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Wormwood

A fascinating piece of filmmaking that challenges the form in new ways as it recalls themes its director has been interested in his entire career.

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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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Cast and Crew

* 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.

Susan Seidelman, Survivor

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Susan Seidelman has been making films for over 30 years. Her work includes "Desperately Seeking Susan," the pilot for "Sex and the City," and her new sports comedy "The Hot Flashes." Her story is the story of women in Hollywood: a study in creativity, courage and strength. A profile by RogerEbert.com's Christy Lemire.

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The Magic of Belle Isle: Press the Easy Button

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"The Magic of Belle Isle" (109 minutes) is available via iTunes, Amazon, Comcast, DirecTV, VUDU and other outlets. A limited theatrical release begins July 1.

Rob Reiner's "The Magic of Belle Isle" is an Easy Button of a film, as generic and conventional as its title. If you ever wondered what a Hallmark Channel original movie would be like if you threw some A-list talent at it -- namely Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen instead of, say, Jeffrey Nordling and Kristy Swanson -- here's your answer.

Freeman stars as Monte Wildhorn, an alcoholic in a wheelchair and "writer (of westerns) nobody reads." His books, once popular, are now out of print. Monte's nephew (Keenan Thompson) deposits him in the idyllic lakeside town of Belle Isle to housesit. Nephew's ulterior motive, of course, is that he will be inspired to stop drinking and start writing again, but the embittered Monte is a hard case. "Toss it in the garbage," he says of his typewriter. "She's a black-hearted whore, and I'm done with her."

So what will it take to turn this curmudgeon into a softie? Guy Thomas' simplistic script leaves nothing to chance. How about saddling Monte with a lazy old dog named Ringo (yes, Ringo) that has a penchant for licking itself? No? Well then, how about introducing a single mother (Madsen) who is going through a divorce with three -- count 'em -- daughters: one adorable, one precocious, and one sullen? Still not enough? Well then how about adding to the mix a mentally challenged boy who hops around the neighborhood and whom Monte takes under his wing as his "sidekick?"

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#111 April 18, 2012

Marie writes: Recently, we enjoyed some nice weather and inspired by the sunshine, I headed out with a borrowed video camera to shoot some of the nature trails up on Burnaby Mountain, not far from where I live. I invariably tell people "I live near Vancouver" as most know where that is - whereas Burnaby needs explaining. As luck would have it though, I found a great shot taken from the top of Burnaby Mountain, where you can not only see where I live now but even Washington State across the Canadian/US border...

(click image to enlarge)

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#76 August 17, 2011

"I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan. I was an indifferent student except at subjects that interested me, and those I followed beyond the classroom, stealing time from others I should have been studying. I was no good at math beyond algebra. I flunked French four times in college. I had no patience for memorization, but I could easily remember words I responded to. In college a chart of my grades resembled a mountain range. My first real newspaper job came when my best friend's father hired me to cover high school sports for the local daily. In college a friend told me I must join him in publishing an alternative weekly and then left it in my hands. That led to the Daily Illini, and that in turn led to the Chicago Sun-Times, where I have worked ever since 1966. I became the movie critic six months later through no premeditation, when the job was offered to me out of a clear blue sky."Visit "I was born inside the movie of my life" to read the opening pages from Roger's forthcoming memoir to be published September 13, 2011.

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#47 January 26, 2010

Marie writes: Each year, the world's remotest film festival is held in Tromsø, Norway. The Tromsø International Film Festival to be exact, or TIFF (not to be confused with Toronto.) Well inside the Arctic Circle, the city is nevertheless warmer than most others located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This likely explains how they're able to watch a movie outside, in the snow, in the Arctic, in the winter. :-)

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#38 November 24, 2010

Marie writes: The local Circle Craft Co-operative features the work of hundreds of craftspeople from across British Columbia and each year, a Christmas Market is held downtown at the Vancouver Convention Centre to help sell and promote the work they produce. My friend and I recently attended the 37th Christmas Market and where I spotted these utterly delightful handmade fabric monsters by Diane Perry of "Monster Lab" - one of the artist studios located on Salt Spring Island near Washington State...it's the eyes... they follow you. :-)

(click to enlarge)

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I'd like you to meet your best friend

It was the opening day of the Disney-MGM studios in Orlando. The stars were there with their children. There was an official luncheon at the Brown Derby, modeled after the legendary Hollywood eatery. I was beside myself. I was in a booth sitting next to Jack Brickhouse, the voice of the Chicago Cubs. A man walked over and introduced himself. "Bob Elliott." Oh. My. God. Bob, of Bob and Ray.

For me he was the biggest star in the room. Who, after all, compared to even one half of Bob and Ray, was Tom Hanks? Whoopi Goldberg? Art Linkletter? "Gosh all whillikers, Mr. Science!" I said, "What's that long brown object???" Bob didn't miss a beat: "That's known as a board, Roger."

Another man was steaming toward us through the throng. A middle-aged man, well-dressed, tanned, with a pleasant smile. "Hi, Jack!" he said. "Say, I hear Ernie Banks is invited. Yeah, I was just talking to Michael and that's what he said." Jack turned to me and said, "Roger, this is a man I want you to meet. You're going to be seeing him again many times over the years. Say hello Jerry Berliant."

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CIFF 2009: The winners! And our reviews

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Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," an independent American production, won the Gold Hugo as the best film in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival, and added Gold Plaques for best supporting actress (Jossie Thacker) and best screenplay (Mabry). It tells the harrowing story of three black children growing up in rural Mississippi in circumstances of violence and addiction. The film's trailer and an interview with Mabry are linked at the bottom.

Kylee Russell in "Mississippi Damned"

The winner of the Audience Award, announced Friday, was "Precious" (see below). The wins came over a crowed field of competitors from all over the world, many of them with much larger budgets. The other big winner at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East awards ceremony Saturday evening was by veteran master Marco Bellocchio of Italy, who won the Silver Hugo as best director for "Vincere," the story of Mussolini's younger brother. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi won Silver Hugos as best actress and actor, and Daniele Cipri won a Gold Plaque for best cinematography.

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Siskel & Ebert at the Jugular

What does it feel like to resemble the Phantom of the Opera? You learn to live with it. I've never concerned myself overmuch about how I looked. I got a lot of practice at indifference during my years as the Michelin Man.

Yes, years before I acquired my present problems, I was not merely fat, but was universally known as "the fat one," to distinguish me from "the thin one," who was Gene Siskel, who was not all that thin, but try telling that to Gene:

"Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."

"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy," I observed.

"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm," Gene said. "Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"

The real Phantom: Lon Chaney in 1925

"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from 'Saturday Night Fever,'" I said.

"Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?" asked Buzz the floor director. "Enquiring minds want to know."

"He wanted to wear it today," I said, "but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."

"Ba-ba-ba-boom !" said Buzz.

"Here's an item that will interest you, Roger," Gene told me one day, paging through the Sun-Times, his favorite paper, during a lull in the taping of our show. We taped in CBS Chicago's Studio One, home of the Kennedy-Nixon debate.

"It says here, the Michelin Man has been arrested in a fast food court in Hawaii for attempting to impersonate the Pillsbury Dough Boy."

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Altman's Dangerous Woman Speaks

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Robert Altman on the set of "A Prairie Home Companion." Photo by Virginia Madsen.

At RogerEbert.com, Virginia Madsen has written a lovely remembrance of playing the "angel of death" in "A Prairie Home Companion," the final film directed by Robert Altman, who died two years ago this month. An excerpt:

He never knew where or when the "angel" should appear to haunt or float. Sometimes he would just look at me for a long time. I always held his gaze and often wondered what he was thinking. these were always quiet moments, in the midst of all the fun and chaos of a working set. He would sometimes hold my hand and then let it go as he went on to direct. [...]

... [He] always wanted me to move in such a deliberate way.There would be take after take sometimes, with Bob saying, "Do it again but this time even slower" Not an easy task for me because my physicality and that of all the other performers was so animated! He even briefly entertained the idea of having me pulled along on wheels so I would really appear to float. He also designed my big hair and white trench. Guess that was angelic to a man like him! Or film-noir angelic anyway. He gave me a copy of "The Long Goodbye."

Along with a few anecdotes, she offers her thoughts (and remembers Altman's) on the gorgeous photo above. Read the whole thing here.

A few of my own Altman memories, and an appreciation of Madsen's final moments in the film here . I think I know what I'm going to be revisiting tonight....

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Robert Altman (1925 – 2006): His dangerous angel remembers

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Virginia Madsen played the significant role of the Angel of Death, named "The Dangerous Woman," in Robert Altman's last film, "A Prairie Home Companion." She wrote down these memories at my request. Altman died on Nov. 20, 2006. I was still in intensive care, and Chaz withheld the news from me. Did Bob guess how near the end was? He was a very intelligent man, a realist, with leukemia and a heart transplant from 11 years earlier.

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'Baby' stages late-round Oscar rally

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HOLLYWOOD - "Million Dollar Baby" scored a late-round rally Sunday night at the 77th annual Academy Awards as Clint Eastwood's movie about a determined female boxer won for best picture and took Oscars for actress (Hilary Swank), supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) and director (Eastwood).

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Who will take home Oscar?

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Last year was the Year of the Hobbit at the Academy Awards. This year the academy will move away from the land of blockbusters and honor a film whose budget was less than the cost of the opening week's ads for just one-third of the "Rings" trilogy. Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," which seemed to appear out of nowhere in mid-December, which had no pre-release publicity, which played no festivals and was screened for no focus groups, will win the Oscar as best picture.

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Stepping into the ring

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Warning: The following letters discuss plot details of "Million Dollar Baby."Q: You think that guarding the secrets of "Million Dollar Baby" to preserve a "key plot point" (as you put it) is of the highest importance. In my opinion, it is the teaching of "Million Dollar Baby" that should have been the focus of your review.

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It's time to save Field's

What's this? Federated Department Stores wants to buy May Department Stores, which bought Marshall Field's last summer? And Federated has a history of changing the names of all of their stores to "Macy's"? Which would mean the end of "Marshall Field's"?

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'Aviator' leads Oscar nominations

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"The Aviator" leads with 11 nominations. Jamie Foxx was nominated in two categories. A little film named "Sideways" won five nominations, but one of them was not for its star, Paul Giamatti. "Finding Neverland" was the dark horse, in a tie with "Million Dollar Baby" with seven nominations apiece.

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