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Ebert Club

#368 November 26, 2019

Matt writes: With Thanksgiving just days away, let us revisit the holiday perennial that has emerged as one of the most beloved of all American films: John Hughes' poignant 1987 comedy "Planes, Trains & Automobiles."


Thumbnails 8/11/17

"The Glass Castle" tidies up a disturbing memoir; Paranoid style; Watching "Dunkirk" with autism; Bill Pullman remembers John Candy; Last hurrah of "Beach Party."


Thumbnails 10/9/15

R.I.P. Chantal Akerman; Colin Healey on "Homemakers"; Rick Moranis isn't retired; Taking a stand against sexism in Hollywood; Eli Roth on "Knock Knock."


No fatties

I made a mistake this week. I followed a link from a discussion among reputable movie critics to a showbiz gossip blog that I usually find too sleazy to visit. There I once again found all manner of bilious items that creeped me out and reminded me why I shouldn't go there. One of them insulted a late, internationally renowned film critic for choosing, on his deathbed, a Howard Hawks western as his favorite movie over another title the gossip prefers. (No doubt the latter feels entitled to express an opinion about what your last meal should be, too.) Another post included the observation that Vince Vaughn "needs to lose 30 pounds. He appeared to be at the tipping point during the 'Couples Retreat' press junket."


John Hughes: In Memory

Few directors have left a more distinctive or influential body of work than John Hughes. The creator of the modern American teenager film, who died Thursday in New York, made a group of films that are still watched and quoted today.


Is Judd Apatow John Hughes? (Answer: No)

View image Those plucky, sympathetic teens of yesteryear.

You know what? "Sex and the City" was for girls! Yes, it's true. First it was for (and about) gay boys, but eventually it revolved around a certain brand of perfume-insert, fashion-magazine womankind: rich, white, co-dependent, status-obsessed, desperate for a man to complete her.

Know what else? Judd Apatow makes movies about guys -- and heterosexual relationships with women, but mainly about what used to be known as "male bonding." (The fashionable term now is "bro-mance," which is cuter and invoked largely by what used to be called "metrosexuals.") The Apatow guy tends to be underemployed, white, Jewish (or Canadian), slobby, geeky, smelly, childish (not just "childlike") and more or less happy, unaware that he's desperate for a woman to complete him. Then, once he becomes aware, he's not entirely sure that's possible, or desirable.

This, I submit, is a minor breakthrough in romantic comedy. OK, perhaps I am single and bitter, but I'm also right.

In the New York Sun (also known as "the conservative New York Sun"), Steve Dollar mentions that Catherine Keener's character in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" "pretty much takes the blame for making the poor guy sell all his collectible model toys (but whose side is Apatow on?), and spends much of her screen time mothering her infantile boyfriend."

Is that what happens? Even if so, whose side is Mr. Dollar on? (And who said it was necessary to divine and choose "sides"?)



View image John Candy as Steve Roman as Juan Cortez -- now that spells good acting.

Ever since December, when Kristin Thompson posted this ("Good Actors Spell Good Acting") on the blog she shares with her husband and co-author David Bordwell, I've been meaning to link to it. This is my favorite kind of article, leading you fluidly from one intriguing idea to another -- and you never quite know where it's going to take you. Not only does it begin with an account of how bits of movie dialogue (from "Rio Bravo," "His Girl Friday") have entered her life, and the lives of her friends and colleagues, but it then segues into a great quotation from Steve Roman on SCTV (playing Juan Cortez, the first Puerto Rican Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court in the dramatic television series, "There's Justice for Everybody") : “It’s got good actors, and that spells good acting.” And, from there, to this: Almost invariably we use this line when we come across one of those films that receive highly positive reviews largely because of one great performance. You know the kind: Charlize Theron in "Monster," Halle Berry in "Monster’s Ball," Hillary Swank in "Boys Don’t Cry," and more recently Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland" and Helen Mirren in "The Queen."

Usually I avoid such films, because the reviews tend to plant the idea that they are primarily actors’ vehicles. I enjoy good acting as much as the next person, but I want the rest of the film to be interesting as well.

Are there any film classics that are truly great solely for the acting? It’s hard to think of any. Maybe "The Gold Rush," which is stylistically fairly pedestrian but which is redeemed by Chaplin’s inspired performance. Maybe "Duck Soup," also quite undistinguished for much of anything other than the Marx Brothers cutting loose without being saddled with the sort of plots involving young, singing lovers that MGM would soon foist upon them. Maybe a few others. Usually, though, we tend not to think of a performance, however dazzling, as adding up to a great film. That's a good point to keep in mind during Oscar season, when "best acting" is often confused with "most acting." The performances that win awards tend to have as much to do with the roles as they do the actors. Sure, the player has to deliver, but give a decent actor a juicy character (and a sympathetic director) and you're talking Oscar bait. If just about anyone had played Jennifer Hudson's mistreated chunky diva in "Dreamgirls," an emotive-showpiece part if there ever was one, and had not gotten an Oscar nomination, that alone would have made the film a miserable failure. Fortunately for the investors, Hudson was able to do what she was hired to do. (Twenty years ago on Broadway, it was another Jennifer H. -- Holliday -- who became a star playing the same role and singing the same showstopper song.) Robert Altman liked to say that casting was the most important part of making a movie, but nobody would say that his movies are interesting just for the performances. It's how he captures and presents them that matters just as much.


Martin Short: 'Cross My Heart'

There's a benefit at Second City for Comic Relief, the stand-up's favorite charity, and word is all over the room that Martin Short is going to sit on on the 11 p.m. improvisational set. Nobody budges when the lights go up after the early show, and there is a certain buzz in the room. These guest appearances by famous former Second Citians have become a tradition over the years, a promise that if others who once labored in wretched anonymity made it onto "Saturday Night Live," there is hope for us all.