Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ebertfest 2008: Day 3

Sleep deprivation is part of every festival, and I'm starting to hit the wall here at Ebertfest. This entry is going to have to be short and sweet.

-Skipped the morning panel to grab an extra hour of sleep and hopefully obtain a good spot in line for getting preferred seats in theater for myself and friends.

-SHOTGUN STORIES: David Gordon Green lent his name as a producer to give an assist to fellow film school classmate Jeff Nichols, who wrote and directed SHOTGUN STORIES. This lyrical Arkansas drama about two sets of feuding half-brothers bears some similarities to Green's work--strong sense of place, empathy for the characters--but Nichols' handsome and well-acted film differs in that it takes on a mythic quality. Ancient stories tell of quarrels between bloodlines. This one is no different, really, and just as tragic in its exploration of unarticulated emotions and male rage.

-UNDERWORLD: No, it's not the Kate Beckinsale movie with werewolves and vampires battling but the Josef von Sternberg silent gangster pic. The Alloy Orchestra returned to the festival to provide live musical accompaniment, which is always an Ebertfest highlight. The story and love triangle seem slight on this side of the passage of time, but von Sternberg populates the film with many wonderful visual flourishes--the party marking an evening of armistice among the city's gangsters, most notably--to stimulate.

-THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN: This documentary about an Illinois farmer who overcomes business failures and vicious community rumors deals with some of the same internal struggles regarding family property as the excellent film SWEET LAND, a drama that could be comfortably programmed at a future Ebertfest. THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN enjoys introducting viewers to this colorful individual as well as touching upon issues plaguing small family farms. It's an entertaining doc, but considering the plentiful home movies and videotape of Peterson, the film seems to reveal more about his personal philosophies than who he really is. The film wouldn't have been made if Peterson's longtime friend hadn't been behind the camera, but a more objective viewpoint likely would have helped in the areas where the film selectively leaves out information.

-MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS: Paul Schrader's biopic of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima was a challenging selection for the fourth film of the day, let alone one beginning after 10 p.m. I was not entirely up to the challenge as fatigue set in thirty minutes into the picture. I stayed awake for the most part, which allowed me to enjoy the exquisite production design, but I had a rough go of it trying to penetrate a movie about someone I knew nothing about. Schrader was here for the film and mentioned that Criterion is putting the film out on DVD. Purists can get ready to go into a tizzy because the director has inserted alternate skies for the home video version. He said that he wasn't satisfied with the more naturalistic look and that this change keeps those moments consistent with the heightened reality in the scenes from Mishima's novels.

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