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Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

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War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

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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.

Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013: An Appreciation

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The first rule in Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing is "Never open a book with the weather." It could never be a "dark and stormy night" in Leonard's universe. Instead, he opened his novels with nonchalant statements of character-driven fact. "Rum Punch" begins "Sunday morning, Ordell took Louis to watch the white-power demonstration in downtown Palm Beach." "The Hot Kid" informs us that "Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and killing at Deering's drugstore." And "Glitz"'s opening line kicks off two and a half of Leonard's most readable pages with "The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming." Elmore Leonard got straight to the point. His characters were sometimes in love with their verbosity, but Leonard the narrator did not share this predilection. The omnipotent voice running through Dutch Leonard's work told you who said what, who did what, and the darkly comic repercussions of both. No writer wrung more color out of simply telling you what happened than Dutch Leonard. "Melanie was holding it in both hands now, arms extended, aimed at Gerald. "He tossed the shotgun to land on the sofa, looked up at Melanie and said 'Okay, now you put that down, honey, and I won't press charges against you.' Confident about it, as though it would settle the matter."Melanie didn't say anything. She shot him." –"Rum Punch"Leonard's characters were a multi-racial motley crew of cops, criminals, outlaws, lawyers, cowboys and sociopaths. They did not always follow the crime fiction novel's gender conventions. Strong, brutal women and weak, emotional men were not verboten. Leonard's characters were beholden to their own self-defined notions of ethics and morality. They were often much less clever than they thought; their flaws of nemesis underestimation became their undoing. Those who survived sometimes found themselves in other novels. Leonard never passed judgment as his characters flamed out in pitch black comic blazes both pathetic and glorious. To do so would violate his last and most important rule of writing: "Leave out the parts readers tend to skip." Much of the pleasure of reading Elmore Leonard was in the dialogue, which is why so many of his books became movies and TV series. Leonard followed his rule of "avoiding detailed descriptions of characters" by having his people talk to each other. He had an ear for the way conversations flowed, whether they were conducted on the street, in the precinct, or on the range. For a White guy, he certainly knew how to sound convincingly like the Black dudes who populated many of his novels. He captured the cadences of their speech, and did so without stereotype. His Brothers sounded like the guys I heard on the street in my old neighborhood; his cops sounded like cops I knew. Leonard embraced and elevated what they said, letting them ramble on whenever necessary. This love of casual chatter is probably what drew Tarantino to adapt "Rum Punch" as "Jackie Brown." It's certainly what made him pull entire chunks of Leonard's dialogue verbatim into the "Jackie Brown" script.The labyrinthine plots Leonard dragged his characters through were overly complicated yet always compelling. Even in something as spare and nasty as "52 Pick-Up," the first book of his I read, Leonard toyed with the expectations of where his stories took us. Even in the most convoluted plots, there was a feeling that the reader got entangled in this mess by virtue of the characters' machinations, not the author's. Before turning to the Florida-set crime stories that became his trademark, Elmore Leonard wrote Westerns. "3:10 to Yuma" and "The Tall T" were based on his work, as was Paul Newman's 1967 film "Hombre." Starting with "The Big Bounce" (made with Ryan O'Neal in 1969), Leonard changed his genre but kept many of the characteristics of a good Western. For example, "Mr. Majestyk" features a character protecting his "homestead" in much the same way as Jimmy Stewart or Randolph Scott would have. And of course, "Justified"'s Raylan Givens is the perfect synthesis of both genre halves of Leonard's work. Is there another author besides Shakespeare and Stephen King whose prolific output inspired so many movie adaptations? And by directors as varied as Abel Ferrara, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Budd Boetticher, John Frankenheimer, Barry Sonnenfeld and Burt Reynolds (whom I'm sure Leonard wanted to shoot after seeing "Stick"). The stories vary from tales of Hollywood to big money heists to sleazy exploitation. Regardless of quality—and it varied from film to film—the spirit of Dutch Leonard's prose was felt by the viewer. Since I was 17, Elmore Leonard has been my favorite writer. I told him so the one time I met him. It was at the now defunct and long-gone Waldenbooks on Exchange Place and Broadway in Manhattan. He was there to sign copies of "Rum Punch," which was eerily prescient since it was the basis of my favorite film adaptation of Leonard's work. He was a very nice man, patiently listening to the 22-year-old aspiring writer whose excited rambling violated Leonard's fourth rule of writing ("Keep your exclamation points under control!"). When I was done, he verified the spelling of my name, signed my book and wished me luck with my writing.I hadn't thought about that meeting in a while, but when I heard that Leonard died today, it rushed back to me with the immersive force of a good Elmore Leonard set piece. There was casual chatter, a cool as a cucumber experienced character, and a matter of fact, straightforward rendering of events. Nobody got shot, which is a good thing for me, but that didn't make my run-in with Mr. Leonard any less memorable. Rest in peace, Dutch.

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The Mundane Uncanny: The Art of Richard Matheson, 1926-2013

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Peter Sobczynski eulogizes the late, great, astoundingly prolific writer Richard Matheson, "whose work in a career that would encompass seven decades influenced anyone who encountered, it regardless of the medium he was working in." Includes appreciations of "Duel," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," "I Am Legend," "Somewhere in Time" and many other works, original and adapted.

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Viewer's guide: The keycard to Room 237?!

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Is "Room 237" some kind of crazy joke? Rick Ascher's much-discussed "subjective documentary" features five people who present their theories/interpretations of the "hidden meanings" they say they've found in the rooms and corridors of Stanley Kubrick's Overlook Hotel, the setting of his chilly 1980 horror film, "The Shining." I'm asking a question; I don't know the answer. I haven't yet had the opportunity to see the picture, which has played a number of festivals (Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, NY, London, Karlovy Vary) and has been picked up by IFC Films and is slated for release in 2013. I have seen Ascher's 2010 short, "The S from Hell," however, which the "Room 237" web site says "in many ways laid the groundwork" for the new film. That one is satire.

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The prom night from Hell

May Contain Spoilers

Streaming on Netflix Instant

"Carrie" (1976) was based on standard horror material but became memorable thanks to Brian De Palma's ability to keep an audience unnerved every step of the way. Think for a moment of the nature of telekinesis, the film's supernatural gimmick. The ability to mentally transport things is surely not as intriguing or frightening as the gifts of other Stephen King characters, but the director seems to realize that once the public buys it, he can then take liberties and add it to other dimensions related to the protagonist's fears and obsessions. That's s what made the picture unsettling. Some of the De Palma's other films have felt more like exercises in movie craftsmanship ("Body Double," "Raising Cain," "Snake Eyes") but this particular story lent itself particularly well to his usual directorial traits and they felt fresher at this stage of his career.

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Pray for Rosemary's Baby

May Contain Spoilers

You may find it disturbing to see audiences laughing while watching "The Exorcist"(1973), but you will probably not see any problem in having some laugh with "Rosemary’s Baby" (1968). It goes without saying that they are two of the most chilling modern horror films, but, while the former unsettles us with its utmost solemnness parodied many times since it came out, the latter has a spooky sense of humor immune to parodies. How can you make an effective parody to undermine a horror film if it already has a devilish tongue slyly placed on its dark cheek?

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#116 May 23, 2012

Marie writes: I've never seen this done before - and what an original idea! Gwen Murphy is an artist who breathes new life into old shoes, transforming them from fashion accessories into intriguing works of art. Thanks go to club member Cheryl Knott for telling me about this. (Click to enlarge.)

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Is it a curse or a gift?

May Contain Spoilers

David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) is my favorite adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Some parts from "The Shawshank Redemption" are terrifying in a different way, and are better classified in other genres. I'm also fond of some of the other films his works have inspired. "Carrie" and "The Shining" were mostly outstanding, but the casting of adults as teens in the first and the absence of an everyman feel to the lead protagonist in the second are the main reasons why I place "The Dead Zone" above them. The latter films were made by exceptional directors (DePalma and Kubrick), but Cronenberg's taste for the unusual, turned out to be a more adequate fit for King's material.

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A Simple Plan

May Contain Spoilers

Sometimes ordinary people becoming evil are more frightening than Dr. Hannibal Lector or Frank Booth. Villains like them are downright scary, but they are basically outsiders with a monstrous nature beyond our common sense. In contrast, the characters in Sam Raimi's crime thriller "A Simple Plan" (1998) are nice, ordinary people we can identify with, at least in the beginning. We can recognize their human wishes, desires, and motives. We can understand why they are driven into the plot while it's getting bloodier and more complicated. As a result, it is frightening to observe them doing horrible things, and one question immediately pops up in our minds - what would I do if I were in their circumstance?

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A haunting, in time and space

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"The Innkeepers" is streaming online through Amazon Instant and Vudu. It is also offered on some cable systems' On Demand channels and opens theatrically in a limited release February 3rd. The official website is here.

by Steven Boone

The trailer for "The Inkeepers" betrays a basic insecurity common in low-budget indie films nowadays: They want you to think they're as loud and hectic as their big-budget counterparts. They're afraid you won't show up otherwise. And so this horror film which builds its scares slowly, stealthily and through the peculiar quirks of its characters is sold as just another clangy, generic mainstream fright flick. Mercifully, the actual film shows only a little of this poisonous "ambition." It's mostly just a good old-fashioned ghost story, well told.

This film's wealth of personality is apparent early on, as director Ti West takes his time recording the subtle oddball chemistry between Claire (Sarah Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the only staff on duty at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Luke is obsessed with documenting a legendary ghost at the Pedlar for his website. He is surprised to find that Claire, his secret geek-girl crush, is just as fascinated by the subject. For a healthy stretch of the film we just watch them goofing off and pranking each other when not rendering poor service to the inn's only two guests (one played by Kelly McGillis from "Top Gun," appearing about 15 years older than her actual age--the biggest jolt of the movie, for a viewer over 30).

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Days and nights of bottles

May Contain Spoilers

In the biochemistry class during my naive undergraduate years, the professor jokingly said the capability of metabolizing alcohol depends on our genetic makeup. Thanks to the variations in the genes, some people can produce more enzymes or more active enzymes to take care of alcohol in their body. They can be heavy drinkers, or the ones less susceptible to the hazards caused by alcoholism than their fellow drunks.

That may explain the existence of Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), the "laureate of American lowlifes" who lived a relatively long life despite many days and nights of bottles and women at the bars. As Stephen King says in his insightful book "On Writing," writing usually has no business with drinking ("Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn't drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it's what alkies are wired up to do."). Sometime there are exceptions like Bukowski. Drinking and writing always came together to him, and he had no problem with that.

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Eastwood, now and Hereafter

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When I stepped up to buy my ticket for "Hereafter," the woman in the booth (who has worked there for many years) said, "This movie's directed by Clint Eastwood." I know, I said. "He's not in it," she said. "I guess it hasn't been getting very much publicity."

I don't know if it has or hasn't, but it got me to thinking: I'm not sure I could identify a Clint Eastwood movie on sight. Is there an identifiable Eastwood directorial vision or style, apart from a certain willfully "classical" gloss applied to a professional reserve that sometimes borders on indifference? Is he like a William Wyler or a Robert Wise, a journeyman, capable of making some very good movies, whose sensibility is identifiable primarily through the combined talents of his collaborators? Who is Clint Eastwood, the director?

Eastwood hires top-of-the-line folks (after all, he can), has them do their things, and prides himself on shooting the script as written, on time and on (or under) budget. Some very good directors I know don't consider what he does to be direction so much as project management, because they don't see anything particularly distinctive in the results, film after film. Still, Eastwood can get movies made that perhaps nobody else could, based on the strength of his commercial reputation and long association with Warner Bros.

Some critics I greatly admire find his work impressive and moving. Many of those who've worked with him describe the atmosphere Eastwood fosters on the set as his greatest contribution to the picture: He creates the conditions he needs to get the movie he wants from he people he's hired -- which is, to a lesser or greater extent, what all good directors must do. (See Robert Altman for a striking example.) But, when watching a post-"Unforgiven" Eastwood picture, I frequently detect a peculiar detachment, a feeling that I'm watching something coasting along on auto-pilot without any particular human or artistic vision to guide it.¹ I respond to directors who have been accused of glacial misanthropy -- from Antonioni to Kubrick -- and that is integral to their worldview. With Eastwood, I simply sense an almost mechanical disengagement from his material. Parts of some of these movies seem to have been made by robots.

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#34 October 27, 2010

Welcome to a special Halloween edition of the Newsletter! Marie writes: the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, in addition to being the final resting place of many a famous name. From Édith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Chopin to Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Georges Méliès, the well-known sleep on the tree-lined avenues of the dead and which you can now explore in a virtual 360 degree tour...

ENTER Père-Lachaise

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Let Me In: Evil in America

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"There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal." -- Ronald Reagan, in the 1983 "Evil Empire" speech, quoted in Matt Reeves' "Let Me In"

It was the pre-nuclear winter of our discontent. The Cold War was at its coldest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Jonathan Schell's 1981 New Yorker series about the catastrophic climatic effects of a full-scale nuclear war became a best-selling book, "The Fate of the Earth," in 1982. By 1983, with the escalation in rhetoric between Ronald Reagan and Soviet leaders, movies like Lynne Littman's "Testament" and Nicholas Meyer's "The Day After" -- one a bleak art-house drama; the other a network television nightmare -- were dealing seriously with the prospect of American life in the wake of atomic armageddon, as if to prepare us for the inevitable.

It was one of the darkest periods in modern American history (being too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, I recall only the aftermath of 9/11and the invasion of Iraq with comparable feelings of doom). And the snowy, barren landscapes of (where else?) Los Alamos, New Mexico, provide the Americanized setting for Matt Reeves' "Let Me In," a remake of Tomas Alfredson's magnificent Swedish horror film, Let the Right One In" (2008).

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The parable of the tie, continued...

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Last week I used a clip from the AMC series "Rubicon"¹ (re-posted after the jump) to illustrate what I felt could be interpreted as a parable about film criticism. Since then, it has come to my attention that "President Obama is a secret Muslim" and somebody is planning to build a "terror mosque" at Ground Zero. OK, those notions have been floating about for a while, but people have very, very strong opinions about them. I haven't seen any evidence that the president is a Muslim, secret or otherwise, and I'm not sure what a "terror mosque" is, but I know that the proposed Park51 Islamic cultural center (at the site of a defunct Burlington Coat Factory outlet) isn't at Ground Zero because I used Google Maps to look it up. The Pussycat Lounge, a strip club one block south, is closer, but people aren't expressing their opinions about it, maybe because it's been there for many years, like some of the other mosques in the neighborhood. So, I'm wondering: Where are all these opinions coming from and what are they grounded in? Mostly, it turns out, they have sprung from other opinions. Which are, in turn, based on disinformation or just something somebody heard somebody else say they heard from somewhere.

Fortunately, facts do exist independent of anyone's opinion about them. They are verifiable. Once you know what they are, you might be able to form some opinions. But, to return to the parable, until you know what the tie actually looks like, your position regarding it (whether you approve or disapprove, like or dislike) is worth, as Edwin Starr once said of war, absolutely nothin'.

Here's something from an Opinionator column by Timothy Egan, a National Book Award-winning nonfiction author, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and writer for the New York Times (and a former colleague of mine at the University of Washington Daily!) called "Building a Nation of Know-Nothings" that ought to be read by anyone who thinks they have an opinion about something.

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Waxing Roth: Define "failure"

View image Is this man a "torture pornographer"? Strike that. Is he a "failure"?

Letters from Filmmakers Part II: This one was published today at MSN Movies, a response from Eli Roth to an article by Don Kaye about the phenomenon popularly known as "torture porn": Don,

I saw your article on "Torture Porn," and while I disagree with you about your criticism of my film, I would like you to back up how "Hostel II" is a failure, a claim you repeatedly make. While the film did not do what the first film did at the box office, (which was a total shock to everyone - myself included) "Hostel II" cost only $10 million dollars to make, and is currently at $30 million dollars worldwide box office, with many territories left to open. How many other films this summer have earned triple their production budget in their theatrical run? Are those films failures as well?

Critically, your comments were that I had MTV style editing and a lack of character development. What, exactly, are you talking about? "Hostel II" has barely any flashy cuts or MTV-style editing, and the first 45 minutes of the movie is all character development with almost zero on screen violence. Heather Matarazzo's torture scene doesn't happen until nearly 50 minutes into the movie.

View image One of the milder posters for "Hostel Part II" -- this one from Italy.

It sounds to me like you are jumping onto some kind of 'anti-violence' crusade without actually watching the film, when if you looked closely, you'd see that my film actually has a very strong anti-violence moral core. Writers I respect such as Stephen King, Elvis Mitchell, and writer/Attorney Julie Hilden, a former clerk for supreme court Justice Breyer, praised the film specifically for its anti-violence message and skilled filmmaking (http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hilden/20070716.html) and in Europe the major critics hailed the film for its political messages against corporations that profit from the death of Americans.

My films are not for everyone, and many critics dismissed the film because of the violent scenes, which is the very thing horror fans are paying for when they see a film like "Hostel II." But to lump my film in with other films that may be ripping off a trend for "MTV editing" and "lack of character development" shows more of a reflection of your lack of understanding as a critic and a desire to be seen as a 'moral person' than an actual critique of my film.

[...]

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Opening Shots: 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'

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"But I do want to say something about imagination purely as a tool in the art and science of scaring the crap out of people... You approach the door in the old, deserted house, and you hear something scratching at it. The audience holds its breath along with the protagonist as she/he (more often she) approaches that door. The protagonist throws it open, and there is a ten-foot-tall bug. The audience screams, but this particular scream has an oddly relieved sound to it. "A bug ten feet tall is pretty horrible," the audience thinks, "but I can deal with a ten-foot-tall bug. I was afraid it might be a hundred feet tall."

-- Stephen King, "Danse Macabre" (1987)

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Peter Weir's 1975 "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is masterpiece of horror, but not in the way you might think. There are no monstrous bugs of any sort -- except for the usual (tiny) ants that plague just about any picnic. "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is a perfect thriller because (like "Twin Peaks," another symphony of anguish over Not Knowing) it's about effect of Mystery on the human imagination -- not just the ache of the Unknown, but the terror, and torture, of the Unknowable. Is there anything more horrible for the mind to contemplate than a mystery with no satisfactory solution? It's more than the psyche can bear...

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And it's all set up right here, in what is undoubtedly a series of nearly imperceptible dissolves (perhaps combined with optical work): A rock in the outback remote wilderness (premonitions of Ayers' Rock and Fred Schepisi's "A Cry in the Dark"?) that stays utterly still, yet shifts and changes. First, we see the black trees in the red foreground. Then the rock appears, hovering over the landscape. Next, fog obscures the foreground and the rock appears to be floating (hanging?) on a cushion of mist. How much time has elapsed between each of these views? Minutes? Hours? Days? Just when you think you know what you're seeing, it becomes something slightly different. You can't quite pin it down. It's ... unsettling, disorienting...

Zamfir's primitive-sounding pan flute reverberates in the air. It's an ominous beginning and we're tempted to feel, like Roy Neary would about another rock formation in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" a few years later, that this means something. But what if it doesn't?

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Ebert reviews Johnny Depp

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Just think: Johnny Depp could have had the career of, say, Richard Grieco. In 1988, they were both break-out stars, young TV cops working undercover as high school students in the fledgling Fox network's first hit show, "21 Jump Street."

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The critics were horrified!!!! 4 undervalued scary movies on DVD

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You might say horror movies are the mutant black sheep of the cinema. Some film devotees deem them too ungainly and disreputable to be taken seriously, as if they were deformed, illegitimate stepchildren who should be quietly locked up in the attic and not talked about. And yet... and yet... I suppose you can dislike (if not quite dismiss) entire sub-genres -- Hollywood musicals, maybe, or biblical epics -- but I don't see how you can seriously call yourself a film lover if you don't have some appreciation for horror movies. After all, they are so near the core appeal of the medium: Was there ever a genre better suited for shadowplay, unspooling in the dark before the collective (un-)consciousness of a crowd of spectators?

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The New Geek Cinema

TORONTO -- Toronto 1998 was an edgy festival for people like me who are convinced that anything can theoretically be a legitimate subject for a film. Movies about the Holocaust, child abuse, rape and reckless murder have had audiences cringing and critics embroiled in nose-to-nose debates in the lobbies. The director John Waters has coined a term for them: Feel-Bad Comedies. So have I: the New Geek Cinema.

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