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Deadpool

Deadpool is a fun character, but he’s still in search of a fun movie to match his larger-than-life personality.

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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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And the Oscar nominations go to...

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Hollywood nostalgia may be warmly embraced Tuesday morning when the 2012 Academy awards nominations are announced. Films involving the invention of the cinema, the transition from Silent to Talkies and the legend of Marilyn Monroe are among those certain to be nominated.

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The winners of Chicago Filmfest 2011

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The 47th Chicago International Film Festival gave its top award, a Gold Hugo for Best Film, to Aki Kaurismaki's drama "Le Havre" (Finland/France). Idrissa, an illegal immigrant, finds allies in a French port city. On Friday, Michael Kutza, the festival's founder and artistic director, and programmer Mimi Plauche, announced decisions of five-member International Feature jury that weighed 17 different features in competition.

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"The Tree of Life" takes the Palme d'Or

The Closing Ceremony of the 64th Cannes International Film Festival took place today in the Grand Theatre Lumiere in the Festival Palais at 7:15 pm French time.

Since I had already left the festival on Friday, I was watching online as Jane Fonda slithered up to the microphone to present the Palme d'Or, looking like a

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Hanging it up: Rock stars, Nazis,stunt drivers and the Palm de Whiskers

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The 64th Festival de Cannes is winding down, and the signs are everywhere. The hand-laundry of festival-goers hangs from the shutters of the windows opposite my hotel (somebody is running out of clean clothes). The streets seem emptier in the early morning, and the area around the press mailboxes in the Palais is starting to have a vacant feeling.

Just five minutes before Sean Penn's scheduled arrival at the press conference to discuss Paolo Sorrentino's competition film "This Must Be the Place," the room still had dozens of empty seats. The number of photographers gathered expectantly in front of Penn's place at the table onstage was only a meager 23, unlike the mob for Brad Pitt just a few days earlier. It only meant that many journalists have already gone home or were playing hooky today.

Accompanied by the director and producers of "This Must Be the Place," and Irish actress Eve Hewson, Penn strolled in looking pleased with himself. He's deeply tanned and nonchalantly chewing gum, his hands stuffed in the front pockets of his jeans. He credits director Sorrentino with "a magic hand" in shaping his performance as an eccentric American rock star living in retirement in Ireland. About the film, Sorrentino said, "The idea of the story came from a Nazi criminal. I wanted to write a story about a 50-year-old rock star who remains a child, and have these two confront each other.

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Almodovar's limp noodle, Panahi's home movie

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This morning, Pedro Almodovar, Spain's biggest big-cheese filmmaker, handed us a limp noodle with "The Skin I Live In," his entry in the Cannes competition. The film stars Antonio Banderas (who began his career in Almodovar's early films) and Elena Anaya, who looks like a cross between Penelope Cruz and Audrey Hepburn. Even a second-best Almodovar film has its delicious moments, but "The Skin I Live In" is flat compared with his best work, including "Broken Embraces," "Volver," and his Oscar winner "All about My Mother."

Typical of Almodovar, the film is a melodramatic farce. Although it's based on the novel "Mygale" ("Tarantula" in English) by Thierry Jonquet, the story is also strongly reminiscent of the 1960 French horror classic "Eyes without a Face" by Georges Franju. In the Franju film, a surgeon kidnaps women in order to graft their faces onto the head of his disfigured daughter. In "The Skin I Live In," a plastic surgeon is engaged in highly experimental work in order to create synthetic skin as a tribute to his dead wife, who was burned to death in a car crash. He subsequently uses the results of his research in service of a unique punishment for his daughter's rapist.

This story has a lot of twists, and the element of surprise is important. I don't want to give away too much, especially since it's due to open in the U.S. in the fall. I haven't read "Mygale," but I understand that the narrative is fragmented into sections that all come together in the end. In this, Almodovar appears to have followed the structure of the book, perhaps too closely. One of the principle weaknesses of "The Skin I Live In" is that the story is scattered in pieces. Characters and subplots are introduced then dropped. They are loosely but not completely tied together in the end.

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Apocalypse von Trier; Miike in 3-D

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Another much-anticipated film by one of the big names in this year's Cannes competition premiered this morning -- "Melancholia" by Lars von Trier. It's no secret that this apocalyptic science fiction drama ends with the destruction of the earth, since that is revealed in the first few minutes of the film. The character played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, neatly summarizes von Trier's dark pessimism with the line, "The earth is evil; we don't need to mourn for it." What is rather amazing is that a film about the destruction of all life (and von Trier posits that we are alone in the universe) could be so turgid.

That said, I think I rather prefer von Trier's wacko view of the cosmos in "Melancholia" to Terrence Malick's in "The Tree of Life." With the ingredients von Trier had to work with, it's surprising that he didn't make a better film. Following the various forms of desecration and transgression that are the hallmarks of "Antichrist," it's as if he felt the need to top himself with an even more outrageous concept, but forgot to figure out what the outrageous part would be.

"Melancholia" examines the relationship of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the final days before the planet named Melancholia is due to collide with the earth. The story falls into two parts. The first is named for Justine, who is blonde, conventionally pretty, and mentally unstable. The second is named for Claire, who is Justine's opposite in every way, not only in her lean, dark-haired appearance, but in her down-to-earth competence in managing the stuff of life.

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Welcome laughs, courtesy Aki Kaurismaki

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Finally Cannes delivers some real laughs! This morning I saw "Le Havre" by Finnish director Aki Kaurismki, screening in competition. After several days of grim and serious films about people who lead grim and twisted lives, I wanted to cry for joy at this funny and good-hearted film. I would normally be wary of a film that anyone describes as heart-warming but this is the real deal.

Kaurismaki ("Lights in the Dusk," "The Man Without a Past" "Drifting Clouds," "The Match Factory Girl") is a master of deadpan comedy. His central characters are often glum, non-verbal types and naive innocents duped by tricksters or beaten down by a world they don't understand. The humor in his films is rooted in the deepest irony. "Le Havre" blithely portrays life as we might wish it to be, and that is the funniest irony of all.

The shoeshine man Marcel Marx is seen plying his trade at the Le Havre train station in the opening scenes of "Le Havre." He makes very little money, and the routine of his daily walk home establishes the fact that he has an overdue tab running everywhere he stops--the bakery, the grocery store, and the corner bistro. He can be a bit of a charmer with the ladies, but his long-suffering wife Arletty (Kati Outinen, a longtime Kaurismaki regular) describes him as "a big child" when she cautions her doctor not to reveal that she is about to die.

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Tree of Life: Lyrical, spiritual, kitsch

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Terence Malick's long-awaited "The Tree of Life" premiered in competition today, with an 8:30 am press screening. I anticipated seething crowds, so headed off to the Palais a little early. Entrance areas were jammed, and the Grand Theatre Lumiere was nearly full at only 7:55 am. A friend who had been holding a seat for me estimated that he had been about 200th in line when arriving at 7:30 am.

"The Tree of Life" was announced for last year's Cannes festival, but withdrawn when it wasn't completed in time. Although Malick has directed only four features in his more than 40-year career as writer/producer/director ("Badlands," "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line," and "The New World), his cult reputation is such that many here were itching to declare "The Tree of Life" a masterpiece before the first frame ever hit the screen.

I think at least a few hopes were dashed this morning. As the film reached its conclusion there was a fadeout that turned out to be a false ending. People immediately jumped to their feet to exit in the dark, as always happens here, and a few dozen loud boos erupted from points all over the theater. Another image came on and those leaving stopped in their tracks and fell silent until Malick's director credit appeared. Applause followed, along with an equal amount of booing.

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Sex, death, rape, murder:Just another day at the movies

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Following a heavy rain in the late afternoon yesterday, this morning in Cannes was gloriously sunny, the sky becoming more perfect and cloudless as the day progressed. I was hoping for a group of films to blow away yesterday's prevailing images of poverty, oppression, and child abuse. "The Artist" by Michel Hazanavicius, screening in competition, seemed like it could do the trick. It's a romance set in Hollywood; and strangely enough, it's conceived as a silent film.

"The Artist" has the most self-congratulatory press kit I've ever seen--55 glossy illustrated pages of in-depth interviews with all the key figures involved with the production, everyone congratulating and complimenting everyone else for their fabulous work. Could the film measure up to this? Not hardly. It is indeed a black-and-white silent film with musical accompaniment. Director Hazanavicius has attempted to revive the techniques of the silent cinema to tell a story entirely through acting, with text intertitles replacing spoken dialogue.

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