September 18th, 2005

The Brothers Grimm

As with most fantasy movies, we liked this one more than the critics did. Terry Gilliam's conceit in this film is that at least some of the fairy tales compiled by Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm were based on their own experiences--. The movie opens with young Wilhelm and the boys' mother anxiously waiting for the return of young Jakob, who has been sent out to sell the family cow in order to get money for a doctor for their dying sister. Jakob returns, having bartered the cow for a handful of "magic" beans--. Cut then to 1806, and the brothers are making their living in the French-occupied German states as itinerant exorcists and ghost breakers; Wilhelm's cynical disbelief drives their fraudulent business, while Jakob seeks for seed of the real in the local spooks they are paid to drive away. Wilhelm derides Jakob's interest as "magic beans." Then, they get conscripted by the French governor to find out who is staging similar stunts in the area of a rural village where children are disappearing, and find that there is more than is dreampt of in Wilhelm's philosophy.

As is typical in a Gilliam production it is intensively designed, and both very funny and very scary by turns. Matt Damon (Wilhelm)and Heath Ledger (Jakob) do not so much act as react, but they are given much to react to. Gilliam populates the landscape with faces that are interesting and grotesque, and does not miss a trick in working in resonant references, from the red cloak worn by the first victim we see, to the village harridan coming to the brother's door, intent on presenting them with a shiny red apple. Like many of Grimm's often grisly tales, some of the movie is too intese for young children, especially the literally nightmarish scene of the enchanted horse, and the very disturbing sequence involving the 'gingerbread man'.

The leads are well supported by Gilliam veteran Johnathan Pryce, as the authority figure who won't recognize that reality is not as he wills it to be, Lena Headly as the "cursed one," whose father and sister have been taken by the forest, and Monica Bellucci (Persephone in the "Matrix" films) as the beautiful wicked queen, Peter Stromare as the brutal henchman who becomes a convert, and many others.

Highly reccomended. Too scary and violent for young children.

Tannahill Weavers

The Tannahill Weavers are perhaps the finest Scots band going. They enjoy playing Milwaukee, and Milwaukee alwyas provides and enthusiastic audience for them. On Friday the 16th they opened this year's North Ameican tour at the Irish Cultural & Heritage Center, and we went to be part of that audience.

The ICHC has a policy of having "openers" at their concerts, which gives local bands some exposure (and is sometimes a real treat, since Queen of the Harp Kim Robertson has moved back to Milwaukee and counts as a local musician--). This time, we had the Steel Bonnets, who are Milwaukee's garage/grunge Celtic band. They are four burly men in kilts with an assortment of head and facial hair that suggests wild Scots, and they play an assortment of Scots and Irish rebel songs and standards loudly and with enjoyable vigor. Their lead singer/guitarist alternates between shouting and growling, but since the audience was singing along on pieces like "Boys of the Old Brigade," it didn't matter.

We were therefore well warmed up when the Weavers started their show, and as usual, they put on an excellent performance. Roy Gullane, the band spokesman and singer/guitarist, has greyed a bit but still leads the group with pixyish energy. The rest of the crew consists of Phil Smillie (flute, bodhran) the other founding member, John Martin (fiddle), Leslie Wilson (bouzuki, keyboards) who has rejoined the band after a brief stint in the 80's (when I first saw them), and their current piper, Colin Melville. (Pipers seem to cycle through the band more rapidly than others, perhaps because it is demanding work, and perhaps because only about half the band's arrangements actually call for bagpipe.) The Weavers are consummate musicians and play not only with wonderful energy and power, but with great beauty and skill. Biside the fun and humourous songs they play, the intricate sonorities of more somber pieces like "Farewell to Fuinary" are like listening to a symphony. They played two goodly sets and a rousing encore that included "our song" ("Atholl Highlanders") in the medley.

The Tannahill Weavers are a class act, and worth seeing where ever you can if you care for celtic music at all.