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Life of Crime

While it doesn’t hit the highs of the very best movies based on Elmore Leonard’s works, it’s also far less slick and ingratiating than the…

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The Congress

"The Congress" is a roll call of the orgiastic pleasures and bountiful comforts that art provides, and, a reminder of what waits for us when…

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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.

#155 February 13, 2013

Marie writes: If I have a favorite festival, it's SXSW and which is actually a convergence of film, music and emerging technologies. However it's the festival's penchant for screening "quirky" Indie movies which really sets my heart pounding and in anticipation of seeing the next Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman. So from now until March, I'll be tracking down the best with the zeal of a Jack Russell terrier!  Especially since learning that Joss Whedon's modern B/W take on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" is set to screen at SXSW 2013 in advance of its June 21st US release date; they'll cut an official trailer soon, rubbing hands together!

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Pearl Jam at 20: American Masters? Yes.

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"Pearl Jam Twenty" is available On Demand (check your satellite or cable listings) and premieres on the PBS series "American Masters" at 9 p. m. (ET/PT), Oct. 21. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 25. For additional viewing, the grunge documentary "Hype!" is available on Netflix (DVD only).

by Jeff Shannon

Here in Seattle, we think of Cameron Crowe as an honorary native. When he married Nancy Wilson in 1986, he married into local rock royalty: Nancy and her sister, Ann, are the pioneering queens of rock in Heart, the phenomenally successful and still-touring Seattle-based band that is presently nominated for induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. It wasn't long before Crowe became a kind of de facto ambassador of Seattle-based rock.

At the time, the rest of the world still knew Crowe as the rock-journalist wunderkind who started writing for Rolling Stone at age 15 (an experience Crowe would later dramatize in "Almost Famous") and the author-turned-screenwriter of Amy Heckerling's 1982 high-school classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." You could reasonably speculate that the seeds of the Crowe/Wilson romance were planted in "Fast Times": Nancy Wilson makes a cameo appearance in the film as "Beautiful Girl in Car," catching Judge Reinhold's character in yet another moment of humiliating embarrassment. One can imagine Crowe thinking "I'm gonna marry that girl." When he actually did, countless male Heart fans turned green with envy.

(By sheer happenstance, I made a friendly connection with Crowe three years before we actually met. Shortly after the newlywed Crowe moved to the Eastside Seattle suburb of Woodinville, he and Nancy placed a mobile home on their rural property to accommodate visits from Wilson's mother. At the time, my father was running a mortgage business specializing in mobile/land sales in Snohomish County, and he closed their deal. When my dad informed Crowe that I was a Seattle film critic and an admirer of his, Crowe sent me a signed copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High to my dad's office. It was a completely unsolicited gesture of kindness, and a pleasant precursor to later encounters.)

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#61 May 4, 2011

Marie writes: Doug Foster is a filmmaker and artist who produces large scale digital film installations that often play with ideas of symmetry and optical illusion. His piece The Heretics' Gate is currently on view at "Daydreaming with... St. Michael's" - an exhibition taking place at St. Michael's church in Camden, London. Note: Foster's piece first appeared at the Hell's Half Acre exhibition at the Old Vic Tunnels in London in 2010."The Heretics' Gate" draws inspiration from Dante's Inferno, the first part of his epic poem The Divine Comedy. A twenty foot high, arched screen and a thirty foot long reflecting pool, are cleverly combined to deliver a mesmerizing and strangely ethereal vision of hell at the central focus point of the church's imposing gothic architecture. To learn more, visit: Liquid Hell: A Q&A With Doug Foster.NOTE: The exhibition is the latest installment in renowned British music producer James Lavelle's curatorial and collaborative art venture, "DAYDREAMING WITH..." - a unique and visceral new exhibition experience, inspired by the desire to marry music and visual art. The goal is to bring together some of the most acclaimed creative names working in music, art, film, fashion and design.

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Robert Duvall: "Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that"

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• Roger Ebert / August 25, 1983

They honored Robert Duvall the other night at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto, dedicating their annual Tribute to an actor's actor who is only now entering into stardom after two decades of great character performances.

Duvall was accompanied onstage by Gene Siskel and me, on a guided tour of clips from a lot of his best movies, and when we got to one of his key scenes in "The Godfather" (1971), you could have heard a pin drop.

The scene was the famous one where Duvall, as Tom Hagen, Don Corleone's trusted family lawyer, goes to Hollywood to persuade a studio boss to give Johnny Fontane, the mob-connected singer, a starring role in a movie. "Godfather" fans will recall that the sequence ends with the boss refusing Hagen's request, and waking up the next morning in the same bed with the severed head of his beloved racehorse.

Anyway, when the scene was over, Duvall got to talking about the film's director, Francis Coppola.

"It's not widely known that when Coppola made 'The Godfather,' the studio had a substitute director standing by at all times," Duvall said. "One false move and Francis would have been replaced. That was incredible pressure for him to work under. It's a great picture, but under the circumstances it's a miracle he even finished it. As for Francis himself, he's like a kid with an all-day sucker. He wants his Hollywood studio, and a vineyard in Northern California, and an apartment in Paris. He's a great director, but he loves all his toys."

All this could be checked out, at first hand, because Coppola himself was a surprise guest, lurking in the back of the theater. Wearing a Panama hat, he marched down the aisle, took a seat on the stage and shared his notions of acting, directing, Duvall and "The Godfather."

"That was a strange scene to show," Coppola said, "because in the long shot it isn't even Bobby. We shot Bobby's scenes on the East Coast, and for the West Coast exteriors we used a double."

"You can tell," Duvall said, "because he doesn't have my bow-legs."

Coppola and Duvall began remembering moments from "The Godfather," especially an early rehearsal dinner.

"I assembled the whole cast for a dinner at Pearl's restaurant in New York," Coppola said. "There they all were -- Brando eating everything in sight, and Pacino looking tragic, and Duvall doing his Brando imitations every time Marlon turned his back. It was like the Corleone family having dinner. It was that night I knew the picture would work."

After two more clips from "Godfather, Part Two," we viewed perhaps the most famous single scene Coppola or Duvall has ever been involved with: The beach landing in "Apocalypse Now" that begins with a flight of helicopters playing Richard Wagner over loudspeakers, and ends with Duvall's famous line: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It seems like . . . victory!"

"One take," Coppola said. "We did that scene in one take, the first take."

That made it all the more extraordinary, because the scene is not only an exercise in logistics, but a demonstration of physical courage. While jets thunder overhead, helicopters make close passes and shells go off within yards of Duvall, he remains totally unaffected. He doesn't even twitch an eyelash at the special effects explosions, and marches around on the sand talking obsessively about the great surfing beach he has just occupied.

"There wasn't any time to think," Duvall said. "I heard over the intercom that we only had the use of the jets for 20 minutes. One fly-by and that was it. I just got completely into the character, and if he wouldn't flinch, I wouldn't flinch."

As Duvall reviewed his career from "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1963) to "Tender Mercies" (1983), his acting approach was clearly revealed: He believes in giving himself over to the character. He talked about spending time with homicide cops before making "The Detective" (1968), and hanging out with good ol' boys from Texas to find his character, a country singer, for "Tender Mercies."

"Not to brag, but I got calls from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson telling me I had the character just right," he said.

Robert Duvall has long been known as an accomplished actor, but the range of his acting career was dramatized by the three-hour program. The scenes ranged from "True Grit" (he faced John Wayne in that great shoot-out in the mountain meadow) to "The Chase" (Duvall and Brando) to George Lucas' "THX 1138" (Duvall as a puzzled automaton) to Robert Altman's "MASH" (Duvall's love scene with Hot Lips) to "True Confessions" (Duvall as a cop, Robert DeNiro as his brother, a priest) and "The Great Santini" (Duvall as a military pilot who demands perfection from his family).

Two things stood out as the scenes marched past; Duvall never plays the same character twice, and he makes other actors look good. He brings a quality to his listening, his reactions, that charges a scene even when he's not talking.

One of the movies shown at Toronto was unfamiliar. It was "Tomorrow," a 1972 adaptation of a William Faulkner short story. The movie was never widely released, but Duvall says his performance in it, as a poor dirt farmer that loves and loses a woman and her child, is the one he likes best. "It's got the most of me in it," he said.

And what, at mid-career, what has he learned about acting? "Give yourself completely to the moment."

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Happiness is being on the road again

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By Roger Ebert November 16, 1986

Most people who are on the road all the time seem to be running from something. Willie Nelson seems to be looking for it. One of his best friends says Willie can't be happy for long unless he's going somewhere - by plane, car, train, bus, foot; it doesn't matter, just as long as he's in motion. One recent rainy day, Willie flew out of Austin, Texas, and spent some time in Chicago, and later that night laid his head to rest in New York City.

"I guess I'm just restless," he said here, stirring sugar into his black coffee in the middle of the afternoon. "It's difficult for me to stay in one spot for long. I really do like to get up and go somewhere, maybe because I've done it all my life. Billy Joe Schaffer has a line, about being so restless that moving's the closest thing to being free."

Nelson was wearing a trimmed-down version of the bushy beard he grew for "Red-Headed Stranger," his new movie, and he had his long hair in two braids -- he's letting it grow again, after cutting it short a few years ago. He was in Chicago to promote the movie, a labor of love that he filmed on his Texas ranch with the help of friends, neighbors, and a mysterious Boston woman who turned up one day with a check for $50,000. (The film's distributor has yet to book a Chicago area theater.)

He is a big star and he doesn't travel light. There must have been a half dozen business partners, assistants, publicists, movie distributors and old pals who checked into the hotel with him, but it was all so low-key I figured they took their tone from him, and he never seemed in a hurry about anything. I asked him if he still used the bus that was the co-star of "Honeysuckle Rose," or if he only used private planes now.

"I love the bus," he said. "You know you've been somewhere. Ham and eggs at dawn in some truck stop somewhere, if that's what you're hungry for. We live in the bus or in hotels a lot, and we like it. My life is very close to the autobiographical movies, `Honeysuckle Rose' and `Songwriter.' "

Those two movies demonstrated Nelson's strange ability, as a movie actor, to create a powerful character while scarcely seeming to raise his voice. Neither one was a box office hit; indeed, Willie Nelson's movie career has consisted of sleepers and lost films and projects producers lost interest in.

His first starring role was "Honeysuckle Rose," the 1980 saga of a hard-drinking country music star and the tug-of-war between his wife (Dyan Cannon) and girl friend (Amy Irving). Then came "Barbarosa" (1982), an offbeat Western about two legendary cowboys and their feud with a Mexican land baron. The studio didn't even want to release that one, even though co-star Gary Busey had recently won an Oscar nomination for "The Buddy Holly Story." Then in 1984 came "Songwriter," with Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in the story of a man determined to regain his independence from the pressures of the recording industry. And now here is "Red-Headed Stranger," inspired by Nelson's album of 11 years ago which tells the story of a preacher who tries t o tame an evil town, is abandoned by his wife, kills his wife and her lover, and then spends years in exile in the wilderness before riding back in to meet his fate in that same town.

Whatever it is that Nelson has as a movie actor, a lot of important directors have been attracted to it. The first movie was directed by Jerry ("Scarecrow") Schatzberg, the second by Fred ("Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith") Schepisi, the third by Alan ("Choose Me") Rudolph, and this one is the directorial debut of Bill Wittliff, who wrote the first two. In all of them, Nelson plays a recognizable version of himself, as a weathered, quiet, gentle man who gives hints of having suffered more than he should have, and being more cheerful than he has reason to be.

"The movie thing all started after a party one night in Nashville," Nelson said, remembering. "It was a fund-raiser for some ecological project Robert Redford was sponsoring, and the next day I found myself on the same plane with Redford, flying back to Los Angeles. He asked me if I had ever wanted to be in the movies, and I said, well, yeah, sure, I supposed so. I guess he already had me in mind for something."

That would have been Redford's "Electric Horseman" (1979), where Nelson's official film acting debut was short but unforgettable (he described a woman as being "able to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch"). Even after four starring roles, he said he's still not happy while he's making a movie: "It's difficult for me to sit in one spot for three months."

And it was difficult to make "Red-Headed Stranger," he added, because the role was so different from himself. "In the songwriter movies, I was basically just being myself. This one I had to stretch a little. But I wanted to make it. When I wrote the album for some reason I could see a movie being made of it. And I just felt like if it were to be made into a movie, I could probably play that character as well as anybody. I used to sing the song to my kids as a bedtime story."

It's kind of a grim story, with the preacher starting out with his high ideals and then murdering what he loved, and descending into self-destruction before he finally gets it together again.

"I think it shows how far down a person can go and then come back, regardless of who he is. And that even a preacher, who is a human being, can drop to that depth and then come back. The thing I wanted to avoid was just turning the movie into one long music video. There was plenty of music available, enough that we could put a song under every scene if we wanted to, but I fought with Wittliff over that. He wanted a lot of music. At first, I didn't want any music at all. I guess we met in the middle somewhere."

The result: an odd Western road picture, somewhat strangely cast (Morgan Fairchild plays Nelson's first wife, and Katharine Ross makes a rare film appearance as the widow who gives him new hope). Nelson spent years trying to finance the project. He described his troubles: "The movie calls for a raging black stallion and a dancing bay pony, and I bought them both when I started the project, but by the time I got the movie made, the dancing bay pony wasn't dancing too much and the raging black stallion wasn't raging too much."

Finally, he said, he and Wittliff pared the budget down to rock bottom and built the sets out back on Nelson's Texas ranch, and started shooting. One example of cutting corners: In the original script, the bad guys blew up the town's water tower, but in the finished version, they just open the tap and drain the water - saving the cost of a $40,000 explosion.

"To keep the thing going, we were writing hot checks at one point," Nelson said. "None of them bounced, though. I guess the people that got them just had enough faith to hold onto them until they figured they were good."

But you have a lot of money, don't you? You're rich and famous.

"Rich, I don't know about. I don't have that much money. I make a lot of money and I spend a lot of money. I have a lot of expenses. The music business brings the money in, and the ranches and various real estate that I have take the money out again. My ranch in Texas is not what you'd describe as a money-making proposition. I keep some pleasure horses there and I enjoy the hell out of it, but it's not a working ranch."

He poured himself some more coffee and smiled to himself.

"With `Red-Headed Stranger,' what saved us was the generosity of a woman in Boston named Carolyn Musar. I only mention her name because she hates it whenever I do. She happened to be a fan of mine, and she heard somewhere that we were short of money to finish this movie, and she told her lawyer, "Find out how much those guys need,' and she was on the set two days later with a $50,000 check as a loan. It came at just the crucial moment."

Nelson, who said he wasn't sure when the film would be released, said he was keeping busy. He was featured in a recent "Miami Vice" episode, he went to New York to be honored as "Man of the Year" by the Jewish United Fund, he was planning a tour, and he was still active on the follow-through for Farm-Aid (the fund- and consciousness-raising extravaganza he produced last summer in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.). All of this for a country singer who likes to call himself an outlaw. I asked him what "outlaw" meant to him, now that he was part of the establishment that had once rejected him.

"Freedom," he said simply. "Freedom to decide for yourself, whatever it is. I think that's why the term caught on so much with the public; it's not going the way someone tells you to go."

It also meant, for a lot of people during Nelson's earlier days, the wild-and-woolly lifestyle that he celebrated in "Honeysuckle Rose" (which was renamed "On the Road Again" for its TV and video reincarnation). In the movie, as - some said - in real life, Nelson and his sidekicks drank and partied their way from one stop to another, leaving a trail of empty bottles and broken hearts behind. But now the wild life has settled down considerably for many of country music's outlaws -- Nelson's pals Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings have all gone public with their decisions to stop drinking and/or drugging, and Hank Williams Jr. even wrote a song about how his rowdy old friends had mellowed. I asked Nelson if he would mind a question about his wild reputation.

"I'll answer any question."

Well, then, do you still live in the style that made "outlaw" famous?

"I drink less, much less. Moderation is the key. I used to overdo everything."

Is it hard to make the tours and live the life on the bus when you're cleaning up your act?

"I think it's important that you surround yourself with a bunch of guys who have the same head that you do, so you're all on a somewhat similar level, or when you hit the bandstand it's not gonna be right. The important thing is that we really do enjoy performing. Other people may call it work. I'm not happy for long unless I'm singing somewhere. Every show is different."

How do you write a song?

"The way it begins is in my head. A lot of things won't let you not write them. I don't actually write anything down for a long time, and so the test is, if I can remember it, it must be worth writing down. If I get out the pencil and paper, I'm already sold on it. But also, I have a belief that any song, if it was good once, it's still good. That's why I like to record a lot of other people's songs, standards, things like the `Stardust' album (a best seller from 1978)."

Did you get criticism in the country music world for recording "Stardust" and the other pop classics? Did people think that wasn't pure enough, from a country point of view?

"Not so much criticism as dubiousness. The `Stardust' album was not thought to be the greatest idea by a lot of people. But these were the songs I'd been playing all my life anyway. And in clubs, people would request `Stardust' and `Harbor Lights' and then turn right around and ask for `Fraulein,' `San Antonio Rose' or `Whiskey River.' People just like good music, a lot of different kinds of music. And I was singing `Stardust' a long time before I was singing country."

Somehow that doesn't fit the image.

"Oh, but it's true. I learned music from my grandparents, and they learned it by mail order from a place called," Nelson said, pausing, "I think the return envelopes said it was called the Chicago Musical Institution. They'd study under kerosene lamps every night. I watched them, they'd have their lessons out of the mail-order books, and then send them back through the mail, and finally they got their degrees. They were about 60 years old then. Sixty years old and still taking their lessons, still young enough to learn something. They had great spirit. I thought so.

"My granddad died when I was 6. He'd taught me some chords on the guitar. My grandmother played the piano and organ a little, but she was getting old and had arthritis. She taught my sister Bobbie how to play the piano, and I learned from her. I'd play guitar and she'd play piano, and that's when I first sang 'Stardust.' I learned it from her.

"I've been singing it since before I knew what it meant."

Did your grandmother live long enough to see you perform in public?

"Yes, she did. She would come to a place in Fort Worth called the Panther Hall Ballroom whenever I'd play there. She was in her 80s."

The afternoon was growing dark, and the rain was starting up again. Before long it would be time for Willie Nelson to head out for the airport again, and fly to New York. I asked him how it felt to be "Man of the Year."

"If they've named me that, there must be a few things they don't know about me," he said, and chuckled. "I guess I got it because of the Farm Aid thing, which is really one of the things I've done in my life that was a great thing. When I first got into the issue of family farms, I had no idea the problem was as severe as it was. I thought we'd do a benefit to call attention to the farmer thing, and Washington would say, `Oh, they're having a problem,' and the next day the whole thing would be worked out. But the problem is getting worse. Hundreds of farmers are going under every week."

Have you ever thought of running for office?

"Yeah. A long time ago. I was approached to run for senator from Texas, and I had to decide, and I decided not to. I'm an entertainer, and so the very fact that in order to become a politician you have to piss off half of the country didn't seem very smart. Why chop off half of your audience just so you could walk around and say, "I'm a senator'?"

And so that's how America lost its chance at the first outlaw senator. What about retirement?

"Yeah, I suppose I'll hang it up someday. Everybody does. But not this year or the next. When I do, I'd like to maybe buy me a little one-pump gas station somewhere in south Texas. You know, pretty far from town, and without much traffic."

If you're a Comcast customer, "Red-Headed Stranger" is streaming.

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Your flag decal won't get you into heaven any more

Here I was all set to go Elitist on the country singer Lee Greenwood, and I pulled the rug out from under myself. I shared Rachel Maddow's incredulity that the limping duck George W. Bush had appointed Greenwood to the National Council of the Arts. I even had my first two sentences written in my head: "Remember how the Bush takeover squad at the White House complained the Clintonites had unplugged all the PCs on their way out the door? As he steadfastly marches toward his own sunset, it is Bush himself who seems unplugged."

Zing! Totally unfair, but snappy, Bush had two vacancies to fill on the NCA, one for three years, one for six. Greenwood got the six-year term. He'll be the gift that keeps on giving every day during Obama's first term. The Council's job is to advise the National Endowment for the Arts on how to spend its money. I assume Greenwood will support the endowment's Shakespeare in American Communities Initiative, but you can never be sure about those things.

Da-ding! I was just getting warmed up. I was going to sympathize with Bush because fate has set a limited table for conservatives in the arts department. Liberals get Paul Newman, conservatives get Chuck Norris. We get Bruce Springsteen, they get Cousin Brucie. Does such a thing as a conservative dancer even exist? To be sure, Greenwood was a member of a dance ensemble, but that was when he was nine. Look at Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Democratic party, who was a philosopher, author, architect, violinist , inventor, sketch artist and culinary expert, and still found the time to found another branch of the family. JFK told an assembly of U.S. Nobel Prize winners: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House -- with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." I imagine George whispering to Laura: "Why didn't anyone want to eat with him?"

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Happiness is being on the road again

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Most people who are on the road all the time seem to be running from something. Willie Nelson seems to be looking for it. One of his best friends says Willie can't be happy for long unless he's going somewhere -- by plane, car, train, bus, foot; it doesn't matter, just as long as he's in motion. One recent rainy day, Willie flew out of Austin, Texas, and spent some time in Chicago, and later that night laid his head to rest in New York City.

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