2005 DENVER INTERNATIONAL
Things To Do In Denver When You’re A Misanthropic Whore-Monger
When greedy shitbag Ron Henderson, the current artistic director of the Denver Film Society, moved the annual festival from October to November, I had a feeling that unlike previous years, the 2005 edition would be largely forgettable. As expected, the stars stayed away, and any high profile releases were largely pointless, as they had already hit theaters elsewhere. In other words, no world or even U.S. premieres, that is unless you count locally-made documentaries that won’t be seen by anyone not in the production crew. Even Opening Night, a time usually reserved for glitz and glamour, was cursed with some bowl of excrement called The World’s Fastest Indian, which could only be the oft-told tale of some reservation-bound, drunken redskin trying to outrun the cops. You know, your average Saturday night in South Dakota. Fine, Ang Lee did make it to the Mile High city for an interview and promotion of his stellar Brokeback Mountain, but as I saw this movie back in September, it merely took the place of something else. I would applaud the film society for their selection, but they also handed a piece of hardware to David Schwimmer, and no, it wasn’t something with which to take his own life.
As a result of Mr. Henderson’s supremely idiotic decision, it was difficult to get into festival mode, which is usually enough to push me through the depressing holiday season. Now, I just might have to proceed with my interstate tango. I mean really, Ron, you went to Cannes, Telluride, and Toronto (all on the members’ dime, I might add), and the best you could do was some groaner about 90-year-old women who still like to kick up their legs to music? And fuck, why on earth couldn’t you secure a copy of Cache? My wife hasn’t seen it yet, and this is the only festival in the country that didn’t swing a print. Fine, you promised festival attendees a “mystery screening,” but did it have to be Rent, which opens nationwide anyway a week after the festival ends? You might want to see a big screen adaptation of Political Correctness: The Musical, but I’ll pass, thank you very much. That is, until I’m compelled to write a mean-spirited review.
And you have a “Salute to Japan,” yet don’t feature a single Kurosawa? And the only Ozu on tap is arguably his least brilliant? Why not tip your cap to “Insufferable Colorado Film Students,” as they seemed to choke the life from everything in their vicinity? And now that I reflect, who the fuck did that rug-muncher think she was equating the Turin Film Festival with other global experiences? Hey Butch, niche festivals catering to gays and lesbians might be necessary, but no one outside of your man-hating circle really gives a shit, and a cliché-ridden tale about life and love is still trite and uninspiring, even if the plot is occasionally interrupted by a lipstick lesbian three-way. Hot as holy hell, but predictable nonetheless. But that’s what festivals do, I’m afraid. Artists, usually egomaniacal to begin with, suddenly have a public platform from which to feed their ever-hungry narcissism, and all perspective is lost.
Still, despite my disappointment, I did attend each and every day of the festival. There were a few that will be worth remembering at year’s end, but on the whole, the names and faces will soon be lost to the winds of time, and I’ll have a new batch of mediocrity to give me even fewer reasons to push on:
How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer
Far from a source of humor or quiet beauty, geriatric sex is arguably the most vile image in the universe, challenged only by the specter of a sagging, living corpse sprawled out in a bathtub. Here, we get both, although the rest of the film is just good enough to erase the nausea. Georgina Riedel’s story of three generations of Mexican women living in Arizona is full of passion, pity, and loneliness, and the visuals speak to a strong Ozu influence. America Ferrera (Real Women Have Curves) and Elizabeth Pena star as mother and daughter, and each woman is trying to find her way through the minefield of love. While the film is a bit overlong, it convincingly argues that sex, far from a sacred endeavor, is based solely on need, and can often result from sheer boredom. There are some standard devices that irritate (do films like this always need to have a Town Retard?), but how refreshing indeed to have a story about non-whites that doesn’t make an issue of race. They know who and what they are; they don’t need to make silly speeches or score cheap political points to make us care.
Why We Fight
Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger) comes out with guns blazing yet again, this time laying out the irrefutable case for America’s lustful jingoism. Using President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address as a framing device, the film presents historical footage and countless interviews to support the charge that due to the overwhelming influence of the corporate sector, war is not only a profitable endeavor, but an absolute necessity that drives not just our economy, but our very culture. It’s not an original idea to be sure, but the film is so obsessively fair-minded that it becomes less a piece of propaganda than a well-documented legal brief. In the mix are critics of the “system” (Chalmers Johnson and Karen Kwiathowski being the most articulate) and seemingly objective observers (Eisenhower’s son, for one), but also on board are lock-step defenders of the faith; although a man like Richard Perle readily makes his own case for being an obnoxious, lying asshole. As expected, the whole thing is relentlessly grim, and the only relief to the depression is the realization that at some point, we will all be dead and hence, blissfully unaware.
Sir! No Sir!
For all those who believe that the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era was little more than a collection of stoned, unwashed hippies, David Zeiger’s powerful documentary is a necessary correction to the official record. At its core, the opposition to Vietnam was populated and directed by the soldiers themselves; men who saw the horrors of war and refused to continue the slaughter. Most of us know about the veterans who threw their medals away in 1971 (including John Kerry), but here, we meet those who took a stand before the war turned sour; those who knew My Lai was inevitable and in many cases, standard policy from the outset. It is also interesting to note that some believe President Nixon resorted to aerial bombardments late in the war because he no longer trusted the ground troops, who were often refusing to fight while still in the field. We also learn that the assumed truth that vets returned home to “spitting protesters” is an outright fabrication, concocted by revisionists (and reinforced by First Blood) to equate opposition to war as an opposition to the troops themselves. Here, the selling point remains the men hardened by the experience; tough, principled SOBs who stand as living symbols as to why a military draft is no longer conceivable in the United States.
Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) is the highlight as Bree, a transsexual who is one week from her gender reassignment surgery (the cock will at last become a vagina), only to suddenly find out that she has a punk son who needs her help (he’s the product of an ill-advised tryst 18 years earlier). Only he doesn’t know that she is his father. Or mother. Or both. Before her therapist agrees to sign the release form, Bree is obligated to bail the young man out of jail, where a road trip ensues and the usual fireworks — through the standard voyage of self-discovery — follow. Admittedly, the trappings are overly familiar and the encounters often predictable, but the performances and delightful sense of humor (especially Graham Greene, in a solid supporting turn) elevate it beyond the usual fare. Far from a treacley melodrama, Transamerica is character driven work from start to finish, and because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is less a preachy tale of “acceptance” than a low-key slice of life. First-time director Duncan Tucker doesn’t take too many risks, but he is a confident filmmaker, and he avoids the usual self-conscious tricks that often burden budding talents. It is a curious choice to have a woman playing a man becoming a woman, but as a result, we aren’t as focused on the obviousness of the gender (imagine if we were looking at Geoffrey Rush in drag, for example), and can relax our guard a bit. And hey, the crew should be commended for constructing one hell of a prosthetic penis. Also of note: a great little riff on the homoeroticism of Lord of the Rings.
You’re never in good hands when the narrator of your movie is a blind retard, but that’s merely one in a series of fatal errors that burdens this unfortunate entry from director Lisa France. Cursed with dreadful acting and a script literally bleeding to death from cliché overload, this Southern-fried hokum tries to explore racism, memory, and friendship, but abandons every noble intention in the face of Phillip Bloch’s stupefying turn as Sammy, the aforementioned idiot. When a grown man with a haircut indistinguishable from Nick Nolte’s mug shot declares, “I ain’t never had sex…..I thought about having sex with Kathleen…..she’s so nice, she smells like pancakes,” you know it’s time to fold the tent and go home. Surprisingly, I managed to stay until the end, which was just as well; otherwise, I might have missed the “big fire” or the standard funeral scene where the black woman known as “Mama” bellows “Amazing Grace” likes she’s auditioning for American Idol. And as much as I enjoy seeing Dixie crackers portrayed as bigoted morons who rape their kinfolk and read Weekly World News between batches of homemade firewater, I could have done without the big-titted whore who generates all the gossip, as well as the big-titted whore who has dreams of living in the big city. For once, I’d like to see a celibate, flat-chested piece of white trash who is content to stay right where she is. And what exactly is “the unseen?” How about this movie after it leaves Denver…..
Ears, Open. Eyeballs, Click.
When it comes to basic training in the U.S. Marine Corps, additional commentary beyond the exhausting, humiliating visuals is wholly unnecessary. As such, Canaan Brumley’s use of true cinema verite — no narration, testimony, or interviews — allows the power to overwhelm the audience without the expected politicking. It’s very easy to loathe the process by which naive little shits are beaten down, brainwashed, and regurgitated as hard-ass killers, but how else are we to ensure that otherwise moral human beings do the bidding of Exxon-Mobil? From the first bus to the final ceremony, we follow these recruits through endless push-ups, eight mile marches in full gear, red-faced browbeating, and scrubbing rituals that seem less about cleanliness than a way to bore the fucking shit out of these men with excruciating tedium. No film will ever do it better than Full Metal Jacket, and where that film had a sense of outrage and bitter wit (and the unparalleled talent of R. Lee Ermey), this piece just wears you out with sadness. We are given no back story or individual insight, but that’s the point: these men look the same, yell the same, and in the end, will die the same. And we don’t really need to be told about the desperation that brought them here to begin with; it’s in every glance and defeated gesture.
No Bigger than a Minute
Needless to say, I had no business liking — let alone not setting fire to the print of — a documentary by and about midgets, but that’s the nature of a film festival; you enter a world where literally anything is possible. I still haven’t shifted in my belief that by and large, “little people” deserve no more than the back seat of a circus train, but wee one Steven Delano has crafted a slick, sentiment-free film that not only explains his particular situation, but provides historical context and perspective. Thankfully, Delano tells his tale with humor, irony, and good cheer; all without the usual “triumph over the odds” mantra that poisons all too many minority group portraits. Combining archival footage with interviews, film clips, and narration, Delano succeeds because at the moment you might think sainthood is creeping in, he cuts to Mini-KISS, an all-dwarf cover band that can’t help but produce a chuckle. What’s more, they’re meant to. We also meet Bushwick Bill(aka Dr. Wolfgang Von Bushwickin The Barbarian Mother-Funky Stay High Dollar Billstir), a nasty, profanity-spewing rapper who’d just as soon put a cap in your ass as feel sorry for himself. Delano, a Denver resident, could have easily attempted to pass off his home movies as a feature film, but he’s clearly put time and a great deal of talent to work for this production. Not bad; for a Weeble.
Sisters in Law
A powerful, unforgettable film about a culture in transition, this verite-style documentary from the team of Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi explores the rampant misogyny of Cameroon, a West African country largely under the thumb of patriarchal Islam. Prosecutor Vera Ngassa and Judge Beatric Ntuba have stepped in to change that unfortunate status, and through their hard-ass style and tough language, have managed to prosecute — and convict — abusive husbands for the first time in decades. Without introductions or background, the film immediately takes us inside the courtroom, a crude establishment that is one step removed from a thatched hut, but the trappings mean little in the face of the law’s power. And though these women are undoubtedly courageous, their humility and commitment to justice leave them little time to bask in applause or heroism. While it is brutally depressing to hear 10-year-old girls testify about being savagely raped, or view a child’s back covered with the scars left by an unfeeling aunt, it does wonders to hear educated, confident women reduce arrogant, sexist men to bumbling, pathetic fools. Needless to say, it’s only a matter of time before their brave, bullet-ridden corpses are found in the gutter – such is the way of the world.
Fighting for Life in the Death-Belt
Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights is a genuine American hero. When he could be earning a handsome salary in private practice, Bright toils away seven days a week for what amounts to a lower-middle class lifestyle, all so that those currently on death row are not executed. Working tirelessly (and against a culture that feeds on bloodlust), Bright has a simple mission: ensure that each and every American, regardless or race or social class, has a fair trial. When injustice occurs (and given that he works in the South, this is the rule, not the exception), he petitions courts, judges, and state houses, all with the belief that there is no such thing as a lost cause. While this straightforward documentary by Jeff Marks and Adam Elend is all-too-brief, it has the advantage of staying the course. We follow a particular case — convicted murderer Wallace Fugate has a date with the Georgia death house — but this is more about the process; how Bright spends his days and the dozens of co-workers who slave away for the despised and the damned. And in a refreshing turn, no other “side” is considered, which would not only undermine the tension as the hour of death approaches, but serve to minimize the unavoidable reality: those facing the ultimate penalty are always poor, usually black or Hispanic, and just as frequently the victim of substandard representation. One-sided liberal propaganda? Absolutely. It also has the distinction of being true.
In many ways, Gavin Hood’s South African drama is indicative of this year’s festival: things could have been worse, but I wouldn’t have suffered much had I missed it entirely. Everything is in place here — natural performances, sharp photography, effective story — but it fails to provoke in the way that it should. A young gang member, so heartless that he knifes a man on a subway for a little money and then shoots a woman for her car, discovers that his latest crime comes with a baby (he’s in the backseat), although rather than dump the screaming shit by the side of the road, he actually takes it home. Admittedly, this is a premise packed with potential idiocy and sentimentality, but the director keeps things relatively low key, and the “redemption” for the boy isn’t as obvious as it sounds. More than anything, it was a treat (if you call it that, given the region’s poverty) to see Johannesburg on film, and a treatment of African culture that isn’t a straightforward polemic. Most refreshing of all, the central character, while explored somewhat in brief flashbacks, is more contemplative than extroverted, and we are left to guess at his motivations. Some may consider this poor character development; I call it restraint.
Combover: The Movie
There’s a new rule that budding filmmakers need to remember: just because a film can be made about anything, doesn’t mean that it should. While director Chris Marino wisely keeps things under an hour, he arrogantly puts his obnoxious mug in nearly every frame, which makes this less an exploration of a uniquely bad haircut than one man’s love affair with himself. Wearing funny hats and sporting a ‘do as ridiculous as any he derides, Marino (from Denver, the bastard) travels across the country in search of hideous hair and the silly men who sport it without shame. He visits barbers, coffee shops, and even Trump Tower in order to ask the tough question, “What in the hell are you thinking?” He even throws in a few psychologists and sociologists for some credibility, but at bottom, this is a colossal joke, and a one-note job at that. The film is harmless fluff, but the screening itself an embarrassment of riches, as my wife and I seemed to be the only ones present who were not affiliated with the filmmaker. As a result, it’s impossible to gauge how a real audience would respond to this, as the gaffer, best boy, and star-struck extra are not about to stand back and present an objective analysis. But that’s what a man like Chris represents: the sort who, deep down, believes an entire festival is, somehow, built around his “baby.”
The Drugging of Our Children
They’re more powerful than the CIA; more deadly than the Wehrmacht; more heartless, even, than Stalin’s loyal henchmen. They are the pharmaceutical industry, and no greater force for evil currently inhabits the globe. When one speaks of justice, one imagines the CEOs of Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly being stripped naked, beaten with glass-filled pillowcases, poured into wheelbarrows, and brought before screaming, hysterical crowds, where what remained of their corpses would be distributed evenly, taken away to isolated compounds, wrapped in plastic, and shat upon by those who have consumed at least two portions of curry chicken. Anything less would be a travesty. And while director Gary Null has been featured on Quack Watch and, according to some sources, is a nut in his own right (he does appear a bit loopy on camera), the strength of his claims bear close attention. That children as young as four are being prescribed mind-altering medications, that all school shooters have a medicated history in common, and that simple behavioral issues have been medicalized and labeled “illnesses,” are all irrefutable points. Even the National Institute of Mental Health had to admit that there is no scientific basis for ADD or ADHD, and we know damn well that these terms were not in use until the drug companies started to notice troubling signs ahead for their balance sheets. And these fuckers control every level of government, including the White House. Oh yeah, the movie’s pretty good, too.
Mrs. Henderson Presents
While not as insightful or penetrating as his previous film Dirty Pretty Things (underrated to this day), this new effort from director Stephen Frears is delightful nonetheless, and in many ways a return to the sort of solid, no-nonsense storytelling that festivals often leave behind. On its face a WWII-era The Full Monty, this tale of the newly widowed Laura Henderson (Judi Dench), a sassy British snob who buys a theater and proceeds to showcase all-nude revues, is much more than a cheap payoff, and has a great deal of wit to spare. Bob Hoskins plays Vivian Van Damm, the theater manager, and while his relationship with Laura maintains a familiar arc, it manages to rise above cliché by establishing a solid balance between nastiness and flirtation. Sure, there are enough stiff upper lips and buffoonish prudes to inhabit a dozen British productions, but I won’t deny the crisp filmmaking, flawless performances, and great dialogue, most of which could not be delivered unless the actors were the sort of rich old dames who held their teacups with one hand, and their precious dogs with the other. And of course, the final speech by Dench — amidst the rubble of the Blitz and throngs of young soldiers — is shameless Oscar bait, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t also one of the most inspiring defenses of nudity I’ve ever heard.
Protocols of Zion
You’ve all heard the conspiracies — Jews were told to stay home from work on 9/11; Jews own the media and distract the people with amusements to further their agenda; Jews foster hatred, upheaval, and war to consolidate power; and, my favorite, that Jews use the blood of Christian children to make Matzo. Most, though not all, of these outlandish claims have their origin in the 19th century text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was in fact written by the Russian Czar’s secret police, yet passed off as the definitive record of a Jewish cabal bent on world domination. To this day, the fraud is a hot seller, competing with The Turner Diaries as the Bible of the lunatic fringe. Director Marc Levin chronicles the societal impact of this book, and manages to find quite a few people who are convinced of its authenticity. Still, Levin’s film is more than a damnation of deluded anti-Semites; it pulls back to explore a world conflict that appears utterly hopeless and without any real solution. If there is a weakness, it is that Levin fails to examine the overall war of reason versus superstition as the root of this madness, and he sometimes appears to exempt assorted rabbis and Jewish thinkers who, when pressed, sound as foolish as the extremists who wish to see them destroyed. As Christians are more numerous in the United States, they deserve the brunt of the criticism, but tradition is itself an indefensible position, even if such traditions are being promoted by a persecuted minority. That said, this is a humorous, probing account of a truly disturbing issue, and how could anyone not love a film where it is said of the so-called Jewish conspiracy, “Given what happened in Florida in 2000, where confused old Jews voted for Pat Buchanan, can anyone really believe that they run the world?”
Learn Self Defense
A clever animation piece that floats the idea that President Bush is a trigger happy infant who kills with delight and just a slight hard-on. If you’re going to bash the Idiot-in-Chief, it’s best to do it with humor.
My opinion is best summed up by the fact that I don’t remember what in the fuck it was about. It was pretty trippy, though, and I think it was against globalism or something.
From the Streets
If your mother is a whore, you WILL snort glue, lose your mind, and wander the streets alone. But we knew that already.
The Last Word:
- Best Film: Sisters in Law
- Worst Film: Unseen
- Best Performance, Fiction: Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents
- Best Performance, Non-Fiction: Steven Delano, No Bigger than a Minute (he seemed human to me)
- Worst Performance, Fiction: Phillip Bloch, The Unseen
- Worst Performance, Non-Fiction: Eric Harris, The Drugging of Our Children (all that firepower and only a dozen dead?)
- What You Learned: all hope for America is lost, the poor will always be fucked, midget tossing is a lost art, and Bob Hoskins is the last man I ever wanted to see naked.