Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

Roger Ebert died today.

I was never a big Ebert guy; I always preferred Pauline Kael and, later, J. Hoberman. But Ebert easily won my respect, especially in the last few years. Since this site is about reviewing movies, Ebert is relevant to me by definition.

I can remember watching Sneak Previews on PBS starting when I was about 11 — it was the only TV show around that actually reviewed movies, and that was always very enthralling to me. For some reason I always remember Siskel and Ebert reviewing this talky Jon Voight movie Table for Five as the kind of thing nobody else on TV was interested in doing. I think I preferred Siskel somewhat, but I liked them both. I liked it when they agreed, and I liked it when they disagreed. I appreciated that you could watch, on TV, two men who were clearly experts in their field engaging in an impassioned debate about their area of expertise. The ratio of substance to bullshit was always pleasingly high — and not always easy to find on TV, then or now.

Ebert’s reviews have the great virtue of being to the point, unfussy, clear, and engaging. Ebert understood his own preferences so deeply that Continue reading


The Year in Review: 1973

High Plains DrifterSummary: A very strong year, to be sure, and yet — perhaps not quite as overpowering as the myth of the cinema of the 1970s would lead us to expect. Not as strong as 1972, with its four 10s; note that the recipient of that distinction this year is not a movie that is ordinarily singled out to that degree (although, to be fair, lots of people think more highly of several of the other movies here). Plenty of 7s and 8s, though. If the absolute peak of the early 1970s cinema had passed, the gains were being consolidated. Continue reading

(0079X) Magnum Force

Magnum ForceDecember 30, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A continuation of the stirring conservatism offered in Dirty Harry.

What did I get? Strange as it may seem, Magnum Force is a Dirty Harry movie designed with liberals in mind. Everywhere Harry looks, he is confronted with versions of himself, only more malign and unbalanced: his bile-spewing old buddy Charlie McCoy, a quartet of eager-beaver rookie cops with crackerjack profiency with their weapons and zealotry in their eyes — and that’s far from all. The movie is carefully engineered to establish the sensible limits that Harry does honor, to present his warrior’s code as something approaching mainstream. Harry represents common sense, but the emphasis here is more on the “sense.”

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What’s Your Favorite #1 Movie from 1970?

Hi everyone! I’m back from my extended stay in California and I am gearing up to begin posting new reviews very soon. I appreciate your patience and hope you share in my optimism that the best and most interesting years for the Boffo project are yet to come.

In the meantime, I’d like you to help me out. When I first published the “Year in Review” posts, I included a poll at the bottom of the page with instructions to check off the ones that you personally would rate higher than a 6.5. As well intentioned as this was, I think it was a bit much to ask people to rate movies when even very die-hard movie fans may have seen only a handful of the movies involved.

So I’m rethinking that feature — instead of asking you to select multiple movies that you like, I’d like you to pick a single movie from the bunch, the one you like the best. Radio buttons will force you to choose one and only one movie.

I’m starting with “The Year in Review: 1970” so that people aren’t confronted with multiple polls all at the same time. 1971 and 1972 will follow shortly; I will let you know when they are ready.

The poll is on the page linked above, but you can also access it after the jump:
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Interlude in the Land of Movies, Almost Finished

It’s been almost two months since the last review, for Papillon, went up. After such a long gap, it would be reasonable to wonder if my resolve is holding firm or if I’ve abandoned the Boffo project. I’m writing now to reassure my readers that I have every intention of continuing Boffo in March.

A few days after Christmas I left on a road trip to Los Angeles, where I’ll be staying until about the end of February before the long drive back. I have work to do out here, and I lack my usual movie-watching infrastructure, and I’m also dedicating a lot of time to exploring southern California, so I’m not concentrating on reviews for the moment.

I apologize for not keeping my readers informed about this hiatus. I promise I will be back with my usual vigor in a few weeks.

Thank you for reading and caring.

(0078X) Papillon

PapillonDecember 16, 1973 | 2 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A superior period prison escape movie — although I was curious about the casting.

What did I get? Like its main characters, Papillon is, at first glance, tough-minded and uncompromising — an impression that cloaks a core of sentimental mush. It’s a gripping and involving movie that uses everything in its filmic arsenal to convey what for most viewers is an unimaginable gauntlet of cruelty and pain, but the fissures in its originating text undermine the movie’s coherence. Schaffner’s contributions are similarly divided: his acceptance of the truth of the story allowed him to deliver a powerful movie, but he might have been a touch less naive about the material.
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(0077X) Serpico

SerpicoDecember 9, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A classic gritty NYC movie from the 1970s.

What did I get? Along with The French Connection and Sidney Lumet’s own Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico stands as one of the canonical glories of the gritty New York-based cinema of the 1970s. Frank Serpico became one of the great Pacino roles, even as it offered a preview of the actor’s outsize mannerisms. For his part, Lumet miraculously wrung out of the historical Serpico’s messy and complex story something like an urban fairy tale.
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(0076X) Robin Hood

Robin HoodNovember 11, 1973 | 4 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A fairly good Disney cartoon.

What did I get? The first animated feature that Disney greenlighted after Walt’s death in 1966, Robin Hood proved to be startling evidence of the soundness of his methods — even if the decade to follow would yield few high points for the company. It’s an immensely enjoyable product, every frame a testament to a great entertainment juggernaut in its maturity. It’s a challenge to convey just how unfussy, lively, and effective the rollicking hijinks of the movie are — and to imagine the enormous skill and professionalism behind the movie’s raucous fun. The animators of our present era would do well to study the deceptive ease of this charmer.
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(0075X) The Way We Were

The Way We WereOctober 21, 1973 | 3 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A meretricious, nostalgic love story with some big “issues”

What did I get? They meet at a fancy Ivy League college. He’s an athletic WASP who hails from the affluent reaches of society and appears to have all horizons open to him. She’s an “ethnic” urbanite with an ignominious job who habitually pricks his easy sense of himself. They fall in love, of course. It doesn’t end well. The movie featured a strain of music that had people humming for months. That’s Love Story, yes, but it’s also The Way We Were — for The Way We Were is Love Story for smart people.
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(0074X) Mean Streets

Mean StreetsOctober 14, 1973 | 1 week at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? An invigorating portrait of young toughs in New York

What did I get? Mean Streets is about as near to legendary as movies get. It was made with no profile and opened to no fanfare; it heralded the arrival of one of our country’s great popular artists; it served both as a repository of previous filmic history and as a pointer for the way forward; it deals with a setting, Greenwich Village in the early 1970s, that the intervening time has rendered magical, alluring, forever lost; and it provided a working template for American filmmakers for decades to come (for some reason, 1998’s Rounders sticks in my mind as the most obvious benefactor). That the legend exists, there can be no doubt. How accurate is it? We shall see.

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