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Thumbs up to Roger Ebert

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The balcony is now closed.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The balcony is now closed.

I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. I hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

Those were the immortal words of critic Roger Ebert about the film North, which was written by Alan Zweibel, directed by Rob Reiner, with a terrific cast including Elijah Wood, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bruce Willis, Dan Aykroyd, Jon Lovitz, and John Ritter. It even featured an eight-year-old newbie by the name of Scarlett Johansson.

On paper, North sounded like a fun romp in the park, and with that kind of star power how could it miss? Well it turned out to be a mega-huge box office bomb. Alan Zweibel summed up his feelings about Roger and the critic’s importance in a New Yorker blog post:

To be fair, this was not the only negative review that the film received. There were a number of them. O.K., I’m lying. There was a veritable avalanche of them. But because it was written by Roger Ebert, this was the one that everyone on the planet read.

And quoted.

To me, by friends who called to express their sympathies: “It’s like Ebert stuck two thumbs up your ass and then had a tug of war with himself.”


But that was the power of Roger Ebert. When it came to movie reviews he was was the king of the hill, top of the heap, A-number-1.

A film buff myself, I didn’t always agree with him. He gave a thumbs up to the likes of Speed 2: Cruise Control, Garfield: A Tale of two Kitties, and Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. On the other end of the spectrum, he gave a thumbs down to A Clockwork Orange, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Donnie Darko, Fight Club, and Reservoir Dogs. Whaaa….?

We’ll just have to agree to disagree. But I respect that Roger had his own taste and didn’t say things just to be popular. He turned film criticism into an art form. His reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times and subsequent film books are thoughtful and insightful. You never had to wonder what Roger thought about a film. He was bold, blunt, and clear.

This was a guy who truly LOVED movies, and in the end even Alan Zweibel couldn’t hold a grudge as he recalled a chance encounter with Roger:

And then he started laughing.

And then we shook hands.

When Roger died on April 4, a little part of me died too. It was like the special uncle who took me to The Sound of Music and bought me jujubes, was now gone forever. I hope that somewhere out there on some far-away balcony, Roger and his old buddy Gene Siskel are arguing the merits of the Godfather films and which Japanese samurai movie they liked best. Sayonara Roger.

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