April 2010 posts
12th ANNUAL ROGER EBERT’S FILM FESTIVAL, CHAMPAIGN, IL This year’s Ebertfest seems to favor an apparently quite golden year: 2008. Selections from 2008 included Departures, Synecdoche, New York, Vincent: A Life in Color, Trucker, and Ebertfest Day 5’s sole presentation, Song Sung Blue. This complex and revealing doc—equal parts inspirational romance and family tragedy—by first-time director Greg Kohs tells the story of Lightning & Thunder, a regional Milwaukee Neil Diamond tribute band/husband & wife singing duo led by Claire (“Thunder,” specializing in Patsy Cline) and Mike Sardina (“Lightning,” mulleted, tanned, and croaking like prime 1978 ND incarnate). After a promising start circa 1990, with sold-out bookings all over Milwaukee and Chicago and a special invite by Eddie Vedder to perform an encore with Pearl Jam in front of 30,000 people, the band hit the skids in the wake of a tragedy involving a car crashing into the Sardina’s home, and never quite managed to reclaim their local celebrity or fan base. What starts out as the purest sweetheart romance—Mike is outspokenly nuts about Claire, and at the peak of their success the couple marries in front of 800-ish folks at the Wisconsin State Fair—turns into a harrowing second act in the fallout of the accident, as the decidedly day job-free couple’s relationship is tested to the extreme when bookers, for the cruelest of reasons (that I won’t reveal here), refuse to hire them. Then depression and increasingly crushing poverty takes its toll. Read more »
12th ANNUAL ROGER EBERT’S FILM FESTIVAL, CHAMPAIGN, IL OK! On with Day 4, which brought us the longest and most varied lineup yet: 2003’s I Capture the Castle, 2008’s Vincent: A Life in Color, 2008’s Trucker, and 1987’s Barfly.
Thanks to your God and his dumb volcano, actor Bill Nighy was unable to attend the packed screening of director Tim Fywell’s I Capture the Castle, a family friendly (well, European family friendly, due to a couple of boobs) coming-of-age story featuring Nighy as an eccentric (er, more like went-to-jail-once-for-trying-to-stab-his-wife nutz), once famous writer of fiction who lives with his spiritual, nudist ladyfriend and three charmingly verbose, precocious children in a crumbling ancient castle in the isolated English countryside where he struggles with writer’s block and the girls dream of young gentlemen coming and taking them away.
Nighy is excellent as usual in portraying this sad, fractured man, and Rose Byrne and Romola Garai are adorable as his winsome daughters in this adaption of a 1949 book by Dodie Smith, an author mostly known for her 1956 children’s classic The Hundred and One Dalmations. While this is a fine effort by longtime British TV director Fywell, it very much feels like a fun, smart, and a little OTT made-for-BBC TV drama—nothing less, mind you, but not a whole lot more. Read more »
12th ANNUAL ROGER EBERT’S FILM FESTIVAL, CHAMPAIGN, IL Day 3 has brought an exciting and emotionally exhausting lineup: 2008’s Departures, 1929’s Man With the Movie Camera, and 2008’s Synecdoche, New York.
An introduction by retired University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor David Bordwell (the author of several books on film aesthetics and history) warned the packed-in audience that we were about to experience a masterful film in the tradition of Japanese “wet” movies—a genre of ultra emotional films that, along with a few laughs, are guaranteed to jerk a few tears from this eager and (often too?) agreeable audience. The film, director Yôjirô Takita’s masterpiece and Foreign Language Academy Award winner Departures, follows a thirtysomething cellist, Daigo (played by one time teen J-pop sensation Masahiro Motoki), who, upon learning the orchestra that he was barely good enough to get into has been dissolved, must find a way to make a living for himself and his winsome and initially supportive wife, Ikuei (played by the beauty Tsutomu Yamazaki).
The journey takes the couple from glitzy Tokyo to Daigo’s childhood village, to live rent-free in the home of his recently deceased mother. After answering an enticing classified ad for work in “depatures”—Daigo initially guessing it is related to the tourism industry—he discovers the position is for an encoffiner, a quiet, ritualized service involving preparing dead bodies in front of the families for their coffins and eventual cremation. Death is a taboo subject in Japan, and while Daigo takes the job, he keeps what he does for a living from his wife. The story, also involving Daigo coming to terms with the father who abandoned him as a child, is heartbreaking and breathtaking and all of those other long words that leave you spent and weeping in a theater full of strangers. This is great cinema, constructed by a master. Read more »
12th ANNUAL ROGER EBERT’S FILM FESTIVAL, CHAMPAIGN, IL Good morning! Thank you Country Inn & Suites Champaign for your bountiful continental breakfast (just like they enjoy on THE continent, surely) and your neverending pile of constantly replenishing cookies. That’s right. (!) Now onto (slightly more) important matters: Ebertfest Day 2 presented SML with an eclectic mix: 2007’s Munyurangabo, 1994’s The New Age, and the 2001 reconstruction of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, 1979’s Apocalypse Now Redux.
Some of you may remember one half of SML’s disappointing first attempt at viewing Munyurangabo at SLIFF last year. Luckily, Mr. Ebert has made it possible for one to finally view this extraordinary film under the best possible conditions: an actual FILM presentation (no DVD shit up in Roger’s house!), on the majestic Virginia Theater’s ENORMOUS screen, and followed by a revealing Q&A with the film’s director/co-writer, Arkansas kid done good Lee Isaac Chung, along with co-writer/producer Sam Anderson and co-producer Jenny Lund. Chung explained that the film was created during a period when he, accompanying his wife who was volunteering at a Christian mission in Rwanda, taught a group of locals a course on filmmaking. The result, completely lacking in Western artifice, feels like 97 minutes of genuine Rwandan life. Though Chung and Anderson are billed as co-writers, the former explained that, while they came up with the general premise and what they wanted to accomplish story-wise, scene by scene, they left it up to the actors to create their actual dialogue, resulting in astonishingly natural, unforced performances. Read more »
12th ANNUAL ROGER EBERT’S FILM FESTIVAL, CHAMPAIGN, IL In declaring this day Ebertfest Day, the effusive and really sorta too long proclamation by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn compared Roger Ebert to Abe Lincoln, citing the Gettysburg Address as being “all about people, as Roger Ebert is all about people.” We dunno if we’d go THAT far, but sitting in the packed Virginia Theater, in a crowd of RE’s biggest admirers, the hyperbole is more than easily forgiven. After RE graciously accepted the honor with a few lines spoken by his MacBook, his wife and Ebertfest host Chaz Ebert said, “To paraphrase Roger’s immortal words from [his script for] Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, he wants to say that ‘This is his happening, and it’s freaking him out!’”
With the 12th Annual Robert Ebert’s Film Festival (aka Ebertfest) opening night announcements out of the way, the rapt audience of oldies and college kids turned their focus to tonight’s double feature: a much ballyhooed rare 70mm print of 1982′s Pink Floyd: The Wall and 2007′s You, the Living. Read more »
As promised, SML is heading to Ebertfest this week. We’ll be tweeting our immediate observations about the movies and panels, and attempting to post at the end of each day—assuming we don’t abandon ship after Day 1’s screening of The Wall. (Note to selves: Pick up downers on the drive up.) Movie lineup here and panel schedule here.
Sarah and Kimberly (at left; the Rest of the World, at right) are nothing if not “gals on the go.” They barely have time to honor each other via Luna bar and pick up a new pair of jeggings, let alone finish watching Center Stage for the tenth time. They are dancing as fast as they can! Wasted Weekend is a weekly discussion of the films they watched, half-watched, or turned off in disgust during the previous few days. We hope you still respect them after reading this.
Sarah: So how was your weekend of TV viewing? There seemed to be a surplus of sporting events on, and yet, I was able to catch a couple things of note. First, I watched the last hour of the catchily-titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on AMC. I like this movie a lot. 2007 was so crowded with good movies that stuff that came out earlier in the year, like this and Zodiac, were almost totally overlooked come Oscar time. But this is packed with really good performances. Casey Affleck got a well-deserved supporting actor nomination for playing the titular coward who mistakenly thinks killing the famous outlaw will result in his own fame. Brad Pitt lets his face look old and tired and gives a really calm, still performance as Jesse James. And supporting work from Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Pawnee City Planner Mark Brendanawicz (AKA Paul Schneider) is all excellent.
Set in and around Missouri (heeeyy!), I think the cinematography is gorgeous. IMDB tells me that’s because the cinematographer was Roger Deakins, who works on all the Coen brothers’ movies and was nominated in 2007 for his work on this and that year’s best picture winner No Country for Old Men. Not too shabby a year for Roger. And for all of us, really. I saw so many good movies that year. Sigh. Anyway, I know the narration throughout TAOJJBTCRF really bugged some people, but I don’t mind it so much. Any Westerns on your roster this weekend? Read more »
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009/IN THEATERS) There is serious buzz out there right now for both the book and the film of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and it’s all deserved. Stieg Larsson, Swedish author of the bestseller on which the film is based, died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 50. This is the first of his Milennium trilogy (“The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” are both due out later this year)–fortunately finished and at the publisher prior to his death; its Swedish title translates to “Men Who Hate Women”–a title that will strike you as perfect once you see the movie. The plot begins with Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) losing a court case for libel against a Swedish corporate titan and accepting an assignment for an aged CEO named Henrik Vanger who is desperately seeking answers regarding his missing neice Harriett, assumed dead after 40 painful years of searching. At the same time we meet Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who is the title character. She is fabulous—dark, wounded, brooding, violent, vengeful, smart as a whip—and a hacker par excellence. Eventually she and Blomkvist team up to solve the case—but what a case it turns out to be. Rapace is perfectly cast as Salander and in fact has won the Swedish Oscar for her performance. The movie is a bona fide thriller—you may jump in your seat at certain scenes and cover your eyes for others (I did). Though long (2 ½ hours), once the plot kicks in, you won’t notice the time going by. Plenty of violence, so be fore-warned, but this is only being true to the book. And speaking of the book, I had read it first before I saw the film, but I don’t think this is a requirement of any kind. The filmmakers have done a great job of bringing a multi-layered, many plotted book to the screen. Don’t miss this one!
To learn more about Larsson, check out http://www.stieglarsson.com/
He’s clearly the role model for Blomkvist.
BTW: We in the U.S. are just catching up with the rest of the world on this one…the book was published in Sweden in 2005, finally translated and available to us in 2008/2009. The film premiered in Sweden in February 2009 and has just opened in the U.S. on March 19, 2010. There is talk that David Fincher will direct a U.S. adaptation of the books (not a re-make they are careful to say) later this year, with Steven Zaillian as script writer. Here’s hoping the U.S. version will be worthy if this all comes down.
THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1980/DVD) This British gangster flick featured the kind of sudden, horrifying violence Martin Scorsese made a trademark out of with Goodfellas, while predating that groundbreaking film by ten years. The economy-sized Bob Hoskins is a formidable presence here, playing a forward-looking thug on the way up (and the up and up) intent on uniting a cabal of international investors (some semi-legitimate) to take control and rebuild the depressed, late ‘70s London waterfront in advance of the presumed boom that was to accompany its proximity to the 1988 Olympics.
A thirty-something Helen Mirren shines as the elegant brains behind Hoskins’ back-alley brawn, while a young, speedo’d Pierce Brosnan does much with very little screen time (and, well, dialogue) as a sneaky hit man out to cast suspicion (and eventually, it would appear, much blood) on Hoskins’ Thug With A Dream. P.H. Moriarty—best known for his portrayal of Hatchet Harry in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels—is seriously scary as Hoskin’s creepy scar-faced henchman, Blades. Not as creepy? His supporting role as a (scar-less) henchman in the So Horrible It Is Awesome Jaws 3-D! (Netflix THAT sucker for a bad movie party and a young and often be-shorted Dennis Quaid will be your shiny reward.)
See TLGF now before it gets an unecessary remake by super uneven (uh, and that’s being generous) director Paul W S Anderson, maker of the AWESOME (1997 horror/sci-fi Event Horizon) and the NOT AWESOME (2004′s AVP: Alien vs. Predator) and the DUMB BUT KINDA FUN (2008′s Deathrace).
Grade: A (Criterion Edition’s grade: C)
THE FOURTH KIND (2009/DVD) The gimmick of The Fourth Kind is laid bare in the very first shot—Milla Jovovich tells the audience that she is indeed an actor named Milla Jovovich and that she will be playing the role of Nome, Alaska psychiatrist Abagail Tyler, whose sleep deprived patients just might have been abducted by aliens (!), and that this film will not only recreate scenes that have ACTUALLY HAPPENED, but will also show ACTUAL VIDEO AND AUDIO RECORDINGS of those events that ACTUALLY HAPPENED in REAL LIFE. Wha?, you say. This is a novel approach. Finally, a(nother) film for the YouTube Generation.
There are a couple of challenges for a film with this kind of presentation, however. First being that the alleged “real” footage must pass muster with an audience more cynical and jaded than any that came before it. If the “real” footage feels like actors acting, yer screwed. And unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed this fun alien abduction cover-up expose, its “real” stuff ain’t “real” by a long shot. There are actors acting all over this thing. The other challenge in selling this film to the youths of 2010 is that if actual footage like this existed we would’ve seen it already—on the usual viral video circuits, sure, but on the nightly news as well. EVERYBODY wants proof of aliens. Even obviously faked stuff gets on the news with a cheeky wink nowadays. C’mon, people. Read more »