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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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My Favorite Roger: Matt Fagerholm

Roger’s review of “Mr. Magoo”.

Why did I choose this piece of writing?

Asking a lifelong devotee of Roger Ebert’s written criticism what his or her favorite review would be is sort of like asking Hitchcock to name his favorite blonde or Michael Bay to identify his favorite explosion. It simply cannot be done. I can, however, specify the one Ebert review that I actually know by heart. It wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to commit his half-star review of Stanley Tong’s miserable 1997 vehicle for Leslie Nielsen, “Mr. Magoo,” to memory. It just happened naturally after spending countless hours devouring Ebert’s indispensable compilation, “I Hated Hated Hated This Movie.” When a film would fail to entertain or enlighten, Ebert would supply copious amounts of entertainment and enlightenment in his cathartic analyses. The worse the film, the funnier the critique. Looking at this hilariously scathing review again, I’m amazed by just how many laughs he manages to squeeze into 444 words. Having been a fan of the “Naked Gun” pictures (as was I), he likely entered the theater expecting to at the very least crack a grin. Alas, it was not to be. “There is not a laugh in it,” Ebert writes in astonishment, “Not one. I counted.” Anytime I’m asked why I love Ebert’s writing, I quote any given passage of this review and find that it earns appreciative guffaws every single time, especially when I recite the final paragraph, when the cheerfully sardonic critic reveals the only thing in “Mr. Magoo” that did indeed make him laugh. It’s a hoot.


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