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Frenzy Feature Reviews

Coming Attractions

A Consumer Guide to MFF 2000 Features

Film Fest Frenzy 2000

Introduction It's not Sundance, or Toronto, or Cannes. And we mean that as a compliment. The Maryland Film Festiv...

Flashes From the Past Relighting the Magic Lantern, Screen Gem of the Victorian Age | By Brennen Jensen

The Road to Damascus How the Makers of George Wallace Captured Their Complex Subject | By Clay Smith

Coming Attractions A Consumer Guide to MFF 2000 Features

Coming Attractions A Consumer Guide to MFF 2000 Shorts

Posted 4/19/2000

Screenings are at the Charles Theatre unless otherwise noted. No byline at the end of a blurb indicates that the film was not reviewed.

The Acting Class
Directed by Jill Hennessy and Elizabeth Holder
April 29, 6:30 p.m. and April 30, 10 a.m., hosted by the directors

You don't have to be an actor to appreciate The Acting Class, the debut feature by Jill Hennessy and Elizabeth Holder: Tyrannical thespian Kenneth LaPoubelle will strike cathartic chords for anyone who's ever had a psychotic teacher. The film, a Spin¨al Tap-style mockumentary getting its world premiere at MFF, purports to profile the "legendary" LaPoubelle (played to bristly perfection by co-writer Ken Murton), who abuses his approval-starved acting students--when not trying to slither into their beds. Former Law & Order co-star Hennessy plays the Legend's prize pupil, Amanda, an instinct-free ingénue who turns a TV bit part into a hilarious, LaPoubelle-coached psychosexual meltdown. The brisk, tight, 78-minute Acting Class features a spate of well-integrated celebrity cameos (Alec Baldwin, Law & Order's Chris Noth and Benjamin Bratt) but is anchored by delicious, deadpan, improv-enriched work by lesser-known actors who deserve more juicy roles like these. (Heather Joslyn)A.J.'s Dogumentary
Directed by A. J. Poulin
At the Charles Theatre, April 28, 9:30 a.m. and April 30, 10 a.m., first screening hosted by the director and his dog

A.J. Poulin takes the frequently bizarre relationships people have with their dogs and adds another dimension of weirdness by exploring the uniquely wacky dog folk of Los Angeles in a home-grown documentary that promotes much laughter despite its occasional unevenness. Poulin begins with a tentative commitment to a plant, then works his way to a deliriously enthused pup, which prompts him to look around at other L.A. dog owners. The filmmaker finds himself confronted by the people who frequent off-leash dog parks, where canines tear about in packs while their owners look for dates. (One fashion plate cheekily admits that his dog is "the best accessory I ever had.") The film also covers doggy day care (where paw painting helps relieve separation anxiety), pooch psychic readings, and the multimillion-dollar doggy-duds empire. For all the laughs (and the director's body-part fixation, evident in the way he frames several shots), the dogs themselves are the stars, remaining dignified as they bravely and cheerfully endure the oddities of their humans. (Luisa F. Ribeiro)Another Planet
Directed by Christene Browne
April 29, 4:30 p.m. and April 30, 12:15 p.m., hosted by the director

Against the going-nowhere backdrop of inner-city housing projects, an on-the-dole young Canadian idealist named Cassandra (Sandy Daley) dreams of discovering the roots of her African heritage but ends up working for a white family on a hog farm in Quebec. The premise could easily have made for a silly film, but Canadian director/writer Christene Browne crafts it with confidence and subtlety. She excels at piling on layer after layer of humorous, finely observed multicultural clashes: Cassandra's mother is a West Indian Christian, her brother a born-again Muslim; Cassandra's fellow exchange student shares her African lineage but is of a mysterious religious persuasion; Cassandra speaks English while her exchange family speaks French. The director is less sure-handed with darker aspects of her story--a should-be wrenching death sequence, Cassandra's brother's drug problems--and often falls back on somewhat facile fantasy sequences. Still, Browne's energy, conviction, and her evocation of a world utterly alien to most American audiences is truly illuminating. (Ian Grey)Bad Money
Directed by John Hazlett
April 28, noon, and April 30, 6:30 p.m., hosted by the director

Bad Money is a rare treat, a dark gray comedy of fiscal desperation that never descends to cheap moral pieties. In an anonymous, vaguely upscale metropolis, a newly sacked businessman (Graham Greene), a restaurateur (Karen Sillas), and a clutch of straight-edge punks are all at wits' end trying to make ends meet. They descend, in order of malfeasance, to inept robbery, late-night rabbit abductions, and dressing as rhinestone cowboys for gay party-boy hire. Unsurprisingly, these gigs don't supply true financial security, and our heroes are forced to more desperate measures. Director John Hazlett never resorts to narrative heavy breathing and always has time for the casually observed one-liner: "Henry Rollins is the Sting of North America," quips a punk; "You're having a psychosomatic financial reaction," advises a bank manager to a client. Slyly subversive, the film suggests that criminality in a world defined by ethical relativism is an act of self-esteem. It's also the sort of film that could be classified as "existential" but would never be so full of itself as to say so. (Ian Grey)The Battle of City Springs
Produced by Jon Palfreman
April 29, 1:15 p.m.

A documentary profiling a year in the life of East Baltimore's City Springs Elementary School, during which the troubled school adopted a controversial new curriculum called Direct Instruction.Behind the Scenes at the Local News
Directed by Robert S. Goald
April 30, 10:30 a.m.

Local filmmaker Robert S. Goald spent a day at WJZ-TV (channel 13)--as it happened, the day the verdict in the first Rodney King trial was handed down and Los Angeles erupted in riots. Goald's documentary goes behind the scenes and into the control room as staffers piece together that night's newscast.Black Maria Film Festival
Curated by John Columbus
April 30, 2 p.m., hosted by Columbus

An international selection of short films, part of an ongoing series of anthologies named for the studio when Thomas Edison invented motion pictures.Blue Collar
Directed by Todd Cole
April 28, 4:15 p.m., hosted by the director

"You ain't sellin' drugs. Drugs is sellin' itself--you just standing on the corner holdin' it." So says Jay, one of the local drug dealers interviewed in Blue Collar, Todd Cole's rough-hewn documentary about the side of Baltimore's drug crime that the TV-news cameras never see. Cole and his crew interviewed a half-dozen Mobtowners for whom selling narcotics is a path to success and prestige in their community, a potential threat to their lives and freedom, and, several slingers insist, their only means of survival. Though the subjects vary in their level of articulation, Blue Collar is eloquent in getting across the all-pervading influence of drug dealing on these men's lives, as both victims and as perpetuators of a multibillion-dollar shadow economy that prices life cheap. The footage is nothing fancy, but you may find it hard to look away. (Lee Gardner)Brothers Kuchar
Directed by George and Mike Kuchar
Video program April 28, 4:30 p.m., film program April 29, 5 p.m., hosted by the directors.

Pioneer avant-garde filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar appear at MFF with two programs of their work. Video titles include George's Snap'n' Snatch, Chigger Country, Precious Products, and Snapshots and Mike's Grip of the Gorgon and Blue Banshee, plus the brothers' collaboration The Stranger in Apartment 9F. Films include George's legendary Hold Me While I'm Naked and Ascension of the Demonoids and Mike's Sin of the Fleshapoids.Clean, Shaven
Directed by Lodge H. Kerrigan
April 28, 8 p.m., hosted by John Waters

Last year, the divine Mr. W hosted the campy Boom! at MFF; this year he's put irony aside, introducing 1995's Clean, Shaven, in which Peter Greene stars as a young schizophrenic desperate to regain custody of his daughter.Compensation
Directed by Zeinabu irene Davis
April 28, 5:15 p.m. and April 29, noon; hosted by co-star Michelle A. Banks

Let's get right to it: Compensation is nothing less than a true indie triumph. Using pre-sound film technique, archival photographs, modern narrative storytelling, and incredibly complex, layered sound design, director Zeinabu irene Davis has fashioned a uniquely personal cinematic language that almost miraculously avoids the taint of gratuitous artiness. Compensation tells of the lives and loves of two black couples--a deaf seamstress and a hearing young laborer in 1900s Chicago, and a deaf printer and a hearing librarian in modern-day Chicago, both portrayed by Michelle A. Banks and John Earl Jelks. Both couples deal with diseases particular to their respective times and the challenge of reaching across the gulf of silence that separates them. Without breaking half a sweat, Davis and screenwriter Marc Arthur Chéry (whose script was inspired by a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem) intermingle these stories with montages illuminating early-20th-century black history, lending the central drama a timeless resonance. Compensation is a festival highlight well deserving of wider release. (Ian Grey)Cooley High
Directed by Michael Schultz
At the Charles Theatre, April 29, 4:45 p.m., hosted by the director

Michael Schultz's mid-70s-made, mid-60s-set comedy/drama is as old-school as it gets, as in diamond-in-the-back, sunroof-top, diggin'-the-scene-with-a-gangster-lean old school. Cooley chronicles a batch of Chicago high school pals, led by class brain Preach (Glynn Turman) and top jock Cochise (Lawrence "Hi There" Hilton-Jacobs), who hang out, cut classes, party, and try to hit on girls. The comic romp takes a serious turn when Preach and Cochise innocently go for a joyride with a couple of neighborhood toughs in what turns out to be a stolen car. The two teens get into trouble with the Man, then with the gangbangers who think they ratted out the true thieves, and ultimately learn the proverbial lessons about life and friendship. The most memorable scene has our heroes getting pelted with monkey excrement at the zoo, the soundtrack is stuffed with period classics, and a pre-Saturday Night Live Garrett Morris plays a teacher. Not to be missed. (James Michael Brodie)The Corner
Directed by Charles S. Dutton
April 28, 2:30 p.m., hosted by The Corner co-writer David Simon, free admission.

For non-HBO subscribers, MFF presents a free sample of the new, hard-hitting miniseries about life on Baltimore's meanest streets.Cyrano de Bergerac
Directed by Michael Gordon
April 30, 12:15 p.m., hosted by Jonathan Richman.

French playwright Edmond Rostand's tale of the 17th-century poetic cavalier whose grotesquely long nose rendered him too ugly to get the girls has been filmed at least four times, including an excellent, costly 1990 French version starring Gerard Depardieu. Though much more modest in scale, this 1950 Hollywood version has the definite advantage of a charming, gallant, and Academy Award-winning performance by José Ferrer in the title role. Ferrer, a multiple Tony Award-winner on Broadway, brought lithe stage movements and a superbly modulated baritone to the part of Cyrano, unabashedly playing him in a theatrical manner, as befits a man who dispatches dueling opponents by crying, "Thus I end the refrain--thrust home!" Fearless in combat, Cyrano pines for the lovely Roxanne (Mala Powers) but, certain of rejection, agrees to supply honeyed words of courtship for another of her suitors, the hunky, lunky Christian (William Prince). Of course, we all know how this will turn out, especially those of us who've seen Steve Martin's 1987 Roxanne, essentially a point-for-point American updating. (Jack Purdy)Double Parked
Directed by Stephen Kinsella
April 29, 7:15 p.m. and April 30, 2 p.m., hosted by the director and co-star Callie Thorne

A conventional but well-acted and -photographed tale of a young, impoverished woman, Rita (Homicide's Callie Thorne), recovering from an abusive relationship and struggling to raise her young son, Matt (Rufus Read, who looks amusingly like a young Stephen King). Matt, who suffers from cystic fibrosis and tries desperately hard to be cool, is befriended by his school's newest young punk, Bret (Noah Fleiss), who hopes to milk Matt's brightness for his own ends. As Rita faces repeated disappointments while job hunting and fends off the romantic overtures of Matt's teacher Karl (William Sage), Bret introduces Matt to a rougher, more dangerous way of living. When Rita explodes upon learning of their friendship, Matt begins to think there's more to Bret than meets the eye. The story's humor and pathos and the fine acting (especially by Fleiss) make this an engaging feature. (Luisa F. Ribeiro)Enter
Directed by Veit Bastian
April 28, 9:30 p.m.

In the '60s, "mondo" movies--"documentaries" such as Mondo Cane and Shocking Asia featuring messy deaths, weird sex, and vicious cockfights--got away with their gross-out exploitation aspects by claiming to be nonjudgmental examinations of the fascinating extremes of human existence (or something). Veit Bastian's Enter, for all its techno gloss, is little more than a mondo movie in digital-video drag. Between surreal drives through L.A. accompanied by morbid German electronica, we watch unrelated segments depicting an exterminator cheerily killing cockroaches, girls being educated in the nuances of double-penetration scenes by a porn producer, and, inevitably, a cockfight. Bastian even manages a mondo first: an old man blowing his brains out while wearing diapers. The director's straining for existential significance is an arty annoyance in films like this, which have more to do with the urge to see guys in diapers whack themselves than any real attempt to ponder What It All Means. Still, Enter is pretty cool on a Faces of Death level. (Ian Grey)La Esquina Caliente
Directed by William O'Neill and Michael Skolnik
April 28, 12:15 p.m. and April 29, 9:30 p.m., hosted by the directors

Simultaneously over- and underambitious, La Esquina Caliente begins on a note of commendable honesty, with co-director Michael Skolnik confessing that the documentary was basically an excuse for him and his friends to travel to Havana for the Orioles' exhibition game there in the spring of 1999: "We said, well, let's make a movie, not knowing what that would mean or what kind of movie we would make." But instead of embracing this looseness, the film then guiltily locks itself into a high-concept structure, with "teams" of nine Cubans and nine Americans talking about baseball and U.S.-Cuban relations. There are moments of serendipity, especially in the footage of the Cubans--a goofy hip-hop performance by a Cuban dockworker, a serious 6-year-old Havanan practicing his baseball skills, an old man yearning for one more look at New York--but most of the interviews are unengaging, and the actual on-field events are a muddle in the background. (Tom Scocca)The Fall of Newt Gingrich
Directed by Michael Pack
At the Charles Theatre, April 30, 12:30 p.m., hosted by the director

Michael Pack's portrait of the man whose rise and fall fall set some kind of land-speed record for political self-destruction has been substantially re-edited from the rough-cut version we were provided for preview (presumably to recontextualize stuff like Marianne Gingrich's gushing description of her husband as a "warm, wonderful, fun person" in an interview we can only assume took place before he left her last year for another woman), so we can't say for sure what you'll see. What we saw was a curiously reverential but sharply focused account of how Speaker of the House Gingrich got whipsawed by the impeachment battle during the 1998 congressional elections. Skeletons aplenty rattling in his own closet, Gingrich tried to stay above it all, even as the Republican Party he led embarked on a sexual witch hunt. CNN congressional correspondent Bob Franken and liberal Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank are among those commenting on Gingrich's skills and shortcomings, with Frank shrewdly zeroing in on the role of the speaker's lack of empathy--an emotion prized by the electorate--in his fall. After all, Frank notes, "Millions of Americans twice voted for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, which is not entirely rational behavior." (Jack Purdy)Finley/Serra
Directed by Jean Finley and M.M. Serra
April 29, 2:30 p.m, hosted by the directors and curator Lynne Sachs

A program of works by two experimental filmmakers, Jean Finley and M.M. Serra. Finley's work rethinks the documentary format, while Serra's recent films focus on women and sexuality.Forbidden Zone
Directed by Richard Elfman
April 29, 9:30 p.m., hosted by the director

This 1980 cult fave, a black-and-white sci-fi musical (that's right, a sci-fi musical), stars the late Fantasy Island co-star Hervé Villechaize as the wonderfully named King Fausto.George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire
Directed by Daniel McCabe and Paul Stekler
April 28, 10:15 a.m., hosted by the directors, Dr. Levi Watkins, and Taylor Branch

In the very warm spot in hell that's reserved for the worst of political opportunists, George Corley Wallace surely has a place of honor around the campfire. As revealed in this compelling documentary, the late Alabama governor is a man who willingly turned his back on his own liberal political beliefs (liberal for Alabama in the late 1950s, that is) and became the most vituperative proponent of segregation imaginable for the sake of winning elections. After losing his first gubernatorial run in 1958, Wallace tells a supporter that his opponent "outniggered me. And from now on, I will never be outniggered again." This makes Wallace somehow much more horrific than the old-line segregationists of the era, like Gov. Ross Barnett of Mississippi, who were sincere in their bigotry. How did Wallace sleep at night? Maybe he didn't. The epic (approximately three-hour) Settin' the Woods on Fire, propelled smoothly by Randy Quaid's low-key narration, shows dozens and dozens of images of Wallace from childhood to decrepit old age, when he desperately sought forgiveness for his wrongs. In only a handful of those images, Wallace is smiling; most of the time he's angry and grim-faced, like a man who knows his soul is lost. (Jack Purdy)The Girl Next Door
Directed by Christine Fugate
April 29, midnight, hosted by the director

A documentary about Stacy Valentine, a former Oklahoma homemaker who became an adult-film superstar.Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends but the Mountains
Directed by Kevin McKiernan
April 29, 4 p.m., hosted by the director, associate producer Catherine Boyer, and interviewer Caitrin McKiernan

American television-news correspondent Kevin McKiernan was one of scores of Western journalists who flooded into southeastern Turkey in the early 1990s to cover the plight of Iraqi Kurds under attack from Saddam Hussein. While there McKiernan stumbled onto NATO member Turkey's ongoing campaign against its own Kurdish minority. The networks showed no interest in McKiernan's story at the time, but he has now compiled nearly a decade's worth of reportage into this illuminating documentary. McKiernan juggles the elements of a complex international issue with aplomb and injects a human-scale perspective on the issue through the story of a family of Kurdish immigrants based in his California hometown. Most damningly, he shows how the United States uses the Kurds' plight for its own political ends while tacitly condoning, even aiding the violence against them. You've heard of stories ripped from the headlines? Good Kurds, Bad Kurds comes from deep behind the headlines, and may eventually generate a few of its own. (Lee Gardner)The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
Directed by Julien Temple
April 28, 11 p.m. and April 30, 4 p.m., hosted by Sun rock critic J.D. Considine

Julien Temple's forthcoming documentary The Filth and the Fury will no doubt tell it more truthfully, but it's hard to imagine it telling the Sex Pistols story more entertainingly than did his first crack at the nut. Released (barely) in 1980, Swindle is the gospel according to Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols' founder and manager, who posits the group as a mere vehicle for his master plan to expose the rock 'n' roll industry as a corrupt, bloated fraud by selling it on a band of talentless provocateurs. It's a pretty tall tale (as a live clip of the Pistols marauding through "Anarchy in the U.K." makes clear), but McLaren is so impishly winning--and so cynically trenchant about the state of the biz--that he almost puts it over. Meanwhile, Temple stuffs the film with brutally satiric asides, cheekily profane animations, and cheerily outrageous production numbers (including Sid Vicious' prescient and oddly poignant destruction of "My Way"). Amid the chaos and conceit, he manages to pinpoint the space the Sex Pistols crawled into--and evoke the manner in which they exploded it. Bonus: Disco and strolling-French-minstrel versions of "Anarchy." (Andy Markowitz)I Am Cuba
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
April 28, 2:15 p.m. and April 29, 2:30 p.m.

A newly restored version of a 1964 Cuban/ Soviet co-production that offers a sensuous cinematic glimpse of the island nation.The Initiate
Directed by Chad Etchison
April 28, 8:15 p.m.

This low-budget, Georgia-set film noir/occult mystery has the virtue of at least taking itself seriously, unlike 99.9 percent of similar movies in this post-Tarantino world. The only real problem with it, other than a glacial pace caused by everyone talking . . . very . . . slowly, is that writer/director Chad Etchison's budget prevented him from expanding his script's more interesting concepts. The most interesting one is that adherents of some weird cross between the Masons and the Society of the Golden Dawn (a 19th-century European occult group) are somehow involved in cocaine dealing in southern Georgia. A local deputy sheriff (Mack Murrah) gets on the trail of the bad guys after his best high-school pal (Andrew Hamrick) dies under mysterious circumstances while working for a third pal (Etchison). But a lack of dollars means that the performers just talk about strange rituals, bizarre tattoos, and the like--we never see any of this stuff, except for burning candles. To make matters worse, the script refers to real Golden Dawn member W.B. Yeats as an "English poet." There goes the Irish distribution deal. (Jack Purdy) Juvies
Directed by Liz Garbus
April 28, 4:15 p.m.

If, as Tolstoy once said, a society can be judged by the manner in which it treats its prisoners, what would he say about our society after a screening of Juvies? Directed and co-produced by Liz Garbus, the documentary follows three teens through Maryland's juvenile-justice system--from the Cheltenham juvenile lock-up, through the strained courts/probation/counseling assembly line, back out onto the streets, and back into the system. Thanks to an extraordinary level of cooperation from the subjects, their families, and the state of Maryland, Garbus creates an extremely intimate portrait of three young men at a make-or-break-time in their lives, including Shawn, the 17-year-old drug dealer who seems to want to go straight, and 14-year-old baby-man Daniel, a victim of emotional disturbances and learning disabilities further victimized by a system that's designed to hold him, not help him. Juvies puts unforgettable faces and stories to the ranks of faceless young offenders, and shows that the only thing law-abiding adults need fear, ultimately, is indifference to their plight. (Lee Gardner)Kill by Inches
Directed by Arthur Flam and Diane Doniol-Valcroze
April 29, 7 p.m., hosted by the directors

Sibling rivalry between brother-and-sister tailors escalates into danger in this debut feature from writer/directors Flam, a Johns Hopkins University alum, and Doniol-Valcroze. The title refers to the tailoring skill of measuring customers without the aid of measuring tape. Lawrence of Arabia
Directed by David Lean
Senator Theatre, April 29, 7 p.m., hosted by film restorers James Katz and Robert Harris.

The opportunity to see one of the last great historical epics in a beautifully restored 70 mm print is rare indeed. Released in 1962, when everything filmmakers shot had to be "real," not digitized, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the few really long movies that doesn't feel that way--and we mean really long, as in nearly four hours. But director David Lean was such a master of the sweeping vista--and Peter O'Toole was so beautiful and hypnotic as T.E. Lawrence, the British soldier/adventurer who sought the liberation and unity of the Arab states--that time passes quickly, despite endless shots of burning desert sand. Lawrence is also chockablock with superb Brit character actors, including Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, Donald Wolfit, Anthony Quayle, and Alec Guinness, with able non-Brit support from Anthony Quinn and José Ferrer--not to forget Omar Sharif as Lawrence's desert running buddy. (Jack Purdy)The Long, Hot Summer
Directed by Martin Ritt
April 28, 2:14 p.m., hosted by Joyce J. Scott

Artist Joyce J. Scott, subject of the current Baltimore Museum of Art retrospective Kicking' It With the Old Masters, deconstructs this 1958 film, which is based on a William Faulkner story but is so overripe you'd swear it was Tennessee Williams. Handsome southanuh Ben Quick (Paul Newman) courts Clara (Joanne Woodward), whose daddy is Will Varner (Orson Welles), the Richest Man in Town.Long Night's Journey Into Day
Directed by Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann
April 29, 11 a.m. and April 30, 4:30 p.m., hosted by the directors

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, Long Night's Journey Into Day profiles the horrors of South African apartheid by focusing on that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which promised amnesty to those of all races who fully detailed their political crimes. The first and last stories in this shot-on-video film are the most compelling. The first tale deals with the 1993 killing of Amy Biehl, a young American whose love for Nelson Mandela drove her to work in South Africa, and who was killed by some of the same impoverished township youths she wanted to help. Biehl's parents, displaying amazing generosity of spirit, supported their daughter's killers during the amnesty process. The final story is even more wrenching, detailing the role of a black policeman, Thapelo Mbelo, in the murder of seven young black men. Horrifyingly, Mbelo acted as an agent provocateur, whipping up the seven to commit an act of terrorism, arming them, and setting them up for an ambush. The reason? Things had been so quiet in Mbelo's area that his bosses figured security forces were being lazy. (Jack Purdy)Makebelieve
Directed by Mike Flanagan
April 28, 7:15 p.m. and April 30, 3:30 p.m.

Shot on a dare given him by his Towson University instructor, filmmaker Steve Yeager (Divine Trash), Mike Flanagan's digital-video feature Makebelieve supplies more real-deal teen insight and nonforced laughs than the majority of recent high-gloss, empty-calorie teen vehicles. Within a larger group of romantically angsting students, we meet Ryan (Jamie Sinsz), who's given himself 24 hours to figure out whether to go for adult-style commitment with his off-campus girlfriend (Naomi Kline) or do the dog with über-fox Dawn (Natalie Roers). If this seems a less than riveting plot concept, you haven't seen enough Freddie Prinze Jr. films. What Makebelieve lacks in glitz it more than makes up in authentic dialogue performed by an attractive cast made up entirely of college students. Special kudos go to Megan Anderson as a cranky Dorothy Parker-to-be and Roers, who adds shading to the standard horned-out-Heather role. Makebelieve isn't a great or even unique film, and it's blighted somewhat with sub-Jewel soundtrack warbling, but the sheer competence on display here dwarfs that of most Hollywood teen product. (Ian Grey)My Fair Lady
Directed by George Cukor
Senator Theatre, April 29, 1 p.m., hosted by James Katz and Robert Harris

One of last and best of the big, splashy movie musicals is made even bigger and splashier by a painstaking digital restoration and rereleased in all its 70mm glory. Buffed to high-tech sheen, Cecil Beaton's production design and the Lerner-Loewe songs look and sound even better, but the movie still belongs to Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, fusty, nasty, witty, and still somehow lovable as he determines to prove his own brilliance by transforming low-born flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) into society's darling. Wilfrid Hyde-White as Higgins' goofy best pal and Stanley Holloway as Eliza's drunken dad offer hilarious support, rejuvenating the movie even as it moves into its patience-taxing third hour. The one false note is struck by Hepburn; she may have been a fine actress and a wonderful human being, but with every exaggerated Cockney affectation you're reminded that she was definitely not Eliza Doolittle. (Note: The screening will include a peek at Hepburn's audition tape for the role.) (Andy Markowitz)The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me
Directed by Tim Kirkman
April 29, 9 p.m., hosted by the director and writer/star David Drake, followed by premiere party at Theatre Project

Eight years old, sporting a few tweaks to update it, David Drake's Obie-winning one-man play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me comes to the big screen with most of its power intact. Parts of the play--a series of monologues tracing one gay man's sexual and (especially) political coming of age in the era of AIDS--benefit from the leap to celluloid. Director Tim Kirkman (Dear Jesse), Drake, and composer Steve Sandberg transform "12-Inch Single," the play's journey into the culture of cruising, into frenetic hip-hop, a pulse-pounding centerpiece to which the actor brings a punk-rock intensity. Other pieces, such as the anti-gay-bashing vignette "Why I Go to the Gym," lose some of their visceral impact in the translation from stage to film--even if, as in the case of "Gym," their sentiment is more trendy than ever. But Drake's words--tragic, comic, poetic--are still strong tonic for the times, however much those times may have shifted since the words were written. (Heather Joslyn)Omaha (the movie)
Directed by Dan Mirvish
April 28, 2:30 p.m. and April 30, noon

Stanley Kubrick, Werner Herzog, Federico Fellini . . . none of these terrific directors went to film school, a fact somebody needs to share with Slamdance festival co-founder Dan Mirvish. Despite the obvious competence of all involved, Omaha (the movie) shows the taint of film school (the University of Southern California in Mirvish's case) in every frame. There are camera tricks and weird film stocks aplenty, but the story is thin. A Nebraska slacker named Simon (Hughston Walkinshaw) escapes from yet another dysfunctional family, goes to Nepal in search of the Answers to Life, returns to Omaha, and gets involved in a last-reel chase from drug runners. Along the way, we're treated to embarrassingly sophomoric bits of forced humor, typified by segments where assorted Nebraska officials, playing themselves, extol the virtues of their state. But when Mirvish chills on the film-school shenanigans, or allows Jill Anderson, playing deranged girlfriend Gina, to just be fabulous, an engagingly off-the-wall comedic sensibility emerges. Is there a 12-step program for USC grads? (Ian Grey)One-Eyed Jacks
Directed by Marlon Brando
April 29, 10 a.m., hosted by Taylor Branch.

Panned upon its 1961 release as the self-indulgent product of star's ego, Marlon Brando's sole directorial effort comes off today as an underrated (if overlong) revisionist Western with compelling psychological overtones. Brando plays Rio, a bank robber whose partner/surrogate father, Dad (Karl Malden), abandoned him during a battle with Mexican police years before and has since gone straight, getting elected sheriff of a California town. Rio arrives feigning forgiveness but gunning for revenge, but when he begins romancing Dad's stepdaughter, Luisa (Pina Pellicer), the emotional tables and power relationships start to turn. Stepping in after Stanley Kubrick (!) was fired, Brando proved himself an able director, effectively using the sprawling SoCal landscape and deftly ratcheting the tension between Rio and Dad. Unfortunately, the director is let down by his star--stoic and moon-faced, Brando is uncompelling and unconvincing as a conflicted Western anti-hero. (Malden, however, is excellent as the two-faced Dad.) Brando spent the rest of the '60s acting indifferently in increasingly irrelevant flops; one wonders what might have been had he spent less time in front of the camera and more behind it. (Andy Markowitz)Panic
Directed by Henry Bromell
April 30, 7 p.m., hosted by the director

A drama about a middle-aged man (Magnolia's William H. Macy) who, while struggling to break free of his family's business, meets and falls in love with a sexy 23-year-old (Scream queen Neve Campbell).Paradise Lost 2: Revelations
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
April 29, 10 a.m., hosted by Joe Berlinger

Another treat for non-HBO subscribers: a follow-up to Paradise Lost, Berlinger and Sinofsky's riveting documetary about the trial of three teenagers in rural West Memphis, Ark., for the killing of three 8-year-old boys. Rosebud Presents
Curated by Chris Griffin
April 28, 2 p.m.

A showcase of works by regional film- and videomakers who have won honors at the D.C.-based Rosebud Festival. Titles include Joshua Muntain's Bazaar, Mike Fisher's They Rules the World, Cable Hardin's Corcovado, Andrew Carnwath's Greater Than Half, Grace Guggenheim's Witnesses, Ed Winslow and Jordan Reynolds' Raised on the Row, Todd Rohal's Single-Spaced, and Rachel Max's Rocky IV.The Scott and Gary Show
Presented by Jeff Krulik
April 29, 11:30 p.m., hosted by Krulik, Scott Lewis, and Gary Winter and followed by a performance by Jad Fair

More than a decade after the demise of their New York-based cable-access TV show, Scott Lewis and Gary Winter find their Z-grade two-headed televisual love child the subject of a retrospective presented by Heavy Metal Parking Lot creator (and University of Maryland grad) Jeff Krulik. Why? Because between 1983 and 1989, Lewis and Winter presciently booked some of the biggest names in alt-rock, back when they were small enough for cable access, including the likes of the Butthole Surfers (looking stunningly fresh-faced and young, if not innocent), the embryonic Beastie Boys, and Westminster's own Half Japanese. It's sort of like . . . watching an hour and a half of cable-access, but in this case the loosey-goosey, nobody's-watching vibe only adds to the fun. (Lee Gardner)Searching for Roger Taylor
Directed by Aaron Barnett
April 29, 7:30 p.m., hosted by the director

Admitting a secret love for Duran Duran is an admirable act of self-effacement. Suggesting that Duran and other bands of the nebulously named "new wave" of the 1980s were somehow important--and then making a film about it--is obsession of the highest order. The great thing about Aaron Barnett's Searching for Roger Taylor is that it makes a strong case for the director's claim. While conducting his titular search for Duran's disappeared drummer, Barnett interviews major new-wave players--Jerry Casale of Devo, Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, Gary Numan of, well, Gary Numan--while also offering a staggering array of videos from the period (by Joy Division, Haircut 100, New Order, Talking Heads, and Blondie, among others). Ultimately, the film is about how MTV built an empire on the retrospectively fascinating efforts of new wave in the early '80s, only to shaft musicians not named Sting at decade's end and become the corporate megalith of mediocrity it is today. You'll never listen to Orgy crank out its robotic replication of New Order's revolutionary "Blue Monday" the same way again. (Ian Grey)A Sign From God
Directed by Greg Watkins
April 30, 3 p.m., hosted by the director and Jonathan Richman

Ever wake up one day and feel like God has it in for you? Flaky bohemian filmmaker Caveh (Caveh Zahedi) probably should. As morning dawns and this charming, low-key feature begins, his long-suffering girlfriend discovers she is pregnant, they're threatened with eviction from their apartment, he crashes their car, and no one will give him the money to pay the rent, much less finish his movie. But Caveh remains optimistic, searching San Francisco for some money, a location for his film (an autobiographical work titled I Am a Sex Addict), a way to save his failing relationship, and a divine thumbs-up of some kind. Filmed mostly in austere long shots and very demimonde savvy, A Sign From God sports the dry, deadpan wit of early Jim Jarmusch and a soundtrack by Jonathan Richman). But it's the winning, unshowy performances by the two leads (especially the sweet, spacey, hapless Zahedi), that give this shaggy-dog story with a wagging tail all its own. (Lee Gardner)Spartacus
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
At the Senator Theatre, April 30, 2 p.m.

Stanley Kubrick's only film as a hired hand--and by far his most conventional and least Kubrickian as a result--Spartacus nevertheless fills the wide screen gloriously, if for a bit longer than necessary. This three-hour-plus 1960 epic about a slave (Kirk Douglas, who also executive produced) who leads a revolt against the Roman Empire is marred by long stretches of dramatic inertia, most of them courtesy of Dalton Trumbo's static script. But there's ample compensation in the magnificently staged scenes of battle and gladiatorial combat, Russell Metty's Oscar-winning cinematography, and the delicious performances of Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton as scheming rival senators. Not to mention the ancillary pleasure of Tony Curtis, in perhaps the last of his Last of the Brooklyn Ancients miscastings, as Antoninus, "a singah of sawngs." (Andy Markowitz) Spring Forward
Directed by Tom Gilroy
April 30, 7 p.m., hosted by the director and ³special guests²

Writer/director Tom Gilroy's debut is the kind of film where Nothing Happens and Everything Happens, revealing itself in layers through the everyday interaction of everyday characters. Paul (Liev Schreiber), an impulsive ex-con, gets a job with a Connecticut town's parks department and is partnered with Murph (Ned Beatty), a patient, taciturn old-timer. Rather than lurching from Point A to Situation B to Resolution C, Spring Forward unfolds deliberately in a series of conversations as the two men go about their jobs--cleaning a park in the spring, blowing leaves in the fall, plowing snow in the winter, periodically encountering other townsfolk. The dialogues themselves carry the story, deftly and richly exploring the characters, their relationship, and the place they live. If the four-seasons structure is a bit too Screenwriting 101, Gilroy displays a real ear for the rhythm of workaday speech., and his script touches perceptively on class, sexuality, desire, and regret, never underlining the action or overplaying its emotional hand. Beatty and (especially) Schreiber plumb their characters' depths and shadings beautifully. This is a lovely, lovely film. (Andy Markowitz)This Is Cuba
Directed by Chris Hume
April 29, 10:15 a.m., hosted by the director

A 1995 documentary shot on the streets of Havana, offering a critique of Castro and modern Cuban life.Trash
Directed by Paul Morrisey
April 29, 10:30 p.m. and April 30, 1:30 p.m.

1970's Trash opens with pimple-butted, impotent junkie hunk Joe (Joe Dallesandro) getting a blow job from a brainless ditz. It hits its peak of outrage when Joe's faithful transsexual roomie (Holly Woodlawn) fucks herself with a beer bottle while shouting orgasmically, "We're gonna get welfare!" In between, Trash treats us to running jokes about Joe's visibly disinterested dick, whiny rich girls begging to be raped, dope-injection sequences, Woodlawn seducing an "underage" boy, and other nuggets of offhand bad taste. But like John Waters' early films, the main reaction the Andy Warhol-produced Trash (a restored version of which is plays MFF) elicits from a modern audience is one of weird nostalgia. The can-you-top-this gross-outs seem almost childlike now. The actors--with the exception of the fabulous, indomitable Woodlawn--lack talent but also lack guile, and so are oddly endearing. While addiction and abject poverty are not exactly laugh city, 30 years later, these grotty images offer modern audiences a palpably real time and place all but lost in a world of ersatz everything. (Ian Grey)Trashmonster
Directed by Henry Turner
April 29, 11:45 p.m., hosted by the director

If the phrase "It's a cross between Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Toxic Avenger!" means anything to you, then Baltimore filmmaker Henry Turner's post-industrial creepathon should be right up your alley; others may find themselves muttering something more along the lines of "What the fuck was that?" In a filthy world of wiped-out warehouses, we meet the titular monster, appropriately clad head to toe in, well, trash. Trashmonster raids genetics labs for his prized collection of biohazard-waste cans and kills the occasional interloper. Meanwhile, a slacker bum is hired by weird agents to investigate the killings, but instead falls in league with Trashmonster. In place of dialogue is a Residents-like audio track--snippets of unrelated dialogue, groaning Moogs, snatches of orchestral and lounge music--that effectively enhance the film's already psychotic ambience. Add a hallucinogenic sequence in which a bushel of Trash People do their special Trash Dance while sucking up a character's soul, and you have a worthy addition to the weird-ola post-Eraserhead canon. (Ian Grey)Wattstax
Directed by Mel Stuart
April 28, 7:45 p.m.

Isaac Hayes, Richard Pryor, and Sly and the Family Stone are among the performers captured in this 1973 documentary, unavailable on video, of an early-70s megaconcert held to promote unity in the strife-torn Los Angeles community of Watts.We Married Margo
Directed by J.D. Shapiro
April 29, 4:15 p.m., hosted by the director, Henry Turner, and Dan Mirvish

The title makes it sound like a 1950s sitcom, but the situation in this U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Audience Award winner is very early 21st century: Two guys who are opposites in every way marry and divorce the same woman in rapid succession. When ex-husband #2 gets the boot, he seeks sympathy and shelter from the one guy who can fully understand his plight--ex-husband #1. Sprinkle in some pop-culture-crazed humor and wacky celebrity cameos, stir, and you've got the makings of a typically angsty Gen-X romantic comedy, right? Well, kind of. But director/co-star J.D. Shapiro claims he and co-star William Dozier really lived a similar situation, and it shows: The two men, who also collaborated on the script, have a seamless, finish-each-other's-sentences chemistry. Margo also stands out from the indie-romance pack for its constant flurry of quick cuts--monologues might begin on a street, meander into the guys' kitchen, and wind up on the waterfront. If its gimmicks at times seem too derivative of Annie Hall-era Woody Allen, the film sometimes surprises with stream-of-consciousness gags that owe a lot to Shapiro's other proclaimed comic hero, Bugs Bunny. (Heather Joslyn)The Wilgus Stories
Directed by Andrew Garrison
April 30, 5 p.m.

Based on Gurney Norman's book Kinfolk, The Wilgus Stories follow a Kentucky kid as he grows from boyhood to young manhood in the 1950s and '60s. The first chapter of this anthology film, Fat Monroe, is the most impressive, with Ned Beatty in the title role of a cigar-chewing yahoo who gives young Wilgus Collier (William Johnson) a ride and messes with his mind in an ultimately harmless manner. Beatty, all beard stubble and sloppy conviviality, is an overgrown boy himself in the part, which wonderfully highlights how weird adults can be. Part two, Night Ride, finds a slightly older Collier (Johnson again) driving around with his Uncle Delmer (Frank Hoyt Taylor). It's an act of initiation into manhood as Delmer drives recklessly and orders his nephew, "Open me another beer, Wilgus. And get my pistol." But Delmer also traces sensitive memories of his dead brother, Wilgus' dad. Maxine has Robin Mullins as the title character, the 37-year-old object of the 23-year-old Wilgus' (Christopher Berry) admiration and lust. But even in 1969, she can't bring herself to leave Kentucky for California. These are evocative miniatures of a vanished America. (Jack Purdy)The Wizard of Oz
Directed by Victor Fleming
April 30, 9:30 a.m., hosted by Joseph Curran

It's becoming an MFF tradition for the region's politicians to introduce us to their favorite movies. Last year we were alarmed to discover that then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke's favorite flick was The Godfather. (If only the former Hizzoner had heeded the Corleone code of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer.) This year state Attorney General Joseph Curran--and his granddaughters, whose daddy, Martin O'Malley, started a new job this past December--host the 1939 family favorite The Wizard of Oz. Chances are you've seen this one before--you know, the farm, the girl, "Over the Rainbow," the Munchkins, the witches, the scarecrow, the poppies, Emerald City--but chances are you haven't seen it on the big screen, and everybody should. You can cover your eyes during the flying monkeys. (Heather Joslyn)

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Film Fest Frenzy (5/5/2010)
City Paper's annual guide to the Maryland Film Festival

Coming Attractions (5/5/2010)
2010 Maryland Film Festival Schedule

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Reviews of Features at the Maryland Film Festival

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