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Blog Posts

Ebert Club

#271 February 22, 2016

Sheila writes: A really fun piece over on Mubi: Adrian Curry, who heads up Mubi's popular movie-poster column, interviews Mondo creative director and poster-designer Jay Shaw. Shaw provides commentary for his Top Ten American Movie Posters. It's an eclectic selection. Some of the designs were not used, ultimately, like the Bill Gold design for "Get Carter" below, but still worthy of appreciation.


Thumbnails 6/28/2013

A Civil Rights-era test to see if you're smart enough to vote; what you need to know about the situation in Turkey; the director of 20 Feet from Stardom, interviewed; new classical music suggestions for Hollywood villains; something about Like Clockwork; guess which critic wrote this un-bylined New York Times review?

Ebert Club

#138 October 17, 2012

Marie writes: the ever intrepid Sandy Khan recently sent me a link to ArtDaily where I discovered "Hollywood Unseen" - a new book of photographs featuring some of Hollywood's biggest stars, to published November 16, 2012."Gathered together for the first time, Hollywood Unseen presents photographs that seemingly show the 'ordinary lives' of tinseltown's biggest stars, including Rita Hayworth, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. In reality, these "candid' images were as carefully constructed and prepared as any classic portrait or scene-still. The actors and actresses were portrayed exactly as the studios wanted them to be seen, whether in swim suits or on the golf course, as golden youth or magic stars of Hollywood."You can freely view a large selection of images from the book by visiting Getty Images Gallery: Hollywood Unseen which is exhibiting them online.

(click to enlarge image)

Ebert Club

#132 September 5, 2012

Marie writes: According to the calendar, summer is now officially over (GASP!) and with its demise comes the first day of school. Not all embrace the occasion, however. Some wrap themselves proudly in capes of defiance and make a break for it - rightly believing that summer isn't over until the last Himalayan Blackberry has been picked and turned into freezer jam!

Ebert Club

#117 May 30, 2012

Marie writes: Recently, a fellow artist and friend sent me the following photos featuring amazing glass mosaics. She didn't know who the artists were however - and which set me off on a journey to find out!  I confess, the stairs currently continue to thwart me and thus remain a mystery, but I did uncover who created the "glass bottle doorway" and was surprised to learn both its location and the inspiration behind it. (click image.)

Ebert Club

#75 August 10, 2011

Marie writes: I attended three different elementary schools; St. Peter's, Our Lady of Mercy (which was anything but) and finally St. Micheal's; where I met my Canadian-Italian chum, Marta Chiavacci (key-a-vah-chee) who was born here to Italian immigrants. We lost touch after high school, moving in different directions til in the wake of a trip to Venice and eager to practice my bad Italian and bore friends with tales of my travels abroad, I sought her out again.We've kept in touch ever since, meeting whenever schedules permit; Marta traveling more than most (she's a wine Sommelier) living partly in Lucca, Italy, and happily in sin with her significant other, the great Francesco. I saw her recently and took photos so that I might show and tell, in here. For of all the friends I have, she's the most different from myself; the contrast between us, a never-ending source of delight. Besides, it was a nice afternoon in Vancouver and her condo has a view of False

(click images to enlarge)

Ebert Club

#30 September 29, 2010

"Beware of artists - they mix with all classes of societyand are therefore most dangerous." ~ Queen Victoriastencil by Banksy, British graffiti artistAnd who inspired a recent film about art...

Roger Ebert

This is the dawning of the Age of Credulity

Photographs, left to right: Bullwinkle J. Moose, Jonathan Swift.

Some days ago I posted an article headlined, "Creationism: Your questions answered." It was a Q&A that accurately reflected Creationist beliefs. It inspired a firestorm on the web, with hundreds, even thousands of comments on blogs devoted to evolution and science. More than 600 comments on the delightful alone. Many of the comments I've seen believe I have converted to Creationism. Others conclude I have lost my mind because of age and illness. There is a widespread conviction that the site was hacked. Lane Brown's blog for New York magazine flatly states I gave "two thumbs down to evolution." On every one of the blogs, there are a few perceptive comments gently suggesting the article might have been satirical. So far I have not seen a single message, negative or positive, from anyone identifying as a Creationist.


The reviews are in: Let the Funny Games begin!

View image Nudge-nudge. (2008)

UPDATED (03/15/08)

(My review of "Funny Games" is here. See also Your User's Guide to Movie Violence, a discussion below.)

* * * *

"You Must Admit, You Brought This On Yourself" -- advertising tagline, and line of dialog, from "Funny Games" (2008)

"Funny Games" (the 2008 Hollywood movie-star version of the virtually identical 1997 Euro-version) is a conceptual work, an aestheticized test. It's debatable whether the movie (already a replica) is necessary, except as an object that represents the larger concept -- like, say, an Andy Warhol Brillo box or Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners in plexiglass cases.

View image Wink-wink. (1997)

You could say something similar about the high-concept "Snakes On a Plane," and you'd be right. The difference is that the marketing campaign behind the packaging of "Snakes On a Plane" was designed to sell exactly the entertainment experience that the title promised. With "Funny Games," there's a deliberate element of bait-and-switch involved. It's being sold as entertainment, but that's not at all what it intends to deliver. The experience of "Funny Games" exists in the tension between the pitch and the delivery -- which will largely determine the relationship between the viewer and the film he/she sees.

So, the promotional materials for "Funny Games" (poster art, trailers, online videos, etc.) are more than the usual extensions or enhancements of the movie. They frame the experience, but they're also essential elements of the movie itself. Why you decide to watch it (or not) is every bit as central to the movie's concerns as anything in the movie itself. That may be true of any movie, but "Funny Games" puts it right there in the foreground where you can't miss it.

View image Promotional art for the 1997 version.

If you go expecting entertainment and are entertained (or, at least, terrified -- held hostage by your own expectations), that will be one thing. If you go expecting a moral lesson about the appeal of violence in movies, and you feel chastened and sullied, that will be another. If you go expecting a thriller or a comedy and find nothing thrilling or funny about it, that will be something else. If you go expecting to be toyed with and, say, enjoy feeling that you're ahead of the movie (maybe because you've already seen the 1997 version), that will provide yet another experience. If you value writer-director Michael Haneke's other work and want to see why he's chosen to remake this one... well, I hope you get the idea.

So, the first part of the experiment involves your decision to participate or not. The movie is the second part.


The Coen ideology

View image

Here's a sampling of various political/ideological (and generic) readings of Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men." This just gets more and more fascinating to me -- probably because I would not emphasize such an approach to the movie myself. (Not that all the following do, either.) I'm frustrated that, before I can write about "No Country" again with a fresh memory, I have to wait another week for it to open in Seattle. For now, a critical debate/montage from multiple perspectives -- those who love it and hate it and have mixed feelings: The mechanics of "No Country for Old Men" recall those of a vintage film noir, and in that respect, the movie is brilliantly executed, as gripping and mordantly funny a treatise on the corrosive power of greed as "The Killing" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" were before it. [...]

View image Malcolm McDowell in Lindsay Anderson's 1973 critique of capitalism, "O Lucky Man!"

It’s easy to imagine how the Coens, whose Achilles’ heel has always been their predilection for smug irony and easy caricature, might have turned McCarthy’s taciturn Texans into simplistic Western-mythos archetypes — the amoral criminal, the righteous peacekeeper, and the naive but basically goodhearted rube in over his head. Instead, they’ve made a film of great, enveloping gravitas, in which words like “hero” and “villain” carry ever less weight the deeper we follow the characters into their desperate journeys. Like McCarthy, the Coens are markedly less interested in who (if anyone) gets away with the loot than in the primal forces that urge the characters forward. “They slaughter cattle a lot different these days,” sighs a weary Bell late in the film. But slaughter them they still do, and in the end, everyone in "No Country for Old Men" is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction.-- Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

... [T]he Coens have made a crime movie that seems quietly aghast at the likelihood of death and menace occurring on American soil. Unlike "American Gangster"’s sensationalized crap, this is a crime movie/western exercise that contemporizes the miasma of a world at war. [...]

Coen artistry heightens our level of perception. They reveal the first murder with an astonishing image of shoe sole scuff marks on a jail floor that looks as avant-garde as a Jackson Pollack painting—a harbinger of modern chaos that puts post-9/11 terror in artistic focus. But not sentimentally. When Sheriff Bell expresses existential fatigue, the sorrow he vouchsafes to his father is actually spoken to himself (thus to us in the audience). And still, the Coens contextualize: Bell is brought to reality when his father tells him, “What you got ain’t new. Can’t stop what’s coming. Ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” The Coens make that wisdom mythical and all encompassing—from Vietnam to 9/11 to Iraq and to the Texas homeland.-- Armond White, New York Press (headline: "A crime movie for a world at war")

The most rewarding thing about "No Country" is the way in which its narrative is set up as a singularly unstoppable force, a shark constantly moving forward (every scene seems to have a goal, every frame initially gives off the impression of tightly relaying crucial plot information), only to allow itself to purposefully break down, both in terms of resolution and traditional narrative payoffs. What initially seems perfectly calibrated and dazzlingly "efficient" is finally revealed as a false comfort: the film's trio of sad characters will probably never be able to emerge from its shadows. The trail of bloodshed that occurs in the wake of the film's central crime feels increasingly less like whiz-bang noir pastiche and more like the final actions of a nation in irrevocable moral decline.-- Michael Koresky, IndieWIRE

On the face of it, "No Country for Old Men" doesn't need to be set in 1980. [...] It could be taking place anytime in the past 40 years, really.

By locating the action in the year of Ronald Reagan's ascension to the presidency, though, "No Country" stands at the pivot of the Old West and the New Avarice, a point in time when the last vestiges of frontier morality have been washed away by a pitiless modern crime wave fueled by drug profits.-- Ty Burr, Boston Globe

The story takes place in 1980, but cut out the cars and the drugs and we could be in 1880—look at Bell and his deputy, saddling up to scour the crime scene. (“You can’t help but compare yourself against the old timers,” Bell confides to us, in voice-over.) Indeed, the characters’ rapport with the soil is more reliable, in its grounded primitivism, than their relations with one another, and the Coens certainly honor the novelist’s abiding preference for the mythical over the modern.-- Anthony Lane, The New Yorker