momentum of the ending, and who wants to see Richard Dreyfuss crying over anti-climactic special effects anyway?

"Southland Tales" is the product of the same literalist sensibility that produced the second version of "Donnie Darko." Part of me questions whether it's even worth writing about, mainly because it offers so little of cinematic interest. It's fussy and inert, like Part 4 of a PowerPoint slide-show based on a set of elaborately drawn storyboards that explain in excruciating detail the minutiae of the mythology behind "Hudson Hawk." There's nothing close to a movie here.

There's an obvious channel-surfing aesthetic to mimic "information overload," but nothing's on, anyway. One shot could just as easily be followed by any other shot -- they aren't cut together with any verve or intelligence, so the effect is flat and linear. We flip by a beachside talk show ("The View" with porn actresses), and that's as sophisticated and penetrating as "Southland Tales" ever gets about sex, politics and media. (He said "penetrating"!) Is it hard to follow? Not really. The voiceover makes sure everything is explained (often more than once), but it could just as well not have been explained and it wouldn't matter, because nothing is illuminated in the explanation.

Like "Hudson Hawk," it's a bloated, white-elephantine vanity production (for the writer-director, not the star) -- a strained, deliberate, joyless, big-budget, star-studded Hollywood effort to manufacture a "cult movie" by pandering to what some studio execs probably consider to be "the comic-book youth demographic." It wishes it could be "Repo Man" (or "RoboCop" or "Starship Troopers") but it's not even "The Postman." Actually, "Southland Tales" -- co-financed by Universal, which is distributing the film internationally but dropped any domestic plans after the disastrous reception at Cannes -- isn't "big-budget" by today's Hollywood standards ($17 million). But the feeling of waste and desperation behind it -- "Let's throw money at the screen for big sets and unimaginative digital effects!" -- is not unlike that dead-lump-in-your-stomach feeling you get while watching your average Michael Bay movie. [Since writing this, I have learned that the time and (Sony) money spent re-tooling "Southland Tales" after Cannes has included cutting 20 minutes, adding to Justin Timberlake's too-literal voiceover, and beefing up the special effects. That's what I was afraid of. It shows.]

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Hollywood lip smackdown!

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Q. A blogger named Brian at takes issue with your remarks about Paul Greengrass' long takes in "The Bourne Ultimatum," writing: "I don't recall a single take in this movie that was more than about three seconds long. Either Greengrass really does a spectacular job of not 'calling attention' to those long takes, or Ebert saw a different movie. But it's very strange, no matter what." (From goneelsewhere.wordpress.com:) Who's right?

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Opening Shots: 'Primer'

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Shane Carruth's ingenious "Primer" (2004) offers a textbook example, if you will, of a "What are we looking at?" opening shot. Linear and rectangular or trapezoidal patterns of light dot the dark screen. Then the irregular, vaguely chevron-shaped object at the top of the frame flickers, illuminates, and... we see we're inside a residential garage, near the ceiling, looking at the door, which begins to lift to the accompaniment of odd, but still somewhat familiar, electronic and metallic/mechanical sounds. Even once we know what it is, something about it feels like science fiction -- as though this door were opening up to a new dimension or something. The next shot orients us: a more conventional exterior establishing shot, showing the grinding, squealing door from the outside and four young men walking into the space. This is the (twisted, inside-out) story of these garage-based tech entrepreneurs, and they won't understand what they're seeing, either, when they accidentally invent and/or discover something incredible in that unassuming structure. Or, maybe, they already have... -- JE

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