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Men, Women & Children

A potentially interesting premise is handled so badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of…

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The Boxtrolls

"The Boxtrolls" is a beautiful example of the potential in LAIKA's stop-motion approach, and the images onscreen are tactile and layered. But, as always, it's…

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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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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* 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.

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How movie studios still have a hiring problem; 2013's biggest box office bombs; A.O. Scott and Streep's scenery-chewing; emojis and the autism spectrum; this was a wicked sexist year.

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Mamet's Spector of reasonable doubt

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"I believe he's not guilty."

"Are you sure?"

"No, but I have a reasonable doubt."

The last words spoken in David Mamet's HBO feature film "Phil Spector" are "reasonable doubt." The first words appear in white letters on a black screen:

This is a work of fiction. It's not "based on a true story." ... It is a drama inspired by actual persons on a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.

I'm not quite sure what that means (beyond "Don't sue us") -- but it sounds a little like one of Mamet's nonsensical latter-day post-right-wing conversion rants. (Read Mamet's 2008 Village Voice essay, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'" and see if you can figure out how he went from an unthinking, ignorant knee-jerk lefty to an unthinking, ignorant knee-jerk conservative. It has something to do with NPR, but what was he listening to? "Car Talk"? He doesn't say -- only that he believes in choosing one's political positions and convictions the way you would choose a sports team to root for, based on your affection for a place and whatever colors you feel are the most flattering this season.)

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Larry Sanders: The show behind the show

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August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is Part 2 of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here.

"Unethical? Jesus, Larry. Don't start pulling at that thread; our whole world will unravel." -- Artie (Rip Torn)

by Edward Copeland

Unravel those threads did -- and often -- in the world of fictional late night talk show host Larry Sanders. On "The Larry Sanders Show," the brilliant and groundbreaking HBO comedy that paid attention to the men and women behind the curtain of Sanders' fictional show, the ethics of showbiz were hilariously skewered.

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Los Angeles Film Festival 2012

Los Angeles is a behemoth or, better, an octopus, with tentacles stretching 468.67 square miles, a fact that shocked me when I moved here in 1990. That meant that it was bigger than the distance consumed by driving to and from Chicago from my hometown, Kewanee (150 miles southwest), and back again. I soon realized that one could easily live an entire lifetime in Los Angeles and never see it all. This also meant that so much was always going on, including really desirable events, many of which would most certainly be missed.

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The Dark Knight Rises: A hero ain't nothin' but a knuckle sandwich

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"Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it, the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed." -- Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), "Batman Begins" (2005)

"Over the ages our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham we tried a new one: economics.... We are back to finish the job. And this time no misguided idealists will get in the way. Like your father, you lack the courage to do all that is necessary. If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them... and stab them in the heart." -- Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), "Batman Begins" (2005)

"You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other." -- The Joker (Heath Ledger), "The Dark Knight" (2008)

"Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country." -- Maximilien Robespierre, 1794

"I am Gotham's reckoning... I'm necessary evil.... Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die." -- Bane (Tom Hardy), echoing his former master in "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)

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(You've seen "The Dark Knight Rises" by now, right? Good. I'm going to discuss a few things that I would consider spoilers, albeit mild ones, and then get to some pretty big spoilers later on, before which I will offer an additional warning, just in case.)

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The villains of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies don't think very highly of "ordinary citizens" (now popularly referred to as "the 99 percent"), whom they tend to view as mindless savages, slaves to fear who'll claw one another and the city of Gotham to shreds at the slightest provocation. The films themselves sometimes confirm that view (Gothamites get a little panicky in "The Dark Knight" when they fear that Batman is not keeping the crime rate down) and sometimes don't (they choose not to blow themselves up in the Joker's intricately planned ferry experiment). This isn't really a theme that's developed in the movies, but like most of the political and social references, it's something that's... there.

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#109 April 4, 2012

Marie writes: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for finding this - as I'd never heard of the Bregenz Festival before, despite the spectacular staging of Puccini's opera Tosca and which appeared briefly in the Bond film Quantum of Solace; but then I slept through most of it. I'm not surprised I've no memory of an Opera floating on a lake. Lake Constance to be exact, which borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria near the Alps...

Tosca by Puccini | 2007-2008 - Photograph by BENNO HAGLEITNER(click to enlarge)

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Tinker Tailor, Moneyball: Between the lines (Part 1)

May Contain Spoilers
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I would never want to read a screenplay before seeing the movie based on it. As a critic, in fact, it would be a violation of my responsibilities (and ethics) to do that. The film has to be seen on its own, as a completed work; a critic shouldn't rummage through the drafts before experiencing the finished piece -- whether it's a movie or a painting or a symphony. I'm even ambivalent about reading certain books before seeing the movie versions, too, and for the same reason that I don't like to see trailers, particularly of films I'm likely to write about: I don't want to harbor preconceived ideas (even unconscious impressions) when I watch the picture. As we all know, it's hard enough to get a clean look at a movie after all the advertising and interviews and seasonal previews and reviews...

But if you want to gain some understanding of how movies are actually made (movies in general and any movie in particular) it's often enlightening to go back and take look at how the screenplay (or various drafts, re-writes, polishes) evolved into the movie that eventually wound up on the screen. Some filmmakers like Clint Eastwood often claim to simply shoot a script "as written" (though he and Dustin Lance Black did some re-working, including adding a voiceover, on the "J. Edgar" screenplay). But it can be fascinating to see how the writer(s), director(s) and editor(s) shape the material throughout the entire process -- and how moving (or removing) images and lines from one context and placing them in another changes their meaning. This is now easier to do than ever before, because so many screenplays are available online -- legitimately (For Your Consideration at studio sites) and otherwise.

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Chicago Film Critics announce awards

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After years of speculation and delays, "The Tree of Life," Terrence Malick's long-awaited film that took viewers from the beginning of time to 1950s Texas, proved to be worth the wait, according to the Chicago Film Critics Association. The CFCA gave "Tree of Life" four awards including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress for newcomer Jessica Chastain and Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki.

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It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion): Thoughtson movie technique and movie criticism

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"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)

"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review

"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review

"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism

"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹

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In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.

So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²

Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.

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#68 June 22, 2011

Marie writes: this past Monday, the Chicago Sun Times updated "Movable Type" - a program used to create blogs. Roger's journal for example. Other newspapers might use "Word Press" instead; same idea though. Any-hoo, it's hosted on the "new" server at the Sun-Times and as is customary, you have to login to use it. It's online software. Meaning you're totally at the mercy of any freakiness that might be going on.I mention this because there was indeed some weirdness earlier (server choked) and that, plus the fact Movable Type does things differently now, put me behind schedule. So I don't really have anything for the front page. I can go look, though!  Meanwhile, just continue reading and if I find anything interesting, I'll let you know....Ooo, clams...

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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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Oscars: The king vs. the nerds vs. the Rooster

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The 2011 Oscar race seems to be shaping up among the King of England, two nerds, and Rooster Cogburn. "The King's Speech," about George VI's struggle to overcome a stammer, led all nominations with 12. The nerds won eight nominations each for "The Social Network," the story of the founder of Facebook, and "Inception," about a man who hacks into other people's dreams. "The Fighter" followed with seven.

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Can you Outguess Ebert for $100,000?

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Like all film critics, I wait until the last possible moment to make my annual Academy Awards predictions. I ask around, I read, I ponder. I'll do that again this year. But today I'm making my Early Guesses, so you can get a head start at outguessing me in our $100,000 Outguess Ebert Contest.

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National Society: The last best critics awards for 2010

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Above: Best supporting actress winner Olivia Williams, "The Ghost Writer."

"The Social Network" has swept the major critics' groups honors (following NY and LA) with its best picture award from the National Society of Film Critics. From the NSFC website:

The Society, which is made up of 61 of the country's most prominent movie critics, held its 45th annual awards voting meeting at Sardi's Restaurant in New York City. 46 members voted. Scrolls will be sent to the winners.

BEST PICTURE *1. The Social Network 61 2. Carlos 28 3. Winter's Bone 18

BEST DIRECTOR *1. David Fincher 66 - The Social Network 2. Olivier Assayas 36 - Carlos 3. Roman Polanski 29 - The Ghost Writer

BEST ACTOR *1. Jesse Eisenberg 30 - The Social Network 2. Colin Firth 29 - The King's Speech 2. Edgar Ramirez 29 - Carlos

BEST ACTRESS *1. Giovanna Mezzogiorno 33 - Vincere 2. Annette Bening 28 - The Kids Are All Right 3. Lesley Manville 27 - Another Year

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The Arikan Agenda: Best films of 2010

May Contain Spoilers

An old friend and I reunited for the first time in 13 years in Washington, DC last month, and the talk eventually turned to Facebook, the primary way we've managed to keep in touch, at least recently. I have a particular trait, usually reserved for after a night out on the town, by which friends can easily identify the level of my joviality, when I post videos of classic rock songs. Despite my assertion that a certain amount of fastidiousness should be necessary when it comes to sharing links on Facebook, I tend to disregard my own advice and post widely popular songs by legendary bands, for which I apologized to my friend.

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LA & NY crix love The Social Network and Carlos

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According to the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, the two best films of 2010 are David Fincher's "The Social Network" and Olivier Assayas's "Carlos." I've no quarrel with that. In fact, those two movies are at the top of a list I made for a critics' poll that will be published any day now because they're both masterful, multi-layered works that I found as stimulating to think about as they are engrossing to watch. Both the LA and NY groups chose "The Social Network" as best picture and "Carlos" as best (and most) foreign-language film -- all five and a half hours and 11 languages: English, French, German, Spanish (with a Venezuelan accent), various dialects of Arabic, Russian, Hungarian, Italian... LAFCA left no doubt about its esteem for both movies, with "Carlos" coming in as first runner-up for best picture and Fincher and Assayas sharing the director's prize. (Both groups also gave "Black Swan" their best cinematography prizes.)

Complete lists of the winners are below, but I wanted to take this opportunity to make some comparisons between these two movies. No, I don't think either of them has much to do with "realism," but both build their disputed nonfictional narrative webs around rather opaque, fictionalized central characters who are seen as heroes by some, villains by others, and neither by the movies themselves. Both "Carlos" (the revolutionary alias of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, played by Edgar Ramirez) and "Mark Zuckerberg" (the Facebook founder played by Jesse Eisenberg) are projections -- like profiles compiled by intelligence agencies or... Facebook pages. Either film could begin with a version of these words, which preface each of the three parts of "Carlos":

This film is the result of historical and journalistic research.

Because of controversial gray areas in Carlos' life, the film must be viewed as fiction, tracing two decades in the life of a notorious terrorist.

His relations with other characters have been fictionalized as well.

The three murders on Rue Toulier are the only events depicted in this film for which Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was tried and sentenced.

The Drugstore Publicis bombing is still under investigation.

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Nothing is real(ism), and nothing to get hung about

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Australian film critic Adrian Martin has sparked a discussion about the term "realism" with a short piece he wrote for the Dutch publication "Filmkrant," titled "Make Me Feel Mighty Real." Martin contends that the critical success of David Fincher's "Zodiac" (though it was a commercial disappointment) "kick-started a minor trend" -- he includes Steven Soderberg's "Che," Olivier Assayas's "Carlos" and Fincher's own "The Social Network" -- toward a kind of historical realism he describes as "a low-key realistic soap-opera of guns, sex, death, wealth, power... sticking as far as possible to the exact, wayward contours of the original events."

The term "realism" is one I've always had trouble with, because it's so vague and relative. Is cinéma vérité (or, for that matter, a surveillance camera recording) any more "real" than a Stanley Kubrick film? Not necessarily -- all show the results of decisions that have to do with photography: camera placement, lighting, sound recording, editing, etc. How much of the action is taking place because of the presence of the camera(s)? How aware of the camera(s) are the subjects, or the audience? Timestamps, black-and-white video, handheld camerawork -- they're all storytelling devices available to filmmakers. So, isn't so-called "realism" really more a choice of technology, functionality, technique, style?

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