DID YOU READ

Ebertfest, Day One

Ebertfest, Day One (photo)

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Movies are the greatest time travel machine ever invented. They have the unique ability to send us back into the past and forward into the future all at once. Last night’s Opening Night at the 13th Annual Ebertfest was a great example of movie time travel. Back we all went to 1927, for a glimpse of a possible future that never came to pass; then all the way forward to 2011, to see the life of a woman trapped by her own sad history. It was a reminder of a lost age, when people watched movies in palaces like Champaign, Illinois’ Virginia Theatre and a hopeful glimpse of a time yet to come when gatherings like this one exist in every city in the country.

I have been to many film festivals. Ebertfest is the first I’ve attended that is more about the past than the future. Instead of trying desperately to discover the “next big thing,” programmer Roger Ebert acts as a sort of one-man cinematic oversight committee. Originally named the Overlooked Film Festival, Ebertfest is dedicated to shining a light on great films that have unfairly fallen through the cracks.

In the case of this year’s opening night program, that almost literally happened. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis,” has been hailed a science-fiction classic for decades. But for years after its Berlin premiere it was only seen in a heavily truncated version. Recently, a film archivist discovered a print in the archives of Argentina’s Museo del Cine, which gave birth to this “Complete Metropolis” which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino, and which we watched at Ebertfest.

(Why Argentina? Film historian Kristin Thompson answered that question with her introduction before the film: in the 1920s, prints travelled the world. Their last stop was often South America. By the time films made it to places like Argentina, the prints were in such bad shape that they weren’t worth the money it would cost to ship them back to their country of origin. So they got put on a shelf somewhere, hence this amazing discovery.)

Restored to a near-director’s cut, “Metropolis” is even more the masterpiece we’ve known it to be for years (you can read my review of the New York premiere of “The Complete Metropolis” here). But Ebertfest’s screening of the film was even more unique because it came with a live performance by the Alloy Orchestra, who performed a score they’d written specially for this restoration. At the post-screening Q&A, the members of the group explained how they were commissioned to write the score for the new Kino Blu-ray of “The Complete Metropolis,” but at the last minute the estate that controls the rights to the film refused to include it, demanding that only the original Gottfried Huppertz score appear on the disc.

When I saw “The Complete Metropolis” for the first time, I called Huppertz’s score “a classic.” And it is a beautiful piece of music. But having seen both versions, I can say without question that Alloy’s score for “Metropolis” is the superior one. Huppertz’s work is beautiful but it’s too grand and regal for a film this gritty and paranoid. Alloy’s work enhances the restored “Metropolis”‘s frantic energy, and turns the climactic destruction of the underground city and the race to rescue its forgotten children into an exercise in suspense unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. We like to imagine modern films are more advanced than older, “primitive” works. “The Complete Metropolis” shows what nonsense that is. Show me one modern blockbuster that can match “Metropolis” for scale, scope, effects, action, themes, and sheer balls-out insanity. You can’t.

Opening night concluded with “Natural Selection,” which I missed at South by Southwest 2011 where it won the audience award and numerous awards from the features jury (which Ebert was a member of). I understand the accolades, particularly for Rachael Harris, who you might recognize from VH1 clip shows like “I Love the 70s” or as Ed Helms’ shrewish fiance in “The Hangover.” In “Natural Selection” she reveals herself to be an actress of remarkable range and nuance, playing Linda, a housewife in a fundamentalist Christian community in Texas. Because she had lost her ability to have children years before, her husband refuses to have sex with her (sex is for procreation, you see). But little does the unfulfilled Linda realize that her husband uses a local sperm bank as an excuse to regularly exercise his own desires.

Saying more about what happens next would spoil the film’s numerous twists. And part of what I enjoyed about “Natural Selection” was the fact that I went in completely cold and was repeatedly surprised by Linda’s journey after her husband makes one particularly eventful trip to the sperm bank. But Harris and her co-star Matt O’Leary, playing a man she meets on the road, both give incredible performances, painfully funny and even more painfully truthful. And writer/director Robbie Pickering, telling a story about a character based on his own mother, set in the town where he grew up, is clearly a talent to watch. Pickering balances comedy and tragedy in a way that a lot of indie directors try to do these days. Where most fail, he’s succeeded. And he fills his frame will all sorts of clever signs and symbols about birth and death. Even the way the characters relate to the seatbelts in their car says something about them (automatic seatbelts, it turns out, make a great metaphor for the way a woman entrusts her well-being to a higher power).

I could write more but it’s time to go watch more movies at Ebertfest. Speak to you again in the future.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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