RIP Roger Ebert

From Slate:

Roger understood how much movies matter, how a good one can burrow into our souls, and he never let anyone forget it. It’s hard to imagine him no longer out there watching, thinking, and writing about movies. But it’s comforting to know that he changed the way we watch, think, and write about movies forever—and for the better.

From Rolling Stone:

The death of Roger Ebert is a blow to movies, not just movie criticism. He energized the medium by taking it on full force, two-fisted, making it better by not letting the suits get away with anything.

From Dana Stevens, movie critic at Slate:

But he remained relentlessly modern, always alive to the particularity of the current moment he was living and curious about the one that would come next. It was that quality—paired with a seemingly bottomless reserve of intellectual and physical energy—that made him so keenly observant as a critic and such a master of the epigrammatic, fast flowing Twitter form.

And from a letter he wrote her after she wrote him when she was twelve for advice on how to become a film critic:

go to all of the good movies you can and write-write-write for any place that will print your stuff.

I have been thinking about movies a lot lately, and about criticism. Reading about Ebert, and reading about Pauline Kael recently, kind of made me wish I was better at being a critic. I’m not very good at being critical of movies. I love so many of them, even the deeply flawed ones, and I’m not great at articulating why I love them. My near-constant refrain after seeing almost anything: “I liked it.” or “I loved it.” I have never pushed myself to think hard about movies. I’m trying to change this. I’m also trying to “write-write-write” as much as I can, and submit to anywhere that will print my stuff. It’s not going well. Many of the tributes to Ebert have mentioned how since his illness he has endured so much pain and yet he was energized in his writing and commentary. I think it’s absolutely amazing and inspiring.

So I will re-read some Ebert and try to figure out how to think smarter about movies. Ebert more than anyone showed you can love movies and be thoroughly and precisely critical at the same time.

First thoughts on the Godfather I and II

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An ambitious pair of movies. The second one compliments the first seamlessly, particularly in the relationships between Michael and Kay, and Michael and Vito (both as children). Diane Keaton’s eyebrows were unnerving, but her performance was great. Pacino is so quiet, especially in the first film. I’m used to a Pacino who yells. I loved him, especially in the first film. I love how Robert DeNiro plays a young Vito in the second, and the parallels in the acting and character between Pacino and DeNiro. All of DeNiro’s best scenes in part two are when he isn’t speaking: standing aside helpless and broke while Fredo is sick as a baby; taking out the Don and disposing of the weapon and then taking a seat with his family during the festivities; holding baby Michael on the train back in Italy. Also, young DeNiro is a babe. No one told me this! Also, Brando’s quiet scenes are menacing and fantastic. Stroking the cat in the opening scene. Playing with Michael’s son in the garden and dying.

The costumes, especially in the flashbacks were stunning. The cast was excellent. Some unforgettable shots. I would have liked to see more of Mama’s interior life and thoughts, how she spends fifty years with this violent man, who nonetheless loves his family endlessly. Kay can’t hack it with this bunch, nor can Connie, really, so what makes Mama able to stand it?

My recent film education…

I never saw many classic movies growing up. We were music nuts in my house, spending hours and hours on Dylan B-sides and bootlegs, but my parents and older brother never took it upon themselves to educate me in the classics when it came to movies. I could, however, write a phd thesis on Steven Seagal and Bruce Lee movies.

So with a lot of time on my hands, what with finishing school and being out of a job, and being unable (or unwilling) to write, I have been making up for lost time. Callum is a great guide in this whole thing.

It started with Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which I watched for the film studies class I was TAing. I don’t know how I managed to get picked to TA that class, seeing as my only previous film studies experience was in an undergraduate class on gender and German cinema from Weimar era to the 70s. Fritz Lang, I know. Fassbinder, I get. But when it comes to American movies, I hadn’t even seen a Hitchcock movie. Callum warned me on the way out the door to my class on NBNW that the movie really inspired one of my favourite movies. I was delighted when the movie started and I realized it was basically a slicker, slightly more elegant version of the Big Lebowski. Back when people wore super class clothes all the time. Loved it. When Eva Marie Saint says “I don’t particular like the book I’ve started” on the train, Cary Grant’s reaction is priceless.

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Then Callum realized I had never seen Rear Window or Psycho, and even better, I didn’t know the twist at the end of Psycho. He had the biggest grin while watching me watch Psycho. Didn’t think Psycho was great, although Anthony Perkins was fantastic. Rear Window, I liked a lot, especially Grace Kelly’s frigging wardrobe.

We saw Shadow of a Doubt at the TIFF theatre in Toronto, which also had a before and after film chat with Guillermo del Toro, which was beyond amazing. I loved Shadow of a Doubt. The snarky little sister who only takes her head out a book to make a witty comment was the absolute best part of the movie. Notorious was another favourite, which we watched recently.

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And so I recently read a biography on Pauline Kael, who somehow I had never heard of, and yet she was apparently one of the most famous critics in history. I KNOW, I WAS TOO BUSY WATCHING UNDER SIEGE 50 TIMES TO LEARN THIS STUFF. Her biography made me realize a whole other classic era of cinema that I’ve missed out on – late 60s and 70s American cinema. I’ve seen Serpico. And Taxi Driver. And Rocky 1 and 4. That’s about it. Haven’t seen any of the Godfathers, haven’t seen Chinatown, or Midnight Cowboy, or Bonnie and Clyde.

So I’ve made the trip to the Hamilton Public Library (which is amazing) and picked up the Godfather box set. I’ve heard the third ones sucks, but we start tonight with Part 1.

Send me a list of movies that I’m missing out on! I’ve seen a shitload of movies made since the early 90s, but very little before then.

The problems with thinking it’s a “post-racial” America…

I’ve been pretty shocked about the racist comments on Twitter about the re-election of Obama, not because I don’t think racism exists, but because of the age of the people doing it. Jezebel looked into it and many of these idiots are high school students or young college students. I think back to my time in high school, and mind you, I’m from Canada, but the n-word was extremely taboo. People heard it in rap songs, maybe occasionally mumbled it along with the lyrics, but it really wasn’t used. Not to say there wasn’t racism (I grew up in a very white province), but it wasn’t encountered widely. At that point (or at any point) in my life, if someone I knew at school put the n-word on the internet, they would be hearing from me. Loudly, and in their face.

I also came of age in the 90s, the Clinton era, the era of after school specials, and sitcoms with “messages”. If we didn’t know the n-word was bad (and we did), the point would be reiterated on one of those “heavy” episodes of Fresh Prince.

I also think back to the kids who tormented the bus monitor so horribly. They were so young, and yet so awful. Now, I don’t want to be one of those “back in my day” kind of people, and yet, I have to say it: When I was in school, children abusing an elderly woman would not happen. Other kids, definitely. But not an elderly woman.

So what is happening with these kids? Where is this hate coming from? Why are they such sociopaths?

Pop culture is a part of it. I think about the TV I watched as an 7-14 year old. It was shows like Fresh Prince (about a wealthy black family), Family Matters (about a middle-class black family), Full House (about a white family, but still heavy on the messages of tolerance), etc. I think about TV in its current form. Where are the shows about families and people of colour, other than on BET? There aren’t any. And meanwhile, while there is some diversity on Disney channel shows, and maybe even a message of tolerance too, kids (boys especially) probably age out of those shows young. And what sitcoms or general entertainment is there to fill the gap? MTV? Sixteen and Pregnant? Jersey Shore? The phrase “post-racial America” got thrown around a lot after Obama’s first win. This idea of a post-racial country leads Hollywood to believe that maybe we don’t need shows with a message about race. Throw in a few characters of colour and everything will be fine. Obviously, kids aren’t learning the message enough. I know having racist parents can have a huge effect on this, but pop culture matters.

I can think of two network sitcoms that talk about race in an astute and clever way, Community and 30 Rock. Both of these shows have diverse casts, small audiences and are hilarious. And yet they are too clever for the kind of mass consumption of a show like Fresh Prince.

Race still needs to be talked about, and talked about openly and clearly in entertainment for young people. It isn’t happening. Maybe the racist tweets from high schoolers can be tied to that.

Ode to the disgruntled…

We watched The Other Guys last night, which was wonderfully strange and totally hilarious. Mark Wahlberg playing an angry guy is one of my favorite things. It doesn’t get any more disgruntled than Detective Terry Hoiyts, the partner to Will Ferrell’s bumbing Detective Gamble – and the scenes where Wahlberg is pissed off at Ferrell, other cops, his Captain, his girlfriend, or the world in general (basically the whole movie) are side-splitting. I don’t laugh out loud at many movies but there were moments in this movie we had to pause and then rewind because we had to calm down and breathe deep until the giggle fits went away.

I am also currently reading Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff, a nonfiction writer/regular on This American Life.  He is also often hilariously disgruntled:

It has been a good while since 12:00am held much attraction for me beyond a perfectly lovely time to be ensconced in the comfort of my own home, sitting in my underpants, contentedly worrying about something.

And my husband, who is never disgruntled until he suddenly is,  standing still this morning in his towel fresh out of the shower, trying to find clean socks and not wanting to go to work. As someone who has spent my life in various stages of disgruntled-ness, I completely empathize.

Disgruntled. Looks weird written down. Fun to say. Kind of fun to be.

Oscars…


Yes, of course James Franco sucked. What did everyone think this overrated piece of garbage was going to do?

Anne Hathaway had to work overtime to get the crowd going, and it still fell flat. I feel sorry for her. She’s very charming, and her excitement was adorable: here was someone who loves movies, who has probably dreamed about this since she was a little girl, and most importantly LOVES the Oscars, or at least can fucking pretend to.

If I was the producer, I would’ve paired Hathaway with a charismatic older stud, like Hugh Jackman or Clooney, someone just dripping with class and showmanship. That way, her excited little girl shtick would’ve played a lot better. But then again, I’m not the producer, because if I was, the show would’ve included me firing James Franco out of a cannon into Helena Bonham Carter and them both exploding into flames.

Salon had a funny piece about Franco’s own brand of shitty-ness, in the form of a shitty James Franco short story:

Or maybe, Franco thought gloomily, returning to the worst-case scenario, the problem was him.

Maybe if Franco had supported Hathaway more, if he’d given more of a damn — if he hadn’t looked distracted half the time and pained the other half; if he’d roused himself to display the smarmy but irresistible energy that Crystal brought to his sole brief appearance, or that Hope radiated from beyond the grave — maybe Franco wouldn’t be standing there on the precipice of infamy, about to be reviled as the guy who sucked worse than Letterman and Whoopi, the yutz who made the Oscars even more boring than they might have been already, just by being his “Am I really there or not?” self, the handsome Mr. Cellophane.

P.S. I tried to find the douchiest picture of him, but it’s impossible. They are all equally as douchey.