Ebertfest, Days Three and Four

Ebertfest, Days Three and Four (photo)

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The movie beat can be a lonely job. Even in a theater with hundreds of people, the film critic is alone in the dark. But personally, I find that the real joy of movies come from sharing them with others. Host Chaz Ebert asserted several times from the stage of the Virginia Theatre that Ebertfest is “all about the movies.” But after my first trip to the festival, I would say it’s an event as much about a community of movie lovers as the movies themselves.

As Tilda Swinton, star of Ebertfest selection “I Am Love” noted during her Q&A, festivals are about “the collective experience.” It’s even more true at Ebertfest than at most other film festivals I’ve attended. Bigger festivals sprawl over numerous venues with dozens of movies: two people could spend the same amount of time at Sundance or Toronto and have two entirely different experiences. At Ebertfest everyone from the filmmakers to the critics to the fans spend the entire week in one room watching the same movies. At night, you go to a bar or a restaurant or somebody’s house and talk about what you’ve watched. Maybe ironically, maybe intentionally, the ideas of loneliness and community were present in many of this year’s Ebertfest lineup. Several were about isolated characters on literal or metaphorical journeys of self-discovery, like “Natural Selection,” “Umberto D.,” “Only You,” and “Tiny Furniture.”

Swinton’s “I Am Love” is another perfect example. She plays Emma, the matriarch of a wealthy Italian family. Emma comes from Russia where she met her husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), who brought her back with him to Milan. Many years later the couple has three children and an impossibly opulent mansion (for fans of pocket doors, this movie is borderline pornographic). But Emma’s life, though well-appointed, is cold and hollow. That changes when she meets Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a talented young chef who’s a friend of her son. His cuisine kickstarts her long dormant passions, and reconnects her with the glorious people and natural beauty of Italy.

Emma’s transformation is similar to the one undertaken by Edward Norton in “Leaves of Grass,” which preceded “I Am Love” on Saturday night at Eberfest. Norton actually plays two roles, twin brothers who lead vastly different lives; classics professor Bill has the Emma-ish part. Bill’s dedicated himself to a life of temperance of the kind advocated by the ancient philosophers he studies. But when his pot dealing brother Brady calls him back to their hometown in Oklahoma, Bill is forced to confront many of his ideas about the correct way to life your life.

I’d seen both “I Am Love” and “Leaves of Grass” before Ebertfest and I admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of either film. Of the two, “I Am Love” improved the most on second viewing. During the Q&A, Swinton joked that she believes cinema went downhill when people in movies started talking to one another. That emphasis on visual storytelling is clearly present in the film; now that I knew the essential outline of its plot, I found myself paying less attention to the subtitles. I still remain dubious about some of the twists in the final act — a character receives an implausible death as a convenient way of pushing Emma to complete her metamorphosis from rigid Italian housewife to free-spirited lover — but that feels like less of a weakness after you stop thinking about the words and simply give in to the film’s dreamlike atmosphere.

“Leaves of Grass” is a more curious film. On second viewing, it’s clear how frequently and how early writer/director Tim Blake Nelson foreshadows the shocking developments that suddenly flip the film from genial Southern comedy to dark crime story (you can read my original review here). The word that comes up a lot about Brady’s pot growing business is “hybridization,” because he’s created this amazingly potent hybrid pot varietal. Obviously “Leaves of Grass” is a hybridization as well. But Brady also makes mention that his pot is the seventh generation of that hybrid; it’s gone through this lengthy and rigorous trial and error process to arrive at this THC masterpiece. Maybe the problem with “Leaves of Grass” is that it doesn’t feel like it’s been tested quite so rigorously. There are prominent subplots about Judaism and anti-Semitism that don’t really connect in any way to the rest of the film, other than the fact that Nelson himself is Jewish and was speaking from a personal place about his life experiences. Everything he feels deeply about, from poetry to marijuana to crossbows, is in this movie, for better and for worse. If ever a film could be too personal for its own good, “Leaves of Grass” might be it.

Also personal in a far more profound way was my favorite film of Ebertfest, the documentary “45365” from brothers Bill and Turner Ross. A modern, small-town version of the city symphonies of the 1920s, it’s a survey of the people of the Ross’ home of Sidney, Ohio. The cops and criminals, the elderly and the young, they’re all presented in incredibly detail. There’s no narrative, just a series of small observational sketches about the various constituents of Sidney, all connected through brilliant visual and aural transitions like trains and music played on various car stereos from the local radio station. Though this is a film about a community, loneliness plays a role here as well, most movingly in the scenes about a high school girl who spends all of her time on the phone with a jealous boyfriend who never seems to be around when she needs him.

“45365” uses unlicensed music from Sidney’s local radio station, which means the film can only play at non-profits, museums, and festivals like Ebertfest. It is a shame the movie can’t reach a wider audience, since it is one of the most beautiful and relatable films about small town life that I’ve ever seen. At least we lucky few at Ebertfest were able to see it and share it with one another, discussing it after the screening and comparing our own stories of life in our own hometowns. I hope I get to go back to future iterations of Ebertfest, both for the great films and the great people. The films are there to restore out faith in cinema; the people are there to restore our faith in the love of cinema.

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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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