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Kate Plays Christine

An actress prepares to play the role of a suicidal news anchor, and is slowly transformed by the experience.

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War Dogs

War Dogs is a film about horrible people that refuses to own their horribleness.

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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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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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The great movies of my childhood

May Contain Spoilers

Of late, I've been thinking about how I got here. Here, in love with movie watching and movie making. Here, in a design school in India, and not an engineering college or a medical school like predetermined for most Indian students. Here, in correspondence with a huge role model of mine. Here, doing what I love.

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No Exorcist Can Handle Possession

May Contain Spoilers

To call it overwrought would be an understatement. Andrzej Żuławski's 1981 masterpiece, butchered upon its original American release and relegated to spurious video-nasty circulation, is now returning in all its hysterical glory, as a part of Brooklyn's BAMcinématek complete Żuławski retro, which will then move to Cinefamily in Los Angeles. Featuring what is arguably the bravest female performance ever put on film - namely, Isabelle Adjani's Cannes-winning turn of shamanistic intensity - the film dares its viewer to enter a trance-like state, in which genres blur and mate to yield a new level of cinematic expression.

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Playing the Blinking Game with The Driver

May Contain Spoilers

The Driver is the best at what he does. "You put this kid behind the wheel, there's nothing he can't do." He doesn't rely on luck and spontaneous driving; he knows what he's doing. He studies his environment, analyzes human behavior and acts accordingly.

As he drives you can tell that every move was planned ahead of time, every turn calculated with absolute precision. His plan is unpredictable; that's why watching it unfold in real time is so damn electrifying. He comes out of nowhere surprising his foes and disappears in plain sight just as easily. The driver is always in total control of the situation.

All this is projected in one of the most intense opening scenes in recent memory. The driver is a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. "Drive" begins at night minutes before a getaway. Most chase scenes lack this kind of intensity, for the driver doesn't rely on sheer speed to grab our attention.

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Fighting after the war is over

May Contain Spoilers

There exists a stationary phase in wars unless they end quickly. The soldiers on both sides doubt whether they can survive; they are more exhausted day by day and it seems their hardship will last forever until they are killed in the battlefield. Even so, when the time to battle against the enemy comes again, they have no choice; they always do whatever their survival instinct drives them to do, and there come more scars and pains to be stored in their hurt lockers.

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How to Win an Academy Award

The Academy Award winners for the past thirty years have followed consistent molds, primarily in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. It is a very simple set of templates that I will explain with excessive evidence. This is not to say that the Academy Awards are a conspiracy run by some secret society, although that idea would be quite fun. Rather, at the very least, there is a subtext to American culture that plays out in the ideas and ideals in American cinema, and it plays out consistently. At the very least, I'm illustrating some unwritten ideals in American culture. Whether or not they are healthy or corrupt, they are there in us. So, "Best Picture" is not a great movie; rather, it is a great movie that fulfills the mold.

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