Festivals Are Bustin' Out All Over...
Things have been pretty hectic lately, but I did get a chance to see a bit of the first annual Trenton Film Festival. Not bad, although lots of technical problems at my venue (the beautiful Trenton Marriott). Below are some shorts with some spoilers.
- Fun fact: Ernie Kovacs was born in Trenton in 1919 (who knew?); he got his start in show business with the local papers / radio.
Harry the Hamster - Kevin, an animator at Wizney Studios, is tired of Wizney's tired franchises. He's written a hard-hitting screenplay, Ghosts of Apartheid, based on his friend Rich's experiences in apartheid South Africa. One problem: even with his connections, no one is interested in sad stories: as one well-meaning soul says, "This is America. No one is oppressed anymore." (Snort.) Rich grabs the script, changes the title to Harry the Hamster and His Hamster Adventures!, and slips it under the door of Harvey Fleisner, Wizney's head. Fleisner loves it, gets it into production - and then actually reads the script. Production, though, is too far along - so he decides to make an apartheid-glorying animationfest to get Kevin.
Maybe this is a student film - the actors are a bit too earnest; the script's got weak spots; the unintentional impression is a serious Producers; and the final message is striking but heavy-handed. There are some brilliant bits - the kitchen argument which turns out to take place in Ikea, and the Catcher in the Rye trailer showing an action film with cars, guns, babes (well, one), and Things That Go Big Boom. (Hey, Wizney and Fleisner are pretty creative.) The several restarts from the equipment failures didn't help, either. But I'm not writing off this filmmaker yet - there might be a there there.
Tea Time - a very short, quirky bit. A soldier in the middle of a battle sees a man in the middle of the battlefield, seated at a table with tea and pastry, reading a paper. The soldier is stuck with no food or water, so sneaks up and grabs the pastry. After running back to his position and stuffing the pastry in his mouth, the man at the table pulls out a remote control, presses a button, blows up the soldier, pulls out a case, and places a new pastry-bomb on the dish.
Very polished; plays like a Monty Python skit. Nice to find a small gem like this.
Murder, He Squeaked - the kind of left-field movie that gets me into the theater every time. Sparky's been very happy with his mistress, but then she gets a boyfriend. Sparky (who, by the way, is a puppet, although the humans are human) gets a little odd in the head - and his squeaky toy starts commanding him to kill the boyfriend. (Un)fortunately, Sparky's not the hardest kibble in the bag, and his ideas of what would kill a human aren't very useful. (And that squeaky toy is just the right touch of annoying - that's whom Sparky should've been trying to kill.) But it's a funny combo of dog behavior and old psychological movie plots. If only Sparky had seen some of those movies...
- Fun fact: The Trenton Marriott, the first major hotel in Trenton in years, is literally down the street from the Statehouse, the center of New Jersey government, and several historical sites from the British / Hessian garrison during the Revolutionary War (Washington crossed the Delaware not far from here, and this was where he ended up). The hotel is a keystone of the master plan to rejuvenate Trenton. Film projection equipment, however, isn't their forte.
The Misconception of Randal Bimford - Randal Bimford leads a pretty banal existence; given that he's not exactly a pleasant person, you don't feel too badly for him. He has a cat toy that he treats as a real cat; he muses on health pronouncments about eggs as he eats his sunny-side up breakfast; he passes his neighbor and his dog in front of his building (does this neighbor ever move?); he tells an African-American man at the bus stop that he knows the man will pull out his Glock and shoot him; he later tells an Korean man at the bus stop that he knows the man will want to eat his cat; he calls up the Social Security Administration to change his SS number. Randal may just be mentally off - but it's impossible to tell if Randall isn't just stuck in his banality. But the day that Randal slips on dog poop in front of his building, hits his head on a trash can, and hears the neighbor's dog talking to him - well, there is some change in Randal's life. He's not suddenly normal, he doesn't get much insight into the weirdness of his life - but he has scrambled eggs for breakfast instead. Maybe sometimes that's all we can hope for.
This is probably the best put-together of the movies I saw. There were several tempting easy way outs with this one: Randal suddenly becoming normal, facing retribution for his actions - just having a 180 by hitting his head. Instead, there's just the complete boring totality of Randal. And by using ~90% voiceover to explain what's going on, plus keeping the tone consistent (Randal does the same thing everyday and we have to watch it), the film gives a strong impression of who Randal is - even if it doesn't explain why. The whole point just might be that Randal is.
Praxis - One man runs down the street after another with a suitcase. Spills, near catches, knocking a bicyclist over, lost in a maze of backyards, then found again. The pursuer rounds a corner - where the man with the suitcase is waiting. They sit on a bench, open the briefcase - and remove two waterbottles, which they then drink.
Ever watch a movie in the middle of a cold / allergies when your head's about to explode, the equipment's been breaking down regularly, and you just aren't up to absorbing Big Messages? Bingo - you've got it. And this was short as well - 5 minutes. I'd see it again, but not like that.
- Fun fact: the Trenton Film Society is a brand-new organization; its first board meeting was held in Jaunary 2003, and they were able to mount their first film festival 16 months later. Pretty impressive, when you think about it. See www.trentonfilmsociety.org.
Day of Independence - summer 1943 at a Japanese internment camp. Saburo, a boy in his late teens who's the star pitcher of the camp's baseball team, is forced to separate from his parents. His father's health is declining (apparently after a stroke) - and he doesn't want to die in the desert, so he takes the opportunity to return to Japan as part of a prisoner exchange - without his son. Saburo has to come to terms with the separation, the conditions in the internment camp, and growing up in general. It's an interesting take on a part of WW II history that doesn't often get coverage - but the location and history aren't quite enough to redeem the basic and very pedestrian story. And the game umpire, who also acts as a Greek chorus, may as well hit you over the head with the observations.
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So there you have it. Some growing pains, but here's hoping that next year follows up on the promise.