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Wonder

You’ll shed a tear or two—especially if you’re a parent—and they’ll be totally earned.

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Mudbound

The film invites us to observe its characters, to hear their inner voices, to see what they see and to challenge our own preconceived notions…

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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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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

Larry Sanders: Changing television and changing lives

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August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.

A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.

by Edward Copeland

"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."

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Mad Men: The Other Woman & the Long Walk

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Here's my latest "Mad Men" video, inspired by "The Other Woman" (Season 5, Episode 11). It's my favorite kind of video analysis/criticism: no narration, no inter-tiles, just interwoven images, dialog and music.

NOTE: Don't even think of reading this if you haven't seen "The Other Woman," yet.

"The Other Women," the 11th installment in "Mad Men" Season 5, has one of those great titles (like "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," "The Rejected," "Tomorrowland," "Far Away Places") that keeps resonating as you think back on the episode itself. It begins in a meeting of creative executives in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce conference room, as Stan tosses out the primary theme -- of the episode and the Jaguar account pitch: "Jaguar: The mistress who will do things your wife won't." And that's the usual definition of "the other woman" -- the rival for the heterosexual breadwinner's affections, the spicy dish on the side. As Megan phrases it, the Jaguar is the mistress and the wife is the Buick at home in the garage. But that's only the beginning.

All three of the show's central female characters have been "other women" under certain circumstances, with various men. Joan has long been Roger Sterling's "other woman" -- not just his extra-marital go-to girl, but his office wife... and (unbeknownst to everyone else) the mother of his child. Peggy slept with Pete on the eve of his wedding to Trudy, got pregnant, and gave up the kid for adoption. She's never slept with Don (though a lot of the people in the SCDP office think that's how she attained her position), but don't underestimate how much her personal and professional second-bananaship has contributed to Don's fortunes as well as her own. It was clear early on how much he preferred her company at work to Betty Draper's at home.

And then Megan came along -- first as an employee (Joan: "He'll probably make her a copy writer; he's not going to want to be married to his secretary") and then as Don's wife -- the "other woman" who, in the eyes of Peggy and the rest of the firm, distracts him from the advertising job to which he was formerly "married." Don is so smitten with her that the company practically has to sue for alienation of affection. ("You've been on love leave," Cooper chastises Don at the end of "Far Away Places." "It's amazing things are going as well as they are with as little as you are doing.")

It all culminates in the line finessed by Michael Ginsberg (the word "mistress" can't be in the ad) and delivered by Don in SCDP's pitch: "Jaguar: At last a thing of beauty you can truly own." That last word deserves some explication. Yes, in the presentation, Don likens the temperamental beauty of the Jaguar to a woman, but the whole point of the proposal is that, as everyone knows, a woman can't be "owned." A car can. I only mention this because I've seen a few commentators claim that "The Other Woman" is an episode about "men trying to own women," and I think that's a bit simplistic. OK, men might wish they could "own" women on some level, but not even Don Draper or Roger Sterling -- not even Pete Campbell, fer chrissakes -- really believes that is possible in 1967.¹

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"Avenge me! AVENGE ME!"

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Although I generally find it difficult to care about superheroes and the movies that franchise them, I liked Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series -- a lot -- so, if I go to see his Marvel Comics packaging-event "The Avengers," it will be because of him and not so much because of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America or Nick Fury. (I should also say I'm intrigued by the idea of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk and, like everybody else, I got a kick out of Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man," too.)

Yes, I know I wrote a piece on taking superhero movies seriously back in 2008, but neither the movies nor their fans have shown much interest in doing that. Instead, these movies have become mere team sports (like American politics), pep-rally occasions for fans to cheer and sneer, in person or online. (There's another essay to be written on the fratty/bully co-optation of geek culture, perhaps...) So, A.O. Scott gives "The Avengers" a measured review in the New York Times ("Superheroes, Super Battles, Super Egos") and Super Ego Superhero Samuel L. Jackson strikes back with a tweet: "#Avengers fans,NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let's help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!"

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A man with inklings of a soul

The 60s were a rough transition for America. Major shifts seemed to be occurring in every fabric of society from civil rights to sexual mores. The worsening course of the Vietnam war fueled distrust in political institutions. Women's rights highlighted a breaking from oppressive traditions. The old seemed to be fading away more radically than ever before.

Like the era it was made in, "Hud" was a key shift. As film critic Emmanuel Levy correctly puts it, it is "a transitional film between the naive films of the early 60s and the more cynical ones later in the decade." Though it plays as a compelling drama of small town life and family tribulation, through its lens of father-son conflict, it also captures the angst in the loss of authority, the gap between of two different generations, and an elegy for the good ole' days.

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Can a movie ruin a good review?

Here's a question for you: Can a movie ruin a good review? Conversely, can a review actually improve upon a movie? Sure, good criticism (whether positive or negative) should encourage you to see a film in new ways you may not have recognized before. Just as cinema itself is a way of looking at the world through someone else's eyes, criticism is a way of looking at movies through someone else's eyes. Yet, the movies themselves don't change -- only our perceptions of them (we'll put aside William Friedkin's "French Connection" Blu-ray for the moment). On the one hand, a piece of film criticism is kind of like an adaptation. It offers an interpretation of the original, but does not replace it. Other "versions" still exist, just as they always did.

I can think of several examples of criticism that I think is superior to the work being criticized, in the sense that the critic is writing about an idealized version of what's on the screen -- the movie we might wish was on the screen, rather than (or in addition to) the one that's actually there. A clarification: This has nothing to do with whether the critic is divining the filmmaker's intentions or not. It has everything to do with what the critic is seeing in, and getting out of, the film.

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Bump and Grindhouse

View image Angie polishes Ponce's pole in "Pretty Maids All in a Row."

View image "Revenge" is a dish best served hot!

Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule reports on Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse 2007 Festival at my former neighborhood rep house, the New Beverly Cinema (right by El Coyote!) in Los Angeles. Dennis includes an ebullient assessment of "Revenge of the Cheerleaders" (1976), a giddy teen sexploitation movie I have been very fond of since I showed in my college student film series. Writes Dennis: There is no curriculum at the "morally compromised" Aloha High School, only figures of authority to disregard or blatantly undermine— these cheerleaders and the rest of the Aloha student body make Riff Randall and her crowd look like straight-A honor society members. The girls and boys only want to have fun, which translates into a heady brew of screwing, playing basketball, cheering, robbing students at a thug-happy rival high school of their drugs (during class!) and riding around in a cherry red 1955 Buick convertible with the top down, and their tops off, of course. (The nudity is democratic too—there’s more than a flash of full frontal male twiggery on view here, including Hasselhoff, though his Boner status, based on this evidence, is overinflated.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered such a relentlessly likable feel-good-at-all-costs vibe in any movie, let alone one as low-rent as this one. Tarantino said in a recent interview, referring to discovering treasures in the world of exploitation movies, that not only do you have to drink a lot of milk to get to the cream, with exploitation fare you have to drink a lot of curdled milk to get to the milk. And that’s what "Revenge of the Cheerleaders" felt like to me Sunday night—the reward for having slogged through a lot of similar comedies that had the sex and nudity but none of the zip and tang and spirit this one has in buckets. And there's so much more. Dennis also writes about Angie Dickinson and Rock Hudson in "Pretty Maids All in a Row," and other grist for the grindhouse...

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De Palmania!

View image Look back in Angora: An Ed Wood moment between Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson in Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia."

In anticipation of Brian DePalma's "The Black Dahlia," which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to bi-polar reviews and opens in the US September 15, a number of sites are celebrating the modern master of the rapturous moving camera. (See De Palma a la Mod for all the latest on De Palma and the Dahlia.) Dennis Cozzalio has an excellent round-up of who's doing what at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and adds his own illuminating thoughts to the heady mix. (And don't forget to check out his Opening Shots submission for De Palma's "Femme Fatale" here at Scanners.)

Peet Gelderblom also has some good stuff about the "unofficial De Palma blogathon" at Lost in Negative Space. And I finally took the advice of That Little Round Headed Boy and caught up with De Palma's much-maligned "Mission to Mars," which has moments of astonishing beauty and suspense, despite being hobbled by a terrible script (original screenwriters joined by an ampersand; re-writer Graham "Speed" Yost tacked on with an "and") and one of the most lifeless performances I have ever seen from Connie Nielsen. (How could she not have been fired after the first day? She's heavier-than-leaden in almost every single moment she has on screen -- except the marvelous weightless dance sequence to [and you have to appreciate the humor] Van Halen. Other than that, like a Martian tornado she sucks.) De Palma is a terrific director of women (Margo Kidder, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, Amy Irving, Carrie Snodgress, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickinson...) but Nielsen is really Not of This Earth. (TLRHB also features some informative comments about "Mission to Mars," including a link to Matt Zoller Seitz's round-up of reviews, from pans to raves.)

I've said this many times before about De Palma, but give this guy a decent screenplay and he can work wonders. Look what he can do even when he doesn't have one. So, give the guy a good script, already!

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Opening Shots: 'Greetings'

The public and the private, the personal and the political: Although this isn't precisely the opening shot of "Greetings" described here, it's part of it, showing the same TV, the same book and the same coffee pot in the same apartment. Frame grabs to come...

Excerpt from my programme notes for a double-bill of "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom!" -- the first presentation in a Brian De Palma series programmed by R.C. Dale at the University of Washington, April 14, 1981:

.... "Greetings," De Palma's 1968 anti-military/anti-war movie mélange, was the first of his films to find an audience. In fact, it was so successful that "Hi, Mom!" was conceived as a sequel (originally to be called "Son of Greetings"). "Greetings" is an ebullient comedy, and a brazenly disturbing mixture of movie-movie acrobatics and American counter-culture politics in the manner of pre-l968 Godard. Critics have emphasized over and over De Palma's debt to filmmakers such as Godard and (especially over-emphasized) Alfred Hitchcock. In "Greetings," Michelangelo Antontoni's "Blow Up," another hip youth-cult film of the time, also looms large. But the filmmaker whose specter really presides over this film is that of Abraham Zapruder, the man who made the most famous home movie of the Kennedy assassination at Dealy Plaza. The first thing we see in DePalma's movie is a television set carrying a speech by President Johnson. In front of the set sits a book: "Six Seconds in Dallas." "Greetings," made five years after the assassination, is a picture of a nation obsessed with six seconds of 8 mm Kodak movie film. Right away, De Palma begins detailing the dissolution of the barrier between the personal and the political in American society; just as, in this and subsequent films, he will dissolve the barrier between the film and the audience, between horror and humor, between public and private.

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Frank Sinatra's legend lives on in films

When the book of 20th century popular entertainment is written, Frank Sinatra will get a chapter as the best singer of his time. As an actor, he will be remembered for the good films, and for a distinctive screen persona as a guy who could win a heart with a song.

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'Thelma & Louise' lets women rebel

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Women all over the country are going to see "Thelma and Louise" with a rare enthusiasm, despite Hollywood's conventional wisdom that men make most of the moviegoing decisions. To understand how they're connecting with the movie, look at an afternoon screening in a theater like the 900 N. Michigan complex. The largely female crowd isn't made up of teenagers, but more mature generations - married women, professionals, older women, visitors to the city. They love this movie. They cheer it, they get teary-eyed, and they bring their friends to see it.

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