Ebertfest Day Three – On Borrowed Time

On Borrowed TimeOn Borrowed Time is a documentary, and you may have noticed that I have a particular fondness for documentaries. The interesting thing about this particular documentary is the subject. Paul Cox himself is a prolific filmmaker that is the subject of this documentary because he has been diagnosed with liver cancer and needs a transplant to survive.

If you’re like me, you have never seen a Paul Cox film, or perhaps never even heard of him. Here is his IMDB page to help get acquainted, but knowledge of his films is unnecessary going into On Borrowed Time. The film gives the story of Cox as a human as well as a filmmaker and photographer. He has a terrific eye for spotting beauty. His films are incredibly intimate and personal, shot using many “amateur” actors without makeup, very little script, and realistic situations. The glimpses of the films during this documentary will likely make you want to run out and see his entire catalogue of films.

During most of the film, Cox believes he is dying, and rightly so. He comes incredibly close to the end before getting extremely lucky (on Christmas day, as well) and receives a transplant. He truly believes he has been born again and has a new appreciation for life on top of the beauty he had already been capturing during his lifetime. It’s fantastically uplifting to see and hear Cox in the film.

Cox came back for the Q&A session after the film was shown and spoke about his experiences, his life and his films. In fact, this year, Paul Cox was the dedicatee for Ebertfest. It was remarkable to see his rawest moments on screen and have him discuss them openly with the audience, but it was an incredible, personal session. I urge everyone to seek out a Cox film, not because I think they will be easily liked, but because he seems to be fairly unknown. I will be trying to see at least one of his films before the year ends. On Borrowed Time serves as the perfect backdrop for the life of Paul Cox, even if you don’t know his work.

I give it 4 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL
Follow me on Twitter @WatchesMovies

Continue reading

Ebertfest Day Two – Kinyarwanda

KinyarwandaKinyarwanda starts with an explanation of what Kinyarwanda means; the native language of Rwanda spoken by its natives. It is a nod to the unity of the people, despite the atmosphere there.

Kinyarwanda follows several story lines during the Rwandan genocide between warring factions, Tutsi and Hutu. The tone is not entirely bleak, there  are several charming moments, notably a small boy that misunderstands that men looking for “guns and cockroaches” are not looking for a VHS tape of an action movie and actual cockroaches living in a cupboard. Where the film does suffer, however, is that the 4 or 5 story lines are intertwining and overlapping without a consistent timeline. The film seems to go back and forth in time with no regard for telling the audience. It muddles the plot that would be otherwise enjoyable.

The film itself is powerful and the actors are quite on form. Movies like Hotel Rwanda got the genocide exposed to audiences, but perhaps were partially sensationalized, if that’s the correct term, whereas Kinyarwanda focuses more on the people during this trying time. Before the movie, the writer/director, Alrick Brown, introduced the film and asked us to try to forget any preconceived notions we had of Rwanda, its people, and the genocide. I think this helps Kinyarwanda tell its own tale but it does not give us too detailed a background of what is happening in the nation. But the film is touching and shows an interesting perspective of people rising above these horrors.

I give it 3 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL
Follow me on Twitter @WatchesMovies

Continue reading

Ebertfest Day Two – Big Fan

Big FanTo kick things off for Day Two of Ebertfest, we were treated to Big Fan. Big Fan is a movie about a New York Giants superfan, Paul (Patton Owalt) that spends his life obsessing with the Giants. He spends his free time, as well as some time at work, writing diatribes to call-in sports shows at one in the morning. His life changes forever when he finally meets his hero, Giants player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). His life changes even more when Bishop beats him within an inch of his life.

Paul is by most accounts, a total loser. He lives with his mom, works as an attendent in a parking garage, and has no aspirations beyond rooting for the Giants. His indifference to what his family wants for him is partially what makes him an interesting character. While it’s easy to judge him and write him off as a loser, Paul is truly happy with his choices in life. Even for those of us that have a small interest in sports will find relatable things in Paul’s lifestyle and his behaviors.

Big Fan is a movie about sports at its core, but it is quite removed from being a “sports movie”. One can literally have no knowledge of the sport of football and still understand nearly everything in this film. In fact, during the Q&A session with writer/director Robert Siegel, he admitted that Oswalt himself has an embarrassingly little amount of sports knowledge, yet nails the role.

Speaking of the Q&A session, it was one of the best at Ebertfest so far. Siegel was genuinely funny and frank about his movie and it was a delight to hear from him and his thoughts. It’s an absolute shame that Patton Oswalt, whom was scheduled to be here this week, was unable to attend, Siegel more than made up for his absence with his charm. While it wasn’t a technical discussion, it was informative and introspective to the process of this movie and others.

I give it 4 radio sports show call-ins out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL
Follow me on Twitter @WatchesMovies

Continue reading

Ebertfest Day One – Phunny Business + The Truth About Beauty and Blogs

Continuing my coverage from Ebertfest 2012, the remainder of the first day of Ebertfest 2012 brought us a short film from a talented young woman and a fantastic documentary about a comedy club from Chicago.

First up, The Truth About Beauty and Blogs. This was a short film written by Kelechi Ezie, who also starred in it. It follows a young fashion blogger as her real life relationship crumbles. It was actually pretty funny and there is obviously a huge talent in Kelechi. I truly hope we see more from her soon. Kelechi also was on a discussion panel, but more on that in a bit.

Phunny BusinessTo finish off the evening, we had Phunny Business: A Black Comedy. Phunny Business details the rise and fall of the prominently African American comedy club, All Jokes Aside, throughout the 90s. It’s very rare for a documentary to be funny, but Phunny Business is legitimately funny, both the clips and the documentary itself. We see the early beginnings of such comedians as Steve Harvey, Dave Chappelle, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac and many many more. As a Chicago native, I’m almost ashamed to say I had never heard of All Jokes Aside until last night. While the club is no more, I’m very glad that its legacy will live on in this film. I highly recommend seeing Phunny Business if you can. I’m a huge fan of documentaries and this is truly one of the better ones I’ve seen.

For the panel after the film, hosted by Chaz Ebert herself, Kelechi was brought back on stage, as well as documentarian John Davies, All Jokes Aside club owner, Raymond Lambert, and comedian Ali LeRoi. We got insights into the making of both films as well as hearing about John Davies’ stint working with Siskel and Ebert many years ago. Ali LeRoi was especially entertaining. While perhaps not as technically informative as the panel for Joe Versus the Volcano, it was very entertaining.

I give The Truth About Beauty and Blogs 3 out 5.

I give Phunny Business 4 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL
Follow me on Twitter @WatchesMovies

Continue reading

Ebertfest Day One – Joe Vs. The Volcano

Joe Versus the VolcanoLast night kicked off Ebertfest 2012 and we saw Joe Versus the Volcano, one of Roger Ebert’s favorites. The movie itself is a zany romantic comedy that is surprisingly funny. We meet Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), who works at a miserable job and has suffered from not feeling well for years. He goes to see a doctor who tells him he is dying of a brain cloud. Joe is then confronted by a wealthy businessman (Lloyd Bridges) that tells Joe he needs to jump in a volcano in the South Pacific to gain the trust, and natural resources, of the island.

Along the way, Joe has contact with three different woman all of whom are played by Meg Ryan. Meg and Tom Hanks are so wonderful together on screen and watching them is simply a joy. Joe Versus the Volcano switches tones and visual cues often, but in the context of the whole pictures it works wonderfully.

It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously but I think it is definitely worth watching. Joe Versus the Volcano was a great way to start the festival given its lighthearted nature and it was truly a joy to see it on the big screen.

After the movie, we were introduced to the director of photography on Joe Versus the Volcano, Stephen Goldblatt, who has most recently done the cinematography on The Help. The moderator for the discussion was Christy Lemire, who you might recognize as a host from Ebert Presents: At the Movies. Also joining was Brazilian film critic, Pablo Villaca.

The discussion was interesting and spanned Goldblatt’s career in the movie industry. We were enlightened on some of the tougher shots to achieve in Joe Versus the Volcano and also Angels in America. It wasn’t so in-depth that it was confusing, it was relatively light on technical terms but still quite informative.

As for Joe Versus the Volcano

I give it 4 viewings of the moon from a raft out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

If you’d like more info, please follow me on Twitter @WatchesMovies

Continue reading

Welcome to Ebertfest!

EbertfestMy buddy, Julian, and I arrived in Champaign Illinois about 2 hours ago for the 14th Annual Ebertfest! You can see the line-up this year here. I still have a few movies to write about from the past week, but those will be put on hiatus as I write about the films shown here.

So for the rest of the week, expect several posts about Ebertfest, I’ll try to post regularly, but I am falling behind on reading all the blogs I follow, so bear with me!

Things are kicking off here at 7pm central with Joe Versus the Volcano!

I’m Still Here (4/20/12)

I'm Still HereMovie Ninety One

I’m Still Here is a documentary/mockumentary? about Joaquin Phoenix’s downward spiral, directed by longtime friend and brother-in-law, Casey Affleck.

I’m not even sure where to start with I’m Still Here since it’s hard to draw a line on what is real and what is staged. Supposedly, the entire film is staged but I find that hard to believe. One thing is certain, it destroyed Joaquin Phoenix’s career, at least for a few years.

The plot, if you can call it that, is about Joaquin Phoenix’s decision to quit acting and pursue a terrible rapping career. He also seems to forego personal hygiene and take an accelerated interest in prostitutes and drugs. The downward spiral of an Oscar nominated actor is somewhat interesting to watch and I genuinely thought he had snapped.

Perhaps the best way to summarize I’m Still Here is by showing Phoenix’s interview with David Letterman. We see a clearly disheveled Phoenix, but I also notice he seems to smirk at some of Letterman’s jabs. Is that showing that this is all a ruse? Supposedly, Letterman was in on the gag. Isolated, it seems like this was all an incredibly long and elaborate prank on the celebrity of an individual. Together with the rest of the film, it’s simply a mildly disturbing portrait of the ruination of man.

Assuming I’m Still Here is a mockumentary and the whole thing was an act, it’s actually somewhat brilliant. However, Joaquin Phoenix literally killed his career for 4 years, with no acting credits from 2008 until 2012. Is the benefit of a film like I’m Still Here worth that? Hell no. But I suppose Phoenix knew that going into the project. It’s not Andy Kaufman-esque, it’s just career suicide.

I give it 2 this is what a rapping hobo looks like out of 5.

Continue reading

Ace in the Hole (4/20/12)

Ace in the HoleMovie Ninety

Ace in the Hole is a unique noir from the legendary Billy Wilder starring  Kirk Douglas that takes no holds barred against the media’s mentality of getting a scoop.

In the film, Chuck Tatum (Douglas) travels from New York to New Mexico as his career is faltering. He gets the story of a lifetime one day when he learns of a man trapped in a cave collapse. Tatum manipulates the story, which gains huge nationwide interest, and controls the media circus for profit until Tatum’s luck runs out.

I will admit that it took me quite a long time to warm up to Ace in the Hole, which disappointed me. I’m a huge fan of Wilder’s work, having already reviewed Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch this year, I am also a fan of his darker films. It’s not to say Ace in the Hole is a bad film, it’s not at all but it is perhaps too slow to gain momentum. I also found Kirk Douglas to simply be wrong for the role of Chuck Tatum, he simply isn’t slimy enough.

Regardless of my initial hesitations with Ace in the Hole, the second half of the film had a hold on me. We can guess that things are not going to end well for Tatum, but watching the events unfold is much like a train wreck. Ace in the Hole is certainly something I could watch again at some point, but it is not at the top of any of my ‘favorites’ lists.

I give it 4 mean looking Kirk Douglas’ out of 5.

Continue reading

The Thin Blue Line (4/20/12)

The Thin Blue LineMovie Eighty Nine

The Thin Blue Line is an atypical documentary about the murder case of a police officer where events portrayed are in the past and reenacted for the film, but the details slowly unravel and show the facts have changed.

The focal point of the film is Randall Dale Adams, who was falsely accused and sentenced to death for the 1976 murder of a police officer. The crux of the case came from the testimony of a young drifter named David Ray Harris. The film begins with interviews from the two men and then builds the rest of the evidence from the case as well as the background of area and the people. We soon start seeing a picture of injustice.

Normally, I balk at documentaries that force a viewpoint on you and show a biased set of actions but The Thin Blue Line seems to be mostly unbiased, actually. My initial concerns were soon gone as the film progressed. The interesting thing about the film, looking back now, is that this was all done before DNA evidence still. I’m sure there are countless wrong convictions, some of which have since been overturned with new DNA evidence, but that isn’t the case here. The new evidence is a clear showing of a lack of wanting a conviction for the wrong person.

For those of you that prefer reading to viewing a movie, I was very much reminded of the nonfiction John Grisham story The Innocent Man. It’s a similar case of small town injustice in the legal system.

While The Thin Blue Line is a bit dated, it’s very interesting. I love documentaries that still let you decide things for yourself without being too slanted and I have never seen quite a film such as this. Immediately after watching, I took to the Internet to find out more, a sign that the film did its job.

I give it 4 spilled milkshakes out of 5.

Continue reading

Attack the Block (4/19/12)

Attack the BlockMovie Eighty Eight

Attack the Block is a modern sci-fi/horror movie with a comedic sense out of the UK that is more charming than some similar movies that have come out of Hollywood, but still falls a bit short.

When Attack the Block was released it seemed to surprise everyone that viewed it since it came out of nowhere. When I first read a review of it I had never even heard of it before and I was instantly curious about it. Fast forward to now and I’m sad to say I don’t believe Attack the Block truly lives up to the hype. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, it does what it sets out to do quite admirably, it just felt a bit shallow to me.

The plot kicks in right from the start. A woman is walking home and is greeted by teenage thugs, but while they are mugging her a meteor-type-thing falls into a nearby car. An alien appears, the thugs kill it and go on about their thuggish ways. Then more aliens appear, but this time they are even meaner and bigger and they mean business. It’s up to this group of street toughs to save the world.

Some things that didn’t work for me would be the kids and the lack of any backstory or explanation. These kids that mug a woman in the first few minutes of the film are the heroes? Sure, the woman becomes their ally later, but how many other women have they mugged? The main guy, Moses (John Boyega) is an unwilling hero, but I didn’t find him particularly likable or anything. Also, the aliens come and go without any reason. That isn’t a fault, per se, in fact it helps keep the movie focused, but I would have liked to know a bit more. The aliens themselves are really neat looking, and for a low-budget movie like this the special effects are pretty good.

I certainly didn’t hate Attack the Block, I did enjoy it but there was nothing that really grabbed me. I watched it and was interested, but once it was over I was fine with that. Sci-fi/horror buffs or fans of Nick Frost will probably enjoy watching it, but it’s not the genre’s savior film like I would have liked it to be.

I give it 3 “those aren’t eyes” out of 5.

Continue reading