Saturday, May 21, 2005

Jax Film Fest: Day Two

Months ago, I took special care to have the Friday of the Festival off from work. As it turned out, Friday was my heaviest movie day for JFF. I took in one documentary, one feature film and ten shorts.

Elephant Palm Tree is a quiet and austere slice of life concerning an elderly black couple with marriage problems. The ending was the biggest problem for me with this short. The short as a whole felt incomplete and the message, well, incredibly depressing. That's not saying that a short doesn't have the right to be depressing, but the downer ending on this one made the entire escapade seem nigh pointless. Six out of Ten.

Moondance is perhaps the most entertaining short I saw, and I'm proud to say that it was created by some film students at my Alma Mater of Florida State University. Basically, it's Kill Bill told as a fairy tale where Little Red Ridding Hood dispatches characters that have fallen under the spell of the Big Bad Wolf. There's also a bit of Xena Warrior Princess, here. Great use of locations, costumes, and decent actors. Nine out of Ten.

Pee Shy is the story of a red headed boy in a Boy Scout troop with the inability to pee and tell scary stories (separately, that is). That all changes one summer when the troop stumble upon something in the woods. The story is charming enough, if not predictable. The main deficit is the actors. The Scout leader is supposed to be a jerk, but he overacts his part just a tad. The kids, on the other hand, are a little wooden (I know, all kids can't be Haley Joel friggin Osmet, but they could have cast a kid in the lead role who could speak lines convincingly). Seven out of Ten.

Ryan is actually the Oscar winner for Best Animated Short earlier this year. The technical achievement is amazing as the narrator leads us through a mirror and we see characters in terms of their mental states. In the case of the narrator and an older animator he goes to interview, their creative output has been troubled and this is represented, among other things, by thickets of colorful wire that explode from their heads. It's a very surreal piece where the young animator takes audio recordings of his interviews with him and then reinterprets the interviews with his own visual style. Nine out of Ten.

The Act is the story of a standup comedianne going through her act concerning a recent divorce from her loutish husband. Footage of her on stage is crosscut with her returning to her lonely apartment and settling in for the night. It's a very tender piece with a nice twist ending. Eight out of Ten.

Waiting for the Man is basically Waiting for Godot except with a beaver and a she...and tired dialogue...and that's about it. What novelty there is in this wears out way before it's over. This was made by the same guy who did Phil the Alien, which was shown the previous night, which makes me glad I skipped it. Five out of Ten.

Kings of Christmas is a documentary short subject on a bunch of guys living in New York City who go way out in the decoration of their houses for Christmas. This is an amusing piece. I had to note that one of these guys is actually an electrician, which means that at least his block won't be shorted out by all this excess. Eight out of Ten.

Days Like These is a shot-on-video comedy about some poor shmuck trying to get to a date and encountering obstacles in the form of a smiley face pin, a cup of expresso and a case of the runs. It's a real goofy piece that likes to constantly flash back minutes, days, and even years backwards to illustrate how certain obstacles came to be. Cute. Eight out of Ten.

And now on to our documentary and feature.

I, Crumudgeon (Production Company Site) is a documentary about, simply, famous grumps and why they are the way they are. These many interviews are led by the director Alan Zweig, a self confessed crumudgeon himself who takes many times to talk to the camera about his past experiences.

I actually had really high hopes for this one, but it all kind of fell flat for me. I think one of the biggest mistakes of the film is that there are never any subtitles to indicate who the person is being interviewed. This may seem like a small thing, but any flow to the film is broken by the fact that we have no bearings with any of these people. I only recognized Comic book writer Harvey Pekar, former Kids in the Hall Scott Thompson, and Andy Rooney (who appears in exactly one clip compared to the multiples of all the others, and in that one only expresses bewilderment at what Zweig is trying to do here).

So what we have is a roundtable of people bitching about their lives of bitching. Zweig does try to put some form to the work on occasion, such as his repeated question to several subjects about the "Emperor Has No Clothes" story, but it's not enough. There are amusing anecdotes and stories here (most memorable is one guy describing how he could start developing a positive outlook on life if it weren't for the existence of jetskis), but it's not enough to hold it together. In it's current incarnation, the film should be at least 30 minutes shorter, and that's still providing they put in subtitles to identify people. Oh well. Six out of Ten.

The Works (Official Site) at first glance seems to be a 50/50 splice of Office Space and Brazil. The specific plot involves a guy named Victor (Joe W. Anthony) who is sick of his mind-numbing job at a bland corporation and tries to quit, but the bureaucracy refuse to let him go. Amongst his current problems is an office relocated to a public restroom and some leaky pipes. Fortunately for him, this period of his life brings him in contact with two special people: Eve (Danielle Taddei), who works on the building's plumbing, and Mr. M (Corey Allen) who is the crazy old man who owns the building.

Some films are so eccentric they seek to do it just for eccentricity's sake; filling up every frame of film with it. The Works, however, chooses its eccentricities carefully and ground the film nicely so it doesn't go flying off into weird oblivion. The creators of this film are not telling an entirely original story, here. But that's OK. You don't need to reinvent the wheel every time to make a good film. Leave that to Charles Kaufman. It is enough to just tell the story well and have a heart at its core, which this film does.

The quibbles I have are few. The sets they use are very good, but I wish the floor of the building that Eve works in looked better than a dark, empty theater stage with about a dozen vertical pipes and multi-colored lighting. Also, I'm not exactly satisfied with how they handled the Eve character and her ending. It seemed very confusing to me and was the only nagging point as the film closed.

The rest of the cast is very good. Joe W. Anthony actually looks at times like a slightly heavier version of Ron Livingston, the lead in Office Space. I have to wonder if this is intentional, because it gets to be damn eerie at times. Corey Allen is primarily a TV director these days for tons of series, but he also, long ago, had a teenage acting career that included Rebel without a Cause. His performance here is restrained and sweet, which is what is needed for the film's tone. The most recognizable face is good old Armin Shimerman, Quark himself, who has also has a number of non-Ferengi roles under his belt, including a recurring role as Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He plays Victor's boss with a nice mixture of paranoia and snideness that also strikes a nice balance. This is a good flick to catch if you possibly can. Eight out of Ten.

(This can also be viewed at Blogcritics)

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