Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Twitter Thoughts—Ebertfest 2016

Featuring the films:
The Third Man (1949) ****
Crimson Peak (2015) ***
Grandma (2015) ****
Eve’s Bayou (1997) ***½
L’inhumaine  (1924) ***½
Northfork (2003) ***½
Body and Soul (1925) ***½
Love & Mercy (2015) ****
Blow Up (1980) ***½

I watched as many of the movies featured during the Roger Ebert Film Festival, as I do every year. One day I’ll make it back, but until then I’ll have to make do with streaming and rental services. I was not able to see the movies presented at this year’s festival that are still scheduled to be released this year. Those include the unofficial festival opener, “Everybody Wants Some!!”, but I have no doubt I will catch up with that one and the others I missed as soon as they become available to me.

I opened my Ebertfest with Carol Reed’s post-WWII thriller “The Third Man”. Part of my own collection of films, I’m surprised it took Ebertfest 18 years to get to this one. It’s a film that has been analyzed ad nauseam, so I won’t attempt one here. Instead I’d like to discuss its unusual score comprised entirely of zither music composed and performed by Anton Karas. It’s an unusual sound for a thriller. At first it seems almost out of place, like it belongs in a much more lighthearted plot. As the movie goes along, however, the music informs its unique feel. “The Third Man” is no ordinary thriller as it depends more on the absence of its threat than the presence of one. The zither music eventually becomes an identifying factor of the film’s unique feel and impact. While it seems alien and strange at first, by the final fade out, it’s hard to imagine any other type of music accompanying this story and these images.

The official opener for this year’s festival was Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic horror romance from last fall “Crimson Peak”. I couldn’t get behind this movie when I originally saw it in theaters. I guess I liked it a little better this time around. It is a gorgeous movie and Guillermo proves himself a master of horror and atmosphere, but most of the same problems I had with it six months ago remain. Read my original review here.

The Thursday opener for the festival is one of those types of movies that got me hooked on this film festival. “Grandma” is a small independent film about real people. Written and directed by sometimes bigger budget film director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy), the Grandma of the title is an aging free spirit literature professor and once famous author played to perfection by Lily Tomlin. The story gives us a slice of life when Tomlin’s granddaughter comes to her for help out of a situation. It takes place during the course of their day together trying to solve the problem.

Not only is Lily Tomlin’s performance incredible, but I was incredibly impressed with how well the screenplay portrayed all the women. I was shocked when the end credits revealed that Weitz had written it as well. It seems far too in tune with the female outlook to have been penned by a man. It doesn’t portray typical women in terms of cinema, but it portrays real women in a context we’re not used to seeing women in cinema. It’s wonderfully funny and touching and it is one of those films that I will never be able to recommend enough.

“Eve’s Bayou” is a movie I remember Ebert speaking of very highly. As such, it has been on my radar for quite some time. It makes sense that Ebertfest would finally provide the impetus for me to finally sit down with it. It’s a bit of an unusual movie. It’s willing to seriously consider some paranormal ideas, although it is also very much a straightforward drama. Perhaps this is the movie that Oprah movie “Beloved” should’ve been. It’s a good drama about a family. It takes some unexpected turns, and it provides a Samuel L. Jackson character who doesn’t yell all his lines. It’s one of the better performances from him I’ve seen.

“L’inhumaine” was the first of two silent films featured in this year’s festival. It’s one of those silents that proves assumptions about silents fitting into neat categories wrong. It is a melodrama that dabbles in horror and science fiction. It follows a prima donna who entertains many men who desire to wed her, but it is a strange young scientist who’s mysterious death after her rejection of him who haunts her and drives her down an unexpected path. The story is a little uneven, but the production design and imagery fuel this moody thriller.

I had seen “Northfork” before, based on Ebert’s recommendation. In many ways, it’s the perfect movie to follow “L’inhumaine”; although that was the order I watched them in, not the festival order. Again this is an impossible movie to categorize. It has strange supernatural elements, although it plays more like surrealist drama. I think it would be a difficult film for some, but like “L’inhumaine” its visuals add to its success. Stark desert landscapes with architecture strangely placed within its vast vista spaces, its mood is carried by its sets.

The plot involves a town being moved so the state can create a lake to bring in more revenue. Government volunteers dressed like G-men go to the hold out residents to try to convince them to leave in exchange for future lakefront acreage. There is a subplot involving a sick orphan who may or may not be an angel. It is one of those films that carries immense beauty if you’re willing to see it.

Next up for me was the festival’s second silent film, the Paul Robeson starring “Body and Soul”. Taking aim at the church, black director Oscar Micheaux casts Robeson in dual roles, one a good man the other a swindling preacher. I found the fact that there was such a robust black filmmaking tradition in 1925 even more impressive than anything about this film, but still it’s an entertaining yarn that also provides a surprising amount of feminism considering the time in which it was made.

“Love & Mercy” made my top ten list of my favorite movies of 2015, and I couldn’t have been happier to see it featured at Ebertfest this year, giving me a good excuse to watch it again only a few months after I first saw it. John Cusack and Paul Dano give extraordinary performances, each playing Beach Boys maestro Brian Wilson at different points in his life. Dano plays him at the height of Beach Boys fame when he broke from the group’s surfing song tradition to compose the band’s first concept album “Pet Sounds”. Cusack plays him at his life’s low point when his producer and guardian, Dr. Eugene Landy, controls him by taking advantage of his mental illness. While Dano and Cusack can’t be praised enough for their performances, Elizabeth Banks also deserves praise for her portrayal of Melinda Ledbetter, a Cadillac sales woman who comes into Wilson’s life and makes it her mission to free Wilson from Landy’s terrible hand. Ledbetter eventually became Wilson’s wife. It’s easy to dismiss Banks’ work because of her pretty face, but her work here is every bit equal to the men’s.

Finally, I closed my Ebertfest 2016 with Brian De Palma’s cult film “Blow Out”. Based on Antonioni’s 1968 film “Blow Up”, De Palma’s clever thriller lifts the murder mystery plot of that film, but replaces the medium of the murder’s discovery of photography with that of sound recording. John Travolta plays a sound engineer who inadvertently captures the audio of a murder while recording nature sounds one evening. The political murder plot threatens not only his life, but also that of a hired escort he saves from a vehicle sinking in a river on the night in question. De Palma uses sound to Hitchcockian effect here in a film that for many critics slips through the cracks when it should be placed on his list of greats.

Here are the tweets.

4/13
Ooo. That symbolism gets laid on thick during the climax of #TheThinMan. #DLMChallenge No. 95

4/14
Still mixed feelings about the gorgeous ‪#CrimsonPeak. Expertly made to little emotional impact. ‪#Ebertfest2016 ‪#DLMChallenge No. 96

4/15
‪#GrandmaMovie is a simply wonderful movie about being a woman. ‪#Ebertfest2016 ‪#DLMChallenge No. 97

4/17
Eve's Bayou (1997) is all over the place, but in a good way. The way life can be and a good melodrama is always. ‪#DLMChallenge No. 98

4/18
Weird, trippy French silent film L'inhumaine (1924) gives us jealous lovers and mad scientists. ‪#Ebertfest2016 ‪#DLMChallenge No. 100

4/19
Angels, G-men, man made lakes, and fast food make ‪#Northfork (2003) a damn original film. ‪#Ebertfest2016 ‪#DLMChallenge No. 101

4/21
Where are the biopics of the pioneering black silent filmmakers Paul Robeson and Oscar Micheaux? ‪#BodyandSoul1925 ‪#DLMChallenge. No. 102

I don't know which part of ‪#LoveandMercy I like more, the love story or the music story. ‪#Ebertfest2016 ‪#DLMChallenge No. 103

4/23

DePalma's ‪#BlowOut may not be one of his best, but it's an underrated gem of his. Better than the overrated Scarface. ‪#DLMChallenge No. 105

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Twitter Thoughts—April 2016 Week 1

Featuring the films:
The Look of Silence (2015) ****
Pride (2014) **½
Foxcatcher (2014) ****
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931) ****
Shake! Otis at Monterey (1986) ****

Wow! This was a very interesting week of movies for me. Only five this time as I continue to fall further behind on the DLM Challenge, but what a great collection of films they were.

First was this year’s Oscar nominated documentary “The Look of Silence”, a companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer’s other Oscar nominated doc “The Act of Killing”, about the men behind the Indonesian death squads responsible for the genocide of their own people. The new doc looks at a family of one of their victims. A man who lost a brother is given the opportunity to confront his brother’s killers. There is no Hollywood revenge plot here, but what does unfold is a fascinating look at human nature and the way people react to genuine evil.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Twitter Thoughts—March 2016 Final Week

Featuring the films and show:
Before Midnight (2013) ***½
The Quest (1996) *
Monterey Pop (1968) ****
You, Me and the Apocalypse, season 1 (10 45-min. eps. 2016) ****
Cradle Will Rock (1999) ***½
David Gilmour: Wider Horizons (2015) ***  

OK. I really am trying to catch up. I was also at a loss at how to label this week since most of the week took place during March, but most of film watching during it took place over the first weekend of April. You’ll just have to make do.

It was a mostly good week, if it weren’t for the second JCVD movie in a row watched for the podcast How Did This Get Made?. A couple weeks ago I discussed “Bloodsport” and for his directorial debut, “The Quest”, you can pretty much just transfer those thoughts over because the two movies are exactly the same. I mean there are some minor difference, like the fact that “The Quest” takes place in the 1920s and that it’s rated PG-13, but other than those insignificant details, pretty much the same movie.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Twitter Thoughts—March 2016 Week 4

Featured films:
Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) ***½
The Adventures of Tintin (2011) ***½
Batkid Begins (2015) ***
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) ***½
Superstore, season 1 (11 24-min. eps., 2016) ***
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum (1966) **½

For my thoughts on “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, please refer to my full-length review. Before it was released, I joked that when I watched “Batkid Begins”, I had seen the only good Batman movie I would that week. This assessment was based on the negative buzz surrounding BvS. Despite critical derision, I actually enjoyed that movie. It didn’t have the heart of “Batkid Begins”, the documentary following a Make-a-Wish kid’s day as his favorite superhero.

That fourth week of March was also the week that started out with the tragedy in Brussels. I had a difficult time finding a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that I felt was actually honoring Belgium, so I went for Steven Spielberg’s underrated animated “The Adventures of Tintin”, based on the comic books of Belgium cartoonist Georges Remi, who wrote under the name Hergé and based his title character in Brussels. The comic books were something I treasured as a child and Spielberg’s vision is a near perfect adaptation of Hergé’s work.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice / ***½ (PG-13)

Bruce Wayne/Batman: Ben Affleck
Clark Kent/Superman: Henry Cavill
Lois Lane: Amy Adams
Lex Luther: Jesse Eisenberg
Martha Kent: Diane Lane
Alfred Pennyworth: Jeremy Irons
Perry White: Laurence Fishburne
Senator Finch: Holly Hunter
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot
Wallace Keefe: Scoot McNairy
Anatoli Knyazev: Callan Mulvey

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Running time: 151 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality).

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has been critically reviled. I expected to be in the critic’s camp on this one. I hated, hated, hated Zach Snyder’s “Man of Steel”. I revisited it a couple of weeks ago. It did not improve upon a second viewing. I’ve rarely approached a film with such dread as I did BvS. I have rarely been so pleasantly surprised. Ben Affleck is all the Batman and Bruce Wayne I wanted him to be. Henry Cavill is given a little more to do with Supes this time. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane even receives a little character development. And, I think even the critics who hated the movie think Gal Gadot kicks ass as Wonder Woman.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Twitter Thoughts—March 2016 Week 3

Featuring the films:
The Covenant (2006) *
Bloodsport (1988) *
Good Will Hunting (1997) ***½
Big Game (2015) **
Pee Wee’s Big Holiday (2016) **  

Truthfully, it was not a good week of films in The Well. As such, I believe this week’s entry will be brief (This will also hopefully allow me to catch up again, since I’ve been running about a week behind for the month of March).

Renny Harlin’s Abercrombie & Fitch-inspired teen witch horror flick “The Covenant” and the world’s introduction to Jean Claude Van Damme “Bloodsport” were both watched expressly for the podcast “How Did This Get Made?” Needless to say, they were both just awful. The action adventure “Big Game”, from “Rare Exports” director Jalmari Helander, in which Samuel L. Jackson plays the POTUS being hunted in the Scandinavian wilderness, and the Netflix original “Peewee’s Big Holiday” each have their admirable aspects but just didn’t quite get there in terms of overall recommendation.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Twitter Thoughts—March 2016 Week 2

Featuring the films:
Space Station 76 (2014) ***½
Wishful Drinking (2010) ***
Man of Steel (2013) *½
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) ****
Magic in the Moonlight (2014) **

Week 2 of March was five movies. Pretty simple. Pretty good.

“Space Station 76” was the surprise of the bunch. It’s set up like some sort of period space adventure spoof. With a costume and production design straight from the mid ‘70s, the movie begins like some sort of spoof exploring social issues that couldn’t have been mentioned at that time, like the class system, female equality in the workplace and homosexuality. As the plot moves along, however, its approach to these social issues becomes more serious and it turns into a serious drama with the flavoring of a movie like “The Ice Storm”. This might be a transition some audiences can’t make. It is quite unclear exactly for whom this movie is made, and yet it worked quite effectively on me.