Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Fistful of Ebert! (Brad's Picks)

Like most film freaks out there on Internetland, Siskel & Ebert At The Movies was essential to my growth as a film fan.  I still remember the first episode I ever watched - Fletch Lives/Leviathan/Police Academy 6.  In 1989 I was ten years old and obsessed with the Police Academy series.  I was infuriated at the idea that these two Critics didn't understand the comic talents of Lasard & Company.  Didn't they understand that Michael Winslow made funny sounds with his mouth!?!?  That Bubba Smith was really tall and mean looking but actually a sweetheart!?!?  No, they did not.  And I've always been the kinda fanboy that gets hurt when someone doesn't love something the way I do.  Just ask my wife after we watched The Terminator or Matt when he casually "meh"ed Matt Fraction's Hawkeye comic book earlier this week.  However, despite my frustration with their complete misunderstanding of Police Academy 6, I continued to watch At The Movies throughout my childhood.

In 1999 after Gene Siskel died, my enthusiasm for At The Movies dwindled.  Ebert partnered with various folks like Elvis Mitchell, Harry Knowles, and eventually Richard Roeper.  But the Two Thumbs magic was gone.  Ebert & Roeper never quite seemed to have that genuine banter, that rivalry/friendship that brought depth to the review show.  So I stopped watching, but followed Ebert online.

Thyroid cancer might have forced Ebert off the air, but he continued to strive via his website and twitter feed.  He gifted me more film knowledge in the last five years than in the entire run of At The Movies.  His Great Movies column is absolutely invaluable to cinephiles, and his twitter feed was a fantastic source of quotes and articles.  He never hid from the public, and he certainly wasn't shy about his appearance.  As he said on Sunday Morning "Don't Make It Your Problem."

It was a rare experience when I agreed with a Roger Ebert review, but his passion for cinema was so obviously joyous that even when he Hated, Hated, Hated a movie you loved and you were shouting empty screams at his An American Werewolf In London review, you couldn't help but appreciate or admire his words.  Siskel & Ebert were the first legitimatized fanboys.  Ebert proved that you could win a Pulitzer simply by loving film hard enough.  They're what all us faceless bloggers strive to become, but will no doubt never be.   Today, I urge you to visit  He may have built a cadre of writers around him, but he was plugging away till the very end.  His last film review, The Host.  Probably not the ideal film to go out on, but the man was cranking out the opinions until the very end.   That's truly awesome, and inspiring.

(UPDATED:  Roger Ebert's Final Film Review was actually for Terrence Malick's upcoming To The Wonder.  Read it here.)

If you haven't figured it out already, here are five more reasons why Roger Ebert is a cinematic icon and a total badass.  R.I.P. sir.

5.  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:  Ebert was no snoot.  He could drone on and on about Truffaut or spend days giving a shot by shot analysis of Vertigo.  But he is also the man who penned some of the sultriest and bustiest films of Russ Meyer.  And Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the best of the bunch.  Imagine Josie & The Pussycats but sexed to the extreme and psychedelic to the point of psychotic.  The acting is laughable, the plot utterly mondo, but the cleavage is plunging and the narrative is nearly as eye-popping.  Pure, cheezy gold.  A must stop on the map of exploitation.

4.  His DVD Commentary Tracks:  One of my greatest dork disappointments will forever be that I never had the opportunity to attend Ebertfest.  For the past 15 years, Roger Ebert hosted a film festival in Champagne, Illinois devoted to the great works of cinematic art.  He screened classic films like Days of Heaven alongside modern notables like Take Shelter.  Q&As that probably amounted to a solid block of film class.  It might be an experience most of us will never know, but what we do have at our fingertips are several excellent commentary tracks that Ebert recorded over the years.  Obvious classics like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, & Floating Weeds but also bizarre gems like Crumb, Dark City, and his own Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  Each track offers intelligent insight along with that joyous Ebert spirit.  Seek 'em out.

3.  Siskel & Ebert on Batman - Mask of the Phantasm:  Ok, how cool is this.  Shortly after the release of Batman Forever, Gene Siskel dipped into his Laserdisc collection to review Mask of the Phantasm, the animated Batman film they didn't even bother with upon its initial theatrical run.  If you've been reading this blog for a while you know that we're obsessed with Bruce Timm's animated series.  It's easily the best incarnation of Batman (outside of the comics) that the mass public has been granted so far.  And it is so geeky cool to see Gene & Roger award it the coveted Two Thumbs Up.  Even if they don't understand that Mark Hamill's Joker is the only Joker.  Screw Jack Nicholson.

2.  The Great Movies:  When I first heard of Ebert's passing I went running to my bookshelves.  This is the best book out there if you want to take full pleasure in the writing of Roger Ebert.  However, I could not find it on my shelves or in the piles of books that scar my apartment's terrain.  I had no choice, off to the bookstore I went and snagged another paperback copy.  Started as a column for the Chicago Sun Times in 1997, Ebert was becoming frustrated with some of his students' aversion to Black & White cinema as well as their complete lack of knowledge concerning great auteurs like Bunuel, Bresson, & Ozu (confession time, I'm one of those philistines who's never seen an Ozu flick).  The Great Movies is Ebert's ultimate celebration of cinema.  As I look at its table of contents, I see dozens of films I have yet to consume.  Lately, I've been trying to complete the gaps in my movie knowledge, but Ebert's passing has motivated me to get serious.  Starting last night with 2001 - A Space Odyssey, I'm making it my mission statement to work through the entirety of this book.  I'll read the review, watch the movie, get educated.  It's going to take a while (years probably if I toss in Parts II & III of Ebert's series) but I'm gonna get it done.  Next up, The 400 Blows.

1.  Ebert Picks Dark City as his Favorite Film of 1998:  Each year, when the Top 10 Films start to sprinkle across the media landscape, you see a critical trend.  Tree Of Life, There Will Be Blood, The Social Network.  If you follow along you know what's coming.  However, in 1998 you had no idea that Ebert would pick Alex Proyas's Dark City as his Number One Film.  I remember being rocked by that choice.  Based on his review I knew he had loved the film.   But never in a million years would I have thought a big time Critic would choose a science-fiction noir as the year's best film.  That's the kinda choice freakshow bloggers like myself pick, not respectable media types.  And in choosing Dark City as his favorite film of 98, Roger Ebert cemented himself as one of the geeks.  Go ahead, hate on An American Werewolf in London.  Balk at the gory simplicity of Phantasm II.  Ebert was not a hoity toity.  He reveled in the same bosoms as Russ Meyer.  And he loved creepy ass fedora aliens.  One of us, one of us...

And for the curious, Roger Ebert recently updated his Top 10 All Time Favorite Films to include Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.  (In Alphabetical Order) Aguirre - Wrath of God, Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, La Dolce Vita, The General, Raging Bull, 2001 - A Space Odyssey, Tokyo Story, The Tree of Life, Vertigo.


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