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The Second Mother

A domestic comedy-drama that starts off from a fairly pat premise but builds strength over the course of its careful, empathetic, and crafty unpeeling of…

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Z for Zachariah

Chiwetel Eijiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine star in this low-key post-apocalyptic drama about a Garden of Eden that's not big enough for three people.

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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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Film Festival search

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Use the search box below to search RogerEbert.com for film festival coverage from past years: Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, Toronto and others. More recent festival coverage (since 2007) can be found by searching the blogs: Roger Ebert's Journal and Barbara Scharres at Cannes.

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Hara-Kiri: Of courage, compassion & cowardice

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In Takashi Miike's "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai," power and tradition crush good people, just as they did in Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 version. Both films are expressions of social rebellion, but where Kobayashi's conveyed a spirit of righteous vengeance that anticipated the course of its revolutionary decade, Miike's is more plaintive and despairing. There are struggles, but nobody wins, ever. Weak and cowardly people who happen to be tending the levers of power simply carry out meaningless rituals that destroy lives.

As in the '62 film, through flashbacks we get a good, long look at the lives an inflexible Samurai code has destroyed. With the elegance and shyness of an Ozu domestic drama, Miike renders a family formed under bittersweet circumstances: A poor Samurai dies, leaving his son in the care of his old war buddy, a fellow widower with a daughter of his own. Raising these children in early 15th Century peacetime means drawing from meager earnings as an umbrella maker rather than as a soldier of fortune. Hanshiro Tsugumo (Ebizo Ichikawa) might have been tough on the battlefield, but he imparts a gentle nature, not a warrior's stoicism, to the boy, Motome Chiziiwa (Eita). Motome becomes a schoolteacher and, inevitably, marries Hanshiro's daughter Miho (played as an adult by Hikari Mitsushima, the radiant star of Sion Sono's Miike-like masterpiece, "Love Exposure"). He fulfills both obligations with his father's patient, nurturing ways.

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War of the Arrows: Deadly targets

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"War of the Arrows" is currently available on Netflix Instant, Vudu, iTunes and Blu-ray/DVD.

By Jana J. Monji

A sudden crush of movies is bringing the sport of archery back into the limelight, and the timing couldn't be better for the 2011 costume drama "War of the Arrows" from South Korea. This is like a Western movie damsel in distress scenario transported to 17th century Korea with archery instead of gun sharpshooting. The good guys don't wear white hats, but you'll easily be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in this morality tale.

European tradition has William Tell and Robin Hood to tantalize young boys into archery. In America, if children still play cowboys and injuns, then one supposes that the Native Americans still use bows, but that's usually just the braves according to old stereotypes that places the squaws in the wigwams. More recently, we've had "The Avengers" with Clinton Barton's Hawkeye.

For girls, "The Hunger Games" have given us an alternative reality with arrow-slinging Katniss who like Annie Oakley learned to shoot in order to feed her family. Disney's newest princess, Merida in "Brave," performs archery on horseback. Has there ever been a better time for archery?

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Comic-Con 2012: Rev your engines

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San Diego Comic-Con International is a celebration of cartoons, costumes and fictional and real characters. Recent years have brought increasing commercialization. Many of the panels are little more than tantalizing propaganda for upcoming TV programs and movies and the panels bare their wares as brazenly as the whores who used to walk the Gaslamp District before it became a hip place to be. But SDCC is also a venue for introducing and releasing movies that have a link to geek culture and SDCC hosts a Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.

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Cinema O'Paradiso: Stella Days and Hollywood nights

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"Stella Days" (87 minutes) available via iTunes, VuDu, Amazon Instant Video and most other VOD providers (check your local listings). It is also playing in limited theatrical release.

by Jeff Shannon

It seems somehow belittling to pigeon-hole the ever-so-Irish "Stella Days" as a comedy/drama or (saints forgive us!) as that dubious hybrid known as "dramedy." It is, more accurately, a heartfelt, thematically ambitious exploration of fragile faith confronted by rigid dogma, and its dramatic substance is leavened by the kind of wry, tenacious good humor that has defined the Irish character for centuries.

That low-key humor prevails throughout the film but is most evident in the opening scenes, as when Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen) arrives at the bedside of an old, dying woman on the outskirts of Borrisokane, the tiny town in North Tipperary that is home to Barry's parish. He's there to deliver last rites (not for the first time), but the old lady's as tenacious as a potato in barren Irish soil, and all she wants is to hear Father Barry's mellifluous Latin prayer so she can sleep peacefully and live to see another day.

"The last rites are not medicine," he tells her with fond familiarity, knowing he'll eventually return to deliver last rites for real. "Doctor Brady's your man for that."

"Oh, he could never cure me," says Peggy. "I don't know what I'll do when you go back to Rome."

There lies the rub: Father Barry doesn't know it yet, but he won't be returning to his post at the Vatican any time soon. He's a Catholic scholar, an intellectual desperately eager to finish his thesis on St. John at the Cross. He's far less rigid in his thinking than his uptight superiors, most notably Bishop Hegarty (Tom Hickey), a stern traditionalist who finds it necessary to remind Father Barry that "being an Irish parish priest is not a penance."

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Guilty Pleasures: 50 Shades of Cliché

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"Guilty Pleasures" (60 min.) premieres on the PBS series P. O.V. on Thursday, July 12 (check your local listings). The DVD is available for pre-order on the PBS website. It will stream on the POV's website July 13-Aug. 12.

by Donald Liebenson

"Guilty Pleasures." A documentary. About romance novels. She didn't watch documentaries. She didn't read romance novels. When she agreed to join him for what he called "movie night" ("I'll show you something you've never seen," he had said lasciviously), this is not what she signed up for. Her inner goddess yearned for a shirtless Ryan Gosling.

"Here," she offered, unsnapping "Crazy Stupid Love" from its DVD case. Suddenly, like a coiled snake, he lunged, grabbed the disc from her trembling hand and flung it against the wall, sending it spinning, spinning.

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Many of my losing entries in the New Yorker's daunting Cartoon Caption Contest

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It has become a ritual for me to enter the New Yorker's weekly Cartoon Caption Contest. I won only once, long ago in April 2011, and the magazine's cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, wrote a blog about that. In his blog he included three of my losing submissions he enjoyed...and one that was too tumescent, perhaps, to get past the magazine's board of editors. I believe that one (above) was the funniest I've ever submitted. But look over these losers and I'll link Mankoff's blog down at the bottom Go here for Robert Mankoff's blog. And click here to enter this week's contest.

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The City Dark: Turn out the lights

Do you love the nightlife? During hot summers, evening comes like a cool blessing with a promise of good company. But just what do we mean by the night life? Usually we aren't talking about dark streets and even the dimly lit dance venues and bars feature glowing and sometimes pulsing lights. As a woman, I prefer well-lit and well-traveled areas of the city. It's a mattered of safety. Yet in director/writer Ian Cheney's illuminating documentary, "The City Dark, " we learn that having a city that never sleeps comes at a steep price. "What do we lose when we lose the night?" he asks.

For the New York City-based Cheney, who grew up in rural Maine, in a small town of about 4,000 people, his boyhood nightlife was spent gazing at the stars. This 2011 documentary is like a plaintive love song to the night skies of his youth with stunning astrophotography (cinematography by Cheney and Frederick Shanahan). I realized that as much as I love nighttime walks under a full moon, I have never truly seen the sky at night. In most cities there's too much light pollution.

Cheney's previous documentary, the Peabody Award-winning "King Corn" also appeared on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series. Directed by Aaron Woolf and written by Cheney, Curtis Ellis along with Woolf and Jeffrey K. Miller, the 2007 "King Corn: You Are What You Eat," followed college friends, Cheney and Ellis, as they moved to Greene, Iowa to grow an acre of corn and learn about the industrialization of farming and why corn is such a high-demand crop even though it's subsidized by the government.

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