Organizers at the Palm Beach Film Festival, which opened yesterday and runs through April 19, didn’t circulate very many screeners to the press this year. But I did catch three movies in advance. Let’s start with the best of them, shall we?
“Three Days of Hamlet” documents actor Alex Hyde-White’s recent, rather insane attempt to rehearse and stage a 144-page, plainclothes production of “Hamlet” in three days. With no sleep, copious caffeine and varying degrees of patience, his 20-member cast performs their rigorous duty while sharing their backstage insights with Hyde-White, who wears three hats: directing the avant-garde stage production, playing Hamlet and directing this movie. The result is far superior, and seemingly more personal, than Al Pacino’s own wrestle with Shakespeare, “Looking for Richard.” It addresses the enduring popularity of the source material and is also a meditation on the nature of acting.
“Three Days of Hamlet” strips away all the showbiz bureaucracy to convey the sheer, unfettered joy of performing these beautiful words. Moreover, it’s a film about fathers and sons: Hyde-White is the offspring of a famed British comic actor, and his Herculean attempt to barrel through Shakespeare in 72 hours is also his way of exorcising the demons of his disapproving thespian father. The documentary is filled with split screens, sepia tones, artificial print fading and bold superimpositions, which all work surprisingly well, because they help to channel its protagonist’s filial anxiety. I couldn’t have loved this intelligent movie any more than I did.
“Three Days of Hamlet” screens at 7 p.m. tonight, April 13, at Muvico Parisian at CityPlace in West Palm Beach.
The sound of bombs battering Israeli cities juxtaposes with the plaintive strains of classical string music in “Violins in Wartime,” a touching, if not always riveting, documentary by Yael Katzir. The movie is set in Tel Aviv during the Second Lebanese War of 2006, where violin maker Amnon Weinstein pushes forward with his international violin master class. His son is a soldier in the war – his life hangs in the balance with every ominous phone call and news report – but Amnon buries himself further in his class, saying of the threat of warfare, “This is our way of life.” Indeed, while the specificity of the violin has a deep spiritual meaning for the Jewish people dating back to the original klezmer musicians, Amnon could have been any business owner or employee in Israel, no better or worse. When the existential fear of missile attacks is ever-present – in war or not – Israelis have to develop thick skins and the necessary perseverance to know that ordinary life must go on. In this sense, Amnon is a microcosm for his doggedly hardworking nation. Some of the violin class scenes drag on languidly, but others, like a shot of Anmon’s wife walking through a deserted Haifa populated only by crows, have a haunting impact.
“Violins in Wartime” screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton.
Then there’s “Overnight,” the only narrative feature I saw for the Palm Beach Film Festival this year – and one that will be opening in a handful of theaters a week after its screening at the festival. This romantic comedy plays like an indie-film version of the commercial turkey “Valentine’s Day,” but it’s only marginally more watchable. Rachel Blanchard and Tom D’Arcy play two smart-looking but unlucky-in-love thirtysomethings who meet-cute before a red-eye flight they happen to be sharing from Los Angeles to New York. The plane is also populated by a multicultural panoply of passengers, who, like our precious central couple, will change their ways over the course of the flyover. There’s a pilot whose marriage is on the rocks, his Orthodox Christian copilot, a gangsta rapper trying to act humble for his girlfriend and a pair of chatty intellectuals of Middle Eastern descent who are unjustly profiled as terrorists. It’s like “Airplane!,” only without the wit. You’d think the movie was written by Hallmark, but that distinction goes to its director, Valerie Breiman, who is pretty good at handling actors, even when she has given them nothing to work with. The movie’s occasional nuggets of insight are ultimately trampled under steaming piles of contrived schmaltz, growing sappier and more ludicrous with every passing minute. This vanilla comedy has the right setting, at least: It’s exactly the kind of flick to start on an international flight, because you’ll have no problem turning it off for some shut-eye.
"Overnight" screens at 7 p.m. Sunday at Muvico Parisian at CityPlace in West Palm Beach.
Then again, “Overnight” is a modern classic compared to “The Three Stooges,” the Farrelly Brothers’ disastrous reimagining of the cult comedy series, which opens in just about every theater on Friday. The movie starts promisingly enough – I liked the title design, with text cards dividing the action into three TV-like “episodes” – but after Minute Two, the entire venture falls apart. What worked in short, hilarious, black-and-white small-screen doses is stretched to its painful breaking point on the unforgiving multiplex widescreen. The “Three Stooges” movie may be the most witless, shameless piece of bald-faced profiteering I’ve ever seen vomited up on a screen.
The story feels scripted by an inebriated 8-year-old: In order to save the orphanage that raised them from a mysterious foreclosure, the title characters need to raise some $800,000, so they end up becoming hapless contract killers, donning nurse’s smocks for a grotesque scene of peeing infants, performing the Heimlich on an animatronic dolphin and eventually winding up as a cast members on “Jersey Shore” (well, Moe, anyway). Every joke is forecasted so far in advance as to drain any life and spontaneity from the choreographed cartoon violence, with the Farrellys hoping their variety of loopy Foley effects and the audience’s Pavlovian response to testicular harm and fart references will compensate for their shocking lack of creativity. It’s pathetic to think that someone – three people, in fact – actually sat and down and wrote this excrement, and more pathetic that a studio invested $30 million to make it, and more pathetic still that people will pay $10 a ticket to see it this weekend.
But the worst part of this film, perhaps, is its gooey sentimentality in the orphanage scenes, cued by a disgustingly cloying score to which the original Stooges would have never pandered. It’s hard to imagine what this train wreck of a film would have been like if its initial casting choices for the Three Stooges – Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro – had stayed on to make the thing instead of bailing, like jumpers from the Titanic. Instead, we get three guys named Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso, only one I’ve ever heard of, from a sitcom I never watched. Needless to say, it’s an embarrassing stain on all of their filmographies, and a movie best soon forgotten.