Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My 2011 Rehoboth Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 2

Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 9-13, 2011

Day 2: Friday, November 11, 2011

On our second day at the film festival, we headed back to Midway Movies to avail ourselves of photo ops with cine-lebrities like Luis Bunuel (that's what his name tag said!) - who's very much alive and well in his new role as Midway Movies ticket-taker (as shown below)...

Luis Bunuel is alive and well and working as a ticket-taker at the Rehobeth Beach Film Fest

...and Miss Piggy, who was promoting her latest Muppets feature film:

Tom beams his bedroom eyes at an awestruck Miss Piggy @ Midway Movies

"Judas!": Miss Piggy is stunned to smell bacon on Amy's breath

Our shameless media whoring over, we headed in to see our first Asian film of this year's festival, The Piano in a Factory.

directed by Zhang Meng
(China, 2011, 119 minutes)

Watch "The Piano in a Factory" trailer.

Despite this film winning the Miami Film Festival's "Grand Jury Prize," the Hollywood Reporter found Zhang Meng's second feature to be a stylish failure.
Stylish "The Piano in a Factory" offers fitful entertainment value but little narrative cohesion or momentum, playing like a series of disconnected setpieces in search of context. Chinese writer-director Zhang Meng's sophomore feature (following 2007's "Lucky Dog") centers on a humble musician's attempt to hold onto his music-prodigy daughter by securing her a piano by hook or by crook. Melancholic comedy demonstrates considerable flair for camera movement and use of music, but is too fragmentary to realize its crowdpleasing goal...The most important relationship here, between Chen and daughter, is relegated to a few stilted scenes. Instead, Meng focuses on ornate setpieces that are pretty in a late-Fellini, self-consciously theatrical way, but play as empty pictorialism.

That said (especially the highlighted text comments above), we loved it. Yes, this film set against the economic hardship of life in northern China during the 1980s quickly loses its narrative cohesion (scenes with the musician's daughter and upwardly mobile, estranged wife are far and few between) and the pacing gets a little laborious near the end (rumor has it that an additional 17 minutes were, thankfully, chopped out of the first cut before its Toronto Film Festival screening), but the style is so striking that it overwhelms everything else - with the result that the medium becomes the message, as Marshall McLuhan would say. More to the point, I felt like I was watching an Aki Kaurismaki film wherein the play's not the thing, but the players. The singer not the song. A world of offbeat characters like something out of a Daniel Clowes graphic novel.

I was hooked right from the opening scene that had a band of musicians playing Cold War-era Russian pop ballads in the pouring rain at a funeral service held outside a decrepit factory that looked like Three Mile Island.

Fellini-esque? Check.

Interesting artistic misfits (a la Bergman's theatrical troupe in The Seventh Seal)? Affirmative.

Aforementioned scrappy misfits banding together on a daunting project that bonds them forever and gives meaning to their lives a la The Full Monty? You got it!

What's not to like?

The programmers at the San Franciso International Asian Film Festival got it right when they called this film "the latest in a series of acclaimed Chinese films concerned with the human cost of the country’s rapid economic development. But while other films in this de facto subgenre, such as Jia Zhang-ke’s STILL LIFE (2008) and Lixin Fan’s LAST TRAIN HOME (2009), have skewed sad, PIANO tempers its pathos with a refreshing comic whimsy."

It worked for us.


Blogger's note: I lost my program guide and all my notes, so suffice it to say I don't have much to say about the remaining films we saw that night and Saturday morning except that both Take Shelter and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (in 3-D) were excellent and highly recommended.

directed by Jeff Nichols
(USA, 2011, 120 minutes)

This one, starring Michael Shannon (the creepy G-man on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) and Jessica Chastain (The Help), was really good and had twist ending that - given the way global warming's made recent weather forecasts almost apocalyptic - was not the stretch you would think it was. Shannon plays a young man plagued by doom-and-gloom visions who obsessively builds a backyard shelter to protect his family from a coming storm and the End Days it promises to deliver. Or is it all a paranoid delusion? Director Nichols gives nothing away and keeps viewers guessing until the very end.

directed by Werner Herzog
(Canada/USA/France/Germany/UK, 2011, 90 minutes)

We had already seen Herzog's latest documentary feature at Baltimore Charles Theater, but only the 2-D version. Since we were wowed by it in two dimensions, we treated ourselves to a second helping in 3-D and were elated to be able to score tickets for that evening's screening. It was even better the second time around.

So what's it about? In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France that was perfectly preserved for over 30,000 years. The Chauvet Cave contained the oldest known human paintings in history. Knowing its cultural significance, the French government immediately cut off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists - and Werner Herzog, who realizing the cinematic opportunity this limited access afforded, quickly gathered a film crew to photograph the preserved artwork of our ancient ancestors. The idea to film every nook and cranny in 3-D brilliantly adds to the sense of "being there" and viewers are treated to the same sense of real-time discovery that the scientists themselves must have felt upon unearthing this natural wonder. As usual, the ever intellectually curious Herzog questions what our ancestors were like and his cameras tries to convey what the cave drawings looked like to their eyes, as well as ours. He attempts to build a bridge from the past to the present, while putting the whole thing into a spiritual and metaphysical rumination on existence itself.

Mission accomplished!

Day 3: Saturday, November 12, 2011

We began the day by answering Amy's pumpkin-crepe-for-breakfast craving at the Gallery Expresso cafe in downtown Rehoboth Beach.

Behold the transcendent taste sensation that is Gallery Cafe's Pumpkin Crepe

"Ohmigod!" Amy moans as the pumpkin crepe finds her G(astronomical)-Spot

Satiated, we once more  trekked up Coastal Highway 1 to the Midway Movies...

directed by Dorota Kedzierzawska, Poland, 2011, 118 minutes
In Russian and Polish with English subtitles

Though it won this year's Berlin Film Festival’s International Children’s Jury Prize, this film from Polish director Dorota Kędzierzawska (Crows, A Time to Die, Nothing) was clearly aimed at an adult audience span, because it was pretty tedious.

Three homeless Ukranian boys, "contemporary Huck Finns," cross the border in search of "a better tomorrow" in...Poland? Um, yes, Poland...the land of opportunity. Drifting around towns and markets, loitering at train stations, begging food and stealing what they can’t beg, the kids are survivors. But once they take off across the countryside, the possibilities of a new life seem to imbue the children with near invincibility, no matter the reality that looms ahead.

Writer/Director Dorota Kędzierzawska's film, photographed by her husband, Arthur Reinhart, is visually beautiful, but the juvenile principals - played by street kids met during her search for locations - ultimately got on our nerves. There was too much mugging for the camera by the youngest kid (obviously meant to be the cute, endearing one to appeal to the audience's hearts), which we found cloying and annoying.

Amy and I will definitely not be adopting Ukrainian tots anytime soon! (Or visiting any of the Polish villages featured here on our next vacation.)

Directed by George Ratcliff
(USA, 2011, 96 minutes)

Amy wanted to see this one because it looked to be a spoof of the world of mega-churches and corrupt Holy Rollers. But the casting of Pierce Brosnan as an American televangelist is a show stopper from the gitgo, and the A-list cast of Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connely (hot, as always), Ed Harris and Marisa Tomei (also hot, as always, even as a Deadhead stoner security guard) can't save it. Salvation Boulevard is one of those "dramedies" - films that want to be both a drama (there's a murder subplot) and comedy, and come up short on both, Though Amy enjoyed some of the humor, overall it lacked depth and was pretty much a one-joke concept. It was our lone outright bummer of the festival.

The less said about it, the better.

And that's all I have to say about the 2011 film festival!

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