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Winter Sleep

The running time of his new picture Winter Sleep, three hours and change, suggests weight, but at it happens, this movie struck me as both…

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Mr. Turner

Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…

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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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Game Change: Not mavericky, but nice

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"Our slogan's 'Country First.' Lieberman and Pawlenty are 'Country First' choices. Sarah Palin will be perceived as a self-serving political maneuver. You may not only lose this election, John, you just might lose your reputation right along with it." -- prescient warning by McCain advisor Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) in "Game Change"

First, there's this: Austin Pendleton as Joe Lieberman. I just want to mention that casting masterstroke up-front because, even though he only gets about two minutes of screen time (and most of it is in the background) it's one of those little touches that shows the people who made "Game Change" have an eye for the telling detail. I had so much fun watching this movie. The funny thing is, it isn't exactly satire, maybe because that's already inherent in the real-life material. It's a comedy (I think), but the humor is fairly mild, certainly not as funny as Sarah Palin's public appearances actually were. I guess we're just used to her now.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed "Game Change," which goes out of its way to demonstrate understanding and sympathy for Palin, and absolves John McCain of all responsibility for his unconscionable campaign in 2008. (Spoiler alert: It was his advisers who screwed up!) Honestly, McCain and Palin should drop down on their knees and thank everybody involved in this picture for their kindness and discretion: director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers," "Recount") and writer Danny Strong ("Recount"), who adapted the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and a top-notch cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as McCain advisor Steve Schmidt (who is really the main character), Julianne Moore as Palin and Ed Harris as McCain. It's just a shame Harris doesn't have a bigger part to play in the proceedings.

"Game Change" is patterned on redemptive Frank Capra and Preston Sturges archetypes (a dash of "Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington" and maybe quite a lot of "Hail, the Conquering Heroine" -- minus the hero's moral torment over misrepresenting himself), even if the screwball energy is missing. Although, things get fairly dark (as they often do in Capra and Sturges) when Palin shuts down and goes catatonic, overwhelmed by the advisers who are trying to make her into someone and something she is not (neither a conventional politician, nor a credible candidate for Vice President of the United States), she finally snaps out of it, drawing strength from her love of family and state and country, and "goes rogue" in the third act, rediscovering her unique voice and her true spirit. That's a generous assessment of her character, but it's left up to you to decide whether the Real Sarah Palin is someone who oughtta be in politics.Above: The Real Thing

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A plea for sensitivity critical thinking

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I'm late to mention this piece by William Saletan, published in Slate August 23 ("Is a mosque near Ground Zero 'insensitive'?"), which gets to the bottom of this manufactured emotional wedge issue like nothing else I've read. After briskly demolishing the initial rumors about the Park51 development, Saletan quotes the fallback position of opponents who have questioned the sensitivity of the project: Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol... all people renowned for their respect of others' sensitivities.

Feelings about 9/11 are raw and real. Many people, including families who lost loved ones that day, find the prospect of a mosque near Ground Zero upsetting. I've heard this reaction in my family, too. But feelings aren't reasons. You can't tell somebody not to build a house of worship somewhere just because the idea upsets you. You have to figure out why you're upset. What's the basis of your discomfort? Why should others respect it? For that matter, why should you?

This kind of reflection is missing from the sensitivity chorus....

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"What's bad for GM is good for America!"

That's what I wrote, semi-earnestly, in a June 2006 post about the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I led up to it with this:

Had GM committed to the electric car, it might be on top of the world today. Instead, GM's boneheaded short-term business decisions have nearly bankrupted the company. And now, why in the world would anyone want to buy an GM vehicle, when you know they're passing off inferior, antiquated merchandise? Unless it can compete, and catch up technologically to where it already was ten years ago, GM deserves a quick and merciless death.

Two and a half years later, my feelings are a lot more ambivalent -- mainly because I don't want to see more people out of work in this freezing economic climate, unless they're the CEOs who steadily ran the American automobile industry into the ground over the last, oh, thirty years. (They learned nothing from the 1970s, when they found themselves making cars Americans didn't want and handed the market to Toyota, Honda, Mazda...?) As Thomas Friedman put it:

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Palin 2012

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This is has been the script co-written by Sarah Palin & William Kristol (uncredited) all along. And once again John McCain played his part in the scenario, opposite the real Palin (Tina Fey's) on "Saturday Night Live." The 2012 Palin rallies (no mention of McCain) are already being held in places like Florida. As I said in my earlier piece, what started out as the "Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington" political narrative has now become "All About Eve" -- the rogue diva backstabbing the soon-to-be-washed-up old vet. Does McCain know he's been cast in the Bette Davis role?

Hang on, Republicans, it's gonna be a bumpy four years...

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I'm gonna miss her now she's gone

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I can't see Sarah Palin as vice president, but I have no trouble imagining her as an Emmy winner. I'm not being satirical. She and John McCain kicked butt on Saturday Night Live. They were terrific. How good were they? They were better than Tina Fey and Darrell Hammond.

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Dead of (Election) Night: Terrifying tales of campaign narratives run amok!

Skeletons in the closet! Bats in the belfry! Wolves in sheep's clothing! Pit bull-barracudas in Neiman Marcus clothing! Flying pigs in lipstick bursting forth from unlicensed plumbing fixtures! Befitting the sinister tone of season (political and scary), David Bordwell has published a brilliant essay he calls "It was a dark and stormy campaign," in which he examines the concept of "narrative," as it has come to be used in film and campaign circles. This is essential reading:

Clearly the presidential candidates have come to believe that what seizes the public aren't just policy views and promises. Now the campaigns want to tell stories in which the candidates are the protagonists. The life of Barack Obama, or Joe Biden, or Sarah Palin is said to be a story (usually "an American story"). According to Robert Draper's influential recent article ["The Making (and Remaking) of McCain"], John McCain's campaign has deliberately set out a series of "narratives": McCain endures suffering in Hanoi as a POW; he enters politics and fights for reform in government. Mark Salter, McCain's staff member and coauthor, has the responsibility of stitching incidents of the Senator's career into what he calls the "metanarrative" of McCain's life--rather as George Lucas presides over the Bible of the "Star Wars" universe.

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