Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ebertfest II

Day two of Ebertfest began with something missing. Patton Oswalt was supposed to appear to discuss his movie Big Fan, but the shooting schedule of his current movie made it impossible. On the plus side, he did write what may be the most eloquent apology I've ever read.

I hated to miss my chance to see Patton, but writer/director Robert Siegel was there. I had seen his film before, but I had forgotten that he had written The Wrestler, directed by Darren Aronofsky. Big Fan is often described as a less bloody Taxi Driver, and Big Fan also has a lot to say about misplaced obsession. On my second viewing, however, I was struck by how similar it was to a later film with Patton Oswalt: Young Adult. The leads of both films are neither totally unsympathetic nor totally right in the head - but what struck me about both was that neither character learns a damn thing in the end. That may be a flaw to some, but it made Big Fan (and Young Adult) that much more fascinating.

I also took this away from Big Fan, as someone who doesn't follow sports: Just because you're deeply into athletics doesn't make you any less of a geek than, say, a film nerd.

Next up was Kinayarwanda, and it was the first film of the festival that left me a bit wanting. I admired it, and indefinitely understood the value of a movie about Rwandan genocide being made by Rwandans. While the film has a number of great moments, including a striking animated sequence, it doesn't hold together as well as Hotel Rwanda, mainly because it lacked a central figure in which I could be emotionally invested.

The third film, however, was flat-out wonderful. Terri resonated with me a lot because it focuses on social mis fits, and I often felt like one. Indie films like this often succumb to self-conscious quirkiness, but in Terri it's essential because it shows how quirky we all are - quirk is what makes us us. I was especially struck when Jacob Wysocki, who plays the title character, spoke at the festival. This was his very first film role, but in real life, Wysocki is gregarious and outgoing - very much the opposite of Terri. Christy Lemire, the AP film critic and a child of the 80s, said it reminded her of The Breakfast Club. I think it may be even better than that.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ebertfest Day 1

It didn't take long for me to realize I would absolutely love Ebertfest.

OK, that's a bit of a misnomer. I knew I would love it even before I got there. C'mon. It's me, movies and Roger Ebert.

Still, knowing something in the abstract is still only the abstract. Actually experiencing it? That's something else altogether. I had been to any number of special film events before. The people I've been lucky enough to see include effects maestro Phil Tippett, the lovely Patricia Neal and Janet Leigh, and another Lee called Spike. I've even seen Ebert before, when he came to Columbus for a long interview with this director I like named Scorsese.

I'm only two days into Ebertfest, and I can already tell you this experience trumps them all. First off, there's the theater itself. The Virginia in Champaign is one of those classic movie place with a huge screen that has to be at least 50 feet long. Some of the plaster is crumbling, and it's not quite as resplendent as the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, but the Virgina has character out the wazoo. One look at the place is enough to set the tone.

Then there's the other thing about movie theaters like this - the sound. And I don't mean the speakers, although it's top notch here. I'm talking about the sound of the audience. First, there's the sound of laughter coming from more than 1,000 people. I had not heard that in too long. Second, and more important, is the mood of the place. Every single person is there to SEE MOVIES and not just munch popcorn and dick around. Too many people treat movies, even good ones, like pieces of gum - they enjoy it while it lasts and then they forget about it not long after. Not here - not with these folks.

Our first film is Joe Versus the Volcano, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie no one saw. I would say it defies description, but it really doesn't. It defies simple description. It's a little Terry Gilliam, a little Fritz Lang, a little Frank Capra, a little Howard Hawks, a little Coens and a lot its own animal. The movie's a strange bird, and it revels in it. The film, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck/Doubt) is very loosey goosey, and it doesn't always hang together, but that very freewheeling quality is what makes it so charming. Not only do I urge you to see it, I urge you to see it not by yourself, and not even with just one other person. This movie is best viewed with a group of people who can infect each other with slap happiness.

Afterwards, cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (The Help, Lethal Weapon etc) came out to discuss the film with AP critic and Ebert Presents at the movies co-host Christy Lemire, and one of Ebert's "Far-Flung Correspondents," Pablo Villaca from Brazil. They talked about the stylized look of Joe Versus the Volcano, my favorite moment being Goldblatt's explanation of how he gets shafts of light. "Smoke. Where there's smoke, there's Goldblatt," he said.

The second attraction was sort of a double feature about black comics. The first was a short called The Truth about Beauty and Blogs by Kelechie Ezie, who spoke. It was a very funny piece about a woman who essentially lives on the Internet and has, shall we say, relationship issues. Attention Saturday Night Live - HERE is how to take a one-joke premise and NOT run it into the ground.

Next was a feature-length doc called Phunny Busines: A Black Comedy about All Jokes Aside, the groundbreaking comedy club that was a stomping ground for pretty much every working African American comedian you've heard of. What I most liked about the doc was that it wasn't funny just because comics talked on camera - it was funny because of the way it was made. It cracks its ow jokes, partly because the central figure, former club owner Raymond Lambert is such a figure of fun. He was refreshingly willing not only to crack a joke, but be the butt of the joke.

The evening didn't end until 1:30 a.m., so I was dead tired by then, but I was also deliriously happy. I couldn't wait for more.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Summer Movie Preview: June

It's all about the aliens this month ...


Snow White and the Huntsman - This spring's Mirror Mirror turned out to be decent, but even before I saw that, I had higher hopes for this film, which looks to take Snow White in a more adrenalized direction - and Charlize Theron makes for a formidable wicked queen.


Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted - I've never much been into the Madagascar series. They're emblematic of everything wrong with DreamWorks animation - emphasizing gags over characters, and a soundtrack by K-Tel designed to give parents something to bop to. Meh.

Prometheus - Oh, HELL yes. After The Dark Knight Rises, this is the summer movie I'm most looking forward to seeing. Ridley Scott can be maddeningly inconsistent, but my feeling is he's firing on all thrusters here - and whoever says this isn't an Alien prequel is a damn liar.


Rock of Ages - On the one hand, I'm not much for 80s nostalgia, but on the other hand, I very much enjoyed Adam Shannkman's Hairspray. Plus Tom Cruise looks like he's having a lot of fun, and Julianne Hough is super cute. I'm in.

That's My Boy: Adam Sandler's latest attempt to pander to people who are perpetually 13 years old. And even that may be aiming too high. I'm out.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - You know, it's funny. I might be looking forward to this even more than Spielberg's Lincoln biopic due later this year.

Brave -  Pixar. I still have faith, even if they were coasting a bit with Cars 2.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - Keira Knightley gets a chance to be funny. The trailer is a trip.


GI Joe: Retaliation: I don't care if Bruce Willis is in it. Pass. I'm not much into sequels to movies not many people liked in the first place.

Magic Mike: Steven Soderbergh makes a movie about male strippers. Wow.

People Like Us: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the writers of Abrams' Star Trek) make their first movie that doesn't rely heavily on CGI,  A fine cast includes Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks and Olvia Wilde.

Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection: Why, yes, I would like to enter such a program - to protect me from Madea.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

May Summer Movie preview

Why this photo? I figure pictures of Scarlett will give me the most traffic!

And so the summer movie season is upon us! Well, almost. There's still one more week to go before summer officially starts (movie-wise, anyway), but I wanted to get the summer preview completed before I head out to Ebertfest this coming Wednesday. That mean four days to get May, June July and August accounted for. So off I go.


The Avengers: Like everyone else, I've been looking forward to this movie (seems almost wrong to call it a film). But I wasn't THAT hot on it, mostly because I found the recent Marvel slate (Thor, Iron Man II, Captain America, etc.) somewhat underwhelming.
Then I read this.
It's hard to imagine that anyone with an appetite for the trademark's patented brand of fantasy, effects, mayhem and strangely dressed he-men will be disappointed; not only does this eye-popping 3D display of visual effects fireworks feature an enormously high proportion of action scenes, but director Joss Whedon has adroitly balanced the celebrity circus to give every single one of the superstar characters his or her due.

OK, I'm sold.

MAY 11

Dark Shadows: Fans have been up in arms about the comic tone of the trailer, and I've had my own misgivings about Tim Burton's work of late - I found Alice in Wonderland horribly overrated. But I have to admit, I laughed. I like the Beetlejuice-esque tone. I like any chance to look at Eva Green. I like a chance to see Chloe Grace Moretz steal scenes. I'm in.

MAY 18

Battleship: Barnacles! Hell no! I'm disappointed in a talented direcctor like Peter Berg so blatantly ripping off Michael Bay.I want to be a torpedo.

The Dictator: I admired Borat more than I found it actually funny, and Bruno, aside from a couple good sequences, was an out-and-out botch - but I have to admit, the trailer sold me.

What to Expect When You're Expecting: Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Banks are in it. Good enough for me.

MAY 25

Chernobyl Diaries: So this is a summer release, huh? It better live up to the trailer.

MIB 3: Having Josh Brolin play the young Tommy Lee Jones is a stroke of genius. So why do I feel iffy about this one? Oh, I dunno. Could be because they started shooting without a finished script, which is never a good idea.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Sequels that were better than the originals? Not always

The website Total Film has published a list of what it says are 50 sequels that are better than the originals (or at least on par with them, it says in smaller print.)

Fifty? Really? Even at the rate they crank out sequels these days, that number seems high. I'm not going to mention every film they cited (there are a handful I haven't seen), but  I knew the list was trouble from the very first entry.

Die Hard with a Vengeance: Horseshit right off the bat. I'll listen to an argument for Die Hard 2, but the third one was a mess. For one thing, the script was originally developed as a Lethal Weapon sequel, so it didn't fit the "jeopardy in a confined space" mold the first two used so well. Worse yet, it has one of the stupidest endings this side of the extended Exorcist conclusion. Even the cheesy sequel, Live Free or Die Hard, was better than this.

Hot Shots! Part Deux: A good film, but simply not as funny as the first. It tries a little too hard.

Shrek 2: As sequels go, not bad - it's certainly better than any of the subsequent Shrek movies. But it didn't capture the freshness of the first, which itself was a bit overrated.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare: I don't know if this one is better than the original, but it's certainly the most clever. Here was meta-horror three years before Scream came along.

Rocky III: I pity the fool that says that. It's goofily entertaining, but not anywhere close to the quality of the original, or even the semi-retread Rocky II. The recent Rocky Balboa was better too.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: OK, that one I'll buy. It's been years since I've seen the original, but this sequel has entered the holiday zeitgeist without question. I hear it quoted at least as much as, if not more than, A Christmas Story.

Fast Five: Definitely. This one lived up to its name; I thought the original was neither fast nor furious.

Lethal Weapon 2: I suppose you could argue the first is better because it introduced the characters, but the sequel is probably more fun because of the presence of Joe Pesci.

Gremlins 2 - The New Batch: Actually, I agree with this one. Funnier and zanier than the original. Too bad not many people saw it.

Desperado: I wouldn't call this as "good" as El Mariachi, but it's definitely slicker. And I'll admit, Salma Hayek's presence is an ... eyeful.

Star Wars Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith: Definitely the best of the prequels. I'd even argue it's superior to the somewhat lazy Return of the Jedi.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Yes, this one was superior to the first, because it had more of Guilliermo Del Toro's loopy energy.

Manon of the Spring: Close call, but I still give the nod to Jean de Florette.

Spider-Man 2: Absolutely superior to the first. It always bugged me that the Green Goblin in the first movie looked like a refugee from a Power Rangers episode.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: It made my 10 best list.

Addams Family Values: Much funnier than the rather lackadaisical original. Never understood why more people didn't embrace it. Bonus points for not featuring MC Hammer's wretched "Addams Groove."

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Terrific fun, thanks largely to the presence of Sean Connery, but there's no way in hell it equals Raiders, much less tops it.

For a Few Dollars More: Not QUITE as good as A Fistful of Dollars, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how good at was when I first saw it. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly whips them both, though.

Superman II: Yes, I'd still say this was better than the original, despite its patchwork production, since Richard Donner started it and Richard Lester completed it. It's not as epic as the first, but it's more entertaining because it doesn't take so long to get going.

A Shot in the Dark: Absolutely better than The Pink Panther, because Closeau was front and center this time.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn: Well, yeah.

Batman Returns: A lot of people will disagree on this one, but not me. I always thought the 1989 original was muddled and overrated. The superiority of the follow-up can be summed up in one word: meow.

Back to the Future Part II: Oh, make like a tree and get out of here. It's got a lot of really clever moments, but this one was clearly the low point of the series, because the alternate 1985 is too far over the top. Part III was a refreshing return to form.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: No argument here. Still my favorite of the lot.

The Bourne Supremacy: No. Ultimatum was better.

The Bride of Frankenstein: I actually prefer the more emotional original film, but I completely respect the original for going in a comedic direction - and working.

The Road Warrior: Absolutely. One of the first films films I saw that made me tired simply by watching it.

From Russia with Love: Well, I don't consider the Bond movies to be sequels (except for Quantum of Solace), but this one is better than the first Bond film, Dr. No. However, it's not quite as fun as Goldfinger.

X2: Definitely. The first movie was fun, but Bryan Singer really found his feet the second time around.

Before Sunset: Yes, I actually did like it better than Before Sunrise, which is saying a lot.

Evil Dead 2: Like Desperado, this movie was essentially a slicker version of its predecessor -  but it had even more imagination.

The Silence of the Lambs: People often forget that Michael Mann's Manhunter preceded this. While Man's film is certainly good, it's rather dated. Silence of the Lambs hasn't aged a day.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day: I still like the original best, but the sequel is awfully close.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: No, it's not better than Fellowship of the Ring. I felt this one rushed too much through the story - a problem that was alleviated in the superior extended cut.

Dawn of the Dead: George Romero is to be commended for taking his series in a satirical direction, but he didn't top his chilling original.

The Dark Knight: Duh.

Toy Story 2: The wonderful original is often cited as one of the best animated films of all time, but the clearly superior sequel is cleverer and even more emotionally affecting.

Aliens: Wow, tough call, particularly because Ridley Scott and James Cameron's films are so different. But faced with a set of extended teeth, I'll have to argue that hundreds of aliens are scarier than one - and I still get a major rush from Cameron's relentless pacing.

The Godfather Part II: I get how this is supposed to be superior to the original, because it's starker and more ambitious, but it comes down to this: the original Godfather has dozens of quotable moments. Do you hear Godfather II quoted as often?

The Empire Strikes Back: Again, I understand why people say it's better than the original - it's certainly the best written and best crafted of the six- but for me, it can't top the thrill of discovery that came with the original.

Your thoughts?