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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