Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
* 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.
A review of Jim Jarmusch's new film with Bill Murray and Adam Driver.
A tribute to the legendary B-movie writer and director, Larry Cohen.
Over two dozen underrated horror movies for your Halloween marathon planning.
An interview with special effects maestro Tom Savini, encompassing his filmmaking career.
A look back at the 1946 Powell & Pressburger film, which has now received a special 4K restoration from the Criterion Collection.
The irony of being destroyed by the thing you helped create would not have been lost on a studio responsible for some of the finest film versions of Frankenstein.
The staff pays tribute to Harry Dean Stanton.
A tribute to the legendary director Tobe Hooper.
Scout Tafoya's video essay series about maligned masterworks continues with a celebration of the late George Romero and "Survival of the Dead."
Matt writes: Chaz Ebert commemorated the 25th anniversary of her marriage to Roger on July 18th by republishing his unforgettable essay, "Roger Loves Chaz." She accompanied the post with various rarely seen wedding photos as well as the following video embedded below (entitled Joy).
The writers of RogerEbert.com celebrate the career and legacy of the late George Romero.
A tribute to the late horror filmmaker, George Romero.
A profile on RogerEbert.com writer Susan Wloszczyna.
An interview with director John McNaughton and star Michael Rooker on the 30th anniversary of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
A celebration of Herk Harvey's "Carnival of Souls," now out on Criterion Blu-ray.
John Carpenter's 80s SF film may have outdated technology and outdated hair, but it hasn't aged a day.
The movie questionnaire and 2015 reviews of RogerEbert.com film critic Susan Wloszczyna.
Meet the critics attending Ebertfest 2015.
An interview with the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker.
Sheila writes: Nelson Carvajal and Jed Mayer, over at Press Play, present a video and an essay about the "scary summer" of 1979. It's a beautiful blend of autobiography and cultural and film memories from that particular summer. Jed Mayer writes: "As tag-lines go, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead sports a pretty good one: 'When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.' I stared for weeks at the lurid poster bearing these ominous words. It hung in the front windows of the Maplewood Mall multiplex. Looking back, I think a more fitting tag-line might have come from a speech given by President Jimmy Carter later that same summer: 'Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. What can we do?'" Well worth a look!
Writer Susan Wloszczyna responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.
Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.
Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)
Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.
Post World War II British Cinema was one of the richest periods in film history. Finally free from budget and stylistic constraints saddled during wartime, some of the greatest filmmaking talent the filmdom had arisen. John and Roy Boulting, David Lean, Laurence Olivier, and Carol Reed were just a few of the notables whose directorial prowess had struck the scene. But a pair which was the period's most prolific was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; The Archers.
Q. I just viewed Charlie Chaplin's classic "City Lights" for the first time, in film a class. After letting the film's spell settle on us, my professor asked us to consider the final scene: specifically, what does the Girl really "see"? Most of our answers felt pretty obvious -- she sees the truth that the man she had loved is the Tramp, and not a millionaire, she sees that he is still the same person she loved and she accepts him, etc.
Look at this woman. Do you hate her character yet?
Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" is one of the scariest films ever. Because it plays like a hidden-camera home movie as psychological x-ray. And no one is spared its cold, uncompromising scrutiny. (Or think of it as a segment of TV's "To Catch a Predator" -- and, as on the NBC flytrap reality show, everybody is the predator.)
If I were a character from the movie critiquing the movie, I would probably say something like: "Noah Baumbach must really detest his dreadful dysfunctional family." Baumbach's follow-up to "The Squid and the Whale" (among my top films of 2005) is another dead-on portrait of monstrously self-absorbed Northeastern inbreeders who believe that being "authentic" or "honest" means they have to express every single critical judgment or self-indulgent emotion that occurs to them, especially if they can use it to belittle or undermine somebody else in their immediate circle. Usually, that includes throwing in a clinical diagnosis, as a way of damning and dismissing the subject, and getting the amateur diagnostician off the moral hook just a little. (If you claim to be observing a "condition," then neither you nor the object of the diagnosis can be held fully responsible.)
If I describe it as a horror movie -- torture porn about a long-obsolete class of super-self-conscious but utterly un-self-aware white East-Coast intellectual trash -- I trust that also conveys how bitterly, nastily funny the movie is. It's like a Neil LaBute picture co-written by Jules Feiffer. Scalpel-sharp. Merciless. Cruel. Uncompromisingly misanthropic. And really getting off on being so.
I don't think I've ever felt such contempt toward characters in a movie before. Perhaps it's Strindbergian. The TIFF catalog compares the movie to Bergman and Woody Allen's Bergman exercise, "Interiors," and even Eric Rohmer. (Rohmer without pity. Or affection, I guess.) I thought it was more like "The Devil's Rejects," if the members of the Firefly family fed upon one another. And it's funny.
The people in this movie are types who either crib from their friends' and families' lives for their New Yorker short stories -- or who are mortified and infuriated that details from their lives are appearing in their friends' or families' New Yorker short stories. You may assume there's an "autobiographical" dimension to it not only because one of the movies subjects is the way writers autopsy and cannibalize the people in their lives for their fiction, but also because each and every knife-twisting line is so toxic and cutting, so astonishingly self-serving, that you figure somebody just had to have actually said it, or thought it, or attributed it to somebody else in a snarky piece of gossip disguised as a revealing psychological insight disguised as an expression of sincere concern. In other words, the way these people talk and behave seems too awful not to be true.
"Well," says one published author in the film, "we all take from life." The difference is that, by this point in the movie, I assume her work is probably terrible, simultaneously pitiless and self-pitying, relentlessly "honest" and utter bullshit. (See the character of Briony in "Atonement.") Baumbach himself, however, is an exceptionally keen writer and observer of the stifling Upper-East-class milieu in which he was raised. (Both his parents are writers and -- ouch -- film critics.) Which doesn't mean his movie has anything to do with them. But one littérateur in the film observes that the character of the father in another's story is loathsome but strangely sympathetic. You could say the same thing about nearly any character in "Margot at the Wedding." Just leave out the "sympathetic." In fact, just about anything you can say about this movie has already been addressed (and ridiculed) in this movie.
Here's the basic set-up: Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her androgynously doughy offspring, appropriately named Claude (or "Clawd" or "Clod," as in formless lump of dirt, played to excruciating perfection by Zane Pais) go to visit Margot's estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) in the old family house on the beach where they were raised. Pauline is about to get married to Malcolm (Jack Black), another shapeless wad of humanity who sports an ironic mustache that's "supposed to be funny." Next door are some vile neighbors living in a shack with the Kid From "Deliverance," who are probably killing and eating whatever creatures (including wild animals, domesticated dogs and human babies) they can hunt. They're like the family from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (Tobe Hooper's), but they seem a little more human(e) than the main characters in the big house.
Everybody is so busy trying to avoid appearing hypocritical that there's not a genuine, straightforward emotional interaction in the film, just bubbles of self-absorbtion bumping into one another. These are extremely isolated, ultra-privileged people who would prefer to feel guilty about their privilege than grateful, because guilt intensifies their drama and their suffering and their sense of their own significance. Which, in the end, makes them feel a little better about themselves.
Oh, and there's the most cynically self-conscious use of a dog in the history of motion pictures. Baumbach knows exactly what he's doing, and it works.
If I'm making the film sound detestable, maybe that's the best way I know of to express my admiration for it, and the way it keeps relentlessly covering the same ground (the characters' linty psychic navels) while still managing to top itself, scene after scene. You'd think there's be almost no place to go after a mother -- quietly, with a vicious mixture of "concern" and disappointment -- tells her teenage son that he's "changed" and no longer has the grace she says she once treasured, and then adds as an afterthought, "But you're still handsome!" And yet, there is. The scene I just mentioned made me gasp and then laugh in astonishment. Unfortunately, through most of the movie, nobody around me was laughing much. To them, it maybe seemed more like Eugene O'Neill, I don't know.
Every performance in the film is terrifyingly good/awful. (That is, the actors hit every off-note just right, and the characters -- in case I haven't made this clear -- are mortifying.) I think there's some kind of excoriating analytical and observational genius in this home-horror-movie about cretinous, semi-articulate dunces. But when it was over (climaxing in an astonishing moment of self-dramatization and self-absorbtion), the same thought popped into my head that did at the end of Todd Solondz's outlandishly scornful "Palindromes": Who's going to want to expose themselves to this gory dissection of these coldblooded creeps? Makes you want to see a good George Romero zombie movie. At least the Living Dead have real, uncalculated emotions.
P.S. I just went back and re-read Roger Ebert's review of Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects." For me, the comparison works perfectly: Here is a gaudy vomitorium of a movie, violent, nauseating.... If you are a hardened horror movie fan capable of appreciating skill and wit in the service of the deliberately disgusting, [this film] may exercise a certain strange charm. If on the other hand you close your eyes if a scene gets icky, here is a movie to see with blinders on, because it starts at icky and descends relentlessly through depraved and nauseating to the embrace of road kill.