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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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A letter from Cairo on February 11, 2011

Today I walked the streets of Egypt proud--proud of my people and my country. It took us 18 days of protests to force Mubarak and his corrupt regime to resign. Their accounts will be frozen and the billions of dollars that should've gone into building a better and cleaner country will finally be restored for the good of our nation.

Mubarak left and we're all proud of getting rid of a corrupt dictator but it's the incidents I've witnessed with my own eyes throughout this revolution that has me swollen with pride. When Muslims prayed on a bridge, the police sprayed them with water and even though some slipped and fell, they stood back up and resumed. Egyptians of all religions were moved by this and when the water was pointed back at them, they created another front line of prayers. People kept coming in to reduce the impact of the water.

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Another day. Another year

May Contain Spoilers

Mike Leigh's Another Year (2010) is like a tender, swollen, beating heart that you hold within your palms: the soft flesh expands and contracts with every breath, and through the tiny crevices in between your fingers, life juices flow.

"Life is not always kind, is it?"

Gerri looks at Mary and quietly let those words slip. Mary catches her gaze, briefly. The letters settle over them like a mild fog, unmistakably present and non-disruptive, and the day proceeds on as it does.

Another day. Another year.

Through uncanny realism and probing characters, Leigh's latest film speaks of the pervasive dilemma of our kind: how do we live in this world in the presence of those so different and similar to ourselves at once? How do we make sense of each of our own way of life?

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"Moozlums" have been here for a long time

May Contain Spoilers

Qasim Basir presents his first feature film, "Mooz-lum," featuring Danny Glover, Nia Long, and Roger Guenveur Smith. Based on true events, it follows the story of Tariq (Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross) as he begins college, hoping to escape his childhood struggles. Estranged from his mother and sister, he spent his youth living at times with a strict, religious father and at times in a local madrassa (Islamic seminary). He is a Muslim college student, enrolling in the Fall of 2001. Simply, it is a story of a man trying to hide from the boy within him, just as all hell is about to break loose.

The movie opens nationally on Friday, 2/11. The title is a play on a common mispronunciation of "Muslim." I shrug when President Obama, despite his childhood in Indonesia, pronounces the term as "Muz-lem," though that is still better than the archaic "Moslem." The point here is not that anyone is intentionally mispronouncing the name. Rather, those of us with Muslim names

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Santa Barbara 2: Of hippos and red carpets

May Contain Spoilers

A foggy morning on the last day of the festival. One more week of movie-going, as Egypt totters and my native Midwest suffers another snowstorm, has caused both guilt and gratitude. But before I describe what I've been experiencing in balmy Santa Barbara, an upfront mea culpa, as earlier I mangled the name of a delightful film and want to correct it here. "Good for Nothing" comes from New Zealand, a spaghetti western with a bit of "Unforgiven" tossed in. Well acted and very scenic, the story centers on an Eastwood-like lone cowboy, who says little, thinks guns are meant for killing and women for --- When he kidnaps a young English traveler, rather than dominating her as he evidently intends, she gains control, ultimately humanizing the guy and helping him unfold his hidden heart. A man at the festival suggested that, "as a woman," I wouldn't like this film at all - but he was wrong.

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Uncle Boonmee as a video installation

May Contain Spoilers

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest movie "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" scored some points from me at the beginning. After the enigmatic opening sequence featuring a cow and the jungle shrouded in strange atmosphere, the following sequence with a car going along some country road drew my attention. The land was different, the trees and plants surrounding the road were also different, and the climate was also different, but the mood was somehow familiar to me.

It was not different from what I remember from our family's occasional short journey to my grandmother's country village. We also went there by a car, we also went along a paved country road, and I used to pensively look at the landscape outside car while a little bored in backseat.

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A letter from the barricades in Cairo

May Contain Spoilers

Wael is a gifted young film critic who joined his fellow Far-Flung Correspondents at Ebertfest 2010. Today the group received this word from him after a week of silence.

We took a specific safe route to my grandfather's house on Thursday night. After a good night sleep, I met up with fellow friends and protestors of Zamalek and walked to Tahrir Square where the majority of the protestors chanted and waved their hands in unity. The Friday protest was exhausting for we were struggling to stand our ground. The police fired tear-gas and it was the first time for me to inhale this toxic material.

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Services at Santa Barbara

May Contain Spoilers

"The church of baseball." That's a term from Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon's vivid character in "Bull Durham," that film of men, women and baseball, written and directed by Santa Barbara native Ron Shelton. I'm lifting the phrase here, adapting it for films and film festivals.Call it the church of cinema. That's been my experience and my "church" since age 18, a kid in college. I'd escape the campus upheaval, both political (this was the anti-war era) and personal (the sexual revolution hitting big time), and my search for identity, with a respite every Wednesday afternoon; with a couple dozen others, I became a weekly acolyte at screenings of the International Film Series at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There I discovered Belmondo, Bertolucci, "The Battle of Algiers." My world blew open and I never looked back.

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These men could have been friends

May Contain Spoilers

A few film directors end up becoming masters of specific subjects. Scorsese grew up in an environment that allowed him to understand organized crime from the inside. Tarantino has a grasp on the language that some street people, their drugs of choice and their methods of use, and so on. Michael Mann is the Hollywood Epic Techno-Crime expert. Did he grow up with it? Did he research it? A few years ago, I came across an old 70s Starsky & Hutch episode which happened to be written by him; in it, a serial killer claimed to receive his murdering orders from outer space and wore a tin-foil pointy-shaped hat for just that purpose. This means I'm basically leaning towards research, but your guess is as good as mine.

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Crime in the emptiness of Los Angeles

May Contain Spoilers

Michael Mann's "Heat" ranks right up there with the best of the crime genre from "Rififi" to "The Godfather". In fact, it is in my opinion the single greatest Los Angeles crime epic of all time, for it encompasses themes and visuals rarely achieved by productions. "Heat" is very ambitious and the end result is nothing short of a larger-than-life epic grandeur of a film.

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And life goes on as planned

May Contain Spoilers

Whenever I saw a plastic bag, a mixed feeling of benevolence and mild annoyance used to bubble up within me. When not neatly stacked by the cashier in a store or filled with stuff, they were usually flapping in the wind making unnecessary noises or worse, trailing in the gutter or sidewalk, being useless. Their life as intended was over, but they seemed oblivious.

These feeling changed after I first read the novel "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro, which in its almost-casual prose and easy pace, threaded me through the legendary grounds of Hailsham and the damp English countryside with Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy. Along the way I sat beside the girls while they bonded, and stood beside the boys while they yelled. Throughout their lives, I got to know these three people, and they became real to me. By the time the book completed, so had they, but I was not.

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