Saturday, 6 April 2013

Saturday Special: Remembering Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert, famed film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, passed away on Thursday. The news affected me perhaps more than any other death of someone I've never met that I can remember - Ebert was a real icon to me, who I admired hugely because of his love of films and his wonderful writing style. I wanted to pay tribute to him, but couldn't find the words. So, here's some of his, which are better than anything I could ever have written myself - twelve of my favourite quotes from his reviews, along with links to the full versions of each one (click on the film title to go to his review.)

I loved Wet Hot American Summer, personally - for camp, trashy, low budget hilarity, it worked perfectly. In my opinion, at least. Ebert disagreed rather strongly, but his scathing review, written to the tune of Allan Sherman's comic song 'Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter From Camp) is fabulous whether or not you like the film. (So much so, in fact, that it was performed by the writers at the tenth anniversary screening!)
"Don't make me stay,
Oh mudduh faddah--
In this idiotic motion picture."

There seemed to be a lot of reviewers criticising The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor for various reasons, some of them unfair. Ebert summed the movie up by saying "Moviegoers who knowingly buy a ticket for "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" are going to get exactly what they expect: There is a mummy, a tomb, a dragon and an emperor. And the movie about them is all that it could be. If you think "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" sounds like a waste of time, don't waste yours." Good advice!

The Brown Bunny is another personal favourite of mine, although I'm glad I've never seen the 118-minute version which Roger crucified, leading to a feud between him and director/writer/star Vincent Gallo. After Gallo described him as a 'fat pig', Ebert's response was ''I will one day be thin but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'" Later, though, Roger would say "he is not the director of the same 'Brown Bunny' I saw at Cannes," giving the cut version three stars out of four.

I've never seen Deep Blue Sea, the Samuel L Jackson and Thomas Jane thriller. Somehow, after reading Ebert's review, the highlight of which is "Deep Blue Sea resembles a shark. It moves ceaselessly, and someone gets eaten from time to time." I've never been sure whether the film could live up to that quote, despite the three star review.

Lost And Delirious, Lea Pool's stunning film about two girls in love at a boarding school, inspired a hymn of praise from Ebert which captures as well as any review could this amazing movie. Best of all, is his footnote, slamming the MPAA for the ridiculousness of this movie being released 'unrated'. "The movie is being released 'unrated,' which means it is too poetic, idealistic and healthfully erotic to fit into the sick categories of the flywheels at the MPAA. Mature teens are likely to find it inspirational and moving."

Another favourite review of mine was the one of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, following on from star Rob Schneider's attack on Ebert's fellow critic Patrick Goldstein, "Maybe you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who's Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers." Ebert's response?
"As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

I haven't seen Valentine's Day, but the review brought a smile to my face anyway. (Which, by the sound of things, may be more than the film could manage!) "Valentine's Day" is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it's more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date."

Freddy Got Fingered is making most lists of Ebert's best ever reviews, usually with the quote "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels." As great as that is, I think I prefer the more cutting "The day may come when "Freddy Got Fingered" is seen as a milestone of neo-surrealism. The day may never come when it is seen as funny."

I loved Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused the first time I saw it, but thought that it didn't hold up particularly well for the second viewing. Ebert summed it up wonderfully, saying "The most pathetic character in "Dazed and Confused" is a graduate from a few years back, in his '20s now, who still hangs out with the kids because he senses that the status he had at 17 was his personal high point. This is a good film, but it would not cheer people up much at a high school reunion."

Early Hugh Grant movie The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain wasn't one you'd expect to play particularly well in the USA, but Ebert liked it nearly as much as I did. "Every character in this movie, with the possible exception of the fresh-cheeked local lass Betty of Cardiff (Tara Fitzgerald) is crazy as a bedbug, and none of them know it, and that is why they are so funny." 

Perhaps the best movie of the last few years, for me, has been Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle's action comedy The Guard. Summing it up by nearly quoting one of Cheadle's lines, Ebert simply said "'The Guard'" is a pleasure. I can't tell if it's really (bleeping) dumb or really (bleeping) smart, but it's pretty (bleeping) good."

To say I wasn't a fan of The Village would be something of an understatement. However, I think I still liked it more than RE did! "To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we're back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets."

As I said, I'd love to have written something but couldn't find the words. Tim Grierson, writing for Paste Magazine, paid an eloquent tribute to him, while The Onion - not a site I'm usually a fan of - produced one of the best articles I've ever seen online, with their beautiful piece Roger Ebert Hails Human Existence As 'A Triumph'.

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