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Mudbound

The film invites us to observe its characters, to hear their inner voices, to see what they see and to challenge our own preconceived notions…

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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 slice of perfection

Ramin Bahrani and Ahmad Razvi after the screening of "Man Push Cart" at the Overlooked Film Festival.

"Man Push Cart": Alfred Hitchcock supposedly said that while most movies are a slice of life, his were a slice of cake. He's right about the last part, although most movies are not slices of anything resembling life as most of us experience it. But "Man Push Cart," the film by Ramin Bahrani, a director born in Iran and raised in North Carolina, is not only an exquisitely realized slice of life but a slice of filmmaking perfection. I didn't know, as I became absorbed in this portrait of a New York City street vendor whose life is slowly slipping from his grasp (like his heavy pushcart on one occasion), that it would become one of my favorite movies of recent years until moments after its inexplicably magnificent ending.

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Overlooked Photos and Audio

University of Illinois President B. Joseph White (center), his wife Mary (left) and volunteer host Judy Tolliver (right) outside the Virginia Theatre.

So many movies and filmmakers and conversations, so little sleep. Well, that's a film festival for you. I was especially impressed with Ramid Bahrani's "Man Push Cart" -- a film of extraordinary attention to detail in every aspect. Not only does it closely observe the behavior of its central character Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), a Pakistani pushcart vendor at 54th and Madison in New York City, but every image and sound and gesture accumulate to create a Sisyphean portrait of a life slowly rolling out of control. More about it and other Overlooked events later. Meanwhile, check out the photo album(s) and MP3 audio of selected Ebert on-stage interviews.

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Welcome aboard the first train to blogville!

After eight months of existence, Scanners has finally grown up and become (not unlike Pinocchio) a real live blog. With a Moveable Type publishing platform and everything. While I continue with unabated enthusiasm in my capacity as founding editor-in-chief, webmaster and contributor to RogerEbert.com, the new interface for Scanners should make it even more clear than it was before that what appears here is... just totally my fault. Don't blame Roger. According to the principles of separation of church and state upon which our nation was founded (though it's not clear which site represents the church and which represents the state), RogerEbert.com and Scanners exist, side by side, as distinct entities. Scanners is devoted to the criticism and opinionated observations of Yours Truly alone -- hence the new logo and byline and design and URL and e-mail address and wee goofy picture that collectively say, with wry understatement, "You're not in RogerEbert.com anymore." But you're never more than a click away, as the top navigation menu indicates. Remember: If you're seeing gold, you're in Ebert's fold; if you're seeing blue, it's You-Know-Who.

(Thanks to Roger and Cath and John and everybody else at the Sun-Times who made this possible.)

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From the Overlooked Hotel

EbertSwag: Love that Hitchockian coffee mug design, although nobody's going to mug Lauren Bacall over this stuff... (photo by Jim Emerson)

URBANA, IL -- All the guests of Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival stay in the Illini Student Union building on the campus of Ebert's alma mater, the University of Illinois. That's right -- the third and fourth floors are a hotel -- with Wi-Fi access in the rooms, too. Take the elevator to the main floor and -- voila! -- you're in college again! And that's the spirit of the Overlooked -- discovering and learning about terrific movies (and movie-makers) you may otherwise have missed. But it's not just the movies: Ebert interviews the filmmakers after the screenings, the audience gets the chance to ask questions, and panels debate the present and future of independent production and exhibition.

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Whose story is 'Flight93'?

British filmmaker Paul Greengrass, as I've mentioned before, is surely the most accomplished action-thriller director around these days. "Bloody Sunday" and "The Bourne Supremacy" are evidence enough of that. This week, Greengrass's "United 93," about the September 11, 2001, flight now commemorated in a Pennsylvania field, opens the Tribeca Film Festival and then moves into theaters.

David Poland, over at "The Hot Blog," saw the film recently and writes:

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OK, maybe '102 Movies...'

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove. True, he's no Jim Carrey, but...

My list of "101 Movies You Must See Before You Die" has generated some provocative e-mail. As I mentioned in my original posting, this was a list I came up with in 1999, providing what I'd consider to be the most important common cultural touchstones in films from the 20th century. It's not a list of the best films (some I don't even like much), or the most important films, or even my favorite films. (The latter list, circa 1998, is here -- and it needs some updating.) I could easily have listed 202 titles (or, perhaps, even 1001, as a certain book with a similar title does), but I limited myself to a short list. That wasn't enough for everybody, though...

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Pop notes: 101 essential movies

You must remember this: one of the movies' iconic images.

Further reflections on the 2006 Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, CO: John Lennon said life is what happens to you when you're making other plans. Life is also the process of finding connections between everything that happens to you (there he goes with that "We're all pattern-seeking animals" thing again!). So, last week at the CWA, three panels I was on ran together in my head in ways I think are interesting. But then, it's my head we're talking about, so I'm probably inclined to think my digressions and free-associations are interesting, otherwise I wouldn't have spent so much time mucking about with them.

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Gans: Seven Best Modern Horror Movies

There was a buzz circulating among students at the University of Colorado at Boulder during the Conference on World Affairs last week about "Silent Hill," the new horror film by director Christophe Gans ("Brotherhood of the Wolf," "Crying Freeman") with a screenplay by Roger Avary ("Pulp Fiction," "Killing Zoe"). Their hope is that it just might turn out to be one of the first good movies based on a video game. However it's received, I do like the director's taste in horror movies.

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101 102 Movies You Must See Before...

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EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.

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Video games: The 'epic debate'

At last week's Conference on World Affairs, I was on a panel somewhat facetiously titled "An Epic Debate: Are Video Games an Art Form?" with Roger Ebert (whose answer to the titular question is, as you probably know, "no"). Sun-Times tech columnist Andy Ihnatko was supposed to join us, but at the last minute he couldn't make it. Fortunately, we were able to recruit author, brain expert and laparoscopic surgeon Leonard Shlain to join us.

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