Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
* 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.
Lists from our critics and contributors on the best of 2014.
Is feature filmmaking dead?; Gripes with "This Is Where I Leave You"; Remembering Peter von Bagh; "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in black-and-white; B. Ruby Rich on "Life Itself."
A bi-weekly feature on the best new releases on Blu-ray, streaming services, and On Demand.
Highlights from the 2014 Comic-Con, including "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Book of Life," "The Boxtrolls," "Hitman: Agent 47," and more.
Highlights and schedule for the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival.
Robert Cameron Fowler, a Roger Ebert Scholarship recipient, reports on ten memorable characters in films form the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Sam Fragoso ranks all 22 films he saw at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Simon Abrams on two sequels: "The Trip to Italy", the sequel to the hilarious "The Trip", and "The Raid 2".
Sam Fragoso reports of Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
Tommaso Tocci reports on the screening of "Locke" at the Venice Film Festival.
"Dear Mr. Spider;I am profoundly sorry to have taken you from your home in the woods, when I was picking Himalayan Blackberries on Monday afternoon. I didn't see you fall into my bucket and which was entirely my fault; I must have bumped into your web while reaching for a berry. Needless to say, I was surprised upon returning home with my bucket full, to suddenly see you there standing on a blackberry and looking up at me." - Marie
(photo recreation of incident)
I realize I'm a minority on this one, but I actually liked Bane for much of "The Dark Knight Rises." Even with most of his beautiful face covered up, Tom Hardy has a talent for effective physical acting. Each time Bane entered a room, he would clutch his collar, forming two fists that seemed to guard his chest. In that simple gesture, he established a commanding presence while subtly implying a defensive pose, his hands near his weak spot, poised to protect the mask.
"Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it, the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed." -- Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), "Batman Begins" (2005)
"Over the ages our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham we tried a new one: economics.... We are back to finish the job. And this time no misguided idealists will get in the way. Like your father, you lack the courage to do all that is necessary. If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them... and stab them in the heart." -- Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), "Batman Begins" (2005)
"You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other." -- The Joker (Heath Ledger), "The Dark Knight" (2008)
"Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country." -- Maximilien Robespierre, 1794
"I am Gotham's reckoning... I'm necessary evil.... Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die." -- Bane (Tom Hardy), echoing his former master in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)
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(You've seen "The Dark Knight Rises" by now, right? Good. I'm going to discuss a few things that I would consider spoilers, albeit mild ones, and then get to some pretty big spoilers later on, before which I will offer an additional warning, just in case.)
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The villains of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies don't think very highly of "ordinary citizens" (now popularly referred to as "the 99 percent"), whom they tend to view as mindless savages, slaves to fear who'll claw one another and the city of Gotham to shreds at the slightest provocation. The films themselves sometimes confirm that view (Gothamites get a little panicky in "The Dark Knight" when they fear that Batman is not keeping the crime rate down) and sometimes don't (they choose not to blow themselves up in the Joker's intricately planned ferry experiment). This isn't really a theme that's developed in the movies, but like most of the political and social references, it's something that's... there.
Marie writes: club member Sandy Kahn has found some more auctions! Go here to download a free PDF copy of the catalog.
The visceral impact that Ridley Scott's "Alien" had in 1979 can never quite be recaptured, partly because so many movies have adapted elements of its premise, design and effects over the last three decades -- from John Carpenter's remake of "The Thing" (1982) to David Cronenberg's remake of "The Fly" (1986) to "Species" (1998) and "Splice" (2009). No movie had ever looked like this. And it still works tremendously -- but let me tell you, in 1979 a major studio science-fiction/horror film that hinted darkly of interspecies rape and impregnation was unspeakably disturbing. (It got under my skin and has stayed there. We have a symbiotic relationship, this burrowing movie parasite and I. We nourish each other. I don't think Ridley Scott has even come close to birthing as subversive and compelling a creation since.)
The thing is, the filmmakers actually took out the grisly details involving just what that H.R. Giger " xenomorph" did to and with human bodies (the sequels got more graphic), but in some ways that made the horror all the more unsettling. You knew, but you didn't know. It wasn't explicitly articulated. Dallas (Tom Skerrit) just disappears from the movie. The deleted "cocoon" scene (with the haunting moan, "Kill me...") appeared later on a LaserDisc version of the film, and then was incorporated into the 2003 theatrical re-release for the first time. The deleted footage:
Marie writes: As some of you may know, it was Roger's 70th birthday on June 18 and while I wasn't able to give the Grand Poobah what I suspect he'd enjoy most...
Siskel & Ebert fight over a toy train (1988)
Marie writes: Recently, a fellow artist and friend sent me the following photos featuring amazing glass mosaics. She didn't know who the artists were however - and which set me off on a journey to find out! I confess, the stairs currently continue to thwart me and thus remain a mystery, but I did uncover who created the "glass bottle doorway" and was surprised to learn both its location and the inspiration behind it. (click image.)
• Chaz Ebert at Cannes
Dear Roger: "We were once indivisible from every atom in the cosmos," and that is how I feel when I am sitting in the Palais watching movies at Cannes with a screen spread out as wide as the galaxy, the audience circling around like protons and neutrons breathing as one in empathy.
The sounds of Cannes usually begin for me before daylight, when I'm awakened around 5:00 am by the noise of the big motorized awning of the bistro that's directly under my window being rolled down for the day. That's quickly followed by the watery roaring of the street-cleaning machine as it drives up and down the little plaza where the bistro sets up its outdoor tables and chairs. Then, comes the metallic scrape of dozens of chairs being dragged into place. Finally, some natural sounds: birds, including the big screeching gulls that fly inland from the waterfront a few blocks away. The alarm goes off and it's time to start another festival day by arriving at the Palais at 8:00 am to get a seat for the 8:30 am press screening.
"Lawless" by John Hillcoat, the first of four American films in the year's competition, premiered this morning. Set in Franklin, Virginia, in 1931, this is a Prohibition-era tale of a real family, the Bonderants, who became local legends as notorious moonshiners. Legend is the operative word here, as this is a highly romanticized story of three macho brothers and their apparent talent for besting the law, the competition, or death, as the case may be. This is film in which the good guys can be beaten to a pulp and be OK the next day, or take a shotgun blast to the gut from fore to aft but still get up and walk.
The cast is easy on the eyes: Tom Hardy as the eldest brother Forrest, who, as reputation has it, cannot be killed; Jason Clarke as Howard, the fearless middle brother who's batshit crazy when he's been consuming the product; and Shia Lebeouf as the youngest brother Jack, an aspiring lady's man who still has a lot to learn about the family business. Love interests include Jessica Chastain as a former fan-dancer from Chicago who shows up at the Bonderant enclave seeking the quiet life (!), and Mia Wasikowska as the sheltered daughter of a fundamentalist preacher.
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO THE EBERT CLUB!
I was floored by Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the first time I saw it, though (as is usually the case for me, even with movies that don't negotiate complex plots in slyly evasive/elliptical styles), I couldn't have told you exactly what happened. That didn't concern me at all, however, because like its central character George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the movie is so meticulously observant that I never felt I was missing out on anything important, even when I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. It kept me in the emotional moment, and I knew I could figure out the details later on.
The stories behind the relationships at the Circus (nickname for Britain's covert intelligence agency) were tangled -- and yet clearly delineated -- enough to deliver a cumulative emotional payoff. And the more I lived with the vivid memory of the movie (it has stayed with me, unshakably), and the more times I've seen it (thrice, so far), the more my appreciation of it has grown. It has slowly climbed up my list of 2011 favorites, and by the second time I saw it, I was absolutely sure it had eclipsed any other English-language movie I'd seen during the year.
(For gaffe squadders who enjoy those fits of righteous indignation that only award nominations can truly provide, let me suggest that the most egregious oversight in this year's Oscar batch is the lack of acknowledgment for "Tinker Tailor" in the categories of best picture, supporting actor (anyone), supporting actress (Kathy Burke), cinematography, art direction, editing, costume design, and so on down the line. Screenplay, actor and music -- all well-deserved, though.)
First-rate movies often inspire first-rate criticism, and it's been thrilling to read some of the year's best writing inspired by one of its best movies. Here's a sample of some of the finest stuff I've read (all of it after I saw, and wrote a little about, the movie -- so beware of spoilers), with links to the full pieces, which I strongly recommend you follow.
Thinking about this movie, I had to go to a thesaurus to find any synonyms for "underdog." Try it. The point is that I had little interest in watching another dark horse movie because they tend to follow the same unique long shot formula to such a degree that there are not many synonyms even for the word that describes them. Further, the admittedly exciting trailer for Gavin O'Connor's geometrically constructed "Warrior" (2011) seemed to give away all of the film's secrets, including the most preposterous plot points. More than that, all the villains in these Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) matches seemed too familiar and too cartoonish. But, a few friends recommended the movie; then, my fellow Far Flung Correspondent from Cairo, Wael Khairy, appreciated this movie somewhere in his list of the Best Films of 2011.
I would never want to read a screenplay before seeing the movie based on it. As a critic, in fact, it would be a violation of my responsibilities (and ethics) to do that. The film has to be seen on its own, as a completed work; a critic shouldn't rummage through the drafts before experiencing the finished piece -- whether it's a movie or a painting or a symphony. I'm even ambivalent about reading certain books before seeing the movie versions, too, and for the same reason that I don't like to see trailers, particularly of films I'm likely to write about: I don't want to harbor preconceived ideas (even unconscious impressions) when I watch the picture. As we all know, it's hard enough to get a clean look at a movie after all the advertising and interviews and seasonal previews and reviews...
But if you want to gain some understanding of how movies are actually made (movies in general and any movie in particular) it's often enlightening to go back and take look at how the screenplay (or various drafts, re-writes, polishes) evolved into the movie that eventually wound up on the screen. Some filmmakers like Clint Eastwood often claim to simply shoot a script "as written" (though he and Dustin Lance Black did some re-working, including adding a voiceover, on the "J. Edgar" screenplay). But it can be fascinating to see how the writer(s), director(s) and editor(s) shape the material throughout the entire process -- and how moving (or removing) images and lines from one context and placing them in another changes their meaning. This is now easier to do than ever before, because so many screenplays are available online -- legitimately (For Your Consideration at studio sites) and otherwise.
Marie writes: I have no words. Beyond the obvious, that is. And while I'm okay looking at photos, the video.... that was another story. I actually found myself turning away at times, the suspense too much to bear - despite knowing in advance that he's alive and well and there was nothing to worry about. The bottom of my stomach still fell out...
(click images to enlarge)
This is a free edited sample of the Christmas Newsletter.
For Roger's invitation to the Club, go here.
From the Grand Poobah and Mrs. Poobah:
Seasons Greetings Everyone!