April 5th, 2013 by Michael Tabor
Roger Ebert was a powerhouse within the universe of film; he was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize and was even given his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The New York Times called him the critic for the common man because he made film criticism accessible to everyone with his thumbs up – or – down TV approach with Gene Siskel and then later with Richard Roeper.
What I really loved most about Roger was the fact that not only was he a great writer who had a unique style of personalizing every film he reviewed but furthermore he always seemed to bring that special “magic” to the movies – his passion for moving pictures was second to none whether one agreed with him or not. I faithfully purchased his yearbooks (which were basically a collection of his reviews he had written in his syndicated column for that particular year) and because his writing was so good and interesting, I usually read the reference book straight through like a novel. Not only did he review all of the expected mainstream films but he would also dip into some of the off the charts bizarre indies such as ‘Sick: The Life& Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist’ 1997. Mr. Ebert wrote with his signature personal flair,
“This is one of the most agonizing films I have ever seen. It tells the story of a man who was born with cystic fibrosis, a disease that fills the lungs with thick, sticky mucus, so that breathing is hard and painful, and an early death is the prognosis. He was in pain all his life, and in a gesture of defiance he fought pain with more pain. With Sheree Rose as his partner, he became a performance artist, using his own body as a canvas for museum shows, gallery exhibits, lectures, and performances. He was the literal embodiment of the joke about the man who liked to hit himself with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped.” Weird, compelling, and impossible to stop reading – that was Roger Ebert.
Ebert lived his life through the movies; he was a cast character in all of the movies he saw. Sadly, as we all know Roger suffered terribly with thyroid , salivary glands and chin cancer; he even lost the ability to speak and even eat and drink (he was fed through a tube, can you imagine ?) However, Roger never lost his passion for the medium he was made for. Anthony Hopkins’s ‘Slipstream’ was considered a complete disaster and panned by everyone except for Roger Ebert; having been ill himself, of course Ebert could identify completely with Anthony Hopkins’s sick character. In fact I personally hated the film the first time I saw it and after reading Ebert’s review and watching ‘Slipstream’ again, I got it – I saw what Ebert saw.
I didn’t like all the movies Roger enjoyed but thanks to his unique writing style I always understood why Roger Ebert loved a movie. I also want to note that not unlike Ebert, I, too think there are very few movies that are absolutely flawless in every regard from beginning to end; however this doesn’t suggest that you shouldn’t see a film if this is in fact the case. There may be something about a particular film which makes it worth seeing, or perhaps that have moments (for me what immediately comes to mind is ‘Full Metal Jacket’ in which the first half was absolutely classic Stanley Kubrick and yet the second half of the movie was almost unwatchable) So here’s a thumbs up to ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Casablanca’ – Roger Ebert’s 2 favorite movies of all time. So, WhaDaYaThink ? What Do You Think ?
September 3rd, 2012 by Michael Tabor
What’s sad is I will never again get to see another Stanley Kubrick film. I recently blogged about Woody Allen but there is no comparison in terms of “greatness” when you throw in Stanley Kubrick. Yes, I know there is Bergman, Fellini and Ford, but Stanley Kubrick was just in a completely different universe. You know you’re watching a Kubrick film within a minute, his style is/was so distinct. He was only 70 when he died in his sleep of a heart attack shortly before the release of “Eyes Wide Shut” and oh boy, what a loss this was for film aficionados. To start he only made 10 features if you begin with “Paths of Glory” (1957) which was really his first film (yes I know there is “The Killing” and a few earlier films but “Paths …” was really the first Kubrick film).
This obviously could be a 1000 page book (oh God all the masterpieces: ‘Barry Lyndon’, ‘The Shining, ‘2001: Space Odyssey’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ … and the man – Stanley Kubrick) but in this short essay I’m just going to make a few remarks about his last film, “Eyes Wide Shut”.
I hated “Eyes Wide Shut” the first time I saw it and I couldn’t express my disappointment enough. I watched the semi – masterpiece this weekend and I must say I have gained a whole new perspective on the film. Was it his best work? No. Is this the film I would urge people to see, if one hasn’t seen a Kubrick film? (Can you imagine?) No. However, I missed a whole lot the first viewing some 10+ years ago. The first hour and 15 minutes of the film is, I still maintain, not very good and even a little over the top with the Stanley Kubrick signature – the intense, eerie, sort of otherworldly, esoteric, etc. Great camera work granted, but…. After the bizarre orgy, right after Cruise was told to leave and not tell anyone what he saw, was when the movie really started to get good, no not good – GREAT!
I could hear my heart pounding in my chest (much of the time) as I watched the last hour of the movie; I could hardly breathe when Dr. Harford (Cruise’s character) goes to the morgue and stares at the beautiful young dead woman – oh and the eerie score, that one loud piano note. I didn’t know what was going to happen. For some reason, as Cruise was leaning closer toward the corpse, I thought she was going to pop up. (That of course would have been inane and had made no sense, this is not Carpenter or Di Palma, but it’s that intense ambiance at which Kubrick was so masterful) The conversation at the end in which Dr. Harford (Cruise) and Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack) are engaged is one of the most intense eerie dream-like scenes I’ve ever seen in the history of cinema. Essentially nothing happens in the last hour and yet that atmosphere is there which is really one (of the many) reasons he was the best.
So I can go on, but I think I’ll just end with – if you were like me and were not happy with Stanley’s last movie, revisit it and it’s really the last half that did it for me. Oh, I must mention, not to put a damper on matters, but the ending was admittedly lame, but that shouldn’t stop you from absorbing that one hour of outstanding cinema. So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you Think ?
August 13th, 2012 by Michael Tabor
If you are a Woody Allen fan like me, there’s a relatively new documentary available to see on Netflix called –‘Woody Allen: A Documentary’, 2011, and it’s an absolutely must-see. It’s about 4 hours long (2 parts and there’s not a dull moment) and it’s the most comprehensive, in-depth profile of this unique, prodigiously talented filmmaker/actor/writer/musician to date. Mr. Allen is such an elusive private man and I was shocked to find how probing and personal it was. It was a completely no-holds barred portrait of this man’s astonishing body of work and his personal life and beliefs.
Whether you’re a Woody Allen fan or not, you cannot deny the fact that Woody Allen is an American National Treasure. Think about this: Woody Allen has been making films and has been RELEVENT for more than 40 years. This is simply unheard of in show business; if you’re relevant for 10 or even 5, it’s amazing! What I also got out of the documentary, was what a nice, unpretentious, likable guy Woody Allen is. The only real hitch in his personal life was the whole, over-blown coverage of his affair with Soon-YI, Mia Farrow’s adopted child (not Allen’s). As far as I’m concerned, Woody did nothing illegal, nor did he do anything really wrong. Listen, was it a little strange? yes . But the truth of the matter is: 1. He wasn’t married to Mia Farrow. 2. Soon-Yi was 20 when they started the affair and 3. As I mentioned in the previous sentence, it was not Allen’s adopted child. It wasn’t planned, and as we all know, love is irrational plus he’s still with her, so leave him alone. What was great was Allen’s response to the whole fiasco, he said, “Jeez, I was shocked by all the coverage; I didn’t know I was that popular.”
Enough of the nonsense, I’ve already spilled too much ink on Woody and Soon-Yi. Let’s talk about his professional life which is nothing short of masterful. I won’t go through his whole career, see the documentary, which is impressively exhaustive. Woody started as a writer, writing 50 jokes a day for $25 a week. He later became a stand-up comedian which he hated because he’s shy and hated performing before a crowd. Then he became what he really wanted – a filmmaker with free rein to do whatever he wanted to do – which is simply unheard of with the big studios and major financial backers. What makes this even more unbelievable is that Woody had this incredible independence from day one. What a lucky man!
Of the 40 films Mr. Allen has made, I would say that I liked about 30 of them, he did make a few clunkers, but Woody would have you believe that just about all of his films were awful (again that monumental modesty). He also doesn’t care what the critics think; ironically, his favorite films are the ones the critics panned. Allen’s thoughts are that if he is able to reproduce what was in his mind (or as close to it, it’s impossible to be exact) then the film is a success.
Let me conclude with some personal thoughts about Woody Allen. One of the major reasons I like Allen , is he truly thinks like I do. I am somewhat of an insecure nervous nellie and I’ve always been obsessed with death. Woody Allen has essentially made a career out of talking about death but without the gloom, he always throws humor in. My favorite part of the documentary is when he says, “when I was 5 or 6 I realized that we all die, and he goes on to say, you mean this doesn’t go on forever, we have to die ? Doesn’t that ruin everything?”
So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you think? Are you a Woody Allen fan? What is your favorite Woody Allen film?
June 13th, 2011 by Michael Tabor
Waking Life ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time. It Is on my top 10 movies of all-time list and coming from someone who as seen perhaps every great movie ever made, that is saying something.
I own the DVD and I watch some of it at least once a month. However, I hardly sit straight through the entire movie again because it is so rife with intellectual profundities that it is just almost impossible to take in and chew and absorb all of that great wisdom. I will usually watch ten minutes or so and just get swept off my feet by the sage insight. This is a critically acclaimed film but certainly there are detractors who will point out that the film is pretentious and over the top. I do understand that if a person is not serious about film and is one who just wants to be entertained then yes this movie would not be for you. This movie is difficult and I was dizzy with awe-inspiring thoughts after my first viewing. I immediately inserted the disc, watched it over again, and knew immediately that this was a film I would never get sick of and had to purchase the disc.
The film is in animation and the technique utilized is rotoscoping, which is simply tracing over the live-action filming of real life. I love the fact that Richard Linklater decided to film it this way. In fact, I am not sure the film would have had the same impact on me if it were done any other way. A certain person whom I am very close to said that she does not like it because it feels like she has just ingested a tab of LSD. It has that half real and half cartoon look – it is a real mind-bending look, which is exactly what Linklater wanted. This is a movie after all about, consciousness, dreams, reality, etc. so what an apropos form to film this way because dreams are weird but very often feel real and I think the perfect word is surreal.
So allow me to tell you what the film is about. This is a movie, which is impossible to spoil, and this is the case because there is not much of a plot. The protagonist is in a dream and ends up interacting with some of the most intelligent and interesting people one will ever meet. They all speak like college professors and everything under the sun is discussed from as I mentioned earlier: reality, dreams, consciousness, politics, and existentialism – in fact all types of philosophy are touched upon. It talks about the future, how to lead as the Greeks would say “the good life”, and really it is all about the meaning of life. There is an eastern flavor to much of the philosophy, which is what rings true and resonates with me most. What’s so great about the film is that it presents highly complex philosophical teachings and makes it accessible to the lay person. (Some people disagree with me here and but I have seen the movie several times and none of the language is superfluous and intellectually pretentious. It is all couched in the proper way and is all crystal clear.)
Please see this movie! This movie has changed my life and is actually still changing my way of thinking because I am continually watching this gem – a rotoscopic, animated, cerebral, genre-breaking film. This is one of a kind. By the way if you end up turning off the movie after 15 minutes and then watching 15 minutes more the next night until completion, you’re not alone. There is so much to digest, and it is exactly the way I watch the film. (Yes – still, I will probably be watching bits and pieces of this for the rest of my life.)
So WHADAWETHINK ? Have you seen Waking Life? What are your thoughts about it? Obviously, Richard Linklater did not come up with a new philosophy, he just gathered all the interesting aspects of the discipline and presented it in a highly original way. The only criticism I have for the film is that there is maybe too much information crammed into one movie. One acquaintance of mine said if he wanted to get “super-deep” like this, he would have stayed home and read his college philosophy textbook. My response is this is a perfect DVD film, watch a little at a time, and cherish the wisdom, which has been known since time immemorial.
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