Archive for the ‘Art Community’ Category

FFF 2017 Day 10–Dean

May 12, 2017

Demetri Martin Writes, Directs and Stars as Dean

The FFF had over 2000 films submitted for acceptance. We had to rely on the Programming Directors and Selection Committee members to narrow that down to the 180+ best films for us to see. Even then, we used the descriptions in the programs and the knowledge of the cast and crews to make the final selections of the movies we want to see.

The same dynamic happens when we go to see a movie at the local theatre. Many of us use RottenTomatoes or MetaCritic to assist us in choosing which film gets our all important box office dollars. Of course, every film producer knows the most valuable reviews for their movies are the powerful word-of-mouth reviews.

Had I relied on just Rotten Tomatoes, I might have skipped the movie Dean which currently has a barely fresh rating of 63% and one top critic bemoaning the “second-hand influence of standard bearers like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson.” And other reviewers saying it’s “derivative of better movies” and “a little remote.” I have no idea what movie these reviewers are talking about. I’ve seen almost all Woody Allen films–Dean is better than most of them. And while I love Wes Anderson, this film is in no way similar to his beautiful stylistic masterpieces.

For me, Dean was a breath of fresh air with a unique directorial approach, hilarious hand drawn comics that enhanced the story with their depth and perception and a new protagonist who was both compelling and intelligent. As a first time director and also the author and lead in this movie, Demetri has crafted a delightful coming of age comedy. I can’t wait to see how his talent continues to flourish. I also have no doubt that as this movie gains in popularity, it’s Rotten Tomato rating will go up as well.

FFF 2017 Day 9–The Commune

May 10, 2017

Does a Community Ever Live Up to Our Expectations?

Humanity has always seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the communities we develop. On the one hand, we’re communal beings, attracted to living with one another. No man is an island. On the other hand, once we are in a community we struggle to get along. Nowhere is this more evident than in the extremely polarized political society that exists here in America.

For Mrs. LanceAround and I, we spent our lives seeking the best community for our family. When our children were young, we moved into Celebration, FL; a new community designed by Disney World espousing world class schools, exceptional technology, a focus on health and well being and a community of people wanting to create a better life. However, it didn’t take long for us to discover that this high priced development attracted a disproportionate number of extreme conservative minded individuals which made living there a challenge for the hippie-esque, liberal leaning LanceAround family.

Our response was to find a cohousing community in Blacksburg, VA, filled with like minded tofu loving, tree hugging types. At first, it seemed idyllic. But it didn’t take long to discover our new community was far worse. We came to realize that the issue was never one of conservative vs. liberal or old fashioned vs. modern. It had to do with extremists vs. those capable of a reasonable, thoughtful point of view. In our cohousing community, many residents were extreme and just as selfish and unable to hear or appreciate alternate points of view as the extreme right wingers from our other community.

In other words, no matter how idealistic humans are when forming a community, once formed, the community has to deal with the non-idealistic side; the selfish, extremist, uncompromising and uncaring personalities which all of us humans have within us to one degree or another.

The Commune is a film from Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands that explores these issues within the setting of a large house. Professor Erik and his wife Anna inherit his spacious childhood home that appears too large for their family which includes teenage daughter Freja. In a moment of idealism, they decide to invite friends and interesting people to move into the home and form a commune. Ironically, the concept for cohousing was originally formulated in Denmark.

At first, the idea seems to work. Communal swim trips, mostly sans clothing, and weekly house meetings appear to create a wonderful sense of community. Then, the wheels begin to fall off the bus. One member interprets the rules to indicate anything left out by another member may be burned in the campfire. Erik begins an affair with one of his students. When his wife finds out, she suppresses her natural instincts of anger and betrayal and idealistically invites the student to join the commune.

With the entire commune as the backdrop, the story focuses on Erik and Anna and how Erik’s new lover impacts their relationship as well as the development of Freja, their daughter. In many ways, what happens between them mirrors what is happening with the entire commune which further mirrors the experiences Mrs. LanceAround and our family had in our quest for the ideal community.

The Commune so skillfully creates its characters and situations, the moviegoer is drawn into an ever evolving dynamic of idealism vs. reality; of the best and the worst humanity has to offer. Extremely well written, well acted and well filmed, this Danish film with English subtitles will have filmgoers spending a lot of time discussing their own idealistic visions of communities and the human foibles that seem to keep them from ever becoming perfect.

FFF 2017 Day 8–Katie Says Goodbye

May 6, 2017

Olivia Cooke in the Role of a Lifetime

I knew Mrs. LanceAround was going to be angry after this film. I suspected just about every women in the theatre will be upset. After all, Katie, the gentle, loving, kind-hearted  and sensitive protagonist of this movie is constantly put upon, abused and betrayed by so many people. Given Mrs. LanceAround’s strong positions on issues regarding women’s rights, of course this movie was going to make her upset. I turned to give her a knowing glance, only to find…she’s tearful. She isn’t angry at all. The woman from the FFF selection committee comes to the front of the auditorium to introduce the writer/director of the movie and she’s also in tears. I then notice that almost all the women in the auditorium are blowing their noses.

What’s going on here? I have questions I don’t even know how to ask. And I want answers I’m not sure I’m willing to accept.

My initial reaction at the end of the film is that I didn’t like it. I think I hated it. The protagonist was such a good person. She did not deserve all the heartbreaking betrayals she experienced at every turn. It was so unfair. I realize I’m the one who is angry. In some ways, I’m just as emotional as the moviegoers around me. But while they are tearful, I’m enraged. What happened to this woman is not fair.

I take a breath and attempt to logically sort through my emotions. What did I expect? Did I want the movie to have a happy ending? YES! Did I want the characters who betrayed Katie to have their comeuppances? YES! Did I want everything tied up into a neat bow…YEEEUUUHHHH…wait a minute. It suddenly hits me. One of the reasons I love independent film is because it does not follow the mundane, formulaic, Hollywood, cookie-cutter, happy endings, mindless tripe that we so often get from high budget, low risk films. We love the FFF because the movies are real, gritty, honest and true to life. We love the FFF because the films are, generally, an independent work of art made by filmmakers willing to buck the traditional system and create something…magical…if not occasionally dysphoric

There is no question this is a high quality movie. The characters are well developed, sympathetic and nuanced. The acting is superb. Olivia Cooke gives the performance of a lifetime in the lead role of Katie. The direction is crisp and affecting. All other production elements, sound, lighting, costumes, cinematography, sets, etc. are exactly as they should be. The story is a fresh look at something all too common. The ending…well…without spoiling the movie, all I can say is, you have to watch it for yourself. And it is well worth watching. This was an exceptionally well made movie. It’s understandable why Matthew Curtis, Programming Director for the FFF, said that as soon as the committee saw this movie, they knew they were going to accept it into the festival even though it was very early in the selection process.

Except, it made me feel angry and unsatisfied.

But that was not the reaction of the moviegoers around me. They felt connected. This protagonist spoke to them. Is it possible that so many people in this auditorium experience the same sense of betrayal and heartbreak as Katie. Is it possible they identify with this protagonist?

Wayne Roberts, the writer and director of this film, is at the screening. As he comes to the front for the Q & A, his demeanor is also obviously emotional. He explains that this might be the last time he ever sees this film on the big screen with an audience. It was not picked up by a distributor.

During his talk, Wayne explains that the character of Katie came to him in a vision. “This is her story,” he emphasizes, “I was obligated to write it exactly the way she told me to.”

Normally I would sneer at such an outlandish, metaphysical claim with marked skepticism. Yet I cannot deny the overwhelming vibe coming from all the film watchers. Everyone was touched by this movie. Many are nodding their head in agreement and blowing their noses. They are in complete sync with what the filmmaker is saying.

I’m puzzled. My initial reaction was I didn’t like this movie. But as Wayne speaks, he does so with such earnest passion it’s almost impossible to deny the reality of the very unreal things he is saying. It’s the same reality I saw in the film we just watched. At first, I thought it demeaning to women. I thought it was cruel. Inside I am torn. I’m torn between wanting to see humanity and justice and my appreciation for the artistry that I just experienced and the truth it revealed that so touches those around me.

Make no mistake about it; Katie Says Goodbye is a masterful work of art.


Wayne Roberts Q & A

Wayne Roberts During the Q & A

Q: Is this based on a real event?

A: No

Q: So why would she not defend herself?

A: She is defending herself. She is incredibly strong. She is not allowing herself to be classified or labeled a victim in anyway whatsoever. The world is simply stacked against her. The world works against her. If she were to defend herself, as a sex worker, I don’t think she’d be taken seriously. She made a promise. As screwed up as that actually is, she made a promise and Katie is someone who, her word is her word. She means it. It’s infuriating for us, at times, to see her go through these things. But in terms of her morality–in terms of her ethics–I think she is a saint. She is something to aspire to. I try to aspire to her way of thinking; certainly not my own, but I’d be a better person if I tried to think like that.

Q: Did you have this cast in mind?

A: Our casting director has an amazing eye. All the credit goes to them. Chris Abbott and I are friends so I had him in mind from the beginning. But everyone else came to us through the agency. They’re not making any money off of this–it’s a passion project for everybody. We found passionate people.

Q: I was going to ask you where you found Katie

A: We found Olivia through her agency. We had another actress who was attached for a long time and it fell through for whatever reason. Olivia’s agency suggested her for the part. Olivia and I sat down and really hit it off. We really lucked out.

Q: She’s British?

A: Yea, she’s a Brit, too. She’s an international talent. I think a talent like Olivia comes across four or five times in a generation. We lucked out to find her and connect with her. She’s an incredible human being, too. Just to know her as a person, one would be lucky.

Q: I’m wondering if you have a distributor.

A: No we don’t. And I got emotional tonight because this might be the last time we get to see it on the big screen.

Q: What advice do you have for filmmakers who don’t have the means to produce such a quality film?

A: Well, I had no means either. I’m still broke, too. Just keep on doing it. You just have to write the strongest script you possibly can. There are so few scripts that are out there that really get people excited about it. If you can tell a story that is true; I think this is a given; you try to make a difference–just aim for that. The rest of the world is already making crap that is just supposed to be pulp and entertainment. Tell a story that can make a difference in people’s lives and you will find that people will be drawn to it. It’s a long road. And even after you make something, life doesn’t change. Just keep at it.

Q: Was there a decision that was made to actually show whether Bruno and the Mom slept together?

A: That’s up to the audience. There’s no reason to really see that. I also felt uncomfortable anytime we left Kate which only happens like 45 seconds in the film.

Q: So it’s up to us to decide?

A: Yup…but they did it. [audience laughs]

Q: How long from the time that you wrote the script until you got it into production, raised the money, got the cast? It seemed like it might have taken awhile.

A: It actually was quite quick. But the idea wasn’t quick. The idea came while I was in college; when I was about 21. If I can’t keep myself in check…if I can’t control my emotions on set…then I have no right to direct that film. So I had to wait awhile. That includes writing the script as well. I wrote the script about four years ago. I wasn’t initially going to direct it myself because I thought…well, I don’t need to get into that…then about six months down the road I sort of had it with the way it was going. I pulled it from what was going on and decided to pursue it myself. It took about a year from that decision to get it on the set. Maybe about a year and a half.

Q: Did you Kickstart it?

A: No.

Q: It’s the first of a trilogy…why don’t you talk about that? [audience claps]

A: Don’t get your hopes up. Katie’s not in the next film. The second film’s a dark comedy. But Kate will come back in the third and final film.

Q: Where did you go to college?


Q: I see Neflix is listing the movie. They say it’s not available yet. What’s the story with that?

A: A computer doing its thing. I don’t think there’s a person typing that thing in, I just think they automatically pull it.

Q: Well, you could save it to your queue, which means they at least have an interest in it…

A: Oh, really? Well…They told us they were not interested in it.

Q: But I see Netflix will allow us to write a review of it.

A: Oh, great. I really want the film to be seen. I think it’s an important film. So if you were drawn to the film–even if you weren’t–please post something. Even rating it on IMDB will make a difference. There are a lot of distributors in the United States who worry about films that might be polarizing or divisive. They don’t want to touch them. Everyone wants to keep their jobs. We’re doing well outside the United States. Inside the United States, we’re not doing well.

Q (From LanceAround): I’m curious to hear about your inspiration for this particular story, particularly the way it ended. What was it that made this be the story that you wanted to tell?

A: It’s odd–the motivation and the sense of this film is never going to get the screening it deserves. I wish that it would. But I felt I had a responsibility to Katie to make the film. Katie came, as a vision of sorts, like 12 years ago; 13 years ago. I felt she had chosen me for something (This sounds crazy, I know) and I had a responsibility to tell her story.

Q: (Follow up from LanceAround): Are you speaking about a real person or just the character?

A: No, just the character who came to me. With that, it just wasn’t really up for debate or negotiation or anything like that. I kept that channel that I had with her–that connection that I had with her–allowed her story to be told; did not interfere with it and made it. But that’s not going to exist–it hasn’t existed yet–for any of my other work. This is the only film I’ve done thus far but the other stuff I’ve done the inspiration is different. It’s much more mechanical. It makes me feel like an engineer; where you feel like a mathematician but not for something like this where you feel like you are channeling something.






FFF 2017 Day 6–Circus Kid Becomes a Circus Man

May 6, 2017

Leorenzo Pisoni AKA the Circus Kid does Q&A with Christopher Ramsey

A long time ago, Mrs. LanceAround and I used to work as psychodramatists in a psychiatric hospital in Roanoke, VA. For those who are unfamiliar with psychodrama, it’s a very powerful method of psychotherapy that helps patients by having them re-enact difficult moments from their past, confront old ghosts that have caused them distress, and from the confrontation, this therapy enables them to grow beyond moments that may be holding them back in their current life.

I mention this, because watching the documentary Circus Kid is like watching a psychodrama. The protagonist has issues revolving around his father and this documentary climaxes in a scene where he finally has the opportunity to confront his father regarding several of the issues he experienced growing up in a very unusual family.

You see, as a kid, Lorenzo Pisoni never had to dream about running away to join the circus–he was born into the revolutionary Pickle Family Circus. From before he can remember, his acrobatic father had him doing clown bits while his mother did the books and was the organizational engine for the circus.

Long before Cirque du Soleil, Lorenzo’s father had reinvented the traditional three ring circus by eliminating the animal acts, reducing the rings down to one, and promoting the clowns from their old place where they simply entertained between set changes into being one of the primary focus of this new circus. The father’s perfectionist drive had him constantly repeating the phrase, “Do it again,” until each act was perfected. As a result, the Pickle Family Circus was not only successful, it produced legendary performers such as Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this well made documentary are the vast archives of photos and films from the earliest days of the circus through its 20+ year run. Documentarians dream of having such a wealth of material upon which to draw.

Father Emphatically Rehearses Every Scene

In the center of it all is Lorenzo. Put under contract at six years old and homeschooled with books borrowed from a librarian, the circus is all he has ever known. Through this, he became an incredible performer. In addition, he accumulated a lot of emotional baggage–particularly revolving around his relationship with his very demanding father.

As Lorenzo skillfully uncovers his personal history growing up in the circus, we begin to understand some of the psychological forces at work. At the age of eleven, Lorenzo’s father is asked to leave (or chooses to leave depending on whose version you believe) and young Lorenzo is left to help run a circus at an age that is far too young.

As he becomes a man, he puts together a one man autobiographical theatre show and then begins work on this film. A climax is reached as Lorenzo films an interaction with his father where he finally gets a chance, as a man, to confront some of the ghosts of his childhood.

It would have made a really good psychodrama. But, lacking a trained psychodramatist, the confrontation falters when it becomes obvious that Lorenzo, the filmmaker, may not be ready, without facilitation help, to fully express the thoughts and feelings of Lorenzo, the man as he talks with his father about some of the more difficult moments experienced by Lorenzo, the young circus kid.

That said, this movie is well paced, expertly documented and provides a wealth of insight into the world of performance art. Definitely a film worth watching.

Q & A with Lorenzo Pisoni
Q: You’re in rehearsal now, aren’t you?

A: Yes, I’m in rehearsal in New York for a little ditty called, Frozen. That will be on the Broad Way.

Q: Really, really enjoyed it. I’m just curious, how’s your relationship with your mother?

A: Interesting. My mother was the one person who’s really reticent about having this be out in the world. And I thought she came across great. But I did use her often as a punchline, I’m realizing now–but a little late. Honestly, she’s the one that stuck around. So, consequently, I gave her a hard time. But now it’s great, especially because there’s a grandson involved. It’s fabulous. She really doesn’t want much to do with me. But I’m slowly getting used to that.

Q: At the very end, you did not answer the question of your daddy when he asked you about your childhood. Can you tell us that? How was it?

A: Well, it’s complicated. Everyone has their thing that they had in childhood. No child is perfect. I got to go around the world. I got to meet interesting people from all over the world. I got a couple of great party tricks. It was pretty good. Now, having a kid, I really don’t understand some of the choices that my parents made. And, at the same time, I catch myself wanting to make my son perform. So I can see the sirens on the rocks. I understand that draw. Honestly, it’s the childhood I had…

Facilitator: …It made you who you are…

A: Yea, for better, for worse, it made me who I am.  I didn’t want to answer it on camera because I feel like the film answers it.

Q: You do the things you were asked to do because you belong to the family, would you like for your son to go through the same type of life?

A: You know, my sister has her own circus and I may send him off to her circus. Just go away for a little while so he and I can have a conversation about it.

Q: Loved it. Beautiful. I understand your answers in regards to how you did not feel it would reflect well for you to answer the question and I agree. What was your favorite trick?

A: I was an aerial acrobat so I did a lot of teeterboard which is like a seesaw. Anything on the teeterboard was my favorite thing. I think I only show one thing in here. Because it’s weird when you’re making a movie about yourself–that’s a very odd position to be in. But that was my very favorite stuff to do. My clowning really came…I started to enjoy clowning…came long after my father had left. I guess I was 19 when I was like, oh, you know, this clowning stuff is really great.  And it’s easier on my body. I’m going to do that.

Q (From LanceAround): You decide you’re going to interview your father…and you obviously have a lot of emotion about that. Prior to interviewing him, you had to have in your mind some sort of fantasy of what you wanted to have happened and what was going to happen. And then you did the interview. How did the interview live up to the expectation? Did it get you to where you wanted to be? If not, where do you still need to go?

A: That’s a good question. So I interviewed my dad for six straight days. And I didn’t sleep. I was a mess. Then we get to the editing room and all of my producers are like, “You didn’t get any of the juice. What happened?” I was like, “Well, I was sitting with my dad. It’s scary, you know.” To try to answer you question…I had hoped that the interview…he and I would stop performing. Stop. And be real with one another. Then I could get to a place where I could generally ask him anything I wanted. And I never got there, I don’t think.

Q (From LanceAround): Because he wouldn’t let you there?

A: No. He was, like, ready to go. The last day he said to me, finally, “What do you need to ask me? Anything you want.” And all I could muster up was really that last scene that we have together. Which is kind of pathetic on my part. If I’m going to be totally bald and honest about it. But I couldn’t even get to the place of, “What is wrong with you that you would leave? How do you think that that would affect your children? No, you just don’t do that. I don’t care if you’re depressed, go ask for help.” But there’s so much new information that I was getting. I didn’t know that his father had disappeared. I always thought that my father’s the one that ran away. So I was trying to process that. This all happened on the last day. I didn’t know that he had been actually drinking when we were performing on stage together. I didn’t know that he didn’t remember the fact that he was asked to leave. Because the difference between him being asked to leave and him deciding to leave means a lot to me. Because if he decides to leave, then he’s rejecting me, as opposed to the circus saying, “Your time is up.” I was just not prepared..and, obviously, we don’t…or we didn’t, we do now…we didn’t talk about our feelings. We didn’t have an emotional connection. We just talked about how to make things funny. That was our whole world. I just don’t think that I lived up to my responsibility as a filmmaker. Out of just fear. Out of total fear. But he’s been incredibly generous through this whole process. When he saw the film, when I finally screened it for him before I showed it to anyone else, he said, “Why weren’t you more harsh with me? You should have been. There were things there. I’m a complicated person.” And he’s right. Does that answer your question? That was a long winded answer.

Q: Do you think his father showing up and then disappearing just derailed him?

A: Totally, totally. Oh, yea. One thing I don’t really get into it was so hard to figure out how to deal with the timeline in the film. His descent into total breakdown was long. It was very gradual. It’s 1978 until 1985…86 and just goes…goes…goes…and goes. And that’s a very hard thing to figure out. He didn’t drink before his father passed away. He didn’t smoke.

Q: It seems like he wanted that relationship and it was ripped away from him.

A: Oh, he wanted…he was desperate for it. He was absolutely desperate for that. It’s so classic.

Q: Thank you so much for being here. You were obviously the only person who could have made this film being about the relationship with you and your father. But also because of all the archived footage. Did your mother have shoe boxes of photos?

A: So Terry Lorant, she’s interviewed in the film, and she was in the circus kind of from the second year until the demise. She was teaching herself how to be a photographer. She’s now is a very well known photographer in California. But she would come off stage, grab her camera and shoot and then find a darkroom in whatever town we were in and see what she got. She just gave me 10 file boxes full of contact sheets. She said, “Whatever you want. You can have whatever you want.” That’s just the photographs. So I was doing that [theatre] show for four years–started in New York, went to Philadelphia, then Seattle and San Francisco, Los Angeles. And every town that I was in, an envelope or package would show up at the stage door. It was something along the lines of, “I found this footage years ago, I didn’t know what to do with it, I haven’t thrown it away, here you go.” I couldn’t watch it because it’s all on formats I don’t have anymore. I had to find a super-8 projector and I had to buy a VHS player and then find the cables to make it connect to whatever TV I have now–which is more difficult than it sounds. I realized that I have all this stuff. Of course I didn’t look at it until we decided to do this movie.

Q: Thank you so much for being here, I really enjoyed the film. Is there a particular mistake that you fear in the future that you learned from and you try to avoid.

A: I think it’s what I allude to before in terms of making some kind of personal connection with my child outside of any professional space. And I think I’m pretty good with that. I don’t think he’s going to become a performer. I’m going to try to not tip the scales in that direction. Just to be a really honest person with him; to say, “This is what I’m going through–This is really hard–This is really great–whichever it is.” I’ll try to do that. We’ll see how that goes.

Q: How do you feel about the homeschooling?

A: I think the way that I experienced homeschooling was not the best. I know that there are programs now where homeschooling is a misnomer. It’s like a university. You’re with a group of kids. And you get to learn from people in the fields where you go study. That sounds a bit more rigorous and interesting to me. My experience with it really drove me to more traditional schools. I did go to high school. I was working every vacation and every weekend, but I went to that school. I went to college back east with ivy on the brick walls and everything because that’s what I wanted. My experience was not good. But I know kids that were also homeschooled and it was great.

Q: You have some heavy hitters on producers. You have Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe. How’d that come about.

A: Dan Radcliffe, he and I did a play together in New York a few years back and we got to be very close, Equus. I carried Dan around for eight months while Warner Brothers told me I couldn’t drop him because he still had two more movies to make. He and I became very close I think partly because of the whole child performer thing. He became like my little brother. When I started out doing this I said, “I’m doing this crazy thing. I don’t know if I should do it. I don’t know if anybody will ever see it. What am I doing?” “If I can help, let me know.” So I got to a point and I needed some help and I said, “Hey, do you want to help?” And then Jon and Jennifer Westfeldt, I was doing another play with Jennifer Westfeldt, they were an item at the time. This is all her fault. I didn’t want to do this at all. She said it should be a documentary. She said we should do it. She took me out to dinner with Jon and said, “Hey, let’s make this into a thing.” And I said, “That sounds like a terrible idea.” And that’s how that worked. It was through Jen and Jon that the DP, William Rexer, became the DP and he’s done all sorts of crazy things. I was the least experienced and the person who should not be directing–except that it was my story.  It was an amazing experience.

Q: Did the theatre show help you structure the documentary?

A: It’s almost like the documentary is the answer to the show. There are certain keystone pillars in the show that I kind of use in the film. I knew that it was going to basically start with him as a young man and end with him breaking his back and that sort of thing. But we tried to stay away from the play as much as we could. Mostly for my sanity, because I was over it.

Q: Do you have any perspective on clowning and comedy today having grown up with it and then seeing Cirque du soleil; a perspective and an opinion? Where do you see a place for it today?

A: Clowns we’ve had, jesters, medicine men, forever and a day. We’ve always had it. I think there’s a true power in that figure in our society. There’s late night shows: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Sacha Baron Cohen is great and all that stuff is amazing that he got away with before people figured it out. So every time I see someone doing that stuff…here’s the problem…for me…When I see these guys, and gals, Samantha Bee and whoever, doing their stuff, I don’t just sit back and watch it. I sit there and I say, “Okay, here’s the setup. Here’s a bridge line. I’m going to get the punchline in a second…And there it is!” For me, personally, it’s a slightly bizarre experience. I feel like there’s a need we all have that clowns provide. They provide this outlet. Thanks to my father I have had exposure to a lot of these people. The first films I ever saw were Keaton films. Because my father didn’t have a babysitter and didn’t have VHS he would just take us to a movie theatre. I feel like there’s this incredible place for clowns and comedy. Especially in a very divided country that we live in at the moment. Where we need these people to make ourselves laugh at ourselves.  Just to like, hey, we’re all human, just a reminder. It’s really important.

FFF 2017 Day 5–How To Build Your Own Stradivarius Violin

April 28, 2017

Stefan Avalos, Moderated by FFF  Doc Selection Committee Member Christopher Ramsey, Gives the Audience a Behind the Scenes Look at His Exceptional Documentary

Despite the fact that there was a lot of positive buzz around the FFF for Strad Style for some reason, as I watched the trailer and read the preview information, it was not appealing to me at all–until Mrs. LanceAround and I saw it.

When the movie was over, Mrs LanceAround leaned over and said, “What an amazing film.”  I agreed. Moment by moment this well made film spun its web and drew the audience deeper and deeper into the life of its sole protagonist.

As I struggled with trying to figure out how I was going to approach my review of this film, I quickly realized this movie somehow, some way, rises above its individual components to become something truly special. It does so in a way that is difficult for me to describe–especially being careful not to reveal any spoilers.

The elements are simple:

A man in rural Ohio, Daniel Houck, a recluse who suffers from Bi-polar Disorder, attempts to recreate one of the world’s most famous violins–even though he has no formal training in violin making.

He manages to contact Razvan Stoica, a Romanian violin virtuoso who has been recognized across the world as the best violinist under the age of 30, and they begin communicating online.

An actual, local violin maker in Ohio offers a minimal amount of support and assistance, although Daniel appears to think he can accomplish his task without a lot of outside help.

Without steady income, poor and living alone in a house without much heat during the frigid Ohio winters, Daniel diligently works on his violin–when he does not get distracted by other things.

From there, the movie teeters between the unbelievable and the precipice. Does the virtuoso really want to have a relationship with this violin maker or is he just humoring him? Can Daniel really make a violin or is he just freakin crazy? Is there going to be a storybook ending or will this man who takes medicine for his mental disorder just wind up falling off a cliff?

Skillfully directed and superbly edited by documentarian Stefan Avalos, this movie is a gem. All of the above questions get answered as the tale winds it’s way to an unexpected conclusion. All of it engulfed by a soundtrack featuring beautiful violin music most of it played by Razvan Stoica himself.

Seek this film out. It’s a beauty.

FFF 2017 Day 5–Menasche–A Rare and Intimate Look Into the World of Hasidic Judaism

April 28, 2017

A Rare and Intimate Look Into Hasidism

If, like me, the sum total of your knowledge of Jewish culture stems from seeing movies like Fiddler on the Roof or A Serious Man prepare yourself to be immersed into a world of Hasidic Judasim unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen before. This film, Menasche, is a gem.

According to the program, parts of this movie were filmed in secret in the midst of the orthodox Hasidic culture in New York City. It’s also the first major film in Yiddish to be made in over 70 years.

It’s a very simple story that deals with a widowed father and his desire to raise his young son despite the Hasidic tradition that dictates the son must be raised in a family with two parents.

This isn’t a movie with a lot of action, fireworks or a happy ending. The story doesn’t follow a strictly traditional arc with a beginning, middle and end. It’s what I like to refer to as a “slice of life” movie that provides a window into a world we seldom see; a man tries to navigate his way through the traditions and requirements of his culture.

Extremely well filmed and crisply directed, this movie proceeds at a gentle pace that allows the moviegoers to gradually immerse themselves, along with the protagonist, into the trials and tribulations of a single father. His struggles, despite many cultural differences, are similar to issues faced by single parents everywhere. The acting was sublime and effective.

A poignant yet delightful film that is well worth a look.

FFF 2017 Day 4–Stevie Salas Shows Us The Indians Who Rocked the World

April 28, 2017

Stevie Salas & Christina Fon Rock the Audience During the Q & A

Mrs. LanceAround’s maternal side of the family came from rural Minihaha Springs, West Virginia. Her mother’s grandmother was a full blooded Native American. Like many people who lived in that part of the country at that time, this was a source of shame and embarrassment for Mrs. LanceAround’s family. Therefore, it was not talked about.

Rumble: The Indians That Rocked The World is a documentary that demonstrates just how much Native American influence there is in modern day rock and roll music. Ironically, the reason it’s not known is the same reason that Mrs. LanceAround’s family never spoke about her great grandmother’s heritage.

This fascinating documentary takes a look at some of the most popular songs of our era and demonstrates how they were directly influenced by Native American culture. Indeed, several prominent musicians may have been assumed to be black but were, in fact, Native Americans. These include such musical icons as Jimi Hendrix, Link Wray, Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Randy Castillo and even movie Executive Producer and 1988 lead guitarist for Rod Steward, Stevie Salas, who was in attendance for this film.

The film provides side by side comparisons of old, indigenous tribal ceremonies compared to modern pop music where the rhythm and drumming is demonstratively identical.

One point of interest was an old photograph that showed three bathroom doors. One was labeled “white,” one was labeled “black,” and the middle one was labeled “Indian.” This kind of blatant prejudice is seldom exposed in our school systems.

This well made film will open your eyes to a piece of our American history that has been unspoken for far too long. After the film, Executive Producer and featured subject Stevie Salas spoke with the audience.

Stevie Salas Speaks About His Experiences as an Indigenous Musician and Making This Documentary
You know, if you look at my birth certificate, it says my mother’s white and my father’s white. If you ever saw a picture of my mother and my father you would laugh at that. They’re not even close to white. I’ve got nothing against being white. As a matter of fact, when I was playing rock and roll in the early days with Rod Stewart, I never felt like I looked Native. I felt like I fit right in with the rest of them.

Native American people don’t have a lot of role models to look up to. We can’t look up to Geronimo forever. We wanted to find some new ones. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. There was an unwritten history of influence going on.

We all thought Charley Patton was a black man.

Has anyone ever seen a photo–you always see ones in American history that say, “black bathroom, white bathroom”–I’ve never seen one that said, “Indian bathroom.” I’ve never seen one. They [my other producers] found one.

How we got so many big stars is most of these guys I knew and I grew up with. We all came up together. I was able to call people personally. If you’ve got to call an agent it never really works, it’s one in a million and it’s all bullsh**.

Being in the film wasn’t just about being an Indian. Every Indian just doesn’t get in the film. This was about Native American people who influenced pop music history.

I’m a guitar player, who wanted to be a rock star, who happened to be an Indian.

Tell all your friends–we’re going to go theatrical this summer and we want to do some good box office.

FFF 2017 Day 4–It’s All in Your Head–Confronting the Struggles of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and an Interview With Jennifer Brea

April 27, 2017

Jennifer Consults With a Moviegoer Outside the Enzian After the Film

Perhaps the bravest among us are those who stand up to fight, even when they can’t stand up. That’s the dilemma that faces many people inflicted with severest form of myalgic encephalomyelitis. One such person is Jennifer Brea. This is her story. This is her film. And it is one of the most powerful documentaries we’ve ever seen at the FFF. It’s incredible.

For a Monday night film, the Enzian was surprisingly full and there was a palatable buzz inside the theatre suggesting an anticipation for the film we are about to see.

I am surprised because the documentary, Unrest, is not the kind of film that normally generates such buzz. In fact, at the end of the film a member of the documentary selection committee will make a point to say the FFF usually does not show “Medical Docs.” But there was something about this movie that was attractive to them–something beyond the fact that the filmmaker, Jennifer Brea, was a local who graduated from Trinity Prep in Orlando.

Jennifer is a brilliant, Harvard educated woman who has traveled the world until one day she came down with a flu like virus. Suddenly, she found herself bed bound; often unable to sit, walk or even speak coherently. Confronted by a medical community that seemed too eager to insist her illness was, “all in your head,” Jennifer did what seemed most natural to an intelligent person in academia: she picked up a camera and started to compile as much data as she could about her condition.

It soon became obvious that she suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis–A diagnosis that is often referred to by the name “chronic fatigue syndrome” although this name is considered a somewhat offensive description for such a debilitating illness that goes well beyond simple fatigue. According to the film, approximately 25% of people suffering from ME have symptoms so severe, they spend the majority of their time trapped in their bed. Even the slightest exertion can cause severe pain and exhaustion.

With no cure and very little research available, Jennifer managed to film her journey. Along the way, we are introduced to many others inflicted with this debilitating disease. The miracle of modern technology allows these patients who are bedridden to communicate with one another from their beds via the internet.

Together, this group and those that support and care for them, formed an organization called The #MillionsMissing. They explain that 20 million people worldwide are missing from their lives because of ME. In a powerful moment during the film, there are scenes from cities all over the world where the shoes from someone inflicted with ME are placed in prominent public spaces to represent those who could not be present to protest for themselves. And even when those with ME are able to attend a protest, they often need to lie down and/or endure a great amount of discomfort just from the effort of coming to the protest.

Perhaps nothing is more striking than the story of the Danish teenager who was forcibly removed from her parents’ home because the unenlightened doctor believed that the parents attentions to their daughter were the cause of her inability to rise from her bed. After many years being removed from her family with no visible improvement under the care of this physician (who has the aptly ironic name of Dr. Fink) the daughter was returned to her home after the government received many protests, testimonies and support from those who also deal with the ravages of ME.

At the end of the film, it was revealed that the number of patients with ME who commit suicide far outpaces those of the general population. And yet, the funding our country provides to those seeking  cure and treatment for ME is a minuscule fraction of the funding provided for many other maladies that affect far fewer people.

In a sad commentary of the inner workings of our society, the movie highlights speculation that funding and proper education for ME will never increase until drug manufacturers can figure out a way to monetize such treatment.

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the film was the revelation that Multiple Sclerosis used to be considered an “hysterical” and completely “psychosomatic” condition until the day that PET scans were invented and doctors were able to physically view the white plague on the brains of an MS patient. Even in our supposedly enlightened 21st century society, many people continue to consider ME something that is “all in your head” and caused by laziness, hypochondria or hysteria. The film has clips of famous comedians who would do routines about chronic fatigue syndrome describing it as the disease where a person wakes up and decides they just don’t want to go to work that day.

The resolve, the truth and the passion the documentary reveals about those inflicted with this dreadful disease is that, in fact, they want nothing more than the ability to get up and go to work.

Jennifer Brea, the main subject as well as the director, co-screenwriter and one of the producers of this excellent documentary was in attendance during the film and gave an insightful Q & A after the movie. It soon became evident that there were many people in attendance who have personal experience in dealing with this disease. A few shared their very moving stories.

Q & A with Jennifer Brea
Q: You obviously started taking a lot of movies of yourself, at what point did you realize, “I’m making a film.”

A: I’ve come to learn during this process that I was an artist without a medium. I was a writer for a long time. Then I lost the ability to write or read or think when this first happened to me. So I started recording these videos that you see in the film on my iphone. It was a way to process what I was going through and a way to understand and cope with that. It was really hard. It was really lonely. It was when I found that community online and I realized I wasn’t just battling with something alone; I was battling something that so many people go through–it was that and realizing just how little access I had to healthcare. I couldn’t go to a doctor or emergency room without the fear of being dismissed or abused and not being examined or taken seriously.  It was when I realized that larger social injustice at the heart of this that I wanted to make a film. I needed to believe the world was still humane and just. Simply the fact that nobody could see us; that people couldn’t see these stories, that we could bring them out into the light that things might change.

Q (From LA): At one point you say that people thought MS was hysterical until they invented the CAT scan and you saw the white spots. At another point in the movie you had someone who ran a woman through a bunch of tests and she came back and said because of this, this and this I can see you have ME. Does this mean we now have a diagnostic criteria or do we still have a ways to go on that?

JB: That’s a really perceptive question–and a complicated one.  There have been at least 6000 studies done. They’re not very widely read; but they’re there. There are a huge number of potential biomarkers. There are things we know that are consistently abnormal within patients with this condition: natural killer cell function, which is your body’s first line of defense against cancer and viral infections as well as all of these metabolic abnormalities that you find around energy metabolism. But the challenge is not only does it need to be abnormal in patients like me it has to be unique and it has to be cheap. A laboratory has to be able to find it and to scale it. I can go to a research lab and you can find all kinds of things that are abnormal with me. A general practitioner can spend all day running the tests he would run and he would never find anything. So there’s a gap between research and practice that’s really where the next step is. Researchers and clinicians need to find how to take what we know in the science and turn it into medical education and practical clinical care. They’re working on it. They’re working on cheap tests that could diagnose this accurately.

Q: Is part of this because it expresses itself mentally and may seem like confusion or depression? Are there mental symptoms?

JB: Well there are definitely mental symptoms and there are a lot of cognitive symptoms that are a core part of the disease. Some people are physically affected, some people are cognitively affected. At the beginning I was both. I could not lift my head off the pillow. I could not write more than a sentence of an email without passing out for an hour. It was because my brain would just hit a wall and I had a hard time with complex processing functions. I still do. I have a hard time filtering out sensory information. A lot of us look like kids with autism; we need to wear protective headgear and the light is hard and the stimulation is hard. Those are core features of the disease. In terms of depression, if you were someone who couldn’t go out or see friends or family or do anything that mattered to you for years I think that’s enough to make anybody sincerely depressed. I’m lucky. I never got depressed during this. It took an incredible amount of cognitive choice and daily stamina to stay alive. It’s really hard to live that way. It’s unimaginable to wake up every day in the same room and never know if you’re going to get out. For someone who’s mildly affected, they can run for a mile before they crash.

Q: I’ve been sick for 26 years [pauses in tears] I just want to reiterate the point that you made that the immunological studies–I had zero natural killer cells when I was tested and I had such a low CD4 count they told me I probably have aids. I wanted to mention that my apparent cause was a toxic mold environment when I was a teacher. Have there been a lot of people that you know who became ill after mold exposure?

JB: Yes, definitely. Thank you for sharing your story and for coming here. We don’t know what connects all of this. There’s many different triggers and you can have one trigger that causes many different diseases or many triggers that cause a common disease. I know that for a lot of people mold is a huge issue. I don’t know to what extent it caused my illness but I am extremely sensitive to mold. Some people have environmental exposures that cause this and some people have viral or bacterial infections that cause it. I had a friend that had chemotherapy for a brain tumor and it caused this. What happens to people who have their immune system compromised in this way is that you then have these other viruses that are in all of us and they start to reactivate and reek havoc and part of why I’m here today is because of drugs that a very small percentage of people have access to, including a new antiviral that if I didn’t have access to it within 48 hours I’d have been laid out permanently in that same place. My hope is that this will accelerate the research and give more people access to the kind of care that I’ve been so lucky to have.

Q (From LA): What is your goal? What would you like to see happen?

JB: I hope that people can recognize how serious the disease can be and get to know these patients that medicine and the outside world never see. The film focuses on the 25% of people that are home bound or bedridden. I really want for these patients that our communities and medical professionals recognize that we exist. It’s horrible that some of these citizens remain in the shadows and I’m hoping this helps to bring them to light and it starts to create real change.

Florida Film Festival (FFF) Preview 2017

April 19, 2017

Matthew Curtis and Mrs. LanceAround at Last Year’s Preview

Matthew Curtis Says This is a Great Year to Come to the FFF

Social Justice…Politics….Immigration are just some of the hot button topics that seem to pervade many of the films at this year’s film festival. We are at the preview for the 26th annual Florida Film Festival. Once again we’re speaking with Matthew Curtis, Programming Director for the FFF. The festival takes place starting this Friday the 21st of April and continues through 30 April 2017.

LA: Matthew…180 films this year…

MC: It’ll be 182!

LA: 182 out of how many possible selections?

MC: 2041, that’s a record number.

LA: And you’ve seen them all…

MC: I’ve seen every one except for an international showcase feature, called I Dream In Another Language which they were not able to get me a preview screening. But Valerie, our Marketing Manager, saw it at Sundance and loved it.  It’s a film set in Mexico about a linguist that goes down to study a forgotten language. The only two people that remember the language are two guys that hate each other and haven’t spoken in 50 years. It’s supposed to be absolutely great. Valerie is so passionate about it that [Programming Coordinator] Tim and I said, “Sure, let’s do it!” The film just got picked up by FilmRise, the same distributor that’s got Manifesto and they were willing to give it to us. I still want to see it. I’m hoping for a preview link soon. But I’ve seen everything else.

LA: When you say you’ve seen them all, is that all 182 or all 2041?

MC: [laughs] No, I’ve not seen all 2041, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking to me. No, I’ve seen about a third of the submissions. That’s why I have six different selection committees.

LA: How many people on each selection committee?

MC: Three

LA: Three people on each selection committee. You have a lot of categories for the films. Are the categories predetermined prior to the films being submitted?

Billy Crudup Appears on Friday the 28th.

MC: We know our American Independent Competition, there’s going to be Narrative Features, Doc Features and Doc Shorts and Live Action Shorts and Animated Shorts. We know we’re going to have International Features and International Shorts.  We know we’re going to have International Animation. There are some wild cards. The second Doc Shorts program is new this year as is the second International Shorts Program. Sometimes it’s a mixed bag of stuff, sometimes it’s all, you know, German Shorts or Italian Shorts or International Documentary Shorts. We do have some wild cards that change from year to year. But we know the basic structure. We know there’s going to be Music Films, Food Films, Midnight Movies…

LA: So do the selection committees know which category they’re going to be selecting for?

MC: Yes!

LA: If you have a certain number of categories and you have X number of films, what is the process by which a film gets chosen for the festival?

MC: We start looking at films in September. (Call for entries opens mid-August.) Committees start getting together in October.

LA: Does everyone in every committee see every film they could possibly select?

MC: Yes, unless it’s been killed already by the rest of the committee.

LA: And how does a committee member, or group of committee members, kill a film?

MC: At least two people see every film. Generally two to four people see every film. If two people see the film and think it’s horrible–there’s no way it’s going to move forward–then we just move on. So, minimum two people, maximum four or five.

LA: I thought you said the committees were three people?

MC: They are–three people without Tim and myself.

LA: The four or five includes you and Tim?

MC: Correct.

LA: How does a film achieve final approval?

MC: Oh, we have final selections meetings starting in mid-January before I leave for Sundance.

LA: Explain that meeting to me…It’s a group of who?

MC: We all get together…

LA: Who’s we?

MC: The entire committee and Tim and I. Based on ratings, we’ll have our top 30 or 40 based on ratings in that category. We’ll put them all up on the board in post-its…and…we’ll start arguing. We’ll put up for the festival what we’re unanimous about…which might be three or four out of the ten Features in competition…and the rest we’ll just fight over.

LA: Give me an example of three or four films that just barely squeaked into the festival…

MC: No, I’d rather not do that! I’m really proud of everything that’s in the festival. But some films can be unanimous…some films can be alternates. There are things we accepted for the festival that we’re not playing because we couldn’t get them. They pulled for somebody else or they were bought by a distributor and the distributor pulled them…so there’s a lot of factors that go into the programming of 182 films.

LA: So give me an example of three or four films that from the moment everyone saw them they were just included.

MC: Katie Says Goodbye. As soon as we saw that we were instantaneous this is absolutely going to be…it was even early in the process…this is going to be one of the best films we get. It’s in the Narrative Features Competition…Olivia Cooke, Mary Steenburgen, Jim Belushi, Christopher Abbott. We knew it was going to be one of the best films we were going to see. Strad Style in the Doc Feature competition, which went on the win the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award at Slamdance. I’d have to think about some of the other stuff. In the music section, once we saw Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World we knew that was a keeper. There’s no way…it was so well done…such great music…such an interesting topic that we haven’t seen before…we knew that, provided we could get it after Sundance, that it would make the festival.

LA: What you’re saying is…Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, Strad Style, and especially, Katie Says Goodbye are your favorite films in the whole festival!

MC: NO! That’s not what I’m saying at all…NO! What I’m saying is that, on first viewing by the committee, we were unanimous on how good they were.

LA: I will strike it from the record! Let it be known now and forever, Matthew Curtis will NEVER reveal what his favorite movies from the Florida Film Festival are because, as we all know, every movie is his favorite movie!

MC: NO! That’s not true either. I wouldn’t say that either. Let’s just say there’s an extraordinary amount of really good films at the festival this year. There’s a lot of things that are really challenging…envelope pushing…and we’re excited about that.

LA: What are the movies that are going to be the most talked about this year?

MC: The Cate Blanchett film, Manifesto.

LA: What makes that so special–That’s in the Spotlight?

MC: Yes, that’s in the Spotlight. Well, we’ve never seen anything like it before. She plays 13 different roles. The whole narrative comes from manifestos, writings and essays from 20th century thinkers; including futurists, dadaists, people like Jim Jarmusch, and it’s brilliant. It’s also very challenging and demanding for the audience.

LA: What film are you a little nervous about?

Really Interesting and Experimental Doc

MC: I’m not nervous about Manifesto, we’re only playing it once. I think it will have more walk outs than most of the other films in the festival. We’ll see. We’ll see. It’s just extremely challenging. There’s a film in the Doc Feature Competition, Rat Film, about inner city Baltimore that’s really interesting and it’s experimental–kind of a hybrid documentary that’s challenging and fascinating and really, really, interesting. The midnight stuff is crazy. That trailer we showed for Bad Black which is from Wakaliwood, Uganda. It’s like Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The film’s made for $200. It’s a school of filmmaking in Uganda where they recycle footage and use tons of green screen and it’s narrated like MST3K. It’s absolutely insane.

LA: What is it about this year’s film festival that is really unique or that you’re proud of or that will really stand out?

MC: I think this year’s festival might be a little more political than previous years; a lot more films dealing with human rights issues, social justice, it’s our most international festival ever.

LA: There seems to be a lot of films dealing with immigration issues.

MC: Yea, there’s immigration, refugee issues. We’ve got a lot of things that are really gonna blow people away. There’s more countries represented this year, 40 countries, than ever before. Last year I think we had maybe 32 countries represented.

LA: How long have you been with the FFF?

MC: Since the beginning–this is my 21st year as Programming Director. But I’ve been here all 26 years.

LA: 26 years ago, how many films were there, approximately, and how many were from other countries?

MC: Not a quarter of the program! What is interesting is even a lot of domestic films that are in competition are films that were shot in other countries. Like we have films in the American Independent Competition Shorts Program, one is shot in Venezuela, it’s a kidnapping thriller, One’s shot in Germany, there’s another film, Red Apples, that takes place at an Armenian wedding–there are even films that are “technically” domestic films (because they’re USA production money) or made in USA grad schools or film schools, but they’re shot overseas. So I do think there’s more of an international flavor than ever before.

LA: Didn’t one of the films have what looked like an American film and it looked like a lot of Muslim characters and they were speaking Farsi?

MC: It’s called A Stray and it features one of the actors from Captain Phillips

LA: The one who was nominated for an Academy Award?

MC: No, the other guy (Barkhad Abdirahman) he’s coming…the actor’s coming. It’s set in the Somalia refugee community in Minneapolis–as if, like, everybody knew that! It’s a Muslim community. A young man is basically thrown out of his house. He’s homeless. And he ends up befriending a stray dog; how their friendship helps him get through it. That’s in Somali and English both.

LA: What makes a film considered Domestic or International?

MC: Where the production money comes from–it’s where the majority of the production money originates from.

LA: Okay, and in conclusion, give us an update the expansion planning for the Enzian, a project you refer to as “Enzian Forever”.

MC: We just cleared a parking hurdle–which is great! We’re like four and three quarter million raised out of the original budget of six million. But it’s been a couple years now so that’s probably gone up. I think we’re still a couple years away, but we’re moving forward. Things are positive. Hiring David Schillhammer as the new Executive Director, he’s been very successful in the arts as head of the Philharmonic for 16 years. David is very well liked and respected. I think that was an excellent move.

LA: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the update on this year’s 26th annual Florida Film Festival with Festival Programming Director, Matthew Curtis. It’s going to be fabulous. If you are going, please leave a comment and let us know which films you are seeing and why. Or, write your own review or synopsis of the film you just saw. Let’s join the conversation about our favorite Film Festival.

FFF 2016 Day 7 Being Charlie, Shorts Program 4, Special Screening

April 23, 2016
Rob Reiner Teams Up With Son Nick

Rob Reiner Teams Up With Son Nick

Being Charlie
Rob Reiner is one of our favorite directors. Like many older Americans, we first encountered Rob playing Archie Bunker’s son-in-law, “Meathead” in Norman Lear’s hit TV sitcom All in the Family. But it was his brilliant direction of writer William Goldman’s The Princess Bride in 1987 where we fell in love with his movies. Other favorite movies he directed include: This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Bucket List, and, of course, two of our all time favorite movies written by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin: The American President and A Few Good Men.

When we heard Rob had directed a movie written by his son Nick Reiner (along with Matt Elisofon) we immediately put it on our list. NumberOneSon warned us that the movie did not get a lot of positive reviews. After watching the movie, we understood why. It’s not an easy movie to watch. The ending isn’t tied up in a neat little bow. There are a lot of unresolved issues. But it’s a very good movie. And, if you happen to suffer from an addiction, it’s a must see movie. Any addict will tell you the path to sobriety and fulfillment is long, difficult and littered with setbacks. This movie has it all.

As usual, Rob manages to find the humanity in each character. His direction is well paced. He gets good performances from his cast. Most importantly, he tells a compelling story. Nick Robinson gives a strong performance as Charlie, a young addict struggling to find sobriety while his father (played by Cary Elwes) runs for governor of California. Nick is surrounded by a competent supporting cast, including Morgan Saylor and Common. But it is Devon Bostick playing Charlie’s friend Adam who gives a standout performance.

Based on the real life experiences of Rob’s son, Nick, this was a touching and personal film by one of our great American directors.

Shorts Program 4: Modern Love
For the most part, the FFF is the highlight of our year. We enjoy great, independent film. We learn so much for the fabulous documentaries. And we meet some of the industries most celebrated stars. Yet there is one thing we about the FFF that can make it challenging for us. Since the films are not rated, we often find ourselves watching movies that are a bit too raunchy, particularly for Mrs. LanceAround. Such is the case for this group of shorts. The collection includes roommates with boundary issues, familial sex acts, childhood amputations, candid conversations about all aspects of sex and a zany, staged dinner party for a 40th anniversary.

Lost in the shuffle is a wonderful, sarcastic spoof called, Too Legit. It explores the absurd allegations by US Senator Todd Akin who stated on national TV that if a woman is “legitimately raped” the body has a way of “dealing with” that situation to prevent pregnancy. Although it was also disturbing to watch, the important social message was powerful resulting in this film receiving a Special Jury Award for Achievement in Political Satire.

Also of note was the entertaining short, Syrah, which explores the concept of a Siri-esque phone program deciding to take matters in her own hands as she guides a couple around the city.

Special Screening of “The Greasy Strangler”
A few years ago, the FFF featured a special midnight screening of an unnamed film. So confident are the FFF faithful, the theatre was packed and patrons were treated to a wonderful mockumentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. That movie was so enjoyable, Mrs. LanceAround, NumberOneSon and I were eager to see this year’s special midnight screening.

Although younger and more hip NumberOneSon mostly enjoyed The Greasy Strangler, Mrs. LanceAround and I found ourselves wishing we had skipped it and gone to bed early. For us, the thing that makes Ed Wood movies so special is that Ed Wood truly thought he was making great movies. I’ve never had a liking for movies that are intentionally made to be bad movies. In my opinion, all this movie did was succeed wildly at being bad!