Archive for the ‘Roger Ebert’ Category

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

April 5, 2013


The word “beloved” is almost never used to describe a critic, but, judging from the comments I’ve been reading about him, the late Roger Ebert seems to be the exception. I think this is because he managed to give the impression that he was basically a decent person, even when he was being waspish. He was willing to admit that he was not infallible (which is unusual for a critic), and he was courteous towards people who disagreed with him.

Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris had far more influence among cineastes, but Ebert reached a much broader audience, because of his shrewd use of first television and then the Internet. When Ebert and Gene Siskel started their Sneak Previews TV show back in the 1970’s, there was much skepticism that people would want to watch a show that was basically two guys talking about movies. (Critics derided them as “the Fat Guy and the Bald Guy”.) Yet the show turned out to be hugely popular, and it was much imitated. Part of the attraction of the show was the sometimes tense relationship between Ebert and Siskel. (I have a suspicion that they may have deliberately played this up a bit. In that respect, it can be argued that Sneak Previews was the first “reality” TV show.) Their “thumbs up/thumbs down” gimmick irritated many of their fellow critics, but Ebert was in his own way an entertainer who knew how to get an audience’s interest.

Over the years, Ebert praised a lot of movies that I didn’t really think were that good, though in that respect he was no worse than most other critics. One thing I will say for Ebert is that he believed that it’s legitimate to criticize a film for moral reasons, which is something I completely agree with.

The Avengers

May 16, 2012

I must confess to being a sucker for superhero movies. I even enjoyed The Green Lantern, which is considered silly even by the standards of this genre. Maybe it’s because they make me feel like a kid again. Or maybe it’s because they are just fun to watch.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is the head of a super secret and well-funded intelligence agency, SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). The agency has a physicist, Erik Selvig (Stellan SkarsgÄrd), who is carrying out experiments on a an object called a tesseract, which is a source of unlimited power. Things are going along swimmingly until Loki (Tim Huddleston), a Norse god with defective social skills, shows up. He steals the tesseract while turning Selvig and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into his mental slaves. Loki has made a deal with a group of beings called the Chitauri (they appear to be robots, although the film is not clear about this). In return for giving them the tesseract, they will make him ruler of the world.

Fury decides to activate “Avengers Initiative”, a gathering of superheroes dedicated to saving Earth from extraterrestrial threats. They are: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). They also include Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who, when he gets angry, turns into an enormous green monster called the Hulk. Not surprisingly, he has deeply mixed feelings about this.

There is an element of moral ambiguity in the film. The Avengers see themselves as being on the side of good, but they discover that Fury isn’t what he appears to be, and the people he works for are downright sinister.

Joss Whedon has written and directed a stylish and entertaining movie. My one criticism is that I thought the characters spent too much time arguing with one another. I guess this is meant to make them seem more complex, but it just got confusing and annoying.

Whedon has been a very busy man lately. He also co-wrote and produced the horror film, The Cabin in the Woods, which I also enjoyed a great deal. Whedon seems determined to become some kind of pop culture colossus.

In his curiously sour review of The Avengers, Roger Ebert – who thinks Horrible Bosses is a good movie – makes some snippy comments about the film’s lone superheroine:

    Then there’s Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), aka the Black Widow. After seeing the film, I discussed her with movie critics from Brazil and India, and we were unable to come up with a satisfactory explanation for her superpowers; it seems she is merely a martial artist with good aim with weapons. We decided maybe she and Hawkeye aren’t technically superheroes, but just hang out in the same crowd.

In an early scene in the movie, Black Widow beats up three beefy guys while being tied up in a chair. No mere martial artist can do that. Later, she fights off robotic monsters from Outer Space without even breaking a sweat. I’d like to see Ebert try to do that.

Ebert ends his review with this:

    “Comic-Con nerds will have multiple orgasms,” predicts critic David Edelstein in New York magazine, confirming something I had vaguely suspected about them. If he is correct, it’s time for desperately needed movies to re-educate nerds in the joys of sex. “The Avengers” is done well by Joss Whedon, with style and energy. It provides its fans with exactly what they desire. Whether it is exactly what they deserve is arguable.

Jeez, what a grouch. He can’t even see that Edelstein’s comment was meant jokingly. If anyone needs to be re-educated, it’s Ebert.