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Fahrenheit 11/9

The messiness of Moore’s film starts to feel appropriate for the times we’re in. With a new issue being debated every day, is it any…

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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.

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Inside the Kenyan mall massacre; the death toll of acetaminophen; that heartwarming story of the pastor who posed as a homeless man is a fake; one person who's really glad that Breaking Bad is ending; ten great movies set in museums.

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Bette Davis at 104: Still smokin'

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April 5 would have been Bette Davis's 104th birthday. I was reminded of this interview I did with her in 1988, which appeared on my CinePad website 10 years later:

When my former Seattle Times editor called me, a few months after I'd moved to Los Angeles, to say he wanted me to interview Bette Davis, I wasn't as thrilled as I probably should have been. I realized it was a rare opportunity -- she was giving only three interviews to promote the paperback version of her book about recovering from her stroke -- but Bette Davis had never been my glass of lemonade.

I just never really got the whole Bette-Davis-As-Icon thing. To me, she was a movie star, a part of Hollywood history (I admired the way she took on the studio bosses when they -- and she -- were at the peak of their powers), but with the exception of All About Eve (where she really used her movie-star mega-wattage as part of the role), I hadn't regarded her as a great actress. I mean, she was no Barbara Stanwyck, who was equally adept as a screwball comedienne, a tragic heroine, or a femme fatale.

But of course, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to interview a screen legend; there just weren't that many of them left. I remember thinking it was kind of funny and appropriate that she was living on the outskirts of West Hollywood (in the Century House on Havenhurst), mecca to the gay men who really worshipped her. But why did they? Was she just a camp figurehead because her brittle, melodramatic style of acting hadn't aged well? Or was it that she was Larger Than Life, a tough broad who had survived? Probably some of both...

Well, I'll say this: She sure knew how to be Bette Davis. She was cantankerous and flamboyant, but I also thought there was an undercurrent of playfulness to her behavior. Not that I thought she was "performing," or putting on a Bette Davis Act; I think she was probably like this most of the time. But I also think she rose to the occasion, somewhat, because she liked the attention, and liked the feeling that she was communicating -- albeit through me -- to her public.

It was a stellar afternoon...

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Remembering Bukowski

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Charles Bukowski died on his day in 1994. His voice is open and fearless, romantic, honest. He probably has a whole generation of writers getting drunk and wondering why they can't write like that.

In Big Ed's during the filming of "Barfly." Left to right, Bukowski, Ebert, Faye Dunaway, visiting fireman Andre Konchalovsky.

My story about a day on location with "Barfly."

Tom O'Bedlam reads Bukowski's incomparable "Who in the Hell is Tom Jones?"

Bukowski sits in the back set of a convertible and gives a running commentary along Hollywood Boulevard.

Bukowski photos and a song by Johnny Cash

Bono reads "Roll the Dice" by Bukowski

Charles Bukowski Reads "The Fire Station"

Tom Waits reads Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart," Hanks version of Ecclesiates 7, 3 -12:

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Polanski's Chinatown: A dream analysis

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WARNING: Big-time spoilers in the above video.

From the introduction to my fully explicated video, "Chinatown: Frames and Lenses," at Press Play, Chapter 4 in a week-long series: LIFE'S WORK: THE FILMS OF ROMAN POLANSKI:

Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is a Panavision color film noir--a ghost story, really--about flawed vision and the inescapable resurgence of the past, made in 1974 and set in 1937.  Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) thinks he knows what's going on, but as Noah Cross (John Huston) tells him, "Believe me, you don't."  We see what Jake sees, and it's invariably filtered or blocked--viewed from a distance through binoculars, or from outside through a door or window that obscures a more complete perspective. Photographs--snippets of time recorded on film, one of the tools of the detective trade--are potentially misleading because they don't--can't--capture what's going on outside of the frame, beyond the moment. 

This video montage is a hymn of praise to a film that had a profound effect on me when I first saw it as a 16-year-old in 1974, and that I've lived with, haunted, ever since. It's also an unabashed love poem to the desperate, damaged and determined Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). 

Like "close-up," which I did in 2007, it's a free-associative critical essay/dream sequence, based on themes and images (and sound and music) from the movie. Although, like a lot of creative pursuits, the process of assembling it (from pieces of film that were already floating around in my head) was largely unconscious, I now (at least in retrospect) think I understand why each fragment is where it is.

So, I thought I'd turn around and look back at "Chinatown" through the lens (or frame or door or window, if you will) of my video essay, using it as a way of translating the film's images into critical prose. Because, in "Chinatown," every image is loaded with meanings, associations, resonances. If you're familiar with the film, you'll immediately see that this reflection on "Chinatown" isn't structured chronologically. Scenes, themes, moments and images keep circling back in fragments... not unlike they do in the film, but in a more condensed and less linear form...

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Getting antsy for amazement

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As I approached the Festival Palais early this morning, a light breeze wafted down the fabric of the immense billboard-size banner of this year's festival poster over the facade. The glamorous photo of a leggy Faye Dunaway, by director Jerry Schatzberg from his 1970 film "Puzzle of a Downfall Child," was rippling and creasing in a way that made the sleek legs appear to be covered by a pair of ill-fitting tights. Little did I suspect that Faye's wardrobe malfunction was a bad omen for a seemingly promising day on which three out of the only four films by women selected for this year's Cannes competition were scheduled to screen.

British actress Tilda Swinton, who gravitates to daring roles, plays Eva, a conflicted New York mother "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. Eva's son Kevin is portrayed as having a deep animosity toward his mother, virtually from the moment of his birth. As an infant, he shrieks hour after hour when alone with her. As he grows, he exhibits a fierce, focused inclination to evil, and that bent will ultimately make him a Columbine-style killer. Kevin might have been a demon child in another kind of movie, but this is not a supernatural story. "We Need to Talk About Kevin," is a psychological drama centered on Eva's guilt.

For me, this was a one-note film. Kevin is thoroughly bad; Eva is thoroughly angry, self-hating and stoic. I longed for some shades of subtlety, but this is a story that relies on blood-red coding in dreams and flashbacks, and a soundtrack that emphasizes grating irritants. Ramsay, who acquitted herself very well with films including "Ratcatcher" and "Movern Callar," seems an ill match for an American setting, letting raucous bluegrass numbers and stereotyped characterizations of Eva's small town neighbors and co-workers stand in for insight.

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Days and nights of bottles

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In the biochemistry class during my naive undergraduate years, the professor jokingly said the capability of metabolizing alcohol depends on our genetic makeup. Thanks to the variations in the genes, some people can produce more enzymes or more active enzymes to take care of alcohol in their body. They can be heavy drinkers, or the ones less susceptible to the hazards caused by alcoholism than their fellow drunks.

That may explain the existence of Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), the "laureate of American lowlifes" who lived a relatively long life despite many days and nights of bottles and women at the bars. As Stephen King says in his insightful book "On Writing," writing usually has no business with drinking ("Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn't drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it's what alkies are wired up to do."). Sometime there are exceptions like Bukowski. Drinking and writing always came together to him, and he had no problem with that.

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