Pieces for Roger Ebert

I’m humbled to be part of the community of writers that legendary film critic Roger Ebert gathered before he passed away. Here’s what I’ve written for RogerEbert.com.

DR. RYAN STONE: EVERYTHING A TYPICAL FEMALE MOVIE CHARACTER IS NOT
“Stone is not a conventionally feminine or pretty character, and while Sandra Bullock is a stunner, the styling department went to a lot of trouble to tone her beauty down. She has non-descript short hair, no makeup, and her khaki-colored spandex wardrobe is appropriately practical. At no point is there even so much as a flashback to a more glam version of herself, and she never gets a makeover. I can’t recall such an unembellished cinematic sci-fi heroine since Sigourney Weaver in the first three “Alien” movies.” Read more

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A HIJACKING
“This film is about the glacial pace of these types of negotiations. There’s no hero in A Hijacking. Nobody throws punches or tries to wrestle a weapon out of a pirate’s hands. Everyone is just forced to wait. If anything, the film exposes the deep moral callousness of those doing the dealing, and the desperation of the people they break.” Read more

 

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LAURENCE ANYWAYS
“Going into Laurence Anyways, I hoped it wouldn’t be a laundry list of transgender issues. Not because we shouldn’t deal with them, but because we won’t until they’re sold to us as non-issues. I’m not giving anything away by saying Laurence Anyways is about a transgender woman. And though that element is central to the story, writer and director Xavier Dolan trusts us to assume that transwoman Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) will face discrimination. So rather than linger on inevitabilities, Laurence Anyways instead zeroes in on the impact of transgender on a relationship, and tries to understand what makes two people stay together or fall apart.” Read more

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OUT OF THE FRYING PAN AND INTO MORE ORCS
“Whether or not you’ve read the novels, Peter Jackson’s previous installments have set up Middle Earth in a lot of detail. By now most filmgoers know the different species that live there, they’ve met Gollum, and they’re aware that in several years’ time, a big bad evil is going to shake things up. Those seeing The Hobbit have the benefit of foresight that the novel didn’t afford, and whether we like it or not, that necessarily changes how the story is going to be told. So even if the Sauron undercurrent didn’t figure into the novel, it seems silly not to acknowledge it in this movie.” Read more

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WHAT MAKES A REALLY GOOD BAD GUY
“A great villain isn’t the protagonist’s polar opposite. It’s someone who reflects the flaws in the hero and says – as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet did – ‘you’re like me.’ Villains are also a reminder that heroes conquer their foes with violence. Even if it’s for all the right reasons, violence is violence. Heroism requires some darkness and a reasonable stretch of the moral code. A poorly developed villain is all darkness and no moral code. A great villain asks us to define ‘reasonable.’” Read more

FRAMED IN SHAME
“In the tradition of many films before Shame, Brandon’s yuppie status exists solely to justify swanky surroundings, and thus accommodate stunning cinematography. Otherwise, his estimated $1,500-a-week prostitution habit (with a dash of cocaine) doesn’t burden his bank account. If it does, Brandon isn’t concerned. And why should he be? The movie’s gorgeous!” Read more

THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY
After Life blatantly associates film-making with memory. During their sessions with the dead, the counselors try to extract as many details as possible so they can represent them accurately on screen. There’s nothing ethereal about the work involved: they go location-scouting, they build sets, and if need be, they bring in some actors. The movies are never exactly as the subjects picture them, but the tone and intent are spot on. Takashi’s last reflection feels like an acknowledgment of how profoundly filmmakers can move their audience.” Read more

THE GARDEN OF PLEASANTVILLE
“But people don’t turn to color merely by way of sex and trivia. It goes deeper than that. It has to be something that touches you on a visceral level. Something that’s the opposite of what you think you know about yourself. That’s why David and Jennifer are among the last to make the transition, because for the most part, they’re the ones teaching Pleasantville new tricks.” Read more

I’M WITH THE GLEANERS
“Had the movie title been translated literally, we’d have ‘The Gleaners and the Gleaneress,’ but grammar wouldn’t hear of it, so we get ‘The Gleaners and I.’ It’s unfortunate only because the French title tells us Varda doesn’t set herself apart from the people she’s observing. Like them, she spends most of the film gathering odds and ends.” Read more

WHY THE COENS TORTURED POOR LARRY GOPNIK
“If God is there at all in the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, he’s of the unseen, unknown, and scathingly unfair variety. Their plot is rooted in folkloric storytelling, from the tragic hero to the things that happen in threes. If you ask the Coen brothers why they keep torturing poor Larry Gopnik, they’ll probably say, ‘Because we can.’ And really, isn’t that the kind of answer a god might give?” Read more

THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID ANY DIFFERENTLY
“Movies about classical music composers tend to get bogged down by biographic details, but Tous les matins du monde would rather fictionalize real people to let the haunting soundtrack tell its own story. The film is about a brilliant Baroque musician who lets his anguish call the shots. It’s also about his student, who, in his final moments, realizes he was dead inside. The most captivating character is the mesmerizing score, which steers the movie’s textured emotional climate.” Read more

WHY DOES OFELIA CRAWL INTO THE TOADS GROTTO?
Pan’s Labyrinth takes an allegorical approach to fairy tales by drawing parallels between both of Ofelia’s worlds. But because Guillermo del Toro is such a skilled storyteller, it’s not merely a question of matching similarities. There are important differences that feel like commensurate opposites. In the faun’s world, Ofelia is a heroine. In reality, her stepfather Vidal thinks she’s a disposable pest. Each time Ofelia regresses into fairyland, she’s escaping a real-life unpleasantness.” Read more

INCEPTIONS MADE OF SAND
“For Dominic Cobb, architecture categorizes the muddled mess of memory. He doesn’t just store his recollections of Mal in a hotel; each moment is located in a visually distinct room because it is that room. Regardless of aesthetics, the building’s function is to neatly compartmentalize the events of their doomed romance. “Managing spaces provides order, which gives us the impression that we’re safe,” says Andaluz. What Cobb dreams up isn’t the perfect homestead, but it might be an ideal library.” Read more


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