Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—The Motel Life (2012) ***½

R, 85 min.
Directors: Alan Polsky, Gabriel Polsky
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Willy Vlautin (novel)
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Joshua Leonard, Noah Harpster, Kris Kristofferson

Saturday is always the most surreal day of Ebertfest. I don’t know why. I wonder if they try to program the films in a way to produce an eerie sense of being adrift. It’s not a criticism. It just always seems that Saturday is the “lost” day of the festival, with characters trying to find their way through the morass of life. Saturday is the longest day of films and the atmosphere created by them makes it a sort of wonderful cinematic experience.

This year’s Saturday schedule included the films “Wild Tales”, “Ida”, “The Motel Life” and  “99 Homes”. I watched two of these this year and both have a distinct feel of despair about them. The first was “Ida”, with its black and white cinematography and somber subject matter; it certainly played into that atmosphere I described. “The Motel Life” is another strong fit for the Saturday feel.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—Ida (2014) ****

PG-13, 82 min.
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy TrelaAdam Szyszkowski, Halina Skoczynska

So, I’ve reviewed this film before. It’s easy to concentrate on the central character here, Anna, the nun who discovers she’s a Jew just before she takes her vows. This time I’d like to concentrate a little more on Wanda, her aunt. Wanda is a very interesting woman. This is the 1960s, and Wanda appears to be a fairly powerful woman as a state prosecutor. Wanda has as much of a journey to take as Anna here. It is Wanda who takes them on their search to find Anna’s parent’s graves. Of course, that journey leads to the revelation of a dark family secret, a secret Wanda must be very aware Anna will discover.

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—A Bronx Tale (1993) ***

R, 121 min.
Director: Robert De Niro
Writer: Chazz Palminteri (also play)
Starring: Lillo Brancato, Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Francis Capra, Taral Hicks, Katherine Narducci, Clem Casterta, Alfred Sauchelli Jr., Frank Pietrangolare, Joe Pesci

I got a different kind of story for my thoughts on the directorial debut of Robert De Niro and the break though of Chazz Palmiteri onto the cinematic scene. I’m not a huge fan of the film “A Bronx Tale”. I mean it’s good, but it isn’t as impressive as I feel it should’ve been. Palminteri’s writing might’ve worked better on stage than it does here. His primary message has to do with the two father figures for his central character with De Niro the real father and Palminteri a mobster surrogate, and how they both want the best for the kid, which is for him to stay away from the criminal life Palmiteri’s character has embraced. There are a lot of contradictions in Palminteri’s story and a great deal of social issues that are explored but never fully developed.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ’15—The Son of the Sheik (1926) ***

UR, 68 min.
Director: Geo. Fitzmaurice
Writers: Frances Marion, Fred de Gresac, George Marion Jr., Edith Maude Hull (novel)
Starring: Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, George Fawcett, Montague Love, Karl Dane, Bull Montana, Binunsky Hyman, Agnes Ayers

The biggest disappointment of missing Ebertfest each and every year is missing the Alloy Orchestra’s live accompaniment of the year’s silent feature. This year’s film is Rudolph Valentino’s “The Son of the Sheik”, a sequel to his film “The Sheik”, not that you have to see the first film to follow the second.

I love seeing the silent films. I don’t watch a lot of silent films, but Ebertfest ensures that I will watch at least one every year. I think that’s a good rule for any cineaste. You should watch at least one silent film a year. More would be better. It was such an innovative time in cinema. At Eberfest I’ve seen some of the best. More importantly, I’ve seen something from just about every silent legend.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—Moving Midway (2007) ****

UR, 95 min.
Director/Writer: Godfrey Cheshire
Featuring: Charles Silver, Robert Hinton, Godfrey Cheshire, Dena Silver, Abraham Hinton

“Moving Midway” is exactly the type of movie that makes Ebertfest the unique cinematic experience that it is. Sure, Ebertfest screens movies with big name stars. They program incredible auteur works. But you’ll also find these little surprises here. “Moving Midway” is one of those rare masterpieces that becomes so through heart and passion that shines through without the flash and flare of budgets and known commodities. These cinematic treasures often come in the form of a documentary. This year, it is “Moving Midway” that wows and moves me with its simple premise that informs one of the most compelling and ambitious films of this year’s festival.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—Goodbye To Language (2014) **

UR, 70 min.
Director/Writer: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Héloïse Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Richard Chevallier, Zoé Bruneau, Christian Gregori

I recently reviewed Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her”. It’s easy to see with that film the track that had started in Godard’s career and would eventually lead him to a film like “Goodbye To Language”. While his less narrative, more documentary style worked well with the freer thinking of the late 60s, his cinematic philosophizing has become as confused as the world itself today. While there might be some value to be weighed into that notion, the consumption of it leaves something to be desired.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ebertfest 2015

Tomorrow evening marks the launch of the 17th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival. It has now been more years since I’ve been than I ever attended. I miss it. It must be the most joyful film festival of the year, because every film there is there because it strives for excellence. Every audience member is there because they love film with a passion.

More so than any other year, I will not be able to see many of the entries. Six of this year’s 12 films are either currently in select theaters—i.e. no where near the cultural black hole in which I reside—or haven’t even been released yet. The three in theaters are “Girlhood”, which is not a spinoff of last year’s excellent “Boyhood” but rather a film about a group four teenage girls who explore what friendship means and the protection it provides. It is the third film by director Céline Sciamma’s to examine what it is like to be a girl. “Wild Tales” was one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language film and was even considered a dark horse to steal the prize from eventual winner “Ida” (another of this year’s Ebertfest films). It is the rare multi-story feature that works well cohesively, prompting many critics to claim it as the best multi-story picture they’d ever seen. And finally, Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut “Seymour: An Introduction” is a documentary about the great classical pianist Seymour Bernstein. This film will close the festival in a slot that is traditionally reserved for a music-oriented film.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Home / ** (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Oh: Jim Parsons
Gratuity ‘Tip’ Tucci: Rihanna
Captain Smek: Steve Martin
Lucy: Jennifer Lopez
Kyle: Matt Jones

DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Tim Johnson. Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. Based on the book “The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex. Running time: 94 min. Rated PG (for mild action and some rude humor).

“Home” is a perfectly entertaining movie for children of a certain age. It lacks—as more and more CGI animation efforts do these days—that vigor to press the animation boundaries once shattered by Pixar. I suppose DreamWorks Animation has always been the poor man’s Pixar, but its ambition seems to falter more with every successive effort. “Home” is just the most recent in the diminishing vibrancy of family centric CGI animation.