By David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
A surprising number of film festivals, from Cannes in Southern France to Telluride in the Rocky Mountains, take place in settings where natural beauty is a major attraction.
Since moviegoing is an indoor sport, there's something paradoxical about this - and sure enough, the situation tends to divide spectators, revealing how fanatical they really are about cinema. In one camp are scenery-lovers who seize any excuse for dodging a film during daylight hours. In the other are moles like me, burrowing deep into screening rooms and showing a preference for celluloid over sun.
The Miami Film Festival splits up spectators as effectively as any I've attended, but this year's program - the 13th annual edition - assembled a fair number of pictures no true moviegoer would want to miss, blue skies or no blue skies. Some may never get beyond the festival circuit, but others are already on their way to theaters, making this event a good place to get a feel for mainstream moviegoing over the next few months.
One picture that arrived on commercial screens a few days after its Miami showing is "A Midwinter's Tale," the new Kenneth Branagh comedy. It tells the bittersweet story of an on-the-skids Shakespearean trying to revive his career by herding a cast of low-talent eccentrics through an offbeat "Hamlet" production in a drafty suburban church.
Branagh acquired a sizable fan club with his debut feature, "Henry V," but subsequent movies like "Dead Again" and "Frankenstein" have failed to sustain his short-lived reputation as an Orson Welles clone capable of writing, producing, and starring in just about anything. Exercising some caution, he's been scaling back his schedule lately - participating only as an actor in the current "Othello," and limiting himself to the off-screen writing and directing chores in "A Midwinter's Tale."
His new modesty is serving him well. He's a superb Iago in "Othello," and his own "Midwinter's Tale" has turned out more cozy and consistent than earlier films he's directed, affectionately portraying a corner of the theatrical world that cinema rarely bothers to acknowledge. While it's hardly a memorable movie, it succeeds reasonably well on its own modest terms, and theater buffs should get a special kick out of it. …