Robert Redford

Film Fanatic

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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.

Roger-red-seats
Photo: Chicago Sun-Times

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.”

robert-redford-captain-america-2-slice
Photo: Collider

 

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.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Photo: The Hollywood Reporter

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.

 

Toomb’s New Releases for Friday 4/15

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It’s that time of the week again my fellow Eugeneans, and by now you know what that means! The spring movie extravaganza continues with a star-studded, historical epic/super-sequel/animated-adventure weekend. Hollywood is pulling out all the stops it has before heavy-hitters like Thor and Pirates of the Caribbean land in a few weeks.

First up is the period piece from director Robert Redford, The Conspirator. The Conspirator is the tale of Mary Surratt, the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. It stars Robin Wright, James McAvory, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, and Kevin Kline. Mary Surratt, 42, owned a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met and planned the assassination. Against the back-drop of post-Civil War DC, new attorney Frederick Aiken, a Union war-hero, agrees to represent Surratt before a military tribunal. While the trial goes on, Aiken finds his client may in fact be innocent. She is merely being used as bait and as a hostage in order to capture her son, the only conspirator to have escaped the largest manhunt in history. The Conspirator is rated PG-13 for some violent content.

Next is the family-friendly animated adventure Rio3D. If the title isn’t enough to make you skip ahead, you’ll be interested to know the Jesse Eisenberg, who played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, adds his voice to Blu- one of the only two remaining Blu Macaws in the world. Rio3D follows Blu as he sets off for, you guessed it, Rio, to find the other remaining macaw, who just so happens to be the bird of his dreams. Hilarity ensues. Rio3D is rated PG for mild off color humor.

Lastly is the movie that is going to have millions of girlfriends gripping their honeys’ arms blue- Scream 4. Directed by master of horror Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Redline, and the original versions of Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes), and penned by Scream writer Kevin Williamson, this slasher-homage/series re-boot is getting astoundingly good reviews (for a slasher film). The original cast, what remains, is back with a new crowd of fresh-faced victims for the latest ghostface killer. Reviews would have me believe this is the best in the series, and that it has more gore, slashes, twists, and surprises than the first 3 combined. I cannot wait to see this movie! Scream 4 is rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking.

Everyone buckle in, spring is well in gear and summer is around the bend. Are you  prepared for this summer’s blockbuster season? Are you stockpiling money away and calculating how long it will take to get to the theater on a bike (because gas will be more expensive than a movie this summer for the first time)? I’ll see you on the bike path and in the movie!