Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ask Aunt Tillie: Nibbling on Tillie's Gingerbread

Blogger's Note: Since this blog is somewhat Amishcentric, I get questions from time to time from readers about Amish life and culture, which I refer to my Aunt Tillie, an opinionated, but humble Amish woman. Please leave a comment or email me if you have questions you want me to refer to her in the future. Uncle Menno, who had asked Aunt Tillie a mean question about Amish children wearing braces in April, has now left a new comment to her response. Rather than make you go back and find the post and the comment, I am posting the comment here, along with Aunt Tillie's response.

Hello Aunt Tillie
You're such an old sweetie that it just makes me want to come and nibble on your gingerbread a little. That being said, I don't know that any of these Amish kids with braces had headaches or anything of the sort. Their teeth didn't seem to be growing out of their noses or anything, so I still think they might just be wanting to look nice. And what's next? Implants and botox? Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to nibble your gingerbread if you looked like Joan Rivers. All the best!
Uncle Menno"

Dear Uncle Menno
Thanks for the offer, but after 14 children, I've had enough gingerbread-nibbling to last me for a while. I've even had to use the fly-swatter a few times to discourage my husband, Abner. Don't be trying any gingerbread nibbling around me, or you might just have to go see the dentist yourself. As for those poor children with their braces, why do you keep worrying about them? You didn't ask them about their headaches, did you? You just made some assumptions. The Bible says, "Judge not lest ye be judged." I've never heard about putting botox on implants. Does that make the plants grow better, or keep the weeds down or what? Anyway, I don't see what gardening has to do with braces and gingerbread. As for Joan Rivers, I've never heard of her. I take it you don't like how she looks. Maybe she should get some braces.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ask Aunt Tillie: That Crockhead Look

Blogger's Note: Since this blog is somewhat Amishcentric, I get questions from time to time from readers about Amish life and culture, which I refer to my Aunt Tillie, an opinionated, but humble Amish woman. Here is a recent question and answer. Please leave a comment or email me if you have questions you want me to refer to her in the future.

Dear Aunt Tillie:

I run a beauty salon on the West Coast. Since the Women's Wear Daily article on Amish fashion as the wave of the future, I have been getting more and more people coming in wanting an Amish-style haircut. I had read somewhere that the Amish cut their hair using an inverted bowl to get the lines right in front and back. In order to be authentic, I have used hand-thrown pottery bowls with a dark glaze. But the (excuse my language, but it really is necessary here) "damned" bowls keep falling off and breaking. Would it be permissible to use a Tupperware bowl, or do you think that would just be too hochmut?

Signed "Frustrated Hair Designer"

Dear Frustrated:

Maybe 100 years ago, Amish used pottery to give crockhead haircuts, but you know you have to change with the times. I see nothing wrong with using Tupperware other than (excuse my language, but it really is necessary here) "darned" parties to buy it. I used to use gallon ice cream containers, but they are way too big for youngsters. (Of course, with babies, you can use large margarine containers.) I have found the best way to do it is to forget about the bowls and use a chalk line. You just tie the ends of the line around the ears, give it a snap and you've got a nice clean mark to use to cut the hair.

Aunt Tillie

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Follow Up On John Irving

I mentioned John Irving's Until I Find You in my post about books on May 12, 2006. Now, one of my anonymous readers has sent me a picture of himself with Irving at a reception in Vienna. Irving is on the right. Some of my readers will recognize my anonymous correspondent on the left. He likes to meet celebrities but he won't write about his experiences for public consumption. Among the other famous people with whom he has spent quality time, i.e. more than just shaking their hands, are: Bo Derek, Helmut Kohl, Nadine Gordimer, Paula Zahn, Lisa Henson, Harvey Cox and I'm sure many others whose names I can't remember off the top of my head. He has also lived for extended periods in Central America, Africa and Europe, but he won't write about his experiences for public consumption, something I give him grief about every time I see him. Consider this more grief, anonymous.

Monday, May 15, 2006

John Steinbeck: On Making Plans

A month or so ago, I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck and reported on it in these pages. One of the members of our reading group found in the library a journal written by Steinbeck as he wrote East of Eden. It is called Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. It gives real insight into what Steinbeck was thinking as he wrote East of Eden, but it is also one of the best books on the process of writing that I have read. In addition, there are pungent observations about life that I find apropo. This morning, I came upon the following passage which I just love because I think it applies to me:

I am going to set down Adam's plans for his life. The fact that he isn't going to get even one of them has no emphasis whatever. Plans are real things and not experience. A rich life is rich in plans. If they don't come off, they are still a little bit realized. If they do, they may be disappointing. That's why a trip described becomes better the greater the time between the trip and the telling. I believe too that if you can know a man's plans, you know more about him than you can in any other way. Plans are daydreaming and this is an absolute measure of a man. Thus if I dwell heavily on plans, it is because I am trying to put down the whole man. What a strange life it is. Inspecting it for the purpose of setting it down on paper only illuminates its strangeness. There are strange things in people. I guess one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our dreams and our plans.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Brilliant Sermon

My brother, the humble carpenter/philosopher/farmer - whoops, he's not a farmer anymore, preached a brilliant sermon at our church last Sunday. It compares the crucifixion of Jesus with the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It was very original. Although I criticized him afterwards for going on 10 minutes longer than the 15 minutes he had originally allotted, in reading the sermon, it reads well all the way to the end. You can find it here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Thing About Books

The blogger of whom I am most in awe is Patry Francis, who not only writes consistently good stuff on her blog, Simply Wait, but is a real writer, with her first novel under contract to come out next spring. I am honored that she frequently drops by and leaves comments. She is doing a book meme, which means that she blogs on a topic that is going around the blogosphere and then tags other bloggers to write about the same topic. So, this is the most recent meme with which I have been tagged.

The three most influential books in my life:

1. The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. I read this book when I was 19 years old, and all of a sudden I saw with such clarity the religious mileu in which I was brought up that it was like scales had dropped from my eyes. I don't recommend Hoffer's other books, most of which are nonsense.

2. The Holy Bible (King James version, thank you very much.) Growing up in the culture that I did, I would have to be deluding myself not to list the Bible, although as much of the influence has been negative as positive. I do not believe the Bible is THE inspired word of God, although it contains inspiring passages, just as many other spiritual books contain inspiration. Our job is to separate out the parts that are destructive from the parts that inspire us to be more like God.

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Much of Christian history is a history of death and destruction. If Christianity to have any ethical validity, it has to give up its exclusivist claims as the only way to salvation and learn from other traditions. Hanh shows how that can be done.

Three books I've read more than once:

1. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust. Okay, I'm in the process of reading it for the second time, but I'm maintaining my pace of 10 pages a day and it is a great book that I should have reread several times by now.

2. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I recently reread this book for our reading group and will post a book report about it soon. Besides being a classic, the book is surprisingly modern, with a lot more meat than the novels by Dickens who was almost a contemporary.

3. Duane's Depressed by Larry McMurtry. No book list would be complete without naming one of McMurtry's novels. Although McMurtry is better known for his Lonesome Dove trilogy, he has written a lot of great books. This one is about a businessman who gets fed up with the rat race and starts walking every place and reading 10 pages of Proust a day. I've gotten the second part of his make over down, now I need to figure out how to give up the rat race.

Three great books that I personally hated:

1. Moby Dick. It has been a long time since I tried reading it, so maybe I should try again. But it is one of the few books that I have not been able to finish, and I finish everything, no matter how hard the going, so I do not think I am up for trying it again.

2. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. This book reminds me of castor oil, something that young people two centuries ago had to take because it was supposedly good for them, but whose salutary effects were far outweighed by the gag reflex.

3. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Give me a break; who decided that this book is a great classic that school children must read? The only good thing about the book is that it became the occasion of this satirical review by Mark Twain.

Three Pure Pleasures:

1. Glitz by Elmore Leonard. Well, actually I could just list three Elmore Leonard books here. Another one I really liked was Get Shorty. Okay, so Leonard writes trashy crime novels, but they are so well done. I have them all.

2. Until I Find You by John Irving. p.g., my critic friend, has convinced me that it is wrong to like this book. Irving may be too public about airing his own sexual hangups, but he is such a good writer that I can't condemn him. So, I'll go ahead and like the book, but feel guilty about it.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I scoff at Jane Austen to my wife; I am philosophically opposed to the "Masterpiece Theater" type of literature with its upperclass English and their high-falutin' ways. But Austen did make me smile with her subtle humor. (Don't tell my wife.)

Three great books I should have read, but haven't--not yet:

1. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov is formidable but such a great writer.

2. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Just another case of literary ignorance on my part. I didn't realize what a good writer Eliot was until recently when I read Silas Marner for the first time.

3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez. His fans tell me I must. I'm afraid it's too surrealistic.

Three books I recently ordered:

1. The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard.

2. Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow.

3. Beethoven by Edmund Morris.

Now, as I understand how this book thing works, I have to tag other bloggers to write on the same topic. I tag:

Dream Kitchen
Old Secretary
The Decider
When I Grow Up

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Be Careful When You Whistle

I'm good friends with a female lawyer whom I've known for 20 years and whose office is down the hall from mine. We have this game where, when I spot her walking down the hall on her way to the restroom or elevator, I whistle at her and she turns around and waves instead of ignoring me as good ladies used to be taught to do.

Last week, I was walking out to my car in the parking lot when I saw my friend standing at the door of a car talking to someone. I did the old wolf whistle, but she didn't hear me and turned and started walking into the parking lot. I walked faster so as to catch up with her and whistled again when I was close enough so that I was sure she could hear me. Instead of the usual response, she picked up her pace, and then I realized, "Oh, my God! That is not who I thought it was." Then the dilemna: What do I do? Do I yell out to the retreating back, "I take back the whistle. You're not who I thought you were?" But that might only compound the embarassment as it would imply that the person was not attractive enough to be whistled at. Do I just try to slink in to my car and get out of the parking lot before she gets to hers so she doesn't see who the wolf was? I tried to do the later, but I didn't get slinked out of the parking lot quickly enough.

Last evening as I was leaving work, I got on the elevator and who should be on it except the object of my whistling last week. In one of those "blink decisions" described by Malcolm Gladwell (see post below) I decided to confess rather than pull my raincoat collar over my face and try to slink out. "I'm sorry I whistled at you last week," I said. "I'm really not a wolf. I thought you were someone I knew from my floor." She just smiled and said, "No offense taken," and as the elevator door opened, we went our separate ways. But I didn't change my resolution from last week. I will never ever whistle at anyone ever again. (Well, maybe if I'm really, really sure that I know them.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Book Report: Blink

I am a big fan of The New Yorker magazine and one of my favorite staff writers with The New Yorker is Malcolm Gladwell. Recently I read his latest best seller, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

Gladwell opens the book by describing an episode in which the Getty Museum in Los Angeles was approached by an art dealer who wanted to sell the musuem a statue said to date from the sixth century B.C. for $10 million. The museum was careful. They had the provenance checked by legal experts who examined reams of documents; they had a geologist examine the surface with a high-resolution microscope and take core samples. Everything checked out. Yet, art experts who looked at the statue said it didn't look right. One said there was something about the fingernails that he couldn't quite articulate. One, Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, said the first word that came to his mind when he saw the statue was "fresh." Eventually, the Getty convened a special symposium of experts and the consensus, much of it based on inexplicable factors, was that the statue was fake. Eventually, it was discovered that the letters establishing the provenance were fake, and the statue had been forged in Rome in the early 1980s.

Gladwell has scores of other examples in the book of scores of intuitive (he does not use the word "intuition" because he says it carries the connotation of emotional and "irrational" and he does not believe that these snap judgments are "irrational") decisions that turn out to be more correct than carefully thought out and deliberated judgments. Another example he gives is of doctors in the emergency room at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, reducing the number of factors they consider when deciding whether someone is having a heart attack, with the result that their decisions are made not only quicker, but more accurately.

Gladwell calls the process, often made in the first two seconds of confronting a problem, "rapid cognition." He says that we do it all the time, unconsciously, in meeting people, deciding whether we like them, for example. He quotes extensively from research done by John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, who studied facial reactions. He studied more than 3,000 married couples and then notated the different emotional nuance in their facial expressions. He discovered that if he analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with 95 percent accuracy whether the couple will still be married 15 years later. If he studies them for 15 minutes, his success rate is still around 90 percent. But surprisingly, a professor working with Gottman discovered that watching the couple for just three minutes still permitted impressive accuracy in predicting whether they would stay together or not.

Gladwell says the process, also described as "thin slicing;" allows the brain to quickly make decisions with the bare amount of information necessary. We all do it, sizing up people we meet; deciding whether we have time to make a right hand turn in front of an on-coming vehicle, but we have been taught that is not the right way to do things. Truly wise people, we believe, take their time; do not make snap judgments; gather all the evidence and then decide.

When we were looking at the house in which we lived for 15 years immediately prior to this house, I made one of those "thin slicing" decisions. The minute we walked into the living room, I said, "We're buying this house." It was hard to explain why, but I liked the feeling I got from the house. I liked the proportions of the room and the light. Our realtor, a friend, insisted that we look at some more houses before we made an offer, so we spent the rest of the day looking at about 15 more houses, but I knew it was a waste of time. We were going to buy the first house.

Gladwell's book is refreshing in presenting a different paradigm about making decisions than we are used to, yet, my intuition cries out to be cautious about his approach. What about all the times when our first impressions are wrong? We have all met people we didn't think we would like, whom we find out are very compatible. Con men depend on being able to make good first impressions; to talk a good game. Gladwell, himself, gives an example where thin slicing didn't work, the case of the three New York City policemen who shot and killed a young man because they thought he was going for a gun and all he was doing was pulling out his wallet.

"Blink" as a way of making decisions is useless if one can't be sure that it is going to be the right decision. Gladwell's answer to that criticism is that while making snap decisions is no guarantee that the correct decisions are made, under the right circumstances those decisions have as good or better chance of being correct than more deliberative ones.

I found the book interesting and exciting to read because it brought a fresh approach to an old problem -- how do you make decisions? It is a small book, less than 300 pages, so can be read in little more than an instant. I gave it five stars.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ebertfest Report: Final Wrap Up

The Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival ended a week ago, and I am still struggling to report on it, with four films on Saturday and one on Sunday to write about. I have been busy trying to earn a living so I haven't had the time I had hoped to have to give indepth analyses of the rest of the movies at Ebertfest. I have other things to write about and to do, so I am just going to give brief summaries of my reactions to the rest of the movies.

Millions was the free family movie shown at noon on Saturday. In years past, I have skipped the children's movie, but experience has taught me that if you don't see the first movie of the day in Ebertfest, you lose any chance for the best seats for the rest of the day as people have various ways to save their seats.

Ebert introduced the movie by noting that in 1990, he hosted a Showbiz forum on Compuserv. There were about 40 participants in the core group, one of the most engaging of whom was Frank Boyce. Many years later, Ebert started noticing films written by Francis Cottrell Boyce and discovered it was the same man, now one of England's most respected movie writers.

Ebert claimed to be at least part of the inspiration for the movie. In an interview of Martin Scorsese, who said he had been reading the lives of the saints, Ebert said that if he was ever in need of an idea for a movie, he should do one on the lives of the saints. Boyle read the interview and came up with Millions, which is about two young boys playing in their playhouse near a railroad tracks when a duffle bag containing millions of stolen pounds comes crashing through the roof.

The younger of the two boys, Damian, has been reading the lives of the saints and is very devout. He thinks the money came from heaven and wants to use it to help the poor. His brother, two or three years older, wants to invest in real estate. Eventually, the bad guys who stole the money in the first place, figure out that the boys have it and come looking for it. In an improbable ending the saints help protect the boys, and the philanthropic nature of Damian wins out over his greedy brother and parents. I thought the movie was above average and gave it four stars.

Ebert warned the audience that the next movie Claire Dolan is definitely not a family movie. My friend and nemesis, p.g., a/k/a "The Decider" had warned me beforehand that the movie is "vile." He predicted that audience members would walk out and could not understand why Ebert picked it for the festival. As usual, I disagreed with p.g. There is nudity and sex in the film, but it is not erotic, and there is not as much as one would expect in a movie about a prostitute.

The title character, is a young Irish immigrant who works as a high-priced prostitute in New York to pay off a debt to a mysterious pimp who claims to have known her since she was 12 years old. He says, "Deep inside she is a whore. She was born a whore and she will always be a whore." But the pimp is wrong about Claire. Deep inside, she is not a whore. She hates telling the lies she has to tell in order to make a living and deep inside she wants to be a mother. She becomes pregnant with a sweet young cab driver, who knows she is a prostitute, but then can't handle that fact and abandons her. Eventually, in an ambiguous ending, she leaves New York for Seattle. The last scene shows, I think, that she has given up prostitution, although p.g. believes the pimp that she will always be a whore.

One scene particularly, I found very moving. Her mother had died in New Jersey and she did not want the pimp to find out because he would pay for the burial and add it to her already monumental debt. Despite her intimate encounters with many men every day, she had no one to tell that her mother had just died. She is standing at a magazine kiosk and she finally says to a woman standing nearby, "My mother died today." The other woman just looks at her and walks away.

In introducing the movie, Ebert said that the writer and director, Lodge Kerrigan, is his hero because he is on the very short list of people who make only the movies they want to make. He said the movie shows the mystery of human personality -- people have three faces; the face they present to the world, the face they present to themselves and underneath that is the real face. Kerrigan, Ebert said, shows the third face.

Kerrigan said in the discussion afterwards that in so much of society, women are either sexualized or put in the role of mother. This film looks at what happens when those ideas collide. Kerrigan also said that we tend to categorize people. We think, when we meet someone and find out that they're vegetarian, for example, that we know everything about them -- who they voted for, etc.

Much of the film can be intepreted in different ways because Kerrigan tries to get away from dialogue to tell the story and use actions to show the story. He says that words are not reliable. This is obvious in the way that Claire talks to her johns, pumping up their egos when all she really wants is their money. I thought this movie was one of the two best in the festival and gave it five stars.

I had heard good things about Junebug, the other Ebertfest movie to which I gave five stars and I was not disappointed. The basic plot is outsider wife/husband/significant-other meets the parents has been done many times by Hollywood, but never with the authenticiy of Junebug.

In this case George takes his new wife, Madeline, back to meet his family in North Carolina. All of a sudden Madeline sees a different kind of George than the suave lover she had met an an art show. George's family is not exactly "hick" from a North Carolinian point of view, but southern middle-class is in a different universe from the Gold Coast of Chicago. Her mouth drops as she sees George rejoin his high school trio to sing, "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling," at a church potluck in perfect acappella harmony.

Madeline wants desperately to fit in and her new sister-in-law, newly out of high school and married to George's surly brother, Johnny, wants desperately for the rest of the family to like Madeline, whose Chicago mores make her stick out like a sore thumb.

Amy Adams got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Ashley, the pregnant sister-in-law. Although I don't begrudge Adams the nomination, for my money, Davitdtz's performance was just as remarkable.

The director, Phil Morrison, deserves kudos for striking just the right authentic tone for this movie. A typical Hollywood production would have emphasized the wacky, while Morrison was willing to stop at eccentric. Morrison grew up in Winston-Salem, where the movie was filmed, and shows throughout the movie that he knows the culture that he is depicting. Morrison was interviewed by Ebert after the showing and said that his mother helped a lot in producing the movie by enlisting her friends, but that he was "disappointing her every day for not taking the time to visit my relatives." That sounds so like my mother that I felt instant kinship with Morrison. Of course I would have identified with this movie anyway because I remember my first trip back to rural Illinois 35 years ago with the woman who later became my wife and the cultural shock my little hippie tart had as she struggled to pull down the hem of her miniskirt as my black-clad Amish relatives looked on disapprovingly. I highly recommend the movie.

The less said about Bad Santa, the better. I can't imagine why Ebert thought the film was noteworthy, and I didn't hang around after the showing to hear his explanation. The movie didn't start until 11:00 p.m., so it was past 12:30 a.m., when it was finally over and I was already disgusted with myself for not walking out.

Billy Bob Thornton plays an alcoholic crook who is a shopping mall Santa, who cases and then robs the stores in the mall. What was shown was the director, Terry Zwigoff's personal cut, which supposedly was even more gross than the movie and DVD versions. If watching a Santa pee in his pants, throw up behind the Santa house and cuss out the children who come to see him is your kind of humor, then you would enjoy this movie. If you like this movie, then you probably think Animal House was cheated out of the Best Picture Oscar.

Ebert had mentioned before the movie that the rumor had been that Thornton was actually drunk when making the movie, although Thornton denied the rumor. Maybe the idea was that a noteworthy frontier in film making had been crossed by having an actor actually be drunk, but I have no idea why anyone would want to pay to see that. The first thing actors learn is how to play a drunk and whether Thornton was actually drunk or simulating the state of drunkenness does nothing to make this piece of excrement smell any better. I gave the movie one star, which is probably overly-generous.

The last movie of the festival was shown at Sunday noon and as traditional, was a musical, this year, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a film made in South Africa in the Xhosa language (with English subtitles, of course.) I am not a big fan of opera, nor of musicals for that matter, but Bizet's Carmen is very listenable and this was a superb production.

The director is Mark Dornford-May, an English director who went to South Africa 10 years ago to put on theater productions in Capetown slums. His second production was Carmen and that led to the movie. Although Bizet set the opera in a gypsy section of Saville, it translates very well to the South African setting. The movie opens with a tight frame on the face of Carmen, played by Pauline Malefane, while a narrator reads a description of the woman written by Bizet 150 years ago. It is eerie the way the ancient words perfectly describe the face of Malefane. In fact, she said, after the movie, that she was frightened when she first saw that scene.

The Xhosa language is very beautiful and, with its clicks and lip smacks, adds a wonderful counterpoint to the music. The movie does a wonderful job of depicting the life in the "townships," as the black slums are called, as colorful and vital, not at all the image of the cadaverous African children one sees in the charitable solicitations for African relief. I like it that Dornford-May's charity was to bring theater to the townships, not that they may not also need grains, but there are enough organizations already doing that. They also need food for their souls.

I highly recommend this movie and would have given it five stars if I liked opera better. As it is, I gave it four.

I still trust Ebert's movie judgment, although I thought he showed more clinkers than usual this year. Next year, I plan to get festival passes as soon as they go on sale to make sure I get mine before they sell out. This year, the passes went on sale in December and were sold out in January, although the films weren't even announced until two months later. I'm not a professional reviewer and I hope I never am because the professional reviewers get jaded; criticizing movies becomes a job that isn't much fun and they don't care how they experience the movie, they just want to fast forward through it and get the review done. Going to Ebertfest is still fun for me. When it's no longer fun, I'll stop going and do something more interesting.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ebertfest Report: Ripley's Game

For some reason, Roger Ebert loves Ripley's Game starring John Malkovich. I thought the movie was okay, but nothing special.

Ripley's Game is based on five novels by Patricia Highsmith featuring a likeable sociopath, Tom Ripley, who always gets away with his crimes and never feels badly. The film was never released in the United States by its distributor, Fine Line, which was preoccupied with getting its Lord of the Rings trilogy into the market. Ebert, before the screening, called that a "crime," because, he said "It is one of the great crime pictures and crime characters of modern time."

I don't understand what it is about the movie that Ebert found to be so great. For my money, movies like The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, Goodfellas, as well as both Godfather movies were much more enjoyable than Ripley's Game.

Malkovich does a good job of portraying Ripley, but he always does a good job with such characters. He has an air of controlled menace on screen in almost all of his films. To do "lovable" or "cuddly," now that would be an acting stretch for Malkovitch.

In the discussion afterwards, Malkovitch commented that within Ripley "there is a massive hole of rage." He said that the author of the Ripley novels, Highsmith perceived that the audience likes it that a sociopath does things they don't get to do, and it enjoys that he gets away with it. Malkovich and Ebert were joined onstage by Russ Smith, a friend of Malkovich from his Steppenwold Theater days, who was the producer of the film. Smith claimed that Malkovich would have gotten an Oscar nomination for his performance had Fine Line released the movie in the United States instead of the one they did release, The Real Cancun. I don't know; there's no predicting the Motion Picture Academy, but I don't see it. I'm not knocking Malkovitch's performance, I just don't think it was special. So, I gave the movie three stars.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ebertfest Report: The Eagle

I won't say much about this year's silent movie at the Ebert Overlooked Film Festival because I wasn't there for the first half of The Eagle. This movie came out in 1925, just a year before its star, Rudolph Valentino died of blood poisoning from a perforated ulcer.

I am not a big fan of silent movies. However, I was impressed with how much more I noticed facial expressions, body language and other non-verbal forms of communication in The Eagle. I will leave it to wiser people than me to decide whether that is because I paid closer attention to the non-verbal forms of communication, not being distracted by speech, or whether the actors in the silent movies exaggerated facial expressions, body language, order to communicate the only way they could. It was surprising to me how infrequently letter boxes were used to convey what was being said.

There isn't much to be said about the plot of The Eagle other than that it is ridiculous from a modern point of view.

Roger Ebert always has one in the lineup in Ebertfest, primarily to provide a venue for presenting the Alloy Orchestra, a three-man band that specializes in restoring silent movies and then playing along with them on a variety of found objects, ranging from bed pans to plumbing fixtures, as well as more conventional instruments like an accordian and electronic piano. Their music, as always, was excellent; in fact, the main reason I came to the theater for the last half of this film.

One nice thing about this movie is that we were not bothered by a loud annoying buzz in the middle of the movie like we were in almost every other showing. Ebert brags about the projectionists he brings from Chicago every year, James Bond and Steve Krauss, and they have generally done an excellent job. I don't know whether they were responsible for the buzzing, or whether there were electronics specialists who should have found the problem after the first time and fixed it, but since we were given no explanation, I'll blame Bond and Krauss.

Although I didn't see all of The Eagle, I think I saw enough that I'm entitled to rate it. I'm giving it three stars.

Ebertfest Report: Somebodies

I am slowly awakening to real life after being immersed in Roger Ebert's Overlooked Flim Festival. Friday and Saturday were so hectic that I had no time to blog and Sunday, after the last movie was over about 3:00 p.m. was spent getting caught up with chores and newspapers. I will try to put up reports on the rest of the movies I saw over the next several days.

Somebodies, shown on Friday afternoon, was referred to several times as "pre-overlooked" because it hasn't been released yet. It was one of the two best movies I saw at the festival. It was written , directed and the main character was played by a young man who refers to himself as "Hadjii." I have a prejudice against people who call themselves by only one name, but Hadjii seems like a likable young fellow and not at all pretentious. For one thing, he doesn't pretend to be an expert on movies or how they are made. He confessed in the discussion after the showing that he hasn't watched many movies; he mainly watches television.

Nate Kohn, a local boy made good and director of Ebertfest, teachs film studies at the Unversity of Georgia. Hadjii came up to him at the very first class he taught and gave him a writing sample, the screenplay of a Seinfeld episode, which Kohn thought was brilliant. Kohn was struck by Hadjii's talent, but suggested he write about what he knew. Hadjii's first efforts with Somebodies was as a proposed television series, and efforts were made by Kohn and others to sell that to television. Those efforts were unsuccessful. Hadjii attended Ebertfest two years ago and was inspired by a film shown then called Tarnation. After seeing that film, which cost around $200 to make, Hadjii decided he could do it too, and told Kohn, "It's time to make a film. Set a date." They decided to just make the movie, no matter how much money they had. And they did. The movie they made was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival, an honor received by only one out of 500 or so movies submitted.

Authenticity (or at least what appears on screen to be authentic) is big with me and Sombodies has it. It's about a young man in college who is interested in women and parties and who seems to be headed down the path of alcoholism until gradually a good cop and a good woman get him to start taking life more seriously. This makes the movie sound preachy, which it is not, although it has a lot of good black preaching in it.

Hadjii pokes fun at black people, but he also deftly skewers white people, particularly with a scene in which a very pale teacher in a "Black History" class has students write about their most inspirational black person. The class is composed of 15 or 20 white students and Hadjii, the lone black. Every one of the white students talk about how inspired they are by Martin Luther King, while Hadjii wrote about his friend, Mario, and goes on a long comedic riff, insulting Mario's mother, culminating with Mario's father's best compliment of his mother with "She's the best $5 I ever spent."

The plot, is not the main thing about this movie. As Ebert said in his introduction, this is "observational comedy. We laugh because people are like that." Ebert said the movie has structure, although it is not obvious structure, and it creates interest with free-standing episodes. Hajiid said that his first version focused mainly on five black college friends. "That was rougher," he said. As he got older, he decided that no one wants to watch a movie about five guys sitting around smoking weed, so he added church and family scenes to the movie. The third version came after he decided to creat a part for Kaira Whitehead. Hadjii said that he made the movie edgy enough to keep his street friends interested and warm enough so that his Mother would enjoy at least some of it.

I doubt that the movie will ever make it to general release except on DVD, but I highly recommend getting a copy as soon as it is available. I gave it five stars.