Roger Ebert was my hero.
What more can a one person say about another? For my entire life, I took him for granted. He was never just another critic. He was Roger.
Roger Ebert died yesterday. I knew, in an abstract sort of way, that this day would eventually come. Given the recent state of his health, I also knew that the end would be sooner rather than later. And yet I am at a loss. A loss for what to say. A loss for what to think. A loss to conceive of what comes next. I am deeply saddened by the prospect of a world without Roger Ebert.
Hard Eight is a great film because it introduces us to characters that most of us don’t know in real life, but who certainly exist. It understands these people, their motivations and their actions. In the earliest scenes, its main character Sydney seems like a mythic figure. The life he leads, the places he goes, and the people he meets seem to be preordained. He seems omniscient, calm and full of wisdom. Later we realize that his wisdom does not stem from some inspired source – he’s simply a man who has made mistakes and does not want to make them again. When he first sees John (John C. Reilly) sitting outside of a diner, clearly broke and down on his luck, Sydney offers to buy him a cup of coffee. Why? Maybe he just wants some conversation, or maybe he sees a reflection of himself. Sydney has been there before. In fact, he’s been most places. Sydney is cool, constantly aware of his environment. He’s a gambler by trade. And while that would seem to be a strange way to make a living, it suits him. He sees the world in terms of odds, he makes decisions based not on emotions but logic and facts. John tells him he went to Vegas to try and win six thousand dollars playing blackjack. Sydney asks if he knows how to count cards. John doesn’t. “If you don’t know how to count cards, you shouldn’t play blackjack.” This is the start of a unique and engaging relationship, which is at the center of Hard Eight. These two men will grow to respect and even love each other, despite the odds.
Full disclosure: I began writing this review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a mixed, but ultimately positive one. As I wrote the words, however, I realized how I truly felt. Here’s how my three star review began:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fundamentally flawed film, saved only by great performances. It is an uneven movie, one which presents us with interesting characters that revolve around a plot which is frustratingly simplistic. At its core, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a whodunnit, but one where we quickly guess who done it and why they done it. Ultimately, it leaves us to sit patiently and wait for the characters to catch up with us and be surprised by a couple of twists we saw coming.
Few things frustrate me like lazy filmmaking. Movies that lack energy, originality or general effort imply, to me at least, that they were made for no other purpose than to make money. I resent that. Are we nothing more than shills to be taken advantage of? Is that how some people view the movie-going public? It must be, because how else can you explain Wanderlust, an incredibly lazy and half-hearted film. It serves no purpose, it exists only in the hopes that we will pay to go see celebrities. No one in this movie says or does anything interesting. It’s a cinematic black hole: watch it and struggle to remember it the next day.
Great science fiction has the ability to look out to the stars while simultaneously looking within ourselves. It asks big questions, unafraid of being left without answers. Great science fiction taps into our unceasing desire to know more about the universe, while being smart enough to acknowledge that this endless curiosity is really about our fears, beliefs, hopes and dreams. Prometheus is a bold film by a great director. It is fearless in that it is willing to pose those unanswerable questions, and be satisfied with just having asked.