Thursday, April 22, 2010

Film feature: Palm Beach Film Fest fading at 15th anniversary

The cast of‭ ‬Altar Boyz at Jacksonville’s Stanton College
Preparatory School,‭ ‬from‭ ‬Thespians.

By Hap Erstein

Cut down to five days,‭ ‬and minus the glitzy gala that always seemed more important to its organizers than the movies themselves,‭ ‬the Palm Beach International Film Festival at‭ ‬15‭ ‬is reportedly on its last legs.

After a decade and a half,‭ ‬the event never really caught on with the local public and has become a financial drain on the county as recession-strapped corporate sponsors have fallen away.

I would like to report that there are plenty of worthy films to be seen,‭ ‬but executive director Randi Emerman remains stingy about showing movies in advance to the press,‭ ‬perhaps because she does not want reviews out that would only discourage attendance.‭ ‬According to a festival publicist,‭ ‬Emerman insists that no major film events outside of South Florida hold advance screenings,‭ ‬an assertion that will come as a surprise to festivals in Toronto and Tribeca,‭ ‬to name a couple.

Ultimately,‭ ‬screenings were held for four films,‭ ‬which the publicist insisted were the only four available to be shown.‭ ‬That is awfully hard to believe,‭ ‬but then these four were certainly not selected for their quality,‭ ‬so maybe it is true.‭ ‬It would be a mistake to extrapolate the quality of the entire festival based on these four films,‭ ‬but feel free to jump to your own conclusions.‭ (‬By the way,‭ ‬the best of the films reviewed below,‭ ‬Thespians,‭ ‬was not made available by the festival staff,‭ ‬but by its director.‭)

For more information,‭ ‬call‭ (‬561‭) ‬362-0003‭ ‬or go to‭ ‬‭

‭ * * *

Dennis Sims,‭ ‬theater instructor at the Dreyfoos School,‭
‬with student Jeremy Daniels,‭ ‬from‭ ‬Thespians.‭

* Thespians‭ (‬Saturday,‭ ‬2:30‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Cobb Theatres Downtown‭ ‬16‭) ‬--‭ ‬Competitions as a subject matter often make for strong documentaries in which moviegoers can become emotionally invested.‭ ‬Think of‭ ‬Spellbound,‭ ‬Wordplay and‭ ‬Mad Hot Ballroom.‭ ‬Now comes‭ ‬Thespians by Jacksonville-based Warren Skeels,‭ ‬a look at the Florida statewide high school drama festival,‭ ‬as seen through the aspiring actors of four schools,‭ ‬including West Palm’s Dreyfoos School of the Arts.‭ ‬Skeels,‭ ‬a former‭ ‬thespian himself,‭ ‬got unusual access to the preliminary work and rehearsals within the schools,‭ ‬has a good eye for capturing the backstage tensions and he edited it all down to a tight hour and a half.

There is commercial potential in the film because of its timing,‭ ‬coming just as‭ ‬High School Musical‭ ‬and TV’s‭ ‬Glee are hot.‭ ‬Skeels digs for the personal stories of the performers,‭ ‬and is particularly successful with a couple of best friends from an Orlando school who tackle an intimate scene from John Patrick Shanley’s‭ ‬Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and the geeky,‭ ‬rhythm-challenged guys of a Jacksonville prep school who get whipped into shape for a highly choreographed number from‭ ‬Altar Boyz.‭ ‬Dreyfoos’s Jeremy Michaels gets a nice showcase,‭ ‬but otherwise the school is a bit shortchanged.‭

A scene from‭ ‬Exam.

‭* ‬Exam‭ (‬Monday,‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Cobb Theatres Downtown‭ ‬16‭) ‬--‭ ‬So you think you’ve got a hard time landing a job‭? ‬It is nothing compared to what the applicants for an unspecified position at a major biotech company do through in Stuart Hazeldine’s‭ ‬Exam.‭ ‬Those who suffer from claustrophobia can pass on this yarn,‭ ‬which all takes place entirely inside a sterile,‭ ‬windowless room where the test is administered.‭ ‬For that matter,‭ ‬those who insist on applying logic to their viewing experience and crave a satisfying wrap-up will want to pass as well.

Still,‭ ‬the premise does tantalize.‭ ‬Eight employee candidates,‭ ‬most of them young,‭ ‬attractive and well-dressed,‭ ‬are read the stringent guidelines for the exam before them on their desks and are then left alone,‭ ‬with only a silent guard to toss out those who break the rules.‭ ‬Then the stakes are quickly raised when they realize that their test papers are blank.

So they have to work together,‭ ‬or at least seem to,‭ ‬to learn first what the exam question is,‭ ‬then how to solve it.‭ ‬In this psychological puzzle,‭ ‬Luke Mably takes control of the group dynamic,‭ ‬and the movie.‭ ‬Hazeldine handles the harder job‭ ‬--‭ ‬executing the camerawork so the film’s inert quality is minimized‭ ‬--‭ ‬but he eventually writes himself into a too-obvious corner.

Adham,‭ ‬an Egyptian recycling worker,‭ ‬from Garbage Dreams.

‭* ‬Garbage Dreams‭ (‬Friday,‭ ‬4:45‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Muvico Parisian‭; ‬Sunday,‭ ‬11‭ ‬a.m.,‭ ‬Movies of Delray‭) ‬--‭ ‬As we learn in the opening titles,‭ ‬Cairo,‭ ‬Egypt,‭ ‬is a city of‭ ‬18‭ ‬million people,‭ ‬yet it has no municipal waste disposal system.‭ ‬What it does have is the Zaballeen,‭ ‬a sub-culture that has been eking out a meager living picking up the city’s garbage and recycling it for what value they can derive.‭ ‬It is,‭ ‬as you can imagine,‭ ‬an enormously unsanitary occupation,‭ ‬yet these people are shown diligently rummaging through the refuse for the hidden worth‭ ‬--‭ ‬mostly metal cans and scraps‭ ‬--‭ ‬within.

Director/producer Mai Iskander rubs the viewer’s nose in the garbage and does what he can to delineate characters for us to follow,‭ ‬but it is a narrow subject with little to add once the eye-opening existence of the Zaballeen is established.‭ ‬The film cries out for narration,‭ ‬for we learn almost everything from the profiled individuals,‭ ‬who prove not to have much to say.

Paris Hilton and the paparazzi,‭ ‬from Giving It Up.

‭* ‬Giving It Up‭ (‬Friday,‭ ‬7:15‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Cobb Theatres Downtown‭ ‬16‭; ‬Sunday,‭ ‬9:15‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Movies of Delray‭) ‬One does not need to like the subjects of a documentary,‭ ‬but this look beneath the surface of Hollywood’s paparazzi culture is a particularly shallow look at gang wars fought with cameras.‭ ‬Our national obsession with celebrity should probably come as no surprise,‭ ‬so nor should the exponential increase of these stake-out artists who live off the grab shots of the Paris Hiltons,‭ ‬Britney Spears and Angelina Jolies of the world that they then sell to the tabloids and other photo services.

Director-writer Frank Ruy follows along on a few high-speed pursuits,‭ ‬as the photographers race across L.A.‭ ‬to gain position outside tony restaurants,‭ ‬and wait for the A-list stars to emerge and make their payday.‭ ‬Understandably,‭ ‬Giving It Up includes only those celebs that the paparazzi are‭ ‬able to find and cajole into cooperating long enough for a saleable shot,‭ ‬so one wonders if what Ruy is up to is just as annoying,‭ ‬being the paparazzo to the paparazzi.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬these guerrilla photographers get their own‭ ‬15‭ ‬minutes of fame in the film,‭ ‬but it is time you will want back.‭

Tovah Feldshuh in Ten Stories Tall.

‭* ‬Ten Stories Tall‭ (‬Saturday,‭ ‬7:15‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Muvico Parisian‭; ‬Sunday,‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Lake Worth Playhouse‭) ‬--‭ ‬Writer-director David Garrett wades into familiar territory with this dramatic tale of death,‭ ‬grief and dysfunctional family tensions,‭ ‬but succeeds with it thanks to an unblinking touch and a first-rate cast,‭ ‬led by Tovah Feldshuh as a guilt-wielding mother who comes unhinged at the funeral of a lifelong friend.‭ ‬Garrett’s dialogue is well-honed,‭ ‬and even the minor characters feel fleshed out and multi-dimensional.‭ ‬Ally Sheedy gives an impressive performance as the dead woman’s daughter,‭ ‬trying to keep a level of civility to the proceedings,‭ ‬bringing her own career back from the dead.‭ ‬Theater fans will appreciate seeing Emily Skinner in a small,‭ ‬crucial role.‭

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