The Balcony is Closed – Remembering Roger Ebert

Yesterday afternoon I was on the phone with a co-worker, discussing some mundane issue about our database, when an email popped up that caught my eye. As I was quickly skimming its contents, I felt my stomach drop. I immediately told my co-worker that I was going to have to call her back. Much to my dismay, CNN was announcing that just one day after he announced he was going to have to scale back his workload, renowned critic Roger Ebert had lost his battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.

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I was momentarily surprised at how much this affected me; the news gave me an instant and visceral reaction. Why was I so strongly affected by the death of a man I didn’t know? Of course, once I contemplated it, the answer was obvious. Though I had never really thought about it or formally put it into words, Roger Ebert is the reason that I write this blog.

When I was a kid and was just discovering my passion for movies, it was Roger Ebert (and his then partner Gene Siskel) that shepherded me though the world of film criticism. It’s hard to believe, but back then critics were not as ubiquitous as they are today. The internet has made it easy to find out what a lot of professionals and amateurs think about any given pop culture project. But back in the eighties, it was a little harder to find out if a movie was good or bad without going to see it or asking your friends. Siskel and Ebert’s At the Movies became required viewing to me; they were the first people that made me realize the true magic of movies and that you could actually make a career out of talking about something that you love. While the good people of Chicago were well aware of the work of Siskel and Ebert, their television show elevated them to America’s critics. They helped us decide which movies to watch and which movies to skip. They often didn’t agree and bickered and quibbled over movies the way that only good friends can, but their passion for movies and respect for each other always shown through. They not only discussed big budget mainstream movies, but helped introduce me to the world of art house cinema and cultivated my budding fascination with independent films. They created and trademarked the phrase “Two Thumbs Up,” which has become a central part of our cultural and critical lexicon. They were critics, but they were also fans.

Though I think my personal preferences better lined up with Siskel, I was always drawn to Roger Ebert. Part of this may simply be because of my more prolonged exposure to Ebert, as Siskel passed away in 1999. But I think it was Ebert’s no-nonsense style that really appealed to me. He made critiquing look easy and excelled at making his reviews accessible; you didn’t feel like you needed a degree in cinematic arts to understand what he was talking about. He took films at face value and judged them on what they set out to do, not what he thought they should have set out to do. Though I try not to read what other people have written before I critique a movie, once I jotted down my original thoughts I always sought out Ebert’s blog to see what he thought and what points he highlighted. We didn’t always agree, but just reading his reviews became something of a touchstone for me. Ebert was an amazing writer – clear, concise and he knew how to turn a phrase – and embraced new technology. He was an avid tweeter and it was through his use of Twitter that I felt that I really got to know Ebert as a man, not just as a critic. He was a champion of causes that were important to him and in his later years shared more about his personal life and his ongoing battle with the disease that would eventually rob him of his voice and then his life. Through all his struggles, he continued to be a champion of movies. In what would be his final essay, it is not a surprise that his closing words were “I’ll see you at the movies.”

I am not the only person to be deeply saddened by Ebert’s passing – the internet has been abuzz since the news broke yesterday with many, inside the industry and not, recalling their fond memories and dusting off classic Ebert clips and articles. Among my favorites:

  • Ebert’s appearance on the animated program The Critic (an underrated show):
  • A clip of Ebert’s legendary scathing review of North:
  • Ebert’s touching tribute to his friend Gene Siskel:
  • This entry by Linda Holmes over at NPR does a much better job of paying tribute to Ebert than I ever could.
  • And finally, Ebert discussing film criticism:

The entertainment industry lost a legend yesterday and the world lost a good man. It is hard to imagine life without Roger Ebert; the only solace I take from his passing is that he doesn’t have to continue to fight any longer and he can be at peace. I like to think of him and Siskel, dear friends reunited, critiquing heaven.

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Thank you, Roger Ebert. You will be missed.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – I’m Back, Baby edition

I couldn’t think of any better way to bring the blog back from its brief hiatus than with everyone’s favorite post, the bi-weekly pop culture roundup. Pop culture stops for no man (or woman) and stories kept rolling out even while I was away, so this post is as much for me as it is for you. So while we all play catch up, enjoy this barrage of links to stories that you might have missed:

  • You people are failing me when it comes to Happy Endings. Shame on you.
  • Kids retell Star Wars in their own words:

 

  • This might be a reason to have a baby – White Stripes songs have been turned into an album of lullabies (just kidding, Mom. Probably).
  • The History Channel’s The Bible miniseries is already out on DVD.

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  • Dang – I missed out on the auction for Tupac’s fedora from the “California Love” video. I look excellent in hats.
  • Listen to a new song from John Legend and Rick Ross.
  • Crackle is now streaming episodes of The Shield for free. Definitely a show to check out if you haven’t seen it. It is where I first discovered the awesomeness that is Walton Goggins.
  • Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno addressed The Tonight Show succession rumors:

Jimmy, my friend, some unsolicited advice: stop palling around with Leno. He cannot be trusted.

  • The Hollywood Reporter says that Fallon has signed a deal to take over The Tonight Show. Seth Meyers is the frontrunner to take over Fallon’s 12:30 time slot.
  • Steve Buscemi will direct a live Vampire Weekend webcast.
  • Not sure how I feel about this: Amy Poehler is rumored to be dating fellow comedian (and occasional Parks and Recreation guest star) Nick Kroll. Love them both, but I’m still not over her split with Will Arnett.
  • This seems like a waste of perfectly good Easter candy:

 

  • Glee star Cory Monteith has checked into rehab and will miss some episodes of season 4, currently in production.
  • Springsteen has brought someone on stage to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day” at every show I have been to, but I’ve never seen him do this before:

Lucky kid – and this only makes me love the Boss more.

  • The collected wisdom of Duck Dynasty’s Uncle Si. I don’t watch the show – should I check it out?
  • OK – this kind of freaked me out – celebrities that are unbelievably the same age. The Taylor Swift/Adele thing always kills me.
  • There is adorable and then there is Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Jeopardy! in 1997:

 

  • Cher’s mom is getting a Lifetime movie. It has got to be better than Liz & Dick and the recent Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story (based on a murder one town over from where I live).
  • Based on the success of the Veronica Mars kickstarter, Funny or Die has some 90s TV shows that they think should get the movie treatment.
  • Queens of the Stone Age debuted a new song at Lollapalooza Brazil, the band’s first in six years.
  • I have discovered yet another website that specialized in pop culture inspired art. I really think this print would tie my living room together.
  • Tublr of the week: Mean Mad Men (Mad Men/Mean Girls mashup). Totally fetch.

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  • Thanks to a new website, I can listen to many of the Phish concerts that I attended for free.
  • The creator of the 90s Nickelodeon show Clarissa Explains It All has brought the character back as an adult in a new book.
  • Adios TV Guide Network.
  • Watch the cast of The Big Bang Theory do a number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sheldon Cooper in drag is unsettling.
  • Bronson Pinchot hijacks a weather cast on a local news cast. I have no words:

 

  • Actor Richard Griffiths, who played Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon (among other things) passed away last week.
  • Are Walking Dead and Toy Story the same?
  • The CW has released the first images of their new The Vampire Diaries spin-off pilot, The Originals.
  • Ron Howard will appear as himself on an upcoming episode of Arrested Development. He is also the show’s narrator.
  • I enjoy this collection of GIFs of Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead sneaking up on people. He is one stealth dude.

And now, some supercuts and mashups:

  • People running in movies:

 

  • I’m glad I didn’t watch this before I flew Southwest last week.
  • All of Woody Allen’s stammers:

 

  • Bill & Ted & Lincoln’s Excellent Adventure:

 

  • And finally, spliced together like this, Fraggle Rock was pretty deep (and a little depressing):