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The November Man

In this excitingly nasty but ultimately confused action picture, Pierce Brosnan plays a retired government hitman drawn out of retirement to untangle a global political…

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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.

I Miss Roger's Reviews

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Saturday, May 4, was one month to the day that Roger left this earthly plane. In honor of Kentucky Derby weekend I am posting this photo of Roger and I proudly sporting our hats at Churchill Downs. There have been several photos of us wearing hats over the years. For some reason hats delighted us to no end. And Roger was particularly fond of some of the more outrageous hats we wore. That day while we were watching the races we were so pleased that we could wear our hats both in doors and out. You can’t wear a hat in a movie theater.

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Moi, misérable: Fermer le trou à tarte

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Another brawl in the square Another stink in the air! Was there a witness to this? Well, let him speak to Javert! -- Javert, a character in the musical "Les Misérables"

I was an eyewitness to "Les Misérables."

After repeated exposure to that dreadful theatrical trailer-cum-featurette about how the singing is all done live on camera! -- It's live! It's Live! IT'S LIVE! -- I had no intention of seeing Tom "The King's Speech" Hooper's film version of the 1980s stage musical. But when it finally came out, some of the reviews were so bad that part of me wanted to see what the stink was all about. Still, I'm not a masochist; I don't enjoy going to movies I know I'm probably predisposed to dislike just so I can dump on them. On the other hand, there's nothing better than having your low expectations upended. I did enjoy that Susan Boyle YouTube video back in 2009, but that was all I knew about the musical. I remained curious but skeptical. And then ...

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Andrew Sarris, auteurism, and his take on his own legacy

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"All of us will always owe him everything." -- Glenn Kenny on Andrew Sarris, quoting Jean-Luc Godard on Orson Welles

Andrew Sarris, "who loved movies" (as Roger Ebert described him), was long considered the "dean of American film critics." Reading the accounts and appreciations of him today, I was surprised to see how many people perpetuated the myth that Sarris and Pauline Kael were like the print era's Siskel & Ebert who, instead of facing off with each other over new movies on TV week after week, carried on a robust public debate about auteurism and film theory for decades. That didn't happen. And that mischaracterization does a disservice to Sarris, to Kael and to Siskel & Ebert, all of whom were taking their own distinctive and original approaches to movie reviewing and criticism. I think what's most important on the occasion of Sarris's passing is to acknowledge that his substantial critical legacy cannot be defined in terms of anything Pauline Kael wrote about him and the politique des auteurs in 1963 -- and certainly not in the way his and the Cahiers du Cinema critics' views were misrepresented in Kael's famous snipe, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris."

Let's get this straight: Sarris, who had spent some time in France and acquainted himself with the Cahiers du Cinema critics (Andre Bazin, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, et al.), published an essay in Film Culture called "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (download .pdf here). In it he set out to explain the French notion of what he called "auteurism" for an American audience.*

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#75 August 10, 2011

Marie writes: I attended three different elementary schools; St. Peter's, Our Lady of Mercy (which was anything but) and finally St. Micheal's; where I met my Canadian-Italian chum, Marta Chiavacci (key-a-vah-chee) who was born here to Italian immigrants. We lost touch after high school, moving in different directions til in the wake of a trip to Venice and eager to practice my bad Italian and bore friends with tales of my travels abroad, I sought her out again.We've kept in touch ever since, meeting whenever schedules permit; Marta traveling more than most (she's a wine Sommelier) living partly in Lucca, Italy, and happily in sin with her significant other, the great Francesco. I saw her recently and took photos so that I might show and tell, in here. For of all the friends I have, she's the most different from myself; the contrast between us, a never-ending source of delight. Besides, it was a nice afternoon in Vancouver and her condo has a view of False Creek...smile...

(click images to enlarge)

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Film as battleground: Love, hate, indifference...

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A Jean-Luc Godard movie is required to bewilder, astonish, bore and infuriate its film festival audience -- especially the critical contingent. That's why it's there. JLG's "Film Socialisme," which may or may not be his last directorial effort, premiered at Cannes to a cacophony of criticism, rapturous and contemptuous. Some of it has also been exceptionally entertaining -- almost as much fun to read as the reviews for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" last summer. In the case of Godard, however, the critical debates take on a nearly religious dimension as believers and debunkers argue over whether there's meaning to be found in the sacred text or whether it's all just an inconsequential, obfuscatory fraud.

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Cannes #5: Waiting for Godard

When I began as a film critic, Jean-Luc Godard was widely thought to have reinvented the cinema with "Breathless" (1960). Now he is almost 80 and has made what is said to be his last film, and he's still at the job, reinventing. If only he had stopped while he was ahead. That would have been sometime in the 1970s. Maybe the 1980s. For sure, the 1990s. Without a doubt, before he made his Cannes entry, "Film: Socialisme."

The thousands of seats in the Auditorium Debussy were jammed, and many were turned away. We lucky ones sat in devout attention to this film, such is the spell Godard still casts. There is an abiding belief that he has something radical and new to tell us. It is doubtful that anyone else could have made this film and found an audience for it.

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Variety: This thumb's for you

I flew home from the Oscars to find half a dozen e-mails awaiting with the same unbelievable message: Variety had fired its chief film critic, Todd McCarthy. Its spokesman was hopeful Todd and its chief theater critic, David Rooney, who was also fired, could continue to review for the paper on a free lance basis. In other words, Variety was hopeful that without a regular pay check, McCarthy would put his life on hold to do a full-time job on a piecemeal basis.

Todd McCarthy reviewed films for Variety for 31 years. He was the ideal critic for the paper -- better, we now realize, than it deserved. His reviews and the reviews of Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter were frequently the first reviews of a new film to see print. Honeycutt fortunately continues.

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Trix Nix Pix Crix: The death of Variety

What does Variety -- once known as "The Showbiz Bible" -- think it has to offer its readers? After Monday's news that the paper has jettisoned (what's the reverse of "ankled"? I forget...) veteran film critic Todd McCarthy, whose name was synonymous with Variety even before the publication's reviews had actual bylines, I don't see much future in the once-essential trade paper. Lay off the people who are your reputation, your authority, your influence, and what's left? Nothing. There will still be a batch of web and paper pages legally entitled to call itself "Variety," but so what? It's like one of those bands that tours under a once-famous name without actually offering the work of any of the names that made it what it was.

How much is that worth to you right now?

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Cameron is recrowned King of the World

The thing about James Cameron is, he can get his mind around a project the size of "Avatar" and keep his cool. If it requires the development of untested technology, he takes the time to work on it. If he wants to create aliens human enough to be sexy and yet keep them out of the Uncanny Valley, he test-drives them. If it costs $250 million, as reported, or $350 million, as rumored, you reflect: That's a lot of money, but after seeing the movie I guess I saw most of it up there on the screen.

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TIFF #2: "Antichrist" redux

Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" is poised to detonate at the Toronto Film Festival. This willfully controversial director will inspire, as he often does, a storm of controversy, debate, critics clamoring to get into advance screenings that are already jammed, and a contentious press conference. Of the 400 or so films at TIFF this year, "Antichrist" was the first that sold out in advance. It was the same last May at Cannes, and that was before it has even been seen.

Von Trier was nothing if not canny in his title for the film. By naming it "Antichrist," he provides a lens through which to view its perplexing behavior. By naming his characters only He and She, he suggests the dark side of an alternative Garden of Eden, and then disturbing his ending becomes a mirror image of Christ welcoming the faithful into the kingdom of heaven. The title instructs us where to begin. If he had named the characters John and Mary, and titled the film "A Nightmare," what conclusions might we have arrived at?

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That's not the IMAX I grew up with

It started for me with a letter from a Los Angeles filmmaker named Mike Williamson, who contacted me March 7 in outrage about a bait-and-switch involving IMAX. He paid an extra fee to see a movie in Burbank, and wrote the company in protest: "As soon as I walked in the theatre, I was disgusted. This was not an IMAX screen. Simply extending a traditional multiplex screen to touch the sides and floor does not constitute an IMAX experience. An IMAX screen is gargantuan. It is like looking at the side of a large building, and it runs vertically in a pronounced way. It is not a traditional movie screen shape....This screen was pathetic by IMAX standards."

If you will click to enlarge the graphic below, you will see that Williamson has a point. The illustration comes from Jeff Leins of newsinfilm.com, based on one with a useful article by James Hyder, editor of the LFexaminer, devoted to this issue. But documentation isn't really necessary. Most of us know what an IMAX screen looks like, and we instinctively know one wouldn't fit inside our local multiplex. What "IMAX" means in such situations is that the company has taken over the largest screen in the complex, removed a few of the front rows of seats, and moved a somewhat larger screen that much closer to the audience. The picture is not projected through large format 70mm film, but with dual "high end" digital projectors. Every digital projector ever introduced was "high end" at the time.

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Cannes #6: A devil's advocate for "Antichrist"

Lars von Trier's new film will not leave me alone. A day after many members of the audience recoiled at its first Cannes showing, "Antichrist" is brewing a scandal here; I am reminded of the tumult following the 1976 premiere of Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses" and its castration scene. I said I was looking forward to von Trier's overnight reviews, and I haven't been disappointed. Those who thought it was good thought it was very very good ("Something completely bizarre, massively uncommercial and strangely perfect"--Damon Wise, Empire) and those who thought it was bad found it horrid ("Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with "Antichrist"--Todd McCarthy, Variety).

I rarely find a serious film by a major director to be this disturbing. Its images are a fork in the eye. Its cruelty is unrelenting. Its despair is profound. Von Trier has a way of affecting his viewers like that. After his "Breaking the Waves" premiered at Cannes in 1996, Georgia Brown of the Village Voice fled to the rest room in emotional turmoil and Janet Maslin of the New York Times followed to comfort her. After this one, Richard and Mary Corliss blogged at Time.com that "Antichrist" presented the spectacle of a director going mad.

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For Sale: On Revolutionary Road

"One thing I'm willing to bet [about a "Revolutionary Road" screenplay written in the 1970s] is that it made the Wheelers a lot more sympathetic than they ought to be. It was a common misconception when the book was first published, even among good critics. Quite simply, Yates meant for the Wheelers to seem a little better than mediocre: not, that is, stoical mavericks out of Hemingway, or glamorous romantics out of Fitzgerald. Rather, the Wheelers are everyday people -- you and me -- who pretend to be something they're not because life is lonely and dull and disappointing."

-- Richard Yates biographer Blake Bailey in Slate (June 26, 2007)

Plot and thematic spoilers ahead.

"How do you break free... without breaking apart"? That's the rhetorical question posed as a tag line in this trailer (above) for Sam Mendes' titanic version of Richard Yates' 1961 novel "Revolutionary Road," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

But is that what "Revolutionary Road" -- the movie or the book -- is about? Does it even scratch the surface? I wonder if this is being sold as a story about two extraordinary people who might have fulfilled their promise... if they hadn't been stifled by the suburban conformist pressures of America in the 1950s. If only they'd broken free and gone to Paris where people really feel things!

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The curious coolness of Benjamin Button

Todd McCarthy of Variety, who's old enough to know better, writes at the end of his review of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button":

Still, for what is designed as a rich tapestry, the picture maintains a slightly remote feel. No matter the power of the image of an old but young-looking Benjamin, slumped over a piano and depressed about his fading memory and life; it is possible that the picture might have been warmer and more emotionally accessible had it been shot on film. It has been argued that digital is a cold medium and celluloid a hot one and a case, however speculative, could be made that a story such as "Benjamin Button," with its desired cumulative emotional impact, should be shot and screened on film to be fully realized. These are intangibles, but nor are they imaginary factors; what technology gives, it can also take away.

[Don't worry -- no spoilers.]

This makes about as much sense to me as blaming the weather on Doppler radar pictures. It may be the second-most misguided thing I've read about movies all year (after Patrick Goldstein's assertion that a "dumb summer comedy" is more worthy of contempt that a dishonest or inept film that expects its ambition to be taken more seriously).

OK, let's say the movie feels "cold" to you, and you attribute this feeling to something in the film. You could acknowledge the movie's predominantly wintry settings and sepia color pallete (exemplified by the fully digital image, set in the dead of night in an empty hotel lobby in the middle of the Russian winter, above). Or contemplate the loneliness of the emotionally detached title character/observer/narrator, who is born an old man in a decrepit body and is cursed to grow physically younger while watching everyone around him age and die.

And you might very well consider the Kubrickian sensibility of the director, David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club," "Zodiac"), the most deliberate and precise of filmmakers. Not known as Mr. Warm 'n' Cozy -- even when working from a Gumpian screenplay by the writer of "Forrest Gump." If the film is dark and cool in tone, it's not because Fincher chose digital technology. It's because Fincher chose to make it dark and cool. You may dislike the countless ways in which the movie emphasizes these qualities (in every composition, every cut, every performance), but don't pretend it's the video that's doing it.

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"Critic" is a four-letter word

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A critic at a performance is like a eunuch at a harem. He sees it done nightly, but is unable to perform it himself. --Brendan Behan

A lot of people don't know what "critic" means. They think it means, "a person who criticizes." They don't like people who do that. It seems an impotent profession. Critics are nasty, jealous, jaded and bitter. They think it's all about them. They're know-it-alls. They want to appear superior to everyone else. They're impossible to please. They don't understand the tastes of ordinary people. They love to tear down other people's hard work. Those who can do it, do it. Those who can't do it, criticize. What gives them the right to have an opinion? We'd be better off without them.

Criticism is a destructive activity. If I like something and the critics didn't, they can't see what's right there before their eyes because they're in love with some theory. They don't have feelings; they have systems. They think they know better than creators. They praise what they would have done, instead of what an artist has done. They use foreign words to show off. They're terrified of being exposed as the empty poseurs they are. They are leeches on the skin of art.

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My Dinner with Clint

Kyle and Alison Eastwood with their father Clint on a big night out in Cannes.

Dear Roger,

I've just returned from the official dinner given by the Festival for Clint Eastwood's movie. I felt like Cinderella at the ball. The dinner was held at the swanky Restaurant La Palme d'Or on the Croisette. I wore my long evening gown just like all the French women wear at night. That's usually the last thing you want to do after watching movies all day, and most of the American women journalists skip the gowns, but I am a hybrid this year, not quite journalist and not quite guest. Besides, this was a special evening and I wanted to make a good showing for you.

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The Coen ideology

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Here's a sampling of various political/ideological (and generic) readings of Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men." This just gets more and more fascinating to me -- probably because I would not emphasize such an approach to the movie myself. (Not that all the following do, either.) I'm frustrated that, before I can write about "No Country" again with a fresh memory, I have to wait another week for it to open in Seattle. For now, a critical debate/montage from multiple perspectives -- those who love it and hate it and have mixed feelings: The mechanics of "No Country for Old Men" recall those of a vintage film noir, and in that respect, the movie is brilliantly executed, as gripping and mordantly funny a treatise on the corrosive power of greed as "The Killing" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" were before it. [...]

View image Malcolm McDowell in Lindsay Anderson's 1973 critique of capitalism, "O Lucky Man!"

It’s easy to imagine how the Coens, whose Achilles’ heel has always been their predilection for smug irony and easy caricature, might have turned McCarthy’s taciturn Texans into simplistic Western-mythos archetypes — the amoral criminal, the righteous peacekeeper, and the naive but basically goodhearted rube in over his head. Instead, they’ve made a film of great, enveloping gravitas, in which words like “hero” and “villain” carry ever less weight the deeper we follow the characters into their desperate journeys. Like McCarthy, the Coens are markedly less interested in who (if anyone) gets away with the loot than in the primal forces that urge the characters forward. “They slaughter cattle a lot different these days,” sighs a weary Bell late in the film. But slaughter them they still do, and in the end, everyone in "No Country for Old Men" is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction.-- Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

... [T]he Coens have made a crime movie that seems quietly aghast at the likelihood of death and menace occurring on American soil. Unlike "American Gangster"’s sensationalized crap, this is a crime movie/western exercise that contemporizes the miasma of a world at war. [...]

Coen artistry heightens our level of perception. They reveal the first murder with an astonishing image of shoe sole scuff marks on a jail floor that looks as avant-garde as a Jackson Pollack painting—a harbinger of modern chaos that puts post-9/11 terror in artistic focus. But not sentimentally. When Sheriff Bell expresses existential fatigue, the sorrow he vouchsafes to his father is actually spoken to himself (thus to us in the audience). And still, the Coens contextualize: Bell is brought to reality when his father tells him, “What you got ain’t new. Can’t stop what’s coming. Ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” The Coens make that wisdom mythical and all encompassing—from Vietnam to 9/11 to Iraq and to the Texas homeland.-- Armond White, New York Press (headline: "A crime movie for a world at war")

The most rewarding thing about "No Country" is the way in which its narrative is set up as a singularly unstoppable force, a shark constantly moving forward (every scene seems to have a goal, every frame initially gives off the impression of tightly relaying crucial plot information), only to allow itself to purposefully break down, both in terms of resolution and traditional narrative payoffs. What initially seems perfectly calibrated and dazzlingly "efficient" is finally revealed as a false comfort: the film's trio of sad characters will probably never be able to emerge from its shadows. The trail of bloodshed that occurs in the wake of the film's central crime feels increasingly less like whiz-bang noir pastiche and more like the final actions of a nation in irrevocable moral decline.-- Michael Koresky, IndieWIRE

On the face of it, "No Country for Old Men" doesn't need to be set in 1980. [...] It could be taking place anytime in the past 40 years, really.

By locating the action in the year of Ronald Reagan's ascension to the presidency, though, "No Country" stands at the pivot of the Old West and the New Avarice, a point in time when the last vestiges of frontier morality have been washed away by a pitiless modern crime wave fueled by drug profits.-- Ty Burr, Boston Globe

The story takes place in 1980, but cut out the cars and the drugs and we could be in 1880—look at Bell and his deputy, saddling up to scour the crime scene. (“You can’t help but compare yourself against the old timers,” Bell confides to us, in voice-over.) Indeed, the characters’ rapport with the soil is more reliable, in its grounded primitivism, than their relations with one another, and the Coens certainly honor the novelist’s abiding preference for the mythical over the modern.-- Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

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CIFF: All our capsule reviews

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UPDATED 10/16: Here are brief reviews of all the Chicago Film Festival movies we have seen, in alphabetical order, written by Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert. More will be added as we view them. For a full CIFF schedule, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com or call (312) 332-FILM.

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Toronto #7: One T-shirt after another

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TORONTO, Ont.-Attached to this article should be a photograph. Study it carefully. The next time you are at the Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, Pusan, Berlin, Venice or Sundance film festivals, you will see this man. His name is Pierre Rissient. You may also see him in Paris, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and in the weather reports.

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Ebert's 2006 summer/fall round-up

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Film festivals allow you to get way ahead on your movie viewing. At Sundance, Cannes, Telluride and Toronto you can see movies that will be released throughout the coming year and into the next. That's what Roger Ebert does every year, and here are some of the movies he's already written about for the next few months, into November....

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Darkness for 'Donnie Darko' director?

Buffy Barko. Sarah Michelle Gellar in Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales."

When "Donnie Darko" sank without a trace after its theatrical release in October, 2001, writer-director Richard Kelly feared his (potential) career had gone down with it. Then, the movie became a cult phenomenon on DVD and Kelly, like his alliterative hero, was given a second chance.

The signs since then have not been enouraging: a screenplay for Tony Scott's "Domino," a film that graced many of last year's Ten Worst lists; and (far more disturbing) a "director's cut" of "Donnie Darko" that indicated Kelly didn't know what he'd done right the first time. All the best qualities of the film -- its teasing ambiguity, its creepy playfulness -- were nearly crushed in an attempt to laboriusly spell out an elaborate science-fiction/time travel mythology. What was once a tantalizing undercurrent was thus made literal and dull. More "explanation" of geeky but arbitrary "rules" simply reduced the movie's sense of possibility and imagination... and made it a lot less fun. If the "DD" director's cut had been the original version of the movie, it would never have piqued enough curiosity to have developed much of a cult following.

Now, the reviews from Cannes of Kelly's long-awaited and highly anticipated sophomore feature, "Southland Tales," suggest Kelly hasn't learned anything from his "Donnie Darko" director's cut experience. Most of them are devastating -- by which I mean they're at least as bad as the ones for "The Da Vinci Code," and worse than the ones for "X-Men: The Last Stand."

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Cannes #5: Luster & its lack

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CANNES, France – There are entries that have been liked and even loved, but the 2006 Cannes Film Festival reaches its halfway mark looking like a fairly lackluster year. Only Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver,” a high-spirited memory inspired by his childhood in La Mancha, has been embraced by critics and audiences. “Volver” means “to return,” and resembles in its exuberant nostalgia Fellini’s “Amarcord” (“I Remember”).

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Is Willy Wonka Wacko Jacko?

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Is Michael Jackson one of the not-so-secret ingredients in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"? Critics overwhelmingly see it that way, even if Johnny Depp and many moviegoers don’t.

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Cannes #2: Death of a star

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CANNES, France – If you’re going to make a movie about a rock star who drifts into drugged oblivion and death, you basically have two choices. You could make one of those lurid biopics filled with flashbacks to a tortured childhood and lots of concert scenes and sex, while the star savors success before it destroys him.

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