The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
Kevin B. Lee is a film critic, filmmaker, and producer of over 100 video essays on film and television. He is Founding Editor and Chief Video Essayist at Fandor Keyframe and founding partner of dGenerate Films. Kevin has contributed to Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies, Sight & Sound, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He tweets at @alsolikelife.
A video about "Life Itself" and the way Steve James uses different tactics to adapt Roger Ebert's memoir and "voice" to film.
A report from the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.
Kevin Lee on the Ebertfest screening of Jem Cohen's "Museum Hours".
Kevin B. Lee picks his favorite piece of Roger's writing.
Kevin B. Lee reports on the film series at MoMA that he co-curated.
A regional film festival done right, the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri turns documentaries into an unlikely catalyst for a weekend jammed with community festivities. Wanting more than a showcase for conventional docs dispensing single servings of social awareness, the festival's programmers hand-pick 40 features that collectively stretch the boundaries of the genre. Seems like heady stuff to drop on a hometown crowd of 30,000 attendees, though the University of Missouri community makes for a game audience. The organizers shrewdly dress their highbrow mission in a carnivalesque atmosphere, with buskers playing music sets before each screening and raucous parties for guests and locals alike. Only nine years old, True/False is already a favorite venue of filmmakers for its unaffected down-home vibe.
"Kill List" is available on demand through select cable providers. Check IFC On Demand for availability in your area.
by Kevin B. Lee
Few things bring out the worst tendencies of Hollywood than the genre mash-up, as evidenced by two of last year's worst films, "Cowboys vs. Aliens" and "Battle: Los Angeles" (aka "Independence Day" filmed as part Iraq War documentary, part video game). The "movie-x-meets-movie-y" mentality seems to inspire little more than z-level creativity in the land of big budgets and small minds. And yet, somehow the British have a better track record at bringing together disparate elements into a compelling whole. One of the best British crime movies, "The Lavender Hill Mob," is also one of their best comedies. Their most famous horror movie, "The Wicker Man," is actually a trifecta of horror, crime thriller and musical. And now there's Ben Wheatley's "Kill List," which takes seemingly familiar genre elements and offsets them in ways that can be confounding, but leave an unforgettable impact. And by impact, I'm not just talking about a scene involving a tied-up librarian and a hammer.
Before we delve into that moment, some set-up: Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring) are an ex-military couple trying to play house in the Yorkshire suburbs. Judging by their opening screaming match they're having a rough go of it: Jay's been out of work for eight months, their savings drying up. All they can do to vent their frustrations is hold swordfights on the lawn with their son and host a rollercoaster of a dinner party with Jay's war buddy-turned-hitman Gal (Michael Smiley), leading to smashed dishes in the dining room, plans for new contract killings discussed over beers in the basement, and Gal's mysterious date carving a hex into the back of the bathroom mirror.
Manoel de Oliveira's "The Strange Case of Angelica" is available on demand via Netflix Instant and for download on iTunes. It is also on DVD and Blu-ray and is coming soon to Vudu.
Few of us can expect to live 100 years, much less have that age represent the prime of our career. But Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, who last month celebrated his 103rd birthday, has averaged one new film a year since 1985 (Ron Howard's "Cocoon," in which Florida retirees meet space aliens who hold the secret to youth, was released the same year -- coincidence?). Two-thirds of Oliveira's 30 features were made in his eighties and nineties; Clint Eastwood, who last year turned 81, has his work cut out for him.
Oliveira's prodigious output, which would put most directors to shame regardless of their age, may be his way of making up for lost time. While he can trace his career all the way to the silent era, he didn't make his first feature "Aniki Bobo" until he was 34; his second feature "Rite of Spring" came 21 years later. His stalled output can partly be attributed to his decades-long resistance to Portugal's oppressive right-wing Estado Novo regime, during which Oliveira spent time in jail. Ironically, when leftists finally took over in the 1970s, they seized Oliveira's family business that had sustained him throughout his artistic struggles. Fortunately by that point he had achieved international acclaim, heralded by film critic J. Hoberman as "one of the 70s leading modernists" just as he entered his seventies.