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Ernest Hemingway (#110 of 13)

Roger Ebert in Illinois: A Tribute to the Man From His Permanent Stomping Grounds

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Roger Ebert in Illinois: A Tribute to the Man From His Permanent Stomping Grounds
Roger Ebert in Illinois: A Tribute to the Man From His Permanent Stomping Grounds

On Monday, April 1, the day after Easter, I was in Chicago with a few hours to kill before getting on an Amtrak train to go back south to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I went out to lunch with a friend, and he brought somebody who runs an AMC theater in the Near North Side, the one that shows the press screenings for critics. I mentioned to my friend’s guest that I had just moved back to Urbana, and was going to write about Ebertfest this year. He interrupted me and said Ebert wouldn’t be there this year—that he wasn’t doing well and had stopped going to his press screenings.

I got on my train and returned to Urbana thinking that what the guy had said about Ebert could probably count as a legitimate (albeit invasive) news item. On Thursday, April 4, I saw that Ebert had announced his “leave of presence,” thus breaking the news himself about a setback, health-wise. On Friday, April 5, in the morning, I saw the news that he had died. A couple of hours later, I walked outside to check the mail. Inside my mailbox was a manila envelope from the University of Illinois’s College of Media, and inside was my press pass to Ebertfest. I then headed toward the library, took a different turn than usual, and saw some flowers on the sidewalk in front of a house. “Somebody must’ve died,” I thought. Then I saw that there was a bag from Steak ’n Shakeamong the flowers, and a plaque that had been set in the concrete.

DOC NYC 2012: Persistence of Vision, David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure, & Plimpton!

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DOC NYC 2012: <em>Persistence of Vision</em>, <em>David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure</em>, & <em>Plimpton!</em>
DOC NYC 2012: <em>Persistence of Vision</em>, <em>David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure</em>, & <em>Plimpton!</em>

Kevin Schreck’s documentary Persistence of Vision recounts the tragic story of The Thief and the Cobbler, a feature-length cartoon on which British animator Richard Williams (of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame) toiled for over 20 years with the help of several gurus in the field and a largely self-funded staff. The highly ambitious project was planned not only as Williams’s crowning achievement, but also as an instructive departure from the mid-century animation dichotomy of “either” Disney hyperrealism “or” modestly budgeted modernist experimentation. The film would have boasted intricate, moving backgrounds (those completed have a nearly Book of Kells-grade meticulousness and luminosity), funny strip-stylized character kinesthetics, and a silent era-like tendency to promote plot with dramatically accented visuals.

Poster Lab: Starlet and Compliance

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Poster Lab: <em>Starlet</em> and <em>Compliance</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Starlet</em> and <em>Compliance</em>

Two of the year’s most striking posters are beautifully simple, their designs made up of little more than mysterious ingenues and coolly apt text. Apart from their humble origins, Sundance standout Compliance and SXSW favorite Starlet don’t appear to have much in common, yet their ads announce the same artful drama encircling a captivating blonde. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, Dree Hemingway just about stares through you in her one-sheet, an ethereal head-turner and easy contender for one of 2012’s best. Tiny details like rhinestone-studded fingernails subtly support the identity of Jane (Hemingway) as a socialite-esque Valley girl, whose rudderless life with her roommates gets upended by an elderly woman and a moral dilemma. According to the film’s synopsis, Starlet is in fact the name of Jane’s pocketbook-ready Chihuahua, but naturally, it doubles as our introduction to a bombshell, whose pedigree is as laced with enticing prestige as this poster is infused with California heat. Hemingway is the daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Ernest, and Starlet marks her leap from model to leading lady. Her arrival is as much a draw as anything else the poster is selling, and the mix of seediness and class lends a certain forbidden air to the viewer’s curiosity. Who’s the girl behind the smoke? It’s like an invitation to a party where half the thrill is the promise of morning-after guilt.

Oscar Prospects: Midnight in Paris

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Oscar Prospects: Midnight in Paris
Oscar Prospects: Midnight in Paris

It’s getting on that time when it’s nearly impossible to keep up with an Oscar hopeful’s precursor tally, as trophies and nominations steadily roll in from a dizzying slew of acronymic awards bodies. Hastily kicked off by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), precursor season is most certainly in full swing, with the BFCA, AFI, SAG, LAFCA (Los Angeles), BSFC (Boston), VFCS (Vegas), TFCA (Toronto), SLFC (St. Louis), SFFCC (San Francisco), and many more having released their picks for the best in 2011 cinema. Amid the frenzy, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris has been resting in a rather safe zone, failing to come close to the top spots so dominated by The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo, but sitting pretty when it comes to Top 10s and grouped citations. The culture-vulture comedy just snagged a Best Picture nod from the Phoenix Film Critics Society, but, much more importantly, it’s landed on AFI’s Top 10, been named a Critic’s Choice nominee for Best Picture, and, just this morning, counted among the five SAG nominees for Best Ensemble (it competes against The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, and Bridesmaids). The steady inclusion assures that no one has forgotten about this swoony May release, and it affirms what so many already knew: Midnight in Paris is one of your Best Picture locks.

Minimalism Extremis Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions

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Minimalism Extremis: Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions
Minimalism Extremis: Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions

In the tradition of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, and Charles Burns’s Black Hole, Anders Nilsen’s underground graphic novel Big Questions was serialized over a decade or so, and has now been compiled into a thick, single volume that’s being touted as a magnum opus. The deluxe hardcover edition of Big Questions, which is signed by Nilsen and has supplemental extras, is very beautiful, expensive, and hefty (over 600 pages long). The designers at Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal deserve real credit for being able to make a book look so dignified and serious.

Unfortunately, Big Questions, despite its page count, its august packaging, and its toiling-cartoonist origin myth, is no grand thing. It’s a very quiet series of events—it doesn’t even feel right to call it a story—that take place on a desolate plain and involve disaffected birds wondering about a plane and the pilot that has crash-landed in their territory. There’s also an ambivalently helpful snake, devious crows, an insect-grubbing man-child, and a quiet old lady who’s killed by the plane crash.

The birds, which are drawn so simply as to be pretty much indistinguishable, talk to each other as if they’re exhausted, suggesting androgynous hipsters lounging around all day at a café. Some of them ask basic philosophical questions such as, “Well, like, to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?” Others get very paranoid about the plane crash and come up with strange hypotheses for what it means. Some of the birds get involved in curious little scenarios, which at times become threatening and dangerous. As for the pilot, he pops a tent, has some bizarre dreams, is annoyed by the birds, and then freaks out and goes on a rampage. In general, not very much happens.