'The Weather Man' kicks off second day of Ebertfest

'The Weather Man' kicks off second day of Ebertfest

CHAMPAIGN – As the lights came up after "The Weather Man," the first movie of the second day of the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival, Roger Ebert's face lit up along with them.

It's an expression his wife, Chaz Ebert, says she has seen recently from the famed film critic.

"I was so happy to see the look on Roger's face before he went to bed last night," she said. "It was a look of supreme bliss."

While Ebert works to regain the use of his voice after surgeries, Chaz stepped into the spotlight to introduce "The Weather Man," a Nicolas Cage film that fit just about any definition of "overlooked."

Looking out at the full audience on the second day of the festival, screenwriter Steve Conrad said, "It's the most people I've ever seen gathered in one place to see 'The Weather Man' ever."

However, said Conrad, who also wrote "The Pursuit of Happyness," "everyone I know who's made more than one movie thinks that at least one of those movies is overlooked."

Conrad's movie focuses on a Chicago weatherman played by Cage as he tries to fix the failures he feels in his career and his life, including relationships with his Pulitzer Prize-winning father, his children and his ex-wife, all the while fending off food thrown at him by viewers angry because of his inaccurate weather predictions.

"I wanted to write a movie about dignity," Conrad said, later adding, "there's so much to be gained from exploring what makes you sad and what makes you lonely."

Chaz said she and Ebert picked the movie because "it was incredibly human and grown-up in a way that most movies are not."

Don Davis of Champaign said he has attended many film festivals, but Ebertfest is a must-see. "It's really fun to watch movies with people who are into it," he said. "I know that they're all going to be good films."

Actor Gil Bellows, whose character was a pedophile counselor in the movie, told festivalgoers he has probably read more than 1,000 scripts in his life, but that "The Weather Man," is one of his favorites. In the panel discussion after the movie, Bellows praised Conrad's "ability to get inside someone's insecurities or shortcomings."

Self-professed festival gluttons Kay and Manny Silver came from Evanston, where much of the movie was shot. They also took classes with Ebert at the University of Chicago in the '70s, Kay said, "before he got so famous."

Though the Silvers liked the movie, they found it hard to classify, with elements of comedy, drama, sadness and joy.

"There are some parts that are cringeworthy, but also the humor," Chaz Ebert said during the discussion. "I guess that's deliberate?"

"Oh, absolutely," Conrad said. "I just think it's much more fun to be messier than that and go all over the place."

Audience members seemed glad of the places they went.

"It's probably the most fun event that we have here in Champaign-Urbana all year-round," said Carol Livingstone of Urbana. "The best movies I've ever seen, I've seen at this festival."

And like many at Ebertfest, she's an Ebert fan.

"He's totally awesome," she said. "He's found a really unique way to give back his gifts to his hometown."

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