Savoring Ebert's 'Four-Star Reviews'

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Before critiquing Roger Ebert's latest collection of reviews, a bit of disclosure.

I heart Ebert.

I love the way he hated "I Heart Huckabees," though I disagreed with his opinion -- " ... nothing was happening between us," he wrote, after seeing it in 2004.

Ebert is lovable because he takes what happens on the screen so personally. He rarely, if ever, lounges around in esoteric movie worship.

He writes with laconic grace, befitting the Pulitzer Prize winner he is, without giving away a plot's surprises. He tells the truth about such fluff as "Risky Business" calling it "a movie about male adolescent guilt. In other words, it's a comedy."

In other words, Ebert's honest.

What more can you ask from a film critic? Well, for such honesty to be delivered intelligently, without an added sense of superiority. In the "Four-Star's" forward, he explains that all his reviews begin with two invisible words: "So, anyway?"

He admits up front some movies in the book probably didn't deserve the four stars he gave them. And that he missed the boat on a few gems. About "The Passion of Christ," he writes, "I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done."

No small task, that.

It's easy to peel through 544 pages, looking for his take on a favorite film, to decide whether he was right or wrong. My only disappointment is the reviews are listed alphabetically, by movie title, through the book. Reader friendly, yes, but I was hoping to read his work chronologically, to get a sense of how Ebert's writing developed over 40 years. Still, I don't mind being able to open the paperback cover and flip through the pages stopping at any given one and savoring it, like chocolate.

Roger Ebert's Four-Star Reviews, 1967-2007 (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99)

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