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Deepwater Horizon

Everything here feels routine—more like an inevitability than a work of art or even a piece of entertainment.

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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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Remembering my father's face

May Contain Spoilers

I remember my father's face, but not his voice. If I close my eyes I can perfectly see his expression of disapproval this one time when I was five years old, and another one of deep affection, at more or less the same time, but I cannot remember what he said - or even if said something - in each of those moments. What I do know beyond any doubt is that The Tree of Life, a masterpiece of filmmaker Terrence Malick, kindly led me to these reminiscences through his own philosophical reflection on human nature and our history on this planet. In this sense, the film represents a deeply religious experience for atheists, humanists, and especially film lovers.

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Life beyond Rationality and Compassion

May Contain Spoilers

Have you ever been hit so hard that you've been left in a permanent daze? I'm speaking of a defining event that, in a matter of moments, changes everything for you, permanently. Maybe it's a collision. Maybe a life event like a tragedy or a divorce. You're at the epicenter of the calamity. The destruction hits you right between the eyes. And while you make sense of what hit you, if you ever do, your loved ones bear the brunt of the hurricane that you become. Like a set of ripples, it realigns everything you do. Peter Weir's "Fearless" 1993 shows us the effect of a plane crash, and tells us that when we get hit with such cataclysms, no single way resolves the trauma.

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A lifetime in five minutes

May Contain Spoilers

Streaming free on Amazon Prime.

When I watch Roger Donaldson's "The World's Fastest Indian," (2005) it makes my day. Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is a contented New Zealand eccentric tinkering with a motorcycle that he dreams of racing in the Bonneville Salt Flats. It's the story of a man trying to be the fastest motorcyclist in history. He has had the fortitude to fiddle with his bike for over 40 years until it is finally ready. Forty years. More than that, it's a true story about a square peg poking his way through a world of circles and triangles, discovering all the different Americas. It's a romantic comedy, for monks. Like me.

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The Pursuit of Powerlessness

May Contain Spoilers

One man. Three acts. Three stories. First, he is an aggressive corporate manager, racing against seconds and minutes to do his work and live his life. Second, he is a quiet man in a peaceful land, where time moves in seasons and years. Third, he is a bewildered man at home, where time has slipped passed him, making him miss the most important events of his life, including his own death. This is Robert Zemeckis' great "Cast Away" (2000). If this were a foreign language film or an independent film with a no-name cast, I am sure it would have received tremendous acclaim. As an American film by a major American director featuring two powerhouse actors (Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt), however, it has been left underrated.

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The Pursuit of Power

May Contain Spoilers

Josh Trank's "Chronicle" is the kind of film that curious teenage boys dedicate their hopes and dreams to, before succumbing to thoughts about health insurance and car payments. It advertises itself as a small movie about a few giggling, frowning high schoolers. The movie starts out as a curious plastic toy. Along the way, however, it carefully reveals itself as a colossal amusement park of screams and shouts. Don't let anyone spoil this movie for you, because it is the cult film of its generation.

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Santa Barbara Film Festival 2012

May Contain Spoilers

It's a sunny, unseasonable 80 degrees as the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicks in, but all I want is to be indoors. When you peer at a schedule listing nearly 200 films jammed into 10 days, and you just can't wait, you know you're an addict. This is my third SBIFF so I recognize the signs.

Suddenly each January, there's an extra bustle in this appealing, laid-back town. Downtown on lower State Street, trucks appear bearing vivid banners, soon to be festooned overhead. Special lights and rigging go up at 2 central venues - the precisely restored, historic Lobero and Arlington Theatres. Locals watch to see whether Festival Director Roger Durling changes his hair: one year it was spikey, another year purple. This time it's rather like Heathcliff - longer, romantic.

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A president in a fishbowl

May Contain Spoilers

Streaming free on Amazon Prime.

Rob Reiner's films represent a remarkably mixed bag. The best scripts he's chosen have made for rather good pictures ("Misery," "A Few Good Men," "When Harry Met Sally...") and the bad ones ended up being "North" and "The Bucket List". There have been a few filmmakers like Hitchcock who always managed to take their work's origin to the next level but I have my doubts even he could have made "Bucket's" digital journeys to the Taj Mahal/Himalayas interesting.

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Bullhead: A man running from his past

May Contain Spoilers

He wants to forget about it, but it is impossible for him to get away from it, because that has driven him to be who he is now. As the opening narration suggests, even if it is buried below and everyone including him is silent about that as if nothing ever had happened, it never goes away. It remains beneath the surface, and it is bound to be brought up again in one way or another, and there is no way of release possible for him.

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The Garden of Pleasantville

May Contain Spoilers

How do things work in a perfect world? The book of Genesis tells us this much: every living thing lives in harmony, food is plentiful, there is no such thing as pain, and nobody knows the difference between good and evil.

That's the loophole the serpent uses to convince Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. "God said not to because I'll die," she protests. "You won't die," the serpent says. "You'll just be wiser, like God, and see things the way he does." So Eve eats the fruit because she can't conceive of anything that isn't perfect, and if God is wise, then wisdom is perfect too. As for Adam, the Bible never really attributes any motive to his deed. He just seems to take the fruit from Eve without question.

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A howl of desperation for those who cannot howl

May Contain Spoilers

Streaming for $2.99 via MUBI.com

There is a shot in "Voices from the Shadows" that shows a man in his twenties lying forlornly in bed.

Like the rest of the documentary, it exists to illustrate the miserable effects of the illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or ME, which is often unhelpfully called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

There is a detail in the shot that haunts me. The man has a beard, of a length and thickness unusual, and unsuitable, for someone his age. He has the beard because he is unable to stand up long enough to shave and because having his parents, or a nurse, sit and shave him as he lays in bed is messy, uncomfortable and undignified. Every morning he thinks about shaving but his reserves of energy are so limited that he has to choose between being able to go to the bathroom because he wants to shave or, later in the day, being able to go to the bathroom because he needs to go to the bathroom.

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