Roger Ebert is one of America's most respected film critics. For those of you on the east side of the Atlantic, think Barry Norman. His reviews appear in the Chicago Sun Times newspaper. You can search all of his reviews since 1986 on their excellent website. I recommend searching for the ones that got zero stars.
This page has quotes from reviews that were generally favourable - click here for the ones that were not (they are funnier).
Reviews - Observations - Profound - History - Scifi- Glossary - Answer Man - Asides on Society
# GOOD 'BAD' MOVIES
'Wild Things' is lurid
trash, with a plot so twisted they're still explaining it during the closing
titles. It's like a three-way collision between a softcore sex film, a
soap opera and a B-grade noir. I liked it.
Movies such as this either entertain or offend audiences; there's no neutral ground. Either you're a connoisseur of melodramatic comic vulgarity, or you're not. You know who you are. I don't want to get any postcards telling me this movie is in bad taste. I'm warning you: It is in bad taste. Bad taste elevated to the level of demented sleaze.
The movie cheerfully
offends all civilized notions of taste, decorum, manners and hygiene...
is the movie vulgar? Vulgarity is when we don't laugh. When we laugh, it's
merely human nature.
(American Pie 3 - American Wedding)
They specialize in
skirmishes on the thin line between comedy and cruelty. Whether we laugh
or are offended depends on whether our lower or higher sensibilities are
in command at the time. The Farrellys have a way of tickling the lower
regions while sending the higher centers off on errands. Reader, I confess
I have laughed.
There are certain unwritten
parameters governing mainstream American movies, and 'Bad Santa' violates
all of them. When was the last time you saw a movie Santa kicking a department
store reindeer to pieces? Or finding a girlfriend who makes him wear his
little red hat in bed because she has a Santa fetish?
This is not a good
movie. But viewed in the right frame of mind, it is not a boring one, either.
This film is a lot
of things outrageous and preposterous but boring is not one of them.
I cannot recommend the movie, but... why the hell can't I? Just because
it's godawful? What kind of reason is that for staying away from a movie?
Godawful and boring, that would be a reason.
(Basic Instinct 2)
If they ever stopped
to collect the dead bodies in a movie like 'Shakedown', the hero would
have to play a coroner. But a movie like this never looks back, and 'Shakedown'
is very definitely a movie like this. It's an assembly of sensational moments,
strung together by a plot that provides the excuses for amazing stunts,
and not much else. But then not much else is needed.
The movie stars Paul
Walker. You won't catch him acting in "Running Scared." The movie never
slows down enough. He simply behaves, at an alarming velocity. This is
the kind of movie where the next scene starts before the body count.
What makes this goal
worthy of a thriller is that the terrorist plan is of course nine times
more complicated than it needs to be, and is constructed entirely out of
things that could go wrong. Its remarkable that terrorists like these
still possess feet they have not shot off.
With some movies, you
begin to notice implausibilities. With others, you begin to admire them.
The genius of the past
decays remorselessly into the routine of the present, and one example is
the downfall of the caper picture.
One of the pleasures
of watching a spoof like this is to spot the references; it's like a quiz
on pop art.
(Hot Shots, Part Deux)
It takes more nerve
to praise pop entertainment; it's easy and safe to deliver pious praise
One of Those Among
Us Is a Killer, and We Cannot Leave This (a) Isolated Country Estate, (b)
Besieged Police Station, (c) Antarctic Research Outpost, (d) Haunted House,
(e) Space Station (f) Rogue Planet or (g) Summer Camp until we find out
who it is or until we all die. It is a most ancient and dependable formula,
invariably surprising us with the identity of the killer, because the evidence
is carefully rigged to point first to one suspect and then another, until
they persuasively clear their names by getting murdered... Does the killer
in any one of these movies ever have a moment of weariness and depression?
("What the hell, instead of rigging the liquid nitrogen and re-wiring the
town, I think I'll just shoot somebody.")
There are better movies
opening this weekend. There are better movies opening every weekend. But
"Slither" has a competence to it, an ability to manipulate obligatory horror
scenes in a way that works. Given my theory of the star rating system,
which suggests movies should be rated by their genres, "Slither" gets two
if "28 Days Later" gets three.
be a mindless action picture, except that it has a mind... There are nations
and religions that would find this movie dangerous. You know who you are.
# FILM REVIEWS
"Occasionally an unsuspecting
innocent will stumble into a movie like this and send me an anguished postcard,
asking how I could possibly give a favorable review to such trash. My stock
response is Ebert's Law, which reads: A movie is not about what it is about.
It is about how it is about it."
"What is the purpose
of this movie? Does it manipulate its subject matter a little too much
in its quest to be 'entertaining'? Why should this material be entertaining?
Anything that holds our interest can be entertaining, in a way, but the
movie seems to have an unwholesome determination to show us the victims
being terrified and threatened. When I left the screening, I just didn't
"Every character in
this movie, with the possible exception of the fresh-cheeked local lass
Betty of Cardiff (Tara Fitzgerald) is crazy as a bedbug, and none of them
know it, and that is why they are so funny."
(The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain)
"I am aware this is
the second time in two weeks I have been compelled to quote Lear, but there
are times when Eminem simply will not do."
(The Life of David Gale)
"I'm trying to remember
the last movie I saw that didn't end with a high school prom... The high
school romance genre has become so popular that it's running out of new
ideas and has taken to recycling classic literature.
Sometimes it's a mistake to have acting this charming; the characters become so engaging and spontaneous, we notice how they're trapped in the plot."
(10 Things I Hate About You)
"It was W. C. Fields
who hated to appear in the same scene with a child, a dog, or a plunging
neckline - because nobody in the audience would be looking at him. Jennifer
Aniston has the same problem in this movie even when she's in scenes all
"You ever have the
kind of friend where for a long time you shake your head in admiration
and then gradually realize you're shaking your head in despair? Bridget
Jones would be a friend like that. She's hopelessly lovable."
(Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason)
"Lalita is played by
Aishwarya Rai, Miss World of 1994, recently described by at least one film
critic (me) as not only the first but also the second most beautiful woman
in the world... If this review is not accompanied by a photograph of her,
you have grounds for a lawsuit."
(Bride and Prejudice)
"What a work of art
and nature is Marilyn Monroe. She hasn't aged into an icon, some citizen
of the past, but still seems to be inventing herself as we watch her. She
has the gift of appearing to hit on her lines of dialogue by happy inspiration...
No other actor, male or female, has more sexual chemistry with the camera
than Monroe... she seems totally oblivious to sex while at the same time
melting men into helpless desire."
(Some Like It Hot)
"Dan goes into town
in the afternoon and runs into Marie in a bookstore. They begin one of
those conversations that threatens to continue for a lifetime. It's not
love at first sight, but it's intrigue, approval and yearning... Binoche
is superb at looking upon her new man with the regret she'd feel for a
puppy she can't adopt."
(Dan in Real Life)
"I would personally endure a good deal of pain just to live long enough to read tomorrow's newspaper." (Here On Earth)
"What all of the movies
have in common is that the hero is passive and wants only to be left alone.
But other people have other plans, and the hero is swept along by the tide.
This is, of course, the classic definition of film noir, those 1940s thrillers
in which ordinary people discovered the evil that lurked beneath the surface
"By directing one good
film, you prove that you had a movie inside of you. By directing two, you
prove you are a real director."
(The Prince of Tides)
"You may think I have
revealed a great secret by explaining the mistaken identity. If Leconte
were a lesser filmmaker, that would be true. But Leconte and his writer,
Jerome Tonnerre, present her error and his deception only to prepare their
'Days of Thunder' is
an entertaining example of what we might as well call the Tom Cruise Picture,
since it assembles most of the same elements that worked in 'Top Gun,'
'The Color of Money' and 'Cocktail' and runs them through the formula once
(Read the full review for the formula)
It's not often you
think of 'The Last Seduction' and the Marx Brothers during the same film,
but I did during this one...
"The beautiful Monique
insists on joining their expedition and cannot be dissuaded; we think at
first she has a nefarious motive, but no, she's probably taken a class
in screenplay construction and knows that the film requires a sexy female
lead. This could be the first case in cinematic history of a character
voluntarily entering a movie because of the objective fact that she is
(Around The World In 80 Days)
"I also admired the
peculiar makeup work creating the Borg Queen, who looks like no notion
of sexy I have ever heard of, but inspires me to keep an open mind."
(Star Trek: First Contact)
A movie should present
its characters with a problem and then watch them solve it, not without
difficulty. So says an old and reliable screenplay formula. Countless movies
have been made about a boy and a girl who have a problem (they haven't
slept with each other) and after difficulties (family, war, economic, health,
rival lover, stupid misunderstanding) they solve it by sleeping with each
other. Now we have a movie about two homosexuals that follows the same
The notion of a film
with gay black themes is so rare that "Young Soul Rebels" was praised by
some of the London critics simply because it existed.
(Young Soul Rebels)
A plot is about things
that happen. A story is about people who behave. To admire a story you
must be willing to listen to the people and observe them.
(House of Sand and Fog)
By the end, 'The Mother'
has told us all we need to know about the characters, except how to feel
about them. It shows how people play a role and grow comfortable with it,
and how that role is confused with the real person inside. And then it
shows the person inside, frightened and pitiful and fighting for survival.
I have a lot of questions about what happens in this movie. I am intended
It would be simple
to give this movie a happy ending, but why does the happiness have to come
at the end of this particular winter? ...maybe the movies do us no service
by solving so many problems, in a world with so few solutions.
This is a movie of
The characters are
played not by the first actors you would think of casting, but by actors
who will prevent you from ever being able to imagine anyone else in their
roles. Some terrible misunderstandings (and even worse understandings)
I don't have any statistics
to prove this, but my notion is that actors who play villains early in
their careers often turn out to have more interesting careers than those
who always play the lead. They find more interesting places inside themselves,
and they carry a hint of complexity and secretiveness even into heroic
roles. Look at Jack Nicholson, for example.
Learning the difference
between good movies and skillful ones is an early step in becoming a moviegoer.
Certain films demonstrate that a skillful movie need not be a good one.
It is also true that a good movie need not be skillful, but it takes a
heap of movie-going to figure that one out.
true that simple film stories can go very deep, but that complicated ones
are almost always superficial and meaningless movies can't go both wide
and deep as easily as novels.
I suppose the last
scene in the film will remind some of our friend the deus ex machina,
but after reflection, I have decided that, in that place, at that time,
what happens is about as likely to happen as anything else, maybe likelier.
Thrillers don't exist
in a plausible universe. They consist of preposterous situations survived
by skill, courage, craft and luck.
(The Bourne Supremacy)
No real person would
be able to survive what happens to Bourne in this movie, for the obvious
reason that they would have been killed very early in "The Bourne Identity"
...That Matt Damon can make this character more convincing than the Road
Runner is a tribute to his talent and dedication. It's not often you find
a character you care about even if you don't believe he could exist...
You sit there, and the action assaults you, and using words to re-create
it would be futile.
(The Bourne Ultimatum)
Indiana Jones is once
again played by Harrison Ford, who is now 65 but looks a lot like he did
at 55 or 46, which is how old he was when he made "Last Crusade." He has
one of those Robert Mitchum faces that doesn't age, it only frowns more...
What happens in South America is explained by the need to create (1) sensational
chase sequences, and (2) awe-inspiring spectacles. It is astonishing that
the protagonists aren't all killed 20 or 30 times.
(Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Have I seen movies
like "The Sentinel" before? Yes, and I hope to see them again. At a time
when American audiences seem grateful for the opportunity to drool at mindless
horror trash, it is encouraging that well-crafted thrillers are still being
made about characters who have dialogue, identities, motives and clean
While Louise sleeps
with F. Scott because she wants to relive her treasured memories of first
love, F. Scott sleeps with Louise because he can. Both genders are programmed
by eons of Darwinian genetic strategy, and so we believe them... The plot
mechanisms of these movies are at the service of justifying scenes that
would otherwise be impossible, improbable, or criminal.
contains everything that could possibly be included in such a screenplay,
and more. It's like a fire sale at the action movie discount outlet. Do
not assume I mean to be negative. I treasure the movie's preposterous plot.
It's so completely over the top, it can see reality only in its rear-view
It can be said that
Johnny Depp's performance is original in its every atom. There has never
been a pirate, or for that matter a human being, like this in any other
movie. He is a peacock in full display.
(Pirates of the Caribbean)
This movie thrilled
me from beginning to end... in the space of less than 48 hours, they become
partners, share a family dinner, kill several people, survive a shootout
in the desert, battle with helicopters and machine guns, toss hand grenades,
jump off buildings, rescue Glover's kidnapped daughter, drive cars through
walls, endure torture by electric shock, have a few beers and repair the
engine on Glover's boat - not in that order.
Every review of "The
Best of Youth" begins with the information that it is six hours long. No
good movie is too long, just as no bad movie is short enough. I dropped
outside of time and was carried along by the narrative flow... When you
hear that it is six hours long, reflect that it is therefore also six hours
(The Best of Youth)
Censors feel they are
safe with objectionable material but must protect others who are not as
smart or moral. The same impulse tempts the reviewer of 'The Believer'...
If the wrong people get the wrong message - well, there has never been
any shortage of wrong messages. Or wrong people.
# CULTURAL OBSERVATIONS
Boston seems like the
most forbidding city in crime movies. There are lots of movies about criminals
in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and points between, but somehow in Boston
the wounds cut deeper, the characters are angrier, their resentments bleed,
their grudges never die, and they all know everybody else's business.
(Gone Baby Gone)
See enough of its movies
and a nation's cinema can tell you something about the nation involved.
I now assume that the Irish are sweet, cheerful folk who live in each other's
pockets, settle things by communitywide debate, gang up men against women
and visit home briefly between pubs. They are also blessed with great verbal
alacrity, and there would be a great many more of them if the women were
not so opinionated and the men so baffled by women with opinions... but
the Irish have no one but themselves to blame for their screen image.
(The Closer You Get)
I was forbidden several
years ago by a politically correct editor to write that the Irish 'have
the gift of gab.' That was an unpermissible ethnic generalization, and
probably racist, either by inclusion or exclusion, I forget which. I am
reminded of that prohibition every time I review a new movie from Ireland,
because so many of these movies are fueled with the music of speech, with
the verbal poetry of a nation that until very recent times amused itself
primarily by talking, singing and reciting to one another... In Ireland,
it's not so much what happens that matters, anyway, as what kind of story
you can turn it into.
(I Went Down)
Frank McCourt's book
"Angela's Ashes" is, like so much of Irish verbal history, suffering recollected
in hilarity. I call it verbal history because I know from a friend of his
that the stories so unforgettably told in his autobiography were honed
over years and decades, at bars and around dinner tables and in the ears
of his friends.
Although Britain and
Ireland now enjoy growing prosperity, any working-class person 30 or older
was raised in a different, harder society. That's why actors like Ewan
McGregor and Colin Farrell, not to mention Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, can
slip so easily into these hard-edged, dirty-handed roles. With American
actors, you have the feeling they bought work clothes at Sears and roughed
them up; with these guys, you figure they got their old gear out of their
mum's closet, or borrowed their brother's.
They show us everyday
life in the north of Britain, where the people, we gather, are simpler
and sweeter and more naive. (Of course they are also rougher, more violent
and angrier - but that's another genre.)
(The Girl in the Picture)
Why are small towns
in the U.K. and Ireland seen as conspiracies of friends, while American
small towns are so often depicted as lairs of wackos?
(Waking Ned Devine)
The school they attend
is one of those havens of eccentricity that have been celebrated in English
fiction since time immemorial.
(Young Sherlock Holmes)
If Scott Fitzgerald
were to return to life, he would feel at home in a Whit Stillman movie.
Stillman listens to how people talk, and knows what it reveals about them.
His characters have been supplied by their Ivy League schools with the
techniques but not the subjects of intelligent conversation, and so they
discuss 'The Lady and the Tramp' with the kind of self-congratulatory earnestness
that French students would reserve for Marx and Freud... These characters
believe the disco period was the most wonderful period of their lives,
and we realize that it wasn't disco that was so special, but youth. They
were young, they danced, they drank, they fell in love, they learned a
few lessons, and the music of that time will always reawaken those emotions.
(Last Days of Disco)
What it also does is
give voice to a generation. If there is one part of American society that
American movies are usually not interested in, it is the wage-earning,
9-to-5, ambitious, competitive, white collar society of business and management.
Watching this movie, I realized that although I'd seen a lot of amazing
things on the screen before, I'd hardly ever seen young WASPs earning a
Not very much happens
in 'Metropolitan', and yet everything that happens is felt deeply, because
the characters in this movie are still too young to have perfected their
defenses against life. They care very deeply about what others think of
them, their feelings are easily hurt, their love affairs are really forms
of asking for acceptance. It is strange how the romances of the teenage
years retain a poignancy all through life
Narcissism has evolved
in 38 years from a character flaw to a male fashion attribute.
Enid is so smart, so
advanced, and so ironically doubled back upon herself, that most of the
people she meets don't get the message. She is second-level satire in a
one-level world, and so instead of realizing, for example, that she is
mocking the 1970s punk look, stupid video store clerks merely think she's
25 years out of style.
As we leave the 20th
century, there seems to be a powerful nostalgia for the British 19th. Every
year brings three or four of these literate comedies (or melodramas) set
in London. Life was more exciting when you were the entertainment in your
own living room, and didn't have to watch it on TV.
The reason we're so
fascinated by the adaptations of James, Austen, Forster and the others
is that their characters think marriage, fidelity, chastity and honesty
are important. In modern movies, the characters have no values at all.
(Wings of the Dove)
It is a truth universally
acknowledged by novelists that before two people can fall in love with
each other, they must first seem determined to make the wrong marriage
with someone else.
(Pride and Prejudice)
The hero, as so often
in comic novels, is an earnest young man who wants to get married but lacks
the money... How can he marry the fragrant Nina without the money to support
her in the style to which she wants to become accustomed? Nina loves him,
truly she does, but she hates poverty more. Adam's rival for the hand of
Nina is Ginger Littlejohn, who has money but is boring. Too bad, but to
be poor like Adam is boring, too, and if she has to choose, Nina would
rather be bored in comfort.
Their friends are like sparrows in the springtime, all landing on a branch, chattering deliriously, and then at an invisible signal fluttering off together to perch on another tree.
(Bright Young Things)
One reason for the
fascination of Woody Allen's "Match Point" is that each and every character
is rotten. This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various
species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest or,
as the movie makes clear, the luckiest.
During the opera, Tom's
sister Chloe looks at Chris once with interest and the second time with
The way he (director
Julian Fellowes) handles James and Anne is a case study in British manners:
There is the sharp outburst, to be sure, and even the f-word, used for
effect by a person who doesn't talk that way. But there's none of the screaming
and weeping and acting-out of American domestic drama; James and Anne would
rather be reasonable than be in love, because there's less chance for embarrassment
In 'Blue Crush', we
meet three Hawaiian surfers who work as hotel maids, live in a grotty rental,
and are raising the kid sister of one of them. Despite this near-poverty,
they look great; there is nothing like a tan and a bikini to overcome class
Distinctions of class
and intelligence are the great overlooked elements in our society. Because
the United States is allegedly classless, we use other markers to tell
people apart, such as race, jobs or income. Yet two people of different
races but similar educations may be more comfortable together than two
people of the same race but different backgrounds.
(Kicking and Screaming)
Reminding us that America
is a classless society where the speedometer is set back to zero for every
generation, Ava may find herself spending the night with her mother Mary
Jo in a borrowed camper, but she is auditioning to play Juliet, and no
child is wholly disadvantaged who has access to Shakespeare.
It could be that movie
love stories are the most consistently subversive genre in the cinema,
arguing always for personal choice over the disapproval of parents, church,
ethnic groups or society itself.
(East Is East)
It is one thing to
be the victim of fate, and it is another thing to go looking for fate and
wrestle it to the ground. The genius of "Romeo and Juliet" is that we can
understand, step by step, how and why the situation develops. With "Solomon
& Gaenor," it is hard to overlook the folly of the characters.
(Solomon & Gaenor)
Do marriages like this
work? Many Americans find mail-order brides or arranged marriages bizarre,
but think how bizarre it is to seek your spouse in a singles bar or on
a blind date. There are countless possible partners out there somewhere
but we never meet most of them, and most of those we meet are impossible.
Maybe it helps to use a system.
(A Foreign Affair)
Andy is indeed 40 and
a virgin, after early defeats in the gender wars turned him into a non-combatant.
(The 40 Year-Old Virgin)
by money are always more interesting than characters motivated by love,
because you don't know what they'll do next... The Victorians knew how
important money was. The plots of Dickens and Trollope wallowed in it,
and Henry James created exquisite punishments for his naively romantic
Americans, caught in the nets of needy Europeans... with an appreciation
for Balzac's droll storytelling director McAnuff treats the novel not as
great literature but as merciless social satire.
They speak as only
the French can speak, as if it is not enough for a concept to be difficult,
it must be impenetrable. No two real people in the history of mankind have
ever spoken like this... No doubt the truth can be unpleasant, but I am
not sure that unpleasantness is the same as the truth.
(Anatomy Of Hell)
Daniel Craig is fascinating
here as a criminal who is very smart, and finds that is not an advantage
because while you might be able to figure out what another smart person
is about to do, dumbos like the men he works for are likely to do anything...
old-fashioned hoods who don't have the patience for prudence when it's
easier to just eliminate anyone who gets in their way. The problem is that
every dead enemy tends to have a more dangerous living enemy standing next
I've become embroiled
in a controversy recently about whether women engage in audible and detailed
discussions of their sexual activities while sitting in beauty salons.
My hunch is that most women don't talk that way in most salons. Do I know?
No, because I've never been in a beauty salon. But now comes "Barbershop"
to argue the question from the male side... there is a kind of music to
their conversations, now a lullaby, now a march, now a requiem, now hip-hop,
and they play with one another like members of an orchestra.
Just like the first
movie, this is like a talk show where everybody is the host. The talk could
go on forever, coiling from current events to current romances.
A cricket bat is to
British movies as a baseball bat is to American movies: The weapon of choice
for clueless heroes going downstairs to investigate a noise that was inevitably
made by somebody packing a lot more than a bat... Good thing the movie
is about more than zombies. I am by now more or less exhausted by the cinematic
possibilities of killing them. I've seen thousands of zombies die, and
they're awfully easy to kill, unless you get a critical mass that piles
on all at once. George Romeo, who invented the modern genre with "Night
of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead," was essentially devising video
game targets before there were video games: They pop up, one after another,
and you shoot them, or bang them on the head with a cricket bat.
(Shaun of the Dead)
It would be easy to
attack Beavis & Butthead as ignorant, vulgar, depraved, repulsive slobs.
Of course they are. But that would miss the point, which is that Mike Judge's
characters reflect parts of the society that produced them. To study B&B
is to learn about a culture of narcissism, alienation, functional illiteracy,
instant gratification and television zombiehood. Those who deplore B&B
are confusing the messengers with the message. I believe Mike Judge would
rather die than share a taxi ride to the airport with his characters
that for him, B&B function like Dilbert's co-workers in the Scott Adams
universe. They are a target for his anger against the rising tide of stupidity.
...for practical purposes, B&B are one personality, split into two
so that they will have somebody to talk to.
(Beavis & Butthead Do America)
Scrabble seems to require
the most masochistic traits of both chess and poker. To some degree, you
win because you know how to spell more words and are better at teasing
them out from the alphabet soup on your rack. To some degree, you lose
because you drew lousy tiles. There is a shot in "Word Wars" of the tiles
a player draws at a crucial moment in a game, and the audience groans.
They may be the worst tiles in history.
Scrabble is one way to kill time. I can think of better ways to pass obsessive, lonely, anti-social lives; a documentary named "Cinemania" is about people who literally attempt to spend every waking hour watching movies, seven days a week. At least they get to see the movies.
# PROFOUND OBSERVATIONS
It is an interesting
law of romance that a truly strong woman will chose a strong man who disagrees
with her over a weak one who goes along. Strength demands intelligence,
intelligence demands stimulation, and weakness is boring. It is better
to find a partner you can contend with for a lifetime than one who accommodates
you because he doesn't really care.
Sixty seconds of wondering if someone is about to kiss you is more entertaining than 60 minutes of kissing... Speak in code, with wit and challenge, and the process of decryption is like foreplay.
(The Winslow Boy)
The men insist that
women correspond to some sort of universal ideal, and the women sometimes
blame themselves when they cannot. But somehow, doggedly, true love teaches
its lesson, which is that you can fall in love with an ideal, but you can
only be in love with a human being.
I did not feel a strong
chemistry between Colin Farrell and Selma Hayek, but I have started to
write the word "chemistry" with growing doubts. What is it, anyway? Perhaps
what we are meant to feel between Arturo and Camilla is not chemistry but
geometry: They could fit well together, and provide each other's missing
(Ask The Dust)
Although 'Pretty in
Pink' contains several scenes that are a great deal more dramatic, my favorite
moments were the quietest ones, in which nothing was being said because
a boy was trying to get up the courage to ask a girl out on a date, and
she knew it, and he knew it, and still nothing was happening. To be able
to listen to such a silence is to understand the central dilemma of adolescence,
which is that one's dreams are so much larger than one's confidence.
(Pretty In Pink)
Hardly ever do we get
an American movie about adults who are attempting to know themselves better,
live better lives, get along more happily with the people around them.
Most American movies are about the giving and receiving of violent pain.
That's why I look forward to John Hughes's films about American teenagers.
His films are almost always about the problems of growing up and becoming
a more complete person... I sometimes have the peculiar feeling that the
kids in Hughes's movies are more grown up than the adults in most of the
(Some Kind of Wonderful)
If one of the pleasures
of moviegoing is seeing strange new things on the screen, another pleasure,
and probably a deeper one, is experiencing moments of recognition times
when we can say, yes, that's exactly right, that's exactly the way it would
(About Last Night)
Ordinary daily life
is one of the hardest things for a movie to portray, because so many other
movies have trained us to expect patterns and plots.
(Killer of Sheep)
The more specific a
film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual
characters, the more it applies to everyone.
Hornby depicts a certain
kind of immature but latently sincere man who loves Women as a less demanding
alternative to loving a woman. Will's error, or perhaps it is his salvation,
is that he starts dating single mothers, thinking they will be less demanding
and easier to dump than single girls.
The strategy is flawed: Single mothers invariably have children, and what Will discovers is that while he would make a lousy husband, he might make a wonderful father. Of course it takes a child to teach an adult how to be a parent... he likes Marcus because Marcus is so clearly in need of being liked, and so deserving of it.
(About A Boy)
Gabe's dealing with
it the way a lot of teenage boys deal with girls: He's dropping her, and
letting her figure it out. Stacey isn't a weeper; she wisely doesn't answer
his phone calls and leaves him without the opportunity for justification,
blame, closure or anything else except a feeling of being lonely on his
Of course this is a
wonderful 'family film,' if that term has not been corrupted to mean simple
minded and shallow. Children deserve not lesser films but greater ones,
because their imaginations can take in larger truths and bigger ideas.
(The Secret of Roan Inish)
Kids are not stupid.
They are among the sharpest, cleverest, most eagle-eyed creatures on God's
Earth, and very little escapes their notice. They don't miss a thing, and
they have an instinctive contempt for shoddy and shabby work. I make this
observation because nine out of ten children's movies are stupid, witless,
and display contempt for their audiences, and that's why kids hate them.
(Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
Wallace and Gromit
are arguably the two most delightful characters in the history of animation.
To know them is to enter a universe of boundless optimism, in which two
creatures who are perfectly suited to each other venture out every morning
to make the world into a safer place for the gentle, the good and the funny.
(Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit)
It isn't just a movie
but a world with its own magical rules... the game, like so much else in
the movie, is more or less as I visualized it, and I was reminded of Stephen
King's theory that writers practice a form of telepathy, placing ideas
and images in the heads of their readers.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
Maybe there is something
in the very nature of war, in the power of guns and bombs, that appeals
to the imagination of little boys. Bombers and fighter planes and rockets
and tanks are thrilling at that age when you are old enough to understand
how they work but too young to understand what they do.
(Hope and Glory)
I'd think I'd rather
see a brontosaurus than see a man walk on the moon, because I am less amazed
by technology than by the wonders that life has provided on its own.
(Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend)
To watch "United 93"
is to be confronted with the grim chaotic reality of that autumn day in
2001. The movie's point of view reminds me of the angels in "Wings of Desire."
They see what people do and they are saddened, but they cannot intervene.
It makes you realize
how routine life can become; how it is actually possible to be bored despite
the fact that a universe has evolved for eons in order to provide us with
the five senses by which we perceive it. If we ever really fully perceived
the cosmic situation we are in, we would drop unconscious, I imagine, from
shock. That is a little of what 'Fearless' is about.
The movie demonstrates
how pitiful ordinary human feelings are in the face of implacable injustice.
The movie also loves some of its characters, and pities them, and has an
ear for dialog not as it is spoken but as it is dreamed.
(No Country For Old Men)
The movie is about
what a slender thread supports our conviction that our lives have importance
and make sense. We need that conviction in order to live at all, and when
it is irreversibly taken away from us, what a terrible fate to be left
alive to know it.
There once was a time
when movies were allowed to be embittered, dark and brooding, and when
evil was occasionally allowed to have a momentary victory. Now the conventional
movie ends with a cheerleading scene.
(A Shock to the System)
There is nothing sensational
in this film, nothing exploitative, nothing used for 'entertainment value'
unless we believe, as I do, that the close observation of the lives of
other people can be well, since entertaining is the wrong word, then
helpful... It is not the pedophile that is evil, but the pedophilia. That
is true of all sins and crimes and those tempted to perform them: It is
not that we are capable of transgression that condemns us, but that we
Some of the film's
most harrowing moments show him fighting his demons; he knows what is normal
and sometimes it seems almost within reach.
It's kind of a judo
technique: You use loneliness as a weapon against itself.
Egoyan's film is not
about the tragedy of dying, but about the grief of surviving... yes, it
is told out of sequence, but not as a gimmick: In a way, he has constructed
this film in the simplest possible way. It isn't about the beginning and
end of the plot, but about the beginning and end of the emotions.
(The Sweet Hereafter)
The movie looks calmly
and with love at the fact that life ends. It provides not one of those
sentimental Hollywood deaths, poetic and composed, but a portrait of a
woman who faces her decline with fierce pride... That she cares for Billy
and Anna and Miss Inchley and the girl on the talk radio is her reason
for holding on: She can still be of use, and that's worth living for.
(A Woman's Tale)
Death is the subject
we edge around. If it is on the sidewalk, we step into the street. To know
that we will die is such a final and unanswerable rebuke. Sometimes I think
the whole process of evolution leads up to our ability to comprehend the
words: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
(Look Both Ways)
Perhaps nothing tests
our dignity more than how we behave when we know for certain the hour of
He creates one of those
sequences for which we go to the movies: We have grown to know the prince's
personality and his ideas, and now we enter, almost unaware, into his emotions.
The cinema at its best can give us the illusion of living another life,
and that's what happens here.
When a movie character
is really working, we become that character. That's what the movies offer:
Escapism into lives other than our own. I am not female, I am not black,
I am not Celie, but for a time during 'The Color Purple', my mind deceives
me that I am all of those things, and as I empathize with her struggle
and victory I learn something about what it must have been like to be her.
(The Color Purple)
I imagine it is possible
to see 'Sunrise' for the first time and think it simplistic; to be amused
that the Academy could have honored it. But silent films had a language
of their own; they aimed for the emotions, not the mind, and the best of
them wanted to be, not a story, but an experience.
Today's movies are
infatuated with special effects, but often they're used to create the sight
of things we can easily imagine: crashes, explosions, battles in space.
The special effects in 'Stairway to Heaven' show a universe that never
existed until this movie was made, and the vision is breathtaking in its
originality... One of the most audacious films ever made.
(Stairway to Heaven aka A Matter of Life and Death)
Made in 1942 at the
height of the Nazi threat to Great Britain, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's
work is an uncommonly civilized film about war and soldiers and rarer
still, a film that defends the old against the young... It argues to the
young that the old were young once, too, and contain within them all that
the young know, and more.
(The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp)
It captures so accurately
the fact, dimly sensed by undergraduates even at the time, that the college
years are the happiest in their lives. One spends four years talking about
ideas, concepts, art, theory, history, ideology and sex. Then one goes
into the world and works like a dog until retirement... it doesn't have
much of a plot, but of course it wouldn't; this is a movie about characters
waiting for their plots to begin.
(Kicking and Screaming)
It is human nature
to form groups and be loyal to them. There are real groups, like families
and Army units, and artificial groups, like friends you make on a cruise,
or the other kids at summer camp. The artificial groups create instant
traditions (all camps have their songs and legends), and in remembering
them you are pulled back for a moment to a summer when all life seemed
to be ahead of you. Now that it isn't, that summer seems more precious,
and that promise more elusive, than ever before.
I've often said it's
not sadness that touches me the most in a movie, but goodness. In our winning-obsessed
culture, it is inspiring to see a young woman instinctively understand,
with empathy and generosity, that doing the right thing involves more than
(Akeelah and the Bee)
on Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds in the key roles, and they are well cast
as people who might not be everybody's idea of perfection, but are each
By taking characters
from the bottom of the barrel and casting them with beautiful people, Hollywood
is able to create that ageless alchemy in which we equate physical beauty
with personal worth, and so of course we want Freddie to dump Sam (who
looks like an incipient Orson Welles) for Jjaks (who has a nice smile).
The message I think
is that tragedy is temporary and the dance of life goes on. Soon it will
be Agga's turn to choose a partner.
(The Seagull's Laughter)
We can just about accept
Claire's (Kirsten Dunst) obsessive romantic behavior because if someone
is going to insist that you have to fall in love, there are many possibilities
more alarming than Claire.
continues to employ the gravitational pull of quiet fascination. She creates
a zone of her own importance into which men are drawn not so much by lust
as by the feeling that she knows something about life that they might be
able to learn.
(In Good Company)
When you ask someone
for the truth about themselves, you may get the truth, or part of the truth,
or none of the truth, but you will certainly get what they would like you
to think is the truth.
(Kings and Queen)
You may not always
hurt the one you love, but you certainly know how to.
(The Door in the Floor)
It has been said that
the reason we establish relationships is to assure ourselves of a witness
to our lives. Happy relationships have two witnesses, but Brice's has only
(La Petite Lili)
We can admire someone
for daring to do the audacious, or pity someone for recklessly doing something
stupid, but when a character commits an act of stupid audacity, the admiration
and pity cancel each other, and we are left only with the possibility of
(The Affair of the Necklace)
One of the foundations
of comedy is a character must do what he doesn't want to do, because of
the logic of the situation. As Auden pointed out about limericks, they're
funny not because they end with a dirty word, but because they have no
choice but to end with the dirty word -- by that point, it's the only word
that rhymes and makes sense. Lucille Ball made a career out of finding
herself in embarrassing situations and doing the next logical thing, however
(Son of the Mask)
Consider Shelly. This
is one of Alec Baldwin's best performances, as a character who contains
vast contradictions. He can be kind and brutal simultaneously; affection
and cruelty are handmaidens... Shelly is capable of sentimental gestures
that make your skin crawl.
Macy and Bello succeed
in creating characters who seem to be having a real, actual, physical relationship
right there before our eyes... the kind of stuff that happens when the
bodies involved are made of flesh rather than cinema... it's not porn or
anything close, but life - messy, energetic and sweaty.
If Almodovar is right,
some of our most exciting sexual experiences take place entirely within
the minds of other people.
Violet and Corky have
secret tete-a-tetes, and vice versa, and become lovers.
(Bound - submitted by Roger)
I've been around a
long time, and young men, if there is one thing I know, it is that the
only way to kiss a girl for the first time is to look like you want to
and intend to, and move in fast enough to seem eager but slow enough to
give her a chance to say "So anyway ..." and look up as if she's trying
to remember your name.
# HISTORICAL FILMS
If the long struggle
between the British and the Irish had been carried out only on movie screens,
the Irish would long since have been the victors... The movie is of course
completely on the side of the IRA, but Kathleen's dilemma succeeds in allowing
a subversive notion to sneak through: Although Protestants and Catholics
have been killing each other for years in Northern Ireland, can any God
who permits war between sides that both seek to worship him be a God worth
(Some Mother's Son)
One leaves the theater
bemused by what seems to be a universal law: While most war films are 'anti-war',
they are always anti-war from the point of view of the winning side. They
say, 'War is hell, and we won'. Shouldn't anti-war films be told from the
point of view of the losers? War was hell, and they lost.
(Thin Red Line)
The squad fights in
so many places, stays together in one piece for so long, experiences so
many of the key events of World War II (from the invasion of Europe to
the liberation of the Nazi death camps) that of course these characters
are meant to be symbols of all the infantrymen in all the battles. We begin
to suspect that "The Big Red One" is supposed to be something more than
(The Big Red One)
I am aware that the
shootings in "The Wild Bunch" are the most realistic ever filmed. But realism
is not the same thing as reality. The wounds look terribly real in "The
Wild Bunch," yes, but it is impossible to forget that this is a movie.
Indeed, the extreme realism of "The Wild Bunch" actually reminds you that
it's a movie. This is a curious phenomenon. The most effective deaths in
movies are stylized ones by well-rounded fictional characters.
(The Wild Bunch)
is by Roger Deakins, who in the forthcoming "No Country for Old Men" by
the Coen Brothers shows the modern West as also in need of hard, unforgiving
men to stand up to the landscape... There are things about men, horses
and horizons that are uniquely suited to the wide screen. We see that here...
Yes, it is long, at 160 minutes. There is a sense that an epic must have
duration to have importance. The time reaching ahead of us must be as generous
as the landscape unfolding before us.
(The Assassination of Jesse James)
If you do not have
some secret place in your soul that still responds even a little to brave
cowboys, beautiful princesses and noble horses, then you are way too grown
up and need to cut back on cable news.
This maddening, intriguing
inability to simply blurt out the truth is indispensable to 19th century
fiction, and I find it enormously satisfying. Better the character who
leaves us to guess at unspeakable depths than one who bores us with confessional
(Sense and Sensibility)
The most tragic person
in the film is the young Madame de Tourvel, who knows that Valmont will
seduce and abandon her, but then allows herself to be seduced anyway, because
he is simply so much better at seduction than she is at resistance.
The are two new worlds
in this film, the one the English discover, and the one Pocahontas discovers.
Both discoveries center on the word "new," and what distinguishes Malick's
film is how firmly he refuses to know more than he should in Virginia in
1607 or London a few years later. The events in his film, including the
tragic battles between the Indians and the settlers, seem to be happening
for the first time. No one here has read a history book from the future.
(The New World)
Godfrey gives Balian
a lesson in swordsmanship (chop from above), but apparently the important
thing to remember is that if you're an anonymous enemy you die, and if
you're a hero you live unless a glorious death is required.
(Kingdom of Heaven)
# SCIFI & FANTASY
It's remarkable, isn't
it, that the Brits have produced Narnia, the Ring, Hogwarts, Gormenghast,
James Bond, Alice and Pooh, and what have we produced for them in return?
I was going to say "the cuckoo clock," but for that you would require a
three-way Google of Italy, Switzerland and Harry Lime.
(The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
To call it weird would
be a cowardly evasion. It is creepy, eccentric, eerie, flaky, freaky, funky,
grotesque, inscrutable, kinky, kooky, magical, oddball, spooky, uncanny,
uncouth and unearthly. Especially uncouth. What I did was, I typed the
word 'weird' and when that wholly failed to evoke the feelings the film
stirred in me, I turned to the thesaurus and it suggested the above substitutes
- and none of them do the trick, either.
(The Triplets of Belleville)
A film director, like
an orchestra conductor, is the lord of his domain, and no director has
more power than a director of animated films. He is set free from the rules
of the physical universe and the limitations of human actors, and can tell
any story his mind can conceive. That's no doubt why Chuck Jones, after
creating the characters of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, immediately
wrote down the rules of what could and could not happen in their universe.
If anything could happen (and it could), the comedy would be lost in anarchy.
(Chuck Jones: Three Cartoons)
An animated film can
approach reality, but it should never arrive there. It must always seem
one magical arm's-length away. The art is in the style, in the way reality
is distorted or heightened.
"The Brotherhood of
the Wolf" plays like an explosion at the genre factory. When the smoke
clears, a rough beast lurches forth, its parts cobbled together from a
dozen movies. The film involves quasi-werewolves, French aristocrats, secret
societies, Iroquois Indians, martial arts, occult ceremonies, sacred mushrooms,
swashbuckling, incestuous longings, political subversion, animal spirits,
slasher scenes and bordellos... I would be lying if I did not admit that
this is all, in its absurd and overheated way, entertaining.
(The Brotherhood of the Wolf)
It's like a film that
escaped from the imagination directly onto the screen, without having to
pass through reality along the way.
(Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow)
This film contains
ideas and true poignance, a story that has been thought out and has surprises
right to the end. It's romantic and exhilarating. Watching it, I realized
the last dozen films I'd seen were about people standing around, talking
to one another. 'Dark City' has been created and imagined as a new visual
place for us to inhabit. It adds treasure to our notions of what can be
One of the most extraordinary
worlds ever created in a film... I continue to find it fascinating
how film noir, a genre born in the 1940s, has such a hammerlock on the
future (look at "Dark City" again). I suspect film noir is so fruitful
and suggestive that if you bring it on board, half your set and costume
decisions have been made for you, and you know what your tone will be.
This movie is a machine
to dazzle and delight us. It is not a human-interest adventure in any generally
accepted way. That's all right, of course. It's brilliant at what it does,
and in a technical way maybe it's breaking ground for a generation of movies
in which computer-generated universes will be the background for mind-generated
stories about emotion-generated personalities. All things are possible.
One of the most frequent
charges against science-fiction is that it replaces emotion with intellect.
Its characters are people who live by and for the mind, and their personal
relationships are likely to be stifled and awkward, That's probably true
enough of most s-f novels, but it's even more true of science-fiction movies...
"Solaris" is an interesting exception to the rule. It isn't a fast-moving
action picture; it's a thoughtful, deep, sensitive movie that uses the
freedom of, science-fiction to examine human nature.
What is genetic engineering,
after all, but preemptive plastic surgery? Make the child perfect in the
test tube, and save money later. Throw in perfect health, a high IQ and
a long life-span, and you have the brave new world of 'Gattaca', in which
the bioformed have inherited the earth, and babies who are born naturally
get to be menial laborers. This is one of the smartest and most provocative
of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas.
In one way or another
all the big studios have been trying to make another 'Star Wars' ever since.
It located Hollywood's center of gravity at the intellectual and emotional
level of a bright teenager. But you can't blame it for what it did, you
can only observe how well it did it.
(Star Wars: A New Hope)
In the glory days of
science fiction, critics wrote about the 'sense of wonder'. That's what
'The Empire Strikes Back' creates in us. Like a lot of traditional science
fiction, it isn't psychologically complex or even very interested in personalities
(aside from some obvious character traits). That's because the characters
are not themselves - they are us. We are looking out through their eyes,
instead of into them, as we would in more serious drama. We are on a quest,
on a journey, on a mythological expedition.
(The Empire Strikes Back)
The movie remains impenetrable
to logical analysis, but now I ask myself: What logical analysis would
explain the presence of 6-foot-tall rabbit with what looks like the head
of a science-fiction insect?
(Donnie Darko: Director's Cut)
The seasons in a superhero's
life are charted by the villains he faces - it is the same with James Bond.
There is always a kind
of sadness underlying the personalities of the great superheroes, who have
been given great knowledge and gifts but few consolations in their battle
against evil. The fun all seems to be on the villain's side... This is
the kind of movie that gets better the more you know about the genre.
Goldfinger, like many
another Bond villain, seems to have the makings of a frustrated host: It
must be galling to have the most elaborate secret hideaways on earth, and
no way to show off. So Goldfinger flies Bond to his horse farm in Kentucky...
Later, in a pleasant chat, Goldfinger foolishly answers all of Bond's remaining
questions, such as, how he could possibly remove those tons of gold? ...Not
every man would like to be James Bond, but every boy would.
(James Bond: Goldfinger)
The movie's PG-rated
bad guys are carefully modulated to be evil but not too evil.
(Benji: Off The Leash)
The movie delights
me with its cocky confidence that the audience can keep up. 'Primer' is
a film for nerds, geeks, brainiacs, Academic Decathlon winners, programmers,
philosophers and the kinds of people who have made it this far into the
review. It will surely be hated by those who 'go to the movies to be entertained',
and embraced and debated by others, who will find it entertains the parts
the others do not reach. It is maddening, fascinating and completely successful.
It drives me crazy
when people say evolution is "only a theory," since that reveals they don't
know what a scientific theory is.
(Aliens of the Deep)
You should never send
an expert to a movie about his specialty. Boxers hate boxing movies. Space
buffs said 'Apollo 13' showed the wrong side of the moon. The British believe
Mel Gibson's scholarship was faulty in 'Braveheart' merely because some
of the key characters hadn't been born at the time of the story. 'Hackers'
is, I have no doubt, deeply dubious in the computer science department.
While it is no doubt true that in real life no hacker could do what the
characters in this movie do, it is no doubt equally true that what hackers
can do would not make a very entertaining movie.
All of the computer stuff is of course window-dressing... They're what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin - the stuff everybody pretends to be motivated by, while actually the plot centers on personalities and human nature.
Most of the action
in the movie is designed not to produce death, but the pleasure of elegant
ingenuity. The impossible is cheerfully welcome here.
(House of Flying Daggers)
There is an opinion
in some quarters that martial arts movies are violent. Many are, to be
sure, but the best ones have the same relationship to violence that Astaire
and Rogers have to romance: Nobody believes they take it seriously, but
it gives them an excuse for some wonderful choreography.
(Kung Fu Hustle)
If film noir was not
a genre, but a hard man on mean streets with a lost lovely in his heart
and a gat in his gut, his nightmares would look like "Sin City." The actors
are mined for the archetypes they contain; Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke,
Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen and the others
are rotated into a hyperdimension. We get not so much their presence as
their essence; the movie is not about what the characters say or what they
do, but about who they are in our wildest dreams.
In a lesser movie,
there would be a spectacular showdown between the humans and special effects.
Not in the Paul Schrader version, which trusts evil to be intrinsically
fascinating and not in need of f/x enhancement.
(Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist)
The British character
actors (Thewlis, Gambon, Postlethwaite) bring so much creepy atmosphere
onto the screen that they could have walked right over from the matinee
performance of "Nosferatu." It was George Orwell who said, "At 50, everyone
has the face he deserves." We can only marvel at what they must have done
to deserve theirs.
Vampires are attractive
these days, I think, because they offer the only way one can sin and still
win eternal life.
No Mutation Without
(X-Men 3 headline)
# GLOSSARY OF MOVIE TERMS
Antiheroine Skin Rule: In a Horny Teenager Movie, the "bad girl" who is the object of the hero's desire will always expose more flesh than the girl whom he ends up with at the end of the film, despite equal sexual activity. If the "good girl" is shown topless in a love scene, it must be accompanied by slow music. In a Dead Teenager Movie, the girl who exposes the least skin is inevitably the only survivor.
CLIDVIC (Climb from Despair to Victory): Formula for ROCKY and all the ROCKY rip-offs. Breaks plot into three parts: (1) Defeat and despair; (2) Rigorous training, usually shown in the form of would-be MTV videos; (3) Victory, preferably ending in freeze-frame of triumphant hero.
Dead Teenager Movie: Generic term for any movie primarily concerned with killing teen-agers, without regard for logic, plot, performance, humor, etc. Often imitated, never worse than in the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels. Required complete loss of common sense on the part of the characters.
First Rule Of Whodunits: In any murder mystery, the murderer is probably the person who offers the most assistance in finding the killer. (submitted by Gerald Fitzgerald)
Intelligence: In most movies, "all that separates us from the apes." In SHEENA, Queen of the Jungle, what we have in common with them.
Law of Economy of Characters: Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters. Therefore, all characters in a movie are necessary to the storyeven those who do not seem to be. Sophisticated viewers can use this Law to deduce the identity of a person being kept secret by the movie's plot: This "mystery" person is always the only character in the movie who seems otherwise extraneous.
Based on a true story: Hollywood shorthand, meaning: Depressing, morbid, downbeat, including scenes so shocking or lascivious that no producer would include them in a movie unless he could excuse himself by saying these things actually happened. (Rich Elias)
Joel Silver Rule: All women in action-adventure flicks are extraneous to the plot unless naked or dead.
Less-Is-More Rule: The less a preview shows, the more confidence the filmmakers have in their film and the more eager they are to let the audience be surprised. If the trailer seems to tell the entire story of a film, it probably does; there is likely no reason to see the film. (submitted by Merwyn Grote)
Hot Justice: All trials that take place south of the Mason-Dixon Line take place during the summer in a non-air-conditioned courtroom filled with people airing themselves with fans from a funeral home. Heroic lawyer always mops neck with big white handkerchief. Slimy defense attorney never sweats. (submitted by Andy Buck)
Movie Drinking: Nobody who is poured a drink in a movie ever comes close to finishing it. This is a curious disconnect with the real world, especially given modern drink prices. (submitted by Eric Gribbin)
Murphy's Law: In movies made before 1985, any character named "Murphy" was a cop, a priest, a drunk, a tough guy, or all of the above. MURPHY'S ROMANCE was the first to break with this rule. Prior to TV's Murphy Brown, all Murphys were male. Any character named Murphy will sooner or later be shown in a saloon, or drinking heavily.
Mysterious Object Antecedents Myth: Whenever a movie involves time travel, there will always be an object that travels between the past and future without ever having actually come from anywhere.
Imperial Storm Trooper
Marksmanship Academy: Institution where movie thugs get their weapons training.
Teaches them how to stand five abreast, firing automatic weapons into a
small room, without hitting anyone inside. Also applies to bad-guy fighter
pilots, bad-guy archers, even bad-guy martial artists. Role models are
the menacing but incompetent plastic-suited thugs from the "Star Wars"
(referenced in GURPS by Steve Jackson)
Strafing Panic Syndrome: When an airplane strafes humans on the ground, the targets invariably run away from the plane. Logic suggests they would have a better chance of not being hit if they ran toward it, since that would shorten the time they are in range. (See "Pearl Harbor," etc.)
The Walk: A band of hell raisers falls into lockstep as their mission unites them with steely resolve. Their progression is shown in slo-mo as the soundtrack often features a martial snare drum beat. Examples: The "Reservoir Dogs"; The Earp Brothers, on their way to the OK Corral in "Tombstone"; the Irish newcomers on their way to the rumble at Five Corners in "Gangs of New York".
(External link: Roger's Full Glossary of Movie Terms)
# MOVIE ANSWER MAN
The star rating system is relative, not absolute. When you ask a friend if "Hellboy" is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to "Mystic River," you're asking if it's any good compared to "The Punisher." And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if "Superman" (1978) is four, then "Hellboy" is three and "The Punisher" is two. In the same way, if "American Beauty" gets four stars, then "Leland" clocks in at about two... To make the leap to four stars, a movie should make either my spine or my brain tingle... The lowest rating a movie can receive for being bad is one-half star. To receive no stars, it must be, in my opinion, somehow immoral.
Q. How can you give
a one-star rating to a movie you didn't sit through?
A. The rating only applies to the first eight minutes. After that, you're on your own.
- After Roger walks out of Tru Loved after 8 minutes
The only rating system that makes any sense is the Little Man of the San Franciscio Chronicle, who is seen (1) jumping out of his seat and applauding wildly; (2) sitting up happily and applauding; (3) sitting attentively; (4) asleep in his seat; or (5) gone from his seat.
I have been criticized recently for giving a pass to films of moderate achievement because they accomplish what the audience expects, while penalizing more ambitious films for falling short of greater expectations. There may be some truth in such observations, but on the other hand, nobody in the real world goes to every movie with the same kind of anticipation.
These are not great films, you understand, but they exist in a world that knows what greatness is, and they urge themselves toward it. (Comparing Layer Cake\Unleashed\Dominion to The Longest Yard)
n a theater, I sit twice as far back as the screen is wide, because of a theory that optically that's the correct distance.
I am awed by the number of films I have seen, and awed by the number I have not seen.
A children's movie is a movie at which adults are bored. A grown-up movie is a movie at which children are bored. A family movie is a movie at which, if it's good, nobody is bored.
A black & white movie isn't lacking something, it's adding something: The world is in color, so we get that for free, but black & white is a stylistic alternative, more dreamlike, more timeless. Moviegoers of course have the right to dislike black & white, but it is not something they should be proud of. It reveals them, frankly, as cinematically illiterate. I have been described as a snob on this issue. But snobs exclude; they do not include. To exclude black & white from your choices is an admission that you have a closed mind, a limited imagination, or are lacking in taste.
The other day I employed the useful term 'deus ex machina' in a review, and received several messages from readers who are not proficient in Latin. This is a phrase you will want to study and master, not merely to amaze friends during long bus journeys but because it so perfectly describes what otherwise might take you thousands of words. Imagine a play on a stage. The hero is in a fix. The dragon is breathing fire, his sword is broken, his leg is broken, his spirit is broken, and the playwright's imagination is broken. Suddenly there is the offstage noise of the grinding of gears, and invisible machinery lowers a god onto the stage, who slays the dragon, heals the hero, and fires the playwright. He is the 'god from the machine'.
For me, a hyperlink movie shows apparently unrelated stories and characters that have a gradually revealed, hidden connection.
I find "extended cuts" interesting, but important only if they represent a director's intended version rather than if they are just sort of noodling around. I prefer self-contained "deleted scenes" rather than a re-edited movie.
Here's a strange connection.
The anecdote in the opening graph of your "Rescue Dawn" review (Dieter
Dengler's recollection about the childhood encounter with the World War
II pilot flying past his German home) sounds like an almost-exact depiction
of a scene in Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun." The scene is when young
"Jamie" -- a British boy interned at a Japanese detention camp during World
War II -- sees a P-51 Mustang streak by while a U.S. strike team commences
strafing an airfield inside the camp. The sequence goes into slow-motion
and the young Jamie clearly makes eye contact with the passing fighter-pilot.
The irony: "Jamie" was played by a young Christian Bale, star of "Rescue
- Alex Hummel, with a letter to Roger
Q: If Cate Blanchett
were to win the Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth I at next year's Oscars,
would Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II give her the Oscar? And do you think
the actual Queen Elizabeth will be watching the Oscars just to see such
A: I think the show comes on too late for Her Majesty. In any event, the best actress award is usually given by the previous year's best actor. If Blanchett were to win for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," that would mean she'd receive the award from Forest Whitaker. He won for "The Last King of Scotland." I hope he doesn't hold the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots against her.
- Answering a question from Kathryn Boussemart
I have been accused recently of "spoiling" endings by the simple act of suggesting there is something to be spoiled. Life for me was so much simpler before e-mails in which readers send bulletins: "By hinting that there is a twist, you spoiled the movie, because otherwise why would I expect a twist?" I would suggest to such readers that few movies proceed predictably on a preordained path to an obvious conclusion.[from review of "Hate Crime"]
"Lost in Translation"
requires audiences to be able to pick up feelings and information on frequencies
that many moviegoers don't receive on. Most of the movies most people go
to see are made in such a way that not a moment's thought is required.
The audience is a passive receptor for mindless sensation. When I'm told
by people that they hated "Lost in Translation," I have to restrain myself
from replying, "You are saying more about yourself than about the film."
The mission of a good critic is not to reflect popular taste but to inform it.
There is no earthly reason why 'My First Mister' is rated R. The flywheels at the MPAA have taken flight from the values of the world we inhabit.
I think you can say almost anything if you find the right way to say it.
There are two things you can't argue in film: comedy and erotica. If something doesn't make you laugh, no one can tell you why it's funny, and likewise, it's hard to argue someone out of an erection.
Continuity is not everything. I grew up watching "Captain Video," on which three rocks were rearranged to indicate they had left one planet and were now on another.
We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls.
The friend can tell you if you will like the movie. The critic can give you his best advice about whether you should. A good critic writes in such a way that you can determine whether you will like the movie whether or not he does. It depends on whether you want to remain the kind of moviegoer you are now, or expand a little to the greater possibilities available. [from interview for Movie Web]
The critic's job is not to reflect public opinion. A critic is worthless if he starts writing what he thinks his readers want to read. If that's all he does, the public is the ventriloquist and the critic is the dummy.
Leave movie reviewing to the professionals. You wouldn't want an untrained person doing your surgery.
A review should be worth reading even if you have no plans to see the movie and even no interest in the movie.
60 years since the end of World War II, and the Nazis are still the only dependable villains because nobody else can be demonized now because we're so politically correct. I like it when people are just bad because they're bad. And it doesn't have to do with the bad Arabs, or the bad this, or the bad that.
My own feeling is that we go to print for facts and to movies for emotions. Even when movies are "based on" real stories, I assume they are essentially fictions.
Movies are essentially a medium of emotion. Intellectual arguments are more suited to the written word; movies persuade us not by what they argue, but by how they make us feel. One purpose of a critic is to be open about exactly what he or she actually felt.
(on asked who could play a young Roger Ebert) I'm thinking Jack Black or Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Of all the arts, movies
are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us into better
Movies absorb our attention more completely, I think, than any other art form. If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen. Since we're all locked inside ourselves, and since we're given the hand we were dealt when we were born, it's a way to empathize: to try to understand what it would be like to live in a different time, to be a member of a different group, and that's important. It makes us more broad-minded. A lot of people just go to movies that feed into their preexisting and not so noble needs and desires: They just go to action pictures, and things like that. But if you go to foreign films, if you go to documentaries, if you go to independent films, if you go to good films, you will become a better person because you will understand human nature better. Movies record human nature in a better way than any other art form, that's for sure. [from an interview with "Progressive" magazine]
Casablanca: After seeing
this film many times, I think I finally understand why I love it so much.
It's not because of the romance, or the humor, or the intrigue, although
those elements are masterful. It's because it makes me proud of the characters.
These are not heroes -- not except for Paul Heinreid's resistance fighter,
who in some ways is the most predictable character in the film. These are
realists, pragmatists, survivors: Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine, who sticks
his neck out for nobody, and Claude Rains' police inspector, who follows
rules and tries to stay out of trouble. At the end of the film, when they
rise to heroism, it is so moving because heroism is not in their makeup.
Their better nature simply informs them what they must do. The sheer beauty
of the film is also compelling. The black-and-white closeups of Ingrid
Bergman, the most bravely vulnerable woman in movie history. Bogart with
his cigarette and his bottle. Greenstreet and Lorre. Dooley Wilson at the
piano, looking up with pain when he sees Bergman enter the room. The shadows.
"As Time Goes By." If there is ever a time when they decide that some movies
should be spelled with an upper-case M, "Casablanca" should be voted first
on the list of Movies.
- picking Casablanca for his Greatest Films of all Time list
2001: Film can take
us where we cannot go. It can also take our minds outside their shells,
and this film by Stanley Kubrick is one of the great visionary experiences
in the cinema. Yes, it was a landmark of special effects, so convincing
that years later the astronauts, faced with the reality of outer space,
compared it to "2001." But it was also a landmark of non-narrative, poetic
filmmaking, in which the connections were made by images, not dialog or
plot. An ape uses to learn a bone as a weapon, and this tool, flung into
the air, transforms itself into a space ship--the tool that will free us
from the bondage of this planet. And then the spaceship takes man on a
voyage into the interior of what may be the mind of another species. The
debates about the "meaning" of this film still go on. Surely the whole
point of the film is that it is beyond meaning, that it takes its character
to a place he is so incapable of understanding that a special room--sort
of a hotel room--has to be prepared for him there, so that he will not
go mad. The movie lyrically and brutally challenges us to break out of
the illusion that everyday mundane concerns are what must preoccupy us.
It argues that surely man did not learn to think and dream, only to deaden
himself with provincialism and selfishness. "2001" is a spiritual experience.
But then all good movies are.
- picking 2001 for his Greatest Films of all Time list
I recall Gene Siskel telling a friend at dinner that film critics eventually became critical of everything: For example, "your tie is hideous." In revenge, the friend went to Marshall Field's and asked to buy their ugliest tie. Two salesclerks helped him in a spirited debate to select the tie that qualified. My friend wore it the next time they met. Siskel identified the brand of the tie correctly and said: "If you like that tie, it shows you have better taste than 99 percent of men."
# ASIDES ON SOCIETY
Let me tell you a story.
The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program.
The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to
support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are
influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what
about 'Basketball Diaries'?" She asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a
boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo
Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I
said, but the movie failed at the box office, and it's unlikely the Columbine
killers saw it.
The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; These two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."
(from the review of 'Elephant')
What I am waiting for
is a movie about a suicide bomber who is an atheist, who expects oblivion
after his death and pulls the trigger after having reasoned that the deaths
of his victims will advance a cause so important that he, and they, must
die. When religion enters into the picture, it clouds the meaning of the
act: How selfless is your sacrifice if you believe you will be instantly
rewarded for eternity? When higher powers are evoked to justify death on
both sides of a dispute, does heaven send four angels?
(from the review of "Paradise Now")
I do not feel it is
admirable to persist in cruelty simply out of loyalty or fear. Sympathy
I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting
that it must be destroyed... All we can learn from a film like this is
that millions of people can be led, and millions more killed, by madness
leashed to racism and the barbaric instincts of tribalism.
As we regard this broken and pathetic Hitler, we realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear. He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil. It is useful to reflect that racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear are still with us, and the defeat of one of their manifestations does not inoculate us against others.
(from the review of 'Downfall')
The movie contains
hurt, coldness and cruelty, but is it without hope? Not at all. Stand back
and consider. All of these people, superficially so different, share the
city and learn that they share similar fears and hopes. Until several hundred
years ago, most people everywhere on earth never saw anybody who didn't
look like them. They were not racist because, as far as they knew, there
was only one race. You may have to look hard to see it, but "Crash" is
a film about progress.
(from his review of 'Crash')
Our own freedoms depend precisely on those of our neighbors, our opponents and, yes, our enemies. Those who limit another's freedom of speech create a nation in which freedom can be limited and what goes around, comes around.
Wouldn't you sleep more soundly at night knowing Ann Coulter was in the Army and not in a voting booth?
A religion should arm you to go into the world, not wall you off from it.
Of what use is freedom of speech to those who fear to offend?
Praise without merit is more harmful than unearned criticism.
Prostitution is a calling with many hazards, sadness and tragedy, but it accepts human nature. It knows what some people need, and perhaps that is why every society has found a way to accommodate it.
Eating responsibly at McDonald's is like going to a strip club for the iced tea.
It is also true, given the current state of drunk driving laws, that alcoholics are wise to choose lovers within walking distance. (from 'The Upside of Anger' review)
Any alcoholic knows that life is not all bad, that there comes a moment between the morning's hangover and the night's oblivion when things are balanced very nicely, and the sun slants in through the bar windows, and there's a good song on the jukebox, and the customers might even start dancing. Tommy makes some headway one afternoon with a woman he meets in the bar; like a lot of drinkers, she can dance better than she can stand. (from "Trees Lounge" review)
My own theory of date rape is that if you think you had sex and you didn't want to but you're not sure why or how (or if) it happened, it's probably a good idea to call AA before you call the cops. By definition you cannot remember a blackout this is the Heineken Uncertainty Principle. (from 'Body Shots' review)
The funniest person in a bar is rarely the happiest.
I am utterly bored by celebrity interviews. Most celebrities are devoid of interest.
Whenever a dog appears at a social occasion, I immediately interrupt my conversation to greet the dog, and often find myself turning back to its owner with regret.
Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. (from a 1998 column for Yahoo Internet Life)
Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.
Any message that comes in a weird typeface with strange colors or backgrounds is obviously from an illiterate. (on email)
Maybe self-help bookstores should have a section named "Uninstall."
Have modern forms of corporatespeak so depersonalized language that no one expects it to mean anything? No one with a feeling for literature and poetry can read the typical best-selling business or self-help book with a straight face, because their six rules or nine plans or 12 formulas are so manifestly idiotic, and couched in prose of such insulting simplicity. If I were a boss, I would fire any employer reading such a book, on the grounds that he was not smart enough to be working for me. If I were the employee of a company that hired one of those motivational gurus, I would quit on the grounds that management had been taken over by pod people. (from his review of "The Yes Men")
Advertising supports programming that I receive for free, on radio and television, and that's fine with me. But when I pay, I expect to see only what I have paid for. Ads in theaters are an abomination, hated by most of the moviegoers I talk to. To be locked into a compulsory viewing of an ad on a DVD, on top of the useless FBI warning that also cannot be skipped, is a new species of outrage. And years after that car is off the market, you'll still have to look at the ad, as it breeds continuing ill will for the manufacturer.
"I don't like watching
these stupid horror movies that are loaded with cheese whiz, okay?"
"Forgive me Roger Ebert. But I figured in honor of Friday the 13th tomorrow, a little horror marathon was mandatory."
- Joey & Dawson, "Dawson's Creek"
"Life is like a box
of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. Unless, of course,
you're sitting next to Roger Ebert: then you know you're not going to get
- David Letterman, at the 1995 Academy Awards
Roger Ebert will be
posted outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, physically blocking best-actress
nominees from entering the auditorium until he can look down their dresses.
Two years ago, Ebert practically dropped his microphone down Geena Davis'
scooped neckline as he told her, "I'm no fashion expert, but I know what
I like!" Ebert is a fine critic, but sometimes the balcony is closed!
- John Carman, previewing the 1996 Oscars, "San Francisco Chronicle"
"May I have your autograph?"
"Oh for the third time tonight, I am not Roger Ebert."
"I know, you're Jay Sherman; and you're much cuter than Roger Ebert."
"Wow, cuter than Roger Ebert?"
- Jay Sherman meets a fan, "The Critic"
There are people who
regard Alex Proyas' "Dark City" as a masterpiece for the ages - I believe
Roger Ebert holds seminars in which he goes through the movie frame by
frame for something like two years with breaks only for Yom Kippur and
Lent. To me, "Dark City" felt like the first "Matrix" without the kung
fu, but it did have a nice, Philip K. Dickian is-it-real-or-am-I-reading-a-Philip-K.-Dick-novel
eeriness and some good hats.
- David Edelstein, film critic for "MSN Slate"
>> Quotes from Roger's
reviews of Teen films
>> Check out Roger's recently launched official website.
>> More Ebert quotes via TC Candler at "Critical Mass Movie Reviews"
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