After a late night eating out at PERKINS, I had a difficult time getting up today. It’s hard to sleep with all this excitement going on around me. But I woke up fast when “King of Masks” hit the big screen. Roger Ebert made a wise choice bringing this film to the festival and he did something very special with the panel session to follow. Small children were invited to line up on the stage to ask the director (Wu Tianming) questions. The kids were adorable and the audience frequently busted out in laughter.
One child, Kaitlin (from Urbana, IL) steps on stage and Roger asks, “How many different languages do you speak?” The little girl responds in a sweet little voice, “What I’m talking right now.” The audience roared!
Next up was “On The Ropes.” This documentary about three young boxers fighting their way to the Golden Gloves was a nice display on the silver screen. Roger’s panel discussion on the movie included boxer George Walton and director Brett Morgan. One woman boxer, Tyrene Manson, was convicted on drug charges (of which the film concludes she was innocent) was not allowed to come to Ebert’s festival.
“Jesus’ Son” is a movie about drug users starring Billy Crudup. The movie was pretty cruddy. Billy Crudup joined in a panel discussion with Ebert. Billy didn’t say anything to convince me that the film was good, but he did complain about the production not having much money for lunch. Did the constant portrayal of drug use in the film create a case of the munchies? Hmm.
“A Simple Plan” was a much less complicated film and a lot more entertaining. Bill Paxton arrived at The Virignia Theater in a fantastic mood – and immediately started to talk to everyone. He was absolutely great! When the film’s opening credits began to flash before us and Bill Paxton’s name came up, the audience cheered. Then it got instantly silent and Bill Paxton yells from in back of the theater – “THANK YOU!” The audience laughs.
I spoke with Paxton briefly and we talked about the movie “Titanic” which picks on the city where I live (Cedar Rapids, IA). Chris Gore ( wanted me to tell Bill hello since he knows him so I did. Bill glances at my “Film Threat” ball cap replies, “You write for Film Threat? Is Chris here?”
I replied, “Unfortunately, no. I asked him to come, but his schedule wouldn’t to allow him.”
“Well, hey – tell Chris hi for me. He’s a big star now since his TV show. He’s a lot fun,” said Paxton
After the festival was over, we got the late night munchies and decided to go to a Steak-n-Shake. Ebert, Paxton and all the other festival guests showed up by surprise. Our night ended at about 4 A.M.. I’m amazed how Roger Ebert keeps up with his schedule – especially staying out as late as he did. Now for the movie reviews. ^ ==================
REVIEW: ^ King of Masks (1996) ^ * * * * out of four stars ^ An elderly street performer is offered a chance to practice his art with the Peking Opera. He refuses, wanting only to pass the tradition onto an Hier of male descent. One night, while going home from a performance, he is sold a young boy by a destitute parent. The Boy and the old man become close until it is discovered that the boy is really a girl. This movie was absolutely brilliant! The transition from boyhood to girlhood created an interesting story among the characters.
Roger Ebert said, “‘The King of Masks” is being marketed as an art film for grownups. But as I watched it, I realized it would be an absorbing experience for bright children.”
This year I saw “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and although it is a completely different type of film – it is nonetheless a subtitled, Asian film. I enjoyed it immensely. Seems I am beginning to like more and more films like this. “The King of Masks” is now one of my favorites.
The relationship with little girl and old man starts out so lovingly, and then turns to hatred once he learns the little boy is actually a girl. Here the movie takes you on an emotional trip and what unwinds is a beautiful story of love.
This film is NOT to be overlooked! ^ =================
REVIEW: ^ ON THE ROPES (1999) ^ * * * our of four stars ^ I liked this documentary of three young boxers whose hearts are set on winning the Golden Gloves, and they have a coach who is so very determined to point them in the right direction – both in and out of the boxing ring. George Walton was the most charismatic boxer of them all. In my opinion, he would make a great fighter in some Hollywood movie.
I thought the film was a bit long, but the content made up for it. You really feel bad for Tyrene Manson, a girl boxer who comes so close to realizing her dreams when a nightmare justice system steps in the legal ring. The film portrays the girl as an innocent victim wrongly accused of drug possession.
Ebert said in his review, “What is amazing is that the lawyer, the prosecutors and the judge allowed themselves to be filmed as they toyed recklessly with Tyrene Manson’s life.” The girl is now on strict probation and Ebert tried to bring her to the festival, but the legal system said no. But that didn’t stop Ebert. A phone line connected to a loud speaker allowed Tyrene to be a guest anyway. She said she will soon be returning to her dream of being a boxer.
Ebert, determined to get back at the legal outcome, invited Tyrene and George to come back again for next year’s festival. The audience cheers. The movie will leave you feeling sad and angered, but this film also teaches us to “fight the good fight” with dignity and Tyrene will come out the winner after all.
This film is not to be overlooked. ^ ===============
REVIEW: ^ JESUS’ SON (2000) ^ * * our of four stars ^ Nope. This movie is not about Jesus or His son. Though the setting of the movie comes close to my home (story takes place in Iowa), it doesn’t get close to my heart or any other respectable part of my body.
Billy Crudup stars as F—Khead, and we all call him FH. The story tells us how he meets Michelle (Samantha Morton) in Iowa in 1971, and how he got that famous name. Michelle brings love and drugs into his FH’s life and that’s about as exciting as it gets. There are some funny scenes in a hospital with Jack Black (“High Infidelity”), and Crudup and Morton do some great acting, too. But this movie presents these fine actors with material not worthy of their talent.
Ebert said in his review, “This is not a drug movie like any you’ve seen. It doesn’t glamorize drugs nor demonize them, but simply remembers them from the point of view of a survivor.”
And what the hell use is this, Roger? The main thing we see in the film is constant drug use. So much so that it is a major turn-off. And the road this script chooses for recovery is so boring – you might think the people at the theater’s refreshment stand slipped downers in your soft drink. I know there is a lot of praise and excitement about the film, but I refuse to jump on the bandwagon.
Ebert must of had a few cocktails before choosing this film to be included among the festival screenings. And that’s my point of view as a survivor of someone who watched the film.
REVIEW: ^ A SIMPLE PLAN (1998) ^ * * * our of four stars ^ Bill Paxton commented to me just before watching his movie, “Oh, man. You’re in for a really depressing film.”
Well, Bill. After watching “Jesus’ Son,” I felt redeemed! This movie does start out on a positive note. Three guys find 4.4 million dollars in a crashed airplane. This time – the drug dealers lose their cash and it ends up in the hands of some very nice, common-folk. They plan to stash the money until Spring when people discover the plane. If no one comes forward to claim the money, they will divide it amongst themselves. But they prove no plan is that simple.
Ebert said in his review, “We are not allowed to stand outside the story and feel superior to it; we are drawn along, step by step, as the characters make compromises that lead to unimaginable consequences.”
The story unfolds and we are faced with issues of trust, murder, suicide and greed. All the actors in this film (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton, Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe, etc.) make the movie worth watching. It does have a depressing ending, but we all learn a lesson about life, money and the pursuit of happiness.
It’s simple – don’t overlook this movie.
Read Herb Kane’s next report from “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” and get the scoop on the closing film — a special screening of Woody Allen’s musical “Everyone Says I Love You”>>>

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