16 Jan 2011 @ 12:39 AM 

YouTube turns six next month.  By many standards, it’s been a huge success.  Google paid more than $1 billion to buy it, making YouTube’s founders rich.  It’s a popular site for catching up with whole variety of things (news, politics, music, sports, other entertainment), and for connecting people in new and different ways (social networking, education, marketing, etc.).  It’s been a wonderful time-waste for millions of bored workers around the world.  Where else can you find hours of video of dumb things pets do in the backyard?  Or hours of new and old movie clips, for that matter—hey, what would this site be without YouTube?

On the other hand, much of the content newly created for YouTube is dismal, very primitive.  We’re just a few years into the small-d democratic video age, and it seems that no one quite knows what to do with it yet.  (Let’s agree that mumblecore and mashups are not the answer.)  I’m not looking to compare YouTube videos with big-budget Hollywood productions.  But the fact is, the tools needed to make a decent video are available to virtually anyone who has the interest, yet the appeal and production values of the typical YouTube clip doesn’t measure up to what you could have found in the past on public-access TV.

YouTube is just a distribution outlet (like Hulu and other sites), and it’s not in the production business.  I understand that.  But I think there’s much greater promise for independent video and film than what we’ve seen so far.  Which may be, I hope,  just around the corner.  Looking back to the very early days of cinema, it took about a half-decade before some very creative storytellers started using the tools that were available then to make films that had aesthetic and lasting appeal.  Maybe that’s where we are today.

With that said, here’s a perfect example of the future of independent film.  In three minutes and thirty-five seconds, Jamie Stuart captures a few hours from a snowstorm in New York in a wonderfully fresh way that’s impossible to stop watching.

Watch it.

Man in a Blizzard (2010)
Astoria, New York
December 26, 2010
Jamie Stuart, photographer-editor

In the words of Roger Ebert:

This film deserves to win the Academy Award for best live-action short subject.
(1) Because of its wonderful quality. (2) Because of its role as homage. It is directly inspired by Dziga Vertov’s 1929 silent classic “Man With a Movie Camera.” (3) Because it represents an almost unbelievable technical proficiency. It was filmed during the New York blizzard of Dec. 26, and Jamie Stuart e-mailed it to me with this time stamp: December 27, 2010 4:18:18 PM CST.

Here’s more from Ebert, comments from Stuart, and other clips, including Vertov’s Man With a Camera.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 16 Jan 2011 @ 01:29 AM

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 04 Jan 2011 @ 5:01 PM 

Great news.  I’ll be watching.

Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com will be the co-hosts of “Ebert Presents at the Movies.” The two experienced and respected critics will also introduce special segments featuring other contributors and the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert.
The new weekly program debuts Jan. 21 on public television stations in 48 of the top 50 markets, representing more than 90% national coverage. It will be produced in Chicago at WTTW, where Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert began taping “Sneak Previews” some 35 years ago.

“It was pretty emotional for me, walking down the same corridors, into the same studios, even meeting some of the same camera operators, editors and stagehands we worked with,” Ebert said.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2011 @ 04:51 PM

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Categories: Critics, Movies
 31 Oct 2010 @ 2:54 PM 

Roger Ebert vs. Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert is a man who does not makes movie lists:  “No, I won’t be making out my list of the 10 Best Films for Halloween this year.”  (Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.)

Roger Ebert is a man who does make movie lists:  “Ten great films about horror.”  (Rogert Ebert’s Journal, a few days earlier.)

Granted, the list at his Journal has some films that are traditional Halloween fare (Frankenstein, Nosferatu) and some that are not (The Third Man, Detour).  (Check out his site not just for the list but for each movie in its entirety along with links to Ebert’s reviews.)  But it seems that Ebert is of two minds when it comes to lists.

I don’t blame him.  He’s been doing it longer than just about anybody, and I imagine every critic doesn’t at some point gets sick of making lists.  Lists at best are a snapshot in time, subject to change, and from another angle are reflections as much about the people making the lists as the films themselves.  The usefulness of movie lists is inversely proportionate to their number, and that’s part of the problem today.  Movies lists are out of control.  Their count has metastasized beyond what anyone would consider a healthy number useful for intelligent discourse about movies.  In fact, I’d say they’ve contributed to a lot of lazy thinking about film. 

I had done a post on movie lists a few months ago, contrasting the lists at two popular sites.  It’s mind-boggling.  I am a fan of They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (and their approach with the TSPDT list of 1,000 Greatest Films).  On the other hand, the IMDb 250 list is pretty silly.  (IMDb pretends to be democratic but the cross-section of voters must not be like any cross-section of moviegoers that I know, and the results are highly skewed.  The same could be said for our so-called political democracy.)

Here’s Ebert on the IMDb list:

“Citizen Kane” is only No. 37, and some critics suspect that’s because some online fanboys won’t watch black-and-white movies. (Anyone who will not watch black and white should be locked in a closet with mice, but that’s another subject.)

(Ebert also gets in a much-deserved dig at websites that require ten clicks to view their lists of ten movies.  I thought the idea of the web was to make it easier for people to get information.  Some sites must have missed the memo.)

One old item about movie lists  that I had intended to write some time ago:  the big one.  As movie lists have proliferated, the lists have grown longer and longer.  Top Ten lists don’t seem adequate, even for end-of-year recaps (again, see Ebert).  Lists of a hundred or a thousand movies are not uncommon.  How about a list of 10,000 movies?

That’s been the quest of a modern-day Quixote named Brad Bourland.  This June the indefatigable Mr. Bourland topped the 10,000 mark on his ultimate ranking of films.  He calls it “THE MOVIE LIST—THE FINAL CUT:  The 10,000 Best, Most Beloved and the Most Important English Language Films of the 20th Century, In Order.”  You can get all 219 pages of it at his site, themovielistonline.com.  (A New York Times profile of Bourland is here.)

I wouldn’t normally quibble with a monumental effort like that, but he’s got Patch Adams (1998) at #5681, several spots ahead of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), at #5695.  What the hell was Bourland thinking?

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 31 Oct 2010 @ 03:20 PM

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 25 Apr 2010 @ 8:00 AM 

Roger EbertVideo games can never be art.  USC’s Kellee Santiago:  Oh, yes, they can—they already are!

It’s an interesting argument and has drawn thousands of comments over at the Ebert blog.  I found the discussion fascinating, though I really don’t agree with either Ebert or Santiago.  There are better ways to argue either side, especially Santiago’s, and much of that’s covered in the comments, if you have the time.

The crux of the problem is really how you define “art.”  I have my own ideas, but that’ll have to wait for another time.  I do find a certain pleasure in knowing that art is not easily defined, and the video gamers’ yearning to be taken seriously is revealing, though I don’t know if earning the label of “art” is really what most gamers are looking for.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 24 Apr 2010 @ 08:03 AM

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Categories: Critics
 25 Mar 2010 @ 4:26 PM 

at the movies_siskel_ebert

It’s the end of an era.  At the Movies is no more.  The weekly TV show, first hosted by critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, has been canceled.  It will not be returning after this season.

I will miss it.  I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent watching over the years—many!—the show was often more entertaining than the movies it covered.  I’ll need to find something new to do Sunday nights at 6:30. 

What happened?  What’s next?  Roger Ebert reflects.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 25 Mar 2010 @ 04:34 PM

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 14 Feb 2010 @ 10:37 PM 


I know this is the first place most people check for the all-important box office results, so let’s get to it.  Here are the “winners” of the weekend:

  1. Valentine’s Day — $52,410,000
  2. Percy Jackson & The Olympians:  The Lightning Thief — $31,100,000
  3. The Wolfman — $30,627,000

I still don’t understand why anyone except the people who make a movie should care how much money the movie makes at the box office, but that’s where we are.  Somewhere along the way the Sunday news shows got it in their heads that the weekend box office is IMPORTANT NEWS, and every week we get to know who “won the weekend” even before the weekend is over.  Not to mention, who lost.  Winners and losers.  That’s what it comes down to.  (Hey, where’s Avatar this weekend?  Yesterday’s news:  Loser!) 

That said, I am heartened to know that a movie called Valentine’s Day is the No. 1 movie on Valentine’s Day weekend.  What would it say about us if a horror remake like The Wolfman beat it out?  I can’t say which is a better movie—I haven’t seen them—but I’ve yet to read a good review of either.*  That doesn’t matter, though.  Movie reviews will never be IMPORTANT NEWS.

Now that Valentine’s Day is a certified winner, I would suppose that the smart folks in Hollywood will soon be coming out with other holiday-themed movies.  If they hurry, they could open St. Patrick’s Day next month, and Memorial Day should be just around the corner.  In fact, few holidays have a well-known movie title commemorating the occasion.  There’s Independence Day, of course.  The best of the lot is Groundhog Day (which opened, coincidentally, 17 years ago this weekend, exactly two years after that heart-warming lovefest called The Silence of the Lambs).  Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Boxing Day, and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day are titles still waiting to be taken.  (If Hollywood ever runs out of holiday titles, don’t worry.  Those geniuses at Hallmark will come up with a new one.)

* I rather liked this part of Roger Ebert’s review:  “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.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 14 Feb 2010 @ 11:03 PM

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