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.
Ooo. That symbolism gets laid on thick during the climax of #TheThinMan. #DLMChallenge No. 95
Still mixed feelings about the gorgeous #CrimsonPeak. Expertly made to little emotional impact. #Ebertfest2016 #DLMChallenge No. 96
#GrandmaMovie is a simply wonderful movie about being a woman. #Ebertfest2016 #DLMChallenge No. 97
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
Weird, trippy French silent film L'inhumaine (1924) gives us jealous lovers and mad scientists. #Ebertfest2016 #DLMChallenge No. 100
Angels, G-men, man made lakes, and fast food make #Northfork (2003) a damn original film. #Ebertfest2016 #DLMChallenge No. 101
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