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Baltimore Women's Film Festival

Film Reviews

Posted 10/10/2007

These films screen as part of the Baltimore Women's Film Festival Oct. 14 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. See www.bwfilmfestival.com for times

Oct. 13

Behind Closed Doors

It's no doubt tragic--as attested in the opening titles--that more than 80 percent of people in psychiatric institutions have suffered some kind of physical or sexual trauma. And it's wonderful news that there's an innovative program right here in Maryland devoid of some of the punitive and outdated "treatments" such as isolation or restraint that are still in use in some facilities. Wouldn't you like to hear about how and why this program works? About what it does differently that allows these poor women to reclaim their lives? Unfortunately, you won't in "Behind Closed Doors," a well-intentioned but inept documentary that squanders over four-fifths of its scant 20 minute running time with immobile close-ups of women recounting how they've been victimized. Sad but true--the world's cruelty to women isn't news, and raw pain doesn't equal good filmmaking. (Violet Glaze)

God Is Good

Young Harold's childhood comes to an abrupt end in director Caryn Waechter's subtly told 22-minute memory of a full day in the 7-year-old's life. His Japanese-American parents eat a tense breakfast while he and his blond neighbor friend hunt for toads in the yard after a rain; that afternoon with his mother is filled with chores and lunch and talking, and he is asleep by the time his father comes home late from "working." The camera captures not just the emotional inner workings of the characters but also the sun through the trees, the condensation on the windows during a rain, the toad's struggle against his captivity. And the musical background works, here, as though adding that one more dimension to the dreamy realism. Don't miss. (Wendy Ward)

Homecoming

Director Vivian Wong's student short is most valuable for its fleeting glimpses at life in a small Malaysian fishing village. Those peeks come thanks to home movies from Wong's family's trips to the village where her grandmother grew up and lived until moving to America. Wong doesn't know much about her grandmother, but she believes Granny was just like her--"I'd like to think so." Wong also likes to think that Granny would have eventually approved of her decision to go to film school. Despite the quiet beach scenes and flowing, beautiful tapestries that are shown between the home movies and family pictures, this 10-minute short is unfortunately more about Wong's ego than contemplating the past. (Christopher Skokna)

Jimmy Sings The Blues

Fifteen minutes isn't enough time to delve deeply into the life of eightysomething bluesman Jimmy McCracklin, but it's just enough to get an imprint of the man's personality and story. We start out at a Bay Area blues club for some shots of McCracklin singing and playing guitar, then head to his nearby home, cutting back and forth between him talking about his career--"I've done everything"--and noodling around on his piano. At first, McCracklin's boasts sound iffy, but then he pulls out his scrapbook--"at least two feet deep"--and you start believing. Soon B.B. King shows up and says he considers McCracklin to be "one of the best three" blues writers ever: see "The Walk" and "Tramp." McCracklin claims to have penned "The Thrill Is Gone," and while King sort of says he agrees, the legend's eyes say no. While McCracklin doesn't offer any serious insight into his work--"Blues is a feeling. . . . That's what it's all about"--he comes across clearly as a man who loves his job. (Cristopher Skokna)

Oct. 14

Aimée Price

Aimée (Anastasia Drake, who co-wrote the movie) walks into an antique store she's "never noticed on this street before" and gets propositioned by the proprietor (John Savage) because she looks so unhappily married: a year of her youth for a lifetime of happiness. Fast forward 40 years and she's a fabulously wealthy widow with an impressive art collection when she falls for a younger man, the artist Aidam (soap star Austin Peck, who might have his own deal going because the man hasn't aged). Another contract gets penned and suddenly Aimée spends a good deal of time running around like Cinderella before the clock strikes midnight trying to get Aidam to fall for her. While the "time waits for no man" story is compelling, the subpar acting is stiff enough to distract. (WW)

A Day In The Life Of A Bathroom Key

No dialogue in writer/director Jill Effron's 9-minute short, just a bit of physical comedy punctuated by a goofy musical score, a cast of characters who have to go to the bathroom, and much office-humor and potty jokes. A humble bathroom key, tended by a cute but annoyed-looking receptionist, is followed on its misadventures back and forth to the workplace restroom. They key falls in the sink, the trash, and the toilet. It's sneezed on by the office Cassanova and handled by employees with poor personal hygiene. Watch as the key is brought to the bathroom by the guy who really has to pee, the mailroom clerk who has a make-out session with his boss in a toilet stall, and a guy who enjoys quality time with a magazine. Nothing revelatory or earth-shattering, just some tame toilet humor and predictable caricatures of modern-day office employees. (Erin Sullivan)

Le Roi Se Leve

Director Charlotte Harvey's 8-minute "Le Roi Se Leve" is clear and simple enough--on its face--to warrant a "conventional" viewing eyes. There is, after all, a person doing something logical in linear time. A girl gets on a train to Paris, gets off a train in Paris--lots of lovely scenery pans and still shots ensue including, of course, the Seine--and she gets back on the train. Through the entire thing she reads and rereads portions of Hamlet to herself and to us as well via voiceover. Add some cutaways to a grade-school age girl--back turned to the camera--playing piano, and we're mainly just left with some pretty pictures and some arty conceptual business that may not be worth parsing. (Michael Byrne)

Marti's Party

"Marti's Party" looks and feels like it was written to be the plot for a sitcom. A hypochondriac's worst fears are confirmed by his physician on the day of his 58th birthday. Martin's father died of heart disease at 58, and he is haunted by nightmares that he will suffer the same fate. The morning of his birthday party, he wakes to a panic attack, and a subsequent visit to the doctor reveals an abnormal EKG reading. Up until now, neither Martin's wife nor his mother take his health paranoia seriously, and he sends them both into a panic when he threatens to leap from a balcony. A predictable but humorous plot twist at the end makes for a pat ending. (ES)

9/Tenths

It's the end of the world as we know it, and post-terrorism-apocalyptic couple Jessica (Gabrielle Anwar) and her annoying milquetoast realtor-husband William (Henry Ian Cusick) have retreated to their recently purchased isolated rural ranch to satisfy William's desire to be far from the madding crowd, as it were. However, instead of getting away from it all, they encounter Elias (Dave Baez), a handsome Mexican stranger who claims the house is his. For an interminable 98 minutes we watch the balance of power appear to slide between Elias, the guy who's been running the ranch for years, and William, the white Anglo-Saxon jerkoff who no habla Español and ain't too handy around the house he paid for and legally holds title to, but there's no cell phone and no electricity, so who's the boss? Somewhere in between is Jessica, who does not appear to have remembered to pack a brassiere for the move. What will she do to survive? Hmm? A DVD of this movie would be a great gift for your favorite cuckold-fetishist. (Joe MacLeod)

A Really Intimate Portrait Of A Complete Unknown

Writer, comedian, and performer of any and every kind, Dani Alpert spoofs Lifetime's Intimate Portrait series by encapsulating her own life on the fringes of Hollywood. The movie is warm, funny, and engaging as Alpert luxuriates in self-deprecating humor, highlighting her failures and shortcomings and having friends deliver very faint praise. But the short also feels a bit desperate, a mockumentary about failing to become a star that is likely another unsuccessful stab at it. Still deadpan deliveries, brisk pacing, amusing turns by actor friends who kind of look familiar but are hard to place--such as Dan Bucatinsky, Heather Paige Kent, Alexandra Wentworth, and Chris Williams--and Alpert's sheer likability makes "A Really Intimate Portrait" a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 28 minutes. (Anna Ditkoff)

Recycle

An uncomfortable, gloomy, bloody meditation on the nuclear family, culturally approved (enforced?) infidelity on part of the salary man, and how to fuck up or possibly liberate your children from the cycle of despair caused by sex-specific roles. Director Cath Murphy establishes a grim, ragged, inky-black rhythm of home-school-work, bracketed by a husband's wandering eye and a homemaker's desperation. It's not all gloom and doom though; among other things, there's a family of wacky microbes who deserve their own short. (JM)

The Shadow Within

It isn't easy eking out a well-developed plot in just over 7 minutes, yet director Silvana Zancolo pulls it off with a true horror master's touch. Maurice lives alone with his Aryan ice queen of a mother, haunted in the wee hours by a spirit--a long dead brother we're led to believe--in a house made of shadows. Marie portends Maurice's ridiculousness with a snort, locking him into his room in what looks like an act of tough love. Bad things happen. The story would be rather hackneyed and, well, unscary, if Zancolo didn't have such a deft touch with atmosphere. Maurice's bedroom--full of sinister dolls and stenciled figures just waiting to come alive--is rendered in a chilly gray and tendrils of shadow send entire portions of the room into and out of the netherworld. It's all worthy of a shudder. (Think Eraserhead.) Mitsue Haya's stop-motion animations are likewise nod-worthy. (MB)

Temporary Loss Of Power

Sparks fly when a high-powered and high-strung black executive Sheryl and a white assistant working for Sheryl's boss get on an elevator on the way out of the office on New Year's Eve. Kidding: Actually, they experience "a temporary loss of power" and while one woman flips the fuck out, the other remains chill, and they end up sitting on the elevator's floor talking about themselves and realizing that power isn't predictable--unlike director Nia Malika Dixon's short, which feels much longer than five minutes. (WW)

What Do I Call The Woman Who Gave Birth To Me?

Shauna Lawhorne's short is incredibly intimate. At 21 the director found out she was adopted. Three years later she found her biological mother and became a part of her family. While Lawhorne slips easily, if not entirely smoothly, into a relationship with her newfound half-brother, she appears to struggle a bit with Michelle, the woman who gave her up for adoption. The short centers on what Lawhorne should call Michelle, running through options that include Michelle, birth mother, biological mother, and real mom. In doing so the documentary looks at the weight and significance put on the word "Mom" while it explores Michelle's feeling about the uncertainty of her role in Lawhorne's life. The short isn't fancy, but it's heartfelt and personal in a way that suggests very relatable questions about the nature of familial relationships. (AD)

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