I liked Roger Ebert. He was that rare celebrity who would reply to reader comments on his Web site, or respond to e-mails, as he did once or twice to mine. I think Ebert was America’s most popular film critic because he merged an “everyday Joe” persona with keen intelligence to produce thoughtful, accessible reviews. And it didn’t hurt that his TV pairing with Gene Siskel was a movie-buff’s delight.
But Ebert could also be, as we learn in the documentary Life Itself, something of a jerk. And so when Steve James’s camera records Ebert’s lengthy battle with cancer, the movie is honest, but perhaps not as moving as it might have been with a more sympathetic subject. Ebert was a superb writer with unpredictable taste in movies, so it’s hard to know what he might have thought of Life Itself, but my guess would be “thumbs up.” Release: 2014 Grade: B+
Here’s a big, dumb, special-effects-heavy disaster pic from Korea, inspired by big, dumb, special-effects-heavy disaster pics from Hollywood, but featuring that peculiar Korean mash-up of 1950s wholesomeness and modern sensibilities (the heroine is a single-mother virologist).
The action scenes are well done and exciting, but what ruined the movie for me was snippy Dr. Kim who, for unfathomable reasons, puts our hero, a virtuous emergency-services worker who is smitten with her, through hoop after romantic hoop. I mean, seriously, how many lives does the guy have to save – including those of Dr. Kim and her daughter – before she’ll give him the time of day? The plot involves an infectious disease spreading through the Korean peninsula, but I found myself hoping the flu would infect Dr. Kim. Release: 2013 Grade: B-
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Critics adore this movie, presumably because 1) it’s an Iranian story (shot in California); 2) it has a female Iranian-American director; and 3) it is a mash-up of — according to some reviewers — the vampire/western/romance/graphic-novel genres. (I might debate the inclusion of “western.”) What most critics don’t mention are Girl’s artsy, pretentious asides and the interminable pauses during which the plot grinds to a halt and the audience falls asleep. Nice cinematography, though. If you want to see a better movie about a lonely, female vampire who finds love with a cute Muggle, I recommend Let the Right One In. Release: 2014 Grade: C
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