Ebertfest 2013: Day Four (part one)

Today was so huge that I decided to split it into two posts (part two should be up tomorrow). Ebertfest is coming to an end and the last full day gave us four incredible movies, all of which were surprises to me.

BlancanievesThe first movie of the day was Blancanieves, which translates to Snow White, but this is not the standard Grimm fairy tale. It’s a mix of several stories, but is largely true to the original story other than the Spanish bullfighting elements. In our post The Artist world, it’s impossible to immediately compare Blancanieves to any other film, but other than being silent films made in the past few years, they are really not that similar. There are very few films that manage to have as much heart pouring out of every frame of film as Blancanieves. While a bullfighting Snow White sounds ludicrous and maybe even a bit pointless, I was quite moved by all the characters on screen. The soundtrack, arguably the most important aspect of a silent film – doubly so for most audiences now – is also splendid. We were joined by Pablo, the writer/director, who stated that this film took 8 years to make. Considering he has 3 credits (including this) on IMDB, I’m not surprised but I hope to see more. Be sure to watch his session in the archive link at the bottom of this post. While Blancanieves was a hugely pleasant surprise and a great opener for today, the day only got better, which I didn’t think would be possible.

Next, we were presented the outrageous documentary called Kumaré. Kumare is the fictional alter ego of director Vikram Gandhi. Much like Blancanieves and The Artist, it’s impossible not to compare Kumaré to Borat. However, the difference between Borat and Kumaré, is that Kumaré is not out for laughs but still has many. Vikram decides to see if people will follow anyone calling themselves a guru and if he can get people to believe in him as well as believing in themselves. While this social experiment sounds a bit cruel on paper, it’s easy to see how much guru Kumaré makes a difference in the lives of these people. It’s not inherently cruel and these subjects are most definitely not stupid or gullible. Vikram plays a very convincing guru, whether he wants to admit it or not. We end with these people having their lives changed for the better, and how they take the news of finding out their leader is not who they think. Where Borat relies on cheap laughs and offensive jokes, Kumaré is funny in a simple understated way, making it much more fun to watch. We were joined by Vikram, the director and star, as well as a producer. Be sure to check it out!

Stay tuned for more coverage including my favorite movie of the festival!

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Ebertfest 2013: Day Three

Oslo, August 31It’s late, I’m tired and tomorrow is going to be a long day but I needed to take the time to write about the amazing films we say today at the 15th annual Ebertfest.

Oslo, August 31 is a film I had already seen and already written about, so I won’t dote much more on it. I will say that while I was left gutted the first time I watched it and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another viewing, Oslo, August 31 was still deeply sad but strangely provoking. We were joined by writer/director Joachim Trier and he was an absolute delight to listen to. Clearly very intelligent and thoughtful. Very interested in seeing more work from him, hopefully soon, and be sure to watch the entire interview in the archive link at the bottom of this post.



The Ballad of NarayamaNext, The Ballad of Narayama, a film that has been on my radar since being released by the Criterion Collection (if you don’t know, I’m addicted to buying Criterions). It was also the last entry in Ebert’s Great Movies feature. He made a last minute decision to include this feature and after viewing it, there seems to be a very profound reason for this that I won’t spoil, but I will say it has to do with his age at his passing. Briefly, The Ballad of Narayama is a folk tale of sorts about a struggling village that sends their elders up the mountain to starve while allowing the younger generations to prosper. It sounds morbid, and it is, but this is not an easy decision for all parties involved. The film is decidely Japanese, but not in a way I had ever really seen before. It has a very theatrical stage presence but in possibly the most clever way committed to film. I highly recommend reading Ebert’s Great Movies article on The Ballad of Narayama since it will do the  film much more justice than I. David Bordwell joined us afterwards to speak on the film and offered some of his amazing analysis, which can be seen in the archive link at the bottom of this page.

JuliaClosing off day three was a film I had never heard of, and I presume most (perhaps all) of you have not either, Julia. Starring the illustrious Tilda Swinton, who plays the eponymous protagonist. Though to call her a protagonist is hard since she is a scheming alcoholic that kidnaps a child for ransom and ends up getting in deeper at every turn. It’s almost so complex it seems like a Coen brothers film at times, but the intensity of both Tilda and the other actors in Julia is nothing short of incredible. I strongly urge you to seek this one out, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve seen. We were also blessed to have Tilda Swinton join us and speak of the film. Admittedly, my exposure to Swinton’s films is spotty but I’ve always been drawn to her work. I can honestly say that her performance here impressed the hell out of me possibly more than anything else I’ve seen from her. Afterwards, we tried staying behind to get a chance for a picture with lovely Tilda, but were unable. Pretty much a huge bummer, but here’s hoping the opportunity arises again. Be sure to watch Tilda’s interview from the archive link below.

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Ebertfest 2013: Day Two

Hello again!

The second day of the 15th Ebertfest ended just a short while ago and the day was filled with beautiful films, each in their own right.

For starters, we had a short film To Music, which was co-written and directed by Sophie Kohn, the festival director’s daughter. If this was any other festival, its inclusion could easily be viewed as playing favorites, but To Music shined incredibly bright. Featuring a cameo by director Paul Cox, To Music captures the beauty of life as well as music. As with yesterday’s short feature, I look forward to seeing more from these promising young filmmakers.

Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van GoghNext, from cameo to the director’s chair, came Paul Cox’s Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh. This film was not quite what I expected. After last year’s introduction to Paul Cox with On Borrowed Time, this was my first true introduction to Cox as a filmmaker. Vincent was not quite what I expected in that I thought it would be a documentary following Van Gogh’s highs and lows, but I should have known better. Narrated by John Hurt through letter’s to Vincent’s brother, Theodore, the entire film consists of stills of Van Gogh’s sketches, drawings, and paintings, with some live action reenactments and scenery. While it was strikingly beautiful, I almost wish I could have read the entire script with the aid of closed captions so I could doubly appreciate the finer details being read. Still, the film was beautiful and while everyone in the audience seemed to expect some of Van Gogh’s more famous paintings to be displayed, they were not. Sorry “Starry Night” fans, but the painting is nowhere to be seen in Vincent, but honestly, the film may be better because of this. It completely humanizes Van Gogh, not just as an artist.

Unfortunately, Paul Cox was not able to make it to the festival since his doctor would not let him fly, it would have been quite interesting to hear about the film from his perspective. Sophie Kohn and her filmmaking partner, Feike Santbergen, were on hand, however, which was quite pleasant. You can find the session in the link to the archive at the end of this post.

In the FamilyAfter running a bit late to get started, we were finally graced with In the Family, another film by a first-time filmmaker, Patrick Wang. In the Family is a startlingly frank look at some topics that, if handled in an indelicate fashion, would be controversial. A young man, Cody (Trevor St. John), loses his wife in childbirth to their son, Chip (Sebastian Banes née Brodziak). He falls for a contractor working for them named Joey (Patrick Wang) and together they raise Chip. Several years later, Cody dies in an accident and unbeknownst to Joey, Cody’s sister was named Chip’s legal guardian. Joey is faced against the law and the not-so-understanding nature of their small Southern town to fight for his son. The film is incredibly moving but also surprisingly funny at times. Films with this much heart are rare enough, but films with this much heart that are not patronizing or manipulative are downright endangered. Race and homosexuality are at the forefront of In the Family and yet neither topic is addressed directly, which is simply amazing to me. Also amazing are some of the long takes in this film, which place the viewer in the story and makes us feel like we are a part of Joey’s life. I had never heard of this film before its announcement at Ebertfest but I urge everyone to keep it on your radar. I daresay there was not a dry eye in the house by the end.

Patrick and Trevor were available for the q&a session afterward, which is definitely worth checking out in the link to the archive at the end of this post.

BernieTo cap off the second day, the wonderful film Bernie was presented. When I first watched Bernie, I was hugely surprised by it and was looking forward to seeing it on the big screen with a crowd. I have to admit that I liked it even better a second time through. Check out the above link for my initial thoughts on the film. The experience was made even better by having writer/director, Richard Linklater, in attendance. Jack Black, the star of the film, was also supposed to attend but was unable to make it in person and had to join via phone. I strongly urge you to check out Bernie, but also to watch the session with Linklater and Black in the link to the archives below. It was very illuminating into the process of the film and the real Bernie Teide.

Though it was a rainy day here in Champaign, that didn’t stop the crowd from enjoying these great cinematic gifts given to us by Roger. It was a fantastic day filled with terrific movies.

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Ebertfest 2013: Day One

Ebertfest 2013

Today marked the first day of the 15th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (aka Ebertfest) in Champaign, Illinois. Since Roger’s passing less than two weeks ago my anticipation for this year’s festival has been mixed emotions of excitement and sadness. For the film festival, Roger wanted to share some of the finer movies of the past year as well as a few gems that he loved and without him here there is an obvious gap. However, we are there to not only enjoy Roger’s selections for the year, but also to celebrate Roger’s life and love of film.

In case you missed the schedule for this year’s Ebertfest, here it is.

Before I begin with the festival itself, I want to point out that The Virginia theater has been under extensive restoration since the close of last year’s festival and the results are simply stunning. You can see some of the details for yourself on their website.

Day One, of course, began with a lovely introduction by Chaz Ebert, who gave a heartwarming thank you to us for giving her something new to do. The festival is dedicated to Haskell Wexler, one of the directors of photography for tonight’s main feature, Days of Heaven. Chaz also introduced director Grace Wang, of the short film that officially kicked off the festivities, I Remember.

I Remember is clearly a film about love, but also of loss. Taking place on the bed in a lonely apartment with a view of the street below, we see a young woman. There is very little dialogue in the film, entirely taking place in a phone conversation between She and someone, maybe a former fling, maybe the man She is missing. We do not know, but we can tell She is annoyed by the call. It isn’t until She finds a man’s shirt with a note inside that we start wondering what happened to She and if the man she is remembering is still around and what happened between them. The apartment scenes are cut with scenes of a beach with the hands of a young woman and some shells, the same shells also appear on the window ledge in the apartment.

For a short film with next to no dialogue, a beautiful story is hidden and we only catch glimpses of it around the edges. I found the film haunting and quite well-made. Grace Wang, who you may recognize as one of Roger’s far-flung correspondents, did a fantastic job in her debut effort.

Days of HeavenNext, we had a sing-along to the tune of Those Were the Days, with modified lyrics by Roger himself. It was quite charming, though instead of singing, I opted to listen to the choral group onstage. To close the evening, we were graced with Days of Heaven on the big screen in its original glory. While I have been a bit spoiled by the completely remastered Criterion blu-ray version of the film, seeing it in its original format the way it was meant to be seen was quite a thrill. I won’t go into detail of the film, as I covered it last year. I do wish more people could watch this film in theaters as the beauty is even more breathtaking on such a grand scale.

Haskell Wexler did a Q&A session afterward that was quite interesting and I will say that for an
87-year-old 91-year-old, Mr. Wexler is still incredibly sharp and is still working! For those of you that have seen Days of Heaven, you may wonder how Malick was able to get the shots of the locust swarms rising from the fields. According to Wexler, a helicopter dropped coffee beans and they reversed the film to make it look like a locust cloud rising. Incredible. Hit the video archive link below to see more!

Stay tuned for more on Ebertfest and follow me on Twitter for live updates of what I’m doing!

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Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert

I have been planning a “comeback” post soon to fill you all in on what is going on in my life, but this devastating event takes precedence. I cannot adequately express my feelings on how Roger Ebert has molded my views on movies so I will just say, “Mister Ebert, I will see you at the movies”.
Ebertfest is going to mean so much more this year.

Link to Sun-Times

My December Movies Round-Up

Please excuse my extreme tardiness for getting this entry completed, January has gone by in the blink of an eye for me.

Well, I made my goal of 300 movies in 2012 and even squeaked in an additional two films. It wasn’t easy but it sure was fun! I’ll have my 2012 statistics up soon (hopefully) in a separate post, so this entry is slightly shorter than the rest have been. Also, this month marked another new method of viewing, my Apple TV, a Christmas present.

Here are the films I watched in December:

  1. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
  2. Bad Ass
  3. The Mummy
  4. Safety Not Guaranteed
  5. Christmas Vacation
  6. Beneath the Planet of the Apes
  7. The Game
  8. Assassination
  9. Captain Slickpants
  10. The Queen of Versailles
  11. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  12. Elf
  13. King Kong
  14. Home Alone – Nostalgiathon guest post by my wife, Rachel
  15. Love Actually
  16. Alien
  17. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  18. A Christmas Story
  19. The Lady Vanishes
  20. Highlander
  21. City of God
  22. A Christmas Story
  23. Django Unchained
  24. Lake Mungo
  25. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
  26. Boogie Nights
  27. Wanderlust
  28. Looper

Head past the break to see the rest of my December 2012 stats!

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Are films primarily art or entertainment? (Friday Question Fun)

Friday Question Fun

First off, I’d really like to apologize for falling so far behind here. My last post was exactly a week ago with another Friday Question Fun entry. I have been oddly busy at work and haven’t really had time for the site or, to be honest, movie watching in general. I STILL need to have my stats wrap-ups for 2012 and I’m just embarrassed I haven’t done it at this point. I wish things were different, but they look to stay this way for a little bit.

As for this week’s question…

Are films primarily art or entertainment?

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When is a film too long? (Friday Question Fun)

Friday Question Fun archive

Last weekend, my wife, mother, and I saw Lincoln and while it’s undeniably one of the better movies of 2012, it felt like a much longer movie than it is. In fact, I hear fairly often that people don’t like sitting through movies that go on past two hours.

When do you feel like a film is too long?

Do you avoid watching movies past that length?

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Looper (12/31/12)

LooperMovie Three Hundred Two

In Looper, time travel is used by the mafia to dispose of people and a young hitman soon finds his future self his target.

In 2074, time travel is illegal and used only on the black market by criminals looking to dispose of bodies. They send the victims back 30 years, strapped with cash where a hitman known as a “looper” on the other end finishes the job and collects the payment from the body with the only condition being that the victims do not escape. When a looper’s time is finished, his future self is sent back for the younger looper to kill; this is known as closing the loop.  Joseph Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper whose future self, Old Joe (Bruce Willis), as his hit but Old Joe escapes. Old Joe and Young Joe meet at a diner and Old Joe says is looking to stop a mysterious figure in the future known only as The Rainmaker who is the one closing all the loops. Young Joe finds some coordinates from Old Joe and heads to an isolated farm where Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who Old Joe believes may be The Rainmaker.

I went into Looper with very lofty expectations. Though I missed the theatrical run, I have seen nothing but glowing praise for the film since its release. I’m afraid that my expectations were not quite met by Looper though I did thoroughly enjoy most of it. Time travel is both Looper’s biggest asset and point of contention for me. Looper is a bit of a refreshing take on time travel and it gets away from many of the quirks of telling a time travel story, but it also kind of crudely pushes aside the belief that Old Joe can exist.

Let me explain, and I assure you this is not a spoiler – For Old Joe to exist in the future, Young Joe would have to kill him in the past. The same scene with Old Joe escaping plays out in the film with Old Joe getting killed, thus allowing Young Joe to grow old and live his life to become Old Joe. I was able to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the rest of the film, but while talking in the diner, Young Joe asks about time travel and Old Joe gruffly talks about how it’s too difficult to explain and then they move on. I understand that time travel is a difficult concept to portray but something about this didn’t jibe with me. Also, don’t try to figure out if anyone else in 2034 is from the future, I did and it was futile and may even hinder your enjoyment of the story.

Time travel quibbles aside, I found Looper to be extremely well made. Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his makeup on looks remarkably like Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt even has most of Willis’ mannerisms down pat, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Pierce Gagnon, the youngest actor in Looper by about 20 years, possibly gives the best performance of the film. Writer/director Rian Johnson creates a very believable setting, all things considered, and makes Looper a smart action film, a combination that unfortunately doesn’t seem to come along very often.

I give it 4 completely awesome Mondo posters out of 5.

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Wanderlust (12/31/12)

WanderlustMovie Three Hundred One

After losing both their jobs and expensive New York City condo, a couple gets Wanderlust and decides to live in a rural commune.

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are buying a very expensive micro-loft in New York City but after Paul loses his job and Linda’s documentary about penguin testicular cancer doesn’t get picked up by HBO, the couple is forced to leave. At first they decide to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), in Atlanta, but on the trip down they stumble on a strange commune in the middle of nowhere. After flipping their car over, they spend the night and are greeted with open arms by the members and their leader, Seth (Justin Theroux). With no prospects back in New York or Georgia, George and Linda decide to stay but the lifestyle takes some adjustment for them.

I will admit that Wanderlust looked pretty awful from the trailers (and the completely awful cover art pictured above) but the film kind of surprised me in that I didn’t completely hate it. Paul Rudd has been one of my favorite comedic actors for some time and I’m usually keen to see whatever movie he’s starring in, with varying degrees of success. Wanderlust is a pretty dismal film, most of the humor falls completely flat, but it’s better than I expected.

For the most part, Wanderlust kind of reminds me a lot of the animated TV show King of the Hill. The humor is kind of the same low-key, easy to miss dry wit that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to single sittings. Much of Wanderlust feels like it was written scene by scene and then pasted together, but it’s not like the comedy genre usually asks much in terms of plot. There is one scene near the end that is completely out of place and goes on far too long, with Rudd talking to himself in a mirror. To be honest, I was embarrassed for the poor guy by the end of that scene.

The other thing that kind of works against Wanderlust is that there are no characters I connected with. We all get restless and want change in our lives, but Rudd and Aniston seem a bit too old to be pulling the kinds of things their characters do. I will say that, as a comedic actress, Aniston always surprises me with her timing. She is better than a lot of people give her credit for. While I would likely never watch Wanderlust again, it’s not the complete mess I was expecting. I laughed at a fair amount of the jokes and the film kept me entertained enough not to turn it off.

I give it 3 “money literally buys nothing” out of 5.

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