INDIEFEST/FAIF -- DAY 3

I bet you think Downtown Disney’s a rip-off, don’cha?

You’re not wrong. The Diet Coke I had at the Rainforest Café cost $2.69. For that kind of coin, I don’t expect the waitresses to be wearing shirts.

But I have found one decent deal during my time at Indiefest. Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen – the New Orleans-style place – serves six oyster shooters for $7.95. If that’s too steep, you can get one for a buck fifty, which I believe is the cheapest item available for sale in the entire D.D. experience. Ask for horseradish on the side – it’s the most ass-kicking variety of the ground root I’ve ever encountered. They’re American style shooters, as opposed to the kind a sushi chef would do – basically just an oyster and some cocktail sauce in a shot glass. But they’re big ol’ mollusks, these.

The first short film I saw today was about a guy with boobs. Do I have your attention yet?

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Yes, in Dave Perkal’s “The Frank Anderson,” Richard Riehle stars as a dude with titties, similar to those sported by Meat Loaf in FIGHT CLUB. Richard Riehle, in case the name doesn’t ring a bell, is a character actor who’s kinda chunky, bald, and has a gray mustache – you probably know him best as the guy with the medical head-vice in OFFICE SPACE. Also from that movie is Milton himself, Stephen Root, playing a sleazy insurance agent who won’t give Frank (Riehle) coverage for his breast reduction surgery. But then it turns out that chicks dig man-boobs more than anyone would have guessed, so the insurance guy decides he needs to add a pair to his own physique. Funny stuff, and Riehle and Root are always fun to watch (disclosure: I know Riehle – worked with him on an upcoming movie called THE LOST, and he’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He also does not use email. See what you learn in these wrap-ups?)

Tony Shyu’s “Macau Twilight” involves a guy who falls for a hooker, and winds up in a bunch of situations and sets that are a total knock-off of LOST HIGHWAY – Shyu even uses some of that movie’s score, as well as s snippets of a song from THE CROW. Good influences to have, Tony – but try coming up with more of your own stuff next time. Festival audiences know their David Lynch too well.

They may not know their TOTAL RECALL quite so well, which is good news for Brent Nowak, whose “Nightmare” cribs its ending from a key scene. Other than that, it’s a passable “What is reality?” mini-mindfuck, but not much we haven’t seen before.

God bless Shawn Costa’s “The Run.” I don’t know what kind of director is crazy enough to bust his ass making a film that lasts maybe a minute, if that, and undergo the heartbreak of festival submission, but this is EXACTLY the kind of movie that shorts programs need. A man stands in a spooky hallway. Suddenly, another man comes running towards him, screaming insanely. The first guy starts running, and is followed by the screaner down a flight of stairs. He slips on a puddle. The pursuer follows, then runs right past his apparent quarry...into the men’s room. The end. I applauded loudly and spontaneously, and I don’t usually do that in movies.

Costa proved a hard act to follow. Christopher John Stack’s “An Exercise in Vigilance” pulls off a good interrogation scene, and ends with a slightly silly twist; Shae Wilhite’s “Supermodels” has a good concept – crime-fighting models who turn into slightly overweight nerds on their down-time – but the execution, sad to say, is a lot less than super, and I’ll politely make no comment on the acting. Finally, there was a number called “little black dress (and heels)” from an actor/director named Bill Billions. It opens with a sub-daytime soap scene of a man and woman standing by a torch-lit pool acting very wooden....at that point, I decided to leave, so I guess I’ll never know if it got better. There seemed like little hope.

Onward to the features. JUSTICE LOUIS T. BRANDEIS, directed by Charles C. Stuart, is exactly what you think it is: a documentary about the first Jewish judge on the Supreme Court. Born just before the Civil War, and dead of old age just before Pearl Harbor, his life was certainly a remarkable one. I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know, anyway. At a young age he started losing his sight, and was advised to “read less, think more.” So he started having his students read to him, and eventually his sight came back; but the period during which he was read to disciplined his mind and left him with a great memory.

Brandeis was the first to write a legal memo about the concept of the right to privacy, and the fact that it such a thing was strongly implied by the constitution. He originally intended it just to mean privacy from the media, but the idea of expanding it to government was a natural outgrowth. H enever took a case unless he thought it was just; when he became rich, he used his money to do pro bono work, paying back the firm out of his won pocket for the time spent on such things. He feared corporations were taking over at the expense of the little man, and was a strong advocate for adequate leisure/vacation time. We could use him back right about now!

The second half of the movie is stronger than the first, as it features some actual film footage; the era of his life prior to the invention of film is done with reenactments and stills, which aren’t as exciting. None of the talking heads here are familiar to me except current justice Stephen Breyer, who says that a good judge navigates between the wooden and the willful – the latter being so rigid as to be divorced from reality, and the former substituting bias for objectivity. I’d be interested to see what Clarence Thomas might have said, but then this documentary doesn’t have any negativity to it. Maybe more debate would liven the movie up a bit, but it depends what you’re looking for. I wanted to know about the history of the Supreme Court, and got what I came for. If you aren’t inherently interested, I’m not sure the film will sway you.

I may not be good with names, but you never forget one like “Pericles Lewnes.” The first time I ever heard it, I thought it was a pseudonym that someone used because they were embarrassed to be billed as the director of REDNECK ZOMBIES. But no, it’s really his name. “Peri” hasn’t made many movies since – there was the MMA/Ramdy Couture documentary FIGHTER, and now we have LOOP. I was looking forward to this quite a bit, especially since Peri is a sweetheart in person – imagine Quentin Tarantino’s slightly pudgy brother, and you get the picture.

And now? I wish I could say I loved the movie, but I don’t. It has things to like about it – Peri’s lead performance is fearless and true, and by the time he gets around to actually making his point, my interest was raised. But initially, it’s just maddeningly unclear. Peri plays guy named Joe Neil List (“Neil List” = “Nihilist,” you see), who has weird stuff happen to him – a box of rats suddenly leaps onto his head, and his ego, id, and superego show up as other people, enaging him in non-sequitur conversations that sound profound but don’t seem to be saying anything. And the editing is maddening, but not intentionally so, I don’t think. There’s a rule you learn in film school called the 180-degree line rule, which says that you shouldn’t cut from any given angle to another that’s more than 180 degrees different from it, as it will look odd and confuse the onscreen geography. Lewnes breaks this rule A LOT in the early stages, and master shots don’t always match close-ups, possibly because production on this went for two years.

But then the movie picks up. Scenes in which Joe directs a Japanese conceptual art piece in a darkened studio have a strange beauty to them, and a moment in a park beside a tent, as the air is filled with helicopters, is also interesting, and somewhat reminiscent of the original TOXIC AVENGER. By the time Joe was quoting Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, and revealing that the whole point of this thing is out confused reaction to 9-11, and the curiously narcissistic strain of introspection that ensued, I was totally with it. And props also to Adrian Bond’s creepy score, which adds a surreal air without resorting to the David Lynch trick of using rumbles to disorient people. Finding an actress with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to play his wife was an interesting touch too. [Update: The actress does not have ALS, but a different condition that makes her body small relative to her head. Her character has ALS. Since ALS is fatal, I'm glad to know she doesn't have it]

Lewnes’ day job, by the way, is that he works for a government run Arab-language TV network out of Virginia. So he told me, anyway. I replied that dealing with the U.S. government is a whole new level of redneck zombies, to which he jokingly responded that his redneck zombies had a higher approval rating.

It being Halloween, I thought it was awesome that Lewnes gave out candy to all his audience. And neon glowing bracelets. See what you all missed by not coming down today?

Final film of the night: Don Wilson’s MISSISSIPPI SON. And no, this isn’t martial artist Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Don’s a Mississippian who, like many others, seems kind of righteously pissed that all the media attention on Hurricane Katrina focused on New Orleans’ levees breaking, rather than, oh, let’s say, the state where Katrina actually came ashore and flattened everything. So this movie is his way of setting the record straight. It also features music by bands who were affected, and each is credited every time a new song kicks in, but while the music is fine, it can feel a bit odd to hear a song that would normally make you go “Yeah, this is kick ass!” over images of people’s homes being ruined.

When the casinos were flattened, many of the musicians moved away, we learn. Also, out-of-state church groups were the best as far as giving assistance and helping people clean stuff up. Don’s point of view is unassailable, and his case solid. But his film needs more narrative structure, I think. It sort of has the semblance of some now: Act one is focusing on musicians, act two on scary real-life stories (including frightening home-movie footage), and act three on the future. But we never learn who these people were before, and thus they’re somewhat generic to the viewer, even though they obviously mean a lot to Don. Characters need to be fleshed out onscreen even if they’re real and in a documentary – it would help us make the connection that he already has.

The scenes of devastation, however, speak for themselves. It’d be fine as is if cut down to a much shorter news-type piece...as a feature, I still feel on the outside looking in.


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