Ebertfest, Day Two

Ebertfest, Day Two (photo)

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Yesterday I wrote about movie time travel, today someone drove a DeLorean to Ebertfest. I’m quickly beginning to realize it’s that sort of film festival: fun, whimsical, and totally dedicated to the movies. It’s so relaxed too. Because it’s not a market, or a place where new films premiere, there’s none of the pressure I typically associate with film festivals. Nobody’s here to tell you how they spent four years of their lives and their parents’ savings on their movie about the endangered marmot. People really let their hair down.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Day 2 began with its hair up, with a panel dedicated to Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents, a brigade of writers and critics from all over the world. I tend to shrivel away at the prospect of critics talking about — and invariably complaining about — themselves, but this was something different, less a panel discussion than a sharing of cultures and ideas. We learned how audiences in Dubai behave in movie theaters (rudely, it turns out). We discovered the Mexican equivalent of “Siskel & Ebert,” which was cast with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert look-alikes in an attempt to cash in on their formula. Critics like Ali Arikan, Michael Mirasol, and Pablo Villaça talked about the state of film culture in places like Turkey, The Philippines, and Brazil. It was fascinating to see where our differences lie — distribution and exhibition being the biggest — and where we share common ground. Can you believe nobody gets paid to be a film critic in foreign countries either? I know, I was shocked too.

After morning panels, it was time for the movies, starting with a double feature of films about men and their dogs, a topic close to my heart since I have a dog, and as soon as puberty hits I’ll technically be a man (doctors say it could be a matter of weeks). I had seen neither movie before. The first was an acknowledged masterpiece, Vittorio de Sica’s 1952 film “Umberto D.”

Now I should preface my thoughts on the film with a disclaimer. No critic is an objective viewer, but when it comes to movies about dogs, I am about as trustworthy as the chairman of a meeting of Pathological Liars Anonymous. After a lifetime of living without pets, my wife convinced me to get a dog after we got married. Though I was reluctant, it was the right decision (and oh, how I hate admitting that in print, where my wife can read it and present it as evidence the next time we disagree about something). Having a dog has enriched my life in so many ways. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without its downsides. Paramount among those: after spending almost 30 years of my life as a proudly cynical, cold-hearted film viewer, getting a dog has suddenly turned me into a movie mushpot. I’ve told my wife this before and meant it: I can never repay her for convincing me to get our dog, and I will never forgive her for the fact that getting our dog has turned me into that guy who cries at movies about dogs.

Of course, even a jaded hater of animals would be helpless to resist “Umberto D,” a devastatingly beautiful and sad film about a retired civil servant named Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti) suffocating under a mountain of debt. The connection between man and animal is a powerful thing, and never more touching than when it exists for a man like Umberto, who’s watching his connection to everything but his faithful mutt Flike cruelly severed. He can no longer afford his tiny apartment and his cruel landlady has taken to renting out his room to people looking for a place to have sex. He’s retired and when he sees former co-workers in the street they have nothing to say to him. To make ends meet, he’s slowly selling off every one of his possessions. Soon all he has left to his name fits in a single suitcase. And, of course, Flike.

At the post-film Q&A, it was pointed out that several dogs played the part of Flike because different dogs were required to perform all his different tricks. But that connection between Battisti and the dogs feels so real, and it’s that connection that the film captures so well. Umberto’s friends, associates, possessions, they’re all gone. But Flike will follow his master to the ends of the earth. In perhaps the film’s greatest single shot, Umberto is preparing to kill himself by throwing himself in front of an oncoming train. He’s left Flike playing in a park with some children, hoping he won’t notice his absence, but sure enough, Flike comes scampering after him. In a single long take, the canine actor playing Flike bounds over a bridge, and discovering an ashamed Umberto hiding in the bushes.

I’m sorry, I think my allergies are acting up. Let me just go get a tissue or five…

Better. “Umberto D.” was followed by a more recent dog-related triumph, 2010’s “My Dog Tulip,” from husband and wife team Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. The film is animated in a loose and affectionate style, entirely by hand, entirely by the two filmmakers, and entirely without paper. After the film, the Fierlingers described their process in fascinating detail: Paul draws in ink on computer tablets, and Sandra paints his drawings with electronic watercolors. They haven’t calculated how many drawings they had to make to create this feature length film. Let’s put it this way: it was a lot.

The result of years of work is a charmingly ramshackle, gleefully vulgar, and deeply personal film. Based on the 1956 book by J. R. Ackerley, it’s the author’s story of his life with a German Shephard. Ackerley was a homosexual living in England in the first half of the 20th century, but we share at least one thing in common: we both came to our love of dogs as adults. Acklerley was well into middle age when he gave a neglected dog a home and fell deeply in love. I know what that’s like. The Fierlingers are dog owners themselves, and they understand that feeling well, too.

One thing “My Dog Tulip” gets exactly right is the charm of an imperfect animal. “Umberto D.” is a magical film, but it must be said that for all the films claims to Italian neorealism there is one aspect that is incredibly unrealistic: that impossibly well-behaved pooch. He does tricks on command, he doesn’t beg for food, he never barks at strangers, and he loves little children. Dogs like that do exist, but I imagine most dog lovers — myself included — relate more to life with a dog like Tulip, who can be anti-social, nervous and untrusting of strangers, and insanely devoted to their masters. Owners of the Tulips of the world would love it if their dog were more accepting of others, but on some level, they also love the fact that they aren’t. Their love seems more pure and more genuine, because it is special. Dogs like Tulip don’t come to their trust easily. Which makes when they do that much more powerful.

“My Dog Tulip” is dry and witty; it’s also got enough graphic on camera defecation to make John Waters raise an eyebrow. The clash between high society and lowbrow behavior seemed to bridge the gap to the final film of Ebertfest Day 2, Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture.” I’ve talked about the film before, so I don’t have a lot to say about it now. I will simply note that I remain a fan of the film, and of writer/director/star Dunham, who has received a lot of abuse from certain wings of the critical community, I think because she comes from a wealthy family and has had more opportunities than other people do (an issue that is directly addressed in the film’s story of a lost girl trying to decide what to do with her life now that she’s graduated from college with a worthless film theory degree). The fact of the matter is there are a lot of rich people out there, and a lot of those people make films. But few of them are as sharply directed as “Tiny Furniture.” Few have the snap of Dunham’s dialogue, or the same sense of incisive, introspective truth. And none have a character who’s as much fun to hate as Alex Karpovsky’s delightfully douchey “YouTube star” Jed. That performance belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Movie Douchebags, along with Bill Paxton from “True Lies,” Ben Affleck in “Dazed and Confused,” and William Atherton in “Ghostbusters.”

After “Tiny Furniture,” something like twenty people from Ebertfest — including festival host Chaz Ebert, Roger’s wife — adjourned to a local bar for karaoke. That’s when the hair came down. But now it’s time for me to go. The curtain’s about to go up on Day 3.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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