Movie Reviews postsMonday 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.
- My review of “42”.
- Alan Tudyk on playing Ben Chapman.
- My disagreement with Wells about the “42” poster and “Lincoln.”
Alan Tudyk: A good actor acting ugly.
Eulogies for Roger
I found out yesterday after lunch. I'd known, vaguely, about his “leave of presence” from The Chicago Sun-Times, because I'd heard, via his Facebook page, about the return of the cancer, the new radiation treatments, the hospitalization. We get this sometimes. It's like a harbinger that takes the edge off the worse news. Someone shot at Reagan and missed? OK. Wait, they hit him? Oh. Kurt Cobain OD'ed in Italy but he's OK? OK. Wait, he killed himself? Oh.
This harbinger didn't take the edge off yesterday. Roger was a voice in my life since 1978. He'd actually gotten louder in more recent years thanks to all this. He felt closer.
For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive ...
-- Pres. Barack Obama
We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.
-- Chaz Ebert, “Roger Ebert Dead at 70 After Battle with Cancer,” Chicago Sun-Times
It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.
-- Douglas Martin, “A Critic for the Common Man,” New York Times
He saw, and felt, and described the movies more effectively, more cinematically, and more warmly than just about anyone writing about anything. Even his pans had a warmth to them. Even when you disagreed with Roger you found yourself imagining the movie he saw, and loved (or hated) more than you did. ... I came late to film criticism in Chicago, after writing about the theater. Roger loved the theater. His was a theatrical personality: a raconteur, a spinner of dinner-table stories, a man who was not shy about his accomplishments. But he made room in that theatrical, improbable, outsized life for others.
-- Michael Phillips, “Farewell to a Generous Colleague and Friend,” Chicago Tribune
If not for them, I don't know what would have happened to me. I often tell Roger, “No Gene Siskel, no Roger Ebert, no film career.”
--Errol Morris, “Errol Morris on Ebert and Siskel,” on YouTube
But Roger made everything feel personal, didn't he? That's why we're seeing such grief upon the news of his death. We all felt as if we knew him. He turned the discussion of films that might've seemed too artsy or intimidatingly intellectual into comfortable conversations. At the same time, he remained capable of walking into a movie – any movie, in any genre – with an open mind after decades as a towering force in this business. He always wanted to be dazzled, just as he did when he was a kid.
--Christy Lemire, “AP Critic Remembers Colleague, Friend, Roger Ebert.”
Ebert argues that writing criticism is about expressing your values, so why not be honest about where you stand on the issues of the day? I didn't tell Ebert, 67, how I admired his productivity in the face of his serious health issues. He has already shrugged off comments like that in print, saying that the energy that once went into speech now is channeled into writing. He has written that he's not dying any faster than you or I, so why should he get special attention for doing what he loves?
-- Colin Covert, “My Afternoon with Ebert,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
In a wonderful mutual interview Ebert and Siskel did for the Chicago Tribune in 1998, Ebert responds to Siskel’s criticism that he tends to go too easy on “cheap exploitative schlock” like The Players Club with this telling reply: “I also have the greatest respect for you, Gene, but if you have a flaw, it is that you are parsimonious with your enjoyment, parceling it out as if you are afraid you will prematurely expend your lifetime share.” Joy—in movies, in conversation, in language, in life—was not something that Roger Ebert meted out parsimoniously. He had more than enough to last a lifetime ...
--Dana Stevens, “Roger Ebert,” on Slate
Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted — at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. ... Really, Roger was my friend. It's that simple. Few people I've known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. "We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn't make the loss any less wrenching.
--Martin Scorsese, in a statement reprinted in USA Today
Feel free to post your own below.
Quote of the Day
“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris ...
”Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. 'Faith' is neutral. All depends on what is believed in.“
-- Roger Ebert, who died today at the age of 70, from his book, ”Life Itself: A Memoir."
I couldn't agree more with this last part. Roger had faith that there's nothing on the other side and thus nothing to fear in dying. I wish I had that kind of faith.
Roger Ebert in 1987, mid-explanation.
Bob Lundegaard's Reviews: Les Miserables (2012)
First I reviewed Tom Hooper's “Les Miserables,” then my 11-year-old nephew Jordy did; now my 80-year-old father, Bob Lundegaard, formerly of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and one-time inspiration for the Coen brothers, has a go ...
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that three generations of imbeciles is enough. Although there’s no truth to the widely held belief that he was referring to movie reviewers, one can’t be too careful in a family in which grandfather, father and son have all aspired to the craft.
I haven’t reviewed a movie in 30 years — I was once the film critic at the Minneapolis Tribune – but recently an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up. Our family went to the Christmas Day opening of “Les Miserables,” which meant that I sat right in back of my grandson, Jordy, who’s a frequent movie reviewer on Facebook.
We decided to have a friendly competition, dueling reviewers, with a third entrant, Jordy’s Uncle Erik, who lives in Seattle. I’ve seen several stage productions of the musical, but Jordy had a distinct advantage over me: He’s been in it, so he knows all the songs, even though he’s only 11 years old. A local high school, renowned for its stagecraft, mounted a production two years ago, when he was in 3rd grade, and needed a chorus of street urchins for the revolutionary Paris scenes. And to our delight, one of the chosen gamins was Jordy!
I’ve always had mixed feelings about “Les Miz.” The rhymes usually are telegraphed way before you hear them. “Give” invariably rhymes with “live,” for instance. “Bring him joy” leads to “he is only a boy” Not exactly Ira Gershwin. And the sentimentality can get overwhelming.
Not to mention Victor Hugo’s coincidences, which can put Dickens to shame. Why does Inspector Javert always happen to show up wherever Jean Valjean is living? And when Valjean and his adopted daughter catapult into a religious sanctuary while on the lam from the evil Inspector Javert, who should be tending the garden but a man Valjean had rescued from death years ago in a village far from Paris?
Still, it’s a powerful story, and much of the music can make you feel like standing in your seat and joining the revolution, so I brought an extra Kleenex or two. Turns out I needed them. The story is even more overwhelming on film, spearheaded by an Oscar-worthy performance by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict with a heart of gold and the strength of a Samson.
Director Tom Hooper has personalized the epic proportions of the story by unremitting use of close-ups, so close you can see the nose hairs on Javert. I also liked Hooper’s opening innovation: Thousands of convicts trying to tug a foundering ship onto land. The ubiquitous Javert is their overseer. When they can’t manage it, he orders Valjean to bring him a flag attached to an enormous, stubborn log. Valjean does more: he lifts the log as well and becomes emblazoned in Javert’s memory forever.
The stolid Russell Crowe as Javert was, I thought, the least effective of the leads, though admittedly it’s a difficult role to shine in. Anne Hathaway does shine in the tiny part of Fantine, though she does return (with almost everyone else) for Valjean’s insufferable deathbed scene.
All in all, a good day at the movies, if only because Hollywood is making MUSICALS again. As someone who grew up with “Oklahoma!” and “My Fair Lady” on Broadway, I really miss them.
Richard Brody on 'Marnie': As Insane as His Beard?
Richard Brody, the grand old blogger for The New Yorker whom I generally admire, recently wrote the following as part of a post on “The Girl,” an HBO movie about Hitchcock and Hedren, or Alfie and Tippy, which premiered last Saturday, and which was not bad if one-note. Here's Brody's sidebar:
I’ve long thought that “Marnie,” not “Vertigo,” is Hitchcock’s best film—and, as such, is one of the greatest films of all time. It, too, is about disguise, deception, crime, and desire, about mental illness and unhealed trauma. The plot twists in “Marnie” aren’t as elaborate or as surprising, but it captures, more harrowingly, a sense of derangement—inner and outer, intimate and widespread—that reflects a world on the breaking point. Nobody would mistake Hitchcock for a political filmmaker, but “The Birds” and, especially, “Marnie,” are the work of an American Antonioni, whose psychological dramas are matched by architectural and symbolic ones, by a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.
But, yes, these movies also feature the performances of Tippi Hedren, which are not only the ultimate Hitchcock performances but—and especially that of “Marnie”—among the very best in the history of cinema.
I've long known that Brody felt positively toward “Marnie,” but... one of the greatest movies of all time? Among the best performances in the history of cinema? “Marnie”?
It's a movie about repressed memories and feels as dated, and as relevant, as a late-'70s “M*A*SH” episode with Dr. Sidney Freedman. It's like that five-minute monologue at the end of “Psycho” where the shrink goes on and on about what's wrong with Norman Bates--but for an entire movie.
Here's my review of “Marnie” from a year ago. Let me know what I'm missing. Because I just don't get it.
“...a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.” Or a bad cold.
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