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#82 September 28, 2011

Marie writes: Summer is now officially over. The berries have been picked, the jam has been made, lawn-chairs put away for another year. In return, nature consoles us with the best show on Earth; the changing of the leaves!  I found these at one of my favorites sites and where you can see additional ones and more...

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Of popes and poissons and Kim Ki-duk

It's Friday the 13th in Cannes, and that has got to mean something good. An overcast sky threatening rain means that there couldn't be a more perfect day to stay inside and watch movies.

The morning began with the 8:30 am press screening of Nanni Moretti's "We Have a Pope." Hmm...a comedy/drama about the Vatican by a self-professed Italian atheist? Moretti is known primarily for his wry, intellectual, and largely autobiographical approach to comedy in films including "My Diary" and "April, " but also for serious drama in films including his 2001 Palme d'Or winner "The Son's Room." Subjects he has often lampooned include leftist politics, psychoanalysis, water-polo, and the cinema itself.

In "We Have a Pope," the funeral of a dead pope has just taken place and the College of Cardinals is convening to elect the new pontiff from among their number. Moretti goes to great lengths to represent this ritual gathering with great accuracy, but injecting an escalating number of comic moments as the film traverses from the ceremonial pomp of its opening scenes to take on a lighter tone.

As if the voting for a pope were an elementary school spelling test, the prelates cross out names on their ballots, look to heaven for guidance, and even cheat, some slyly spying on what a neighbor seated to the left or right is writing. After a few rounds of voting, the winner is revealed to be a candidate who was not even in the running, a stunned Cardinal Melville (surely Moretti's tip of the hat to iconic French director Jean-Pierre Melville), played by veteran French star Michel Piccoli.

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The best feature films of 2010

David Fincher's "The Social Network"is emerging as the consensus choice as best film of 2010. Most of the critics' groups have sanctified it, and after its initial impact it has only grown it stature. I think it is an early observer of a trend in our society, where we have learned new ways of thinking of ourselves: As members of a demographic group, as part of a database, as figures in...a social network.

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#26 September 1, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Here in Michigan Oink's ice cream parlor exerts a magnetic pull on helpless citizens for miles around. I can no longer sample their countless flavors, but not log ago I took Kim Severson there. She is a New York Times writer doing a piece on The Pot. Oink's is run by my friend Roger Vink, who says, "May the Oink be with you."

(click photos to enlarge)

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Name That Director!

Click above to REALLY enlarge...

UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Eric Rohmer: In Memory

We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.

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I have lunch with the mayor

May 20, 2009-The premiere of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" will likely dominate the international press for days. The screening itself was a bit less than a crazy event than I had been expecting. After experiencing the wild, all-out adoration of Tarantino fans at a special Cannes screening of "Kill Bill I and II" some years ago, in which the audience consisted largely of French locals, I was prepared for anything.

The guards opened the Grand Theatre Lumiere a half-hour early, and even though I arrive at 7:55 am for the 8:30 am screening, it was already half full. Mild excitement was in the air, some cheers and applause were heard as the lights went down, and another smattering of applause when Tarantino's name appeared on the screen.

I was waiting for some kind of massive reaction at the end, but there really was nothing out of the ordinary. I've never been overwhelmed by Tarantino's films, although the crazed eclecticism of his work is a lot of fun. "Inglourious Basterds" worked for me as a satisfying whole better than most of his other films. He pulls together everything in his arsenal: action, extreme violence, misogyny, film history, pop music and pop culture, and a plot based on a wild premise that rewrites history.

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Saint Agnes of Montparnasse

Dear Agnes Varda. She is a great director and a beautiful, lovable and wise woman, through and through. It is not enough that she made some of the first films of the French New Wave. That she was the Muse for Jacques Demy. That she is a famed photographer and installation artist. That she directed the first appearances on film of Gerard Depardieu, Phillipe Noiret--and Harrison Ford! Or that after gaining distinction as a director of fiction, she showed herself equally gifted as a director of documentaries. And that she still lives, as she has since the 1950s, in the rooms opening off each side of a once-ruined Paris courtyard, each room a separate domain.

That is not enough, because her greatest triumph is her life itself. She comes walking toward us on the sand in the first shot of "The Beaches of Agnes," describing herself as "a little old lady, pleasantly plump." Well, she isn't tall. But somehow she isn't old. She made this film in her 80th year, and she looks remarkably similar to 1967, when she brought a film to the Chicago Film Festival. Or the night I had dinner with her, Jacques and Pauline Kael at Cannes 1976. Or when she was at Montreal 1988. Or the sun-blessed afternoon when we three had lunch in their courtyard in 1990. Or when she was on the jury at Cannes 2005.

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Opening Shots: Le Samourai

From Brandon Colvin, Out 1:

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The opening shot of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 noir masterpiece “Le Samouraï” establishes the tone of Melville’s contemplative crime film, defines its amoral protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon), and introduces the connections between Costello, a hired assassin, and the concept of the Japanese samurai, particularly the ronin, or masterless samurai. The nearly three-minute shot maintains a simple but wonderfully expressive composition throughout, remaining within the drab gray-blue confines of Jef’s apartment.

Jef lies stiffly on his white mattress with black polka dots in the bottom right corner of the frame. Two windows, overflowing with soft light, balance the composition by providing visual anchors in the center of the frame. Jeff’s pet bird chirps away in his birdcage, resting on a table centered between the two windows. Chairs and dressers crowd the outskirts of the frame, completing the layout of Jef’s ascetically simple, disciplined apartment. For minutes, the only sound is the constant drizzle of rain outside the windows and the intermittent whooshing of cars on the street below, punctuated by the light cries of Jef’s bird. Jef’s lights a cigarette and when he puffs, the smoke floats up softly, stagnating in the light of the windows, rolling around as if trying to escape. The completely still shot seems as if it’s attempting to emulate the frozen camera of Ozu. Jef lies with solemnity and his imprisonment in his dreary apartment is analogous to the situation of his caged bird.

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Following the credits, text appears in the top right corner of the shot. The text reads, “There is no greater solitude than that of a samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle . . . perhaps . . .” The quote is attributed to Bushido (Book of Samurai), which Melville fabricated for the film, and illustrates the connection between Jef’s disciplined isolation and the social exile experienced by great warriors, like samurai. Particularly interesting is the connection between Jef and ronin, or masterless samurai. Ronin are noted in Japanese storytelling for their lack of morality and existential listlessness, caring for themselves above all and feeling no loyalty to exterior forces. Jef exemplifies this sort of selfish existence, which, as with the ronin, fates him to a sense of dread and, ultimately, death.

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