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A Walk Among the Tombstones

Fans of the hardboiled detective, rejoice. Screenwriter-director Scott Frank and actor Liam Neeson, adapting the splendid work of crime novelist Lawrence Block, have brought a…

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The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.

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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.

#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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Extraterrestrial: Sex, lies and science-fiction

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"Extraterrestrial" (90 minutes) premieres simultaneously on June 15th on DVD and all major on-demand platforms. It also opens June 15th in limited theatrical release.

If you've seen the 2007 thriller "Timecrimes," you already know that Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo has a noteworthy knack for developing big ideas (in this case, time travel) on an intimate scale. "Timecrimes" marked a promising debut, with Vigalondo in full command of limited resources: With only three central characters and a tightly restricted location, he executed a cleverly conceived plot with stylish economy and Hitchcockian flair.

With his second film, "Extraterrestrial, " Vigalondo presents another, more intricate exercise in thwarting expectations. Imagine the bloated-budget excess of a blockbuster like "Independence Day," with dozens, maybe even hundreds of gigantic alien spaceships hovering ominously over Earth's major cities. Now take the same alien invasion scenario, eliminate 99% of the special effects and spectacle, and shift its focus to four lovelorn apartment dwellers in an abandoned city (in this case Madrid) as they proceed to confuse each other with a comedic succession of lies.

Now you've got "Extraterrestrial," in which the only E. T. is... well, I'm not going to spoil it for you, but here's a clue: Think of Vigalondo as the anti-Roland Emmerich. He has no apparent interest in epic battles requiring Will Smith to save the world against slimy, monstrous aliens. Instead, Vigalondo attempts an audacious bait-and-switch, keeping his "epic" sci-fi entirely in the background while focusing on what is, essentially, a farcical rom-com about three guys in love with the same woman. It's a daring attempt at genre-bending that doesn't always pay off, but it's a refreshing alternative to uninspired, play-it-safe blockbusters.

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The Caustic Cruelty of Remorse

May Contain Spoilers

I find it easy and necessary to forgive the sources of my wounds. Most of them. I find it impossible, however, to forgive others for wounds inflicted upon my loved ones - especially my friends, siblings, children, and parents - even when the victims themselves are forgiving. But, most of all, I'm often imprisoned by my own remorse for the real and perceived impact my choices have had on others. Remorse is a vicious debt collector that knocks on the door to my heart on its own erratic schedule. Such is the case with Will Smith in Gabriele Muccino's "Seven Pounds" (2008).

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The best documentaries of 2011

Why not fold documentaries into my list of the "Best Films of 2011?" After all, a movie is a movie, right? Yes, and some years I've thrown them all into the same mixture. But all of these year-end Best lists serve one useful purpose: They tell you about good movies you may not have seen or heard about. The more films on my list that aren't on yours, the better job I've done.

That's particularly true were you to depend on the "short list" released by the Academy's Documentary Branch of 15 films they deem eligible for nomination. The branch has been through turmoil in the past and its procedures were "reformed" at one point. But this year it has made a particularly scandalous sin of

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#85 October 19, 2011

Lesson for the day: How to have fun while wasting time... Marie writes: welcome to DRAW A STICK MAN, a delightful Flash-based site prompting viewers to draw a simple stick figure which then comes to life!  Ie: the program animates it. You're given instructions about what to draw and when, which your dude uses to interact with objects onscreen. Thanks go to club member Sandy Kahn who heard about it from her pal Lauren, in Portland Oregon.Note: here's a screen-cap of what I drew; I've named him Pumpkin Head.

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Happiness is a good father

May Contain Spoilers

Every semester, I ask my students this one simple question. "Can you honestly say that you are happy?" In a class of 40 students, maybe only six will raise their hands. And that is pretty sad.

Are they plagued by those uncertainties of youth? Are they wondering if they will find a career, love, or meaning? Are they terrified by the threats of terrorist attacks, financial collapse, climate change and, well, the Apocalypse? Or, have they decided that the "American Dream" was not Thomas Jefferson's vision, but is instead a sappy Hollywood fantasy? Or, maybe they just hate my class? Sure.

In answering this question, Gabriele Muccino's "The Pursuit of Happyness," takes many usual directions that Hollywood movies take. At first, he seems to answer the question the way we would expect a Hollywood filmmaker to answer:

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"I criticize you back -- again!"

From an interview with "Transformers: ROTFL" director Michael Bay at Wall Street Journal Online:

Megan Fox, one of the leads in "Transformers" has criticized your films for being special-effects-driven and not offering so many acting opportunities. Do you agree?

Well, that's Megan Fox for you. She says some very ridiculous things because she's 23 years old and she still has a lot of growing to do. You roll your eyes when you see statements like that and think, "Okay Megan, you can do whatever you want. I got it." But I 100% disagree with her. Nick Cage wasn't a big actor when I cast him, nor was Ben Affleck before I put him in "Armageddon." Shia LaBeouf wasn't a big movie star before he did "Transformers" -- and then he exploded. Not to mention Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, from "Bad Boys." Nobody in the world knew about Megan Fox until I found her and put her in "Transformers." I like to think that I've had some luck in building actors' careers with my films.

So there! But what did Fox actually say about being in "Transformers"? Here are some excerpts from her cover interview in Entertainment Weekly:

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Here's an intriguing Credit Cookie idea for the end of 'Charlie Wilson's War'

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Q. You said the final image of "The Assassination of Jessie James" was a Credit Cookie of the last shot of "The Great Train Robbery," with the cowboy firing his gun at the audience. That gave me an idea for a post-credits final image for "Charlie Wilson's War." As the film implies at the end, the aid to Afghanistan had an eventual blow-back, helping fuel the creation of our enemy Al-Qaeda. How about an Afghan fighter firing rockets at Russian planes, then turning his weapon on the camera and firing right at the audience. Rhys Southan, Richardson, Texas

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Movie Answer Man (12/20/2007)

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Q. I am a devoted fan of Ian McEwan’s novel "Atonement," one of those books that raises your heartbeat and ignites conflicting emotions and thoughts like fireworks exploding in the sky. So many nights I returned to that book to amuse myself for several hours by just repeating the poetry of McEwan’s prose, its words melting over my tongue like butter.

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Scanners' 2007 Exploding Head Awards (Part 1)

View image And the Exploding Head goes to... Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in "Knocked Up"?

I'll publish my annotated "best of" list next week, but while thinking back over the year's movies I recalled some things that seemed to me "beyond category." Or the usual categories, anyway. One way or another, they made my head feel that it might explode. So, while everybody's preoccupied with all those other awards, here are the 2007 Exploding Heads for Achievement in Movies:

Best endings: • "The Sopranos" (final episode): blackout • "No Country for Old Men": "Then I woke up." • "I'm Not There": Dylan's harmonica on "Mr. Tambourine Man" • "Superbad": Baby-steps toward adulthood, separating at the mall escalator • "Zodiac": Stare-down

Most electrifying moment: A dog. A river. "No Country for Old Men."

Best grandma: "Persepolis"

Best surrogate grandpa: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"

"Arrested Development" Award for Best Throwaway Lines: • "Keep it in the oven..." -- Jason Bateman, "Juno" • "... Terrorism..." -- Michael Cera, "Superbad" (actually, Cera has so many astonishingly brilliant under-his-breath moments in "Superbad" and "Juno" it's uncanny)

Best performance by an inanimate object: (tie) The cloud (and its shadow), the candy wrapper, the blown lock housing in the motel room door, "No Country for Old Men"

Most cringe-worthy lines: • "My cooperation with the Nazis is only symbolic." -- "Youth Without Youth" • "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet." -- "Juno" (the cutesy moment at the beginning when I nearly ran screaming for an exit; cutting this entire unnecessary scene would improve "Juno" immensely)

Funniest double-edged observation: "He's playing fetch... with my kids... he's treating my kids like they're dogs." -- Debbie (Leslie Mann) in "Knocked Up," watching Ben (Seth Rogen) play with her daughter, who is loving it. That's her point of view, and she's right, but she says it like it's a bad thing.

View image Ain't nothin' but the real thing, baby: Brian Dierker and Catherine Keener in "Into the Wild."

The Real Thing: "Non-actor" Brian Dierker, rubber tramp, "Into the Wild" (and, of course, his "old lady" Catherine Keener, actor extraordinaire)

Best film about the way The Industry really works since "The Big Picture": Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set." The moment I knew it was going to be exceptional (sharp, precise and, therefore, extraordinarily funny) was when the writer's choice for the lead role gives an audition that's just... underwhelming. He isn't good. He isn't terrible. He just isn't enough. Which then allows the network execs to push for the "broader" alternative ("To me, the broad is the funny"). And even he proves himself capable of being not-awful -- in rehearsal, at least...

Best political film: (tie) "12:08 East of Bucharest" and "Persepolis" -- a pair of smart, funny movies about the effects of political revolutions on individuals in (respectively) Romania and Iran.

Deadliest stare: (tie) Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), "No Country for Old Men"; Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), "Atonement"

Young comedy whippersnapper stars of the year: Michael Cera (19), Ellen Page (20), Seth Rogen (25), Jonah Hill (24), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (18)

Game savers: J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, who come to the rescue of "Juno" not a moment too soon

Best torture porn: The excruciatingly funny baptism scene with Paul Dano and Daniel Day Lewis (both of 'em overactin' up a storm -- but in a fun way), "There Will Be Blood"

Most worthless critical label: "Independent." A movie should not be viewed through its budget, financing or distribution. And in these days of studio "dependents" (Miramax, Focus Features, Paramount Vantage, Fox Searchlight, etc.), the term "indie" is frequently misleading at the very least.

Best bureaucrat: Dr. Fischer (Alberta Watson), "Away From Her"

Best negotiations: • Chigurh and the gas station owner, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and the trailer park lady, "No Country for Old Men" • Chigurh and Carla Jean, "No Country for Old Men" • "4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": The painfully protracted, ever-shifting moral balance (and exhausting power-struggle) in the hotel room, between the friend and the abortionist -- while the pregnant woman herself passive-aggressively bows out of any responsibilities for what has happened, or will happen.

"Perfume" Award for Best Portrayal of Synesthesia: "Ratatouille"

Best Supporting Crotch: Sacha Baron Cohen, "Sweeney Todd." An squirm-inducing scene-stealer that makes you long for a change of angle: Please give us an above-the-waist shot! (Did they have spandex in mid-19th century London?)

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Ebert's Oscar predictions (2007)

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In a year when the Academy Award nominations are more diverse and international than ever before, it's anyone's guess who will win best picture. "Dreamgirls" garnered more nominations than any other movie, but was passed over for both picture and director.

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Ebert's take on the Oscar picks

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Oscar is growing more diverse and international by the year. This year's Academy Award nominations, announced Tuesday, contain a few titles that most moviegoers haven't seen and some they haven't heard of. That's perhaps an indication that the Academy voters, who once went mostly for big names, are doing their homework and seeing the pictures.

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'Dreamgirls' snubbed -- with 8 noms

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The peppy musical "Dreamgirls" led Academy Awards contenders Tuesday with eight nominations, but surprisingly was shut out in the best picture category for which it had been considered a potential front-runner. The sweeping ensemble drama "Babel" was close behind with seven, including best picture and acting honors for two newcomers to U.S. audiences, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi.

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Oscarcast: Rappin' with the stars

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LOS ANGELES -- Sunday night's Oscarcast may be the first in recent history where the presenters and performers outdraw the nominees. This year's field of films and actors is of an unusually high standard, which translates to a smaller audience, given the general rule that the better something is on TV, the fewer people watch it. Consider that "Dancing With the Stars" outdrew the Olympics.

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Movie Answer Man (12/03/2000)

Q. I just read your review of "Unbreakable." I'm afraid you didn't get the whole point of the movie. This film is not a "serious drama" as you state in your review. The entire movie is tongue in cheek. It's sly and witty, with lots of laughs for those who get the joke. The joke is that the entire movie is a comic book about a new super hero, in which the hero discovers his powers. The very name of the Bruce Willis character, David Dunn, is in the classic comic book tradition of Peter Parker, Clark Kent and Lois Lane." Similarly, Mr. Glass is in the tradition of The Joker, The Riddler, Pruneface, etc. The Bruce Willis character goes out in the rain wearing a hooded poncho reminiscent of Batman's hood and cape. I think the movie is a victim of bad marketing. The previews should have shown some of the lighter scenes to give the audience more appropriate expectations. (Jared Laskin, Los Angeles)

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Movie Answer Man (07/02/2000)

Q. Just heard that Mike Nichols is planning to do a remake of "Kind Hearts and Coronets," starring Robin Williams and Will Smith. Nichols is quoted as saying he plans to "change the main theme from class struggle to race relations, and change the ending." How, then, is this a remake? (Ken Bearden, Wyandotte, MI)

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Movie Answer Man (12/13/1998)

Q. The great Sir Alfred Hitchcock was a busy worker right up until his death, and was working on a film when he died. From what I've heard, the screenplay and carefully-drawn story boards were finished. My question is, why hasn't anyone opted to make THIS film? Wouldn't this have been a better idea for Gus Van Sant than a remake of Hitch's best-known work? (Jeff VanDreason, Syracuse, NY)

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