Posts published under “Film Fests”
THE 15th ANNUAL ROGER EBERT’S FILM FESTIVAL (Days 4-5)
Champaign, IL / April 17-21, 2013
Ebertfest Day 4 started at a fever pitch—I mean, where do we go from a (now interwebz famous) 11am dance party led by actess/artist Tilda Swinton?
Nowhere but up, surprisingly enough—Saturday’s stellar lineup was an eclectic mix of genres and tones with something for everybody.
So this is not exactly the post we had planned a couple of weeks ago. Serious Movie Lover is heading to Ebertfest for our fourth (!) time, and while we’re thrilled to get to experience more of Roger Ebert’s carefully selected gems, we can’t help but think it will be very sad to turn around not see him sitting in his comfy recliner in the back of the Virginia Theatre. We feel honored to be able to celebrate Ebert’s life in a town that genuinely revered him.
You can keep up with the fest by following @ebertfest (they have linked to some lovely tributes over the last couple of weeks), and we’re sure there will be a hashtag of some kind? We will totally figure this Twitter thing out as soon as it isn’t cool anymore.
We’ll have a review of the entire experience for you on April 26–and some photos of the newly restored Virginia Theatre! Please forgive us if we’re a little oversentimental. The official schedule:
7 p.m.: “Days Of Heaven”
Followed by: “I Remember”
1 p.m.: “Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh”
4 p.m.: “In The Family”
9 p.m.: “Bernie”
1 p.m.: “Oslo, August 31st”
4 p.m.: “The Ballad of Narayama”
8:30 p.m.: “Julia”
11 a.m.: “Blancanieves”
2 p.m.: “Kumar”
5 p.m.: “Escape From Tomorrow”
9 p.m.: “The Spectacular Now”
Noon: “Not Yet Begun To Fight”
TAOS SHORTZ FILM FEST 2013 (March 7-10, 2013, Taos Community Auditory, Taos, New Mexico) Over 88 juried global short films were screened over the course of four days and ten sessions this past week in beautiful Taos, New Mexico. Organized by Anna Cosentine, a serious movie lover for sure!—this year marked the 6th for the Taos Shortz Film Fest. Cosentine shared the credit at Sunday’s Awards Ceremony with Duprelon Tizdale who served as Program Director this year. I was able to catch three of the ten sessions, including Session 1 which was devoted to local Taoseno filmmakers—a terrific and packed event. Awards were given in six categories: Dramatic Fiction, Comedy, Documentary, Animation, Experimental and the Zia Award for the Best New Mexican Film from NM’s own filmmakers. To top it all off, the Peoples’ Choice Award was the cherry on the cake —given this year to a hilarious short entitled “First Date” which is now showing at SXSW in Austin. If you get the chance, be sure to catch it!
Partial List of Winners:
People’s Choice First Date / USA
Animation Abuelas (Grandmothers) / UK
Dramatic Fiction Abgestemplt (Punched) / Austria-Germany
Documentary Unravel (UK/ India)
Experimental Solo Piano NYC (USA)
A personal favorite which had its US Premiere: Ash (Comedy Fiction) / Singapore
Ebertfest often saves the best for second to last—and this year’s fest built a pretty solid Saturday to uphold that tradition. Up first was the engrossing Higher Ground, the assured and critically praised directorial debut from actress Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed), a crowd-pleasing spiritual journey tale marred only by some hamfisted (or perhaps we should say dogfisted) symbolism in the final moments and an unfortunate case of BIG SERIOUS MUSIC-itis. In the following Q&A, writer Carolyn S. Briggs—who adapted the screenplay from her very personal memoir “This Dark World”—was refreshingly pragmatic about an altogether different journey, her book making it onto the movie screen. When asked by an audience member about the closeness of the adaptation, Briggs smiled, saying of a dramatic scene in which her character’s baby ends up in an terrifyingly unusual place during a late night hippie bus crash that spurs her and her husband’s spiritual journey, “Sometimes you gotta lie your way to the truth—let me just say there was never a baby in a cooler.” Read more »
Having kept a low profile thus far due to a recent fall, Roger Ebert started day 3 with a brief and very welcome onstage appearance to read (via his laptop’s soothing, otherworldly voice) the introduction he had written for his good friend Paul Cox, who was in attendance (heck, the whole festival was dedicated to him) to accompany the 2011 feature documentary by David Bradbury about Cox’s recent health struggles, On Borrowed Time. After only a minute or two standing at the podium, Ebert had to step down and content himself with sitting next to his wife and fest host, Chaz Ebert, who finished reading his introduction. Read more »
While everyone was disappointed that comedian-turned-actor Patton Oswalt had to last-minute cancel his multiple scheduled Ebertfest appearances—per fest host Chaz Ebert, weather trouble on the NYC set of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty required reshoots that kept the actor on set—Oswalt sent/posted an extremely lengthy message of apology that resulted in an admiring tweet from Roger Ebert himself, describing the apology as “Transcendently graceful,“ and saying of the actor, “This is a very nice man.” It was with this development, all warm and fuzzy feelings decidedly intact, that Ebertfest Day Two audiences generously embraced Oswalt’s dark 2009 indie drama Big Fan, the story of Paul, a loner New York Giants fanatic (the kind that spends his shifts in a mostly deserted parking garage painstakingly creating the detailed scripts he uses when calling into his favorite late night sports talk radio show) who is left hospitalized and somewhat broken after a chance encounter with one of his football heroes turns slightly (though innocently) stalker-ish, and then into a brutal assault. In his first leading role, Oswalt is a revelation as Paul, creating a deeply sympathetic character that is at the same time growing darkly, and possibly violently, unmoored. In the revealing Q & A following the screening, Big Fan director Robert Siegel (also known for writing Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar nominated The Wrestler, as well as being a former editor-in-chief of satirical newspaper The Onion) said that he was for the most part unable to take advantage of Oswalt’s natural talent for improv due to the actor’s extreme lack of sports specific knowledge. And when he did get some great topic-appropriate improv, he often had to tell the sharply intelligent Oswald “dial it back a little” and dumb up his dialogue a bit. Siegel also mentioned that he didn’t audition Oswalt for the role, hiring the untested dramatic actor on “a hunch” that he could pull off this seriously dark dramatic role. As for Big Fan’s muted, grainy look and feel, Siegel said it was mostly inspired by ‘70s films like Saturday Night Fever, and he admitted a soft spot for actresses from the same decade like Karen Black and Marcia Jean Kurtz—he cast the latter in the crucial role of Oswalt’s nonplussed mother. Read more »
While Ebertfest 2012 started out with a disappointing announcement—one of this year’s big name guests, comedian/actor Patton Oswalt, cancelled his fest appearances only minutes before opening night remarks by producer/co-host Chaz Ebert—the capacity crowd’s unbridled enthusiasm in Champaign, Illinois’ gloriously shabby chic Virginia Theatre was in no way diminished.
While SML wasn’t initially super excited about revisiting opening night feature Joe Versus the Volcano, the quirky fantasy was enthusiastically received, and won our hearts with its surreal staging, quirky, absurd dialogue, and top notch comic performances–Tom Hanks, his mullet wig, and Meg Ryan, a comedy knockout playing three very different and well defined characters. In the following Q&A with Joe Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt, when panelist Christy Lemire mentioned that Goldblatt’s most recent works were Julie & Julia and The Help, the people sitting behind SML cried out, “Wow!” and “Oh my God!” for altogether different reasons than had SML upon discovering this info weeks before.
A comedic short film preceded the next feature, entertaining internet personality spoof The Truth About Beauty & Blogs, amounts to a fun homemade actor’s reel, which is pretty much what it was, according to very smartly dressed writer/co-producer/actor Kelechie Ezie in the Q&A.
Closing out opening night was Phunny Business: A Black Comedy, a laugh a minute, but often too slick by half documentary about entrepreneur Raymond Lambert’s famous Chicago comedy club All Jokes Aside, a spectacular crossroads of black comedy partly responsible for helping launch heavyweights like Steve Harvey, Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac, and Cedric the Entertainer. While there are plenty of laughs throughout, the onscreen narration by subject/writer/producer Lambert felt forced and oversold, and exactly like the talking heads in today’s crop of “unscripted” reality shows. The result felt self-aggrandizing and a little phony. But luckily, with so many interesting, funny interviews and consistently hilarious clips from the club’s early ’90s heyday, this can only be a very minor complaint.
In the following Q&A, director John Davies told a funny story about when he worked as a Production Assistant for “Sneak Previews” back in its early public television days and once rewrote part of an Ebert review while transcribing it for the teleprompter. When Ebert reached the new lines he called over Davies and gave him a few stern words, followed by the christening of a new nickname: Functional Illiterate.
Stay tuned for recaps of Days 2 through 5, featuring the Alloy Orchestra, momentary eye contact with Doug Benson of “Doug Loves Movies,” and an all-strings version of “Smooth Criminal”!
THE ARTIST (2011/IN THEATERS)
Sarah! I am so glad we were able to preview The Artist at the St. Louis International Film Festival, well before the unwashed masses. It’s always a pleasure to see the Tivoli packed to the gills with nerdy film buffs like ourselves, even if we suspected that many of them bought tickets in hopes that supporting actor and Hometown Hero John Goodman might make a special guest appearance. He did not! (Though his image from The Big Lebowski adorned the Major Filmmaker Awards.) Lucky for everyone, The Artist was a total delight. That a gleeful homage to the silent era could hold an audience rapt from beginning to end is no small feat in the era of 3D and seizure-inducing vampire baby nightmare birth scenes. But this B&W charmer (which follows the waning career of a silent-era star, played by the alarmingly suave Jean Dujardin, and the rise of talkie ingenue/love interest Berenice Bejo) had a magnetic cast, chipper score, beautiful sets (a staircase scene was pretty amazing in scale and choreography), and an engaging plot that, while maybe directed a little broadly, was no less sweet and compelling for it. And though it costars a very talented dog (who some people are think should be nominated for an Oscar? Whaaat? Let’s get Serkis in there first, then work our way toward actual animals, you goofs) it requires zero warning barks on my patented scale. Win-win!