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Star Trek Beyond

The Star Wars-ification of Star Trek continues; better than the others, but still not good enough.

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Ice Age: Collision Course

It’s almost as if the writers were simply using ideas left over from other Ice Age scripts that are about as fresh as the wind…

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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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Overturning expectations: The ups and downs

May 16 -- Sunday was a day of highs and lows, of new discoveries and dashed hopes. Bertrand Tavernier and Takeshi Kitano, two directors whose films I had most anticipated here, did not live up to my expectations with "The Princess of Montpensier" and "Outrage," respectively. Hungarian Agnes Kocsis, a director who had only made one previous feature in 2006, blew me away with her insightful "Adrienn Pal."

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Window shopping: Best show in town

Window-shopping is daily the source of one of the best free shows in Cannes. There's nothing quite like walking around this town, even if it's just a brief walk between screening rooms, and ogling what could be bought if you had millions of dollars at your disposal: the most extravagant flower arrangements, the most colorful and sumptuous pastries, piles of diamond necklaces, strapless cocktail dresses with skirts of white marabou feathers or silver palettes, ice-cream-pastel Chanel suits with glittering sequin trim.  The loot of the world's fashion runways is displayed in all its theatrical and expensive glory in the shops that face the Croisette, and most of these outfits would look outlandish anyplace but right here in Cannes.

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Four screenings, from blues to bliss

Walking down a narrow side street from my hotel to the Palais at 7:55 am every morning involves running a gauntlet of persistent petitioners, who appeal to those rushing to the 8:30 am press screenings for spare admission tickets. Press get in by showing their badges, but those whose accreditation is only through the film market sign up online for tickets, which they sometimes don't need. Spare tickets must float around frequently enough to justify cinephiles of all ages honing their approach techniques, from aggressive and confrontational to polite and needy. Some hold little handmade signs with the name of the day's film, and close in no matter how fast you walk or how diligently you avoid eye contact.

Left: Im Sang-soo's remake of "The Housemaid."

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Robbers and strippers, battles and burlesque

The volcano gods were in a snit on Monday, and I arrived in Cannes on Tuesday six hours later than planned, following some frustrating encounters with ticket agents in Frankfurt Airport. Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips was on my flight from Chicago, having had his entire original reservation canceled due to drifting volcano ash. I heard delay stories everywhere, and figured I got off easy.

After fast dash to the Palais des Festivals five minutes before the office that issues accreditation badges closed, I picked up my press badge and film market badge. The Cannes skies were dark and threatening, with fog hanging over the distant mountains. I hoped that this wasn't a sign of weather gloom to come.

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A taste of lemon, a whiff of ash...

With departure for Cannes only days away, the specter of drifting volcano ash inspires its own shivery anticipation of the festival, and not in a good way.  Cannes is a convention city year around, and a new festival or international congress moves in pretty much as soon as the previous one moves out.  It's not like you could extend your hotel stay on the spur of the moment, and at Riviera prices, who would want to?

I'm hoping the only eruptions are of the cinematic kind.  For two weeks every May, the Cannes Film Festival is like a volcano blowing its top, spewing new movies day and night.  In view of this massive flow, it's a rather silly insiders' game to speculate on good years vs. bad years.   With hundreds of films to choose from, taking into account the official selections and the film market, this huge festival is what you make it.  Every year is a good year.  Looking for great art?  There's always some to be found.  Looking for low-down-sleaze?  There's more of that than you even want to know about.  Looking for new films from Latvia, for instance?  Take your pick, and get the scoop on the state of the Latvian film industry from an eager sales agent while you're at it.

Every year as Cannes looms, I'm reminded of the puckish advice of British director Mike Leigh ("Happy-Go-Lucky," "Vera Drake"), pronounced many years ago when he was on the festival jury. At the jury press conference, Leigh was asked about his expectations. "The festival is like a lemon," he said, "you just have to suck it and see how it tastes." As luck would have it, Leigh will be premiering his new film "Another Year" in the competition. I'm looking forward to seeing what flavor this one adds to the festival.

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Ebertfest 2010 discussions, panel videos archived

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Panels, film introductions and post-screening discussions were live-streamed from Ebertfest 2010 in Champaign-Urbana via Ustream and have now been archived for "on demand" viewing. Check the Ebertfest 2010 Channel listings here. Full schedule here. And for a directory of bloggers and tweeters who covered Ebertfest, see here.

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A personal vision with international scope

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CHAMPAIGN-URBANA -- Michael Tolkin, the writer-director of 1994's "The New Age," which played at Ebertfest on Thursday, surveyed the packed house from the stage of Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and said, "This now doubles the number of people who saw this film on its first release."

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Ebertfest 2010 T-shirts are now on sale

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Ebertfest 2010 T-shirts are now on sale. They display Ebert's sketch shown above, on a Hanes shirt of Heather Grey, and come in sizes small to XXXL. All profits go directly to support Ebertfest. At present sales are available only in the United States. This year's festival will be held April 21-25 at the landmark Virginia theater in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and is a presentation of the University of Illinois College of Media.

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Ladies and gentlemen... this -- is Cinerama!

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BRADFORD, England -- There were no stars. No story. Just three panels of stunning images projected in full colour on a curved screen backed by seven channels of sound placed around the auditorium. A far cry from the black and white images and monophonic sound moviegoers were used to.

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Ebertfest: Synecdoche, Champaign-Urbana

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Charlie Kaufman, the writer and director of "Synecdoche, New York" (2008), my choice for the best film of the decade, will appear after the screening of his masterpiece at Ebertfest 2010. The 12th annual festival will be held April 21-25 at the landmark 1,600-seat Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, and for the first time ever, all festival Q&A sessions and panel discussions will be streamed live on the Internet.

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