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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 10, 2017

'Call Me By Your Name' Leads Chicago Film Critics Nominations


The Chicago Film Critics Association—of which Brian Tallerico is the Vice President and Chaz Ebert, Matt Fagerholm, Nick Allen, and Peter Sobczynski are members, among other regular contributors—announced their nominees today for the best films of 2017. Luca Guadagnino''s 'Call Me By Your Name' led all nominees with eight nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Actor, Breakthrough Performer, and two nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Guillermo Del Toro''s 'The Shape of Water' was close behind with seven nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography. The other three nominees for Best Picture are 'Dunkirk' 'Lady Bird,' and 'Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.'

Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele both pulled off a rare trifecta, landing nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Breakthrough Filmmaker. Other interesting nominees this year include a trio of nods for the cast of 'Phantom Thread' (Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville), two acting nominations for Netflix''s 'Mudbound' (Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell), and a nod for Harry Dean Stanton''s final performance in John Carroll Lynch''s 'Lucky.' The full list of nominees is below:

BEST PICTURE
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST DIRECTOR
Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out

BEST ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

BEST ACTOR
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
Jason Mitchell, Mudbound
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Stuhlbarg

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

Just Getting Started


If AARP ever felt compelled to sue a movie for elder abuse, 'Just Getting Started' would certainly be in the running. All sorts of red flags went up when I realized a comedy starring Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman—one that is directed and written by Ron Shelton ('Tin Cup,' 'Bull Durham'), no less—was opening cold, with no screenings for critics.

I tried to keep an open mind about this boomer-bait romp about Duke Diver (Freeman), manager of Villa Capri, a luxury Palm Springs resort packed with retirees. He has fashioned himself into a kind of Hugh Hefner of senior living while keeping his past a secret. But alarms went off in my head once Christmas tunes began to ding-dong during the opening the credits. This can''t be a holiday movie, can it? Yes, it can.

The seasonal setting opens the door for such sight gags as carolers decked out in Dickensian garb save for being shod in flip flops and someone observing, 'Some big balls he''s got' while dangling two sizable round tree ornaments. There is also an opportunity for 'flocking' to be used as a euphemism for you-know-what. Shelton seems to think that just the very thought of Christmas spent in the heat of the California desert (actually, Albuquerque, N.M., mostly filling in for tax-break reasons) is a cause for yuletide mirth. While Lipitor is mentioned, the V-word (Viagra) is not. Take that as a blessing since I still haven''t recovered from Robert De Niro''s run-in with the erectile dysfunction drug in 'Little Fockers.'

Freeman''s dedicated alpha male and his band of cronies (among them, Joe Pantoliano and comic George Wallace) rule the roost while Duke chases after hot-to-trot hens of a certain age—namely, Elizabeth Ashley, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Glenne Headley, who died in June at age 62. Sadly, her last film role involves her standing on a ladder and having Freeman lasciviously admire her buxom form—which would be kind of creepy even before the media began keeping a post-Weinstein tally of powerful men recently accused of sexual harassment. 

Matters look up briefly once cowboy Leo, in the form of Jones, sashays into town and challenges Duke at his own games—which include golf, chess, ping pong, bench pressing and doing the limbo. But when Rene Russo''s Suzie shows up, Leo''s heart skips a beat and soon enough Duke is vying for her affections as well. Turns out this trio are all hiding something. So is the movie, as it awkwardly evolves from being a horny oldsters on the loose caper to a macho one-upmanship contest and, finally, a crime film about foiling a mob hit beset with dreary car chases, a literal snooze-fest stakeout, a rather tame cobra stuck in a golf bag and perhaps one of the least-exciting bomb explosions ever captured on film.

Johnny Mathis does appear to sing at the Villa Capri''s Christmas Eve party although he mostly lip syncs and looks all of his 82 years. And while no one will ever mistake Freeman and Jones for Martin and Lewis, it is not unpleasant to see these two Oscar winners together on the big screen for the first time. Mostly, 'Just Getting Started' is a rather lazy boondoggle by Shelton, who waited 14 years to direct again and didn''t bother to make it worthwhile. Most disheartening are his portrayals of women who are mostly defined by the gaze and affirmation of male companions.

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

The Rape of Recy Taylor


Nancy Buirski''s documentary 'The Rape of Recy Taylor' is a heartfelt documentary on a powerful subject: the rape of a black woman in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944 by a group of white men, a crime that disappeared into the larger history of the south for racial reasons. It's also a documentary of how hard it is to make a documentary about an event for which almost no visual media exist.


The subject is Recy Taylor, a 24-year old churchgoing woman who was kidnapped on her way home from church and assaulted by six men—a crime that was later rationalized as consensual sex on grounds that Taylor was a prostitute. (She wasn't.) To reconstruct this outrage, Buirski weaves together interviews with mostly elderly people from that time and place, in particular Taylor''s brother Robert Corbitt and his sister Alma Daniels (who died in 2016). Taylor herself also appears fleetingly, though she's so old that she's not a lucid presence. The movie also gives us a sense of the initial investigation, which was overseen by none other than future Montgomery bus boycott instigator Rosa Parks, sent from Montgomery, Alabama in hopes of drawing national press attention to the crime—the only way, then and now, to get justice for marginalized people who live outside of major cities. 


This is all fascinating. But you quickly get the sense that Buirski either doesn't find it interesting enough to let it stand on its own or else is afraid that audiences will rebel against too many bare-bones elements.

If the latter, she might not be wrong. There was a time when it was considered OK to build a story from the past around images of people talking about the events, plus still photographs and new film footage of the places where they happened. You still see documentaries like that on TV sometimes (though they are very likely to include re-creations with actors). Nevertheless, the approach she's chosen here is more often irritating than illuminating, and often suggests a lack of faith in the inherent power of the elements she has on hand.


The personal testimony and historical reconstruction in this film is constantly being cut together with footage from low-budget black-and-white movies produced in the 1940s with African-American casts. These were made to appeal to an under-served market: the millions of black American moviegoers who otherwise would've had no chance to see people onscreen who looked like them. They played in the American Midwest, South and Southwest, mainly, on what was known as 'the chitlin circuit,' an assortment of venues that could pass for movie theaters: churches, barns, nightclubs and other structures with walls wide enough for movie projection and enough floor space for a crowd.


Chitlin circuit movies are fascinating in their own right, but the representative snippets we see here are treated as stock footage, or the equivalent of a 'historical recreation' that you might see in a History Channel documentary. Sometimes the filmmaker cuts them together with David Lynchian shots of the woods at night, leafless branches clawing at the sky. Meanwhile, an ominous and depressive and  repetitive score churns constantly.


I suppose you could make an argument that the chitlin circuit films connect with the story itself in that they both reveal something about how race determines whether or not certain people's stories get heard. But if that's the point—and I'll try to be generous here and assume it is—it doesn't come across. What's onscreen here is often so very busy that 'The Rape of Recy Taylor' turns into a parody of a certain mindset in American documentary filmmaking. There i

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

Quest


'When you talk to people, you find out they're not as hard as they appear to be.' - Christopher 'Quest' Rainey

Every Friday, Christopher Rainey hosts a 'Freestyle' night in Everquest Recordings, his small music studio located in the basement of his North Philadelphia home. 'Freestyle Fridays' are a tradition in the neighborhood, the one night of the week when hopeful hip-hop artists—or anyone who can put some rhymes together—hang out and let off steam at the mic. Children sit on the sidewalk outside the basement windows, trying to hear what's going on. Surrounded by friends crowding around the mic, with Chris Rainey at the control panel, these young men don't have to be 'hard' anymore. They can be joyful, free, angry, hurt, human. 'These young men need someone to talk to,' Rainey says. 'They need someone to give them encouragement.' Over the course of 'Quest,' Jonathan Olshefski's extraordinary documentary almost a decade in the making, 'Freestyle Fridays' emerge as an anchor, not only for the film, but for the Rainey family and members of the community.

'Quest' is the story of 10 years in one family's life. The film opens with the marriage of Christopher and Christine''a (known as 'Ma Quest,' even though she says,'I don't want to be everybody's mom but somewhere along the line, they just started calling me Ma.') The couple had been together for years, and both came into the relationship with adult children from prior relationships. They have one child together, a girl named P.J., 8 years old at the start of the film, who wants to be a drummer, or maybe a DJ. Christine'a works in a homeless shelter and Chris has an early-morning paper route. One of Christine'a's adult sons, William, lives with them. He has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and has an infant son. We get to know the family's routines. Christine'a braids Chris' hair, braids P.J.'s hair. The black cat purrs in P.J.'s lap. Chris walks P.J. to the school bus, quizzing her on the Presidential campaign going on (Obama's re-election). And every Friday night, the rappers show up to freestyle in the basement.

Only 90 minutes long, the film feels intimate and yet at the same time vast. It has a relaxed pace, but an intensity of focus. Editor Lindsay Utz had to sift through 300 hours of footage and somehow craft it into a narrative. The project started when Chris Rainey's brother took Olshefski to visit Everquest Recordings. Olshefski had never made a documentary before, and he initially thought of doing a photography project about Everquest, but eventually abandoned that idea and decided to broaden the scope. What interested him was Chris and Christine'a, as people. They are both riveting to watch, and even more so to listen to. Maybe it is because they approach life from a thoughtful and deep place, even as the slings and arrows come at them from every which way. They opened themselves to the filming process, they allow us to see them, in times good and bad. There is not a sense of exploitation here, even when things get really tough (and they get extremely tough). The couple is a co-creator in this project with Olshefski. He embedded himself in the family, more or less, for the next decade. We see William struggling with chemo, Christine'a reveling in being a grandmother, Chris taking one of 'his' rappers—a talented but troubled young man named Price—to task for going down the wrong path. Halfway through the film comes a random tragedy that will mark P.J.—and the family—forever.

What makes 'Quest' special is that none of these story elements are prioritized as more important than others. It's all important. Becau

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

Foxtrot


Twenty years ago, Israeli writer/director Samuel Maoz refused to give his daughter the money to take a cab when she was running late for school. He sent her to a bus stop, hearing 20 minutes later that the bus line she was taking was hit by a terrorist attack. He would learn that she missed the bus, but for a terrifying window of time, his daughter was dead, and he felt some responsibility in sending her to that death. This unforgettable day became the inspiration for Maoz''s second film, the award-wining 'Foxtrot,' a searing and phenomenal examination of what writer Paul Auster called 'The Music of Chance.' It is a formally gorgeous piece of work, the kind of film that exudes confidence in structure and tone, and it contains some of the most striking, memorable imagery of the year. Don''t miss this one, either in its Oscar-qualifying run this week or when it''s released wider next year.

'Foxtrot' opens with a knock on a door. A woman, Daphna Feldmann (Sarah Adler), answers and immediately falls to the ground. She knows what the arrival of Israeli soldiers at her door means—her son Jonathan has died in the line of duty. The arriving soldiers confirm this news to Dafna''s husband Michael (the excellent Lior Ashkenazi), and Maoz''s formalism is instantly clear and striking. He opens his film with procedure. It''s not just the information of the death of a child but the procedure that entails. The soldiers tell Michael to make sure he drinks water, asks if they should call someone—and we stay on Michael''s face. This is procedure for the men telling but not the man being told. When they leave, Maoz cuts to a dizzying overhead shot, spinning his typically-static camera in a way that reflects the unstable world of our protagonist. This is the kind of filmmaking—in which formal choices are clear and striking—that one immediately recognizes as accomplished, intertwining visual art with deep wells of emotional impact like grief and anger. Maoz uses his skill as a visual artist to enhance the human urgency of his story.

And what a story it is, although I wouldn''t spoil much of where it goes after that opening scene. Let''s just say that the second act of the film jumps to a remote Israeli checkpoint where four young men fight the monotony of a gate that''s raised more often for wandering camels than anything else. In long, often silent sequences, we watch these still-boys stuck in the middle of nowhere with almost nothing to do but count the days until they leave. They tell stories and play games—and a scene of one of them playing a shooter like 'Call of Duty' and asking 'what are we fighting for here' feels a bit too on the nose to me—and try to do anything to alleviate the boredom, until tragedy strikes completely out of nowhere. The final act takes us back to Tel Aviv as Maoz digs deeper into the themes of loss and fate inspired by the story of his daughter and the bus.

'Foxtrot' blends stark, drab realism with the kind of images only film can provide. A soldier dances with his gun at a checkpoint, a bulldozer lifts a car, a camel walks through a checkpoint like it''s part of his routine, a grieving father watches a dance class, the world going on even though his has changed—Maoz''s film is one in which it feels like every decision has been carefully considered like a note in a symphony. 'Foxtrot' is at its best when it feels the most open to interpretation—even the title, a dance in which the dancer returns to the same place he started, has meaning, of course. It''s a film designed to move you with its depiction of senseless tragedy but also to spark that part of your thinking process that only moviemaking can tap. It

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

The Pirates of Somalia


This movie''s title is more than a little cheeky when you consider that the lead character, a young Canadian wannabe journalist who hits on the idea that he can really make a name for himself by courting danger on the other side of the world, barely makes it on board a boat in the picture''s nearly two-hour running time. More accurate would be 'The Bro Who Wanted to Get in with the Pirates of Somalia.'

Based on a book by Jay Bahadur, the movie opens in the Great White North. Jay (Evan Peters, coming off like a much less wholesome version of Patrick Fugit in 'Almost Famous') nurses his journo dreams in the basement of his parents'' home (he''s got a poster of 'All the President''s Men' on a plywood wall down there), while his younger brother steals his Red Bull and his bro buddies taunt him as they embark on a trip to a local bar called Parrots. After a snow-shoveling mishap, he finds himself in a doctor''s waiting room and learns the crusty old guy in the chair across from him is Canadian journalism legend Seymour Tobin. Tobin is played by Al Pacino in what amounts to a slightly extended cameo; Pacino handles the role in the mode he used when he interrogated Hank Azaria in 'Heat.' You keep expecting him to say things like 'I''ve got a GREAT LEDE!' But the script, by director Bryan Buckley, never accommodates him in this respect. Instead, he offers pearls such as 'You read too much. F**k more girls instead.' After looking at Bahadur''s writing, he offers, 'You''re not the second coming of Hunter S. Thompson.'

There''s an interesting subtext in this movie. Despite its ostensible mission to shed some life on Somali culture and the precarious situation of its democracy, the movie is really all about a white guy trying to earn cultural currency in an era when what he represents is on an ever-more hurried wane. Late in the movie, when Jay is introduced to Somalia''s president, that man jokes 'You are the next Bob Woodward?' and Jay replies that he always identified more with Carl Bernstein. Jay''s aspirations constantly take him into the past, a past that really IS dead, and getting more dead. The cool journalistic customer chronicling the end of colonialism has less and less place in a world that''s ever more post colonial. There is no hope for a journalistic groundbreaker of the present or future: it is only the recent past that contains viable models.

This is part of the movie''s problem. Aside from it being another how-I-made-out-in-an-'exotic'-locale narrative. The film means for us to delight in Jay''s flouting of conventions. When the little boy who''s befriended him spots the attractive wife of a local kingpin from out of Jay''s window, Jay exclaims, 'You''re a good wingman, Assad,' and we are meant to be charmed. The movie does contain some good acting work, mostly from the actors portraying Somali characters; Barkhad Abdi is engaging as Abdi, who guides Jay after he first touches down and advises him to not take up CBS News'' offer of $1,000.00 to anyone who can get hostage footage from a Somali ship. Speaking of which, in one of the movie''s most ill-advised bravura touches, the 'piracy' stuff is mostly confined to scenes in which Jay and whoever he''s trying to inveigle for information get high on shared khat (a flowering plant native to Africa that causes a speedy euphoria). So they''ll be chewing on khat and talking, and boom, Notorious B.I.G.''s 'Hypnotize' comes on the soundtrack and high-seas

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

November Criminals


This misbegotten movie, an ever-uneasy hybrid of teen angst tale and whodunit, begins with its hero/narrator Addison (Ansel Elgort) recounting his mom''s death over misty-watercolored-memories home video footage. 'I guess I''ve gotten pretty good at pretending to be okay,' Addison tells us. And that''s … fine, for a character we as yet have no real reason to be concerned about.

Back in Addison''s current day-to-day reality: he''s a high-school senior, hyper intellectual, supposedly, and his best friend Phoebe (Chloe Grace Moretz), is the cool girl. Chatting about their impending college days in a car, Addison complains, 'I feel like you somehow see me as sexually neutral.' Much to his own (and honestly, my own) surprise, Phoebe reacts to this by proposing a friends-with-benefits mutual de-virginizing. Hey! But first, a stop at a coffee shop in which it is briefly established that Addison has an African-American friend, Kevin (Jared Kemp), even more hyper-intellectual than Addison (in their brief chat Kevin chides Addison for not yet having read James Baldwin). As Addison and Phoebe consummate their consummation in an under-white-sheets scene, a low-energy retread of a bit from Baz Luhrmann''s 'William Shakespeare''s Romeo+Juliet,' a guy on a motorcycle comes to the coffee shop and kills Keith. 

A shattered Addison goes into detective mode, worrying his dad (David Strathairn), annoying Phoebe''s mom (Catherine Keener) and prompting the school principal (Terry Kinney) to suspend him. Addison''s exploration of Washington D.C.''s drug underworld is depicted in dicey, racist ways. When Addison, with Phoebe in tow, shows up at a drug den, its ostensible manager Bo looks Phoebe over and asks Addison if the girl is a present for him. Yeah, sure, Bo is a bad guy, but even as the portrayal of a bad guy this is a rank cliché right out of D.W. Griffith.

'November Criminals' is based on a 2010 novel by Sam Munson. According to reviews, in the book, Addison''s braininess was conveyed by digressions in which the character expounded at length on Latin, Virgil, anti-Semitism, and more. Here Addison (himself a pot dealer in the book, but squeaky clean in that respect for the purposes of the movie) is supposed to be considered smart because of his anachronistic love of David Bowie. I presume this whittling down of the character to a single trait is the work of director Sacha Gervasi, who revised a script originally done by Steven Knight, who''s not a perfect screenwriter but who has largely been proven to know better than to build personalities out of pop-culture referents. In any event, all of the personages in this slight movie are relatively one-note. It''s a shame that actors as searching and scrupulous as Strathairn and Keener are so ill-used. Elgort seems at sea; as youthful as he looks, he hasn''t a real clue about acting 'high-school.' Moretz is appealing as always, although there''s not much for her to do other than look up pleadingly at Elgort, who''s way taller. If you''re ever hungry for a 12th grade whodunit, Rian Johnson's 'Brick' remains your best entertainment value. 

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 08, 2017

Big Sonia


Leah Warshawski has an extraordinary family member she''d like you to meet—her Holocaust-surviving, tailor business-owning, public speaking, gefilte fish-cooking grandmother, Sonia. In one way or the other, Sonia might inspire you to focus on what you have right now at this moment. Your family, your passions, or even your freedom. Over the course of 'Big Sonia,' we see her interact with family members, young students and prisoners and witness the spiritual impression that she makes. As co-directed by Warshawski and Todd Soliday, this loving tribute of a documentary essentially aims to expand Sonia''s audience. 

The film starts with her in the present, as the 30-year owner of a beloved tailor shop in a mall that has long been abandoned, and as a public speaker, who shares with audiences of all ages (students, inmates in particular) her stories about surviving three death camps during the Holocaust. She''s also a great grandmother (grandiose might be a better word) in a massive family she is the center of. As we see her nowadays with her big hair, dynamic color outfits and penchant for animal print, her life is filled with as much pizazz and love as the sadness and trauma in her past, which is expressed through talking head interviews and articulated by effective animated sequences of death camps. In those moments, Sonia often seems to look away from the interviewer, holding back tears revisiting memories about losing family members and being beaten during the Holocaust, but providing a stoic example of the human spirit. 

It''s no small feat to contain an entire life inside a documentary, but 'Big Sonia' aims for that, at the clear detriment to its pacing. We get a lot of family background, a few redundant notes on how she''s the single plant in the dead garden of a mall, and even an extended scene about her buying fish. It doesn''t help that the doc can be unfocused when showing all of her different roles, in which the broad objective of simply sharing Sonia with us, and making sure we understand how great she is, runs extremely thin. Feeling like a director''s cut that would play best for people who already know her, 'Big Sonia' is a feature that could have very likely made a deeper impact with the succinctness of a short film.

But 'Big Sonia' has a special power in documenting the active influence she has on so many people, whether they have known Sonia for their whole lives or over the course of just one speaking session. The strongest scenes of the documentary involve seeing others share with her, and us, the ways they identify with Sonia''s pains about family and her way of choosing love at the end of such horror. 'It''s hard for a good person to understand,' she tells a group of students. The same goes for a sequence later in which she talks to a quiet room of male inmates about her experience in the death camps, detailing atrocities by one person to another, beyond their comprehension. She leaves them with a perspective on forgiveness that could come from very few other human beings, and it makes for impacting yet unfussy moments in documentary filmmaking. 

'Big Sonia' seems to have the same goals as a few other docs (the recent 'Destination Unknown' documents numerous Holocaust survival stories), yet it has a prevailing intimacy. In the interviews that express how Sonia has influenced her family—showing how trauma goes beyond a first generation, in particular—it features moments a documentary by an outsider may not have gotten, or with the same warmth. Such a passage is when Warshawski''s father, Morrie, reads a poem he wrote a long time ago about Sonia but had forgotten

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 07, 2017

'L.A. Noire' Stands as Formative Chapter in Video Game History


When Rockstar Games released 'L.A. Noire' in 2011, The Guardian wrote, ''Ever since it first worked out how to assemble pixels so that they resembled something more recognisable than aliens, the games industry has dreamed of creating one thing above all else—a game that is indistinguishable from a film, except that you can control the lead character. With 'L.A. Noire,' it just might, finally, have found the embodiment of that particular holy grail.' 

Arriving after the interactive film that was 2010's masterful 'Heavy Rain,' 'L.A. Noire' offered a new kind of video game, something that felt closer to film than we had ever seen previously. With blatant cinematic references, recognizable performers, and linear storytelling, 'L.A. Noire' was, for better or worse, as close to film as video games had been to that point. And its importance to the current era of gaming is even clearer now, six years later, as the game has been released for the Nintendo Switch, where it plays better than ever before.

'L.A. Noire' takes place in Los Angeles, of course, in 1947. You play Cole Phelps, beautifully motion-captured by Aaron Staton of 'Mad Men,' who starts as a low-level cop in the city of angels but works his way up distinguished detective, hustling the increasingly-crowded case docket of the vice squad. The story of the game borrows heavily from famous cop film noirs like 'The Naked City,' 'Chinatown,' and 'L.A. Confidential,' and the developers even used overhead shots of the city in 1947 to try and get the architecture of their open world vision of L.A. as accurate as possible. Gaming moves so quickly that some of the visual and gameplay elements of 'L.A. Noire' already looks dated, but that''s a more forgivable flaw on the Switch than say a PS4 Pro, where one expects 4K visuals. Coming on the heels of the masterpieces 'Red Dead Redemption' and aformentioned 'Heavy Rain,' 'L.A. Noire' felt like a bit of a letdown in 2011. But it actually plays better now on the Switch than it did back, its inconsistencies and visual flaws easier to forgive both on the platform and through the lens of nostalgia.

What''s so interesting about 'L.A. Noire' with the benefit of hindsight is how closely and blatantly tied to the world of film the game seems. Some video game developers and even hardcore fans of the medium try to disassociate the two, but we began covering video games here on RogerEbert.com this year because of how increasingly tied the formats feel. And it''s curious to see 'L.A. Noire' as one of those building blocks that led to deeply cinematic games like 'The Last of Us' and 'Uncharted 4: A Thief''s End.' This was the first game to actually be included in the Tribeca Film Festival, at which an extended preview was played for audiences and then gameplay unfolded like a feature film. I''m sure some cinema purists scoffed at the idea of watching someone else play a video game at a film festival, but it''s easier to see that less as a stunt now and part of an evolution in both forms. Video games owe more to film than ever before and film has certainly cribbed from successful video game franchises. Playing 'L.A. Noire' in 2017 reminds one of these connections, ones we hope to explore more in the upcoming video game year and beyond. 

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 07, 2017

A figure skating champion gives high marks to 'I, Tonya'


We re-watched the scene over and over again, frame by frame, analyzing every subtle detail as if it were the Zapruder film.

Tonya Harding glides backward on the ice on her left foot, gaining momentum to set up for one of her trademark, powerhouse jumps. The announcer calling the figure skating competition tells us Harding is about to do a lutz. But wait—just as she''s reaching back to launch her petite frame into the air, the weight on her foot shifts slightly from the outside edge of her blade to the inside edge.

That''s not a lutz at all. That''s a flip.

It''s the kind of detail the average viewer wouldn''t notice while watching the darkly comic biopic 'I, Tonya.' But it''s exactly the kind of thing that catches the eye of a real-life figure skating champion.

Nicholas LaRoche won the 2002 men''s junior national championship—the second-highest level of competition in the United States—at age 18. Now, at 34, he''s a highly sought-after coach in Southern California for both competitive figure skaters and hockey players hoping to improve their speed and power. (Full disclosure: My 8-year-old son has been one of his hockey students.)

Besides being an elegant skater and dedicated coach, LaRoche is also a hilariously opinionated guy. So I knew he''d be the perfect person to watch Craig Gillespie''s film with me to analyze how accurately it depicts the sport to which he''s devoted his life. That''s exactly what we did on a Sunday night over a bottle of red wine alongside his longtime partner, who''s also a former figure skater.

Turns out, LaRoche learned a thing or two from Margot Robbie''s acclaimed performance as the disgraced skating star: 'I respect Tonya a lot more now because the image that was portrayed my whole life was very derogatory, and watching from the movie, what she lived and went through makes sense,' he said. 'It makes me look at her differently.'

Given the abusive home life Harding endured—first with her cruel and demanding mother (Allison Janney), later with the volatile husband who caused her downfall, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan)—it was amazing she could get out on the ice and skate for years at such an elite level, LaRoche said.

'Skating is hard enough. And it''s so stressful. And you get one shot, you know, and in that one shot it''s do or die. You make it or break it,' he said. 'I have a very different respect level.'

LaRoche, who was just 10 years old and starting out as a skater when Harding achieved infamy for her tangential role in the 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, also gained an appreciation for Harding''s athleticism from watching 'I, Tonya.' He said she 'jumped like a man … strong, confident and powerful.'

'She could have competed against a man in that Olympics. Honestly. To do a triple axel? There''s four ladies in the United States to ever do that. It''s incredible,' he said. 'When she skated, she owned it. It was hers. And it throws my mind in a loop watching this whole scenario because I''m like: ‘Why? You''re so good.'''

That notorious leg-whacking landed Harding with a lifetime ban

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 07, 2017

I, Tonya


You probably haven''t thought about Tonya Harding much recently. Truly, why would you? The Olympic figure skater reached the height of her fame nearly a quarter century ago for something that didn''t even happen on the ice: the notorious attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, orchestrated by Harding''s then-husband, Jeff Gillooly, just before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.

Even though Harding wasn''t personally involved in the infamous, injurious leg-whacking, she may as well have been, her reputation and career were so irreparably damaged. She became a punchline, her name alone providing a bitter shorthand for scandal.

All of which makes 'I, Tonya' such a wonder. Not only will it make you think about Tonya Harding again, it will make you do so with unexpected sympathy. It will make you feel for her, deeply, for the abuse and pain she''s suffered for so much of her life. Director Craig Gillespie pulls off what would seem to be an impossible high-wire act: He''s made a movie that''s affectionately mocking—of this theatrical sport, of the idiots who surrounded Harding, of this hideous moment in fashion and pop culture—without actually mocking Harding herself.

Steven Rogers'' script shows great kindness and emotional charity for this wounded figure, even as it tells her story through a whirlwind of unreliable narrators. It''s 'GoodFellas' on ice—darkly comic and often just plain dark, but always breathtakingly alive. Despite the colorful glitz and cheese of the figure-skating setting, 'I, Tonya' has an unmistakably tumultuous air from the very start. And at the center of the storm is Margot Robbie in the performance of a lifetime as Harding.

Robbie has steadily shown keen insight in the roles she''s chosen, a hunger for the challenge of meaty material and a clear drive to prove she''s so much more than just a beautiful face. Whether it''s as the va-va-voomy siren of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (which put her on the map), the smooth scam artist of 'Focus,' the bat-wielding bad-ass Harley Quinn in 'Suicide Squad' or the noble frontier woman of 'Z for Zachariah,' Robbie has dazzled us with her versatility, even as she''s consistently held us with her charismatic screen presence. Here, she''s got the requisite swagger of an athlete at the top of her sport (and even learned to skate for the part), but it''s tinged with sadness as we the see the low sense of self-worth buried underneath—the result of years of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of her cruel mother.

Allison Janney absolutely tears it up as the profane, chain-smoking LaVona Harding, constantly insulting Tonya and messing with her mind in the name of making her a champion. It''s a showy, scenery-chewing performance but it''s not one-note; Janney brings an undercurrent of sorrow to the part in revealing LaVona''s twisted methodology.

But Tonya was doomed never to receive an enthusiastic embrace from the figure skating elite because she and her mother didn''t fit their superficial, socioeconomic ideals. That''s an element of Harding''s story that 'I, Tonya' depicts incisively; it''s one of the key components to her tragic downfall, but it also makes her story relatable beyond the insular world of figure skating. Growing up poor in Portland, Oregon, with her frizzy ponytail and poofy, homemade costumes, Harding struggled to look the part of the pristine ice queen—something Kerrigan achieved effortlessly. Even though Harding was an extraordinarily athletic female skat

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 06, 2017

Blu-ray Review: Criterion's '100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012'


When it was announced a few months ago that the Criterion Collection, the home video company dedicated to presenting the most important and culturally significant films from around the world, was going to be putting out a massive box set dedicated to chronicling the history of the modern Olympic Games, my reaction was more skeptical than anything else. Granted, my personal interest in the Olympics in general has admittedly never been exceptionally high—the only events that I ever try to catch are curling and women''s soccer—but I failed to see how such a set could possibly appeal to anyone other than the kind of Olympic obsessives who record as many events as they possibly can and then spend the years between competitions rewatching them (my brother, in other words.) And yet, having gone through the mammoth '100 Years Of Olympic Films: 1912-2012,' I have to admit that Criterion has succeeded by producing a huge, always fascinating package that not only presents viewers with a collection of some of the most famous moments of athletic prowess ever seen but also offers an eye-opening look at how both the Olympics and cinema would evolve over the course of a century.

Just the basic stats surrounding this package are enough to blow the minds of most viewers. The set offers no fewer than 53 films chronicling 41 editions of the Olympic Games that are spread out over 32 Blu-rays or 43 DVDs, making it the largest single collection in Criterion''s history. The set is the culmination of a 20-year-long project dedicated to preserving the official Olympic films, an effort that would involve digging through archives, studios and libraries throughout the world for the various films, either the original camera negatives or first-generation intermediates in most cases. Once acquired, they were all restored, with scratches and other flaws digitally removed, and scanned at either 2K or 4K resolution. ('Olympic Glory,' a chronicle of the 1998 Nagano Winter Games that was originally presented in IMAX, was given an 8K scan.) For the films that were made during the silent era, new scores were created by composers Maud Nelissen, Donald Sosin and Frido ter Beek to accompany them. More information on the entire restoration project is included in the 216-page hardcover book that accompanies the set and which also includes a critical overview of the films by Peter Cowie. a letter from IOC President Thomas Bach and hundreds of photographs covering the entire history of the Games. 

Watching the films allows viewers to once again experience some of the most legendary moments in athletic history. 'The Olympic Games in Paris 1924' gives us a glimpse of British runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, whose gold medal-winning triumphs at the games would later be celebrated in the Oscar-winning 'Chariots of Fire' (1981). 'Olympia,' Leni Riefenstahl''s two-part epic look at the 1936 competition in Berlin, presents Jesse Owens'' track-and-field triumphs that were all the sweeter for occurring right under the nose of Adolph Hitler. Skier Jean-Claude Killy''s domination of the 1968 Games in Grenoble is a focal point of the two films '13 Days in France' and 'Snows of Grenoble.' Of course, arguably the most famous Olympic moment of all time—the U.S. hockey teams shocking upset victory over the theoretically superior Soviet team during the semifinals in Lake Placid in 1980—is the high point of 'Olympic Spirit.' For fans of the Olympics, these moments are practically etched in the mind but since these films oftentimes utilize footage different from what is usually seen in highlight reels, watching these pres

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 05, 2017

SyFy's 'Happy!' Dances on Razor's Edge Between Entertaining and Annoying


SyFy''s 'Happy!' is an abrasive antidote to your typical bit of holiday cheer. At times, it''s almost desperate in its desire to shock, and mistaking insanity for wit. At other times, it''s clever and twisted in ways that could become addictive for the right audience, preferably one at least partially intoxicated. Like its arguably insane protagonist, the show struggles to find its footing over the two episodes sent to press, but it''s certainly unlike anything else on television, and it''s propelled over narrative and tonal speedbumps by the talents of its two stars, one of whom just happens to be voicing an imaginary blue unicorn.

Based on Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson''s graphic novel, 'Happy!' stars the multi-talented Christopher Meloni (more in 'Wet Hot American Summer' mode than 'Law & Order: SVU') as Nick Sax, a suicidal, homicidal, maniacal ex-cop who happens to be a hitman now. In the series premiere, Sax undergoes two major events. First, he''s contracted for a hit that ends up having a fourth victim when he was only hired for three, and that extra guy passes along a piece of information that suddenly makes Sax a valuable asset for a cabal of New York villains, including one played memorably by Ritchie Coster (an ace character actor seen recently on 'Billions' and 'True Detective') and an even-crazier one played by the great Patrick Fischler ('Twin Peak: The Return'). Second, he starts seeing a flying blue unicorn named Happy, voiced by the singular Patton Oswalt. Happy needs Sax''s help finding a missing girl—you see Happy was the urchin''s imaginary friend and now he''s come to the only man who can find her.

'Happy!' is a little bit of 'Bad Santa,' a little bit of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,' and a little bit of 'Harvey,' and it pushes the boundaries of taste and décor in ways that may startle regular viewers of SyFy. Prepare yourself for geysers of blood, jokes about pee fetishes, a man dressed as Santa who kidnaps children, an imaginary unicorn on a cocaine bender, and more things I''m not even sure I can print here. The first two episodes were directed by Brian Taylor, half the team behind 'Crank' and the director of the upcoming 'Mom and Dad,' featuring a homicidal Nicolas Cage performance that''s going to be a part of your favorite memes in 2018. Subtlety is not exactly on the menu here, and the non-stop aggressive tone can be numbing at times.

What keeps 'Happy!' from completely plummeting over the edge from abrasive to annoying is the consistently committed performances from Meloni and Oswalt. The former sells world-weary well and his comedy has always verged on the edge of insanity. Nick Sax is not that far removed from his work as Gene in 'Wet Hot American Summer,' and it''s fun to see him go so dark and so fearless. Oswalt''s work is just vocal, but he''s got just the right blend of innocence and naivete for a child''s imaginary friend now hurled into a world of sex, guns and money.

After only two episodes, it''s really hard to see what 'Happy!' is going to look like in January or February, so I withhold judgment on the series as a whole. It''s the kind of project that dances so interestingly on the edge of abrasiveness that one bad storytelling turn could send it off the dark side forever. And yet there''s something almost thrilling about watching Morrison, Taylor, Meloni, Oswalt, and the rest of the gang keep this crazy top spinning for two episodes. I''m curious enough to see if

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 05, 2017

Short Films in Focus: 'The 12 Days of Christmas: A Tale of Avian Misery'


'The 12 Days of Christmas' has always been one of the more absurd of all Christmas carols and yet people sing it as if this form of gift giving has always been a regular occurrence. Imagine if someone''s true love actually did track down all these cows and birds and fashion them as presents, without once giving thought to the logistics of having to care for them in a suitable environment. That''s the approach Craig Ainsley and Ben White take with their very funny animated short 'The 12 Days of Christmas: A Tale of Avian Misery.'

The film continues a trend that is normally associated with documentary shorts, that of the narrator reflecting on a past experience and the animators giving a visual interpretation, except that, obviously, this is fiction. Giving the piece a nice anchor is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who narrates it with great down-to-earth charm as someone who has just experienced the worst relationship ever and is now only beginning to see the humor in it. With every maid-a-milking or geese-a-laying that shows up at her doorstep, Waller-Bridge brings just the right amount of alarm and horror while also laughing at the absurdity of it all. The authorities are of no help. Amnesty International ignore her. She is stuck with these constantly pooping feathered friends for good. 

The animation here is simple and devoid of obvious Christmas imagery. Instead of going for the obvious reds and greens, the animators here keep things neutral, giving a nice, icy blue texture to the piece that makes the story all the more horrifying. Imagine having to deal with leaping Lords a pond full of geese in the dead of winter. 

So, where does the song come from? I looked up the origins and found a comprehensive explanation on Snopes, the leading authority on all contemporary and historical myths and legends. In the end, the tune is just a collection of catchy turns of phrase that make for a maddening carol that works more as a memory test than a jingle. I''ll always prefer Bob and Doug McKenzie''s version, but this short film provides a nice visual for anyone who ever has to hear this song during the holiday season. 

How did this idea come about?

The idea came from thinking about that song. It was Christmas and it was playing on TV and I was like 'that guy sounds like a lunatic.' I wrote it into a short story first. Then, next Christmas, we had the idea of animating it for the Anomaly Christmas project. Anomaly does one every year.

Were there any primary influences with regards to the animation?

Primarily we chose animation because it would be impossible to shoot that amount of animals. Cows climbing stairs. Hens everywhere. It''d be a nightmare. In the story we treat the song seriously. What would happen if you gave someone all those gifts in real life? So we wanted the illustration to have a sophistication to it, not too big and cartoon-y. The first image I shared with our illustrator, Rob Hunter, was a still from the street scene in the original '101 Dalmatians.' Though there''s a cacophony of animals and feces and craziness, we wanted it to look beautiful.  

How did the casting of Phoebe Waller-Bridge come about?

We''d seen 'Fleabag' and thought she was great. That show was one of the best of last year. The final episode punched me right in the face. And, weirdly, when I read back over the '12 Days' script, it sounded like her. Some how. So we sent it to her and she liked

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 05, 2017

Preserving the Mystery: Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter on 'The Disaster Artist'


Closure is a remedy so rarely granted in life. We often look to films to help us make sense of experiences for which there are no easy answers, and the best works of cinematic art have the potential to heal emotional wounds for far less money than a psychiatric session. Eight years ago, I was struggling to get over my break-up with my girlfriend, Lisa (yes, she tore me apart), and two key films helped me to let go of the relationship. Marc Webb''s '(500) Days of Summer' gave me hope for the future, while Tommy Wiseau''s 'The Room' allowed me to laugh at the past by inadvertently illuminating the absurdity of wallowing in one''s own self-pity. 

So it feels only appropriate that the screenwriters of '(500) Days of Summer,' Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, have now adapted The Disaster Artist, Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell''s wonderful book about the making of Wiseau''s cult phenomenon, into a feature film. With its laughable tale of a pure-hearted simpleton, Johnny (Wiseau), driven to suicidal depression by the infidelity of his 'future wife,' Lisa, 'The Room' presents the male ego stripped of all sophistication and competence. As director and star of 'The Disaster Artist,' James Franco attempts to get at the heart of Wiseau''s friendship with Sestero, who played the role of Johnny''s best friend (and Lisa''s secret lover), Mark. 

Soon after winning the Best Adapted Screenplay prize from the National Board of Review, Weber and Neustadter spoke with RogerEbert.com at Emporium Chicago''s ingeniously designed 'The Room' pop-up bar. The space selected for the interview was an exact replica of Johnny''s living room, complete with framed pictures of spoons on the mantle. In the following conversation, the acclaimed writing partners discuss the more troubling aspects of Wiseau''s picture, their hope that 'The Disaster Artist' will instill more empathy in 'Room' fans, and the inherent dishonesty of 'happily ever after.'

Considering that '(500) Days of Summer' was based off of Scott''s own break-up, how were you both able to explore the subject matter with enough objectivity to avoid making a one-sided misogynistic mess like 'The Room'?

Scott Neustadter: (SN): That''s a very good question. 

Michael H. Weber (MW): Having two people helped. I was there to tell him, 'You''re being a crazy person right now.' [laughs]

SN: Yes, that was said a lot. [laughs] My ex actually got engaged when we were in the middle of writing the film and it ended up defining the direction of the script. The female character wants the same thing that the male character wants, he just isn''t the person she''s looking for. She isn''t the villain of the story. I had been feeling angry and bitter about the relationship, but that revelation helped me to let go of it. 

MH: Until that happened, we were kicking around the idea of a 'chase in the rain' ending that left open the possibility of the couple getting back together, rather than acknowledging that their time together was a passing phase in their lives. 

SN: We essentially had a 205-page first act until we realized, 'Oh that''s the story we''re telling here.'

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 04, 2017

Netflix's 'The Crown' Remains a Treasure in Second Season


Some things are more valuable than the finest jewels and most lavish homes, more prized than the richest collection of fine art and any closet overflowing with couture could ever be. The second season of Peter Morgan''s 'The Crown' suggests a few such things: family, honesty, privacy, loyalty, and love. But there''s something else as well, and the excellent ten episodes contained within this season make that one thing perfectly clear: a great actor is nearly priceless, but an ensemble full of them is worth all the jewels in the family vault, and then some.

Premiering in its entirety this Friday, December 8th, 'The Crown' is a treasure, all by itself. Netflix''s famously lavish series is a sumptuous visual delight, its richness both a treat for the eyes and a requirement for the story being told. The best money spent, however, is whatever the hell they decided to pay Claire Foy. As with the first season of 'The Crown,' Foy leads an ensemble that''s uniformly excellent, the performances as rich when the players come to the foreground as when they take a step back. But even in a cast this good, where everyone is excellent and absolutely no one phones it in, Foy stands out. This is an actor that does more without moving her face than many do over the course of hours, telling a story as much through silence, stillness, and perhaps—if extravagance is required—the tightening of the jaw or a rigidity in the shoulders. She plays Elizabeth II, and she plays The Crown, an entity that defines Elizabeth even as she wishes to reject all it requires.

In the second season of 'The Crown,' it requires a lot. The story resumes with a wary Elizabeth and a disaffected and frustrated Philip (Matt Smith, good in his first go-round and great in his second) tentatively and tenderly reconnecting after the events of the first season. A wrench is thrown in the works quite quickly, something often true in life and pretty much always true in fiction, and suddenly distance and coldness loom large and warmth and tenderness feel very far away. It''s a pattern that repeats, as Elizabeth connects before recoiling from or being rebuffed by everyone from her sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby, also great) to Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour). She''s a woman who is never just a woman. She is always a role, a job, a duty and a symbol as well. As the world changes and her relationships change along with it, both the woman and the symbol struggle to keep up.

Clearly, 'The Crown' doesn''t come close to experiencing a second-season slump. In some ways, it tops the highs achieved in its initial run, building on the already-complex relationships between Elizabeth, Philip, Margaret, the Queen Mother, and other members of the Royal Family and their retinue to create something even more layered and rich. In others, it falters a bit. In the first season, Elizabeth''s visits with Winston Churchill provided a throughline, linking together the disparate (if thematically related) stories offered in each hour with one changing relationship. Here, no such thread emerges, perhaps because the two Prime Ministers with whom Elizabeth sits (played by Jeremy Northam and Anton Lesser) loom far less large, both in history and in presence. Their fecklessness contrasts sharply with th

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 04, 2017

Book Review: 'Justice League: The Art of the Film'


What should a $40 coffee table book about a controversial blockbuster do? Should it be expected to illuminate how a troubled production made it through tragedy and controversy to get to the big screen or should it be more of a piece of fan service, designed to forget all those dramas? Titan Books releases lavish, art-filled volumes that have the ability to enhance a fan''s appreciation of a major motion picture instead of just feeling like a glossy tie-in. Their books on 'Alien: Covenant' and 'Wonder Woman' this summer offered details about the craft of those two films that made it easier to appreciate their accomplishments. They added to the film''s legacies instead of just walking beside them or serving as an afterthought.

But is that even possible for a film like 'Justice League,' which has widely been considered a disappointment and went through more ups and downs during its filmmaking than most entire franchises? From the rescue job done by Joss Whedon to Henry Cavill''s mustache to the tonal changes reportedly ordered by Warner Bros., a true companion piece could illuminate how a production even survives such things to make it to multiplexes. But books like this aren''t really designed to do that. They''re often produced in conjunction with a movie, unable to take into account shifting sands or public reaction. And so 'Justice League: The Art of the Film' doesn''t bother with missing mustaches. In fact, it doesn''t bother with much at all.

The denser volumes in this book genre offer detailed essays on production but 'Justice League: The Art of the Film' contains fewer printed words than I''ve ever seen in a release like this. It is quite literally a picture book, and a lot of those pictures are readily available stills that fans could find online. It is made up almost entirely of images, with the occasional quote from a member of the technical team. Of course, the most interesting pages include details of the production design, whether they be Daily Planet posters you probably missed or sketches for the design of Aquaman''s very detailed look. Still, even this material feels stretched thin. One page contains three shots of Aquaman at different angles. It''s the same shot.

But maybe that''s what fans of 'Justice League' really want—stills, sketches, and other bits of fan service designed to remind them of what they love about Zack Snyder''s movie and distract them from the stories of money lost by Warner Bros. and other behind-the-scenes drama. You could say there''s plenty of fan service online, but there has also been a great deal of the opposite—we live in an era of transparent productions for major films like this. And when people find 'Justice League: The Art of the Film' under their Christmas tree, they want to put all of that aside and enjoy their memories or a beloved movie. Just make sure it''s beloved a great deal before you add this one to your holiday shopping list. 

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 04, 2017

My Happy Family


Cinema has always been adept at conveying truths that we can''t quite articulate in everyday life. Our feelings tend to be less baffling when contextualized by our surrounding reality, which is quite often taken for granted. It''s not uncommon in Georgian society for generations of family members to live together in the same space, inhabiting their roles as parents and children long after they have outgrown them. Whereas women have to prove themselves on a daily basis, men can get away with practically anything, save for physical abuse or excessive drinking. It is the woman''s duty, above all, to maintain the happiness of her family through her peaceful and self-sacrificing nature. No wonder Manana (Ia Shugliashvili), the 52-year-old heroine of Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross'' 'My Happy Family,' cannot wait to escape.

Even before the film''s initial fade-in, Manana has been silently entertaining the notion of moving away. The first scene follows her on a tour of the apartment where she will eventually move alone, much to the utter bewilderment of her family. Time and again, Manana is asked whether she had been struck by her husband, Soso (Merab Ninidze). Surely she must''ve been hurt in order for such drastic measures to be taken. 'I won''t explain it to anyone,' insists Manana, while assuring them that she was not a victim of violence. Perhaps she truly believes this to be the case, since the abuse she has suffered has been of a much more insidious variety. 

Though her disapproving loved ones insist that their actions are made out of love, they stem from a deep-seated need for control. Manana is expected to suppress her own needs even while she''s being celebrated on her birthday. So determined is Soso to keep up the strained image of his family''s contentment that he invites numerous guests to her birthday party, despite the fact that his wife had explicitly asked for a quiet evening at home. As soon as crowds stream through the door, Manana snaps on the cheery façade of a dutiful host until they are no longer in view, allowing her face to collapse in exhaustion. 

This endless night turns out to be the final straw, though it''s not until she returns to her day job as a teacher that she acquires the bravery to act on her desires. When she asks a 17-year-old student, Tatia (Lika Babluani), why she has missed so many classes, the young woman informs her that she was divorcing her husband. It wasn''t a result of abuse—they simply wanted different things—but Tatia cautions Manana that as soon as she makes up her mind about what she wants in life, she must commit to that decision. Otherwise, she will forever remain a prisoner. It''s a sublime instance of a student offering her teacher a much-needed lesson that never feels patronizing, and that is in part due to the inspired casting of Babluani. 

She made her astonishing screen debut in Ekvtimishvili and Gross'' first co-directorial effort, 2013''s 'In Bloom,' a film that serves as a fitting companion piece to 'My Happy Mother.' Set in 1992, a year after Georgia received its independence from the Soviet Union, 'In Bloom' centered on Eka (Babluani), a teenager distressed by the man aggressively pursuing her close friend, Natia (Marian Bokeria). After he and his pals grab Natia against her will and drive off with her in a car, Eka hurls expletives at a crowd of indifferent witnesses until an old man socks her in the face. This leads to one of the most exhilarating sequences I''ve ever seen, in which Eka—her face freshly bruised and her movement loosened by alcohol—performs a mesmerizing dance at Natia''s wedding, affirming that she will remain a force of strength in her friend''s life reg

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 02, 2017

60 Minutes on: 'Get Out'




As soon as I heard that Jordan Peele's debut feature had the plot of an edgy indie romantic comedy but was in fact 'a horror movie,' I knew it was going to be terrific. There was just no way it couldn't be. I rarely feel this confident about a film sight-unseen, but as a longtime fan of Peele, it seemed clear that he knew exactly what his movie was about a deep level. 'A black man meets his white girlfriend's parents for the first time; it's a horror movie' is the kind of pitch that might earn a delighted 'I'm down, brother!' chuckle from the father of said white girlfriend, a brain surgeon played by Bradley Whitford who tells the hero Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) that he would vote for Obama a third time if he could. But for all its laughs, both subtle and broad—and for all its evident familiarity with crowd-pleasing yet grimly clever '80s horror comedies like 'They Live!', 'Fright Night,' 'Reanimator,' 'The People Under the Stairs,' 'The Hidden,' 'Child's Play' and other movies that people in their 30s and 40s saw multiple times at dollar theaters and drive-ins and on cable—'Get Out' is no joke. It made all as much money as it did because everyone who saw it, including the ones who only went because everyone else they knew had already seen it, instinctively sensed that it was observing this moment in American history and capturing it, not just for posterity's sake or for perverse entertainment value but as monument and  warning.


It's a Great American Movie in the vein of the Great American Novels that used to be published in the middle part of the 20th century when reading novels was a common and desirable thing to do, not a niche activity that marked Americans as 'elites,' though of course most of the people writing Great American Novels were white men, and somehow the movie makes us aware of that, too, incidentally, by rooting us almost entirely in the point-of-view of a young black man whose singular and utterly absurd and of-course-non-representative experience (cult leaders! body theft! slave auctions!) somehow illuminates the condition of blackness in 2017. 'Get Out' is as much a corrosive social satire and a despairing, laugh-so-you-don't-cry lament as it is a one-stop-shopping fright flick, stuffed to bursting with paranoid visions, Freud-and-Jung saturated nightmare landscapes, abductions and tortures and revenge killings, and freakish medical procedures that fuse the Tuskegee Experiment, Jeffrey Dahmer's basement, the Ludovico Technique from 'A Clockwork Orange,' and the mournfully cosmic finale of 'Being John Malkovich.' If Luis Bunuel had somehow ended up working for Cannon Films during the Reagan years, he might've made something in this vein, although not as raucously entertaining, and not with these inside-America cultural references.


So many of the horror spoofs on Peele's great sketch comedy series 'Key & Peele'—a collaboration with Keegan Michael Key and director Peter Atencio—were not just certifiably nerdy send-ups of particular films, but great approximations of the very essence of the thing being spoofed. Baby Forest Whitaker, one of my favorite Peele characters, is funny at first because he's so random, but after a while

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

Thumbnails Special Edition: Is Our President the Predator-in-Chief?


Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and informative. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety.

In light of the sexual harassment allegations taking down powerful men on a daily basis, the most recent examples including Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, I have decided to devote this special edition of Thumbnails to coverage of the equally disturbing conduct of President Trump.

Acclaimed actor Michael Shannon in his recent interview with Nick Allen, about his new film, 'The Shape of Water,' spoke eloquently about the appalling 'double standard' regarding our president. 'Harvey Weinstein is out here in front of a firing squad right now, and Donald Trump''s still President of the United States of America,' said Shannon. 'Donald Trump is on tape claiming the exact same thing. So what the hell is going on?'

I share Shannon's bewilderment at how our president has managed to evade any sense of guilt while cheering on the downfall of other offenders (only if they're liberal, of course; he continues to support Roy Moore, who has been accused of being a sexual predator and pedophile).

 —Chaz Ebert

1.  'What Donald Trump has done for women': Essential commentary from CNN's Michael D'Antonio.


'The example set by Trump's accusers seemed to ignite a firestorm of accusations from courageous women who have been sexually harassed by famous and powerful men. The list of men accused since then includes, among others, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Senator Al Franken, journalist Mark Halperin, TV host Charlie Rose, and Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for a US Senate seat in Alabama. Some of those men denied some of the allegations against them, but all except Moore acknowledged some inappropriate behavior. The accusations have inspired a movement known as #MeToo and a long-neglected national conversation about how men bully women. Moore is the only one in the list above who has been accused of molesting a child (a 14-year-old girl) and pursuing relationships with other teens. He is also the only one who categorically denies all of the multiple claims made against him. Here he has something in common with the President. Throughout his life Trump has made a habit of denying any charge of wrongdoing and then attacking his accusers. (This is what he calls 'counterpunching.') While Republican senators expressed their revulsion at the prospect of Moore joining them on Capitol Hill, Trump has voiced his support explaining, ‘He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen.'' In Trump's experience, denial has been enough for him to avoid accountability and thus it seems to him that anyone who admits to wrongdoing in the absence of irrefutable proof is a fool. Indeed, his arrogance is so enormous that even in cases where the proof is abundant, as in the ‘Access Hollywood'' case, and he's copped to the facts, it's possible to reverse course and deny the truth.'

2. 

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

The Unloved, Part 48: 'Margaret'


Today is the fourth anniversary of 'The Unloved,' so I wanted to do something huge, something different, something unwieldy, because those are my favourite kinds of film. The ones that seem bigger than the medium will allow them to be, that creep into your unconscious and stay there to pop out and remind you of their power when you least expect them.

I saw 'Margaret' like many people in it''s slightly butchered theatrical cut in 2011 and even with its soul cut out I could tell this movie was different. It was loud and relentless and hard to watch at times. Cruel, even. But the more I watched the more I realized it was trying to show all of life in a city that''s come to represent one half of American life, the fast thinking liberals with more conscience than they know with what to do. 

'Margaret' hasn''t left me for longer than a few days since then. I found myself furious at its negative press. I got so wound up at Keith Phipps'' C grade that I may have gotten an AV Club account to yell at him about it. Keith is a national treasure and a friend and it seems ridiculous that I was so offended by anyone''s review of anything but that''s how passionately I felt about this movie. I felt like people were criticizing the act of self actualization, of growing up. That whomever I was about to become was somehow under attack because older folks weren''t taking this movie about growth seriously. Needless to say, I was a fun 21-year-old.

But every part of this difficult film has stayed with me. From Jeannie Berlin''s Star showcase to Anna Paquin''s believably stunted young woman to Allison Janey''s Movie infecting one scene performance. Her howls of confusion stick to the rest of the movie like blood stains. She is remarkable in this movie and the fact that she may finally get an academy award fills me with great delight. I used to watch her every week on 'The West Wing.' She''s one of the greats.

But frankly there isn''t a bad moment of performance in this movie, which utilizes poetry, literature, opera and theatre to help us understand the experience of being alive. This movie is a terrifying gift, one of the great films of my lifetime. So I tried to do something a little more formally adventurous this time out, something that fits its understanding of our collective footprint. This film understands that we''re all living our lives elbow to elbow, that everyone''s pain matters. I''ll never forget realizing how generous this movie is despite it centering on one of the most self centered women in film history. But Lonergan believes that even the most self absorbed of us can find other people and let them in, can pump the brakes on our self destruction, can remember to love before it''s too late. Margaret is one tough watch but it''s also one of the most rewarding. 

I wanted to use this film''s sprawling scope as a way to say thank you to everyone who has watched this series, who has recommended it to a friend, who has given one of these movies a chance based on my recommendation. I''ll never forget the elation I felt when Matt called me at work that day in 2013 and said to me he liked my idea for an essay on 'Alien³' and 'would I be making this into a series?' Working for this site as long as I''ve been allowed to is a dream come true. Meeting Chaz for the first time, covering New York Film Festival for this site, having Matt and Brian Tallerico say nice things about my writing. All of these things make me glad to be alive, glad that Cinema was my first love. Standing alongside such a fantastic array of writers helping to ensure Roger Ebert''s legacy is an honor beyond description.



Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

The Disaster Artist


Tommy Wiseau''s cult hit 'The Room' leaves the audience with massive questions. Not just about pictures of spoons, strange dialogue, or the star''s penchant for smashing things, but curiosities of a more baffling nature: From what mind and soul did this entirely serious production come from? How could an artistic statement like this exist? 

The enigma of Wiseau is only partly addressed by James Franco''s 'The Disaster Artist'. The movie treats his lack of self-awareness and transparent loneliness as a sweet novelty instead of treating him as a complicated human being, someone worthy of empathy. Though sporadically inspired, especially when trying to call back to the magic of filmmaking in 'The Room,' Franco''s film suggests that it''s easier to laugh at a clown than to attempt to understand why they''re in the make-up. 

The simplistic approach starts with the relationship between Wiseau and his friend/actor/line-producer Greg Sestero, a hollow center for this story. Wiseau (James Franco) is a shadowy man of ambiguous older age and accent origin, with a bombastic presence in acting classes (in one bit, he just repeats 'Stella!' a la Marlon Brando but with none of the context). He''s discovered, or rather noticed, by a real-life reflection of what Wiseau is not: an all-American, conventionally handsome rising actor named Greg (Dave Franco). They are united by their common desire to become famous actors and they eventually move to Los Angeles, where Greg is more successful in getting auditions than Tommy. 

Played from its opening whimsical guitar score as a sweet story about friends, the dynamic of a real-life, Apatow-brand bromance is prominent, and makes for a few funny bonding moments, like when Tommy has Greg loudly rehearse a scene in a restaurant as a ridiculous gesture of fearlessness. But it thins out as the story goes along, especially as Greg appears so obedient, and unquestioning to the eccentric Tommy, only to break that type of friendship focus when he meets Amber (Alison Brie). Their friendship has a crucial lack of stakes, despite its unique nature, and the legendary film project that eventually comes between them. 

And then, 'the masterpiece.' In an effort to be noticed in Hollywood, Tommy decides to make his own movie (which he compares to the likes of Tennessee Williams), and disregards his complete inexperience as a film director. He buys cameras instead of renting them, creates a set of an alley way instead of just shooting in an alley, films on both 35mm and HD at the same time, and that''s before they even start actual production. Greg goes along with it, smiling through the process, and Tommy becomes a clueless clown to a crew that are, in the movie''s comedic context, all his straight men. 

Working from a script that adapts 'The Disaster Artist' for its goofy moments and less for its heart or perspective, the story grabs select tidbits from the real-life sets, creating can''t-believe-it''s-true comedy, with recognizable faces (Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Jacki Weaver, Josh Hutcherson, Ari Graynor, Nathan Fielder) placed in the vision of Wiseau through Franco''s recreation. And the second half of the movie is funny in large part because 'The Room' is funny. So, it''s a special boost wh

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

The Other Side of Hope


The Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki films are often marked by a particular kind of humor. As I''ve been saying since the early 1990s, he really can put the 'dead' in 'deadpan.' This was particularly true in such ‘90s pictures as 'The Match Factory Girl' and 'I Hired A Contract Killer,' tales of privation and depression that treated these subjects with both gravity and acknowledgement of an overall absurdity in the human condition. Mr. Kaurismäki''s protagonists are often drink-soaked sad sacks who achieve a kind of sodden resignation. In cases where they''re not these types, they''re the Leningrad Cowboys, an unlikely 'rock' 'band' that carries on inexorably despite their ineptitude and the bemused semi-indifference of nearly every audience they encounter.

In recent years, though, the director has found something to believe in, and this has added a humanist dimension to his pictures that is both pleasing and moving. His 2011 'Le Havre' was about a shoe-shiner in the title French port who takes in a young African teen who came on a container ship. Aside from being an excellent illustration of the Christian proverb about loving thy neighbor, it was also a warm and funny film standing up for the larger principle of immigration.

So too is his latest feature, 'The Other Side of Hope.' Because it''s set in his native Finland, I suppose this picture has more of what I''ll call Akian tropes than 'Le Havre' did. One of its protagonists, Wikström, drives around in a sleek, oversized black car of a vintage unknown to me, in keeping with the director''s insistence of never depicting a post-1962 auto. Wikström is a man at loose ends, having dissolved his marriage and subsequently won a small fortune at poker. He decides to invest that cash in a small bar/restaurant that''s very down at its heels, and whose staff is highly ambivalent about the quality of attention that comes with a new owner. In the meantime, Khaled, a Syrian refugee who''s come in via a coal ship (his emergence on docking is an unforgettable image) is being processed through Finland''s supposedly humane immigration system. But once he''s very politely rejected, he goes on the lam. Not selfishly—he is merely desperate to get word from his sister in Syria while he is in Europe, and to arrange her passage out of Syria from the safety of Helsinki.

Once Khaled and Wikström''s paths cross for the second time (their first encounter is when Wikström almost runs him down in that aforementioned car), hope is revived, and comedy blossoms, as when Wikström tries to transform his place into a sushi restaurant. But Khaled''s quest is made difficult by belligerent racist skinheads. By the time Khaled is actually put in touch with his sister, the race against time is even more critical.

The movie expands upon Kaurismäki''s central mode of observation and delivers some trenchant, upsetting truths about the immigration experience from the side of those seeking asylum. While in the detaining center awaiting a ruling on his case, Khaled is told by a friend not to appear too cheerful, as people will take him for mentally disturbed. Of course a serious mien may lead some to react with fear. As for the skinheads, they consistently get Khaled''s ethnicity wrong as they spew hate at him.

Kaurismäki makes these bigots look ridiculous, but he also takes very seriously the damage they do, and the movie''s finale takes that into account. Its suggestive title lingers at the end, leaving a question mark that the viewer will have to turn over personally, and that''s a good thing. 

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

Loveless


In mid-November I spent a week in St. Petersburg, Russia, as part of an international group of critics invited to participate in the first FIPRESCI Colloquium on Russian Cinema, which involved screenings of new Russian films and discussions with their makers. While Russia''s two best-known directors, Andrey Zvyagintsev and Alexander Sokurov, were not a part of the event, they were referred to often, and not always admiringly. At one point, a skeptical Russian asked me if Zvyagintsev was so esteemed in the West because his films portrayed Russia in such a negative light.

I replied that I heard the same question when I started visiting Iran in the 1990s. Some conservative Iranians felt sure directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf won acclaim at Cannes and similar festivals because their films showed poor people and crumbling villages rather than the sleek, prosperous Tehran on view in other films. I told them that I thought these directors'' renown had a lot less to do with their subjects than with their strong, humanistic authorial voices and distinctive stylistic sophistication.

The same might be said of Zvyagintsev, who leapt onto the world stage when his first film, 'The Return,' won the Golden Lion at Venice and whose last film, 'Leviathan,' won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Film. Like the Iranians before him, the Russian auteur became a favorite at top-tier film festivals with movies whose seriousness of purpose and stylistic élan positioned him squarely in the modernist tradition of international art films.

Indeed, Zvyagintsev compares his new film 'Loveless,' a searing drama about a couple going through a bitter divorce, with Ingmar Bergman''s 'Scenes from a Marriage.' For films offering highly critical looks at modern life and its inmates, there are of course many other directors one could also reference, ranging from Michelangelo Antonioni to Michael Haneke.

Yet Antonioni and Haneke both moved from country to country and their works could be seen as dealing more with modernity or the prosperous West than with one particular country. Not so with Zvyagintsev. In a way that recalls R.W. Fassbinder''s adversarial relationship with Germany, his films are very much critiques of Russia, its soul and contemporary discontents.

For that reason, 'Loveless' can be seen not just as a drama of marital dysfunction but as a fierce metaphorical indictment of the society that produced its characters. Its story is easily sketched in. The marriage of Boris (Alexey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) has already collapsed when we first see them. They''re trying to sell their apartment, where she is still living with their 12-year-old son, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). The boy is the big casualty in this battle, and no wonder. When husband and wife argue over the kid''s future, it''s clear that neither of them wants him. He reportedly spends a lot of his time crying.

In the story''s first hour, Zvyagintsev looks at the lives that Boris and Zhenya live apart from each other, each with a different work situation and new partners. Then, abruptly, Alyosha is reported missing. The story''s second hour is a procedural about the search for the boy, which involves a coordinated effort by the authorities and teams of volunteers but no reconcilia

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

Voyeur


Superficially, Gay Talese and Gerald Foos would seem to have nothing in common besides their age.

The former is a veteran, celebrated New York writer: the impeccably dressed and highly influential pioneer of New Journalism. The latter is a former Colorado motel owner: a hot-tempered, heavyset man who lives in paranoid suburban seclusion.

But as they come together as interviewer and subject in the documentary 'Voyeur,' it becomes clear how many traits they share—and how their decades-long connection reveals uncomfortable truths about both themselves and human nature.

Directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury spent years with these men, documenting their unlikely friendship and mutual fascination. Both Talese and Foos are raconteurs with larger-than-life senses of self. Both are obsessive collectors who have crammed their basements with tidily catalogued items: Talese of the articles, photographs, notes and memorabilia from a life spent in journalism; Foos of the baseball cards, coins, stamps and dolls he hopes will make him a fortune one day.

And both are fascinated with sex—Foos to such an extent that he bought a motel in Aurora, Colorado, in the late 1960s, built a hidden observation platform in the attic above the rooms and spied on his guests through the vents. With his dyed hair and beard and oversized, smoked eyeglasses, Foos explains in richly resonant tones that he knows he''ll be viewed as a pervert and a peeping Tom for his activities: 'I''m prepared for that,' he says defiantly. But he didn''t want to die without sharing his 'findings.'

Ostensibly, Foos was invading his customers'' privacy in the name of social research, methodically documenting their activities and proclivities to gain a comprehensive understanding of an evolving, Vietnam-era America. He had grandiose notions of functioning as an all-knowing, all-seeing Godlike figure, albeit for the greater good.

Mostly, though, he wanted to watch people getting it on.

Talese, the famed author of the groundbreaking 1980 book about sex in America, 'Thy Neighbor''s Wife,' was understandably fascinated (and a little disturbed) when Foos contacted him to tell his story and share his journals. 'I''m a voyeur myself,' Talese says in explaining why he was a natural to tell Foos'' story. And that''s exactly what he did in the April 11, 2016, issue of The New Yorker magazine as a precursor to the release of a non-fiction book on the subject, 'The Voyeur''s Motel,' three months later.

But something happened during those three months that changed everything.

You may have heard or read about the credibility questions that arose after the New Yorker piece came out, ones Talese himself acknowledged high up in the lengthy article: 'Could such a man be a reliable source?' he wondered, given that he was the lone voice and his claims were outrageous. In that case, the film''s broad strokes won''t come as a complete surprise. Whether or not you''re familiar with this story, though, 'Voyeur' takes us on a roller coaster ride of deviant behavior and delicate egos, as two men who''d forged an unexpected and intimate bond suddenly find themselves questioning each other over the nature of the truth.

The term 'Fake News' gets bandied about a lot these days—mostly by the President of the United States, unfortunately. But 'Voyeur' explores the lengths to which seasoned reporters can go to get a tough story right and still end up being duped, as well as the ethical and emotional entanglements that can spring from investigative journalism. The documentary is fascinating in an admittedly prurient way for the first half or so, then shifts and becomes compelling in an even larger, more rel

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

The Tribes of Palos Verdes


Based on a 1997 novel by Joy Nicholson, 'The Tribes of Palos Verdes' immediately tips the viewer off with the faux-sociology of its blandly ironic title. The story of an affluent family breaking apart after a move from Michigan to the tony coastal town in Los Angeles County, the movie is narrated by the family''s female teen, Medina (Maika Monroe). We first see her swimming in the family''s new, blue-upon-blue swimming pool. Explaining her close bond with her brother, she flatly intones in voiceover, 'That may sound f—ked up, but it''s true. It''s a twin thing.' The prospect of spending the next two hours seeing the world through this character''s eyes is not, at this point, pleasing.

Meet the Masons: Dad Phi (Justin Kirk) is an innovative cardiologist hoping to make bank and achieve medical celeb status in the new environs. Mom Sandy (Jennifer Garner) is a reluctant Californian, stressed out by all the phonies (the couple''s first night out is at  the Friendly Hills Country Club—get it? It''s not really friendly) and the 'incessant' crashing of the waves down the hill. Brother Jim (Cody Fern) is preoccupied with popularity, which comes easy to him. Medina is searching for her own groove, which does not concern itself with popularity. High school seen through her eyes is a farrago of distracted vulgarity; all the shots of her classmates show them engaged in simulating sexual activity in distasteful ways. She buys a surfboard from a fatboy neighbor who''s sitting on a few; he charges her a look at her bare breasts. She convinces Jim that surf''s up for the both of them. The sport provides relief for a little while. As Medina puts it: 'For the first time in a long time, we felt like we were in our treehouse again.'

A chaos of stars filled the night skies of Palos Verdes, but everything else was regulated,' Medina observes. Not regulated: the emotions of the uniformly unhappy folk in her orbit. Phil falls for the real-estate agent who sold the Masons their home (Alicia Silverstone, not given much to do). Backing out of family life, he leaves Sandy unmoored. Jim, manipulated by his mom into pretending to accept a role as the 'man of the house' flips out and starts drugging heavily.

This is a world in which nobody is interested in, let alone able to, understand the suffering of those closest to them. In a scene early in the movie, an upset Sandy starts going at her full-body girdle with scissors. In the middle of this action, which would be disturbing to any human being who witnessed is, Medina walks in and nonchalantly asks 'Mom? I need you to sign something for school.' Because that''s how strong her anomie is.

This is pretty standard stuff, and it''s not always rendered too convincingly. Directing brothers Brendan and Emmett Malone have a few tricksy formal tics up their sleeves—long-held overhead views of their characters, shots that begin completely out of focus and are brought into focus within seconds—meant to convey how much is 'off' in the world where the tennis-club wives wear matching skirts like uniforms.

The middle of the movie softens up, as Medina meets and finds an affinity with Adrian (Noah Silver), the son of Phil''s new squeeze. Medina is snooty at first, but Adrian''s sincerity wins her over, and the movie offers up some sequences of unforced lyricism before bringing the hammer down on the family tragedy.

The acting is good all around but that, too, improves in the quieter moments. Monroe, best known for her work in 'It Follows,' is tough and c

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

The Dancer


When it comes to pioneers of modern choreography, most are familiar with Isadora Duncan. The American-born dancer, who embodied Greek ideals and a bohemian lifestyle, was memorably portrayed by an Oscar-nominated Vanessa Redgrave in the 1968 biopic, 'Isadora.' She would die in 1927 after one of her signature scarves caught in the wheel spokes of an open-air car and caused her to be ejected. That tragic variation of being hung by one''s own petard helped to solidify her status as a terpsichorean legend.

But the name Loie Fuller, the subject of 'The Dancer' who was an early supporter of Duncan, did not ring a bell—at least, for me. Born Mary-Louise in 1862, she was a Chicago-area native and innovator of a brand of free-form performance art known as Serpentine Dance. Her act consisted of a costume designed from massive swatches of silk attached to long bamboo rods being whirled and twirled while Fuller circled about on an elevated stage. She also invented multi-hued dramatic lighting techniques, many now commonplace, to enhance the undulations of her voluminous fabric.

However, after checking out the famous Art Nouveau posters by Jules Cheret that stylized Fuller''s allure and then realizing that the silent-era filmmakers the Lumiere brothers had featured Fuller copycats in their work, I realized I did know of the existence of the so-called 'La Danseuse de la Belle Epoque.'

This unique artist, who packs plenty of opportunities for visual pizzazz, seems long overdue for big-screen treatment. And given that Fuller outwardly was more of a muscular tomboy than ethereal waif,  first-time director Stephanie Di Giusto at least has gone outside the box when casting her lead. Her choice? A French singer-songwriter turned actress known as Soko, whose bobbed brunette hair and distinctly off-beat features suggest a not-unappealing blend of Erin Moran of 'Happy Days' fame and Bjork.

But despite an on-screen claim that her movie is based on a true story, Di Giusto''s script plays fast and loose with many of the facts of Fuller''s history—none more so than the Old West prologue with her gold-prospecting father that involves both cattle rustling and recited excerpts of Oscar Wilde''s play 'Salome.' When Dad is shot dead in an outdoor bathtub, Fuller high-tails it to Brooklyn and takes up residence with her Temperance-warrior mother (a wasted Amanda Plummer). That is when she decides to try stage acting. When her too-large costume begins to droop mid-scene, Fuller simply lifts her skirt and spins around. The audience approves, and suddenly a dance sensation is created and Loie is born.

Soon she will seek her fortune in Paris and become a sensation at the Folies-Bergere. But not before she meets her prime benefactor and semi-consort, the vampire-like composite character of Count Louis Dorsay (Gaspard Ulliel), who likes his rooms dark as tombs, his sexual partners for hire and his mood-altering ether readily available. Most of Ulliel and Soko''s scenes together tend to devolve into silent staring contests, including those at his mansion in the City of Lights. The property serves as both Fuller''s new home and her rehearsal space where she trains a chorus line of tunic-garbed young followers.

This is where the youthful Duncan comes in as Fuller''s seductive new student, slinky and sylph-like, whose style is more formal than intuitive. Before you can say 'All About Eve,' Duncan—embodied by a teenage Lily-Rose Depp (the minx-like spawn of Johnny Depp and his ex, Vanessa Pa

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

The New Radical


Over the past hundred years, revolutionaries have gotten more and more disappointing. Back in 1917, Vladimir Ulyanov, aka Lenin, really delivered the goods in terms of regime change. Yes, I know that the replacement of Tsarist was a disaster—I''ve read The Great Terror, and more—but, you know. Then there was Mao, and that was another spectacular overturning followed by another spectacular round of atrocities.

May 1968 yielded a revolutionary type that spawned the Green movement, a mere political party. In the U.S., Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin proved mere counterculture showmen even after they took important free-speech stances in the wake of the riots at Chicago''s Democratic National Convention.

In the 21st century, the ostensible revolutionary has ostensibly loosed himself from the shackles of right or left wing ideology—although as we have seen, or shall see, a lot of these figures are fascists in anarchist clothing. Directed by Adam Bhala Lough, 'The New Radical' begins with a profile of Cody Wilson, a Millennial who invented a 3D-printable gun he cheekily called 'The Liberator.'

On a clip from some show on Glenn Beck''s media platform 'The Blaze,' Beck asks the youthful, occasionally beardo-ish bro Wilson, 'Are you a hero or a villain?' To which Wilson replies, 'Good question.' Much is made throughout the movie of Wilson''s prodigious intellect. 'My mother and father met in the same county,' he wistfully recalls, before revealing his father was, besides being a pastor, a professor of hermeneutics. Wilson cites John Milton''s Arepoditica as a touchstone text in the development of his PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, and tells cool stories containing passages like 'Exam week was here and the State Department shut me down.' He casually drops apercus like 'Information should be free. And it wants to be.' He shares heaviness like 'Wikileaks was about showing that the Internet is the only game in town.' Faced again with the hero-or-villain question, he says, 'I don''t like the dichotomy. Whose conception? What paradigm?'

There''s nothing intellectually intimidating, or even impressive, about Wilson. The fancy word for his rhetorical practice is 'sophistry.' The unfancy word for it is 'bulls**t.' He''s what Tucker Max would have been had Max inexplicably decided that firearms and anarchism were more fun than various combinations of women and booze. When he complains that the attentions that his work has garnered have upset his parents, the only reasonable response is, 'too bad, bro.' When some talking head lawyer evinces concern that if convicted of violating certain regulations, Wilson would end up in a less than pleasant prison, one says, 'GOOD.' (As of this writing he walks the earth a free man, and a co-founder of a website called 'Hatreon.')

This movie is reasonably well directed by Adam Bhala Lough, but it''s far too dependent on and indulgent of its subjects, who also include Amir Taaki, a mouthy British Bitcoin evangelical who teams up with Wilson on a project called 'Dark Wallet' (these guys and their projects are way too dependent on comic book imagery). There''s a lot of talking head footage of Julian Assange, who, we ought not forget, is holed up in an embassy because of his disinclination to face rape charges. Every time his oily voice came over the soundtrack, I felt sick. The movie also falls back on a lot of boogity-boogity docu-clichés. Skittery editing, ironic music cues, that sort of thing. While he pointedly intercuts Wilson''s whining with accounts of mass shootings over the United States contemporaneous with Wilson''s battle to keep the governme

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Dec 01, 2017

24 Hours to Live


One of the most joyous elements of the success of 'John Wick' was the way in which that film used Keanu Reeves'' particular on-screen presence to greatest impact. Action films often play to the strengths of their leading men from the everyman persona Bruce Willis carried into 'Die Hard' to the world-weariness of Liam Neeson in 'Taken,' and so it was with Mr. Wick, a role that felt tailormade for Reeves. However, the opposite reaction is produced while watching '24 Hours to Live,' a film that seems at odds with the grounded personality of its leading man, the wonderful Ethan Hawke. Throughout the film, you can see Hawke trying to bring resonance and truth to a movie that is plotted like a 'Crank' sequel and has dialogue that sounds like it was written by a teenage boy. Watching the actor fight against the deep flaws of the film he''s in is almost more interesting than the plot itself. At least it''s more entertaining.

Hawke plays Travis Conrad, a man introduced fishing with his father-in-law (Rutger Hauer), talking about his soul. Moments later, they''re pouring out the ashes of Travis'' wife and son, who died a year ago that day. The manipulative device of Conrad''s grief over losing his family will return again and again, and never be anything more than a cheap screenwriting trick. And it''s not even a well-done one. Torn from any sort of family loyalty, Conrad should be a loose cannon, but Hawke and director Brian Smrz never quite get there, making him more grief-stricken than out-for-vengeance, even when he finds out he''s got, wait for it, '24 Hours to Live.'

You see, this is no ordinary assassin film. After Conrad is called in for one last assignment, for which he''ll be paid $2 million, he ends up getting plugged a couple times in the street. He wakes up on an operating table with a gasp, told that the government has invented a new technology that can basically resurrect anyone with a catch: they''ve got 24 hours. And to add a bit of cinematic flair to that countdown, they literally put a ticking clock in the patient''s arm. So, the nefarious Powers That Be wake Conrad to get a piece of vital information from him that he learned just before getting shot. Of course, they don''t consider that one of their best assets may not just want to wait out the next 23:55 in the operating room, and Conrad breaks out, turns the tables, and comes after the people who brought him back to life.

A little bit of 'Crank' and a little bit of 'John Wick' with Ethan Hawke? Sounds like a great idea. How could a movie with an assassin with a death timer in his arm be so dull? The main problem is the aforementioned disconnect between actor and project. Hawke brings gravity to his roles, and this movie needed insanity. He''s such a relatable, humane actor, but this kind of part requires something hollower—a cog in the B-movie machine. Whenever Hawke tries to sell it believably, we can see the plot holes and manipulative tricks. Believe it or not, most of this doesn''t make sense (particularly the fact that they wake Conrad to get information on a location that likely would have been moved after a street shoot-out, but whatever). I wish I could say that '24 Hours to Live' works best if you just shut off your brain and stop asking questions, but the point is that it''s never fun enough for that to work. Suspension of disbelief in B-movie action requires a degree of joyous, rollercoaster, unhinged filmmaking. '24 Hours to Live' is too boring to not ask questions.

Here''s where we could pick apa

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 30, 2017

Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: November 30, 2017


5 NEW TO NETFLIX

'The Boss Baby'
'Gates of Heaven'
'Piranha'
'The Thin Blue Line'
'Vernon, Florida'



6 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

'The Defiant Ones'

HBO's 4-part documentary series is a gift for music fans of, well, any genre. While it might at first seem like it's aimed more exclusively at fans of hip-hop or rap given its focus on Dr. Dre, the film spends just as much time on the legendary Jimmy Iovine, and makes the case that both men influenced ALL music and even pop culture, not just the specific genres in which they worked. While this piece often approaches hagiography (it too quickly speeds past some of Dre's dark side and puts both men on Mt. Rushmore of music history) and really becomes a disappointing commercial for Beats Headphones for about half an hour, there is SO much material here that it's impossible not to submit to its charms. It's one of the most star-packed pieces of documentary filmmaking I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. To be extra blunt, if you have a music lover in your family, this is a great holiday season gift.

Buy it here 

Special Features
none



'Good Time'

Can we finally put aside any nonsene that the stars of 'Twilight' should still be judged based on that arguably silly teen property? I cannot believe how many people still look at me funny when I speak highly of the acting ability of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. What is it going to take, people?!?! Stewart should have demolished all preconceptions of her range with 'Certain Women,' 'Clouds of Sils Maria,' and 'Personal Shopper.' And look at Pattinson's 2017, which includes the highly-acclaimed 'The Lost City of Z' and this gem, a propulsive bit of Lumet-esque energy from the Safdie brothers. Not only are they two of the best of their generation, but this film specifically contains Pattinson's best work, something that reminded me of Robert De Niro in 'Mean Streets' and Al Pacino in 'Dog Day Afternoon.' Yep, he's THAT good. Don't miss it.

Buy it here 

Special Features
The Pure and the Damned: Good Time
Music Video
Audio Commentary with Directors Josh and Benny Safdie, Producer Sebastian Bear-McClard, Actress Taliah Lennice Webster, and Actor

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 30, 2017

The Shape of Water


In James Whale's 1935 film 'The Bride of Frankenstein,' the monster (Boris Karloff) says mournfully, 'Alone: bad. Friend: good!' That's what Guillermo del Toro's latest film 'The Shape of Water' is all about, the loneliness of those born before their time, born different. 'The Shape of Water' doesn't cohere into the fairy tale promised by the dreamy opening. It makes its points with a jackhammer, wielding symbols in blaring neon. The mood of swooning romanticism is silly or moving, depending on your perspective. (I found it to be both.) The film starts in a wavering green underwater world, with a woman floating in what looks like a drowned Atlantis. The image is otherworldly, magical, and Alexandre Desplat's score is wistful and bittersweet. Richard Jenkins narrates, asking helplessly, 'If I spoke about it, what would I tell you' about what happened to the 'princess without a voice'?

The 'princess without a voice' turns out to be the mute Eliza (Sally Hawkins), who mops floors in the cavernous underground tunnels of a Baltimore-based corporation (the word OCCAM—as in razor?—in towering letters over the entrance). Working alongside Eliza is Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who provides constant running commentary through the day, responding to Eliza's sign language with a torrent of words. The year is 1962, the background is the space race and the Cold War. The head honcho at the company is a sadist racist named Strickland (Michael Shannon), who swaggers around carrying a cattle prod (which he calls an 'Alabama howdee-do'). Whatever is done at the corporation is top secret, and everyone is paranoid about the Russians, especially once 'The Asset' arrives in a portable tank. The Asset is the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), discovered in the Amazon, once worshiped as a god and now contained in a tank, enduring occasional torture via Strickland's howdee-do. The scientist Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) pleads for mercy on the creature's behalf. The Amphibian Man should be studied, not destroyed.

Meanwhile, Eliza is drawn to the 'monster,' and begins a secret campaign to gain his trust. She offers him hard-boiled eggs. She plays him Benny Goodman records. She teaches him sign language. The courtship sequence is the most successful in the film, calling to mind the stunning first half of 'The Black Stallion' when the shipwrecked boy attempts to tame the wild horse, or the early sequences of 'E.T.' when the child and the alien start to communicate. Monster movie references abound throughout 'Shape of Water': 'King Kong,' 'Creature from the Black Lagoon,' 'Starman,' and—most of all—Jean Cocteau's 'Beauty and the Beast,' with one scene in particular an explicit homage.

Production designer Paul D. Austerberry has a field day, creating multiple atmospherically rich worlds, so real you can smell the dank rot in those basement corridors. Eliza's apartment is green-tinted, with green bathroom tiles, green water in the tub. (Green, as we are told multiple times in different contexts, is 'the future.') Even more symbolically, her apartment hovers over a huge movie palace, and she lives amidst the echoes of the fantasy world below. Strickland's suburban home is a psychotic 'Mad Men' set, so yellowy-bright it's clearly not 'the future' but the delusional complacent past. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen creates a clammy wet mood, windows streaming and swirlin

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 30, 2017

Book Excerpt: Guillermo del Toro's 'The Devil's Backbone' by Matt Zoller Seitz & Simon Abrams


RogerEbert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz and film critic Simon Abrams have just released a new book, Guillermo del Toro's 'The Devil's Backbone.' Below is an excerpt from the new release, which can be purchased here.


38


M: I want to talk to you about the opening of the movie. I actually wrote down the sequence of shots here. First there''s a shot of the entrance of the basement—

G: The door.

M: The door, right. Then comes the falling bomb, then Santi on the floor, and Jaime covering his mouth, and Santi sinking behind him by the water. Then the title image of the fetus with the devil''s backbone floating in amber. You have a lot of metaphors at play here, and that bomb is the biggest one of all.

G: That''s exactly what it is. The bomb is omnipresent in the middle of the courtyard much like the war, you know? Like, it just says, 'The war is here,' you know? And it''s watching over you. I wanted it to be almost a mother figure to the kids. They plant flowers around it and put ribbons on it, like it''s a fertility goddess, a totemic figure. But I wanted it to look over them the whole time. If you have a bomb in your backyard, unexploded—which I''ve never had, but [laughs]—basically it becomes the north of your entire geography. You know? Whether you sleep close to or far from the bomb, or you cross the bomb to go to the well, it''s always there at the center. But even if you live with a bomb, it''s still a bomb. That''s the essence of a civil war. You live with a conflict and it can become matter-of-fact, everyday, but you''re still living with this bomb at home.

M: I like to think of that bomb as Chekhov''s bomb, except it doesn''t go off.

G: Never! [Laughs.] It''s not funny in a comedy way, but it is ironic that everything explodes except the bomb.

M: That''s true! [Laughs.] There is an explosion, but it''s not the bomb. There is no victory. Some people get out alive; that''s the only victory. 

M: Yes—and, connecting the political to the personal for a second, the bomb is a resonant image for all the major characters. When we meet them, there is latent potential—sometimes destructive, sometimes not—that hasn''t been tapped yet, and it''s going to be tapped as the story goes on. 

G: You see Carlos put his ear to the bomb. 

M: Yes. And the first time we see Carlos is right after he has been orphaned. He''s just lost his parents. This is a kid who''s in shock. This is a kid who''s depressed and withdrawn.  In essence, Santi is him.

G: He is.

M: This is a story about Carlos coming back from the dead, which is the story of grief and trauma for anybody who goes through it.

G: If you watch [The Devil''s Backbone] again, you''ll see that I try to give you misleading clues in the beginning. I think that every movie gets better the second time around if you love it. And sometimes you don''t understand why, but it has a pull on you and you want to see it again. Some of the movies I like most, I liked on the second and third viewing, and disliked on the first viewing, but something kept bringing me back to them.

M: Can you give an example of one of the clues?

G: The movie opens like it closes, except at the end of the movie I add one more line: 'A ghost, that''s who I am.' That''s the doctor recognizing that he''s narrating the movie—that there are two ghosts in the movie, one doing the narration, and Santi. But that line shows that Casares has made peace with his reality: This is who I am. Spain is a very haunted country, and it''s mostly haunted by th

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 29, 2017

Sundance 2018 Announces Competition, Premiere, Midnight Titles and More


Today the powers that be in Park City dropped one of the most exciting press releases in the film business—a first glimpse at the next year's Sundance line-up, and by the looks of it, their full roster. Special highlights from the 110 independent films announced include directorial projects by the likes of Gus Van Sant, Reed Morano, Paul Dano, Desiree Akhavan, Idris Elba, Laura Nix, Robert Greene, Lauren Greenfield, Bo Burnham, Qasim Basir, Debra Granik, and more. And of course, the star power is strong with these many curious looking titles, as this line-up features the latest from Kristen Stewart, Carey Mulligan, John Cho, Joaquin Phoenix, Meagan Good, Hilary Swank, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Kiersey Clemons, Will Forte, Colin Firth, Maggie Gyllenhaal and so much more.  

The official press release is below. Be sure to follow our coverage as we venture back to Park City in January for what will surely be another spectacular Sundance Film Festival. 

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Presenting the world premieres of 16 narrative feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Fruitvale Station, Patti Cake$, Swiss Army Man and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

American Animals / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bart Layton, Producers: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski) — The unbelievable but mostly true story of four young men who mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history. Cast: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier. World Premiere

BLAZE / U.S.A. (Director: Ethan Hawke, Screenwriters: Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen, Producers: Jake Seal, John Sloss, Ryan Hawke, Ethan Hawke) — A reimagining of the life and times of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas Outlaw Music movement; he gave up paradise for the sake of a song. Cast: Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawka

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 29, 2017

Wonder Wheel


Given that it was very well received by an alarming number of colleagues when it played at the New York Film Festival in September, I''ve been trying to figure out a way that 'Wonder Wheel' can be seen as good. Turgid even in its brightness, overwritten in a way that does nothing to camoflauge its first-draft quality, jaw-droppingly overacted by all but one of its central cast members; it''s a Woody Allen disaster that elicits both a cocked head and a dropped jaw. Given that Mr. Allen''s professional approach to moviemaking most resembles a basketball player''s free-throw practice—he endeavors to make a picture once a year, no exceptions, and has been hitting that goal for decades—variability of quality is a given. But, man, this one.

'Wonder Wheel' opens with narration from Mickey, a Coney Island lifeguard played by Justin Timberlake. His tale, he tells us, takes place in Coney Island in 'the 1950s.' The disinclination to give a particular year is indicative of an overall slackness, we soon see. Although given that the movie''s ostensible theme song is the Jo Stafford recording of 'You Belong To Me,' popular music mavens can infer it takes place during or after the summer of 1952.

Mickey tells the viewer he was, aside from being a Coney Island lifeguard, a student at New York University (hmm) and an aspiring playwright. Mr. Timberlake applies his standard admirable enthusiasm to his work here, but it also appears that everything he learned about 'period' acting he picked up from watching Tim Matheson in '1941.' In any event, the story he tells at first is not his yet. Warning the viewer that he himself has a penchant for melodrama, he speaks of a family whose living quarters are smack dab in the middle of Coney Island''s fried-food and amusement-park-rides bustle. This is a variant on Alvy Singer''s joke about living right under the Cyclone, Coney Island''s famed roller coaster, in 'Annie Hall,' but here it''s played for trauma.

Matriarch Ginny (Kate Wislet), wife to oafish Humpty (Jim Belushi) and mother (from a prior marriage) to a sullen ten-year-old pyromaniac, has enough stress and disappointment in her life without the constant, headache-inducing noise. The trio''s drama—Humpty has trouble keeping off the sauce; Ginny is haunted by a past that promised romance and glory and, when she was still aspiring to be an actress, fame; Junior just can''t find enough things to set on fire—is framed within impossibly gorgeous Coney Island sunsets pouring into their domicile.

Then Mickey comes into Ginny''s life, and rekindles her passion with the kind of thing a lifeguard who is played by Justin Timberlake traditionally offers. But not before her home is rocked by the arrival of Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty''s adult daughter from his own prior marriage, whom blustery Humpty dotes on, after forgiving her for her transgression—marrying a Manhattan mobster from whom she is now on the run. Because then, as now, when you want to hide out from a criminal in Manhattan, what you do is go to Coney Island. Yes, I know, and the script contains more than one convolution of logic to explain why Carolina''s move 'makes sense.'

Mickey''s attentions, and his refinement, make it all go away. Except Mickey soon meets Carolina. She is vulnerable, and is receptive to pieces of literature he offers her, and all that. Even viewers with zero familiarity with the director''s own domestic situation and how it came to be are likely to find this plot twist of a love triangle involving a stepchild strangely off-putting. In any event, a lot of things do not end well.

At o

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 29, 2017

A Bleak Human Condition: On Atom Egoyan's 'The Sweet Hereafter'


There is one haunting monologue scene in Atom Egoyan''s 'The Sweet Hereafter,' one of the saddest films I have ever seen. One of its main characters recollects one eventful summer day he experienced a long time ago, and he vividly describes when he was on the verge of executing an emergency incision on his young baby daughter''s neck after she was bitten by some poisonous bug. While preparing himself for the worst situation, he did everything a good father can do under such a circumstance like that. Fortunately, he did not have to cut his daughter''s throat, but he only found himself losing his daughter after she grew up later. Every word coming out of his mouth is tinged with sad, bitter resignation, and he is still trying to make sense of the most painful part of his life.    

He is a middle-aged urban lawyer named Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), and his first scene in the movie shows him having a phone conversation with his daughter, who has been drifted away from him for many years as mired in drug addiction. Maybe she simply wants to have a sincere talk with her father this time, but he sticks to his detachment as dreading the worst ('I don't know who I'm talking to right now'), and that leads to another hurtful moment between them.  

Stephens has just come to a small rural town which has been devastated by a recent terrible accident. In one cold, snowy winter morning, a school bus carrying a bunch of local kids crashed into a frozen lake after skidding on an icy road, and 14 children were killed as a consequence. As many of these unfortunate kids'' parents cope with resulting anger and grief, their urge to blame whoever is responsible for the accident grows stronger, and Stephens is going to persuade some of these parents to file a class action lawsuit for damages. 

While he meets his potential clients one by one, he is presented as someone who cannot be merely defined as a righteous crusader or an opportunistic ambulance chaser. As a guy who virtually lost his child, he deeply sympathizes with his potential clients, and he wholeheartedly believes that they must get any sort of financial compensation, but he is also driven by cool professionalism. This complex human side of his is exemplified well by the scene where he succeeds in persuading a grieving couple to hire him. After patiently listening to them, he uses every bit of his sincerity and resolution for convincing them of the moral necessity of the lawsuit, but he cannot help but a little excited as he later goes outside to get a document to be signed by them.      

In the meantime, the movie frequently flashes backward and forward among its three different time points. While the 'present' part shows Stephens'' steady work process step by step, the 'past' part presents the town and its people before the accident, and the 'future' part revolves around Stephens'' accidental encounter his daughter''s childhood friend on an airplane, which, as clearly shown in the beginning, happens around 2 years after the accident.     

This non-linear narrative initially seems artificial, but, like many of Agoyan''s notable works including 'Exotica' (1995), the movie, which is based on the novel of the same name by Russell Banks, works as fluidly flowing along its own emotional narrative with precise dramatic effects. For instance, observe how Stephens'' estranged relationship with his daughter is juxtaposed with another father and daughter relationship in the film - and how these two contrasting but equally problematic relationships resonate with each other as we ge

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 28, 2017

'Get Out,' 'Call Me by Your Name' Win Big at 2017 Gotham Awards


The 2017 IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards officially kicked off the awards season yesterday night, crowning many of this year''s favorite films including 'Get Out,' Jordan Peele''s contemporary horror that tackles modern-day racism (which nearly swept the categories it was nominated for), Luca Guadagnino''s sensual gay romance/coming-of-age tale 'Call Me by Your Name,' Greta Gerwig''s semi autobiographical 'Lady Bird' and Dee Rees'' novelistic 'Mudbound.' During a long night hosted by John Cameron Mitchell where speeches weren''t played off and alcohol was free-flowing, young actors like Brooklynn Prince mingled with legendary veterans like Lois Smith, tributes including Dustin Hoffman, 'Wonderstruck' cinematographer Ed Lachman, Nicole Kidman, innovative producer Jason Blum and former Vice President Al Gore delivered spirited speeches and 'The Big Sick''s Kumail Nanjiani shared a red carpet hug with 'Call Me by Your Name''s Timothée Chalamet in nearly-matching suits. 

As the night progressed, legendary journalist Dan Rather referred to 'An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power's Al Gore, his friend of more than 40 years, as a 'get-up fighter and climate crusader.' After saluting his fellow Nashville locals Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon ('Big Little Lies was awesome,' he said enthusiastically,) Gore prescribed hope to the industry crowd that filled the vast hall at the fancy Downtown Cipriani. 'Political will itself is a renewable resource,' former VP reminded. Among the fieriest presentations of the night, Ethan Hawke saluted his friend Jason Blum as a 'silly, loyal, spontaneous and ebullient person who uses his power to empower and puts the highest value on the word friendship.' There came a time Nicole Kidman kicked off her shoes (showed up backstage barefoot) and Ed Lachman settled in a seat next to me to watch the ceremony from the comfort of the Press Room. This year, he loved Andrey Zvyagintsev''s 'Loveless' among other films, as he told me in passing.

Here are some highlights and exclusive backstage moments from a memorable night.

The zeitgeist was captured through the night.

And not just with multiple wins from 'Get Out,' which undoubtedly is among 2017''s most urgent and relevant films, and the big prize given to 'Call Me by Your Name.' The tone was set with John Cameron Mitchell''s opening monologue early on. While his delivery was mostly prickly and stiff (with jokes that didn''t quite land), his words transmitted the joint anger felt in the turbulent times of the past year. 'Everything''s unacceptable. Everything''s fucked up. We can''t read the news,' Mitchell said, adding that the present-day feels like the films of the 70s like 'Taxi Driver,' '

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 28, 2017

#316 November 28, 2017
Matt writes: With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, this year's awards season is already in full swing, with various titles vying for Oscar consideration. At RogerEbert.com, we recently reported on the nominees for the Film Independent Spirit Awards, which has often proven to be an indicator of Academy favorites. Jordan Peele's 'Get Out' emerged as a frontrunner (alongside Luca Guadagnino's 'Call Me By Your Name'), and also received numerous nominations from the NAACP Image Awards. Click here to read our critic Susan Wloszczyna's analysis of the powerhouse ensembles in this year's awards contenders. 




Trailers A Wrinkle in Time (2018). Directed by Ava DuVernay. Written by Jennifer Lee (based on the book by Madeleine L'Engle). Starring Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Synopsis: After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him. Opens in US theaters on March 9th, 2018.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (2017). Directed by Paul McGuigan. Written by Matt Greenhalgh (based on the memoir by Peter Turner). Starring Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Vanessa Redgrave. Synopsis: A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady. Opens in US theaters on December 29th, 2017.

The Final Year (2018). Directed by Greg Barker.&nb

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 27, 2017

2017 Oscar Hopefuls Have Power in Numbers


They say there is power in numbers.

That is certainly true when it comes to Hollywood''s awards season. Few things demonstrate that better than when there is a stellar ensemble cast in a movie.

Yes, a lineup of A-list stars taking turns grabbing the spotlight might impress. Think of something like 'Love Actually,' where a carousel of performers like Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Hugh Grant and Liam Neeson feel like equals as they circle about each other in intertwining storylines.

But what enriches a film even more is when lead actors get to interact with a wide array of colorful characters that, in turn, elevate a headliner''s game. Jimmy Stewart is great as George Bailey in 1946''s 'It''s a Wonderful Life,' but where would he be without Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence the Angel and Beulah Bondi as his mother? Though their parts might be smaller, their combined impact on this now-holiday perennial and Best Picture nominee is immense. 

At the recent Middleburg Film Festival in Virginia, I was overwhelmed by the number of fall films bearing Oscar hope that took full advantage of their expansive casts. Titles including 'Mudbound,' 'Novitiate,' 'Call Me by Your Name,' 'I, Tonya,' 'Darkest Hour' and 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' all impressed with their abundance of talent onscreen. This was in addition to such earlier 2017 releases as 'Get Out,' 'The Big Sick,' 'Dunkirk' and 'The Florida Project.' Waiting in the wings next month are 'The Post' [pictured above], 'The Shape of Water' and 'Phantom Thread.'

But it was 'Lady Bird,' actress Greta Gerwig''s semi-biographical solo directing debut, that most impressed me. As wonderful as Saoirse Ronan is as an obstinate Sacramento teen desperate to flee her family''s nest, I was blown away by how each and every secondary part was presented as a fully rounded individual who added layers to Ronan''s performance through their interaction.

That was no accident. When I told Gerwig, who also wrote the screenplay, how much I enjoyed each performance, from Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird''s fretful mother and Tracy Letts as her laidback father to Lois Smith as an open-minded Catholic nun and Timothee Chalamet as a high-school heartbreaker, she had this to say in our interview:        

'Because I had such amazing actors playing these people, I just wanted to feel like every single character was someone

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 27, 2017

The Monster Inside: Michael Shannon on 'The Shape of Water'


Few actors deserve their own talk show more than Michael Shannon. The legendary actor has the rock star presence of someone like Elvis (who he portrayed in last year''s 'Elvis & Nixon'), the ideological transparency of a figurehead not beholden to just playing 'nice' when promoting a project, and an active yet unfussy interest in recognizing all shades of the human soul. I''d love to see him interact with violent dictators just as much as animal trainers with baby tigers. 

That explains in part why it''s a unique pleasure to pick Shannon''s brain over the course of an interview, and why our previous interaction (talking about 2016's 'Nocturnal Animals') created some controversy. When I asked him to explain to me why he thinks Donald Trump was recently elected, Shannon reasoned, in one select passage, 'This county''s filled with ignorant jackasses. The big red dildo running through the middle of our county needs to be annexed to be its own country of moronic assholes.' The interview was then written about in other publications, and I had the strange amusement of having my name (next to his) printed in right-wing blog Breitbart. 

In co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro''s 'The Shape of Water,' Shannon embodies a type of Trumpian nightmare and creates one of the auteur darkest villains yet. His government character Strickland is an American man with a sociopathic presence in the workplace and at home, who seeks to humiliate all of those below him and appease all of those above him. Strickland''s misogyny and racism provides a key counterpoint to the wave of civil rights working through the film, but is enough to make him a horrifying monster of power from any era. He reaches a type of destiny when a gorgeous, delicate sea creature appears in the lab that Strickland is overseeing. Under specific orders, Strickland seeks to destroy it, despite its scientific worth and beauty. 

I spoke with Shannon last month about our previous interview, what he learned from working with Guillermo del Toro, his thoughts on the recent sexual harassment allegations that have come to the surface in Hollywood, and more.

Last year, I interviewed you for 'Nocturnal Animals,' and some of the comments you made about Trump voters being 'moronic assholes' was then covered in other publications, including Breitbart. I was curious as to your side of it, I don''t know if you see the ripples after such statements. 

No, I don''t. I don''t see any of it. 

[Shannon looks at the Breitbart article for roughly ten seconds] 

So they published this like I was supposed to be ashamed of what I was saying? Because it''s not really slanted that way, enough. Everything I said is right, I don''t understand. They need to make it clearer that they're criticizing me. I just read it and it''s all true. I don''t take any of it back. 

I think it''s that people would be insulted just by seeing that association. 

Well, they are stupid. People that read Breitbart are stupid. That''s like, a fact. That''s not even my opinion. That''s a fact. That Breitbart thing is hysterical. You can''t just reprint what I said, you gotta say 'convicted felon Michael Shannon,' put a slant on it. I indicted myself? They didn''t realize how fair and true it was?



Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 24, 2017

AFI Fest 2017: 'The Shape of Water' Panel with Guillermo del Toro, Sally Hawkins and more


As part of the awards campaign, before and after the AFI screening, Guillermo del Toro and his cast for 'The Shape of Water' have been giving panel presentations. If you heard del Toro talk at Ebertfest, you'll know he's a hoot, and at the Ahrya Fine Arts by Laemmle in Beverly Hills, the Sunday afternoon panel described how a creature feature became an unlikely romance (plenty of spoilers ahead).

'The Shape of Water' began fermenting in the brain of seven-year-old del Toro. As he recounted, 'Sundays were church and movies for my family.' By family, he means his extended family that includes his grandmother in Guadalajara. After church, there were either matinees or television. 'Channel six was all-day horror marathon, one after another. Most of them were Universal movies.'

Del Toro recalls the beautiful 'Julie Adams swimming above the creature' as a 'magical image.' He knew it was 'an image of love' and he 'was sure they would make love together.' He became obsessed with the creature, noting 'I started drawing that image incessantly' (and sadly revealed that all those drawings had been lost). Yet as a creature feature, 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' is really, del Toro notes, 'a home invasion movie.'

'The Shape of Water' is set in 1962 Baltimore.' Alexandre Desplat's ('The Grand Budapest Hotel') score for  has a magical, whimsical quality that recalls the 2001 'Amélie' by Yann Tiersen. The music calls to the dancer in all of us.

In the movie, Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who dreams of being underwater but wakes up to find herself on her elegant green and dark hardwood Victorian sofa. She  boils eggs, has a bath that serves as a time of sexual release and then takes half of her sandwich breakfast to her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), a freelancing commercial artist struggling to survive as color photography makes many of his skills obsolete.

Elisa rides a bus to work, getting there in time for her friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) to give her cuts at the timecard punch-in clock line. Together they work at a mysterious concrete government facility. There Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) and Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) are engaged in a battle over the future of a new 'asset,' an amphibious man (Doug Jones). Elisa surreptitiously begins to form a tentative relationship with the creature who has beautiful, large expressive eyes with a second lid and who seems to have blue lights that glow under his scales.

Now that doesn't sound anything like 'Creature from the Black Lagoon,' but del Toro was determined to right a terrible wrong and do everything different. 'You couldn't do this movie without 25 years of experience where the arrogance and experience balances,' del Toro explained.

Hawkins explained, 'For a long time I didn't quite believe it would have come to

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 24, 2017

Recap of the 2017 AFI Fest


What was happening outside the movie theaters at this year's AFI FEST 2017 was more provocative than the movies screened inside. The traditional programming contained Oscar-worthy movies as always, but the withdrawal of the festival's only world premiere movie, 'All the Money in the World,' was a wake-up call on civil rights and women.

From the first day, when Netflix's 'Mudbound' opened the festival on Thursday (Nov. 9), until the Sunday (Nov. 12) 'Molly's Game' was announced as the festival's closing gala movie, the shadow of #MeToo as a sexual harassment in the workplace movement put a damper on the usual pre-Oscar excitement. 'All the Money in the World' was withdrawn after fellow actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of making a sexual advance toward him when Rapp was 14. Spacey had played oil tycoon J. Paul Getty Sr. in the TriStarr movie about the kidnapping of grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), but was being replaced by Christopher Plummer in a race to keep the same December release date. More than one fest attendee looked toward the future when one would be able to compare the Spacey and Plummer versions.

Coincidentally, that Sunday was also the day #MeToo protestors (USA Today reported 200 to 300 but The Guardian reported thousands) peacefully demonstrated, walking from the main site of the festival, Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave. to the CNN building at Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards, chanting slogans like 'Not in pots, not in plants, keep your junk inside your pants,' and 'Harvey Weinstein is a joke, women workers just got woke.' Speakers included State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), TV journalist who made accusations against Harvey Weinstein Lauren Sivan, and #MeToo originator Tarana Burke.

The march only caused a slight disruption to the special screening of Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland's 'The Leisure Seeker' at the Egyptian. Mirren and Sutherland introduced the screening and Mirren noted the demonstration as a necessary and important conversation while wondering if it prevented some attendees from making it to the theater on time. After the movie concluded, some attendees like myself had to miss Mirren's Q&A to make the other special screening of the day: 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool,' starring Annette Bening at the TCL Chinese Theater, a brisk 10-minute walk from the Egyptian.

'The Leisure Seeker' and 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool' made a romantic double bill looking at not how love begins, but how it ends. Based on Michael Zadoorian's novel and directed by Italian Paolo Virzì—his first full English language feature, 'The Leisure Seeker' tells the story of an elderly couple, Ella and John, who embark on a cross-country journey from Boston to the Florida Keys to see the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum in Key West, a place that the husband always wanted to visit. Along the way, Ella copes with her husband's dementia, each night attempting to bolster his memories with slideshow quizzes while keeping her own dark secret.



Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 22, 2017

'Call Me by Your Name,' 'Get Out' and 'Good Time' Lead Spirit Award Nominees


Luca Guadagnino's acclaimed gay romance, 'Call Me by Your Name,' emerged as the frontrunner at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards when nominations were announced yesterday. It received six nods for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Male Lead (Timothée Chalamet), Best Supporting Male (Armie Hammer), Best Cinematography (Sayombhu Mukdeeprom) and Best Editing (Walter Fasano). Followed close behind is Jordan Peele's timely hit, 'Get Out,' and Benny & Josh Safdie's 'Good Time,' each receiving five nominations apiece. 'Get Out' has the edge with nominations in both the Best Feature and Best Director categories, while 'Good Time' was shut out of the running for the top prize. The other three Best Feature contenders are Sean Baker's 'The Florida Project,' Greta Gerwig's 'Lady Bird' and Chloé Zhao's little-seen 'The Rider.' Zhao also earned a Directing nomination alongside Baker and Jonas Carpignano for the Italian drama, 'A Ciambra.'

Nick Kroll and John Mulaney will return as hosts of the live broadcast on Saturday, March 3rd, on IFC. The cast of Dee Rees' 'Mudbound,' along with casting directors Billy Hopkins and Ashley Ingram, have already been announced as the recipients of this year's Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble. Below is the complete list of nominees...

BEST FEATURE
'Call Me by Your Name'
'The Florida Project'
'Get Out'
'Lady Bird'
'The Rider'

BEST FIRST FEATURE
'Columbus'
'Ingrid Goes West'
'Menashe'
'Oh Lucy!'
'Patti Cake$'

BEST DIRECTOR
Sean Baker, 'The Florida Project'
Jonas Carpignano, 'A Ciambra'
Luca Guadagnino, 'Call Me by Your Name'
Jordan Peele, 'Get Out'
Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 'Good Time'
Chloé Zhao, 'The Rider'

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Salma Hayek, 'Beatriz at Dinner'
Frances McDormand, 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'
Margot Robbie, 'I, Tonya'
Saoirse Ronan, 'Lady Bird'
Shinobu Terajima, 'Oh Lucy!'
Regina Williams, 'Life and nothing more'

BEST MALE LEAD
Timothée Chalamet, 'Call Me by Your Name'
Harris Dickinson, 'Beach Rats'
James Franco, 'The Disaster Artist'


Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 22, 2017

Spike Lee Triumphantly Updates 'She's Gotta Have It' for Netflix


It''s very possible that when Spike Lee offered Netflix the idea of a series adaptation of 'She''s Gotta Have It,' his pitch was simply a presentation of the 1986 film. The bare bones for the story is there in his episodic, black & white feature debut—a Brooklynite in her late 20''s, Nola Darling, tries to establish her independence while juggling relationships with three wildly different men. There''s the stable business guy Jamie Overstreet, the giddy goofball Mars Blackmon, and the equally narcissistic and sexy Greer Childs. Each provide something special for her, but as she learns throughout the story, none of them complete her the way she can complete herself. Part of Lee bringing this story back to modern culture is like Michael Jordan returning to basketball, especially with so many other shows since Lee''s film trying to offer their own Nola Darlings: 'Girls,' 'Insecure,' 'Fleabag,' 'Master of None,' etc. But as this series triumphantly proves, part of this reboot is also that this current TV scene of cool, city-based 20, 30-somethings in crisis needs a tried-and-true, visual storyteller who isn''t afraid to go where popular TV doesn''t go. Lee still plays by his own rules, even when he's rebooting the gaze of his own story.  

Directing all ten episodes himself and working with a writer''s team (of mostly women), Lee has expanded his original script in a way that both evokes nostalgia but has its own consciousness in 2017. Some parts of his movie are explicitly re-used—scene concepts, bits of dialogue, black and white photographs, pieces of music—in a self-sampling along the lines of 'if it ain''t broke, don''t fix it.' But this series has the benefit of fleshing out a true heroine within Nola by making it primarily her story, as she''s created to be a struggling, talented artist, a true cinephile (she's even called 'Sister Roger Ebert'), a friend, a daughter, even a bad tenant. The series is as much about her relationship with other black women, of similar experiences or of more wisdom, than it is the men who desire her. It is a saga about her independence, specifically as a woman of color and as an artist, with a strong narrative hook (the three relationships). The power of Nola Darling 2017 comes in part from a fascinating performance by DeWanda Wise, who captivates with her wall-breaking monologues, but also moments in which we feel a true emotional arc with her character: her sadness, her desires, her joy. 

And though they are true supporting characters this time around, the three men have their own strength. Lyriq Bent owns the confident but conflicted stoicism of his Jamie character; Cleo Anthony nails the theatrical ridiculousness of how Greer Childs is utterly in love with himself; Anthony Ramos takes on the unenviable task of playing a character previously made iconic by Lee himself, even using the same introduction and some of the same jokes, and makes it the shoe-loving geek more endearing. The charisma of these men is matched by other characters who have less screen-time, but speak to something compelling within this world, like Chyna Lane''s Shemekka character, who is the focus of a disturbing subplot where her character gets butt injections in order to have what she thinks will be a better body. And the series is bound to have a new favorite in Lee's canon with the character Raqueletta Moss (played by De''Adre Aziza), a schoolteacher who insists on talking about herself in the third person for a beautiful reason and provides a unique image of inner strength in the process.&

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 22, 2017

Larger than Life: Dan Stevens on 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'


Charles Dickens'' A Christmas Carol is one of the most beloved of all holiday traditions, with dozens of movie adaptations. Scrooge, the miser transformed by the visit of three ghosts into a man of compassion and generosity, has been played by everyone from Alistair Sim to Patrick Stewart, Mr. Magoo, Michael Caine, and his avian namesake Scrooge McDuck. The book, which was written in six weeks and sold out within a week of its 1843 publication, transformed the understanding of his society about the meaning of Christmas and of every generation since. 

In 'The Man Who Invented Christmas,' Dan Stevens ('Beauty and the Beast,' 'Downton Abbey') plays Dickens, under a lot of pressure following poor sales, big bills, and an impending deadline, but open to the ideas and characters he sees all around him. Like 'A Christmas Carol,' this story is filled with heartwarming moments of redemption and what, thanks to Dickens, we think of as the Christmas spirit. In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Stevens talked about what he wanted to make sure not to have in the movie and how an actor, like a writer, has to be attuned what is going on around him.

It must be a daunting challenge to take on one of the world''s most beloved stories.

It would be a lot to live up to if we were making A Christmas Carol again. This is an interesting take on it. I like biopics but I don''t necessarily like cradle-to-grave ones. So it''s interesting to me to take a slice of the life of somebody, such a monolithic figure, just to take six weeks of a life that were pretty formative in terms of how we perceive him and how we remember him. The story behind one of the great works of literature, one of the great cultural moments in western literature and way that we think about that particular holiday sort of interesting and I sort of adored it from a number of angles, literary and cultural and Christmassy and all the rest.

It''s a challenge to tell the story of a character whose most important work is writing.

It''s difficult; it''s a bit like something I talked to [director] Bharat Nalluri about a lot. We don''t want too many shots of the man at the desk scribbling. We get it, at some point he must have sat down and written something cool. It''s a bit like films about painters. It''s only so interesting to watch a guy put a paintbrush on a canvas, if you want to get down to it, it''s about his interaction with the model or something going on in his life. So it was heartening, that this wasn''t just going to be a guy at a desk. We do see him at a desk in a few scenes. But very often is him not writing. 

There were a number of different takes on him in this one where I thought, 'That''s kind of refreshing.' Just to remember a guy who wrote 20 giant novels of the English literary canon occasionally find it kind of hard to write. And this was one of those moments where he had three books in a row that weren''t that well received. You''ve got Barnaby Rudge, American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit; interestingly two of them really taking on America and all quite unsuccessful. So he was in a bit of a bind as he had backed himself into a corner. He still had a huge amount that he wanted to say and I think it came through in A Christmas Carol. It is an incredible distillation of the number of things going on in his life within his creative process at the time and it probably comes from just sort of a social satire place

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 22, 2017

Darkest Hour


I''ve been trying to think when there was a historical drama I found as electrifying as Joe Wright''s 'Darkest Hour.' It may have been Stephen Spielberg''s 'Munich,' which topped my 10-best list a dozen years ago. They are very different films, of course, and it could be that Wright''s boasts stellar accomplishments in more departments. While Gary Oldman''s phenomenal work as Winston Churchill had been heralded in advance, it is astonishingly equaled by the film''s achievements in direction, screenwriting, score and cinematography.

It''s a strange irony that the same patch of British history—a few days in the spring of 1940—has been treated in two big, Oscar-aimed 2017 movies (and even plays a role in a third film from earlier this year, 'Their Finest'). In various ways, Wright''s film and Christopher Nolan''s 'Dunkirk' are instructive companion pieces, with different aims that effectively orient them toward different audiences. 'Dunkirk' imagines the evacuation of British troops under the onslaught of Nazi forces in a way that puts sensation over sense; it says nothing of the event''s historical context or import. Indeed, it could have been made with all action and no words, where 'Darkest Hour' is all about words, words-as-action and this seminal event''s meaning to our world. It asks you to engage intellectually, not just viscerally.

But if it''s a history lesson, it''s one that plays like a tightly wound, pulse-pounding thriller. And why not: the decisions it depicts may have determined the fate of the world. The action takes place from May 8 to June 4, 1940 (the film regularly slams the dates at us in big block letters), and is framed by two important addresses in the House of Commons, the 'Norway Debate' and Churchill''s rousing, epochal 'We shall fight them on the beaches' speech. In between, Churchill becomes Prime Minister, because he''s the only member of his party acceptable to the opposition, and then rallies the country to fight Hitler when other politicians want to strike a deal with him.

Understanding the importance of this story''s events is not terribly easy now because it''s difficult to look at the world of 1940 as people did then. The Germans may have subjugated several European countries, but the coming slaughter of the continent''s Jews was still unsuspected, and Hitler was widely seen as a very effective authoritarian ruler (a quality that some non-Germans beset with dithering democrats frankly admired) rather than a murderous madman. Churchill''s virtue in this moment was to see the truth more clearly than others did, and to understand both the absolute necessity and the arduous difficulty of fighting the Nazi regime to the death.

The film''s title is entirely accurate. With the Germans threatening to obliterate Britain''s army prior to the Dunkirk evacuation (which is alluded to rather than shown here), and Churchill soon to hear Franklin Roosevelt decline to help the Brits due to the anti-interventionist sentiment in Congress, the United Kingdom was at a very dark and lonely place indeed. It''s no wonder that Churchill''s main opponents in this drama, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), encouraged having Mussolini negotiate a deal with Hitler that might have spared Britain from invasion and potential mass slaughter. Even King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), before being won over to Churchill''s viewpoint, was amenable to dealing with the devil.

The Winston Churchill we see here is

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 22, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas


Having seen pretty much all of the key cinematic depictions of the immortal Charles Dickens story 'A Christmas Carol' over the years, I can honestly say that I could go the rest of my life without seeing another permutation of the tale. That feeling was again reinforced after watching 'The Man Who Invented Christmas,' a saccharine stab at a new holiday perennial that tries to fuse the classic Yuletide yarn with a 'Shakespeare In Love'-style literary origin story and manages to let both of them down, not to mention a performance by Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge that deserves a much better showcase than the one provided here.

The year is 1843 and Dickens (Dan Stevens) is in a commercial slump—his previous three novels have found little favor with the buying public—and he is in need of money in order to help support himself, his loyal wife Catherine (Morfydd Clark), their four children (with a fifth on the way) and an expensive home renovation. While casting about for ideas for a new book, he takes inspiration from his new maid (Anna Murphy), whose literary tastes are of a somewhat lurid bent (she is a big 'Varney the Vampire' fan), and who mentions to him a folk tale about mysterious spirits being revived at Christmastime. This sparks something in Dickens and he decides that he will write and self-publish his own holiday-themed ghost story in time for Christmas as a way of replenishing his coffers. There is one little hitch to this endeavor—Christmas is about six weeks away and to miss that immovable deadline would be disastrous.

This might seem to be an impossible task to pull off, especially since he will be attempting to work in a house filled with children, workmen and the unexpected presence of his cheerful but constantly broke father (Jonathan Pryce). Luckily for Dickens, everywhere he goes in London offers him some nugget that he channels into his work, ranging from a lame nephew to an ancient waiter at his club with the delightful name of Marley. The real burst of inspiration comes when Dickens happens upon the evening burial of a man attended only by his aging and apparently heartless business partner (Plummer), who immediately becomes the model for Scrooge himself, especially his constant uttering of 'Humbug.' While trying to work the story out from the confines of his study, Dickens finds himself interacting with the characters he has created as he tries to work out what happens to them. The story soon becomes a race against time as Dickens tries to resolve the ending of the book (he seems very keen on Tiny Tim dying) and get the manuscript to the publisher in time before it is too late while at the same time confronting the still-lingering after-effects of his father''s lifetime of financial irresponsibility in the hopes of reconciling with him before it too is too late.

Based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Les Standiford, 'The Man Who Invented Christmas' has been adapted by screenwriter Susan Coyne and director Bharat Nalluri into the kind of hard-sell holiday whimsy that may appeal to those who wish that more places would start playing Christmas carols before Halloween while at the same time driving others up the wall. The notion of watching Dickens create his most everlasting work sounds intriguing in theory but the execution here is more off-putting than delightful. Not particularly keen on nuance or subtlety, this is a film in which everything, especially Stevens'' decidedly manic take on Dickens, is pitched as

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 22, 2017

Brimstone & Glory


Small towns live and die according to what seem like whims of fate. But just as every great fortune has its origin in a great crime, every small town that survives has a particular economic motor. Some are more interesting than others. The Mexican town of Tulpatec survives through pyrotechnics.

'Brimstone and Glory,' directed by Viktor Jakovleski and backed by some of the talents behind 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' is a documentary about that town''s annual Pyrotechnics Festival, an event that, it seems, is prepared for year-round by its residents. The fireworks engineered in this place, north of Mexico City, aren''t Macy''s Fourth of July high-tech displays, precision engineered and digitally controlled. But they''re not crude either. One hallmark of the festival is the evening devoted to large sculptures of bulls, each one packed with explosives. The point of this display is to have the bull as a launching site for various light-and-sound spectacles while never burning or in any other way damaging the sculpture itself. It''s like creating a candy-dispensing piñata that remains whole. There''s a lot of ingenuity required.

And there''s a lot of danger involved. Injuries during these festivals are common. Town elders tend to be cheerful fellows who are missing an eye or a limp or several fingers. Young kids working on fireworks projects are praised for having 'gunpowder in the blood.' The film doesn''t have to push hard on a thesis about how economy determines culture. The town is an organic demonstration of it.

There are religious roots to the festival. It''s dedicated to a Portuguese saint who, according to legend, rescued the patients of a burning hospital without suffering a single burn. The day-to-day life of the town is lived in constant proximity to deadly materials—large signs reading 'Peligro' are everywhere. The scenes of the preparations of the explosives are fascinating, particularly because everything is so analog. Mortar and pestle are primary tools in mixing powders and dyes.

And once the big day arrives, the nimble cameras operated by Jakovleski and his team get some awesome visuals. This is a movie that repays being seen on a big reflective screen, one on which the image is projected rather than one from which the image emanates. Because the light that comes off of the screen is strong and fierce. It''s exhilarating and scary at the same time.

The mode of this short movie is naturalistic. There are interviews of people in voiceover, but not a lot of talking-head footage. The perspective is of an observer sauntering through the town and then thrust into the middle of a fearsome but exhilarating spectacle. 'Brimstone and Glory' took three years to make. I think the filmmakers needed that time to come up with a result that seems so simple and straightforward, yet has such deep resonance. 

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 21, 2017

'Get Out,' 'Girls Trip' and 'Marshall' Lead 49th NAAC Image Award Nominees


Nominees for the 49th NAACP Image Awards were announced this week, with Jordan Peele's 'Get Out,' Malcolm D. Lee's 'Girls Trip' and Reginald Hudlin's 'Marshall' earning five nods apiece. Dee Rees' 'Mudbound' earned nominations for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture, Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing, while its co-star, Mary J. Blige, tied with JAY-Z for the most individual nominations (both earned five). Among the first-time contenders was Tiffany Haddish, who earned nominations for 'Girls Trip' and her voice work on the Comedy Central series 'Legends of Chamberlain Heights.' In the motion picture categories, Universal Pictures led with 10 nominations, while Netflix and OWN led the television categories with 23 nominations and 17 nominations, respectively (RCA Records led the recording categories with 12 nominations). 

'Black-ish' star Anthony Anderson will return for his fifth round as host of the two-hour telecast airing live at 8pm CST Monday, January 18th on TV One, which will be preceded by a one-hour red carpet show. Reginald Hudlin and Phil Gurin are once again serving as executive producers, with Tony McCuin directing. 'The NAACP Image Awards is the ultimate platform for artists and individuals of color who advocate for social justice to share their voices with millions, and to be recognized and celebrated,' stated Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP, in an official statement. 'At a moment where there seems to be one tragic event after another in America, the NAACP Image Awards continues to be a beacon of light to the diversity reflected in television, music, film and literature that brings everyone together.'

Joining 'Get Out,' 'Girls Trip' and 'Marshall' the Outstanding Motion Picture category was Kathryn Bigelow's 'Detroit' and Dan Gilroy's 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' Films nominated in the Outstanding Documentary category included Amanda Lipitz's 'Step,' Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis' 'Whose Streets?', Nancy Buirski's 'The Rape of Recy Taylor,' Kasper Collins' 'I Called Him Morgan' and Stanley Nelson Jr.'s 'Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities.' HBO's 'Insecure' and 'Ballers' will compete against ABC's 'blackish,' Netflix's 'Dear White People' and Starz' 'Survivor's Remorse' in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, while OWN's 'Greenleaf' and 'Queen Sugar' will compete against Starz' 'Power,' NBC's 'This Is Us' and WGN's 'Underground' in the Outstanding Drama Series category. Vying for Entertainer of the Year are Chadwick Boseman, Chance the Rapper, Ava DuVernay, Bruno Mars, Issa Rae and JAY-Z. 

 'The NAACP is thrilled for another great collaboration with TV One to create a momentous evening of entertainment culminating a day of volunteer service, citizen action, and celebration on the national holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as recognizing this year''s nominees for their hard work,

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 21, 2017

'Get Out,' 'Girls Trip' and 'Marshall' Lead 49th NAACP Image Award Nominees


Nominees for the 49th NAACP Image Awards were announced this week, with Jordan Peele's 'Get Out,' Malcolm D. Lee's 'Girls Trip' and Reginald Hudlin's 'Marshall' earning five nods apiece. Dee Rees' 'Mudbound' earned nominations for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture, Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing, while its co-star, Mary J. Blige, tied with JAY-Z for the most individual nominations (both earned five). Among the first-time contenders was Tiffany Haddish, who earned nominations for 'Girls Trip' and her voice work on the Comedy Central series 'Legends of Chamberlain Heights.' In the motion picture categories, Universal Pictures led with 10 nominations, while Netflix and OWN led the television categories with 23 nominations and 17 nominations, respectively (RCA Records led the recording categories with 12 nominations). 

'Black-ish' star Anthony Anderson will return for his fifth round as host of the two-hour telecast airing live at 8pm CST Monday, January 18th on TV One, which will be preceded by a one-hour red carpet show. Reginald Hudlin and Phil Gurin are once again serving as executive producers, with Tony McCuin directing. 'The NAACP Image Awards is the ultimate platform for artists and individuals of color who advocate for social justice to share their voices with millions, and to be recognized and celebrated,' stated Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP, in an official statement. 'At a moment where there seems to be one tragic event after another in America, the NAACP Image Awards continues to be a beacon of light to the diversity reflected in television, music, film and literature that brings everyone together.'

Joining 'Get Out,' 'Girls Trip' and 'Marshall' the Outstanding Motion Picture category was Kathryn Bigelow's 'Detroit' and Dan Gilroy's 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' Films nominated in the Outstanding Documentary category included Amanda Lipitz's 'Step,' Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis' 'Whose Streets?', Nancy Buirski's 'The Rape of Recy Taylor,' Kasper Collins' 'I Called Him Morgan' and Stanley Nelson Jr.'s 'Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities.' HBO's 'Insecure' and 'Ballers' will compete against ABC's 'blackish,' Netflix's 'Dear White People' and Starz' 'Survivor's Remorse' in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, while OWN's 'Greenleaf' and 'Queen Sugar' will compete against Starz' 'Power,' NBC's 'This Is Us' and WGN's 'Underground' in the Outstanding Drama Series category. Vying for Entertainer of the Year are Chadwick Boseman, Chance the Rapper, Ava DuVernay, Bruno Mars, Issa Rae and JAY-Z. 

 'The NAACP is thrilled for another great collaboration with TV One to create a momentous evening of entertainment culminating a day of volunteer service, citizen action, and celebration on the national holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as recognizing this year''s nominees for their hard work,

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 21, 2017

Epic Scope Blurs the Best Qualities of Netflix's 'Godless'


Most stories—most good ones, anyway—have a size. Sometimes they''re huge, on par with 'Henry V' or 'Gone with the Wind'; sometimes they''re tiny, focused on one person or relationship or moment in time, as with Richard Linklater''s 'Before' trilogy or, more recently, Jim Jarmusch''s 'Paterson.' The best, of course, are both (and to be fair, most of those examples have moments of intimacy or expanse.) Scott Frank''s 'Godless' has a size in mind. From the very earliest frames, it''s apparent that this story is aiming for epic, perhaps with an ornate capital E. The trouble is that at its best, 'Godless' is much, much smaller.

Throughout its seven episodes, most of which clock in at around 75 minutes, 'Godless' asserts its own sprawling nature almost relentlessly: one shot of a wild, untamed landscape begets another, frequent sepia-toned flashbacks baldly capture unspeakable horrors, and we''re told ad nauseum that the central conflict is not simply epic, but biblical in its scope. It''s the small moments that linger, and yet they''re adrift in all that sprawl. When you take a photo and blow it up, you run the risk of losing the substance, the central figures becoming a blur of colored pixels that don''t quite add up to a face. At its best, 'Godless' is terrific. At its worst, it''s like that overblown photo—the scale of the story is right, but the resolution is all wrong, and so the stuff that matters ends up fuzzy and indistinct.

It''s easy to understand how that might happen. Frank''s story is the stuff of epic storytelling, a western that follows the bloody conflict between Roy Goode (Jack O''Connell), an illiterate sharpshooter orphaned at a young age, and his surrogate father Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), a bible-toting psychopath with a soft spot for those in need of a family. After Goode betrays Griffin, ordinary people find themselves caught in the crossfire, notably the women of La Belle, New Mexico, nearly all of whom were widowed by the collapse of their local mine. Unbeknownst to almost all concerned, calamity draws ever nearer, even as we get to know Alice (Michelle Dockery), the woman who shelters Goode, or Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever), the matter-of-fact, pants-wearing woman acting as mayor. There''s also Scoot McNairy as a sheriff with a secret affliction, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as his brave but sometimes foolish deputy, Frank''s band of assassins, and countless others.

On the plus side, nearly all of the characters are treated with empathy and thoughtfulness, and given rich, complex lives. On the negative side, nearly all of the many, many characters are given rich, complex lives. It''s great, but a viewer can only take so much. When everyone''s struggle matters, when every shot is loaded with meaning and texture, and when all the threads of the story have plenty of heft (and get the appropriate pregnant pauses and lingering looks), one runs the risk of developing a righteous case of importance fatigue.

There''s an easy way to inoculate yourself, of course. Simply don''t binge the thing. Still, that''s odd advice to offer in relation to a Netflix property. While this can fairly be c

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 21, 2017

Coco


'Coco' is the sprightly story of a young boy who wants to be a musician and somehow finds himself communing with other talking skeletons in the land of the dead. Directed by Lee Unkrich ('Toy Story 3') and veteran Pixar animator Adrian Molina, and drawing heavily on Mexican folklore and traditional designs, it has catchy music, a complex but comprehensible plot, and bits of domestic comedy and media satire. Most of the time the movie is a knockabout slapstick comedy with a 'Back to the Future' feeling, staging grand action sequences and feeding audiences new plot information every few minutes, but of course, being a Pixar film, 'Coco' is also building toward emotionally overwhelming moments, so stealthily that you may be surprised to find yourself wiping away a tear even though the studio has been using the sneak-attack playbook for decades now.

The film's hero, twelve-year old Miguel Riviera (voice by Anthony Gonzalez), lives in the small town of Santa Cecilia. He''s a goodhearted child who loves to play guitar and idolizes the greatest popular singer-songwriter of the 1920s and '30s, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who was killed when a huge church bell fell on his head. But Miguel has to busk in secret because his family has banned its members from performing music ever since Miguel's great-great-grandfather left, abandoning his loved ones to selfishly pursue his dreams of stardom. At least that''s the official story passed down through the generations; it''ll be challenged as the film unfolds, not through a detective story (although there''s a strong mystery element to 'Coco') but through an 'Alice in Wonderland' journey to the Land of the Dead, which the hero accesses through the tomb of his ancestors. 

Family and legacy as expressed through storytelling and song: this is the deeper preoccupation of 'Coco.' One of the most fascinating things about the movie is the way it builds its plot around members of Miguel''s family, living and dead, as they battle to determine the official narrative of Miguel''s great-great grandfather and what his disappearance from the narrative meant for the entire extended clan. The title character is the hero''s great-grandmother (Renee Victor), who was traumatized by her dad''s disappearance. In her old age, she has become a nearly silent presence, sitting in the corner and staring blankly ahead, as if hypnotized by a sweet, old film perpetually unreeling in her mind.

The machinations that get Miguel to the other side are too complicated to explain in a review, though they''re comprehensible as you watch the movie. Suffice to say that Miguel gets there, teams up with a melancholy goofball named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), and has to pose as one of the dead with the aid of skeletal facepaint, but that (like Marty McFly returning to the 1950s to make sure his mom ends up with his dad in 'Future') the longer Miguel stays on the other side, the more likely he is to end up actually dead.

I''m reluctant to describe the film''s plot in too much detail because, even though every twist seems obvious in retrospect, Molina and Matthew Aldrich''s script frames each one so that seems delightful and inevitable. Many of them are conveyed through a stolen family photograph that Miguel brings with him to the Land of the Dead. The deployment of the photo is a great example of how to tell a story through pictures, or more accurately, with a picture. Somebody''s face has been torn out; there''s

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 21, 2017

Wise Words: Michael Stuhlbarg on 'Call Me by Your Name'


Michael Stuhlbarg has become an MVP of supporting actors, a crucial life source to numerous prestigious films that need his humanistic, sensitive touch. In this year alone, he''ll have worked with Steven Spielberg ('The Post') and Guillermo del Toro ('The Shape of Water'), and, in the past, he has become a crucial instrument for the likes of Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Denis Villeneuve. 

Stuhlbarg''s ability to make any amount of screen-time matter hits a high-note with his performance in 'Call Me by Your Name,' a romance from Italian director Luca Guadagnino. Stuhlbarg plays a professorial father who witnesses his 17-year-old son Elio (Timothee Chalamet) fall for an older man, a teacher''s assistant named Oliver (Armie Hammer), over the course of a summer in the Italian countryside. After the two young men have an experience that changes them both forever, Stuhlbarg''s character provides a monologue that has the ability to fill your heart to its breaking point, adding to the haunting quality of this impeccable movie about beauty and longing.

RogerEbert.com spoke with Stuhlbarg about his special monologue, his experience working with our greatest living directors, his passion for acting and more. 

The current talk about your performance in this film reminds me of how you surprised people with your 2009 breakout role in 'A Serious Man.' Since then, in your life as a professional actor, do you feel you''re more ingrained in your craft, or confident? Is it easier? Is it still a kind of an unstable challenge? 

It''s always an unstable challenge. 

I was wondering if you ever feel like a Larry Gopnik in the acting world. 

Well, it depends on the job! [laughs] But honestly, every time I get the opportunity to do something, it''s always disarming and challenging and a surprise. Sometimes the roles I get to play has some resonance with me, sometimes they have less. But over the last eight or nine years, I brought all of those experiences with me, and I hope they inform what I do from here on out. It never ceases to be a challenge, it never ceases to be new, because it is. And it''s always surprising every time you jump in. 

Does working with a big name director make you want to jump into the role? 

It''s always inspiring, and the common thread with the folks that I''ve worked with seems to be passion for the material, and a genuine interest in what the hell it is they''re making and doing, which is inspiring. Whether it''s Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg or Denis Villeneuve. They''re all questioning, they''re all discovering it moment to moment. They''re all just in love with the craft that they''re practicing. It''s exciting, it''s why they are who they are, they make you inspired to want to do the best work that you can. You show up excited to meet them, and you''re like I can''t believe I''m with this person, and then you start talking, and you combine your minds and collaborate and you want to make the best thing you can. I've felt really lucky, and I hope the good fortune continues. 

It is quite a resume you''ve built. 

I''ve been very lucky. 



Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 20, 2017

A Celebration of Life: Adrian Molina on Pixar's 'Coco'


Pixar''s new release is 'Coco,' inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos, when people share family stories and invite the spirits of their ancestors to visit. In the film, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) makes a journey to the dazzlingly animated Land of the Dead and finds his family, who must give him their blessing so he can return home. 

In an interview with RogerEbert.com, co-writer/co-director Adrian Molina talked about the fun and the challenge of animating skeletons and how celebrating those who are gone is a way of celebrating life.

Is Pixar going to make us all cry again?

If you have a heart I think so. But it''s also going to make you laugh. We're putting all the emotions into this one. 

I was impressed with the distinctive and very endearing skeleton characters you created.

People initially think of skeletons as spooky and scary and I think a lot of that kind of comes from the fact that maybe they all look the same. Deep down underneath we''re just these anonymous piles of bones, which made it all the more important that for this film we really needed them to be characters and we needed them to be specific and expressive and lovable. So the way we went about doing that is we created characters out of them. They each have their own outfit that says something about them about who they were when they were alive. They've got really expressive faces and a sense of humor. They''re family members. They''re ancestors. All of that created design challenges to make sure they fun they to watch. So much of how engaging they can be comes from the eyes. We knew a lot of skeletons aren''t represented in film history with eyes and that gives you an effect but once you give them the eyes it really is the window to the soul. All of a sudden you have this connection to someone when you look in their eyes and so that was very important for the skeletons as well.

The way you manipulated the bones took me back to Disney''s early Silly Symphonies cartoons with the dancing skeletons.

We had that Silly Symphonies story on loop as we were in the early stages of development because it''s a really great way to remember the type of fun you can have and the type of humor that''s specific to characters who aren''t held together by anything. All of a sudden that''s a completely different way of interacting with the world because you can fall apart or be pulled apart at any moment. So maybe you could use that in certain circumstances or maybe it becomes a problem in other circumstances. We''re always looking for the humor and the thing that makes our world unique and skeletons really bring that in spades.

What was the biggest animation challenge?

There are so many complicated moments in this film. When you''re pitching it, and even when you''re creating it, you don''t really know whether or not it''s possible. The skeletons are one example. There are certain moments where they completely fall apart and come back together and it''s so many pieces to keep track of. We put an animator on one for three weeks because it''s such a complicated shot. The world that we''ve created is this gorgeous vertical world that''s filled with generation upon generation and it''s populated by thousands and thousands of skeletons. To be able to create something of that scope and that beauty is just a challenge that we have never encountered before. So it took a lot of creative thinking to be able to bring that to fruition but over and over we''ve had these challenges that have seemed really tough but really creative really artistic minds have kind of stepped up to the plate and made this one of the most

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 20, 2017

Will 2018 Have More Female Oscar Contenders Than Ever?


2018 is already shaping up to potentially be a history-making year when we finally see more than one woman nominated in the category of Best Director at the Oscars. This victory will not come as a result of political sentiment fueled by the sexual harassment scandals committed against females in the industry, though it will be most welcome in light of it. How wonderful would it be to see multiple women nominated in the Best Director category in the same year that saw the highest-grossing female-directed blockbuster of all time, Patty Jenkins' 'Wonder Woman'? 

Upon its debut this month, Greta Gerwig's critically acclaimed, semi-authobiographical coming-of-age comedy, 'Lady Bird,' earned the highest per theater average of the 2017 box office. Audiences are clearly hungering for an authentic, richly textured portrait of the female experience, and Gerwig's film delivered just that with Oscar-caliber performances by Saoirse Ronan (channeling her director with uncanny precision) and Laurie Metcalf (so moving as the teen heroine's tough love mother). 

Other potential female contenders in the Best Director category this year include Dee Rees for her wrenching period drama, 'Mudbound'; Kathryn Bigelow for her brutally affecting factual film, 'Detroit'; Aisling Walsh for her touching character study of a naive artist, 'Maudie'; Angelina Jolie for her bracing film about Cambodian genocide, 'First They Killed My Father''; and Valerie Faris for her timely and entertaining tennis dramedy 'Battle of the Sexes,' which she co-directed with her husband, Jonathan Dayton. Sorely deserving of more attention is 'Novitiate,' Margaret Betts' powerful ensemble film set in a Catholic church during the Vatican II reforms. Betts won a Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Director at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Amanda Liptz, a first time director with her inspirational documentary, 'Step,' about a high school girls' dance team in inner-city Baltimore, could also emerge as a frontrunner in the Best Documentary race. I loved this film so much because it made me root for the dogged resilience of these high school seniors and their families in negotiating the slings and arrows of life, while not dimming their persistence and determination to seek a higher education. And on top of that, it is just downright entertaining. Another of the year's best documentaries is 'Whose Streets?', a street-level view of the uprising in Ferguson, co-directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis. (Two other documentaries I hop

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 20, 2017

A Disappearing Act: Gary Oldman on 'Darkest Hour'


With roles like Lee Harvey Oswald, George Smiley, Dracula and Commissioner Gordon in his resume, Gary Oldman has made a special career out of his chameleon-like approach to acting. His latest endeavor is none other than the British Bulldog himself, Winston Churchill, in a film by Joe Wright that looks at the prime minister in the early days of World War II. Oldman is impeccable as the iconic leader, treating his many speeches with fascinating vigor, and looking exactly like him, thanks to prosthetics work and precise physicality. While the role has Oldman designated as an official front runner for this year''s Best Actor Oscar, it's already a home run for an actor who has made so many distinctly different characters shine on the silver screen.

Oldman spoke with RogerEbert.com about the physical and mental process of getting into the character, looking at Churchill as a type of performer and more. 

I'm very curious about your chameleon-like approach to acting. What kind of skill do you think gives you the ability to recognize so many different lives and then portray them? 

I think for an actor you need … it''s about observation. I think a lot to do with it is one''s concentration and focus. I sort of have a good ear, a facility for that kind of thing. It''s all the things that you need as an actor. I think you can hone and sharpen intuition, but you kind of have to have it. It''s in the choices that you make. I suppose I was a bit of an impersonator when I was a kid. Even as a young kid. But I do have an ability to meet people and I could very … not with everyone, and not that I consciously do it, but I can meet people and find that I can do an impersonation of people very quickly. 

But with Winston, it was exactly that. It was not only the reading material, which is of course voluminous. But the footage of the man, there''s actually more there than I thought. And so it was a case of really just watching and re-watching and studying everything from speech patterns to mannerisms to how he used his hands how he moved through a space. I think that we have an idea of who Churchill was, and I''m not sure if that idea of him is not influenced by other people that have played him, so you feel that you have an idea of who he is because you saw Robert Hardy, or Albert Linney. For me it was to really go back to the man, and avoid all of the other … I watched Robert Hardy at the time when it was programmed, but I didn''t want to be contaminated sort of by anyone else''s performance. 

In this telling of Churchill, there''s this angle of him being a type of performer or an actor. There''s even a sort of line about, 'which ‘Sir'' am I going to be today?' Did you ever look at him as an actor or connect with him like that? 

I think he had a real sense of branding, of marketing. He was an unusual, he was a bit of a dandy. As time moved forward he seemed to sartorially stay in that sort of Victorian attire with the button boots and the waistcoat and the fob watch and that kind of thing and the hats. The cane. The walking stick. So he had a certain affectation, and obviously was a great orator and had a great sense of language. And we have recordings of him, speaking those sort of speeches and three or four of the most glorious speeches ever written over a short period of time. But they were all done after the event, they were all done, some of them, years later. He either went to the BBC and recorded them or the BBC came to him and he recorded them. So, my thinking was, is that when you''re in Parliament, in front of 600 people, that you would do them with more gusto than you would two

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 20, 2017

Call Me by Your Name


Luca Guadagnino''s films are all about the transformative power of nature—the way it allows our true selves to shine through and inspires us to pursue our hidden passions. From the wild, windswept hills of 'I Am Love' to the chic swimming pool of 'A Bigger Splash,' Guadagnino vividly portrays the outside world as almost a character in itself—driving the storyline, urging the other characters to be bold, inviting us to feel as if we, too, are a part of this intoxicating atmosphere.

Never has this been more true than in 'Call Me By Your Name,' a lush and vibrant masterpiece about first love set amid the warm, sunny skies, gentle breezes and charming, tree-lined roads of northern Italy. Guadagnino takes his time establishing this place and the players within it. He''s patient in his pacing, and you must be, as well. But really, what''s the rush? It''s the summer of 1983, and there''s nothing to do but read, play piano, ponder classic art and pluck peaches and apricots from the abundant fruit trees.

Within this garden of sensual delights, an unexpected yet life-changing romance blossoms between two young men who initially seem completely different on the surface.

17-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is once again visiting his family''s summer home with his parents: his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an esteemed professor of Greco-Roman culture, and his mother (Amira Casar), a translator and gracious hostess. Elio has the gangly body of a boy but with an intellect and a quick wit beyond his years, and the worldliness his parents have fostered within him at least allows him to affect the façade of sophistication. But beneath the bravado, a gawky and self-conscious kid sometimes still emerges. By the end of the summer, that kid will be vanquished forever.

An American doctoral student named Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives for the annual internship Elio''s father offers. Oliver is everything Elio isn''t—or at least, that''s our primary perception of him. Tall, gorgeous and supremely confident, he is the archetypal all-American hunk. But as polite as he often can be, Oliver can also breeze out of a room with a glib, 'Later,' making him even more of a tantalizing mystery.

Chalamet and Hammer have just ridiculous chemistry from the get-go, even though (or perhaps because) their characters are initially prickly toward each other: testing, pushing, feeling each other out, yet constantly worrying about what the other person thinks. They flirt by trying to one-up each other with knowledge of literature or classical music, but long before they ever have any physical contact, their electric connection is unmistakable. Lazy poolside chats are fraught with tension; spontaneous bike rides into town to run errands feel like nervous first dates.

Writer James Ivory''s generous, sensitive adaptation of Andre Aciman''s novel reveals these characters and their ever-evolving dynamic in beautifully steady yet detailed fashion. And so when Elio and Oliver finally dare to reveal their true feelings for each other—a full hour into the film—the moment makes you hold your breath with its intimate power, and the emotions feel completely authentic and earned.   

The way Elio and Oliver peel away each other''s layers has both a sweetness and a giddy thrill to it, even though they feel they must keep their romance a secret from Elio''s parents. (Elio also has a kinda-sorta girlfriend in Marzia [Esther Garrel], a thoughtful, playful Fre

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 18, 2017

60 Minutes on: 'Wonder Woman'


One of the most powerful moments in the original 'Superman, the Movie' finds Christopher Reeve's Kryptonite-weakened Superman drowning in a swimming pool in Lex Luthor's underground hideout while Valerie Perrine's Miss Techmacher looks on, debating whether to go against her boss. 'Millions of innocent people are going to die,' Superman pleads, choking back water as he sinks.

That image disturbed me as a kid because Superman seemed more upset by the thought of millions of strangers dying than by the prospect of his own demise. Such unaffected displays of selflessness haven't entirely gone missing from the modern wave of superhero films released in the aftermath of 2008's 'The Dark Knight' and 'Iron Man.' Even the most inept or nihilistic entries in the genre have at least a glimmer of old school Superman idealism; it's something that screenwriters and directors feel that they have to genuflect toward, even if their hero is a masochistic loner or bantering wise-ass, because it connects the films with a larger pop culture tradition. But the idealism it's gotten harder to see because it's become buried under so many other obligatory layers. The stories are often about self-justification, about proving oneself: about the individual shaping his identity and mastering his destiny. The default mode of most Marvel films is glib and quippy, prizing banter over feeling, and the default mode of DC films has been mopey and tortured and faux-dark, a vibe that's sold to audiences as 'adult' even though it's deeply adolescent. Once in a while you get an entry in either of those dominant veins that works, but even when it does, you can sense the filmmakers' terror at being accused of being 'corny,' a label that's the kiss of death from many young viewers.

'Wonder Woman' is the best modern superhero film by a substantial margin, in large part because it shrugs off the supposed common wisdom that's become encrusted around the genre and dares to be straightforwardly idealistic, giving its title character strongly held values and testing them and forcing her to adjust or re-frame them without losing them—a deeper struggle that's more resonant than the physical struggles she faces in the course of the story, which are impressive in their own right. In theory, every superhero movie is, or pretends to be, about believing in something larger than oneself; but this message often gets lost amid narcissistic personal melodrama. This is never the case with 'Wonder Woman.'


From the moment that Gal Gadot's Diana leaves the isle of the Amazons and joins intrepid spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) on a mission to end The Great War, 'Wonder Woman' sets issues of personal prowess aside (even though the character's prowess is considerable) and concerns itself with the survival of intelligent life. In time, Diana realizes that the story told to her by her religion -- that Ares the God of War makes men go to war, and that by killing Ares, she will end war -- is false, and in fact, war is the product of contradictions and flaws in human nature. Most of these movies pivot around an extinction level threat, but here the threat ends up being a very recognizable one: not a whirling skymass of debris blasting an energy beam down onto a city, but weapons of mass destruction, represented by variations on poison gas, chlorine gas, modern machine guns and airplanes that can drop explosives. All of these were refined and widely deployed during World War I. They allowed soldiers with comparatively little training to kill large numbers of people, many of them civilians. 


The sequence where Diana cros

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 18, 2017

Video Interview: Carey Mulligan on 'Mudbound'


Since Dee Rees' film 'Mudbound' debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, it has been receiving glowing reviews for its historical but yet still contemporary look at hot button racial issues in this country. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, it tells the tale of two families, one white and one African-American in the deep South who both have family members go to fight in World War II and return to a very different landscape and experience. Carey Mulligan plays Laura McAllan who trues to raise her children and survive amongst the growing tensions. Film journalist Katherine Tulich spoke to Mulligan for this in depth video interview.



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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

Wonder


Based on the R.J. Palacio novel of the same name, 'Wonder' follows a year in the life of August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), Auggie, for short. He was born with a genetic abnormality that has required him to undergo surgeries and medical treatments since his earliest days. 

Director Stephen Chbosky has managed to take a story that could have been painfully mawkish and made it genuinely moving in (mostly) understated ways. The makeup work here is solid and believable, revealing Auggie''s sad eyes behind downturned facial lines and nubs of skin for ears. He''s a prepubescent Rocky Dennis. The script, co-written by Chbosky, Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, is wise to establish quickly that Auggie is a regular kid in every other way. He loves 'Star Wars' and Minecraft. He has an aptitude for science, a sly sense of humor, and an active imagination that helps him navigate uncomfortable situations. ('Wonder' occasionally dabbles in magical realism, but in ways that are more amusing than distracting.)

Uniformly strong performances help ground the story. Tremblay, who showed instincts beyond his years in the devastating 2015 drama 'Room,' provides both a sweetness and an intelligence to his 10-year-old character that make him accessible even when he''s wearing an astronaut helmet to hide his face. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson find just the right notes as his supportive parents. But the real surprise here is Izabela Vidovic as Tremblay''s older sister, who''s been generous enough to allow her brother to be the center of the family''s attention at the expense of her own emotional need.

His mom, Isabel (Roberts), put her career on hold to homeschool him from the beginning in the family''s Brooklyn brownstone. But now that Auggie is of middle school age, Isabel and his dad, Nate (Wilson), decide to send him to Beecher Prep so he''ll learn to socialize with other kids and become more comfortable in the outside world. All are understandably apprehensive about this major shift, fraught as it is with the potential for bullying and isolation. And indeed, when his parents walk him to the front gates and send him off on his own for the first time, the kids on campus stop their conversations to gawk and part for him. But Chbosky depicts this event matter-of-factly, allowing the tension of the moment to emerge naturally.

There are some familiar figures here: the hip teacher who gives innovative assignments that just happen to coincide with the film''s themes (Daveed Diggs); the mean rich kid who torments him alongside a posse of brutes (Bryce Gheisar); the shy girl who might become an unexpected friend (Millie Davis). But the effortless connection Auggie strikes up with a kid named Jack Will (Noah Jupe)—who also feels like an outsider as a working-class scholarship student—is one of the film''s truest joys, as well as a source of legitimate drama.

Just when 'Wonder' seems to be settling into a routine at school, it shifts and revisits that first day from a variety of other characters'' perspectives. So we learn what happened to Auggie''s lonely sister, Via, when she met a cute new boy (Nadji Jeter) and dared to sign up for the high school play. We get a glimpse into Jack Will''s home life, which enriches the significance of his relationship

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

Mr. Roosevelt


Emily Martin (Noël Wells) doesn't quite know how to explain what it is she does, or even what it is she wants to do. She's not exactly an actress. She's not exactly a comedian either. She hangs around improv clubs in Los Angeles, but feels put off by the whole 'scene.' She made one YouTube video that went viral, but she couldn't 'monetize' it. Emily is first shown during an audition in which she transforms herself in quick succession since she only has five minutes, into Holly Hunter at a garage sale, Kristen Wiig coming across a murder, a Vine video of someone tripping at a Beyonce concert, and a 'girl who's always cold.' The casting director is frozen in fear at the rollicking manic display. Emily tromps off to her gig editing videos in some random apartment crowded with people on laptops. All of this occurs in the first five minutes of Wells' first feature as a writer and director, 'Mr. Roosevelt.' Anyone who has ever circulated, even peripherally, in any comedy club scene, will recognize all of it. It's a quick-flash study of both frenzied activity and crushing ennui. 

Emily is a transplant to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas. She is unmoored. The 'industry' has no idea what to do with someone like her. She doesn't know what to do, and her awkward self-deprecation makes others recoil from her. When her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) calls to let her know that her cat—Mr. Roosevelt—has died, Emily dissolves into tears and books the first flight back to Austin she can find. 

Wells is an established actress and writer. With a recurring role on 'Master of None,' and a brief stint on 'Saturday Night Live,' she also recently played Jessica Williams' best friend in 'The Incredible Jessica James,' and was funny support staff to the lead. In her first film as a writer-director, she presents a world she clearly knows well. From Texas originally, Wells filmed 'Mr. Roosevelt' around Austin, with the clear familiarity of a local. Austin residents will probably pick up more of her commentary than outsiders, but it's clear what she's getting at when she shows Emily's disappointment at the closing of her favorite coffee shop. Austin is gentrifying. Wells has been very smart in creating the lead character, both in the writing, and the performing. She presents Emily in broad strokes at first—the audition, a one-night stand with a guy who never puts down his phone (even when her head is in his crotch), her free-floating ambition for a career—but much of it works by stealth. You have to put it together as you go. Wells herself is very endearing as a personality, so it takes a while to really 'get' that Emily is kind of a nightmare. For example, she arrives in Austin with just a backpack, having made no arrangements for where she will stay. She clearly assumes she will stay with her ex in the house where they once lived together, even though he is involved in a brand-new relationship. This is a woman who does not have her act together. Over the course of the film, her nonexistent 'act' will deteriorate even further, as she thrashes about in jealousy at her ex's perfect new girlfriend, bristles at questions about her life in Los Angeles, and ratchets up her competitive mourning for the aforementioned cat Mr. Roosevelt. It's not that Emily is not likable. It's that she's a mess. Being a mess is extremely human. 

Eric's new girlfriend is the kind of woman designed to make insecure women feel worse. She is, as Emily complains, a 'Pinterest board come to life.' Celeste, played by

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond


There were rumors for years about Jim Carrey''s behavior on the set of Milos Forman''s 'Man on the Moon'—stories that he never broke character, either as Andy Kaufman or his alter ego Tony Clifton. Twenty years after the production of that film, Chris Smith ('American Movie') has directed a very unique behind-the-scenes study that doesn''t just offer insight into the making of that film, but the entire careers and almost parallel personalities of Carrey and Kaufman. 

Rather than produce a standard EPK for 'Man on the Moon,' Carrey asked Kaufman''s girlfriend Lynne Margulies and collaborator Bob Zmuda to handle filming him in his trailer and on set as Kaufman/Clifton. Reportedly, Universal then demanded that the footage be buried because they were worried Carrey would 'come off as an asshole.' They had reason to be concerned. Or did they? It will vary as to exactly when, but there will likely come a moment for each of you when you question exactly how much of 'Jim and Andy' is 100% accurate. Did Carrey stay in character constantly, or just in these bits, filmed by Andy''s ex and writing partner? The blurring of that line between performer, reality, and fiction adds another layer to 'Jim and Andy' that Kaufman would have adored. And Carrey likely does to.

Adding to the suspicious nature of 'Jim and Andy' is the fact that Carrey is the only interview subject in the film (meaning we don''t hear collaborating stories about his on-set behavior from Forman, Paul Giamatti, Danny Devito, etc.) Carrey is a forthcoming, interesting interview subject, surprisingly willing to share his own history and demons. The on-set footage of Carrey/Kaufman and Carrey/Clifton berating people is only interesting for so long, and actually gets a little tiring before the film is half over, but Carrey the interview subject keeps the film going.

The career parallels are relatively obvious. Both Carrey and Kaufman broke down comedy standards and expectations. Carrey speaks about going on stage and just making sounds to see what people respond to, and we see footage of a startling appearance on 'The Arsenio Hall Show' that I had forgotten if I ever saw it. He speaks of his own personal Mr. Hyde coming out on stage, taking over for Jim, and that''s a loss of control that Kaufman seemed to like in comedy as well. There are also some emotional memories of his father, a man who taught him a lesson about going for success by failing in a way. Carrey is open and brought to tears a few times. The genius of Andy Kaufman has been well-reported (and clear in Forman''s film) but this movie works as a testament to the ability of Carrey more than the man he played. Whatever you may think of his acting chops or comedic skill, the man gives his all to his work, something that he expresses as something almost out of his control—the films, the roles, the characters come to him through something akin to destiny. Again, this could all be bullshit. Or it could be pure and true. I think Kaufman would have liked that we''ll never really know.

Ultimately, 'Jim and Andy' works best as a remind of the skill level and commitment of its two title performers. There''s some footage of 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'The Truman Show' that really reminded me how much I love those movies (and made me want to watch them again). And there''s no denying Kaufman''s fearlessness, which is what it fee

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq.


'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' looks like prime Oscar bait. It has the glow of nobility and importance emanating from every frame courtesy of Robert Elswit''s cinematography. The screenplay by writer-director Dan Gilroy is filled with dialogue about civil rights, the prison industrial complex and the common man. And its lead actor''s famous good looks have gone AWOL so he may enroll in the Academy voter''s favorite class, Frumpy 101.

But don''t be fooled! This is not Oscar bait at all. 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' is the kind of horrendous hot mess an actor makes directly after he wins the Oscar. Granted, Denzel Washington didn''t win the golden statuette he deserved last year, but if he had, it might have justified why he chose this lifeless story as his follow-up. My best guess is that Denzel wanted to cosplay as Eddie Murphy''s Norbit. He would have made a far better Randy Watson from 'Coming to America,' if you ask me.

But I digress. The version of 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' hitting theaters this week is not the same one that drew critical scorn at the Toronto Film Festival. The new cut is 13 minutes shorter and certain plot points have been edited in a different order. There''s some vague notion that a 'major reveal/spoiler' has been moved to an earlier spot in the film. Gilroy''s story makes so little narrative sense that I have no idea what they''re talking about, so I am issuing a spoiler warning from here on as a precautionary measure.

Roman is a lawyer in a two-man criminal defense law firm in Los Angeles. He and his boss, William Jackson, handle cases for the downtrodden and underprivileged. William is the public face of the firm, arguing in court and meeting with clients. Roman does all the research and advises on how to approach each case. It''s hinted that Roman has some form of Asperger''s, though his Rain Man-like recollection of the number of every single statute leans him more heavily into savant territory. It is also hinted that Roman''s lack of social cue recognition may have been the reason William never sent him to court. Of course, as 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' opens, William has suffered a soon-to-be-fatal heart attack and Roman has to cover for him in court.

Before we see Roman in action, however, we''re treated to voiceover by Washington that is meant to set up a flashback structure. The narration accompanies a legal brief Roman is writing. The brief is two paragraphs of legalese interspersed with nonsense, and we get to see it typed in its entirety on the screen. As letters fill the screen, the score gets louder and more bombastic in a vain attempt to telegraph suspense. In the brief, Roman calls himself a hypocrite who has sold out his own belief system. He casts himself as plaintiff and defendant in this damning confession.

Eventually, we''ll return to this brief, but for now, we''re thrown three weeks into the past where Roman makes his first court appearance in decades. Despite being told by William''s assistant to simply ask for continuances, Roman engages the case. His client is getting a raw deal, to be sure, but Roman exacerbates the situation by arguing with the judge until he is held in contempt. Later, Roman will again go against his firm''s wishes by telling off the district attorney in regards to a plea offer. Both of these scenes are played for laughs in the film''s trailer, but neither scene is so damn funny in context: that contempt charge gets William''s near-bankrupt firm slapped with a $5,000 fine; the district attorney flap indirectly results in a client''s murder.

It''s clear that Washington and Gilroy want to cast Roman as some kind of grumpy genius—he''s the Dr. House of lawyers. The pro

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

Porto


'Porto,' a film about the emotional aftermath of a powerful one-night stand, is a poetically assembled tale of lust, obsession and nostalgia. It aims (maybe too obviously) to be a modern version of one of those mid-twentieth century European Art Cinema classics in which beautiful people with beautiful clothes sit in beautiful restaurants and bars and occasionally have beautiful sex and then talk about literature and philosophy.


It''s also a film whose impact derives from something other than its story and characters—specifically, Wyatt Garfield''s brilliant cinematography, which uses 35mm, 16mm and Super 8mm film at a time when almost everyone in the entertainment business is shooting digitally; and the final lead performance by Anton Yelchin, who died last year in a freak accident.

The appearance onscreen of pointillist swarms of film grain may trigger a specific kind of nostalgia in movie buffs, for chemically produced and mechanically projected images that are rarely seen these days outside of repertory cinemas and museums. The viewer''s swooning regard for Garfield''s old fashioned photographic imagery could merge with their affection for Yelchin, a versatile and likable young actor who died just when he was getting warmed up. This is the kind of grade inflation that nobody involved in the production could have wanted, but 'Porto' will benefit from it nonetheless. As directed by Gabe Klinger and cowritten by Larry Gross ('48 Hours'), it''s less than meets the eye and ear. It''s dramatically thin and confusingly edited in places, and there are basic problems in the lovers'' characterizations that are never convincingly addressed.

Mati (Lucie Lucas), a stunning beauty with long, dark hair and a teasing French New Wave smirk, is too much of an intellectual filmmaker''s sex fantasy. The movie stares into her face and lingers on her body in lieu of giving her a comprehensible psychology. She''s more of a Woman-as-Mystery type, which is something else that the movie borrows from the heyday of Fellini and Godard. We never get a handle on why she''d practically beg to go home with the hero after a wordless first meeting with Yelchin''s Jake, or why she''d respond in kind when Jake impulsively tells her he loves her, or why she''d continue to speak to him after they tussle in the street and he slaps her, or why she''d want to see Jake years later when he barges back into her life.

Jake feels more like a real person than Mati, but his realness poses a different set of problems. With his ashy skin, receding hairline, poor posture and birdlike movements, there''s nothing to suggest why a fashion magazine-ready knockout like Mati would select him on the spot, much less why he''d sexually satisfy her so profoundly, or why she''d eventually end up marrying another guy (Paulo Calatre ) and having his baby, or who she is, generally. There''s a lot in 'Porto' that you have to take on faith, or for granted. This contrasts the movie unflatteringly with works that it clearly adores, such as 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour,' a film that doles out information sparingly yet leaves you feeling as if you know its lovers as well as you know anyone in your own life.  

The film''s clever editing (credited to Klinger and Geraldine Mangenot) jumps back and forth through time in intriguing, sometimes intoxicating ways, and even when the drama flags there''s always a stunning image to stare at, be it a buzzing city thoroughfare, a close-up of a woman''s hand twirling a red lipstick tube near a steaming cup of tea, or a long shot of Mati crossing a widescreen frame fro

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

Sweet Virginia


In his 1956 essay 'On A Book Entitled Lolita,' Vladimir Nabokov recounts both the imaginative origins of his groundbreaking novel and the difficulty he had finding a publisher for it in the United States. One rejection suggested that Nabokov recast the novel''s action in 'short, strong, ‘realistic'' sentences;' Nabokov''s imagined examples still stand as hilarious, sterling examples of what I like to call cornpone cliché: 'He acts crazy. We all act crazy, I guess. I guess God acts crazy.'

Funny how some writers, and some audiences, still consider this kind of mush authentic, let alone powerful. It thrives like unmowed kudzu in the dialogue of this aspiring noir written by brothers Paul and Benjamin China and directed by Jamie M. Dagg. Take this bit of diner conversation between Sam, a onetime rodeo champ played by Jon Bernthal, and Elwood (no really), a contract killer played by Christopher Abbott. Take it away Elwood (no really): 

'You got a woman?'

'I don''t talk about it much, but I guess there is…' 

'Is she special?'

'She is.'

'That''s good. Hold on to that.'

Whoa. Hold on to that and don''t act too crazy. A little back-story here: at the time of this conversation, nice guy Sam doesn''t yet know that Elwood (no really) is a contract killer. Sam''s 'special' woman, Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt) is now a widow, because Elwood (no really) killed her husband and two other guys in the movie''s opening scene. Also, 'Sweet Virginia' is not a character in this Alaska-set movie; rather, it is the name of the motel Sam owns and runs and presumably named for sentimental reason. As for Elwood (okay I''ll stop), we learn early on that he was hired by another local wife, Lila, who hated her husband and wanted him dead so she could collect his money WITH WHICH, and here''s the rub, she was going to pay Elwood, and then do other things. When she confronts Elwood after the killing, she tells him 'You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off,' I mean, he was only supposed to kill the one guy, and he explains to her how killing three guys made total sense because it made the whole thing look so random. You gotta love these super genius hit men.

And the women who hire them. A little after that, a lawyer says to Lila, 'Were you aware of your husband''s financial difficulties' and this wannabe Phyllis Dietrichson''s eyes go all wide and she practically mouths the word 'Ooops.' 

This is one of those movies concocted by people who''ve seen too many movies; whose experience of violence and crime derives entirely from movies; whose main motivation is derived from some desire to emulate a mode of 'cool' that they learned from Coen Brothers and Tarantino movies, and which they think they''ve made less overtly derivative by leavening with ideas from even older movies. Its central performance, by Abbott, is a harrowing, embarrassing adventure in mannerisms. Elwood''s on a short fuse, you see; he drives around town talking to himself, making profane observation about the locals; after one pay phone conversation near a convenience store, Elwood kicks the crap out of some punks who are looking at him funny; with every line reading and twitch of the shoulder you can see Abbott congratulating himself on playing a genuine PSYCHO who''s also complex because of hi

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

On the Beach at Night Alone


The inert Korean drama 'On the Beach Alone at Night' is a prime example of why personal art isn't necessarily good art. Writer/director Sang-soo Hong ('Right Now, Wrong Then,' 'The Day He Arrives') has taken his real life extra-marital affair with actress/frequent collaborator Min-hee Kim, and created a painful series of talking points that never coheres into a coherent drama. This is especially disappointing since Hong's films generally rely on his viewers' ability to recognize patterns within pointedly similar narrative episodes. A typical Hong character performs the same actions over and over again, with minor, but noticeably different results.

Unfortunately, the drama in 'On the Beach Alone At Night' isn't so involving. Scenes of naturalistic small talk are fine enough, but Hong's drama grinds along whenever characters start to declaim, or make veiled proclamations about marriage and personal freedom. Watching this film feels like running into a depressed, drunk friend who can't stop himself from yelling about how terrible his life is, and how much hurt he's causing others. You feel bad for your buddy, but after a certain point, hoo, man, look at the time, gotta run!

'On the Beach Alone at Night' exemplifies all of the worst tendencies of Hong's films without many of his better qualities. It's a typical Hong movie in the sense that Hong is concerned with a woman's vaguely defined sense of independence, and a couple of men's growing irrelevance. 'On the Beach Alone at Night' is also very much like Hong's other films in that it's unmistakably told from a man's point-of-view. The words Hong puts in Kim's mouth may, in fact, reflect a keen insight into his lover's feelings. But, outside of that context, Kim's character, an aimless actress named Young-hee, often rationalizes deeply personal, and painful feelings--on Hong's behalf. 

Young-hee spends the first third of 'On the Beach Alone at Night' talking circles around her mild-mannered friend Jeeyoung (Young-hwa Seo). Almost every one of Jeeyoung and Young-hee's conversations concern the latter woman's romantic affair with a married man. Young-hee seems resigned to this situation, so she only speaks passionately about this relationship within the abstract: everybody should have the right to independence, and happiness, or variations thereof become a common speechifying theme. This is probably because Hong's wife has, in real life, refused to grant him a divorce. So now he promotes his affair with Kim as much as possible in a vain ongoing attempt at getting his unhappy spouse to change her mind.

'On the Beach Alone At Night' seems to enter a superficially denser thicket of meta-textuality at around the 25-minute mark, when the film's end credits prematurely roll. Young-hee wakes up in a movie theater. And for a moment, it seems like the suffocatingly myopic nature of Young-hee's man problems are a little more sensible. This movie is an open-ended plea from Hong to his audience: don't judge me too harshly, I know I'm hurting my loved ones, but what else can I do? This partly explains the mysterious unnamed stranger in a black over-coat who shadows Young-hee, like the personification of Hong, I mean Young-hee's guilty conscience, or maybe just her inability to deny the resentment and anger she's feeling about her current situation. This man in black is the revenge of Hong's subconscious. Too bad this movie is not about him.

There are many minor flourishes, and points of interest in this film that might existing&nbs

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 17, 2017

The Star


You know what would make the Nativity story so much better? Wise-cracking animated animals that save the day—or so the creative team behind this holiday-themed family flick thinks. The critters apparently have waited far too long to be hailed for their participation on that special night. That appears to be the motivating factor behind 'The Star,' a retelling of the first Christmas directed by Timothy Reckart in a feature debut that might have its heart in the right place but can''t quite manage to smoothly blend the spiritual with the silly without a few Biblical hitches here and there. 

The most awkward scene arrives early, introduced by the words 'Nazareth 9 months B.C.' That at least made me smile. But then a young girl is visited by a glowing angelic-like presence that proceeds to announce that God has chosen her to bear his Son. Shock, awe, fainting—any and all would be an acceptable response. Instead, she calmly takes in this news flash as if she was given a weather update and basically says thanks. I wanted to say, 'Honey, this isn''t like being told that you won a free dinner for two at Olive Garden. This is THE Annunciation. Act accordingly.' 

Granted, this Mary doesn''t have much of a back story, though she has freckles and rivulets of raven hair. She seems nice, but the script gives little hint why she is so special. Most amusing is that she is voiced by Gina Rodriguez, who plays 'Jane the Virgin' on TV. Nothing like inside-joke casting. But, in short order, she is about to be wed to Joseph (Zachary Levi, 'Tangled'). That leads to another uncomfortable conundrum when Mary tells her intended that, um, she is having God''s baby and he, lucky fellow, is going to help raise him—or, rather, Him. The humble carpenter is understandably verklempt at first, yet remains devoted to his wife. 

The film is rated PG for 'thematic elements,' which translates into pre-wedlock baby bump. You can practically hear a collective sigh of relief when this part of the story is over. Besides, the couple, obviously a big deal in the source material, isn''t the star of 'The Star.' They take a backseat to a brash little donkey (Steven Yeun of 'The Walking Dead') who has escaped from his grueling job at a mill that required him to be chained to a grindstone. He and bird buddy Dave the dove (Keegan Michael Key, blessed with the best jokes) find a safe haven with Mary and Joseph. The lady of the house takes a liking to the beast of burden and names him Bo. The animals and humans don''t actually talk to one another, Shrek and Donkey-style, and thank goodness for that.

Meanwhile, the three kings are spied riding atop camels on their way to see Herod (Christopher Plummer). Again, four-legged characters steal the spotlight. While one of the Magi is voiced by controversial televangelist Joel Osteen, the hump-bearing steeds are performed by the show-business holy trinity of Tyler Perry, Tracy Morgan and Oprah Winfrey. Perry is the bossy one, Morgan is the dumb one and Winfrey is the sensible one. The wise men unwisely alert Herod that a new king of the Jews is about to be born and he calls for a census in order to locate this rival ruler and destroy him. Around the time that Morgan''s dromedary resorts to a 'the king of the shoes' gag is when I began to lose faith in this venture. Seconding that feeling is a hulking silent brute in an iron mask, looking like a rejected extra from 'Mad Max: Fury Road

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 16, 2017

Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: November 16, 2017


6 NEW TO NETFLIX

'9'
'Chasing Trane'
'The Dinner'
'The Homesman'
'The Journey'
'Killing Ground'



8 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

'Atomic Blonde'

Charlize Theron always had a strong, charismatic presence on screen, but her transformation into a true action star in the '10s has been remarkable. Of course, the pinnacle of this part of her career (and perhaps her ENTIRE career) was 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' but it's fascinating to see how much of an action icon she was even in something like 'The Fate of the Furious.' So, of course, it's no surprise to see her in a 'John Wick'-esque action flick like 'Atomic Blonde,' a movie that really works when it shuts up. The style and action here is great, but the dialogue and plotting is subpar and disappointing. Still, there's enough here to like the film, especially in the perfectly calibrated, physical performance from Theron.

Buy it here 

Special Features
Deleted/Extended Scenes
Welcome to Berlin 
Blondes Have More Gun
Spymaster 
Anatomy of a Fight Scene 
Story in Motion: Agent Broughton 
Story in Motion: The Chase 
Feature Audio Commentary with Director David Leitch and Editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir



'Cars 3'

Is something wrong with me? Why do I consider the three 'Cars' films to be the worst Pixar has made? At least there's consistency, right? The first 'Cars' film is a serviceable mediocrity, entertaining enough for kids into cars (which is basically all kids) but less creative than the best of Pixar. The second 'Cars' film, however, is atrocious, and borderline offensive in the way it introduces gunplay into its kid-targeted universe. Which brings us to 'Cars 3,' a movie with a nice feminist angle but which is just too dull to connect. Disney has released a nice package for the film, and so it's worth mentioning for people who collect Pixar releases. They're always great-looking and extras-packed. But I'll say this for those on the fence - my three boys all lost interest and went to other parts of the house to do other things. That didn't even happen during 'The Nut Job 2.'

Buy it here 

Special Features
Lou
Commentary
Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool Short Film
Deleted Scenes
Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car that Could
Let's. Get. Crazy.
Ready For The Race
Cars To Die(Cast) For
Generations: The Story of Cars 3
My First Car
Legendary
World's Fastest Billboard
Cars D'oeuvres
Trailers
Car Reveals
Set Fly-Throughs





Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 16, 2017

Mudbound


'Mudbound' is all about perception. How it can foster empathy and engender contempt, sometimes in the same person. How it can cause one man to look at his land with life-affirming pride and another man to see that same plot as the kiss of death. How an act of wartime courage involving a red-tailed plane and a dark-skinned pilot can forever alter one''s opinion of a different race. And how a society can impose unfair, harmful and absurd restrictions on an entire group simply because those people are seen as inferior by the powers that be. The film invites us to observe its characters, to hear their inner voices, to see what they see and to challenge our own preconceived notions about race and gender.

This is a period piece that evokes the grand family epics of old Hollywood, most specifically George Stevens'' 1956 film 'Giant.' Like George Stevens'' Oscar winner, 'Mudbound' is based on a novel and concerns itself with two families living uneasily on the same land. Director Dee Rees masterfully executes her character study, filling the frame with visuals as big and powerful as the emotions she draws from her superb cast. This is melodrama of the highest order, which is a compliment, for melodrama is not a bad thing. It is part of some of the greatest works of art, and in the right hands, it can elicit an ennui-shattering response from the audience.

We will follow two families, the Jacksons, who are Black, and the McAllans, who are White. The McAllan patriarch, Henry (Jason Clarke) is forced to interact with the Jacksons after he is suckered into a deal to buy land that the seller does not legally own. Henry''s embarrassment is amplified by the taunting rants of his racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) and the notion that he has to move into an area designated for a lower class of Whites than he believes himself to be. Henry is constantly reminded of his downgraded stature by the repeated appearances of Vera Atwood (Lucy Faust), a struggling, poor White woman whom he deludes himself into thinking is below his station. Vera is Henry''s ghost of Christmas Future, a reminder that he is one mistake away from her desperate existence. For these reasons, Henry despises the land where he resides.

By comparison, pastor Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) looks at his little plot of land as a gift from God, a blessing that actually elevates his stature from that of his ancestors who couldn''t own land at all. It may be a harsh, at times unforgiving piece of Earth, but he has some form of ownership, no matter how tenuous. Even though Henry has commandeered it mostly for himself, leaving Hap to sharecrop it for diminishing returns, Hap still finds joy, solace and meaning in his farm work. As a Black man in post-WWII America, Hap has become accustomed to making due with even the smallest scraps of good fortune, no matter how infuriating they may seem. Hap is an experienced veteran of the war with Jim Crow; he has bent his anger into a strong, almost impenetrable suit of stoic armor whose weak spots are known only by his loving wife, Florence (Mary J. Blige).

Henry also has a wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan). Through her story, we first become aware that 'Mudbound' presents its characters in parallel sets of two. (Rachel Morrison''s cinematography also works in this fashion—notice how each family''s house is lit.) Laura''s partner in this arrangement is Florence, another mother who, like Laura, has the socially accepted role of subservience to her man. Both Florence and Laura buck this t

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 16, 2017

Netflix's Marvel Spin-off 'The Punisher' is a Lightweight


A guy gets punched, then punched again, then punched again and again and again. The result: face soup. It''s soundtracked by a lot of wet noise and some primal, guttural grunting, a slow and deliberate mining of blood and teeth from a circle of bone and tissue. It''s visceral, nothing more so than the eyes of the man behind the fist. He''s unhinged, terrified, and high on the violence. You can''t stop watching him, even as you recoil from the gore. The urge to pull away is strong — at first, because it''s horrifying and revolting; later, because it''s been going on for kind of awhile now, and you''ve got stuff to do. It might be compelling, but it''s also too damn much. As goes the face soup, so goes 'The Punisher.' 

The first true spinoff of the Marvel/Netflix canon, Steve Lightfoot''s 'The Punisher' aims to be more than 13 episodes of violence with a few MCU easter eggs thrown in. In this, it mostly succeeds, thanks largely to a terrific central performance and a concerted effort to be thoughtful with subject matter that could easily veer into exploitive territory. After dispatching the cartel he believes to be responsible for the death of his wife and children, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) chases down a quiet, empty life, battering his demons with a sledgehammer through a job in construction and retreating to an empty studio at night to read books and have nightmares. But violence always seems to find him, and when he''s tracked down by a mysterious computer whiz who goes by Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), he finds that the skeletons in his closet are far from dormant. His past is bloody, and his future promises more of the same. 

The story''s main thrust is a sound one — Castle and Micro attempt to track down the shadowy figures that turned a group of elite soldiers into an illegal torture-and-kill squad — but it''s not the only show in town. Seemingly hoping to avoid the mid-season slump typical of most Marvel shows, Lightfoot and company pack 'The Punisher' to the rafters. Curtis (Jason R. Moore), an old war buddy of Frank''s, runs a support group for vets, notably Lewis (Daniel Webber of '11.22.63'), a young man with severe PTSD. The operation is funded by another war buddy, Billy (Ben Barnes), who spends his days building a private security and military operation and his evenings grieving his long-lost friends. He crosses paths with Homeland Security Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), hot on Castle''s trail, and her path intersects with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), and there''s also a lot of business with Frank visiting Micro''s wife (Jaime Ray Newman) and kids. 

It''s a lot. Better too rich than too thin, to be sure, but 'The Punisher' casts its net so wide that almost none of these stories get a fair shake. When they do, it''s usually the acting that closes the gap — Woll and Bernthal are so good together that it almost doesn''t matter that their scenes get snapped out quickly — but it''s hard to escape the feeling that, in giving us all that story, 'The Punisher' doesn''t have much time for substance. It''s simultaneously too much and not enough

If there''s one thing the show has just enough of, it''s Jon Bernthal. A few minutes are all that''s required to remind the audience of why the 'Daredevil' standout earned himself a spinoff — he''s an incredibly arresting presence, somehow delivering a performance that''s as internal and restrained as it is inherently physical. He moves lik

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 15, 2017

Highlights from the 2017 Los Cabos Film Festival


Walking along the Los Cabos Film Festival''s sixth opening gala, the shadows of a teeming red carpet press corps grapple for position as grayscale titans on a building across a desert field from the Pabellón Cultural de la República. Spectacle and reality jockey for position just as aggressively during the festival. Last year, my first attending the resort-set fest, was tainted by its proximity to the presidential election, from which fleeing to sunny ?Cabo San Lucas felt like both a betrayal of those depressed Americans I left behind and a fantasy I could escape into.

This year, another heartbreaking event - the series of sexual assault revelations unveiling the movie industry''s patriarchal exploitation for those not already sadly in the know - lent collar-tugging subtext to the festival''s carefree tone. A throughline of guilt seems to have seeped into the festival''s selection of films, because along with some of the bigger-name films screened at the festival (which included 'The Florida Project,' 'Downsizing,' 'Molly''s Game,' 'A Ghost Story,' and 'I, Tonya'), many of the smaller, foreign-language films dealt with the repercussions of troubled men abusing their power.

When seated in a luscious, custom-decorated auditorium for a screening of the heavy-handed but surprisingly well-shot 'Battle of the Sexes,' you have plenty of time to consider how little has changed from the exaggerated gender politics of the 1973 Billie Jean King v. Bobby Riggs tennis match at the heart of the film. You also have every distraction to keep your mind elsewhere. There''re the rum drinks that come in bags like adult Capri Suns, the red carpet galas, the pools, the beachside afterparties—I''ll never complain about leaving late-fall Chicago for that. But if the celebration of cinema last year felt like mournful escapism, this year it feels even more disingenuous.

That carried over to the talent honored by the festival. Los Cabos honored writer/director Paul Schrader with a spotlight, screening his new film 'First Reformed' and the 1985 stunner 'Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.' At a press conference, Schrader was questioned mainly about his late career and how he''d transitioned and adapted to the streaming-centric way of moviemaking. However, he was also given a chance to comment on the ongoing flood of sexual misconduct allegations after his seemingly callous reaction to the accusations towards producer Harvey Weinstein. Schrader then compared the current wave of revelations to the feminist revolution, saying that the workplace will forever be changed.

Nicole Kidman, who received an award for lifetime achievement in cinema, was not given opportunity to comment on such matters. Kidman made stops at a press conference and the closing gala on her way to introduce Yorgos Lanthimos'' 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer.' At her press conference, when she could avoid the barrage of cues from tourism-seeking festival employees, Kidman spoke of her love of stories regardless of medium (citing Krzysztof Kieslowski''s 'Dekalog' television series) and her commitment to working with female directors now that she has the power, as both actress and producer, to do so.

As she said this, the conference was quickly winded down, lest anyone question the actress—so recently in the news for being the subject for a screenwriter''s sex scene scandal—

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 15, 2017

The Messy Women of 'Thor: Ragnarok'


'Thor: Ragnarok' is an irreverent, very funny romp that has some sly things to say about the legacies of colonialism and a reminder of how underused Chris Hemsworth is as a comedic actor. But two of its nicest surprises are in the characters of Hela and Valkyrie and their performances by Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson. Hela and Valkyrie are unusual for Marvel and blockbuster movies in general. Both are messy, complicated figures not neatly fitting into the box of villain or potential love interest. And it''s worth wishing more big films, and Marvel itself, would keeping exploring outside worn patterns with female characters in epic adventure stories. 

In 'Ragnarok,' Hela is Odin''s (Anthony Hopkins) oldest child. And it was her, not her brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) or Loki (Tom Hiddleston), by Odin''s side as they conquered the various realms that made their kingdom Asgard''s fortune. Hela was literally painted out of history when Odin chose to live a more palatable story of a benevolent warrior king. Odin and several other characters say Hela''s bloodlust grew too great and that is why she was banished. But there''s always a faint note of self serving denial every time that''s said. As though the speaker is trying to avoid crediting the violence, and the woman who wrought it, for bringing them their present wealth and power. And it neatly solves Marvel''s persistent villain problem of antagonists with vague, nebulous 'it''s in the script' intentions and plans. Hela has returned to claim what she rightfully considers her birthright. Her anger at being erased from history smarts at so many stories of actual, complicated, even terrible women being erased from history. And her wish to conquer Asgard and then resume her campaigns of endless wars feels borne out of the character rather than setting up the next movie. Blanchett is delicious in the role. Her clipped delivery and gestures suggesting an alternate universe where Katharine Hepburn played Emperor Ming. Blanchett is clearly having a ball playing the baddie and the fun is infectious. She raises Hela out of the humorless villain problem that has plagued other Marvel movies like 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' which managed to waste Lee Pace as the glowering, blue painted Ronan the Accuser. Hela is wicked and wickedly funny and having a worthy foil gives the film energy. 

And Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie is an example of why diverse casting is your friend. The trope of the soldier who lost all their companions and is now drinking the pain away is nothing new. But to see that part played by a woman, a woman of color no less makes it leap off the script page. When she first appears she is a mess, literally falling down drunk. Valkyrie is the survivor or a group of elite female fighters that were slaughtered by Hela. She''s measuring out her days between drinks on a backwater planet that''s half garbage dump and half pleasure dome and gladiatorial ring. She pays for booze by bringing fighters to the owner of the whole operation the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldbum). She brings him Thor after he''s defeated by an initial battle with Hela. And Thor begins to chip away at her self imposed exile and loathing to pick back up her mantle of the Valkyrie and help him defeat Hela. Thompson is marvelous, snarky one minute, tender the next. Thompson is not looking to be a 'Strong Female Character' but a broken hearted warrior esca

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 15, 2017

Justice League


For a film about a band of heroes trying to stop extraterrestrial demon-beasts from wiping out humanity, 'Justice League' is light on its feet, sprinting through a super-group's origin story in less than two hours, giving its ensemble lots to do, and mostly avoiding the self-importance that damaged previous entries in this franchise. (Aside from Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, 'Logan,' and a handful of other dark superhero films, excessive moping and brooding tends to be these projects'' undoing.) It''s unfortunate that the film was released on the heels of 'Thor: Ragnarok,' another knockabout superhero adventure, because critically it will suffer in comparison, even though it chooses a different route toward a similar destination, overcoming daunting production hurdles in the process.

'Justice League' never matches the latter film in visual invention, though, and it has basic script problems that never get solved. One is figuring out how to balance the screen time of known quantities from previous entries, such as Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman (not a spoiler; Henry Cavill''s name is on the poster, folks), against another standard-issue, roaring-and-stomping bad guy (Ciaran Hinds'' Steppenwolf, leader of the Parademons) and three major new characters: The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The plotline that brings the heroes together is the impending invasion of earth by Steppenwolf, who wants to recover and merge three magic boxes that will give him ultimate power and terraform the planet and blah-de-blah, who cares, seriously, it doesn''t matter.


All that being said, this is an ensemble adventure that''s nearly as satisfying (and humble in its aims) as the 'Avengers' movies. Like the recent 'Thor,' it seems to have figured out that a mega-budgeted superhero picture can be serious without carrying on as if humor, sentiment, and even color are inherently childish. 'Justice League' splits the difference between Snyder''s kinetic, cruelly funny 'Dawn of the Dead' remake and 'Sucker Punch' and his more dour, depressive epics like '300,' 'Man of Steel' and 'BvS.' It''s the kind of movie where The Flash can serve as wide-eyed, often bumbling comic relief, much as Spider-Man did in the second half of 'Captain America: Civil War,' and Batman can bust Aquaman''s chops for bringing a 'pitchfork' (actually a trident) to a battle. But it''s also the kind of film where every member of the Justice League—plus Lois Lane and Diane Lane's Martha Kent—can have a heartfelt 'spotlight' moment in which they admit withdrawing from life or putting up a tough façade to cushion the pain of loss, and rest assured that the other characters, and the film itself, will take their anguish seriously. (There are hints that Steppenwolf is working through a version of this problem: part of his grudge against Earth comes from being publicly humiliated eons ago.)


The scenes of Lois and Clark''s reconciliation are brief but sensitively rendered. Almost as moving is the newfound reasonableness of Batman, a miserable loner who seems to have been shocked into sensitivity (at least as much sensitivity as Bruce Wayne is capable of) by the death of Superman, an event for wh

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 14, 2017

'Call of Duty' and 'Wolfenstein' Redefine the Modern WWII Game


Playing war games, especially those based on real-life conflicts, reminds one of the famous Francois Truffaut theory that 'there is no such thing as an anti-war film.' The point was that all war films, even ones that capture the waking nightmare of war, glamorize it simply by virtue of turning it into art. It seems like an even more prominent problem when it comes to video games. How can a game developer use elements of the true horror and tragedy of war in a way that feels respectful and true but also maintains the threshold of entertainment required when one plunks down $60 for a game? And is it exploitative to make a game that uses elements of the Third Reich or the Holocaust? I''m sure these are questions asked by the teams behind two of the biggest games of 2017: Activision''s 'Call of Duty: WWII' and Bethesda''s 'Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.' They''re both emotionally resonant games that use imagery that gains power from the men and women who died in the 20th century''s greatest international conflict. They achieve video game greatness in very different ways, but both owe a great deal not only to history but the fiction we''ve seen about World War II in other mediums.

It''s impossible to play 'Call of Duty: WWII' and not see the influence of Steven Spielberg all over it. Not only does it open on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in a sequence incredibly reminiscent of the opening scenes of 'Saving Private Ryan,' but the game unfolds over a series of episodes set across the European front in the months after D-Day that will undoubtedly remind players of HBO''s 'Band of Brothers,' another Spielberg project that redefined the way we see WWII in entertainment. The narrative of the game features a variation on the men of that show''s 'Easy' Company, guys who go through Hell but do so arm in arm, and vow to never leave a man behind.

As with several iterations of 'Call of Duty,' the campaign in this year''s model includes a high degree of star power as well. You play U.S. Army Private First Class Ronald Daniels of the 1st Infantry Division. You land on those bloody beaches with a platoon led by Technical Sergeant William Pierson (Josh Duhamel) and First Lieutenant Joseph Turner (Jeffrey Pierce). This is not your old-fashioned video game voice work—it''s more akin to modern motion capture in the sense that an actor like Duhamel is unmistakable, and the performer gives a strong performance here, capturing a man who goes through Hell. He''s accompanied by Jonathan Tucker ('The Virgin Suicides,' TV''s 'Parenthood') as Private Zussman and Jeffrey Pierce as First Lieutenant Turner, two more platoon-mates of Daniels who drive through the European front of the second World War.

And I mean drive. If you''re not familiar with the 'Call of Duty' games and are wondering the degree of realism here, it''s minimal in terms of actual combat. This is still a shooter game through and through, and explosive action is the key trait of the series. I would estimate Daniels kills roughly 500 Nazis over the course of the campaign, and that number may actually be low when one considers the vehicular carnage and tank combat that ensues. It creates an interesting dynamic in which 'Call of Duty' is undeniably unrealistic and yet using imagery and historical events at the same time that are based on history. Y

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 14, 2017

Bright Wall/Dark Room November 2017: 'Can the Maker Repair What He Makes?' by Dean Buckley


We are pleased to offer an except from the latest by online magazine Bright Wall/Dark Room, which now publishes content weekly but with a monthly theme. Their theme for October is 'Head Trips.' In addition to this essay by Dean Buckley on 'Blade Runner,' the issue also has new essays on we also have essays on 'Stalker,' 'Dark City,' 'Black Mirror,' 'The Truman Show,' 'The Fountain,' 'Santa Sangre,' 'The Crying Game,' 'Femme Fatale,' 'The Skin I Live In,' and a look at the history of Acid Westerns and more.  They've also launched a brand new version of their website. 

You can read previous excerpts from the magazine by clicking here. To subscribe to Bright Wall/Dark Room, or purchase a copy of their current issue, click here.

It''s been over a quarter of a century since Blade Runner first graced theatres in a mangled cut with a dull, vapid, plodding voiceover and a ludicrous, tacked-on happy ending cobbled together from leftover footage from The Shining.

Thirty-five years and seven versions later, the debate rages on: is Deckard a replicant? People have spent years poring over the film for evidence of their preferred answer. There''s a brief frame where Deckard''s eyes glint as he turns his head, out-of-focus behind Rachael, and replicant''s eyes glow sometimes, so Deckard is a replicant. Deckard lacks any of the physical qualities the film ascribes to replicants, so Deckard isn''t a replicant.

For what it''s worth, Ridley Scott says Deckard is a replicant. But Ray Bradbury said Fahrenheit 451 wasn''t about censorship in his later years, even though it''s literally a story about state-sanctioned book-burning, so maybe authorial statements don''t carry any magical determinative weight.

Personally, I don''t really care whether Deckard is

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 14, 2017

#315 November 14, 2017
Matt writes: The twentieth anniversary of Ebertfest, the film festival co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz Ebert at the University of Illinois, College of Media, is slated to run from Wednesday, April 18th, through Sunday, April 22nd, next year. Passes for the festival are now on sale at the official sites of Ebertfest and its main venue, The Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, Illinois. They can also be purchased by calling the theater box office at 217-356-9063. For more info, click here, and make sure to check out the lovely documentary about last year's festival posted below...

Roger Ebert's 19th Annual Film Festival // A Retrospective Documentary from Shatterglass Studios on Vimeo.

Trailers The Post (2017). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson. Synopsis: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government. Opens in US theaters on January 12th, 2018.

The Greatest Showman (2017). Directed by Michael Gracey. Written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon.Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron. Synopsis: Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, this original musical celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. Opens in US theaters on December 20th, 2017.

The Pirates of Somalia (2017). Written and directed by 

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 13, 2017

Better Than the Oscars?


On Saturday night, November 11th, 2017, Hollywood held one of the most heartwarming events of the season, the 9th annual Governors Awards, presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles. The evening was filled with warmth, grace and a deep appreciation of talented cinema icons including poetic filmmaker Charles Burnett, French New Wave legend Agnès Varda, trailblazing cinematographer Owen Roizman, inimitable actor Donald Sutherland, and creative award winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu.  

Amidst the sexual harassment scandals clouding this year's movie season with a sense of disillusionment, this evening was a breath of fresh air in how it celebrated the legacies of people who changed the industry for the better. Sporting all the exuberance of her youth at age 89, Varda took part in an impromptu dance with presenter Angelina Jolie after delivering her acceptance speech. While holding his Oscar, Burnett said he hoped that the teacher who told him that he would never amount to anything reads the Hollywood trades. Both Roizman and Sutherland teared up while talking about their families and their careers. And Iñárritu made an impassioned speech about immigrants. These were the sorts of moments that made the whole evening worthwhile. There were no time limits placed on their speeches, no air of competition, and no losers, only winners. The awardees were chosen by the Governors of the Academy for their excellence. It was a love-fest from beginning to end.   

Academy president John Bailey kicked off the evening along with a toast from Steven Spielberg and a serenade of Diane Warren's 'I Was Here' performed by Sheléa (Academy CEO Dawn Hudson was also in attendance). Roizman, a five-time Oscar nominee, was honored by reflections from director Lawrence Kasdan, actor Dustin Hoffman and Daryn Okada, a Governor from the Cinematographers Branch. In addition to her dance with Jolie, 'Cleo from 5 to 7' director Varda was praised by Jessica Chastain, Directors Branch Governor Kimberly Peirce (in a bawdy speech noting that Varda was the first woman director who showed her women characters unabashedly enjoying sex), and Documentary Branch Governor Kate Amend. Varda was joined by her daughter Rosalie and her grandchildren, and by the co-director of her current documentary, 'Faces, Places,' the international artist J.R. 

Charles Burnett's legacy, which includes such classics as 'Killer of Sheep,' and 'To Sleep With Anger,'  was hailed by actors Tessa Thompson and Chadwick Boseman, and directors Sean Baker and Reginald Hudlin, a Governor of the Directors Branch. His gold Oscar was presented to him on stage by director Ava Duvernay in a beautiful speech in which she hailed him as 'an artist who relished sharing the inner lives of working class African-Americans on

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 13, 2017

Deadline's The Contenders 2017 Kicks Off Oscar Season


Deadline's seventh annual The Contenders event in Hollywood plays an especially crucial role in kicking off Oscar season in the absence of consistently touted frontrunners. 35 films from 19 studios and distributors were sampled at the event hosted by Pete and Madelyn Hammond, and held at the DGA Theater. It follows the successful inaugural Contenders in London event that occurred the previous week. Since then, we have had the Hollywood Film Awards, and the Academy's Governors Awards where Honorary Oscars were awarded to Charles Burnett, Owen Roizman, Donald Sutherland and Agnès Varda.

Now the race is wide open, and is expected to go at a dizzying pace, with announcements to come from the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, SAG-AFTRA, the Independent Spirit Awards and many film critics' associations from across the nation, leading up to the actual announcement of the Academy Award nominations.

The Contenders was a vibrant reminder that female directors could get multiple nominations this year with luminaries like Patty Jenkins' box-office phenomenon 'Wonder Woman'; Dee Rees' racial period drama 'Mudbound'; Greta Gerwig's enthralling coming-of-age story 'Lady Bird'; Kathryn Bigelow's brutally affecting factual film 'Detroit'; Aisling Walsh's touching character study of a naive artist, 'Maudie'; Angelina Jolie's bracing film about Cambodian genocide 'First They Killed My Father'';  and Valerie Faris' timely and entertaining tennis dramedy 'Battle of the Sexes,' which she co-directed with her husband, Jonathan Dayton. 

Continuing on in the category of women, powerful clips of Sally Hawkins in both the 'Shape of Water' and 'Maudie,' and of Jessica Chastaine as Molly Bloom in 'Molly's Game' blew us away, and showed why they should be prime contenders for Best Actress. Other powerful performances by women that should not be forgotten during nominations are Annette Bening's dead-on turn as Gloria Grahame in 'Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool,' Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in 'Lady Bird'; Margot Robbie and Allison Janney in 'I, Tonya,' the young new-to-acting Brooklynn Prince in 'The Florida Project,' and Carey Mulligan

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 13, 2017

Hulu's 'Future Man' a Sci-fi Gem for Genre Geeks


Just in time for Thanksgiving weekend binge-watching arrives the Hulu series 'Future Man,' ready to inject some humor from the school of Judd Apatow into a concept that honors 'Back to the Future' without merely repeating it. In fact, in the episodes available to press, the series recognizes other sci-fi classics, including 'Ender''s Game,' 'The Terminator,' 'The Last Starfighter' to 'Minority Report,' but has larger creative aspirations than winking nostalgia. 'Future Man' is a special treat for genre geeks, especially those hungry for original riffs on their favorite stories. 

'Future Man' takes place in 2017, when a janitor for a biochemical company named Dan Futturman (get it?) becomes the first person to beat a violent, impossible sci-fi action game, based around the apocalypse of the future human race. He soon finds out that the game is a simulator made in the future, created to scope out talent from 2017 who might be able to save the world decades later, like a dorky 'Terminator.' When two deadly serious soldiers from decades later named Wolf and Tiger arrive in 2017, they have no idea of Dan''s true inexperience at a lot of things, never mind saving the world. 

Their main mission, at least originally, is to stop a head biochemical engineer (Keith David) from accidentally starting the Biotic race while searching for a cure for his herpes. It sends Dan, Tiger and Wolf back to the late ‘60s to a party with hopes of stopping him from getting the STD, and in part, saving humanity. It''s that high stakes, low-brow narrative value that makes 'Future Man' special and often wonderful, while taking viewers on its speedy, unpredictable ride. That 'Future Man' also gives the legendary character actor Keith David one of his most memorable roles of all time is testament to how 'Future Man' is a can't-miss enterprise. 

The lead actors of the series boast unique charisma as well. Josh Hutcherson is in his element as Dan, able to play ball with the endearing man-child aspects of his character, like when he's introduced to his sidekicks from the future when they catch him masturbating. At the same time, he sells the awe of the time-traveling saga as he becomes its accidental hero, surprised as much as we are about what the hell is happening. And there's excellent dry, loud humor to be found from Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson as Tiger and Wolf, respectively, as their alien nature to traditions of the 1960s or 2010s make for original fish-out-of-water jokes. Coupe gets a huge laugh, for example, when she sees a baby for the first time. 

This is the type of series that defines 'compulsively watchable,' partly thanks to its full cinematic look. While the show is strong with its irreverent sense of humor, 'Future Man' certainly doesn''t slouch with its action scenes, which boast an unusual clarity in editing and framing when characters fight hand-to-hand and often for a couple minutes. It's that type of dedication that makes 'Future Man' even more of the real deal, and better than most recent projects of similar genre aspirations. The first two episodes especially, directed by Rogen and Goldberg, boast some of their best work yet as filmmakers, displaying ambition with what to do with a camera while staying on narrative target. 

'Future Man' takes full advantage of the fun to be had with a time-jumping series. The small events that happen in the ‘60s directly affect modern times, and it leads

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 13, 2017

The Bravery of Being Yourself: Daveed Diggs on 'Wonder' and 'The Mayor'


'When I was in preschool, we were supposed to do a performance for the parents, and I didn''t want to do it,' said Daveed Diggs during his acceptance speech upon winning the 2016 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. 'My mom talked to the teacher, she came back and said, ‘You don''t have to do [the performance], but you have to do something.'' I said, ‘I want to do a gymnastics routine with my dad.'' A couple days later, my dad showed up with me in matching rainbow tights and we did this gymnastics routine in front of the parents at the preschool. The important thing about that story is that my mom gave me permission to do something that everyone else wasn''t doing, and my dad supported me and made it possible.'

Thank goodness Diggs'' parents empowered his individuality as a child. His tireless charisma and tour de force musical abilities have made him one of the brightest modern talents on stage and screen. He earned a Tony and a Grammy for his dual performance as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the original cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda''s Broadway sensation, 'Hamilton.' Since then, he''s landed scene-stealing roles on TV shows such as 'Black-ish' and 'The Get Down,' while serving as executive producer of ABC''s 'The Mayor,' a new comedy about a young hip-hop artist who is elected mayor of Fort Grey, California. Diggs'' own career in hip-hop and rap has also continued to flourish, both as a solo artist and in various groups. Now the beloved performer is making his feature film debut in 'Wonder,' Stephen Chbosky''s endearing adaptation of R.J. Palacio''s book about a young boy, Auggie (an unrecognizable Jacob Tremblay), whose facial differences have made it challenging for him to find friends in fifth grade. As the boy''s supportive teacher, Mr. Browne, Diggs gets to fleetingly share the screen with a certain well-known Wookiee. Needless to say, the Force is strong with this movie.


Diggs recently spoke with RogerEbert.com about his approach to teaching, how experimentation with the form is essential to his music and why his memory of performing for the Obamas still brings him to tears.

The infectious energy that you brought to the role of Mr. Browne is the sort of quality that gets students engaged in the classroom. 

I was trying to mimic some of the great teachers that I''ve had in the past, and I also taught middle school for a while. Stephen and I talked a lot about the kind of energy that we wanted Mr. Browne to exude. From my own experience and from my mentors, I was able to find the energy that sustains the attention of a young person. Teaching is really about energy management. I always relate teaching to doing a rap show, which is also about understanding where the energy of your audience is and figuring out where it needs to go in order to tell the story you need to tell. 

How were you able to deal with the problem of bullying as an educator?

In my experience, it was certainly tricky. You have to immediately protect the victims of bullying and they have to feel safe to still participate in the classroom environment. Whatever kind of bullying it is has to get stopped immediately and you have to figure out how to continue to prevent it, which has become much more difficult these days. The bullying can continue when the students are not in each others'' presence. Social media would''ve destroyed me as a kid, but the kids today seem so much better equipped to deal with it because they''ve grown up in th

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 11, 2017

Video Interview: Joachim Trier on 'Thelma'


Joachim Trier, who still holds his memories of Ebertfest and his placement on Roger's top ten lists near his heart, is a gift to obsessive cinephiles. The Danish director and his Norwegian co-writer Eskil Vogt have crafted some of the finest meditations on loneliness, family and community of the 21st century. 'Reprise,' 'Oslo August 31st,' and 'Louder Than Bombs' are all time-shuffling marvels, passports into the deepest, darkest depths of suffering and isolation. 

His latest, 'Thelma,' appears at first to be a bit of a departure. Gone are the whirling interiors, metaphorically and literally, replaced with anxious landscapes, where lone figures walk uncertainly towards darkness. There's a crispness and a stillness unlike anything Trier has yet produced, as he explores the pain of his hero, a girl who discovers burgeoning psychic distress buried inside her. I spoke to Trier about his icy sci-fi parable and his unique creative process.



NYFF Interview - Joachim Trier from Scout Tafoya on Vimeo.

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

I Love You, Daddy


By the time you read this review, Louis C.K.'s semi-satirical showbiz comedy 'I Love You, Daddy' will have been consigned to the same pop culture memory hole that contains Jerry Lewis' concentration camp drama 'The Day the Clown Cried.' The official release date was November 17, 2017. Orchard Films pulled it from the release schedule this morning, November 11, 2017, a day after The New York Times published a story confirming previously unsourced rumors that, over the course of many years, C.K. had exposed himself to women. It's as bad as you've heard. It was that bad even before the news broke. But the news makes the experience of seeing it, and thinking about it, even more unsettling. 

The allegations had been bubbling for years under the surface of the mainstream media, which isn't fond of getting sued for libel. C.K. became a critical darling for his FX series 'Louie,' a groundbreaking quasi-autobiographical comedy-drama. Many critics, myself included, decided—foolishly, in retrospect—to withhold judgment of his guilt or innocence of the allegations and treat the show's scenarios as dramatic abstractions, like anything else you'd seen on a TV series or in a movie. When you see this film—as some of you will, out of grim curiosity or historic interest—you might be as appalled as I was when I saw it a couple of weeks before its distributor pulled it from release and realized he'd been playing the entire world for a bunch of suckers. If there's one thing we know for sure about people who are accused of indecent exposure, it's that the thrill of getting away with it is the true source of their pleasure. This is the movie version of a pervert in a raincoat flashing you, deftly enough that you aren't sure you saw what you saw. In retrospect, much of 'Louie' now plays like a dry run for what he'd do on the big screen with 'I Love You, Daddy,' which leaves the raincoat open while its owner makes eye contact and dares you to deny what's happening. I saw it a couple of weeks ago before the Times story broke and the distributor shelved it. My notes consist of a single sentence: 'It's like he's rubbing it in our faces.'

It seems astonishingly brazen, under the circumstances, that of all the stories C.K. could have chosen to tell, he chose this one. 'I Love You, Daddy ' is about a Louis C.K.-like TV auteur, played by Louis C.K., who has an affair with the star of one of his TV shows (Rose Byrne), a woman he cast partly because he was sexually attracted to her, while at the same time his daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz), a minor who just turned 17, is starting an affair with a sixty-something film director (John Malkovich) who is legendary for his skill and productivity but also notorious for making films about older men having affairs with much younger women and doing the same thing in real life. The director is modeled, of course, on Woody Allen, one of C.K.'s heroes, a great American director who has also been accused of child molestation and who, point of fact, married his own adopted daughter, a few years after they began an affair under ex-wife Mia Farrow's roof. (She was 19, he was about 50.)

The mere fact of this film's existence sounds like the plot of a never-made episode of 'Columbo,' the great TV series starring Peter Falk as a rumpled, working class detective. Columbo usually investigated murders by rich, powerful men so arrogant that they failed to realize that their guilt was obvious to Columbo. The detective's favorite strategy was to flatter the arrogant rich guys into talking about how brilliant and accomplished and amazing they were, until t

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri




Anger is an energy in Martin McDonagh''s brilliant 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,' one of the best films of the year. In this 'Southern American with an Irish attitude' story from the 'In Bruges' writer/director that, like a lot of his work, recalls Flannery O''Connor in tone (the O'Connor quote 'The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it' could be this movie's tagline), anger is not treated like something to be cured. Hollywood likes to teach us that anger is a sin, and that only through acceptance and understanding can we find true happiness. Easier said than done, right? How can you not be angry at an unfair world? Life will take children before parents. Life will give cancer to relatively young people. Life will be racist, sexist, and cruel. And you should throw a few back and yell at something that unfair. You should fight. It is only through that fighting and that rage that other emotions like empathy and understanding can surface. Anger is not a disease to be cured but a path on the road to comprehending the world.

No one does angry better than Frances McDormand, who does her best film work here since 'Fargo' as Mildred Hayes, a recently divorced mother who lost her daughter Angela less than a year ago. Angela was raped and murdered, but the case has gone cold. There was no matching DNA, so the spotlight has dimmed and Mildred is getting no updates. She''s angry. She should be. One day, she sees three barren billboards on a rarely-traveled road, and she rents the space to ask the local chief of police, played by Woody Harrelson, why there are no answers. Local media becomes interested in the billboards, and the attention sparks a series of events involving not only the chief but one of his more loathsome officers, played by Sam Rockwell. Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Clarke Peters, and John Hawkes fill out a ridiculously perfect supporting cast.

You might think you have your finger on what this will be like from that description, but McDonagh''s simply perfect script is never quite what you expect it to be. The mystery of what happened to Angela would have dominated other versions of this story, but this is not really that movie. On one level, it is more about cause and effect than crime and resolution. Mildred rents the billboards, which leads to pressure on the chief, which leads to anger from his loyal officer, and so on and so on down the line. McDonagh spares no one, allowing almost all of his characters to be deeply flawed, especially McDormand''s Mildred and Rockwell''s Dixon. Life has screwed over both of these people, and it has made them both angry. Mildred is channeling her anger to solve her daughter''s murder. Dixon has less of an idea of what to do with his, but one senses early on that it''s probably going to eventually cost him his job.

Rockwell often plays nice guys, but he''s more effective here as a racist, violent cop than you might expect. He looks older and pudgier, like he drinks himself to sleep every night and doesn''t really trust that life has much in store for him. Rockwell has a big arc in this film and he takes no false steps, as usual. Harrelson is great too, but the film belongs to McDormand, who can do mo

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

Thelma


The opening scene of 'Thelma,' Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier's latest film, is so quietly unnerving its effect spills over into the rest of the film, creating a hall of echoes. A father and his child walk across a frozen lake, tromping through snow-laden woods. He carries a rifle. When the father takes aim at a deer standing in the distance, the daughter is so riveted by the deer she is oblivious when her father turns to point the rifle at the back of her head.

The film jumps some years in the future. Thelma (Eili Harboe) is now a freshman in college, starting her life away from home. She is still tied to her over-protective parents, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) and wheelchair-bound Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). They call her repeatedly if she doesn't answer her phone; they have memorized her class schedule; they ask her what she's cooking for dinner. She was raised a devout Christian, and her parents are concerned she may compromise her morals like so many young people do when they first leave home. But the anxieties unleashed in the prologue reverberate, even during the long stretches where the film takes the form of a tremulous sexual-awakening story. When Thelma confides in her father, her head resting wearily on his shoulder, the image of him pointing a rifle at her years earlier shivers around them like an afterimage. The sense of threat is palpable, but it's unclear what the threat is, and from which direction it comes.

Thelma, raised in isolation, wanders through the partying social atmosphere of college like a prim little wraith. Although she studies Biology, that most earthy of subjects, she appears so insubstantial that a breath of wind might blow her away. One day, while studying in the library, Anja (Kaya Wilkins) sits down next to her, and the two have a brief casual exchange. Moments later, Thelma is overcome by a seizure which leaves her writhing on the floor. She tells the doctor she doesn't have epilepsy as far as she knows. Later, Anja approaches her at the pool where Thelma does laps, asking if she's feeling better. To say that Thelma is 'touched' doesn't come close to expressing the intensity of response. Thelma melts at the show of concern. Kindness is miraculous to Thelma. Even more miraculous, the beautiful and casually confident Anja includes Thelma in her group of friends, and Thelma does things she's never done before: dance in a nightclub, get a little drunk, not pick up when her parents call. Thelma is a sheltered girl, overwhelmed by her new freedoms and her sexual attraction to Anja ... but deeper than that, she is overwhelmed by feeling.

There's a lot going on in 'Thelma,' too much at times, with a number of familiar story-structures dovetailing in at different angles. Ultimately, it's the story of a strange submissive girl investigating the mystery of her own clouded-over past. It's also a coming-of-age story, compressed and thwarted by parental control via religion reminiscent of 'Carrie' (the film owes a lot to 'Carrie'). It is crystal clear that 'coming out' to her parents would not be an option, so as Thelma falls head over heels in love/lust with Anja, her psychological situation deteriorates. The seizures get stronger, more violent. 'Thelma' operates, too, like a thriller, or a horror film, filled with strange portents and seemingly supernatural phenomena. There are some truly spooky sequences. But its engine is the emotional awakening of an extremely repressed girl, a girl who finds emotions so stressful it ruptures the fabric of her reality.

Joachim Trier keeps the film firmly in Thelma's point of view. What she sees, we see. Because she is an unreliab

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

The Price


Those of us who don''t work in high finance tend to think of those who do work in high finance as automatically having it made. A careful look at the cold-callers in movies such as 'Boiler Room' and 'The Wolf of Wall Street' will give you a different picture, but trying to con people while you''re sitting in an office wearing a suit is still less tedious and wearying than digging a ditch, and there''s always the promise that once you break through somehow that yacht is just around the corner.

It''s no spoiler to say that for Seyi Ogunde, the young whiz who''s the protagonist of Anthony Onah''s new film 'The Price,' the yacht doesn''t even get within hailing distance. Seyi, a Nigerian-American played by Aml Ameen, is likely the only person of color at his trading firm. An opening scene shows a glum routine: brushing teeth, suiting up, getting to work, solving a problem for a white colleague and watching the white colleague go and take credit for the brilliant fix that was actually Seyi''s idea. Soon a white co-worker will saunter over to Seyi''s cubicle with an entreaty that the hard-working analyst get some down time. 'You wanna get the girls in the bed sheets, you got to lay off the spreadsheets,' insists this genius bro. But Seyi has little time for play. He''s a main means of support for his family, at whose Hackensack home he spends too little time by their lights, and too much time by his. His dad is suffering from the aftereffects from a stroke; his mom is mostly invested in browbeating Seyi for not contributing enough to his father''s upkeep; his younger sister is just obnoxious in the mode of younger sisters everywhere.

Seyi''s stress and frustration, not to mention a growing Adderall habit, start to wear on his character. Hoping for a quick score to launch him out of the cubicle ghetto, he tries to orchestrate a shady insider trade. He begins dating Liz (Lucy Griffiths) a young white woman who spent some time in Cameroon, who has a boyfriend but is nonetheless intrigued by Seyi, who''s charming and brilliant and contrary in ways she clearly finds intriguing; on their first date, he expressed disappointment in Barack Obama in blunt, vehement terms. They come together and pull apart, partially because of Liz''s other relationship but also because of Sayi''s withholding. Although he''s clearly desperate for connection, he''s also embarrassed to be himself, to reveal too much of his background. He wants Liz''s approval and affection without having to show her who he actually is.

All these tensions, combined with the everyday tensions of pushing up against institutional racism, which has a nice way of camouflaging itself in Seyi''s professional world, put Seyi in danger of a meltdown. You can see what might be coming when a colleague finds out about Seyi''s Adderall secret. Instead of busting him, he says, 'That''s for the kids, man. When you''re ready to graduate from high school, give me a call.' What Seyi discovers is that there''s no such thing as getting your hands a little dirty in this world. And just as he''s about to blow up his future, the wreckage of his own family''s past hits him in the face.

One salutary feature of this sharply observed film is that it does not feel compelled to make Seyi in any way magical: he cannot transcend the sump of addiction and corruption in which he allows himself to sink. As much as the strictures of the world he''s in prevent him from reaching his potential, he still has agency, and he uses it badly. Simply because he doesn''t really know how to stand up for himself, or be honest with himself. Writer-director Onah, himself a Niger

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

Ichi the Killer


The most exciting thing about Well Go USA''s re-release of 'Ichi the Killer,' Japanese cult filmmaker Takashi Miike''s gory, dark gangster/horror-comedy, is that this perversely funny, and unsparingly disgusting genre-melting film now looks and sounds better than it has any right to. The new digital restoration of 'Ichi the Killer' allows viewers to notice the film''s seams, especially computer-generated blood spatter, and the fake-looking make-up that define the appearances of lead actors Tadanobu Asano and Shinya Tsukamoto.

This is fitting since 'Ichi the Killer' is about the disappointment and potentially seductive power of violence, and the nightmare of being simultaneously drawn in, and alienated by images of men hurting women as a means of indirectly hurting themselves. Mike''s film, a rambling adaptation of Hideo Yamamoto''s manga comic book, follows Kakihara (Asano), a sadomasochistic mobster, and his roundabout quest to find, and either kill or be killed by Ichi (Nao Ohmori), a nebbish and reluctant assassin/serial killer who leaves all of his victims with their guts draped across the furniture, and dripping from the walls.

Miike''s essential gross-out is now paradoxically more approachable than ever since it looks more mundane, surreal, and artificial than ever before. It''s a wonderful poison apple of a gore movie, one whose half-attractive, half-repulsive charms make it a fitting apology and celebration of its director''s frequently jarring use of extreme violence.

The plot of 'Ichi the Killer' is kind of unimportant, and ultimately headache-inducing since it''s a long, episodic adaptation of a multi-volume comic book. Still, the film often feels like a put-down of the Japanese mob dramas of the past, and a prediction of the American serial killer procedurals that would follow. All you really need to know is: Kakihara is a social-climbing sadist who becomes increasingly unhinged after his boss Anjo goes missing. In his search for Anjo, Kakihara discovers Ichi''s existence, and decides that he must meet, and fight him. Ichi, on the other hand, is a self-aware, but deeply conflicted hot mess. His handler/mentor 'Jijii' (Tsukamoto) uses that messiness to his advantage, and sics the troubled Ichi on anybody he doesn''t like. Unfortunately, Ichi is coming off of his leash more and more lately. And nobody can put him down once he starts biting.

Almost everybody is a funhouse expression of Ichi since he personifies conflicted macho insecurity, a recurring fixation throughout Miike''s best and/or weirdest gangster films, like 'Gozu' and 'Graveyard of Honor.' Kakihara is basically what Ichi might have become if he didn''t feel so bad about being a monster. So Kakihara is flamboyant, and even sexy because of the (fake) scars on Asano''s face, his self-assured body language, and his character''s charmingly garish punk wardrobe, including a purple satin jacket, and a red flannel suit. But Kakihara''s also pissy and dissatisfied because he hasn''t found anybody that can show affection to him by hurting him.

There are also secondary characters like Siamese twin crooked cops Jirô and Saburô (both played Suzuki Matsuo),who dress alike because they want to be in each other''s skin. And mob bodyguard Kaneko (Hiroyuki Tanaka), a frustrated father figure who unwittingly stumbles into Ichi, and assumes he''s as harmless as he only superficially appears. And Kaneko''s biological son Takeshi (Hiroshi Kobayashi), who idolizes Ichi because Ohmori''s character saves him from a group of bullies…by eviscerating them with a blade hidden in his shoe. Even Jijii—Japanese derogatory slang for 'old man'—is guilty of project

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

Mayhem


Joe Lynch''s 'Mayhem' feels like a timely film in a way it wouldn''t have a couple years ago. Whatever your political party may be, anger has been a palpable emotion in this country recently—it was anger that got Trump elected, and it''s anger that opposes his administration. But what do we do with that anger? How long can we keep it down before it overwhelms us? With his best film since 'Wrong Turn 2,' Lynch channels that national anger into a stylish, smart, propulsive gore-fest set in a corporate America that takes no prisoners. But when did it?

Not only is 'Mayhem' a brutal, visceral gut punch at a time of the year when we typically drown in awards bait, but it feels like a movie designed to tap into a vein of frustration and anger at a corrupt system. Hate your boss? Can''t control your road rage? Want to push your co-workers down a stairwell? Thinking mean things about the President and his cronies? 'Mayhem' channels rage at an unfair society and the bullshit that trickles down from the Powers That Be into a paean to uncontrolled anger. Much more tonally consistent than the similar 'The Belko Experiment,' 'Mayhem' isn''t as much about id run rampant as it is two people finally loosed from moral and societal constraints in a way that allows them to enact bloody, vicious vengeance. There are times when the whole thing feels like an extended version of that scene from 'Kingsman: The Secret Service,' or, worse, the movie that would be the favorite film of the lunatic followers of Tyler Durden in 'Fight Club,' but this weird little genre exercise works way more often than it doesn''t, and actually has something to say in the process.

The premise of 'Mayhem' is simple in a way that I think a lot of horror masters would admire. There''s an airborne disease, referred to as 'Red Eye' for the single red-eye it gives those who suffer from it, that removes all societal and moral governance. So those infected with it don''t just get mad, they get bloody. And it happens to infect a firm (and not just any firm but the one that set the legal precedent for 'Red-Eye Defense' by recently getting off a murderer who was infected with it at the time) filled with the kind of well-tailored monsters who barely control their impulse for cruelty anyway. These are the kind of people who gleefully step on the little man in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and one of the most interesting aspects of 'Mayhem' is the choice Lynch makes not to infect 'average Joes' but people who seem to have practice unleashing their inner monsters. When John Towers (Steven Brand), the boss of this loathsome company, says to someone beneath him that 'You must protect those above you,' it''s the kind of human shield mentality that CEOs and executives have been using for scapegoats for decades.

However, the protection in this case is literal, and the man that Towers needs it from is Derek Cho (Steven Yeun, going from fighting zombies on 'The Walking Dead' to maniacal suits here), a rising star who is about to be fired on the day the infection hits the company. Rather than take his corporate execution the way so many do, he picks up a hammer and a nail gun and goes after the people above him, assisted by a client named Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who was in the office that day fighting an immoral foreclosure. Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, and Dallas Roberts co-star as corporate monst

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

Bitch


'Bitch' has a bark that''s far worse than its bite.

It''s an ambitious film, to be sure, one that aims to address the familiar phenomenon of domestic malaise through a bold allegory: An overworked, underappreciated wife and mother snaps one day and starts acting like a ferocious dog. She runs around naked on all fours in the basement, growling at the kids, scratching at the walls, covered in her own feces. It''s like a surreal, extreme version of 'Bad Moms.'

But as director, writer and star, Marianna Palka has trouble balancing dark comedy with dire melodrama. She certainly gives it her all in front of the camera with a fearless physical performance, as evidenced by the film''s opening scene in which her character attempts suicide by hanging herself from the dining room chandelier with one of her husband''s belts. Behind the camera, though, Palka struggles to find the right tone, especially given that she''s trying to blend so many wildly different and difficult kinds of movie at once. She''s come up with an intriguing premise, but doesn''t quite have the nuance or the storytelling chops to offer an insightful satire.

Thinly drawn characters make baffling decisions, their every move punctuated by a obtrusive score that''s either edgy and jazzy or jaunty and wacky. 'Bitch' veers between slapsticky comedy and weepy drama before taking a sharp turn in the third act when it finally becomes clear to everyone that Palka''s disturbed character, Jill, is in need of serious medical help, forcing a custody battle between Jill''s husband and her sister and parents.

By then, though, the film''s central metaphor has long since worn out its welcome.

It begins on an ordinary day in a comfortable neighborhood of Los Angeles, with the intermittent sound of barking dogs piercing the suburban quiet (in a rare subtle touch). Soon after Jill''s failed suicide effort, we meet the people responsible for her despondency: Her selfish husband, Bill (Jason Ritter), a philandering workaholic, and her four noisy, demanding kids. Only the eldest, Tiffany (Brighton Sharbino), has any clue that the family matriarch is depressed and deeply shaken.

Once Jill disappears and re-emerges in her canine state - leaving a trail of scattered food, urine and feces in her wake - Bill and the kids struggle to fend for themselves. Palka the filmmaker takes this to unbelievable extremes for the sake of sour laughs, including Bill''s ignorance as to where his children attend school (or that they need little things like lunch, for example). But the reaction from the kids—the youngest of whom, Cindy (Kingston Foster), is in kindergarten—to their mother''s departure from reality is bizarre. They giggle about it as if it''s a game.

Ritter also plays it broadly, which I suppose is an attempt at skewering the patriarchy for its uselessness. But what''s happened here is a serious psychotic break. Jill''s doctor and the police officers who stop by the house to check on her well being are right to suggest she''s 5150, the California Welfare and Institutions Code for someone who''s a danger to themselves or others. Bill reacts by swilling vodka straight from the bottle in the shower before dropping his wedding band down the drain. In theory, Palka wants us to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but 'Bitch' increasingly leaves a foul taste.

Abruptly, though, the film takes a turn from all that bitterness when Bill finds he must fight Jill''s sister (Jaime King) and her parents for the right to care for her. After trying to challenge us for so long, it suddenly grinds to a halt and goes nice. Lost in all this, of

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

No Stone Unturned


Ace documentary director Alex Gibney's 'No Stone Unturned' is an investigation into the politically charged, unsolved 1994 Loughinisland massacre of June 18, 1994. Two gunmen clad in balaclavas and boiler suits walked into the Heights Bar, a small pub on a rural road, and opened fire, killing six men, the oldest of whom was 87. They had gathered to watch the World Cup broadcast live from New Jersey.


Context is everything here, and the best parts of 'No Stone Unturned' allow Gibney to set this particular scene, offering what amounts to a high-octane history lesson charged with lingering trauma. Ireland was playing. It was supposed to be a great unifying moment for a country that had been riven by The Troubles for over thirty years, pitting Catholics sympathetic to separatists and Protestants loyal to England, spilling Catholic and Protestant blood all over British-occupied Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, who had been accused of being a high ranking member of the Irish Republican Army and who was sympathetic to their views, had been invited to the United States by then-President Bill Clinton, a move that was seen as a possible harbinger of lasting piece by some and a slap in the face by others. The second act of this compact film sprints through the specifics, setting the historic scene for us and giving Gibney a chance to show striking, often horrifying images from Northern Ireland's civil war, such as news footage of a bloody-faced man, wounded in a bombing, being led away from the scene by police, and a stark photograph of a masked gunman crouching behind a short wall on a city street while very young children look on from the sidewalk in the background.


There was, and still is, speculation that the massacre represented a bloody statement against any possibility of reconciliation between factions. In the years that followed, as leads went nowhere and justice for the survivors never arrived, there was evidence suggesting a cover-up by police colluding with loyalists. The gunmen's car—which, to the delight of investigators had been left intact a few miles from the crime scene—was destroyed by police years later without warning or reason. Twelve years after the killing, the partners and children of victims held a press conference expressing their frustration and anger at the lack of justice.


Gibney took a cool, investigatory view of scandals and conspiracies in such films as 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,' 'Taxi to the Dark Side' and 'Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.' But he approaches this material in an uncharacteristically plugged in, heated way. He's taking it personally, and wants us to know he's taking it personally, no doubt because he grew close to individuals in the community near the crime scene while working on another project. We hear his off-screen voice asking questions and (unless my eye misleads me) see him pictured on camera. This is a righteous, at times angry movie. It wants to right a great wrong and bring peace to individuals who haven't been able to find any.


This is all sounds great in theory, but it turns to be dicey in practice. From the prologue, which recreates the massacre in the manner of a Hollywood action movie right down to the slow-motion, lavishly photographed closeups of guns firing and spent shell casings tumbling through the air, to the subsequent re-creations, to the pounding synth music and the other touches reminiscent of true-crime TV shows, 'No Stone Unturned' at times veers close to a rant. It's clear that Gibney is going for something along the lines of Errol Morris' '

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 10, 2017

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle


Giving a negative review to elaborate mystery/melodrama 'A Bride for Rip Van Winkle' doesn't feel good.  

Watching the film, I found myself often admiring writer/director Shunji Iwai ('All About Lily Chou-Chou,' 'Vampire') for orchestrating an ambitious, and consistently engaging story about a deeply alienated school teacher who is repeatedly gas-lit by a creepy, alluring stranger. I was also so disturbed by this film that I felt I had to rewatch certain scenes just to confirm that the emotional exhaustion I experienced while watching it wasn't just a personal preference, but rather a problem I had with what Iwai and his collaborators do in the film.

Still, after turning over 'A Bride for Rip Van Winkle' a couple of times in my head, and sleeping on it, I must say: the experience of watching this anti-climactic three-hour drama is unproductively depressing, and upsetting. That's partly because Iwai is so invested in introducing unexpected plot twists, and reversals of fortune that he never meaningfully expands on the film's seeming fixation with love in the the time of the Information Age. The best thing I can say about 'A Bride for Rip Van Winkle' is that Iwai worked me over thoroughly.

Iwai lands his heaviest body blows during his film's first of three hours. At this point, 'A Bride for Rip Van Winkle' is a dreary, but mostly compelling drama about the perils of social media, and role-playing. Painfully shy school teacher Nanami (Haru Kuroki) is mercilessly teased by students at work. Her boss doesn't support her, and many of the people in her life, including her family members, talk over her, and/or treat her as if she's invisible. So it's not surprising when she meets her fiancé Tetsuya (Gô Jibiki) through Planet, a lesser-known social media website. Or that, when Tetsuya pressures her to invite more family and friends to their wedding, she feels deeply embarrassed. 

What is surprising is the rapidity with which Nanami finds and becomes attached to Amuro (Gô Ayano), a shady 'fixer'-type factotum who helps Nanami with her wedding predicament by hiring actors to pretend to be her family and friends. Nanami and Amuro's discomfiting relationship gets even more unsettling right after that: she discovers a pair of women's earrings in her bedroom, and consequently pays Amuro to observe Tetsuya, and confirm her suspicions of infidelity. But Amuro, as we soon find out, is responsible for a vast conspiracy to separate Nanami from Tetsuya. Nanami and Amuro's friendship only get weirder, and creepier after this, though it's unclear why.

I found it difficult to get through this first part of 'A Bride for Rip Van Winkle,' which reminded me of the same unnerving cynicism that defines many of the best films of provocative arthouse dramatists like Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, and even Sion Sono. But I found it harder still to progress past this point. We are, early on, gifted with a revelation that Nanami never receives: Amuro is playing with her, and every major event in her life after she meets Tetsuya is, in some way, orchestrated, or overseen by Amuro. But Nanami never seems aware, or interested in the myriad little coincidences, and odd changes in her life. What does she think about the fact that her circle of friends shrinks until it only include speople that Amuro introduces her to? How does she feel when she w

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 09, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express


I know. I KNOW. Ever since seeing the trailer for the mystery thriller 'Murder on the Orient Express,' a question has been nagging at you. It''s not who among a diverse array of actors including Judi Dench as a Russian princess, Willem Dafoe as a German professor, Penelope Cruz as a depressed missionary and Johnny Depp as a thuggish art dealer, is the killer. But why has a small furry mammal disguised as a magnificent beast of a handlebar mustache in 50 shades of silvery gray taken up residence under Kenneth Branagh''s nose?

The hair apparent seems specifically designed to practically steal every scene it appears in during this sumptuous yet ultimately stuffy and overstuffed big-screen return visit to Agatha Christie''s most durable novel. It's even responsible for the film''s best sight gag. If Branagh, the star and director behind the 21st-century digitally-enhanced stab at bringing this ensemble vehicle back to life wanted to make a statement to distinguish this take on his world-famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot from any other, he certainly has. In the 1974 movie adaptation helmed by Sidney Lumet, Albert Finney sported a pert black swatch with Dali-esque twirls at the ends. Boring, right? Branagh''s fuzzy wuzzy is like an ocean wave of whiskers, from ear to shining ear. Best supporting player? That honor goes to that dashing splash of a soul patch on his chin.  

OK, I am stalling. Let''s accentuate the positive first. The script by Michael Green ('Blade Runner 2049') does a bang-up job of introducing us to Poirot, a fuss-budget stickler who demands perfectly cooked four-minute eggs and tsk-tsks their imperfect dimensions—and then doesn''t even bother to eat them. He is a control freak who insists on balance in everything, from how a tie sits around a man''s neck to impeccably baked bread. The place is Jerusalem (actually, Malta as a stand-in) and the year is 1934. Poirot is at the Wailing Wall about to deliver the solution to a crime tied to three clerics of different faiths and a stolen artifact. With the showbiz panache of a Vegas magician, he reveals the perpetrator with an unexpected flourish involving a cane. That sends the message, 'Hey, this could be fun.'

But matters get perfunctory rather quickly when fellow passengers whose baggage clearly includes secrets begin to pop up including Daisy Ridley (Rey in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens') as a porcelain-skinned governess and Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr in Broadway''s 'Hamilton') as a doctor who attempt to disguise they are an interracial couple. Those marquee credits are bound to draw in the under-30 demographic. But, alas, the only fully fleshed-out being turns out to be Poirot, who moons over a portrait of a lost love and undergoes an existential crisis of sorts when he finds himself unexpectedly confounded when a dead body turns up on the train with an even dozen stab wounds. The luxury locomotive traveling from Istanbul to Calais also comes to a halt about a half-hour in when an avalanche causes it to stop in its tracks atop a dangerous trestle. I wish I could say that the storyline at least picks up steam, but it never quite does especially since it devolves into a series of private interrogations by the imperious Poirot in a café car.

Michelle Pfeiffer does what she can as a man-hungry

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 09, 2017

The Lies of the Deathbed Scene (and Also the Truth)


Of all the lies the movies tell, the cathartic deathbed scene might be the most pernicious. A person lays dying in their bed, while a friend, family member, or unrequited lover kneels or sits next to them. The two have had a complicated relationship, but everything seems simple now. Just before the darkness descends, they look at each other, and an understanding is reached. The sins of the past are forgiven. One can die in peace, and the other can start to truly live.

Where did we get this lie? Is it from the movies, or did our art simply reflect what exists in our hearts back to us? If I close my eyes, I can instantly recall Jason Robards and Tom Cruise speaking without words at the end of 'Magnolia'; Winona Ryder crying at Claire Danes''s fevered death rattle in 'Little Women'; Billy Crudup telling his father Albert Finney one last fantastic story in 'Big Fish' (at least this film acknowledges the lie); or Debra Winger in 'Terms of Endearment' telling her son that she knows he loves her. In all these scenes, the deathbed brings clarity, turning a complicated relationship simple, and just in time.

That''s not what happens in real life, at least not based on my recent experience. My father and I had a complicated relationship. There were times in my childhood when I didn''t see him for years, and other times when I wished I wouldn''t. I testified against him in a deposition once. He went to jail for a month for violating a court order. As an adult, our dynamic was more like a friendship than a father-son thing. We hung out, talked baseball, and debated politics. I rarely questioned our lack of closeness. I was happy to have a relationship with him that looked more or less normal, even if underneath it was a raging ocean of unexamined emotions.

So when he had a stroke nineteen months ago and immediately slipped into a coma, I was hoping for clarity. As a professional film critic and lifelong escapee into cinema, I certainly expected it, so I spent those first several days kneeling by his bedside, trying to talk to him, waiting for the words to come that would fix things. Instead, each day—each moment, really—brought a new rush of emotions. Some days, I wanted to hug him and kiss his bearded cheek. Other days, I pitied him the way I would any person spending his last few days in a hospital. There were days when I wanted to smash his unconscious body with my fists. The day after those days, I felt ashamed.

As he lingered on, the urgency dissipated, but my relationship with him continued. For years, he had set the terms, but now it was up to me. How often would I visit him? Would I speak to him? What would I say? In other words, how did I really feel? As my father lay between being and nothingness, these questions weighed heavily on my mind, a scenario depicted with sharp accuracy in two films released this year. The first is Kogonada''s 'Columbus'. The film, released in August, is about Jin (John Cho), a Korean-American man visiting his father, a

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 09, 2017

Daddy's Home 2


This movie is a tricky proposition for this reviewer, who also reviewed the first 'Daddy''s Home' movie back in 2015. The good news is that I found the sequel better than the original—the writing sharper, the jokes fresher and smarter, the comic interaction between the lead characters consistently engaging. I mentioned this to my incredulous wife, who said, 'So you''re saying it''s the ‘Godfather, Part 2'' of the ‘Daddy''s Home'' series.' I''m not sure if she was being sarcastic or not.

Here''s the tricky part. One reason I wasn''t crazy about 'Daddy''s Home' was the relentless onslaught of 'edgy' jokes in bad taste. This picture tones that down. There are, indeed, fewer jokes at the expense of kids in wheelchairs, and of dogs with open sores and mange. This, to me, is an improvement. But what if you, the reader, actually LIKE jokes about handicapped children and disgustingly pitiable sick dogs? You see the problem.

As for what 'Daddy''s Home 2' does have, it''s an expansion of the family dynamic of the first film, which anyone familiar with the 'Meet the Parents' films will recognize as an added-star-power strategy. In the post 'Daddy''s Home' alliance between cool-bro dad Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and winsome wimp stepdad Brad (Will Ferrell), a little discontent must fall. Here it arrives in the persons of granddads. Dusty''s pop is alpha-male ex-astronaut Kurt, played by Mel Gibson. Brad''s dad, Don, is a motormouth ultra-limp noodle with a liking for improv comedy, played by John Lithgow. Both granddads arrive at the airport simultaneously, and macho Kurt, who hasn''t seen Dusty in years, is hard-pressed to contain his disgust at the 'co-dad' arrangement Dusty and Brad seem so happy in.

Surely the two very different personalities still, as one of the characters puts it, 'harbor' some resentment toward each other. (The use and misuse of the word 'harbor' becomes a semi-running joke, an almost sophisticated bit of linguistic humor that would absolutely not have floated in the first film.) Kurt is at first passive-aggressive—renting a house near a ski resort to better facilitate a 'together Christmas' in the hopes of driving a wedge into Dusty and Brad''s relationship—and then just aggressive, encouraging one of Dusty''s biological children to take up turkey hunting. There are scenes in which both the two dads and the two granddads offer advice and strategies on ten-year-old or so Dylan''s emerging interest in girls, and later his ineptitude at bowling. Brad''s own slapstick ineptitude is highlighted when a runaway snowblower destroys a Christmas decoration display. It''s all pretty amiable and funny, and further intrigue is provided by Dusty''s new wife, Karen, a snooty author with supermodel looks and a snootier daughter, Adrianna, an age peer of Dylan and Megan, Dusty''s kids by Linda Cardellini''s Sarah. Cardellini is given a little more to do in this picture than the first one, and that''s a plus too.

'You''ll laugh,' a friendly publicist assured me on my way into the theater, and I did. Not a huge amount, but enough that I have to adhere to our founder Roger''s rule of comedy assessment, which, most simply put, is that if a comedy made you laugh it did its job and you can''t front about it. I do have to admit I laughed a little less many of the times Gibson was on screen. I praised his work in last year''s tough action thriller 'Blood Father,' in which he was very credible as a former criminal struggling with his demons as he tries to protect a wayward daughter. But watching him try to play a bullying character for laughs here left a bad taste in my

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 08, 2017

Thumbnails Special Edition: War on the Press


Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and informative. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety. We begin with an article detailing the nationwide critics' boycott of Disney following their ban of The Los Angeles Times from their screenings. The Chicago Film Critics Association had voted to join the boycott just before Disney lifted the ban yesterday. There is NO room for this type of ban, not from Disney, nor the White House. The need for a free exchange of news and opinions is more necessary than ever. And we must continue to all stand together. —Chaz Ebert


1.  'Disney Ends Ban on Los Angeles Times Amid Fierce Backlash': As reported by Sydney Ember and Brooks Barnes of The New York Times.


'Amid a growing backlash, the Walt Disney Company on Tuesday reversed its decision to bar The Los Angeles Times from press screenings of its movies following an investigation by the newspaper into the media giant''s business dealings in Anaheim. ‘We''ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we''ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics,'' Disney said in a statement. Disney''s change of course came after a number of news outlets, including The New York Times and the A.V. Club, said they were boycotting advance screenings of Disney films in solidarity. The company also faced pressure from several high-profile Hollywood figures, including Ava DuVernay, who directed ‘A Wrinkle in Time,'' which is to be released by Disney on March 9. ‘Saluting the film journalists standing up for one another,'' Ms. DuVernay wrote on Twitter on Monday. ‘Standing with you.'' Critics'' organizations also came out against Disney. On Tuesday, members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics denounced Disney''s blackout of The Los Angeles Times. Each group voted to disqualify Disney''s movies from year-end award consideration unless the blackout was ‘publicly rescinded.'''

2.  'NY Times Sacks David Boies Law Firm After Harvey Weinstein Spy Operation': TheWrap's Jon Levine has the scoop.

'The New York Times has terminated its relationship with David Boies'' law firm Boies Schiller Flexner after revelations that the eminent attorney was also working with Harvey Weinstein to secretly contact  women who might consider accusations of sexual misconduct and reporters pursuing stories on such allegations. ‘We never contemplated that the law firm would contract with an intelligence firm to conduct a secret spying operation aimed at our reporting and our reporters,'' Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told TheWrap. ‘Such an operation is reprehensible, and the Boies firm must have known that its existence would have been material to our decision whether to continue using the firm,'' she added. ‘Whatever legalistic arguments and justifications can be made, we should have been tre

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 08, 2017

Life Still Blooms: A Celebration of 'Bagdad Cafe'


Sometimes it takes an outsider to see a whole clearly. And there have been few more funny and empathetic portraits of American small towns and American loneliness than German director Percy Adlon''s 1987 film, 'Bagdad Cafe.' Set at a roadside truck stop in the sweltering Mojave desert, 'Bagdad Cafe' is a wondrous film that feels needed very much in this cultural moment. Its sensitive eye for its diverse cast of misfits, travelers, and runaways goes against every suspicious xenophobic impulse currently choking the body politic. The rural life rhythms of the people that make their home in the motel behind the little rusted out gas station, and cafe where much of the film''s action takes place, are radically different than the caricatures presented to us in disconnected newspaper profiles and by barking cable pundits. 

The story begins when Jasmin (Marianne Sägebrecht), a German tourist abandoned by her husband on a road trip through the Southwest wanders into the little station. The place''s owner Brenda (CCH Pounder) is immediately mistrustful of the new arrival but rents her a room. She has troubles of her own, having fallen out with her husband. And her children seem more interested in playing Bach on the piano or running off to town, respectively. The tourist catches the eye of Rudi (Jack Palance), a former Hollywood set painter. He becomes instantly enamored. And in her motel room, Jasmin unpacks a child''s magic trick set and begins to teach herself how to make things disappear. 

'Bagdad Cafe' is a seemingly small film that on reflection reveals the depths of its emotional currents. The film is about shimmering desert colors, and little buildings lost in the endless expanse of sand and scrub brush. It''s about seeing tricks of light in the sky and them leading you to an unexpected home. And now, crucially, it''s a film about small town America that recognizes real America is diverse. African Americans, Indigenous peoples, Hispanics, immigrants all trying to make the perfect cup of coffee and traveling life''s road from heartbreak to connection. 

The cast is a wonderful ensemble of interlocking glances, furtive smiles, and gestures of welcome. Jasmin unwraps layers of her Teutonic frigidity carefully. She accidentally took her husband''s suitcase with her when they quarreled and parted. And so her outfits are an increasingly improvised set of shirts, trousers, and underwear with scissors taken to them. Pounder is great as Brenda, her outward gruffness not hiding very well the pain life has dealt her. And in the end she is unafraid to reach for a change of old habits. Palance is marvelous, particularly if your only impression of him has been through his many villainous turns. He''s warm, tender and utterly delighted by being in love again. 

In a cultural moment where every facet is hyper-polarized and we seem capable of only communicating with each other by screaming, there is something blissfully oasis-like with films such as 'Bagdad Cafe.' The film''s humanity and curiosity about people lingers. It makes you look closer at the people around you. Its acknowledgment of our flaws and its willingness to embrace us in spite of them is a sorely needed respite right now. The idea that we might not need to be perfect, that we can be prickly and lose our tempers and still

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 08, 2017

Classic Flix Blu-ray Label Provides Cinephile Thrills


I was watching a documentary about the comedian Gilbert Gottfried the other day and one of the interviewees, fellow comic David Attell, was marveling at Gilbert''s eccentricities, one of which was the fact that he still owned a DVD player. 'Nobody owns a DVD player,' Attell exclaimed, adding some profanities as is his wont and applying an inflection that made it sound as if Gottfried was an almighty superfreak. 

It''s tough times for people who still consider physical media your most reliable entertainment value. Even though I cover a lot of movies via streaming links and even write a column about movies on streaming video, I prefer Blu-ray and am planning a 4K upgrade for 2018. And Attell notwithstanding, the market still exists, although it''s one that economists might term a 'long tail' one. 

All this is by way of introduction to a new Blu-ray label I like: Classic Flix. The name may not be poetic, but it''s accurate. Recent releases include 'You Only Live Once,' the searing Fritz Lang-directed 1937  crime-drama/romance starring Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda, and 'T-Men,' the 1947 Anthony Mann noir/docudrama, shot by the great John Alton. Both films are cinematic deep cuts that have been hard to see in optimum versions. Probably because by this point in time no optimum versions exist. Digital restoration has breathed new life into the versions on the Classic Flix Blu-rays. 'You Only Live Once' in particular is a revelation, rich in pictorial detail I''ve never seen before in any version; it''s also just plain watchable in a whole new way. A version of 'T-Men' from over a decade ago, released by Sony Special Products, was a consistently strong rendering of a film that practically defines a particularly stark iteration of black-and-white cinematography. The Classic Flix Blu-ray provides not just a high-resolution boost but also an even cleaner picture. Another title, 'Another Man''s Poison,' a 1951 rarity starring Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, is a thriller of deceit adapted from a stage play; it, too, is a study in darkness (it takes place mostly in the interior of a dimly lit British house), and its mood comes across vividly. 

I had initially assumed, for some reason, that like Film Detective, a DVD and Blu-ray label I looked into for this site about a year and a half ago, Classic Flix dealt with titles now in the public domain. That''s not the case, I learned when chattng with Classic Flix founder David Kawas, the company''s President and CEO. Kawas has a longtime background in retail, going back to the 1990s, and like the entrepreneurs behind Film Detective and Twilight Time, he saw opportunities in what the studios and labels weren''t putting out. Like Twilight Time in the U.S. and Indicator in the U.K., Classic Flix is a sub licensor of material. 

'We go though Shout Factory or MGM, looking at titles in their catalogs that they don''t want to market at this time. Once we''ve determined the titles we want, it''

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 07, 2017

USA's 'Damnation' Can't Bring History to Life


Creator Tony Tost ('Longmire') and the rest of the team behind USA''s 'Damnation' must have been tempted more than once to call it 'Damn Nation,' because it is undeniably a show about the brutal, violent, complex formation of this country, and how those issues continue today. In nearly every other scene, it seems to be saying, 'You know that violence and unrest you see in the world in 2017? Yeah, it''s not new. We''ve been fighting and betraying and killing each other for greed and pride for generations.' The best scenes of the first two episodes take place in groups, rallies of men fighting for freedom or being stepped on so people in power can maintain control. It''s impossible not to think of recent marches and demonstrations around the country, especially in the year since Donald Trump was elected. That parallel between 1931's 'Damnation' and 2017''s 'Damn Nation' makes this show feel like even more of a wasted opportunity because modern relevance and a few good performances are all it has to recommend. It''s too often dull, tonally inconsistent, and just poorly written. All the modern political parallels in the world won''t matter if the viewer is bored.

There is something admirable about making a modern prestige drama about the 1930s labor movement in the heartland of America, even if the effort to create USA''s version of 'Deadwood' is transparent. Like the David Milch hit, this is a show about people the edge of lawlessness, despite being set a half-century later. And while USA doesn''t quite allow the profanity, violence, or nudity of HBO, 'Damnation' is a dark show about violent people and constant struggles for power.

'Damnation' works from a template in which every character wears a mask to some degree. The preacher Seth Davenport (Killian Scott) hides a dark past and isn''t afraid to encourage violence from his pulpit; the Sheriff (Christopher Heyerdahl) beats up a man who''s been running liquor through his town and then tells him that he''s going to start working for the lawman''s illegal booze operation instead; the only black prostitute in the local brothel, Bessie (Chasten Harmon), also happens to be the only one who can read, making her an invaluable asset to the new guy in town, the mysterious Creeley Turner (Logan Marshall-Green of 'The Invitation'); the pretty blonde woman Connie (Melinda Page Hamilton) is really in town to cause total anarchy, breaking the local farmer''s strike through whatever means necessary, including murder. Everyone has a secret, everyone has a past, everyone has a dark side … and so on. 

You''ve seen it before, and this type of dramatic writing, in which everyone has an ulterior motive, gets tiring very quickly. It creates a dialogue dynamic that sounds forced—one in which you hear the writer''s voices instead of the characters. Everyone feels like a construct instead of a real person, despite the best efforts of Scott and Marshall-Green, who are both engaging leads in search of a better show. One can appreciate how this show draws a line between union-busting in 1931 to worker''s rights in 2017 and yet still wonder what the point of it all is. Great historical shows not only make the correlation from past times to present ones but allow us to reconsider assumptions about then and now. They illuminate through the parallel. 'Damnation' offers too little light or insight to justify the history lesson. 



Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 07, 2017

Short Films in Focus: 'Turkey'


Harvey Benschoter''s animated quickie 'Turkey' will surely bring to mind two things: the work of Terry Gilliam and the flurry of activity that comes with shopping for and preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. 'Turkey' follows the Gilliam aesthetic of taking cut-outs of old photos and using them as props to create moments of silliness and absurdity. Whereas Gilliam used serious works of art and used them to create fart jokes and animated slapstick, Benschoter utilizes images from old catalogs and photos from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and creates a fun, dizzying and playful collage of mass consumerism.

The film''s central 'character' is a housewife first entering a grocery story and picking a turkey out from a seemingly random pile of off-color turkeys. Once home, she enjoys some day drinking, at which time her husband and two kids turn the household into a chase that goes through every room, followed by an ridiculous amount of mass carnage once the turkey carving begins. 

In three minutes, Benschoter creates a memorable and easily digestible short that goes a few extra miles with its panoramic view of the suburbs and grocery stories. Benschoter layers the moving images so that there is constant motion happening. There have been many short films over the years that have taken a less-is-more approach to this kind of animation, but Benschoter''s style is more rewarding for the eyes. It takes something seemingly mundane and presents it with the fluidity and speed of a intricately choreographed car chase. Benschoter clearly had a ball making it and the viewer will have fun watching it on repeat and sending the link to their friends, especially in late November.



TURKEY from Harvey Benschoter on Vimeo.

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Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 07, 2017

Thumbnails 11/7/2017


Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and exciting. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety.—Chaz Ebert


1.  'Margaret Betts on 'Novitiate'': The Sundance prize-winning filmmaker chats with me at Indie Outlook about her marvelous new film, one of the year's best.


'[Indie Outlook:] ‘Margaret Qualley''s eyes are so skillful at conveying a hunger for something more, as previously evidenced by Spike Jonze''s Kenzo World ad, where we first see her seated at a suffocating public event.'' [Betts:] ‘Rather than audition my actors, I have meetings with them either in-person or via Skype. For ‘Novitiate,'' I met with around 40 up-and-coming new actresses between the ages of 17 and 21 or 22. The oldest person we cast in the group of novitiates was 24. Within five minutes of Skyping with Margaret, I was completely taken with her. She just had this magnetism and quiet pain, as well as a centeredness and a strength that hit me over the head like a lightening bolt. Apart from all of the research that I did, a lot of this film was a nod to Audrey Hepburn in ‘The Nun''s Story,'' which was one of my favorite movies while growing up. In some ways, ‘Novitiate'' spawned from a desire to make an edgier, more contemporary-feeling, slightly darker version of ‘The Nun''s Story.'' The image of Audrey Hepburn''s face, with these huge eyes, looking up towards an alter, searching for something, had become embedded in my memory. I was struck by the whites of her eyes. The bottom of Margaret''s iris doesn''t quite touch the bottom of her eyelid, and Audrey Hepburn''s eyes had that same little bit of empty white space. Anytime there is an empty space like that, people project their own background, their own feelings, their own struggles onto them. You put yourself in that character right away. Margaret didn''t remind me of Audrey in her voice or body language, but in her similarly wide-eyed look. She''s also such a lovely, hard-working person, not to mention a bit of a loner. She isn''t the sort of kid who goes to clubs and parties every night and has tons of friends and boyfriends. She often keeps to herself.'

2.  'My worst moment: 'Transparent' co-star Alexandra Billings confronts transgender negativity': In conversation with the Chicago Tribune's Nina Metz.


'This is about power — white, male, heteronormative, cisgender power. And if you look at Hollywood, that''s who is in control. Especially trans people of color, we''re at the bottom of the rung. So I feel like it''s important say something — not combative, not argumentative. It''s not even about debate. All I was doing was explaining, from a place of kindness and understanding and compassion. Just giving information. Not teaching, not lecturing, just saying, ‘Guys, here''s the ramifications of some of these jokes.'' Because let me say, I love insult comedy — I love Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. I think that stuff is hilarious! And I don''t take myself so seriously that I can''t make fun of myself. I totally get that we need to let loose once in awhile. But whe

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 06, 2017

'Assassin's Creed: Origins' Owes a Great Deal to Cinematic Epics


Playing through Ubisoft''s massive and gorgeous 'Assassin''s Creed: Origins,' one can''t help but be reminded of a golden age of Hollywood epic that they don''t really make that often anymore, at least not successfully. Sure, we get an 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' and 'Gods of Egypt' every now and then, but those films didn''t exactly set the world on fire the way that films like 'Cleopatra' and 'Ben-Hur' did in a different era. Even as recently as two decades ago, we were getting Oscar-winning 'swords and sandals' films like 'Gladiator' and 'Braveheart,' but it''s a genre that seems to have given way to the wave of recent 'intellectual sci-fi' ('Gravity,' 'Interstellar,' 'The Martian') and, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or is it just that expansive storytelling moved to a different medium? 'Origins,' the first 'AC' game since 2015''s disappointing 'Syndicate,' is undeniably epic—it feels like a bigger game than possibly any other released for modern consoles. It can be overwhelming to a degree that sometimes makes it feel like a chore, but it can also be breathtaking in scope and setting. For that reason alone, it''s one of 2017''s must-plays.

The 'Assassin''s Creed' series has been a PS3 and PS4 staple for a decade now, earning raves for the first release in 2007 and then simply flooding the market with sequels and spin-offs. It got to a point where the games were coming so quickly—a major release every single year from 2009 to 2015—that one started to feel fatigue in the creative drive of the franchise. 2014''s 'Assassin''s Creed: Unity' & 'Assassin''s Creed: Rogue,' and 2015''s 'Assassin''s Creed: Syndicate' were disappointments critically, each having elements that worked but each also failing to live up to the last truly great game in this series, 2013''s 'Assassin''s Creed IV: Black Flag.' It was widely perceived that taking a year off from the holiday season of 2016 was a good idea, and we hoped the series would come back creatively revitalized.

In some ways, it has. Produced by the same team behind the brilliant 'Black Flag,' who have reportedly been working on this game since that one, 'Assassin''s Creed: Origins' is an undeniably ambitious game. Set in Ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic period, 'Origins' has one of the largest and most impressive video game worlds in history. It is a massive world of buildings and landscapes and animals and non-playable characters (NPCs) that feels as alive as any game this year in terms what''s happening on the fringe and past the horizon. It''s a game that makes you feel small within it, which actually takes some getting used to. We''re still accustomed to games in which 'setting' really refers to only that which is happening around the protagonist—this setting feels like things are happening within it that have absolutely nothing to do with you. It''s magnificent, and the kind of game that makes one want to buy a PS4 Pro just to see what it looks like in 4K.

You play a Medjay named Bayek as Egypt is going

Roger Ebert Movie Reviews
Nov 06, 2017

The Truth Will Out: What Happened to 'Rubicon'?


Real espionage isn''t Aston Martins and martinis. It isn''t constant globetrotting to sexy locales and bedding sexy women. It''s tedious. It''s monotonous. It''s work. Spies spend time holed up in offices, pouring over data—the type of data that makes your mind and soul go numb. It''s an office job, the stuff of cubicle farms and jammed printers and bland cafeteria lunches.

'Rubicon' understood that. The AMC show that apparently never had a chance presented the spy game not as the stuff of action movies, but the work of office drones toiling away, pouring over spreadsheets and trying to decipher encrypted, impenetrable documents. Yet that''s not to say the show was boring. What made 'Rubicon' sing was the way it trafficked in paranoia, and the way it devoted time to delve into the lives of the 9-to-5 spies that all worked together in an office setting. It was a workplace drama where the work just happened to be spycraft.

So, where is it? Where is 'Rubicon' in this world of multiple streaming platforms and DVD and Blu-ray physical media? Why has 'Rubicon' been stricken from the record, completely removed from the entertainment zeitgeist the way sensitive material is blacked out when classified documents make their way to the general public? Why has 'Rubicon' become akin to a botched covert op, something no one wants to talk about anymore, pushed far into the past?

The show, created by Jason Horwitch, was cut from the same cloth as 'Three Days of the Condor'. In that Sydney Pollack classic of post-Watergate paranoia, Robert Redford worked as a CIA analyst in a nondescript office building. Anyone strolling by outside would have no inclination that top-secret spy work was going on within. 'Rubicon' has a similar setting, an office nestled somewhere in New York; somewhere down a side street, flanked by never-ending construction. Food carts on the corner. People bustling by outside, wrapped-up in their own lives, oblivious to whatever is going on inside that building.

At the center of 'Rubicon' is Will Travers, an antisocial intelligence analyst who gets swept up in a confusing, far-reaching conspiracy. As played by James Badge Dale, Will is a shuffling, mumbling mope of a man. He''s no one''s idea of a spy, yet he''s the force that drives the show. The conspiracy he slowly uncovers over the course of 'Rubicon'''s first and only season has great implications, and results in several fatalities—including that of his boss and mentor (Peter Geret)—yet the bulk action of the show remains almost entirely within that bland office building where Will and his team work. No car chases; no country jumping; nothing sleek or sexy. It''s all cold, hard work. Sometimes people die. Sometimes people clock out for the day and go home.

Will''s team are all equally lackluster in the 'super spy' department. They''re not calm, collected, or deadly. They''re screw-ups, and achingly human. Dallas Roberts plays Miles, a brilliant guy with the jitters, incredibly awkward and going through a messy separation from his wife; Christopher Evan Welch is Grant, the smuggest member of the team, fully convinced of his own superiority to most of his coworkers; and Lauren Hodges is Tanya, the newest member of the team, with a major drinking problem, often strolling into work hungover. These

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