Ebert's take on festival films

Ebert's take on festival films

The 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival runs April 17 through 21. Here is the lineup, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic's views about some of the films.

April 17

7 p.m.: "Days of Heaven" with short subject "I Remember"

Ebert calls "Days of Heaven" a timeless classic.

"Watching this 1978 film again recently, I was struck more than ever with the conviction that this is the story of a teenage girl, told by her, and its subject is the way that hope and cheer have been beaten down in her heart," he wrote. "We do not feel the full passion of the adults because it is not her passion: It is seen at a distance, as a phenomenon, like the weather, or the plague of grasshoppers that signals the beginning of the end."

April 18

1 p.m.: "Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh" with short "To Music"

Ebert writes of the 1989 film about the painter: "What Paul Cox has done in 'Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh' — the best film about a painter I have ever seen — is to take his camera to some of the places Van Gogh painted and to re-create some of the others in his imagination. This is not, however, one of those idiotic 'art appreciation' films in which we see the windmill and then we see the painting of the windmill; Cox knows too much about art to be that simplistic. Instead, he adopts the role of a disciple of the painter, a man who wants to stand in the same places and see the same things as a simple act of love toward Van Gogh's work."

4 p.m.: "In The Family"

Ebert writes: "'In the Family' centers on one of the notable performances I've seen — if, indeed, it is a performance. Perhaps Patrick Wang is exactly like that. Then he must be a very good man. He wrote, directed and stars in the film, but it's not a one-man show. It is about the meaning of 'family.' This is his first feature, and may signal the opening of an important career."

9 p.m.: "Bernie"

Writes Ebert: "In Richard Linklater's droll comedy 'Bernie' (2012) Jack Black plays an east Texas funeral director named Bernie Tiede, and it is surely one of the performances of the year. I had to forget what I knew about Black. He creates this character out of thin air, it's like nothing he's done before, and it proves that an actor can be a miraculous thing in the right role. Black is not a giant. He stands 5-foot-6. Yet the word for Bernie Tiede is 'hovering.' He seems to hover above even those taller than him."

April 19

1 p.m.: "Oslo, August 31st"

Ebert writes of the 2012 release: "'Oslo, August 31st' is quietly, profoundly, one of the most observant and sympathetic films I've seen. Director Joachim Trier and actor Anders Danielsen Lie, working together for the second time, understand something fundamental about their character. He believes the ship has sailed without him. He screwed up. He lost years in addiction and recovery."

4 p.m.: "The Ballad of Narayama"

Writes Ebert: "Keisuke Kinoshita's 1958 film tells its story with deliberate artifice, using an elaborate set with a path beside a bubbling brook, matte paintings for the backgrounds, mist on dewy evenings, and lighting that drops the backgrounds to black at dramatic moments and then brings up realistic lighting again. Some of its exteriors use black foregrounds and bloody red skies; others use grays and blues. As in Kabuki Theater, there is a black-clad narrator to tell us what's happening."

8:30 p.m.: "Julia"

Of this 2009 film starring Tilda Swinton as an alcoholic, Ebert writes: "This is the beginning of Julia's nightmare journey through a thorny thicket of people you do not want to meet. If there's one thing that's consistent about her behavior, it's how she lies to all of them. This is not one of those tough heroines you sort of like. You don't like her. You have to give a lot of credit to Erick Zonca, the 53-year-old French director who co-wrote the film with Aude Py. He makes it move relentlessly."

April 20

11 a.m.: "Blancanieves"

On his blog, Ebert wrote of the 2012 silent Spanish film: "It's too soon to declare a trend, but a new silent film once again seems likely to become a success in the fall movie season. Although the story draws on the Brothers Grimm and the legend of Snow White, it is anything but a children's film. It is a full-bodied, visually stunning silent film of the sort that might have been made by the greatest directors of the 1920s, if such details as the kinky sadomasochism of the Evil Stepmother could have been slipped past the censors."

2 p.m.: "Kumare"

Ebert writes: "Growing up in New Jersey, Vikram Gandhi was a typical American kid who resented the way his family tried to enforce Hindu beliefs and practices. On a trip to India, he says, he found that 'real' gurus were no more real than the American frauds who copied them. That led him into the deliberate deception that he filmed in 'Kumare.' He grew a long beard and a ponytail, exchanged his shoes for sandals, switched his slacks and suits to flowing orange robes and started carrying an ornate walking stick. Then he moved to Arizona, hired an expert to teach him yoga and a PR woman to promote him as a guru, and began to attract followers in meetings at shopping malls, community centers and around the swimming pools of his affluent clients."

This 2012 release was produced by University of Illinois grad Stephen Feder, who will be at the festival.

5 p.m.: "Escape from Tomorrow"

Ebertfest blogger Micha Oleszczyk writes of this 2013 release: "Randy Moore's 'Escape from Tomorrow' ... is shot guerrilla-style almost entirely at Disney World in Florida; Moore's film offers an immersion into the alternative reality of constant amusement."

9 p.m.: "The Spectacular Now"

Ebert calls the 2013 film, directed by James Ponsoldt, "a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings. Do you have any idea how rare that is? They aren't crippled by irony. They aren't speeded up into cartoons. Their sex lives aren't insulted by scenes that treat them cheaply. (The characters) are smart, but they make dumb mistakes. They're more confident on the outside than on the inside. They're very serious about life, although Miles, the boy, makes an effort to conceal that."

April 21

Noon: "Not Yet Begun to Fight"

Critic Omer Mozaffar wrote of the 2012 film: "Marine Col. Eric Hastings, a quiet man of wide smile and thin hair, stands knee-deep in a whispering river, several decades and thousands of miles removed from the brutal chaos of the Vietnam War. As head of the group 'Warriors and Quiet Waters,' he now brings damaged young veterans of more recent conflicts to his Montana ranch in hopes that the tranquility of fly-fishing will help relieve their stress disorders."

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