Ebertfest comes to town: See you at the movies!

Ebertfest comes to town: See you at the movies!

When it comes to picking movies to show at Ebertfest, Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert keep in mind what Roger Ebert would have wanted to show.

Kohn, an Urbana native, University of Illinois alumnus and film producer, has been director of Roger Ebert's Film Festival since it began 16 years ago, as a special event of the UI College of Media.

"Both Chaz and I worked with Roger over the years to program the festival," said Kohn, now a University of Georgia journalism professor and associate director of the Peabody Awards, the top prizes for excellence in television.

"It was always a discussion," he continued. "Chaz and I are essentially doing the same thing. It's not that we know what Roger would like but we know what Roger's vision for the festival was and we're trying to be true to that."

The 2014 festival from Wednesday through next Sunday will feature 12 movies, as usual, with two documentaries book-ending it.

"Life Itself," the new doc about Roger Ebert himself, will open and "Bayou Maharajah," about the late New Orleans musician James Booker, will close the festival, with a live performance by Henry Butler — as was Booker a world-class pianist based in New Orleans.

"Henry Butler is a great fan of James Booker and his music," Kohn said. "It's really extraordinary that Henry Butler is going to be here and playing on the stage of the Virginia next Sunday."

Between the two docs 10 dramas — a few with comedy in the mix — will be shown. The 10 include three foreign films — "Museum Hours," "Wadjda" and "A Simple Life" — and the 1924 silent classic "He Who Gets Slapped," starring Lon Chaney.

Alloy Orchestra, a trio that Roger Ebert considered the best silent-film score composers in the world, will accompany "Slapped."

"Alloy wasn't with us last year because we showed Pablo Berger's silent film 'Blancanieves,' We're really happy to welcome Alloy back," Kohn said.

The biggest names coming to the festival this year might just be the controversial directors Spike Lee and Oliver Stone. Kohn said he and the Eberts had talked for years about having them here.

Lee will show "Do the Right Thing," in which he also stars as Mookie, and Stone will be here with "Born on the Fourth of July," starring Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic.

"Both films are celebrating their 25th anniversary," Kohn noted. "Showing them also gives us an opportunity to publish in the festival program two of Roger's best reviews."

Kohn said he and the Eberts also had long wanted to show "Young Adult," released in 2011 and starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, who will be here in person.

Oswalt was to have been at the 2012 Ebertfest with "Big Fan" but was unable to leave the set of a movie in which he was working on at the time.

"We're just so happy Patton can finally be with us," Kohn said. "He's always doing a hundred different things."

One of Oswalt's requests to Ebertfest: He asked to show to UI students a classic movie he loves. He will do that at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Foellinger Auditorium with "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" — the 1974 release, not the 2009 remake.

Oswalt will introduce and talk about the movie afterward. Though the free event is aimed at students, the public is welcome.

Here is the rest of the 2014 Ebertfest lineup (About the ratings: Where they exist, we've added Rotten Tomatoes' ratings, plus Ebert's ratings)

"Life Itself" 

Average Rating: 8.8/10 (critics only)

Showing: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

About the flick: Kohn calls director Steve James' 2014 documentary "brilliant," noting it paints the longtime Sun-Times critic as a Chicago character and has "spectacular" interviews with other Windy City personalities. Based on Roger Ebert's autobiography "Life Itself," the movie is a tearjerker but not a hagiography.

Guest: Director Steve James

"Museum Hours"

Tomatometer: Average Rating: 8/10

4 stars from Kevin Lee for rogerebert.com

Showing: 1 p.m. April 24

About the flick: Among Criticwire's highest-ranked movies of 2013, "Museum Hours," which is set in Vienna, is "definitely an intriguing film that touches on fascinating issues about the way art shapes our understanding of the world — not how life imitates art or vice-versa — but how the two are inextricably bound together," Indiewire critic Sam Adams wrote.

Guest: Director Jem Cohen

"Short Term 12"

Average Rating: 8.3/10

3 1/2 stars from Christy Lemire for rogerebert.com

Showing: 4 p.m. April 24

About the flick: Kohn said he and Chaz Ebert fell in love with this 2013 movie. "We thought it was an important film dealing with an important subject," he said. In it, Brie Larson stars as a counselor who with her live-in boyfriend works at a center for at risk youths.

Guests: Larson and actor Keith Stanfield.

"Young Adult"

Average rating 7/10

3 1/2 stars from Roger Ebert

Showing: 9 p.m. April 24

About the flick: "They must have closed their eyes and crossed their fingers while they were making this film," Ebert wrote in his review of this 2011 film. "It breaks with form, doesn't follow our expectations, and is about a heroine we like less at the end than at the beginning. There are countless movies about Queen Bitches in high school, but 'Young Adult' has its revenge by showing how miserable they can be when they're pushing 40."

Guest: Patton Oswalt.

"He Who Gets Slapped"

No ratings

Showing: 1 p.m. April 25

About the flick: Lon Chaney is a scientist whose happiness is destroyed by a friend who steals not only his wife but also the results of his life's research in this 1924 movie. The scientist turns bitter. In desperation, he joins a circus as a clown whose act is based on being repeatedly slapped. Eventually he finds redemption.

Guest: Alloy Orchestra

"Capote"

8.2/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Showing: 4 p.m. April 25

About the flick: Kohn and Chaz Ebert wanted to show this 2005 film to pay tribute to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died earlier this year. He won his only Oscar for best actor for his turn as Truman Capote.

"Bennett Miller's 'Capote' is about that crucial period of less than six years in Capote's life," when he was working on his seminal true-life novel "In Cold Blood," Ebert wrote.

"As he talks to the killers (Perry Smith and Richard Hickock), to law officers and to the neighbors of the murdered Clutter family, Capote's project takes on depth and shape as the story of conflicting fates.

Guest: Director Bennett Miller.

"Do the Right Thing"

8.8/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Showing: 8:30 p.m. April 25

About the flick: After seeing it at the '89 Cannes Film Festival, Ebert wrote that he walked out with tears in his eyes.

"Spike Lee had done an almost impossible thing. He'd made a movie about race in America that empathized with all the participants. He didn't draw lines or take sides but simply looked with sadness at one racial flashpoint that stood for many others."

Guest: Spike Lee

"Wadjda"

8/10

Showing: 11 a.m. April 26

About the flick: Kohn mentored "Wadjda" director Haifaa Al-Mansour a few years ago at a screenwriting lab at the Atlanta Film Festival, loved her "Wadjda" script and followed its development over the years.

Shot in Saudi Arabia, it tells of a young girl's quest for a bicycle in a country in which young girls are not encouraged to ride bikes.

Guests: Al-Mansour and Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, who distributed "Wadjda."

"A Simple Life"

7.5/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Showing: 2 p.m. April 26

About the flick: Roger Ebert wrote that this 2011 Hong Kong movie "paints portraits of two good people in gentle humanist terms.

"It filled me with an unreasonable affection for both of them," he continued.

"It tells of the simple life Ah Tao, who was orphaned during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, spent her entire life serving four generations of a Chinese family, and who is now the servant of the only family member still living in China."

Guest: Director Ann Hui

"Goodbye Solo"

7.8/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Showing: 5 p.m. April 26

About the flick: In this 2008 movie, director Ramin Bahrani begins with a situation that might unfold in a dozen different ways and makes of it something original and profound, Ebert wrote.

"In Winston-Salem, N.C., a white man around 70 gets into the taxi of an African immigrant," Ebert continued. "He offers him a deal. For $1,000, paid immediately, he wants to be driven in 10 days to the top of a mountain in Blowing Rock National Park, to a place so windy that the snow falls up. He says nothing about a return trip. The driver takes the money but is not happy about this fare."

Guest: Ramin Bahrani.

"Born on the Fourth of July"

7.4/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Showing: 9 p.m. April 26

About the flick: "A film like Oliver Stone's 'Born on the Fourth of July' is an apology for Vietnam, uttered by Stone, who fought there, and Ron Kovic, who was paralyzed from the chest down in Vietnam," Ebert wrote.

The movie tells of Kovic, played by Tom Cruise, who turned against the war and with his wheelchair was thrown out of the 1972 Republican convention.

Guest: Oliver Stone

"Bayou Maharajah"

No ratings

Showing: Noon April 27

About the flick: Kohn co-produced this documentary about New Orleans musician James Booker, who died in 1983. Director-producer Lily Keber is a former University of Georgia student who was a volunteer crew member on another movie Kohn produced.

"She had moved to New Orleans after Katrina (hit in 2005) because she wanted to help," Kohn said. "She worked as a bartender in a dive bar, and she heard Booker's music on the jukebox. People kept playing it and she became curious about this man and his music. She asked people about him and each had a Booker story more outrageous than the last. It just got her interested in him.

"Our goal is to have James Booker through this film achieve the worldwide recognition he never got in his lifetime."

Guests: Keber, Kohn and pianist Henry Butler.

A word about the rankings

Rotten Tomatoes is a website that aggregates reviews and rates them according to a Tomatometer, for both critics and audiences.

"Life Itself (2014)

Average Rating: 8.8/10 (critics only)

"Museum Hours"

Museum Hours (2013)

Tomatometer: Average Rating: 8/10

4 stars from Kevin Lee for rogerebert.com

\

"Short Term 12"

Average Rating: 8.3/10

3 1/2 stars from Christy Lemire for rogerebert.com

Young Adult

Average rating 7/10

3 1/2 stars from Roger Ebert

"He Who Gets Slapped"

No ratings

"Capote"

8.2/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Do the Right Thing

8.8/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Wadjda

8/10

A Simple Life

7.5/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Goodbye Solo

7.8/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Born on the Fourth of July

7.4/10

4 stars from Roger Ebert

Bayou Maharajah

No ratings

Topics (1):Film

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