Friday, April 25, 2008

Ebertfest: A Hilarious "Delirious"

Movies like Delirious is why I take a couple of vacation days every year to attend Ebertfest. It is a movie about which I had never heard, and would probably have never seen had it not been shown at the festival. It stars Steve Buscemi, the bug-eyed character actor who became famous as one of the bumbling hit men in Fargo, although he has had many great roles since then.

The movie is very funny, but it is also sweet and poignant. Buscemi plays the aptly-named, "Les," a paparazzi who wishes he were "more." Les is all chutzpah, but has very little to show for his attempted intrusions into the lives of the rich and famous. A good hearted, and good looking homeless kid,(who has to keep denying that he is gay,) Toby, played by Michael Pitt, attaches himself to Les, and then gets a lucky break when a Britney Spears type spots him and picks him up. That sounds like a typical Hollywood formula movie, but it's not.

The movie really is about the need for approval. Les has a crappy apartment, is doing crappy work and has disapproving parents. When he meets Toby, he finally has someone to whom he can feel superior. Toby's lucky break leads Les to homicidal rage.

Tom DiCillo, the director was overcome with emotion when he started talking, after the showing, about the problems he had with the distributors of the movies, and how Roger Ebert helped him out by answering questions and giving him a good review. DiCillo, describing both the movie and his own encounter with Ebert said, "All your life, you sit around waiting for someone to say, 'you're okay.'"

I gave this movie five plus stars, which is darned good for a rating system that only goes to five stars.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ebertfest Report: "Hamlet ", The Endurance Test

The 10th Annual Ebertfest, opened Wednesday night with Kenneth Branagh's marathon version of Hamlet. Sadly, Roger Ebert, could not make his own film festival this year, having fallen and broken his hip while undergoing rehabilitation from his previous multiple cancer surgeries. (Although Roger's wife, Chaz, who is acting as master of ceremonies this year, said last night that he might still show up for part of it if he can get the okay from his doctors.)

The movie is visually stunning. Part of it is the 70mm format and the large screen at the Virginia Theater, show detail and richness that is lacking in the 35mm and digital formats to which we have grown accustomed. But, I am sure the movie looks good in any format. No unhappy family or troubled kingdom ever looked as good as Hamlet's or Denmark. Movies are supposed to show, as well as tell the story, and the beauty of this version demonstrates one of Shakespeare's most famous quotes, "There is something rotten in Denmark."

The "A" list cast, including even Charlton Heston, who in 1996 was only a few years away from Reaganesque dottering senility, does a fine job. Julie Christie came out of retirement, looking as lovely as ever, to play Hamlet's mother, Gertrude. Other well-known actors who appear include Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Gerard Depardieu, John Gilgeud, and Kate Winslet. Surprisingly, even American comics like Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams are in the movie and do very creditable jobs.

The problem with the movie is that it is just too friggin' long. We got there at 6:00 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. showing, and with the customary late start, and the opening remarks, the movie didn't start running until 7:30. We didn't get an intermission until 10:00 p.m. and after a half hour break, we still had 1-1/2 hours to go, so we didn't get out of there until midnight, six hours after we had arrived. That's too long for any movie, no matter how good.

I have seen many Shakespearean plays over the last 50 years, and countless Hamlets, and I have never watched a four-hour version, so I wondered how this one came to be so long. Part of it, of course, is that Shakespeare only wrote the words, so the length of a play can vary greatly depending on how the words are presented, i.e. what comes between the words. Branagh makes this version longer than it would have to be because of how he presents it. The other part is that this version includes all of the fragments in various scripts and folios that are not always included as part of the text. In this case, more is definitely not better. The movie drags for long stretches of time, and it was a relief when there was a chase or fight scene, even though I am not a fan of action movies.

Besides being too long, the movie had too many British actors whose mush-mouthed diction, I just can't understand. Branagh, I could usually make out, and I could understand the Americans with their fake British accents very well, but at least half the time I only had a vague idea of what was being said by the British actors. This is a problem I have experienced at many British movies, not just this one, and I have said before, I wish they would have subtitles for Americans. I used to think it was a problem with the volume, but the sound in this movie was turned way up, in fact, at the beginning The Wife was complaining that it was too loud.

It has become traditional for the festival to open on Wednesday nights with a 70 mm print, the Virginia Theater, where the festival is held being one of the few venues in the country (and the only one in the Midwest) with a projector capable of showing 70mm. Branagh's Hamlet, released in 1996 is the last film shot in 70mm, and it was the only movie made in that format in England in 25 years.

Hollywood and the film industry have always been about money, so it is not surprising that 70mm films are no longer being made and shown, but it is, nevertheless, inexcusable. If bread customers can be given the choice between a $2 loaf of white bread and a $5.50 multi-grain loaf from Great Harvest, why shouldn't movie watchers have the option of seeing large format films on big screens instead of having to watch digital and digitally enhanced versions on television-sized screens? I think there are many people who would be willing to pay higher ticket prices to see well-made movies, but, unfortunately, theaters don't make their money from ticket prices but from selling popcorn, soft drinks and candy. People are not going to buy bigger tubs of popcorn just because the screen image is better.

If I could give a separate rating for acting, format and visuals, that part of this movie would get five stars, while it would get only two for plot and length. Since, by law, I can give only one rating, I have to give it three out of five stars.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rocking and Rolling

For Californians, our little earthquake this morning was no big deal, but East Central Illinoisians are reacting like kids from the tropics seeing their first snow flakes. Everyone was talking today about where they were, what they were doing and how it felt when our very own 5.2 magnitude quake hit.

I was still sleeping, the quake beating my alarm by four minutes. There were reports of some people being shaken out of their beds, but I found it just as hard to get out of bed at 4:40 a.m. as I always do. I did have the fun of feeling a little vibration in my chair from an aftershock at 10:15 this morning. It felt just like the last earthquake I experienced, in the early 1980s, when my family was sitting down eating supper. I felt a vibration in my chair, and since I couldn't account for the turbulence by having recently eaten beans, I remarked to The Wife, "I think we just had an earthquake."

Spring is finally here, next week is the Ebertfest and we have survived an earthquake. Could life be any better?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

JACK Report: Pictures in Philadelphia

Paul Miller, a violist in Philadelphia has some nice photos up on his blog of the JACK concert last night in Philadelphia. No mention of teeth enamel.

Monday, April 07, 2008

SNT Report: "A Stunning Performance"

Oh, what the heck, if you can't brag about your kids, what can you do? Son Number Two has been busy performing, both with JACK and with other groups. An article in today's issue of The Gothamist, a New York City webzine asks the question, "What was the last great performance you saw," and Composer Adam Mirza replies, "Renate Rohlfing (piano), Chris Otto (violin) and Rachel Drehmann (horn) gave a stunning performance of Ligeti's Horn Trio last week." Stunning, huh? Mirza is a little prejudiced because he is a friend of the performers and arranged the concert, but still, "stunning" is pretty good.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

JACK Report: It Will Leave the Enamel On Your Teeth

There's a nice article in today's Boston Globe about Helmut Lachenmann, the German composer who has championed the JACK Quartet, and JACK's performance in Boston on Friday night. The article quotes one eager listener as saying before the concert that he could stand anything that wouldn't take the enamel off his teeth. He wasn't so sure afterwards. The article erroneously has JACK based in Chicago. I don't know where that comes from. Two of its members are living in New York City; one is in Boston and one is in Lancaster, PA. Other than that, it's a very nice article.

JACK is performing in Philadelphia Monday night.