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Friday, April 26, 2013

Little Caeser - review (1931)

Perhaps the movie that set the mold for gangster pictures for decades to follow.  Edward G. Robinson plays Rico "Little Caeser" Bandelli whose need to be the top mob boss is only only topped by his ego.  Nothing stands in his way.  Friend, foe, policeman or politician, if you are on the bad side of Rico expect some hot lead heading in your direction.

Surprisingly ruthless, at least based on my expectations, the film offers a dark look at a man with one thing on his mind, himself.  Robinson is fantastic in the lead, the quintessential gangster of the era.  There is a reason 80 years later people still mimic his delivery.  The classic story about one man's rise to power is supported with the side stories of those that helped Rico on his quest and the man determined to stop him.  Old school awesome.

7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thor: The Dark World trailer

Just like all the other super heroes, Thor is back.  The next chapter in the story of the god with a hammer looks like exactly what you would expect with one acceptation,  a twist so original, so outlandish that you will guess it before the trailer even starts. 

The Queen of Versailles - Review (2012)

Meet Virgina Siegel, a former beauty queen with a hoarding problem, who just happens to be married to one of the richest men in the country.  She enjoys the little things in life, namely here 90,000 square foot home designed after the Palace of Versailles which she has filled with every luxury item and impulse purchase known to man.  Her children are hand delivered everything they could possibly want, or not want - sometimes multiples.  At the same time their servants are holed up in dorm size living quarters.  Every stop at Costco ends with truck loads of loot, more than enough items to provide for a family, better yet a football team.  What's not to like?  Is this the American Dream or the American Nightmare.

It is impossible to not be bowled over by the money spent and the junk acquired.  The wealth on display here is absolutely shocking.  Be it luxurious or gaudy it can be found in the walls of the humble abode.  I am sure many people will secretly or openly be waiting for a wake up call, something to shake these people to the core and hopefully change their ways.  No sooner than you can close your eyes and make the wish, it happens, the economic meltdown of 2008.  A global economic crisis that took the housing market tumbling, bringing the Seigel family to their knees.  The irony is, the same economy that provided them the finances to build their "palace," was inflated by selling property to people that could not afford it.  What destroyed the economy and threatened to take away their massive estate was people defaulting on loans that they pushed on others.
What surprised me was, when it the meltdown does occur it is not the moment of joy that you may have hoped for.  The threat of financial failure does something magical, it strips through the materialism and reveals that there are humans underneath.  Is this change permanent or temporary?  Either way it does allow us to relate and feel some compassion for this family in turmoil.  It is tough at times, like the scene where the mother fears she will have to tell her kids they may one day need to go to college to earn their own money.  Some people pray they will one day be able to go to college and this family fears it.  Oh brother.

You may enjoy their tales of  riches and lavish loving, or watching their fall from grace (you sick person) or just witnessing their infuriating disconnect from reality.  Anyway you watch it be it as a character study or a cautionary tale, it is quite an interesting tale, an American tale.

7.5 out of 10

Monday, April 22, 2013

Flight - Review (2012)

Nothing like a few drinks before a flight to put you at ease, unless you're the captain.

Getting through life is often about being in control.  The more control you have easier it can be to deal with.  In this film we watch Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) whose life is out of control, what's ironic is that being out of control is where he is most comfortable.  This may be a great trait to possess when you are an airline pilot whose every work day deals with putting hundreds of people's lives in your hands.  That is, unless it is an addiction to drugs and alcohol that aide him through the day.

The film starts with one of the most  harrowing flights in the history of film.  Beware, if you do not like flying you may think twice (or even three times) about watching this.  This flight is what you will be talking about for days, but it is Whip's struggles with control that will resonate.  There is one shot in this film that I still have engrained in my head weeks after viewing the film and it has nothing to do with a plane - let me know if you can figure out which one it is.

Besides the unforgettable flight scene most of the film takes place on the land.  Although the level of intensity drops off, the performances will keep you engaged - namely that of Denzel.  He turns of his auto-Denzel acting and delivers a nuanced performance that provides you a realistic, gripping portrayal of internal struggle. 

It is nice to see Robert Zemeckis step away from the creepy 3D models and return to telling stories in live-action where he belongs.  If this is what we have been missing out on, it is a shame he was sidetracked for the last decade.

8 out of 10

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Man of Steel Final Trailer

The Man of Steel is back, just don't call him Superman. In the latest trailer the upcoming release shows a lot of promise. My biggest concern are the words, "From the Director of Watchmen and 300." I will be there opening day... even without the classic Superman theme. Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon are inspired castings.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Side by Side (2012) - Review

If you love film and you love technology, then this is a movie for you.  Side by Side is a documentary by master filmmaker Keanu Reeves (yes, Bill and Ted's Keanu Reeves) that delves into the debate over the future of film, specifically the conversion from traditional photochemical film and the impact of digital film as its replacement.  Dozens of well-known directors, actors and cinematographers speak passionately about cinema as a whole, revealing emotional,connection to  for the .  Movies

The film goes into great detail exploring the technological advances that made digital film possible, why traditional film is so beloved  and the reasons many are excited about the digital future.  The conservative in me is scared that one day film as we knew it will completely disappear, taking with it 100 years of film tradition.  The more inquisitive side of me is excited to see where this leads and what creative opportunities it will create for filmmakers of the future

This film was right up my alley.  If you are a student of film history or just curious I recommend it.  For others that love film you can watch just to watch shot after shot of some of beautifully shot films as well as learn a little something.

8 out of 10 stars

Currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Balcony Is Now Closed - Roger Ebert 1942-2013

With a very heavy heart I post this story about a hero of mine, the last story I will most likely post about him.  He was man I have watched, read and listened to for over thirty years.  Roger Ebert died today at 70 years old.  A legend in the business he shaped the face of film criticism.  He was one of a kind.  He had no equal.  His love of film was evident in his articles, reviews, books, interviews, blogs and TV shows. 

After battling disfiguring cancer he returned to action, stronger than ever.  Writing reviews, starting blogs, twitter accounts, producing a new film critique show and even continuing to run a film festival that bared his name.  Just one day before he died Roger announced he had discovered he had new cancer in his bones, but STILL would not quit.  He announced he would be taking a "leave of presence."  He wrote, "What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What's more, I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review."

I remember watching him on a 13-inch black and white TV with rabbit ears in my bedroom as a kid. Years later I met him at the Toronto Film Festival and was lucky enough to shake hands with him. He has been a role model for me as a movie fan and writer.  We lost a great mind and a great man.

Rest in peace, Roger.  I will miss you.

Just a few great Roger Ebert quotes:

“No good film is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

“She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading,” he wrote about wife Chaz Hammelsmith.

“Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.”

“My newspaper job … is my identity.”

“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”

“Years from now it is quite possible that ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s.”

“Every great film should seem new every time you see it.”

“No matter what they're charging to get in, it's worth more to get out.”

“To say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion.”

“If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn't.”

“I've been around a long time, and young men, if there is one thing I know, it is that the only way to kiss a girl for the first time is to look like you want to and intend to, and move in fast enough to seem eager but slow enough to give her a chance to say ‘So anyway ...’ and look up as if she's trying to remember your name.”

"…thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

Roger's last article posted on the Sun Times website just two days before he died

Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter.  However you came to know me, I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for.

Typically, I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I'm taking what I like to call "a leave of presence."

What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What's more, I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.

At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year.

Ebertfest, my annual film festival, celebrating its 15th year, will continue at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, my alma mater and home town, April 17-21. In response to your repeated requests to bring back the TV show "At the Movies," I am launching a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter in the next couple of weeks. And gamers beware, I am even thinking about a movie version of a video game or mobile app. Once completed, you can engage me in debate on whether you think it is art.

And I continue to cooperate with the talented filmmaker Steve James on the bio-documentary he, Steve Zaillian and Martin Scorsese are making about my life. I am humbled that anyone would even think to do it, but I am also grateful.

Of course, there will be some changes. The immediate reason for my "leave of presence" is my health. The "painful fracture" that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to. I have been watching more of them on screener copies that the studios have been kind enough to send to me. My friend and colleague Richard Roeper and other critics have stepped up and kept the newspaper and website current with reviews of all the major releases. So we have and will continue to go on.

At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it's like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.

I'll also be able to review classics for my "Great Movies" collection, which has produced three books and could justify a fourth.

For now, I am throwing myself into Ebert Digital and the redesigned, highly interactive and searchable You'll learn more about its exciting new features on April 9 when the site is launched. In addition to housing an archive of more than 10,000 of my reviews dating back to 1967 we will also feature reviews written by other critics. You may disagree with them like you have with me, but will nonetheless appreciate what they bring to the party. Some I recruited from the ranks of my Far Flung Correspondents, an inspiration I had four years ago when I noticed how many of the comments on my blog came from foreign lands and how knowledgeable they were about cinema.

We'll be recruiting more critics and it is my hope that some of the writers I have admired over the years will be among them. We'll offer many more reviews of Indie, foreign, documentary and restored classic revivals. As the space between broadcast television, cable and the internet morph into a hybrid of content, we will continue to spotlight the musings of Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales, as well as the blog "Scanners" by Jim Emerson, who I first met at Microsoft when he edited Cinemania. The Ebert Club newsletter, under editor Marie Haws of Vancouver, will be expanded to give its thousands of subscribers even bigger and better benefits.

For years I devoutly took every one of my tear sheets, folded them and added them to a pile on my desk. The photo above shows the height of that pile in 1985 as it appeared on the cover of my first book about the movies published by my old friends John McMeel and Donna Martin of Andrews & McMeel. Today, because of technology, the opportunities to become bigger, better and reach more people are piling up too. The fact that we're re-launching the site now, in the midst of other challenges, should give you an idea how important and Ebert Digital are to Chaz and me. I hope you'll stop by, and look for me. I'll be there.

So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies.