erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews posts

Thursday August 21, 2014

Did Siskel and Ebert Agree More the Longer They Worked Together?

One of the kicks I got out of the documentary “Life Itself,” about the life and times of film critic Roger Ebert, was watching Ebert and his TV partner/nemesis Gene Siskel battle over movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (which Roger loved and Gene dismissed for its last, rambling 30 minutes) and Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” (which Roger dismissed and Gene loved). These guys fought about Vietnam war movies the way the rest of the country fought about the Vietnam War.

All of which revived a thought I had as their various shows (“Sneak Previews,” etc.) wound their way through the years: Did Roger and Gene tend to agree more the longer they worked together? It seemed so to me, anecdotally; but unless someone counted the thumbs ups/downs, we’d never really know.

Let me say right off: I’m not about to count the thumbs up/downs for 24 seasons of “Sneak Previews,” etc. No way. But I did compare and contrast Siskel and Ebert’s annual top 10 lists to see how they stacked up there. Here are their number of top-10 agreements over the years: 

Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1975  x  x  x        
1976  x  x  x  x      
1977  x  x  x  x      
1978  x  x  x  x      
1979  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1980  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1981  x  x  x  x      
1982  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1983  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1984  x  x  x  x  x    
1985  x  x  x  x  x    
1986  x  x  x  x  x    
1987  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1988  x  x  x        
1989  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1990  x  x  x        
1991  x  x  x  x      
1992  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1993  x x  x  x  x  
1994  x  x  x  x      
1995  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1996  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1997  x  x  x  x      
1998  x  x  x  x      

For a while there, as I was tabulating, it seemed like I was onto something. They start out with only three agreements in 1975 but within a few years they’re together on 7 of the 10. But then it slips. And rises? And slips. And then back to three? But back up again. And we wind up with something fairly inconclusive.

Siskel and Ebert did seem to agree on the No. 1 movie of the year the longer they were together:

Year The Same No. 1 Movie
1975 Nashville
1983 * The Right Stuff
1989 Do the Right Thing
1990 Goodfellas
1993 Schindler's List
1994 Hoop Dreams
1996 Fargo

* 1983 may have been their most agreeable year, since they were exact not only one No. 1, but No. 2 (“Terms of Endearment”), No. 4 (“Fanny and Alexander”), No. 7 (“Silkwood”) and No. 9 (“Risky Business”). 

Their agreements are even starker with the best-of-the-decade lists. They agreed on only one movie as the best of the 1970s:

The Decade (1970s) **  
GENE SISKEL ROGER EBERT
Last Tango in Paris An Unmarried Woman
The Sorrow and the Pity Apocalypse Now
Annie Hall Amarcord
The Emigrants & The New Land Breaking Away ***
The Godfather I & II Nashville
The Conversation Days of Heaven
Mean Streets The Deer Hunter
The Last Detail Heart of Glass
Saturday Night Fever Cries and Whispers
Le Boucher The Godfather I & II

** Not in order of preference; simply in order presented.

*** Yes, I was tickled that this made Roger's cut.

But they agreed on four films in the 1980s:

The Decade (1980s)  
GENE SISKEL ROGER EBERT
1. Raging Bull 1. Raging Bull
2. Shoah 2. The Right Stuff
3. The Right Stuff 3. E.T.
4. My Dinner with Andre 4. Do The Right Thing
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit 5. My Dinner with Andre
6. Do The Right Thing 6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Once Upon A Time In America (long version) 7. Ran
8. Moonlighting 8. Mississippi Burning
9. Sid and Nancy 9. Platoon
10. Kagemusha 10. House of Games 

One could argue, of course, that since there were so many great movies in the 1970s, it was easier to disagree. I’ll take “The Conversation” and you take “Apocalypse Now”; you get “Days of Heaven” and I get “Mean Streets.” There were fewer such options in the 1980s. If not “Raging Bull,” what? “One from the Heart”? “The Return of the Jedi”? “Three Men and a Baby”?

(Sidenote: While “Raging Bull” is Roger’s best of the 1980s, it wasn’t even his best of 1980. He gave that one to “Black Stallion,” which, of course, didn’t make his decades-end list. Some movies just work on us better.)

But all in all, I wasn't noticing statistically what I'd noticed anecdotally.

Then I realized that I was only documenting their time together. What about the years when they were both reviewing movies in Chicago but weren't doing the show yet? What story would that tell?

This is the story it tells:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1969  x  x        
1970  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1971  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1972  x  x  x  x  x    
1973  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1974  x  x  x  x  x  x  x

In terms of top 10s anyway, they actually agreed more before they got together. From 1969 to 1974, they averaged 5.66 top-10 agreements. From 1975 to 1998? Only 4.95.

So I actually kind of proved the opposite of what I wanted to prove. I guess that’s why we crunch the numbers.

But we won’t know for certain if Siskel and Ebert agreed more, less, or about the same as the show progressed, until someone does a show-by-show, year-by-year analysis. Someone, I should add, with a lot more time on their hands than me.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

Siskel and Ebert: One liked “Apocalypse Now,” the other “Full Metal Jacket.”

Posted at 05:33 AM on Aug 21, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Thursday May 29, 2014

A.O. Scott Doesn't Like Adam Sandler

“Most of 'Blended' has the look and pacing of a three-camera sitcom filmed by a bunch of eighth graders and conceived by their less bright classmates. Shots don’t match. Jokes misfire. Gags that are visible from a mile away fail to deliver. Two rhinos are seen copulating by the side of a swimming pool, and someone has the wit to say, 'That’s not something you see in New Jersey.' Not funny on so many levels.

”There are comedians who mine their own insecurities for material. Mr. Sandler, in his recent films, compensates for his by building monuments to his own ego. In 'Blended,' he once again proclaims himself both über-doofus and ultimate mensch, disguising his tireless bullying in childish voices and the ironclad alibis of fatherhood and grief.“

--A.O. Scott in his review of Adam Sandler's ”Blended," in The New York Times, May 22, 2014.

Adam Sandler, Blended

Not funny on so many levels.

Posted at 02:01 PM on May 29, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Sunday December 01, 2013

The Worst Movie Review of the Year, Part II

I'm sorry but I couldn't leave this one alone.

There are so many distortions in Kyle Smith's New York Post review of the film “Philomena” that it's hard to deal with them all. It's also difficult to extract the half-truth from the half-lies he's formed around them. But this one is easy.

Near the end of his review he writes:

Philomena spends the movie saying dumb stuff (at the Lincoln Memorial: “Look at him up there in his big chair!”), Martin is rude and dismissive, and we’re meant to laugh, I guess, at her being a rube and his being a journalist. You may be wondering why Coogan felt the need to play a cold and unpleasant a figure who isn’t (like many other Coogan creations) funny, but the answer is simple: Coogan hates journalists.

Here:

  1. Coogan is very funny in the movie, and identifiable. I certainly identified.
  2. Coogan, I imagine, hates bad journalism, particularly tabloid journalism, particularly the awful tabloid journalism revealed in the phone-hacking scandal that sunk News of the World in July 2011. His own phone was hacked, his own private life revealed to sell newspapers, and he's become a strong voice against the practice. He's testified before the Leveson inquiry into unethical journalism and has written Op-Eds for The Guardian about same. 
  3. The man at the head of the phone-hacking scandal, still unaccountable after all these years, is Rupert Murdoch.
  4. Rupert Murdoch owns The New York Post, for which Kyle Smith writes his reviews.

Isn't that nice? Look again at the deft, shoddy way Smith raises the phone-hacking scandal without mentioning the phone-hacking scandal. Which, of course, would point back to his boss.

Bloody awful, really.

Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan

Posted at 10:06 AM on Dec 01, 2013 in category Movie Reviews
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The Worst Movie Review of the Year

It belongs to Kyle Smith of The New York Post, writing about the film “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Here's a snippet:

There’s no other purpose to the movie, so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now.

“90 minutes of organized hate.” I can't remember the last time I ran across such a mean-spirited review about such a gentle, and genuinely heartwarming movie. Here's Smith's  full review.

And here's the real Philoemena's defense of the film.

I came across all of this last night after Patricia and I saw the movie, which we both loved. Can the film be read as an attack on doctrinaire (that is, anti-sex) Catholicism and doctrinaire (that is, anti-gay) Republicanism? Sure. But the greater takeaway is a lesson in the meaning of forgiveness, upon which Philomena's open letter to Smith concludes:

Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story. I do hope though that the families heading to the movie theatre to see the film decide for themselves – and disagree with you.

Judi Dench in Philomena

Posted at 07:42 AM on Dec 01, 2013 in category Movie Reviews
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Monday April 15, 2013

That Ben Chapman Scene in '42'

For once I'm in complete agreement with Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells. He has a good one-paragraph synopsis of “42”—why it's not particuarly good but why one scene is powerful—amidst his analysis of Marshall Fine's review:

42 is okay if you like your movies to be tidy and primary-colored and unfettered to a fault, but it’s a very simplistic film in which every narrative or emotional point is served with the chops and stylings that I associate with 1950s Disney films. The actors conspicuously “act” every line, every emotional moment. It’s one slice of cake after another. Sugar, icing, familiar, sanctified. One exception: that scene in which Jackie Robinson is taunted by a Philadelphia Phillies manager with racial epithets. I’m not likely to forget this scene ever. It’s extremely ugly.

Agreed. Alan Tudyk, who plays Ben Chapman, the taunting Phillies manager, should get some special kind of award for his performance. It's unblinking.

Links:

Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman in '42"

Alan Tudyk: A good actor acting ugly.

Posted at 08:19 AM on Apr 15, 2013 in category Movie Reviews
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