Two thumbs up for unequivocal Roger Ebert

Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert works in Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert works in his office at the WTTW-TV studios in Chicago. (Jan. 12, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and ...

Thumbs up. Thumbs down.

Doesn't that cover everything?

Of course, it doesn't. Even Roger Ebert knew that. On TV, the famously unequivocal movie critic delivered his reviews with take-a-stand adamance. But he lived out the final years of his life on a far murkier terrain between public and private, between illness and health, between here and gone.

Yes, strong people take strong positions, but they also understand: Gray is a color between black and white, and choices don't always come in twos. By the time Ebert died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer, his extraordinary life had long since proven that.

His rise to prominence was a newsman's fairy tale. With his TV co-star Gene Siskel, he turned film criticism into a coffee-shop and bar-room staple and showed millions of movie-going Americans that, yes, their opinions mattered, too.

The team's signature device -- those confidently pointed thumbs -- were an in-your-face challenge to the sea of nuance that American culture had become. The black-and-white of the civil rights era had long since given way to the multihued complexity of the post-Vietnam age. And the world was divided by superpowers no more. No person was entirely good or evil. No problem could be easily solved. There was no way this world would be untangled by a couple of boldly insistent thumbs.

Ebert kept trying. And through an illness that sickened him, disfigured him and ultimately took his voice away, he kept on writing, reviewing and talking with the help of a voice synthesizer.

His opinions were just as clear and strong as ever. They were just a little more complicated, like everything.


TWO THUMBS DOWN

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1. Maniacal college coaching

2. Gun-control parlays

3. Kevin Ware's leg

4. Target "manatee gray" plus-sized dresswhat is this?-cc

5. Kim Jong Un-glued


ASKED AND UNANSWERED: A rose-haired tarantula loose in Amityville? Dropped in front of a house on Grand Central Avenue? Who did those people tick off? . . . Am I being naive here, or is Wyandanch Rising really about to rise? Public-private partnership at last! . . . Who put up those "Worst Road in America" signs on Stony Brook's Christian Avenue? Certainly not the Brookhaven Highway Department . . . Pushing, shoving, throwing things inside the polling station -- is that how the Shinnecock Indian Nation elects its tribal trustees? Did the tribe's Warrior Society -- then the State Police -- have to be called in to avoid an all-out election-day brawl? . . . Dropping rocks? That's the one step -- out of 19 proposed -- that the East Hampton Town board seems actually ready to take against Montauk beach erosion? . . . Will the old Hooters in East Meadow really be replaced by a Canz? What body-part slang is coming next? . . . What would you do with a piece of the old Long Beach boardwalk? I mean, besides reliving great splinters past! . . . What part of GPS does Steven Torborg not understand? The East Rockaway fire chief has resigned over where he was and what he was doing in his official department car.

THE NEWS IN SONG: Others take a different view: Des'ree, "You Gotta Be," tinyurl.com/yougotta

LONG ISLANDER OF THE WEEK: AARON FOSS

This island is loaded with inventors. They're tinkering in garages and attics, testing their families' patience with dreams of riches and technological advance. But here's the cool part: Some of those dreams actually come true. Take Port Jefferson programmer Aaron Foss. His Nomorobo system, which hangs up on annoying robocalls before the phone even rings, just won a $25,000 prize from the Federal Trade Commission. And his creative mind wanders everywhere. Other Foss inventions include SmartChemo, an order-writing program for oncologists, and the WingDipper, for getting just the right coating of gooey sauce around Buffalo wings. Foss isn't rich or famous yet. But it could happen. Wouldn't you pay good money to make those robocalls stop?

Email ellis@henican.com
Follow on Twitter @henican

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