Monday, March 31, 2008

Ebertfest Report: 2008 Lineup is announced

Roger Ebert's annual film festival in our town is always a big event, with me. I usually take vacation days Thursday and Friday and devote myself to watching movies and listening to the panelists discuss them. Last year, I missed most of it (but I'm not complaining, the reason was a trip to New York to hear Son Number Two perform at Carnegie Hall.) One of the highlights has always been to listen to Ebert talk with his guests, but his throat cancer kept him from talking last year, and apparently, will again this year. The schedule for this year was announced Friday.

The movie I am most looking forward to seeing is Kenneth Branagh's four-hour version of Hamlet. This is the last movie made in 70 mm format, and the Virginia Theater, where the festival is held is one of the last, if not the last, theater in the country to have a projector that will show 70 mm movies. The difference between seeing a 70 mm movie projected on a wide screen and seeing a DVD version of the movie on your home television is like the difference between seeing the Grand Canyon through a viewfinder and seeing it in person. Still near the top of my movie viewing experiences is seeing the opening scene of the movie Patton, in 70 mm format a few years ago at Ebertfest. It was breathtaking to watch as Patton' head started ascending, in front of the American flag, and then, finally, a life-sized Patton standing there giving his speech. Hamlet has a laundry list of well-known actors, like John Gielgud, Judi Dench, Richard Attenborough and Julie Harris, Charlton Hesston, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet and Jack Lemmon. It should be great (at least if they give us a bathroom break.)

The director, Ang Lee will be the most famous guest of the festival. Unfortunately, the Lee movie that Ebert will be showing is Hulk, a movie that I would not ordinarily go see. However, since it is Ebertfest and Ang Lee will be there to defend the movie, I intend to go and see what I can learn.

I have less confidence in Ebert's ability to pick good movies since he foisted Bad Santa off on us several years ago. This film was even worse than Bad Santa since the director, Terry Zwigoff was there with the director's cut version which included scenes too bad to be in the theatrical release. I still haven't figured out what the redeeming quality was in that movie, and suspect it was shown only as a way to get Zwigoff and the movie's star, Billy Bob Thornton to show up at the festival.

The only other movie on the schedule I have heard of is The Band's Visit, an Israeli movie which has won a lot of awards. It happens to be playing in our local art theater this weekend, and I would have gone to see it had it not been on the schedule for Ebertfest.

Here is the complete schedule, with the list of guests:


7:00 pm

Hamlet (238 min)


1:00 pm

Delirious (107 min)

Tom DiCillo, Director

4:00 pm

Yes (99 min)

Sally Potter, Director*
Christopher Sheppard, Producer*
8:30 pm Canvas (100 min), preceded by
Citizen Cohl: The Untold Story, a short film tribute to Dusty Cohl Joey Pantoliano, Actor
Adam Hammel, Producer
Lucy Engibarian-Hammel, Producer
Joseph Greco, Director
Barry Avrich, Director (Citizen Cohl)


11:30 am

Shotgun Stories (92 min)

Jeff Nichols, Director

2:30 pm

Underworld (80 min)

Alloy Orchestra

7:00 pm

The Real Dirt on Farmer John (83 min)

John Peterson, Himself
Taggart Siegel, Director
10:00 pm

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (121 min)

Paul Schrader, Director


11:00 am

Hulk (138 min)

Ang Lee, Director

3:00 pm

The Band's Visit (89 min)

Eran Kolirin, Director

7:30 pm

Housekeeping (117 min)

Bill Forsyth, Director
Christine Lahti, Actor

11:00 pm

The Cell (108 min)

Tarsem Singh, Director



Romance & Cigarettes (115 min)

Aida Turturro, Actor
Tricia Brouk, Choreographer

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ask Aunt Tillie: Is Your Nephew Going to Hell?

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:

Your nephew, Amishlaw, has been on an anti-religious kick lately. A few posts ago, he told about having his arm twisted as a young man to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior and join the church. Then on Easter Sunday, he implied that the physical resurrection of Jesus is make believe. Is he really a Christian? Is he going to hell? What are we going to do about him?

(Signed) Squawker

Dear Squawker:

(Sigh) I'll tell you, Squawker, I am way too old to be worrying about what to do about my nephew, Amishlaw. I have enough worrying to do about whether Grandpa is going to get the garden plowed this spring. It has been wet and cold for so long that he still hasn't gotten around to it. If I don't get my lettuce planted pretty soon, I'm going to start getting grumpy. But I'm sorry, I digress. You were asking about the salvation of Amishlaw. I guess we'll just have to let God worry about that boy. If he wants to risk spending eternity burning with that awful Reverend Wright and the rest of those radio preachers who make a living saying stupid things, then I guess he can just go on shooting off his mouth. We Amish are a little different from the Baptists and the Pentecostals and a lot of other denominations. We don't pretend to be able to know who is going to make it to heaven and who is going to wind up in hell. That's God's business. We say we have the "hope" of getting to heaven, meaning we don't know what is in the mind of God. We might think we have it all figured out and God might change his mind. He has before. After all, he's God. He can do whatever he wants. He might get so irritated at the church people that he'll decide he'll just send the church people to hell and bring the Saturday night beer drinkers and the Sunday morning late sleepers to heaven. I hope that isn't what happens; if it does, I've deprived myself of a lot of beer and television for nothing. But we can't possibly know. So stop worrying about my nephew and go look at some seed catalogs.

(Signed) Aunt Tille

Friday, March 28, 2008

Top McCain Advisor Won't Oppose Obama

Okay, you want politics, I'll give you politics.

I find this story so intriguing and emblematic of why I get excited about a Barack Obama candidacy. One of John McCain's top political advisors, his chief media strategist, Mark McKinnon, has said that he will resign from McCain's staff if the Democratic nominee is Barack Obama. He says he disagrees with many of Obama's positions, but he admires him so much that he does not feel comfortable opposing him. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Can you imagine such a thing? Is there any other candidate that you have ever heard of, in any political campaign, that has shown the potential Obama has for fundamentally changing the way politics is done? Think about it, not only the ability to draw Republicans and Independents who agree with his positions to support him, but to get people who disagree with his positions from fighting against him? It's unbelievable, really, but here is a portion of the transcript from an interview with The National Journal on Air for today's edition:
"Q: So you've said that you will leave the McCain campaign if Obama is the nominee. Does that still hold and why?

"McKinnon: Yeah. Well, this goes back to a memo that I wrote to the campaign when I came aboard more than a year and a half ago, and I simply let them know that I had spent time with Obama and read his book and I like the guy. I think he has strong character and a fascinating life story, and I disagree with him fundamentally on issues like Iraq and trade and a number of others. But I just flashed forward to the improbable scenario, at that time seemingly improbable, that John McCain and Barack Obama might face off against one other. And I just told them at the time that I thought that I would be uncomfortable being on the front lines -- being as aggressive as you need to be in a presidential campaign -- and not only that I would be uncomfortable, but that it would be bad for the campaign, and that if that circumstance were to come to be, that I would just take a step to the sidelines and continue to support John McCain 100 percent and be No. 1 fan and cheerleader. But just kind of take myself out of the front lines.

"Q: So you are still going to do that?

"McKinnon: I'm a man of my word.

"Q: And it's because, what, you don't want to run negative ads against Obama?

"McKinnon: Yeah.

"Q: Or is there also a concern on your part that you don't want to run ads against Obama, the first African-American candidate to have this kind of a chance? Is that a factor as well?

"McKinnon: I suppose that is in part, but it's more just that I like and admire the guy. I've come to a point in my life where I think character is important. I think he has great character. Again, I think he's really wrong on fundamental issues, but yeah, I just don't want to -- you know, I kind of want to put my guns down. It's just a matter of degrees, and like I said, I don't think I'm the best person to have in that slot for the campaign. So it would just be better for me to step to the sidelines."

You can read a transcript of the whole interview here.

Okay, enough politics. I got a card from Aunt Tillie about the prospects of her nephew's salvation which I will run tomorrow or Sunday.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is Obama Wrong About Wright?

For those readers I have left, if I have any, which I probably do not, here are my thoughts on recent political events.

I don't get too excited about hearing a preacher "damn America". I've been hearing it from conservative evangelical Christians for the last 50 years. I grew up hearing Billy Graham on the radio predicting that any day now God would strike out at America for failing to heed his commandments.

More recently, conservative superstars like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson have built empires on blaming American decadence for such natural disasters as hurricanes in Florida and New Orleans, and the AIDS epidemic. John McCain stood by smiling as right wing preacher, John Hagee, who calls the Roman Catholic Church "the great whore," and who claimed Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans because of gays, endorsed him. Although there was a minor brouhaha about McCain seeking Hagee's support, it was nothing compared to the firestorm over Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright's intemperate remarks. I don't defend Reverend Wright, any more than I defend the white preachers who get carried away with their own rhetoric. But the snippets of sermons played endlessly on the cable news networks did take some of his most inflammatory statements out of context. Anderson Cooper of CNN has an interesting article here. The long and short of it is that the "chickens coming home to roost" quote after 9/11 was a quote from an American ambassador on Fox News. If you have 6 minutes and 48 seconds, take time to listen to the more complete context of the famous "God damn America" snippet by Reverend Wright. It is probably not something I would say, but it is completely within the parameters of what has been said in pulpits many times by other ministers.

More importantly, Reverend Wright is not running for president of the United States. If he were, he wouldn't get very far, as other preachers, including Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee discovered (interestingly, Huckabee defended both Obama and Wright, pointing out that ministers speak extemporaneously and get carried away with their words sometimes.)

No one can reasonably say that Obama hates whites -- how could he, he is as much white as he is black. About the only thing they can say is that he should have left the church. Maybe he should have, if he was concerned only about his political future, he probably would have. I'm sure Hillary was telling the truth (for once) when she said that she would not have stayed in the church; of course, she would not have because she would have been afraid of the political fall out. (The same reason she voted for the war in Iraq; she was afraid if she didn't it would affect her political future.) I realize I have long been an Obama supporter and am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I was very impressed with his speech on race in Philadelphia and his refusal to do the expedient thing and throw Wright under the bus.

So, we will see how it all plays out. I am not as confident that Obama will wind up with the nomination as many pundits apparently are. Too many things can happen and I do not believe Hillary will ever give up voluntarily. If Obama wins the nomination, I am very confident that he will win the general election.

So, way too much politics here, but at least I'm writing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Ammunition for the Squawkers

Thoughts on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008, a cloud-covered gray day, with a few snow flurries:

The Wife: "I'm just going to pretend that today's a beautiful day."

Me (tongue only slightly in cheek): "In light of everything else we're going to pretend today, that shouldn't be too much of a stretch."