Tag Archives: Movie Criticism

Life Itself – “Two Thumbs Way Up”


SPANKY: This is a superbly balanced film. We see the young, over-confident Ebert, his relationships with Gene Siskel and famous movie directors and finally the love of his wife Chaz. The movie doesn’t drag out any of these stages, and is visually  stunning.

JOHN: You missed one aspect, Spanky, though I agree with what you  said. There was a time and a place when movie discussion was the star. Now, perhaps the costs are too high for anyone to be unclear or subtle. We are hit over the head with whatever is offered. But once upon a Felini, Bergman, Herzog time we could stay up all night and debate. It wasn’t that we believed the directors were wrong, just that it took our participation to figure out their message.

SPANKY: And Siskel and Ebert were our models.

JOHN: I enjoyed seeing the differences between the two and witnessing Ebert’s resultant courage in allowing the camera to follow him through to the end.

SPANKY: I can’t imagine a better tribute to a man, or a better conclusion to his life. Wow, I want to watch this over and over again.

Spanky gives this 4 Barks out of 4

John, 4 GOs out of 4


On The Road – “Bumpy Going”

On The Road

Walter Salles, director, 2012


John: This is a hard one because I am so attached to the book and to the times (a friend and I hitch hiked  to California in the sixties after finishing college). For anyone who lived back then, this is more than a movie we watch, it is one we in which we participate. Or should I say our memories do.

Spanky: The casting is excellent as is the historic recreation, but there doesn’t seem to really be a plot—other than drugs, nudity, writing, sex, discussion and more writing. Sorry I missed the “sixties”, John, but I’ve got this pointless travelogue instead.

John: There was an optimism out there then, feeling that everything belonged to everybody. We were searching for meaning and some of us found it like we have never felt since. But it would be hard to convey that to someone who didn’t live it. Kerouac’s book still does. At least for me. And the movie reminds me of the book.

Spanky: I was glad your wife wasn’t with us. Most women would be hung up on the subservience of women back then. The challenge is for a movie like this to have the impact of the past and somehow convey its equivalent for today’s audiences. That last just didn’t happen for me.

John: I think it does. I agree the movie seems plot less, but toward the end there is a longing for life to be open ended, as exemplified by Dean Moriarity and his father. I liked it that there was a genuine affection among the men, and for writing. That there was a possibility of expressing what couldn’t be expressed.  Jack Kerouac does that. And I thought the movie did it too. For the right audience, I give it Go, Go, Go (3 Go’s out of 4).

Spanky: Two Barks for a good try from me. Bark, Bark (2 Barks out of 4). “On the road?,” I’d rather stay home.


our Roger Ebert 

EbertJohn: I grew up in Chicago where this guy started out with Gene Siskel on the local PBS station. Forty years later I was still watching different incarnations of the Ebert formula. In fact I had suggested to a friend that we do the same thing on the web. I said I would even write both parts if he wanted. When that didn’t fly, I did it with my dog instead—SpankyandJohnGoToTheMovies.com.

Sparky: I don’t blame the guy; you even got my name wrong. It’s Sparky, John, Sparky not Spanky!

John: Well I always liked those “Spanky and Our Gang” early shorts. But one way or another we’ve had almost 16,000 viewers from all parts of the globe (Norway, Taiwan, etc). And now we do old movies as well as new releases since many people watch Netflix or other movie options.

Sparky: So getting back to Ebert (if that really was his name), why do you think he was the best known movie critic?

John: People loved the discussion. It wasn’t just Pauline Kael telling us what to think, but two people discussing something they were participants in. It reminded me of college, arguing over Plato and the Existentialists. We felt we were a part of the dialogue—no, the best part of the dialogue. And Siskel and Ebert or Ebert and Roper demonstrated how that could be.

Sparky: So how is that different from today?

John: Now we are consumers, manipulated by the film industry. There’s big money at stake so they aren’t taking any chances. But with Ebert we were…artists, searching for meaning. Finding the memorable. Some people, like Hitchcock and Bergman, had enough confidence in their audiences to let them be players. Now, I don’t know. Roger Ebert’s time, our time, is over. Still it’s hard not to love a man who emblemized something so special.

Spanky: And we do that by keeping his spirit alive in our blog.

John: Four “Barks” out of four, my friend. Four “Barks” out of four.