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!

Ebertfest 2012 Announcements!

Roger Ebert’s Blog – With the Ebertfest announcement

Allow me to give a brief history lesson to set up this post…

I am from the greater Chicagoland area and have been a movie lover for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my family would watch Siskel and Ebert At the Movies religiously. My father wouldn’t see a movie without hearing the opinions of both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. I have literally grown up with Roger Ebert as the film critic and I’ve enjoyed reading his work my entire life.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ebertfest, here is the official site, here is the Wikipedia page. It pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a film festival helmed by Mr. Ebert. It is held near the University of Illinois campus and unlike other film festivals where submissions are welcome, Ebertfest choices are handpicked.

I am incredibly excited to get to be going this year and a good friend of mine is flying up from North Carolina to share the experience. It’s my first time going, but hopefully not my last.

Now, onto the film choices…

  • Kind Hearts and Coronets – Not only is this a great movie, but Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) picked it and will be the host for the night. Alec Guiness is simply amazing in this.
  • Big Fan – Another great movie, starring Patton Oswalt as a rabid NY Jets fan. Obviously Oswalt will join for this
  • Joe Versus the Volcano – An seemingly odd choice but one of Ebert’s favorites. I’m always up for classic Tom Hanks movies.
  • Phunny Business: A Black Comedy – Totally unaware of this documentary but it is about an all black night club and the owner. The owner of the club, Raymond Lambert, will be joining us.
  • The Truth About Beauty and Blogs – Short film, hadn’t heard of it before but it looks like it will tie into Phunny Business. Joined by Kelichi Ezie, the comedienne and filmmaker. Joined by the writer-director, actors and some crew.
  • Kinyarwanda – I have heard many things about this and if it’s as heart-wrenching as it sounds it will be mesmerizing.
  • TerriHey, I blogged about this! Star Jacob Wysocki and director, Azazal Jacobs, will join.
  • On Borrowed Time – A documentary about the past two years of Paul Cox’s life after getting a life-saving kidney transplant. Should be a fascinating watch. Cox and Nate Kohn will join.
  • A short film collection accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra including Georges Méliès’ Trip to the Moon, which you may recognize from Hugo. Alloy Orchestra members will join the discussion.
  • A Separation – This Iranian film (and Oscar winner!) is something I regret not having already seen so I greatly look forward to it. Director, Asghar Farhadi, is hoping to join.
  • Special effects techniques from the wizards that worked on The Tree of Life.
  • Higher Ground – Not the stoner comedy that its name makes it out to be, this is a film about how religion shapes a woman’s life. Screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs will join.
  • Patang – I don’t believe I had heard of this film before. The director’s father was one of Ebert’s old film students. Director Prashant Bhargava will join along with his father and assorted cast and crew.
  • Take Shelter – A movie that has ranked very high on my ‘to-watch’ list and I couldn’t be more excited that Michael Shannon will be there along with director, Jeff Nichols. So very excited for this one.
  • Citizen Kane – Not only is this one of the best movies ever, but Ebert recorded a commentary track for the DVD release some years ago and that will be playing along with the movie. It is a fantastic commentary to go along with an incredible film.

More details can obviously found in the source link at the top of this post but I must say again…I am EXTREMELY excited for this. I will be posting from the event, so expect more to come!