EBERTFEST: THUMBAPALOOZA 2003

The Right Stuff ^ By Herb Kane ^ **** ^ Directed by Philip Kaufman ^ Starring Charles Frank, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward
“The Right Stuff” is a movie about the courage of seven men aiming for the skies to be one of the first Americans to step foot in space. We also see Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) flying a bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane (October 14, 1947) to be the first man to break the sound barrier in a flight over the Mojave Desert. Later the race is on to put a man in space and we see how seven pilots go through endless testing to prove their emotional and physical capabilities for the job – which oftentimes is laced with humor during tense times. Their wives don’t exactly take on their passion.
One backyard barbecue scene displays how the pilots love flying and the wives are distressed by the high accident rate (a one in four chance of dying). I especially like the brave attitudes of the pilots – like when they confront the designers to make a porthole in the spacecraft so they could see. They made the designers feel like monkeys, which at the time many would have preferred to use on flights instead of humans.
Roger Ebert said in his review, “Seen now in the shadow of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, ‘The Right Stuff’ is a grim reminder of the cost of sending humans into space.”
Indeed this is risky business, but ultimately it is the choice of the human pilot to make that personal decision. It takes someone with “The Right Stuff” to make it all possible and I salute people like Walter Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter and all others who are willing to risk their lives for the benefit of humankind – to stretch the envelope beyond our world to discover the unknown.
There is a powerful scene showing Yeager flying a plane toward space and seeing stars on a backdrop of blackness at 120,000 feet and then plummets right back to earth. Actress Veronica Cartwright (Betty Grissom) said in a panel discussion at the Virginia Theater, “He is really the man who went to outer space…he was a true pilot and a true astronaut.” It was a powerful, powerful scene.
Then we see John Glenn (Ed Harris) and his flight on February 20, 1962 – the first American to orbit earth. Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” was the perfect music to set this spectacular event. “Mars” plays at the launch and “Jupiter” sounds as the craft moves toward space and “Neptune” gives a sense of mystery as the craft finally enters orbit. It was fantastic!
Medium Cool ^ By Herb Kane ^ *** ^ Directed by Haskell Wexler ^ Starring John Cassellis, Robert Forster
Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool” may be a mediocre movie in my opinion, but I must admit – it did have an interesting approach in the way it was filmed. The movie blends real-life events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention with a fictional story and characters. That was a very creative undertaking.
Roger Ebert said in is review, “Wexler, for most of his career, has been a very good cinematographer, and so he’s trained to see a movie in terms of images, not it’s dialog and story.”
The images, however, only reminded me of all the anti-war protesting I’ve seen in the past several months and frankly – I’m tired of watching protesters. While Ebert may think this film was timely to present, I say it’s overkill – even if Robert Forster does appear in this movie. I enjoyed him immensely in the film from last year’s fest called “Diamond Men.”
Nevertheless, many will find this movie interesting – and it is certainly nostalgic. I was distracted just trying to get a closer look at all the images from that time period – especially the automobiles! You might find yourself distracted trying to sort out fact from fiction, but that’s what makes this movie worth renting – to experience Wexler’s one-of-a-kind approach to filmmaking.
What’s Cooking? ^ By Herb Kane ^ ***** ^ Directed by Gurinder Chadha ^ Starring Alfre Woodard, Joan Chen, Mercedes Ruehl, Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick
If you liked “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” you might like “What’s Cooking?” even better. If anything, it will make you more hungry.
The movie is about four Los Angeles-based families who deal with family tension during Thanksgiving celebrations. We meet the Seeligs, a Jewish couple who try to understand their lesbian daughter. Then we have the Nguyens, a Vietnamese family who care deeply for their children only to discover the young adults may be in big trouble involving sex and guns. And guess who’s coming to dinner at the Avilas’? This Latino Thanksgiving becomes highly charged when dad (separated from mom) is invited to the feast without mom’s knowledge – and she invited an unexpected gentleman guest. The Williamson’s, an African American family, try to keep secrets from dad’s mother and fail. One thing every family has in common is tension and turkey-related problems. The story boils with rich characters and comedic moments with which we can all relate.
Roger Ebert said in his review, “There are so many characters, so vividly drawn, with such humor and life, that a synopsis is impossible.”
This movie is a joy to watch and the film’s ending is perfect. “What’s Cooking?” gives new meaning to the phrase “dinner and a movie.” If you have an appetite for family stories sprinkled with a pinch of comedy – “What’s Cooking?” will certainly satisfy your craving.
The Black Pirate ^ By Herb Kane ^ ***** ^ Directed by Albert Parker ^ Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Donald Crisp, Billie Dove, Tempe Piggot, Sam De Grasse
The moment the lights dim inside the Virginia Theatre, through the darkness there is a hint of light from the orchestra pit – and you begin to sense the magic all around. You feel like H.G. Wells traveling on a time machine back to the year 1926. Suddenly, the darkness is broken and the screen comes to life with Albert Parker’s silent movie “The Black Pirate.” Grand images of a ship and pirates appear – and the Alloy Orchestra’s live musical score exploads with the larger than life imagery projecting on screen. It whisks you away to set sail for a non-stop, swashbuckling adventure of a lifetime!
We watch actor Douglas Fairbanks (the Black Pirate himself) fight with all his might to take control of the ship. His sword fighting is swift and sure – fighting off two, three, six or more evildoers at a time! Then he is trapped, but eludes death walking-the-plank. The Black Pirate recruits an army of swordsman and they swim secretly under water toward the ship. They climb aboard like Spider Man mutants and once again – there’s an all-out attack! The Black Pirate climbs up the ship’s rigs and stabs his knife into a sail and falls ever so gracefully – the long cut guiding him directly to the deck. The end finally comes and the audience applause is deafening! The theatre lights reveal we’ve arrived back in the year 2003.
Wanna go back in time? There’s no better way than this. The Alloy Orchestra transforms silent films into pure magic!
Back to the party in part three of EBERTFEST: THUMBAPALOOZA 2003>>>




Posted on May 20, 2003 in Festivals by
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