The film world lost a legend on Thursday. No it wasn’t a great actor, acclaimed director or memorable producer. The legend was Roger Ebert, perhaps the most influential and famous film critic of all-time. Ebert passed away at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancer.
Author of more than 15 books, the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism and co-creator of the movie review show, Siskel & Ebert and the Movies, which rose to prominence in the ’80s, Ebert had a long and storied career from sitting in a theater.
I remember as a teenager looking forward to Sunday night when my two favorite bickering film critics would get together, perched atop a theater balcony, discussing the week’s releases. With the late Gene Siskel seated to the left and Ebert on the right, the two Chicago newspaper critics would go back and forth over the merits of a film and end each one with their patented “Thumbs Up or Thumps Down” remark. While I didn’t always agree with their review of a particular film, I still looked forward to hearing their opinions each and every week.
Sadly though, I was not able to see them in their heyday. Siskel passed away from a brain tumor in early 1999. A year later, Richard Roeper became the new co-host as the show was renamed At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper. Ebert would do the show until 2006 when he announced he was being treated for thyroid cancer. Unfortunately, Ebert was never able to return to his seat at the balcony following numerous cancer treatments.
But he didn’t allow the cancer to prevent him from doing his job. Just two days before his death, Ebert posted his last entry on his personal blog. Entitled “A Leave of Presence,” Ebert highlighted his 46 years reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times and the more than 200 reviews he would do a year.
“Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I’m taking what I like to call ‘a leave of presence’,” he wrote Tuesday.
I like to think I’m a film buff, but Roger Ebert probably forgot more about film than I’ll ever learn. His reviews were articulate and concise and rarely did he delve too much into the plot (a point many critics try to avoid). He wrote with a great sense of humor, even in his later years, and he never seemed pretentious or curmudgeon. He was only writing about movies after all.
In this day and age with sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Fandango and Flixster, the voice of a single critic is no longer as relevant as it once was. But when you think of the term “film critic,” the first person that comes to mind for most of us is Roger Ebert. He believed in the power of movies to transport us and it was reflected in his passion for writing about the medium.
As my dad likes to say when someone in their profession passes on, he went to that great big movie theater in the sky.
Robert Redford Joins Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Speaking of legends. Last week it was reported that Robert Redford had entered talks to join the upcoming sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now the actor has confirmed those reports after speaking at a Q&A as part of the LA Times Indie Focus Screening Series:
“I’m doing this film because it’s different. It’s a new thing for me… I think these films are really powerful. I think they’re great. This is the kind of film I would have loved to see as a kid… I like the idea of stepping into new territory. I’m excited by it. I also think it’s a good bunch of people who really know what they’re doing.”
It’s been a while since Redford has acted in a high-profile film. The Oscar-winner has gone down the Clint Eastwood route of starring in films he directs himself so it will be interesting and refreshing to see him act outside of his comfort zone.
Redford will reportedly be playing a senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. but no further details have been revealed. No matter who he plays, the thought of an actor of Redford’s calaber joining the cast of a superhero film further shows how far movies based on comic books have come.
Once thought of as merely a genre for kids, superhero movies make up a large percentage of the summer fair. Because of that, why not involve better actors. It worked with Anthony Hopkins in Thor and Tommy Lee Jones in the first Captain America. Can you imagine Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis doing one at some point? Probably not, but I’ll still hold on to that dream.
First Big Flop of the Year is Jack the Giant Slayer
2013 hasn’t gotten off to a great start when it comes to box office numbers and it’s been surprising how many movies have bombed despite having bankable stars attached.
The Last Stand (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Admission (Tina Fey, Paul Rudd), Parker (Jason Statham), Broken City (Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe) and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell, Jim Carrey) all performed very poorly as none of them even sniffed $30 million domestically.
The good news for the studios who produced those movies is that none of them carried a significant price tag. One of the benefits of releasing a movie in the first three months of the year is that because there are such low expectations for the beginning of the year, studios don’t waste an inordinate amount of money producing or marketing them.
But like last year’s John Carter which was also released in March, a major studio decided to gamble by releasing one of its big movies early and like Carter, that gamble failed spectacularly.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jack the Giant Slayer reportedly stands to lose anywhere between $120-140 million for Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures.
With a budget of nearly $200 million, Jack will likely top out at around $65 million domestically. International business for the CGI-heavy fairy tale is expected to reach around $140 million so while the movie may technically earn back its budget, that doesn’t account for an additional $100 million spent marketing the film. Basically, a movie needs to double its budget in order to realistically turn a profit.
It seems like big movie studios are trying every year to treat all twelve months of the year like it’s the summer. But while it would be exciting to see big-event films released every month, the fact is January-March is generally reserved for hold-overs from the previous year as well as a dumping ground for films the studios had little to no confidence in.
With two all-time bombs back-to-back years, you can probably expect studios to stay away from the first quarter unless it’s a sequel or prequel (Oz the Great and Powerful). But I have a feeling they’ll keep trying. Even if it means losing hundreds of millions of dollars.