Sunday, November 21, 2010

Psyched To Get Miked @ Atomic Books

Zinesters Mike White and Mike Faloon sign and read new works
Atomic Books, Hampden, Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday, November 19th was the "Night of Two Mikes" at Hampden's Atomic Books, where owners Benn Ray and Rachel Whang doubled down on the literary-finds-for-mutated-minds on offer by hosting two zinesters-turned-authors reading from their works. Young people today sometimes forget that before the Internet made self-publishing and social networking pandemic, "zines" (along with comics and public access TV) were one of the few outlets for underground, alternative media in the early '90s - and the two Mikes were diehard pioneers of the medium.

Mike White was in town to read from and sign copies of Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection, a collection of the best writings (and "13.2% all new stuff!") from his movie fanzine Cashiers du Cinemart (1994-present). (Besides main author Mike White, Impossibly Funky also collects articles by contributors Leon Chase, Chris Cummins, Skizz Cyzyk, Andrew Grant, Clifton Howard, Rich Osmond, Mike Thompson, and Andrea White.) Like White, Mike Faloon is a fellow zine publisher (Zisk, Go Metric), not to mention the drummer of the pop-punk band Egghead (1992-1998, 2010), but on this night he was reading from his short story fiction collection The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock.

Mike Faloon opened the festivities and proved to be a surprisingly talented orator, punching his copy with the confidence and natural cadence of a news anchor; he could easily switch careers from public school teacher to audiobook narrator. Mike White then delighted the audience by reading a hilarious "day-in-the-life of a movie theater employee" essay, one of the first things he wrote for Cashiers du Cinemart and a stellar reminder of why "workplace zines" are so popular - everybody can relate to work foibles and follies, especially jobs that involve dealing with crazy or irksome customers; White, who graciously plugged the comics art of Impossibly Funky's cover co-illustrator Jim Rugg (Afrodesiac, Street Angel, The Plain Janes), also revealed his Midwestern roots when he referred to sodas as "pop."

Mike Faloon is one Smooth Operator narrator

As an added treat, Mike White's wife Andrea presented him with a beautifully detailed, locally baked Ace of Cakes movie theater cake. "Impossibly Funky" was playing at this cake theater, with an outside crowd peopled by the very B-movie characters celebrated in the pages of Cashiers du Cinemart over the years. But fans couldn't partake of it until the following evening's "MicroCineFest Reunion Screening" at Station North's Windup Space, which the two Mikes also attended (and where Mike White's Who Do You Think You're Fooling? was screened).

Ace of Cakes's "Impossibly Funky" was the icing on the cake

Mike White: "I can have my cake and read it too!"

"Hmmm, can't wait to eat that marquee tomorrow night!"

It was fitting that the two Mikes made a pit stop in Baltimore to promote their books, as both authors, while not from Baltimore, have strong ties to the city's film and music scene - which it would not be a stretch to call Six Degrees of Skizz Cyzyk. Both Mikes have served as judges on Skizz's MicroCineFest film jury and "Mike the White" has screened film shorts at MicroCineFest (including Who Do You Think Your Fooling?, his infamous expose of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs), while "Mike the Faloon" has played with Egghead at the Mansion Theater, Skizz's former home and screening/concert center. A number of Baltimore-based musicians and film geeks have also written for Cashiers du Cinemart, including Skizz and his sometime musical partner Scott Wallace Brown (Mink Stole & Her Wonderful Band, The Awkward Sounds of Scott & Skizz, The Bowlermen). Even local public access show Atomic TV popped up in CdC #13 in a "Zines of the Airwaves" review by Terry Gilmer (God's Angry Man).

As a result, the audience teemed with local musicians and filmmakers - Craig Smith (Psychedelic Glue-Sniffing Hillbillies), Degenerettes Rahne Alexander and Kristen Anchor, Jennifers and Garage Sale guitarist John Irvine, Joe Tropea (co-director of the documentary Hit and Stay and former Jennifers bassist), Dave Cawley (Garage Sale bass player, Urbanite fashion model, and erstwhile Go Metric contributing writer), Atomic TV's Tom Warner and Scott Huffines - who had either collaborated with the two Mikes or been influenced by their work. Naturally, Skizz was also there - Skizz Cyzyk, the Skizz with two Z's (not to be confused with Baltimore's other Skizzer, music producer honcho Skiz Fernandez).

Craig Smith drools over the "Impossibly Funky" cake (and book) whilst authors Faloon and White savor his good taste

Jim Hollenbaugh, curator of the Moviate Harrisburg cult film series, even drove down from Pennsylvania to see the Mikes and, of course, catch up on his Atomic Books shopping. Hollenbaugh also was in town to go to dinner with his pals Scott Huffines (Atomic TV, Baltimore Or Less) and John Waters.

Scott Huffines (Atomic TV, Baltimore Or Less) and Jim Hollenbaugh (Jim is holding up the copy of Katharine Gates' "Deviant Desires" he grabbed for an Xmas gift at Atomic Books)

Tom Warner (Atomic TV, Baltimore Or Less) and Jim Hollenbaugh

On the way out of Atomic Books, Japanese giant monster fan Dave Cawley was overjoyed to spot a car with a Michigan vanity plate proclaiming "GAMERA." Naturally, it belonged to none other than that purveyor of fine, eclectic taste, Mike White!

"I'm Dave Cawley and I approve this license plate!"

Related Mike White Links:
Cashiers du Cinemart
"Impossibly Funky" book

Related Mike Faloon Links:

Go Metric
Zisk Online
Egghead (MySpace)

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 3

Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 10-14, 2010

Some more notes I jotted down after Amy and I returned home from this four-day film festival in Rehoboth Beach, this installment, the cinematic adventures conclude (breathe a sigh of relief)!

DAY THREE: Saturday, November 13

Amy and I got up early so we could catch a bite to eat at Dunkin' Donuts before our first screening that day, which was at 10:30 a.m. There, at the DD located at the Midway Shopping Center, we had a nice chat with a lonely widower who had lost his wife just three months ago. He said without his beloved, his home had become just a house. Then when Amy went to the bathroom, he asked how long we had been married. When I replied that we weren't married and lived separately, he quipped, "Well, you know what they say; women are like cockroaches - once they move in, you never can get rid of 'em!" (He might have had a valid point, but I think he would have welcomed that kind of home invasion!)

Then, amped up by ample amounts of coffee and flatbread sandwiches, we were ready to take on our first three-movie day.


Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
(Alex Gibney, USA, 2010)

My Movie Scorecard: A+
Life Lessons Learned From This Film: In America, sex and politics are a toxic cocktail, whereas in Europe, this mixture is elixir - and might actually get you elected!

Watch the Client 9 trailer.

I really wanted to see this because I'm a fan of both Eliot Spitzer (and his new CNN show Parker Spitzer - which I tend to watch more than MSNBC for news now) and director Alex Gibney.

"Parker Spitzer": Co-hosts Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker

OK, the so the former New York Governor and State's Attorney turned political-talk-show-host had sex with prostitutes - and Clinton got a blowjob in the Oral Office - big (sometimes) fucking deal, right? Who cares? That's just a matter between him and his family. Forgotten is how Spitzer predicted the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and tried to correct its unregulated excesses when, as "the Sheriff of Wall Street," he prosecuted crimes by some of America's largest financial insitutions and most powerful executives. Who's laughing now? Not the American public. Not dispossessed homeowners. Not wiped workers whose 401Ks were wiped out by the stock market crash. Long after his tawdry tart sold her stories to the tabloids, Spitzer's insights to a problem that won't go away are still valuable, while the scandal sheets have returned to the next Page 3 Girl or disgraced politico.

And Alex Gibney? Alex Gibney is my hero. No, really. He's the best American documentarian working today, bar none. Gibney has produced award-winning films for Jigsaw Productions (the company he founded in 1982), and his trophy shelf boasts an Oscar (for 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side), an Emmy, a Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and a Grammy. An accomplished writer as well, Gibney blogs for the Atlantic Monthly and contributes regularly to the Huffington Post when not sitting in the director's chair. I had never seen one of his films before 2008, but now I've seen them all, and want to see still more!

Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney

Michael Moore may have changed the Documentary Dynamic, popularizing a genre that only hovered in the shadows or on PBS (mainly thanks to Ken Burns) before Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 took it to the cineplexes, but Gibney - along with Charles Ferguson (whose No End In Sight - the best doc on the Bush Administration's "war of choice" in Iraq - was executive produced by Gibney, and whose Inside Job is essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand Wall Street's recent financial meltdown) - has overtaken his fellow documentarian by focusing on the ideas at hand and not the player. (As a director, Moore has gotten lazy in his last two films Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story, falling back on his schtick of Director As Subject-and-Provocateur; he's run out of ideas and resorted to the tried and true of on-camera surprise attacks and staged crowd-pleasing stunts, like draping the New York Stock Exchange with crime scene tape. It's ha-ha funny, but the thrill soon dissipates; there's no gravitas there, only cheap laughs. I tend to side with Moore on the issues, but as a documentarian he merely tells the "already converted" what they want to hear; I wish he'd go the distance and make compelling docs that convert the undecided as well.)

Moore is less

Client 9 was one of three new films directed by the prolific Gibney that were playing at this year's festival (the others were Casino Jack and the United States of Money and his sumo wrestling segment in Freakonomics). (He's also currently working on docs about Ken Kesey, Lance Armstrong, and Al Qaeda - read more about Gibney's busy year in Jon Anderson's excellent NY Times profile "Not Afraid To Follow the Money.") And this one may be his best yet, though it's doubtful that its sophisticated subject matter - I'm talking Wall Street derivatives and sub-prime mortgages, and not the sex! - will translate into box office success. But as Gibney himself has said, he thinks documentaries today are not only better made, but have taken over the truth-telling function our increasingly polarized free press (e.g., Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left) has largely abandoned. He doesn't care about box office; he cares about spreading the word, which is why he founded Jigsaw Productions in 1982 to produce just these sort of films.

Gibney's "Gonzo" (2008)

I first discovered Gibney at the 2008 Maryland Film Festival, where I was working for the festival as a cameraman videotaping director intros and Q & As. Gibney was there to present his doc Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, which I absolutely loved (and Gibney was very kind when, during the Q & A, he politely deflected Mr. Johnson's idiotic question "Was Hunter Thompson a real medical doctor?" I think Mr. Johnson thinks Julius Erving was also a practicing M.D.!).

"WR: Mysteries of the Organism" screened at the 2008 MFF

Gibney was also there as a Guest Programmer, and I instantly liked him when I saw he had picked Dusan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism (an exploration of the connections between sexuality, leftist politics, and Wilhelm Reich's orgone energy theories.) I had been fascinated by Yugoslavian filmmaker Makavejev's WR ever since an iconic still from it graced the cover of Amos Vogel's cult tome Film As a Subversive Art (the one book I recommend without reservations to all film lovers).

My kinda subversion

I blathered something inane (as per usual) to Gibney as he waited in the wings before addressing the audience at the Charles Theater, but we were both too focused on our duties-of-the-moment for more idle chit-chat. Now I wished I had talked to him more, because I didn't fully appreciate his gifts until I sought out his Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and was blown away by both the style and the depth of research. I subsequently caught his 60-minute doc short The Human Behavior Experiments (2006) on cable TV's Sundance Channel and his Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), an in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002.

Gibney's Oscar-nominated "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" (2005)

Taxi established the key to Gibney's direct documentary approach: it focuses on the protagonists, the people responsibile for perpetrating abuses more than the victims. As Gibney himself has said, "I'm more interested in the perps than the victims. I'm interested in the victims, of course, but more interested in understaning the mind-set that allows people to commit or justify these acts, because that's the only way to prevent them in future."

Gibney's Oscar-winner, "Taxi to the Dark Side" (2007)

In Client 9, that means Eliot Spizter is front and center (another reason I like Spitzer: he doesn't shy away from this unflinching look at his scandal - the former "paragon of rectitude" takes his lumps and tackles it straight-on, like a humbled man). Not to mention all his Wall Street and New York political foes (and they are legion) - many coming forward for the first time. And that's the key to its success and its unbiased (if any doc can be said to be unbiased), fair and balanced approach.

Moreover, whereas Gibney could have just made a film about the convergence of sex, power and hubris - documenting a mighty man's meteoric rise (don't forget many people believed Spitzer was on his way to becoming the nation's first Jewish president) and calamitous fall resulting from a foible of flawed human nature (after all, it's the stuff of classic tragedy, dating back to the Greek stage) - that narrow focus doesn't really interest him. Instead, he questions - presenting just the facts - the timing of it all, suggesting that Spitzer may have been targeted by the many powerful foes he made on The Street. Yes, Spitzer was the cause of his own downfall, but there were plenty of eager hands ready to help that descent along, as Gibney pointed out in an interview with the NY Times' David Carr. Like Kenneth Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot and a former director of the New York Stock Exchange who was assailed by Mr. Spitzer for signing off on a huge $140 million deferred compensation pay package for Dick Grasso, CEO of the "nonprofit" New York Stock Exchange, and who seemed to know a lot about the governor’s day-to-day life.

“How did Kenneth Langone know that Spitzer was in line at the post office sending money orders to the escort service?" Gibney asked, adding, "Whenever my conspiracy gene kicks in, I have to check myself, but I doubt that Langone even knows anyone who goes to the post office. Somebody was watching him."

Another fascinating character in the film is Republican "wack job" swinger-and-mudslinger Roger Stone - ostensibly a "Republican strategist" but in reality a "Dirty Tricks" specialist. Stone's credo of "Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack" are truly words to live by for anyone involved in politics; he certainly followed the rules when it was alleged he was behind the infamous "Willie Horton" ad (Stone credited the ad to Lee Atwater). Despite coming off as somewhat of a clown (albeit a charming one) in Client 9, Stone surprisingly liked the film. He even gave Gibney a plug on his official web site The Stone Zone (, though he insists that Eliot Spitzer kept his knee-high black socks on during sex with call girls despite Gibney debunking the claim - in fact, that seems to be his main beef with the documentary (the Black Sox Scandal!).

Watch Roger Stone's Client 9 review.

One thing that struck me watching Client 9 is how it tied in so well with other Gibney-associated projects I had seen. For example, the scenes detailing Wall Street and political corruption echo similar accounts in Casino Jack, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Charles Ferguson's Inside Job (which he executive-produced). And, as we would find out later that night in his segment in Freakonomics about corruption in the Japanese sport of sumo wrestling, he even tied in the way sumo stats and standings can be tweaked just like Wall Street and banking industry account balances. Zeitgeist!

By the way, if you can't wait to see Client 9 in theaters, you can try catching it on demand or iTunes, where it was "pre-released" on October 1, 2010.

Amy and I had post-poned seeing Gibney's other full-length documentary playing at the festival , Casino Jack and The United States of Money, because we figured this earlier 2010 release (which has inspired the Hollywood remake Casino Jack, starring Kevin Spacey as Abramoff) was probably available on DVD by now and we could catch it later via NetFlix. We did and - hello! - turns out the Jack Abromoff lobbying scandal has a Rehoboth Beach connection!

Gibney's "Casino Jack" (2010) was also screening at the film fest

Abramoff, through his cohort (and erstwhile staffer for former Speaker of the House and Dancing with the Stars contestant Tom DeLay) Mike Scanlon - who is still a part-time Rehoboth Beach lifeguard - used the city to establish a fake corporation (American Independent Council) in which to filter money.

Seems that beachcomber David Grosh, a former lifeguard (Rehobo's 1997 Lifeguard of the Year, in fact!), was paid $2,500 by his friend Scanlon to head a phony "research organization" in Rehoboth, but it only functioned to funnel large sums from Indian tribes back to Mr. Abramoff and his law firm. A few shots of Rehoboth Beach are used and a few interviews with the incredulous Lifeguard CEO Grosh ("I asked him what do I have to do and he said, 'Nothing'!") are conducted there, as well. No wonder Gibney sported his Rehoboth Beach Lifeguard t-shirt at the Maryland Film Festival!

Alex Gibney, in Rehoboth Beach lifeguard t-shirt, at the Maryland Film Festival

Hats off to RBIFF for programming this film there this year; timing is everything!

Watch the Casino Jack trailer.

Of course, the other great part of Gibney's Casino Jack documentary is seeing clips from one-time Hollywood writer-producer Abramoff's Cold War proxy action film, Red Scorpion (1988), which starred Dolph Lundgren as a Soviet KGB agent sent to Africa to assassinate an anti-Communist revolutionary leader, who was based on Abramoff's real-life warlord pal Jonas Savimbi, notorious leader of Angola's UNITA rebel group.

Watch the Red Scorpion trailer.


After the movie we had to rush out of the theater to get to our next movie, a special added-on screening for the already twice sold-out Nora's Will.


Nora's Will (Cinco Dias Sin Nora)
(Mariana Chenillo, Mexico, 2008)

My Movie Scorecard: A
Life Lessons I Learned From This Film: There's an orthodox Jewish community in the uniformly Catholic country of Mexico - go figure! Also, the Catholic and Jewish faiths are surprisingly alike in their abhorrence of suicide and view it as a sin that affects burial rights. Also, I could never be an Orthodox Jew because that sausage-and-ham pizza that Nora's ex-husband orders during Seder looks just too yummy to pass up!

This was another Amy pick, and a good one! As expected, Nora's Will was a standing room only affair and we literally got the last two seats in the front row, once again (a la the A Matter of Size screening) sitting six feet away from the screen. In fact, the theater was so packed that a volunteer plopped two folding chairs next to us in order to seat two insistent moviegoers who acted like their lives depended on seeing this Funeral Genre dramedy about a Mexican orthodox Jewish woman's funeral arrangements following her suicide at the start the "High Holy" Jewish Holidays. The film's Spanish title is literally "Five Days without Nora," and that's the period the film covers, which is significant because timing (or "ripeness") is of the essence in Jewish burial rites, which insist that bodies must be buried within 48 hours.

Wow, first the Rehoboth Beach film festival featured an Israeli film about Jewish sumo wrestlers who train under a ex-pat Japanese Jew restauranteur. Now it presented a film about orthodox Jewish burial rites in Mexico. Talk about narrow niches!

This was a delightful film about about family, compromise, and getting along with others when cultures and religious beliefs clash. It's ultimate philosophical spirit can be summed up in a Paul McCartney song: "We Can Work It Out." Nora's Will reminded me that films about death and death rites constitute a genre unto themselves (I'm thinking Death at a Funeral, Juzo Itami's The Funeral, Japan's recent Oscar winning Departures) and this is an excellent added entry. The humor is subtle, not over the top, as suits a film about the dignity of death and respecting the divergent will of opposites (estranged husbands and wives, Catholics vs. Jews, modern vs. traditional, the young vs. the aged).

Watch the Nora's Will trailer.

Our final movie that day was a late-night screening of the documentary Freakonomics. Since we had a lot of time to kill, we had lunch at Hobos Restaurant and Bar on Baltimore Avenue, which - despite its pretentious-sounding billing of "Eco-Global Fusion Food" - is actually one of our favorite restaurants, albeit a pricey one (but hey, you get what you pay for - in this case delicious and exotic food!). The last time we were there, Amy got codfish, which sounds un-exotic until you add its sauce - blueberries and bacon! (Insert Homer Simpson "transcendent" drooling sound here.) Today we went cheap, Amy scoring some Buddha's Garden Salad with tons of avocado (her favorite topping!) and me tackling the biggest, most-rib-sticking Greek Salad I've ever had. I didn't eat again that day.

Back at the Crosswinds Motel, we watched an MSNBC TV marathon of specials about serial killers, child molesters, prison gangs, and kookie New Age polygamous sex cults. Needless to say, it kept our gastronomical appetites firmly in check.

Later in the early evening, we returned to the RBIFF Big Tent where, as part of this year's "Country Spotlight on India" celebrations, there was free henna-painting and a Bollywood fashion show and dance performance. Amy was eager to get her hand henna-ed, even though it meant not washing her hands for a couple of hours (always problematic when you pee as often as she does!); but art, in this case, won out over bladder control.

You gotta hand it to Amy!

Watch Amy get her hand henna-ed.

We had to rush to catch our next film, Freakonomics, so we could only catch a bief glimpse of that evening's Bollywood fashion show, as shown below.

Watch the Bollywood Fashion Show at the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival.


Freakonomics (2010)
(Alex Gibney, Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, Eugene Jarecki. Seth Gordon, Morgan Spurlock, USA, 2010)

My Movie Scorecard: B-
Life Lessons Learned From This Film: What looks good on paper doesn't always translate to film

Watch the Freakonomics trailer.

For those who believe in strength in numbers, I got news for you: numbers lie. Surprisingly, this "Super Doc" of multiple directors with the toppermost pedigree - Oscar-winning Alex Gibney (Taxi To the Dark Side), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Rachel Grady & Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware, The Boys of Baraka), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), and Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) - was our least favorite entry at the festival. Parts were good, but the sum total just didn't add up. Truth be told, neither Amy nor I had read the best-selling book, by economist Steven D. Levitt and author Stephen J. Dubner, that it was based on - but I don't think I'd want to anyway. Onscreen they come off as kind of smug and their approach of applying statistics and incentives to analyze human behaviors yields controversial (at best) and unconvincing (at worst) conclusions.

Its basic principle is that numbers don't lie, but I found the film to be, overall, unconvincing. One need look no further than the Enron scandal, or more recently to the Wall Street and sub-prime mortgage loan meltdowns, to see that cooked books and inflated earnings do indeed lie. (We won't even go into sports records with their various asterisks, like baseball home run records augmented by steroids!).

Of the various segments, Gibney's is naturally the strongest. Here, Gibney "looks behind the fragile facade of sumo wrestling and exposes uncomfortable truths about this ancient and revered sport" - that's fancy film program guide talk for cheating. And cheating becomes prevalent when Japan's organized crime syndicate, the yakuza, gets involved - as invariably they are. When I later mentioned this to my Japanophile pal Dave Cawley, he loaned me a great Tuttle book on sumo wrestlers (thanks Dave!). (I love sumo wrestling; I just wish they had a featherweight class so I could get involved - skinny guys wearing thongs and pushing each other around, now that's entertainment!)

We also enjoyed Morgan Spurlock's segment on names, in which he muses whether being dubbed Sheniqua, Tripp, or Moon Unit has any effect on one's prospects. The conclusions are pretty obvious and common sensical - I mean, do we really need stats to understand that somebody named Mohammed going through airport security is gonna raise more eyebrows than someone named Skippy? Like Michael Moore, the personable Spurlock does not shy away from the camera and is heir-apparent to Moore's style of Provocateur Auteur As Subject filmmaking, albeit with a much lighter, more humorous edge.

I love Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing as a documentarian team, but their segment on whether money can help motivate underachieving kids into improving their grades is unconvincing. The one black kid they focus on is a great find - he's charming to a fault - but one is left with the idea that giving $50 to junior high kids (who already have cell phones and gaming stations) is chickenfeed. And the skater punk white trash kid they follow around...well, I have a feeling his only option is gonna be an early death, either from the streets or on a battlefield - the armed forces being the only conceivable "honest" employment option for him after he (eventually) drops or flunks out of school. Amy and I were surprised to see E's on his report card ("What's an E?" we wondered: Excellent or Execrable?); not having kids, we missed out on the disappearance of F's as school systems replace them with wimp letters like "I" for Incomplete. But then we're from a different generation, one in which we we were taught that 1 + 1 = 2 and not 1 + 1 = E.

But the weakest segment was one that looked the most promising: Eugene Jarecki's investigation of Levitt's provocative theory about why crime rates dropped in the early '90s. As we've seen locally in Baltimore with homicide and rape statistics around election time, these numbers are almost always tweaked for political purposes. Nothing new there, though Levitt and Dubner go one further by suggesting that crime in the 1990s decreased because "born criminals" decreased - as a result of the increased availability of abortions for unwanted pregnancies following the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1972 Roe vs. Wade decision. Kids born after 1972 would have graduated from juvenile status to legal adult age sometime in the '90s, according to this statistical theory, and thus been added to the adult crime statistical rolls. It's a pretty rad idea: because "mistakes" didn't grow up unloved and unwanted in economically challenged, single-parent homes, they didn't turn to crime and violence as an outlet for Mommy not loving them. As our favorite Star Trek Vulcan Spock would say, the idea is: "Fascinating." No, our biggest quibble with this segment was Jarecki's decision to use Melvin Van Peebles as a "celebrity" voiceover narrator. Whatever other gifts Mr. Van Peebles may possess as a director-auteur, public speaking isn't one of them. Neither Amy nor I could understand what he was saying, as he sounded like he was talking with a mouthful of marbles. No one will ever confuse the mush-mouthed Melvin with James Earl Jones, let's put it that way! Jarecki lost me with that call; the only worse choice might have been using Diane Rehm.

DAY FOUR: Sunday, November 14

We had time to catch that morning's screening of the Israeli POV war film Lebanon, which my librarian friend Emily had seen the day before and raved about, but it was such a nice sunny day out, we opted instead to shop at the nearby Rehoboth Avenue boutiques (Amy can never have enough jewelry or zipper pulls!) and, later, check out the Tanger outlet stores (there's even one for QVC!) on our way home. At a Midway Shopping Center thrift store, I managed to score a spiffy jacket, sweater, and a video of Karen Gordon's 1987 NYC street performers documentary No Applause, Just Throw Money for $7! I also found what I thought were laserdiscs of the entire Ralph Bakshi-animated Lord of the Rings trilogy for a quarter each, but it turns out they were an obsolete media format called the "RCA SelectaVision VideoDisc System" - a Capicitance Electronic Disc delivery platform for home video marketed by RCA from March 1981 through June 1986.

And, naturally, Amy found a bargain in one shop, scoring an off-season knock-down on a spiffy looking wool cap, as shown below.

"I love my new hat!"

"How do you like me now?": A view askew of Amy's new hat

Amy introduces her new hat to her henna hand

The People have Spoken: The Results Are In!
The RBIFF really pushes ballots on people, emphasizing how important it is to pick favorite films in different categories. The results of all those audience ballot box stuffings are the "Audience Awards." This year's winners were India's Like Stars on Earth (Best Debut Feature), the Czech Republic's Bride Flight (Best Feature), and Soundtrack for a Revolution (Best Documentary) - which is fine by us, because we had no interest in seeing any of them! Knock yourself out people!

And that, as they say, is a wrap. See you next year Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival!

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 2

Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 10-14, 2010

Some more quick notes I jotted down after Amy and I returned home from this four-day film festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware...and which I'm only just getting to because of work and my ADD...

DAY TWO: Friday, November 12

A Matter of Size
(Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, Israel, 2009)

My Movie Scorecard: A+
Awards: Nominated for 13 Israeli Academy Awards, winner of three; Audience Award, Karlovy Vary International Film festival; Audience Award, DC Jewish Film Festival
Life Lessons Learned from This Film: Fat men can lead happy, healthy, and honorable lives if they stop eating salads, take up sumo wrestling, and gorge on chankonabe; some can even score a hefty hearted girlfriend in the bargain

This was the first film both Amy and I picked when we first thumbed through the film program because...Who woulda thunk it - an Israeli comedy about sumo wrestling! Fed up with their fruitless attempts to lose weight, four fat friends are at the bursting point. Especially Herzl (Itzik Cohen). A 340-pound chef living at home with his overbearing mother (Levana Finklestein, whose performance won her the Israeli Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) - perhaps the only Jewish mother in screen history who doesn't tell her son "Eat something, you'll waste away!" - he struggles to keep up with his diet workshop group and gets fired from a salad bar restaurant because of his "unpresentable" image. But when Herzl gets a lowly dishwasher job at a Japanese restaurant, the Pound Posse decide to give up their tortuous diets and try their luck in the girth-friendly arena of sumo wrestling. Led by Japanese restaurant owner Kitano (Togo Igawa), a former sumo referee, Herzl and his pals discover that there are places in the world where oversized waistlines are appreciated and happiness can be found in Living Large.

Watch the "A Matter of Size" trailer.

Herzl even finds the woman of his dreams in Zehava (Irit Kaplan, whose role won her the Israeli Academy Award for Best Actress), despite his mother's initial objections ("Your girlfriend's fat; I was hoping at least for thin grandchildren!"). In fact, the romantic scenes between Herzl and Zehava really set the tone for A Matter of Size; unlike a Fellini film, in which fat would be played for farce, the love-making scenes between these two lovers are always handled with dignity. (Not that the director avoids laughing at weighty subjects, like the hilarious - and totally unexpected - scene where Herzl recalls his father's spoilers here, you must see this for yourselves!) That's why this funny, heartfelt, and romantic comedy is almost a perfect film! Or, as Amy said, paraphrasing her favorite line from The Hangover: "They funny 'cause they fat!"

Just as Herzl was literally a "big fish out of water" at his Japanese sushi bar, so were we at this sold-out screening, as Amy and I speculated that we were probably the only goyem in attendance for this boisterous, fun-filled crowd-pleaser. The theater was so packed, we had plop down in the front row where, sitting a mere six feet away from the screen, the big actors looked even more gargantuan. Which was fine until we realized that we were wedged between a jittery pistachio nut shelling-and-chomping yenta on one side (next to me) and a garrulous gay guy (next to Amy) whose non-stop chatter was either a result of cluelessness, nervousness, or a desire to impress his date. (Perhaps all three.) This man seemed to specialize in gutteral utterances, emitting a non-stop stream of sounds like Curly Howard of The Three Stooges (e.g., "Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!" "Gack!" "Huzzah!") in response to any- and everything happening onscreen. The woman next to me also had an open soda which she had trouble securing in the cup holder (tapping it trial-and-error style around the hole like Helen Keller), so I grimaced at her every sip, awaiting the inevitable spill onto my lap; Amy resigned herself to rolling her eyes at every onomatopoeic utterance from her right hand man. Thankfully, the movie had enough laughs to wash out the ambient audience noise.

Synchronicity: Looking through the program guide afterwards, we discovered that Freakononics (2010), a documentary (based on the best-selling book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) that was playing the next night, featured a segment by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi To the Dark Side) on sumo wrestling; we made it a point to see it. This was one of three new films directed by the prolific Alex Gibney that were playing at this year's festival; the others were Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spizter (2010) and Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010) - the latter which I had missed earlier that year at the Maryland Film Festival. For my money, Gibney's the best American documentarian working today, bar none. He sets the bar.


Mesrine: Killer Instinct
(Jean-Francois Richet, France, 2008)

My Movie Scorecard: B+
Life Lessons Learned From This Film: The Algerian War served as young Jacques Mesrine's Career Counselor.
Awards: Nominated for 13 Cesars (French Oscars), winner of three (including Best Actor - Vincent Cassal and Best Director - Jean-Francois Richot); Cassal also won Best Actor awards from the Tokyo International Film Festival, Lumiere Awards, and Etoiles d'Or

Just a week before the festival, I was told that I needed to see this film by several Francophones whose opinions I respect. Actually, like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Mesrine was actually two films, an epic crime-action narrative based on real-life '60s and '70s French gangster Jacques Mesrine that was split into two separate 2008 releases - Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'Instinct de Mort) and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (L'ennemi Public No. 1) - by director Jean-Francois Richet (best know stateside for 2005's Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne action film Assault on Precinct 13 - a remake of John Carpenter's 1976 original). Both were playing at the festival, but like last year's 3-hour-long Japanese Red Army film that we wanted to see there, neither Amy nor I had the patience/stamina/bladder control required to invest in the full slog, so we opted to see part one; that way, if we liked it enough, we'd seek out the sequel on NetFlix eventually.

Watch the official "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" trailer.

We liked it more than enough. Even though it adds nothing new to the crime-action-gangster film genre - and suffers a few narrative jump cuts (like the jarring one that moves right from Mesrine planning a bank robbery to him sitting behind bars in the robbery's cocked-up aftermath, eliciting a joint response from Amy and I of "WTF?") - it's distinctively stylish (especially the opening credits sequence), entertaining (filled with lots of sex and violence), and well-acted.

Killer Instinct: Mesrine's larger-than-life story boasted a star-studded, larger-than-life cast

It didn't hurt that it starred the charismatic Vincent Cassal, who is sometimes called the French DeNiro, and who I will see in just about anything. It also starred the French Brando (or the French Orson Welles, depending how much Girth Gravitas you attribute to him), Gerard Depardieu, whom one cannot avoid seeing in just about everything from France (it must be a Franco-American trade law or something - not only is the increasingly obese Depardieu seemingly in every French film, but now his children are appearing in everything as well!). (Don't get me wrong - he's a great actor. There's just too much of him; he defines the term over exposure - or as Dan Hicks once sang, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?")

When he's not robbing banks, escaping from prisons, knee-capping street thugs, or torturing kidnapped millionaire cripples, Mesrine gets down with the ladies, be they doe-eyed hookers like Sara (Florence Thomassin) or Spanish virgins like Sofia (the drop-dead gorgeous Elena Anaya of Sex and Lucia and Van Helsing fame) that he eventually marries and gets with child. But the one who really hooks him turns out to be Jeanne Schneider, played by Cecile De France (of Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, and Avenue Montaigne, High Tension, Russian Dolls, L'auberge Espangole), with whom his "equal opportunity" criminal exploits take on a sexy, Bonnie and Clyde vibe. In her brunette wig and spectacles guise here, De France bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Demi Moore, back when she played Jackie on General Hospital. (As if that's not enough babe-age for Cassal to paw over, Ludivine Sagnier also gets thrown into the mix, but not as a featured protagonist until the second film, Public Enemy No. 1.)

Une Liason Dangereuse: Jeanne & Jacques in their Bonnie & Clyde Courtship Phase

One thing's for sure - Cassal's a lot better looking than the real Mesrine who, sign of his times, sported atrocious mutton-chop sideburns (as shown below) like some Brooklyn indie rocker.

Hey Jacques - Jimmy Page called to say he wants his sideburns back!

But this Mesrine dude was no laid-back hipster; the film suggests this French Scarface gangsta's hot-tempered violent streak - and his loathing of Arabs - stemmed from his experience in the Algerian War, kind of like a post-traumatic psycho Vietnam Vet thing going on. In fact, Roger Ebert picks up on this connection when he observes: "Jacques Mesrine was born in a stable middle-class home, well-educated, then sent to Algeria as a paratrooper who soon became a torturer and executioner and found he liked the work."

I had never heard of Mesrine (pronounced "Merrine") - he penned an autobiography (L'Instinct du Mort, on which this film is based) but it's only available in French and the lone English book written about him is out of print - but there's an excellent article about the outlaw odyssey of the Man of a Thousand Faces who fancied himself a modern Robin Hood and came to be known as French "Public Enemy No. 1" in The Independent: "Jacques Mesrine: Le Grand Gangster." The short version? Jacques Mesrine killed perhaps 40 people, kidnapped people in France and Quebec, escaped from four prisons (including from La Sante prison - he remains the only man ever to escape from this maximum security facility in Paris), "stuck up banks the way other people use ATM machines" (in Ebert's description), made a little love, drank a little wine, and died in a hail of bullets as any good legendary villain (who aspires to be remembered as a romantic rogue) should.

The story of Jacques Mesrine is strikingly similar to that of our own John Dillinger, the infamous 1930s gangster who robbed banks, escaped from prisons and was shot dead in public by police when leaving a Chicago theatre on 22 July 1934. (Dillinger was also rumored to have an enormous penis; not sure how frere Jacques measured up, but he seemed to do OK with the ladies.) And Mesrine met his own end in similar fashion, being gunned down by Parisien police in August 1979. Dillinger's life story was also made into a film with a similar name, Public Enemies, in 2009.

Andre Genoves' "Mesrine" (1984)

Mesrine's story had been brought to the screen previously in Andre Genoves' 1984 film Mesrine, with Nicoles Silberg in the title role. Genoves' film begins with Mesrine's escape May 1978 from La Sante prison and follows his final 18 months on the run with Sylvia Jeanjacquot.

OK, ADD's kicking in...more film reviews later!

Stay tuned for:
"My Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Day 3."

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Monday, November 15, 2010

My 2010 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 1

Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 10-14, 2010

Some quick notes I jotted down after Amy and I returned home yesterday from this four-day film festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and before my ADD kicked in...

BLOW BACK: In Which Tom & Amy Revise Their Rehobo Filmfest Philosophy

This year's 13th annual Rehoboth Beach Film Fest was our first "full" Rehoboth festival proper. Last year we hit town just as a NorEaster with 50-mph-winds arrived to literally blow us back to Baltimore after just two days and three movies. Amy had discovered the RBIFF in her Marie Claire magazine (of all places!) and wanted to go because the festival's foreign country spotlight in 2009 was on Japan - no doubt inspired by Japan winning its first-ever Academy Awards that year for Yojiro Takita's Departures (Best Foreign Feature Film) and Kunio Kato's La Maison en Petits Cubes (Best Animated Short Film). Unfortunately, we couldn't score tickets to anything we wanted to see, mainly due to Rehoboth's snooty "preferred customer" tickets policy that lets card-carrying members buy tickets in advance of the general public; this irked us to no end, and though we enjoyed the "leftover" films we saw in 2009 (especially the Australian animated feature $9.99 - based on a short story by Israeli writer Etgar Keret - and Hirokazu Koreeada's Still Walking), we vowed to never go back again.

Plus we got the vibe that the Rehoboth Film Fest was kinda old and uncool. The audiences were filled with what I called "film fest amateurs," dominated by middle-aged casual film goers (the type who catch their media buzz from Entertainment Weekly as opposed to, say, Film Comment or Cineaste) - in fact, it would not be a stretch to rebrand it as the AARP Film Festival. There's a lot of gray hair, canes, and chattering Yentas at the screenings, not that the younger gen is any more savvy - I still grimace remembering the guy who, last year, asked a visiting Japanese director to explain those "newfangled terms like mongrel [manga?] and this uhneee-may [anime?] thing I keep hearing about." (*Groan*)

But as I flipped through the film festival program in the ensuing months, I was struck by how many films turned up on "Best Of" lists and/or cable TV's Sundance and IFC channels. The programmers knew their stuff, even if their audiences (and volunteer presenters) didn't. There's a lot to like about this festival; for one thing, there are no Q&A's following screenings. None. Zilch. Nada. Which I love. (Most Q&A's serve as Audience Show & Tells wherein Humanity's Hubris and Elitist Egoism rear their ugly heads; rarely have I seen an audience member ask a question that really wasn't a veiled attempt to call attention to his- or herself.) And it really made me appreciate the Maryland Film Festival back in Baltimore, where the 3-films-for-$20 dollars film package is the best filmfest idea I've ever encountered. Plus, the motel where we always stay in right next to the Dogfish Head Brewpub, where you don't exactly have to twist my arm to force pints of their yummy seasonal Punkin' Ale down my hatch.

Dogfish Head Brewpub (aka "Home Sweet Home")

So this year, after verifying with the weather service that the weather would be sunny and in the low-60s, we headed back to the film fest and (grudgingly) decided to bite the bullet and purchase "Associate Producer" memberships - this was the only membership level that allowed us to buy tix to all the films we wanted in a single trip to the Ticket Tent.

As backup, I also took along the "Producer" tag I got when I bought a pair of Express Producer Pants - y'know, the pants that guarantee you will be a "Hollywood power player with his finger firmly on the pulse." And I quote: "Known throughout the industry as the guy who knows the guy who knew the guy when he was nobody. Knows star power when he sees it. Can make or break a career with a single phone call. His name is on every list. It gets him into every party, opens every door." Yes, "The Express Producer Pant - The clothes that make the man."

(Mental note: Must be sure to add my new Associate Producer and Producer credentials to IMDB.)

DAY ONE: Thursday, November 11

First things first, which in Rehoboth Beach means heading down to Go Fish - our favorite (make that favourite) British gastropub - where Amy and I ordered our beloved Shepherds Pies, a hearty rib-sticking medley of seasoned ground beef and vegetable pie topped with mashed potatoes - a veritable value-meal steal at $9.95! But we were too stuffed to order their world famous Sticky Toffee Pudding, which has been featured on NBC's Today Show.

Go Fish: Rehobo's best Fish & Chips shop

We then made haste to purchase tickets at the Movies at Midway multiplex in the Midway Shopping Center up Coastal Highway Route 1...

...where the RBIFF had set up their big filmfest tickets and foodcourt tent...

Inside the Big Ticket Tent HQ

Watch the scene "Inside the 2010 Rehoboth Film Fest Tent."

Then it off to take in our first motion picture of the day...


Sound of Noise
(Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjarne Nilsson, Sweden, 2010)
My Movie Meter Rating: B-
Life Lessons Learned from This Film: Noise annoys; love alloys.

Do not ask for whom the metronome ticks; if tocks for thee!

Amy picked this one, a quirky-albeit-uneven police procedural/musical/dramedy which she dubbed "The Motor Morons Movie" because its High Zero-style avant-audiophiles are obsessed with playing unusual instruments, like the human body, power station electrical wires, or savings bank cash registers and shredding machines.

See for yourself; watch the Sound of Noise trailer.

The plot revolves around what a character calls "Musical Terrorism," a term I had previously associated only with the unfortunate urban phenomenon of loud rap music blaring out of SUVs. As Moviefone's Jette Kernion described it:
Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson) is a police inspector and also the only completely tone-deaf member of an extended musical family, including a younger brother who is a famous conductor. Warnebring knows enough about music to realize that a ticking noise his colleagues believe is from a car bomb is in fact a metronome ... and the discovery of that metronome puts him on the trail of a gang of musicians perpetrating odd crimes. Sanna (Sanna Persson) and her composer friend Magnus (Magnus Borjeson) are the head of a group performing Magnus's symphony "Music for One City and Six Drummers," which comprises four movements set in the most unlikely parts of town and involves the most unlikely musical instruments. Everything has musical possibilities in this group's hands, from medical equipment to shredders to bulldozers.

Those four movements of Magnus' magnum opus are:
  1. "Doctor, Doctor, Gimme Gas (in My Ass)" - performed in a hospital operating room

  2. "Money 4 U Honey" - staged as a bank robbery

  3. "F*ck the Music, Kill, Kill" - staged as a demolition outside the town's symphony hall

  4. "Electric Love" - played on Power Station wires

According to reviewer Jette Kernion, Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjaerne Nilsson previously directed Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, a 2001 short film with the same theme and musicians but on a much smaller scale.

Watch "Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers."

I thoroughly enjoyed it; though I wouldn't advise people to rush out and see it, it's definitely worth adding to your NetFlix queue, where NetFlix will probably suggest you watch the similarly themed US indie film (Untitled) - another meditation on what constitutes art and music.

Synchnocity! I had just checked out Leroy Anderson's Greatest Hits from the library this week, so Sound of Noise's everyday objects-as-instruments mentality naturally reminded me of Anderson's "The Typewriter," whose pre-Kraftwerk electronic/ambient/found-sound stylings had previously gotten mass exposure on the big screen in Jerry Lewis' Who's Minding the Store?

Watch Jerry Lewis play Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter."

And the film's opening musical number "Music For One Highway," with its ubiquitous sacro-sanct metronome (here mounted on a car's dashboard) made me think of the steady tick-tocking of Anderson's "The Syncopated Clock."

Watch Sound of Noise's "Music For One Highway."

I also noticed that Bengt Nilsson's police inspector character bore an uncanny resemblance to erstwhile German soccer star/coach Juergen Klinsmann, while "Music For One City and Six Drummers" composer Magnus Borjeson looked like Eric Lange, who played Dharma Initiative pain-in-the-ass Stuart Radzinsky on ABC-TV's Lost.

Dopplegangers Klinsmann and Lange


Animal Kingdom
(David Michod, Australia, 2010)

My Movie Scorecard: B+
Life Lessons Learned from This Film:
  • "Everyone knows their place ... Things survive because they’re strong."

  • "Crooks always come undone."

  • "Your hands go anywhere near your arse or your cock, you wash ‘em after."
Just released stateside October 13, I missed this Aussie dysfunctional gangsta family drama (not to be confused with 1932's RKO production The Animal Kingdom starring Leslie Howard, Myrna Loy, and Ann Harding) when it played at Baltimore's Charles Theatre, but heard good things about it and decided to play catch-up Thursday night. We weren't disappointed. (OK, except maybe for the clueless volunteer presenter who, before the screening, said of star Jacki Weaver: "He's been getting a lot of praise for his performance in this film"; um, Jacki Weaver is a Sheila, mate! Guess he never saw her in Picnic at Hanging Rock...oh, well!) My ADD's starting to kick in just now, so I'll leave it to others to recount the storyline...

In his excellent review for inTROUBLE, Glenn Deegan observes:

After his mum dies from an overdose, teenager Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) moves into his grandmother’s (Jackie Weaver’s) house. Here he is drawn into the world of his uncles, Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), and their friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), who together make up a gang that is suspected of a series of violent bank robberies.

It’s a world on edge, where the sense is that violence is always a moment away. Underlying this is fear, because, as Josh puts it, “crooks always come undone”.

David Michod’s first feature is loosely based around the Walsh Street killings. Using the Pettingill family as a rough template Michod constructs a family unit that seethes with paranoia, fear and intimidation. Josh’s struggle to survive and find his own way is riveting. Animal Kingdom is not the descendant of the Underbelly trivialization of crime and criminals, but more a sibling of a film like The Boys (Rowan Woods, 1998). It’s about the suffocation of an insular and incestuous group, dominated by the strong. “Everyone knows their place ... Things survive because they’re strong.” Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) explains to Josh, “But you’re not strong. You might think you are, but you’re weak.” The sense of danger hangs unspoken over most of the film until a disastrous series of violent explosions, quick and brutal. Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Pope – dominating and cruel, his every gesture an implied threat – recalls the character of Brett in The Boys.

Although an outsider, Barry is a moral centre for the family, keeping them from running of the rails, and a tempering influence on the more out of control tendencies of Craig and Pope. When Barry sees Josh leaving a restaurant toilet without washing his hands he pulls him up, “your hands go anywhere near your arse or your cock, you wash ‘em after” he says. It’s one of the only examples of parenting in the film. J’s appreciative smile is one of the only breaks from his unreadable stoicism. When Barry is gunned down by the armed robbery squad, anger, fear and paranoia prove a fatal combination as violent revenge leads to series of disastrous events. Josh must decide on his own path through a moral minefield where a wrong decision can have fatal consequences.

The darker side of family seems to be a bit of a theme for Michod, his short Netherlands Dwarf (2008) is about the relationship of a father and son in the absence of a wife and mother. Crossbow (2007), which is included on the DVD, is about a mother and father and child. Animal Kingdom is as much a family melodrama as it is a crime film. It looks at where support amplifies the negatives as much as developing the strengths. The incestuousness of the Cody’s family unit, where outsiders are mistrusted, creates a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout the film.

The cast is wonderful. Newcomer James Frecheville’s minimalist performance of Joshua, an apparently disinterested observer at first of his mother’s overdose, and then his uncle’s criminal activities, is eventually forced to engage. Jackie Weaver is wonderful as Janine ‘Mama Smurf’ Cody, who dotes over her Boys a little too much, when the kisses on her son’s lips seem to linger into creepy incestuousness. She is willing to do anything and cross anyone to protect her little brood. Sullivan Stapleton’s Craig is manic, paranoid, always on edge and always moving. Luke Ford is passive, cowed by the stronger wills of his older siblings, and Ben Mendelsohn oozes menace.

An impressive supporting cast is led by the ambivalence of Pearce’s Detective Leckie. In a police force of faceless, nameless corruption it is difficult to tell where Leckie stands. At times he seems to act out of self-interest as he tries to strongarm J, just as his uncles do. At other times you feel he may be the one good cop. Laura Wheelright is a picture of worldly innocence as Joshua’s girlfriend, tragically open to new experiences. Noah Wylie plays the family lawyer Ezra White (interestingly the title character of David Michod’s first short film Ezra White LL.B (2003), who is crooked and sleazy. The production is first rate, beautifully shot by Adam Arkapaw and edited by Luke Doolan, Animal Kingdom is overlaid by an ominous soundtrack by Antony Partos.

Animal Kingdom won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival, and has earned critical acclaim such as few other Australian films have in recent years. But my favorite part in this relentlessly tense and ominous, edge-of-your-seat film was the instructional hygiene bathroom scene wherein Barry's advise to Josh - "Your hands go anywhere near your arse or your cock, you wash ‘em after...make sure you use soap and work up a good lather!" - served as comic relief and elicited a titter of nervous laughter from the four gay guys sitting in the row in front of us, one of whom who added, "Got that right!"

I liked this mantra so much I kept repeating it every time I relieved myself back at our motel, much to Amy's annoyance, though as a long-standing fan of post-potty soap-lathering, she applauded the spirit of my newfound soapy enthusiasm for cleansing "mits-that-touch-naughty bits."

Hand washing: You can never be too clean after dirty business!

After the movie, we headed back down Coastal Highway to hit the Dogfish Head Brewpub for post-theatre pizza and Punkin' Ale. If we thought the brewpub crowd would be as sparse as last year during the NorEaster, we were gravely mistaken; apparently, there is no off-season at Dogfish Head - it's always packed! By the time of my second beer, a lightweight "Lawnmower" seasonal, I needed to hit the restroom - where I washed and lathered with gusto!


(To be continued...)

See also:
"My Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 2"

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