FRIES AND VIDEOTAPE: THE VA FILM FEST
Just returned from the 10th
Annual Virginia Film Festival. It used to
be called the "Virginia Festival of
American Film," but I guess they realized
that they were sorta limiting themselves.
Anyway, it's a four-day blitzkrieg of films
from every and all genres with this year's
theme being "Caged." Unfortunately,
no screenings of CAGED HEAT, REFORM SCHOOL
GIRLS, or BARBED WIRE DOLLS, but lots of
flicks that dealt with personal and existential
states of imprisonment and freedom.
My schedule was pretty tightly
packed from the word "go," and
I had the added bonus of having an "in".
My brother-in-law works at the festival
each year, and he was able to get me the
inside scoop on show schedules, timing problems,
guest speakers, and an easy way to move
to the front of the line and get a choice
seat near the bulkhead for optimum leg room!
Remember, it's now what you know, but who
you know, and it wasn't done by me, it was
done through me.
Anyway, I arrived on Friday
afternoon in time to catch my first flick,
1984's TIGHTROPE. The festival has many
things going for it...a) a lineup that's
usually pretty great; b) guest speakers
that were involved in the flicks being shown;
and c) uh, that's about it. On the other
hand, they have a myriad of problems, such
as: a) the festival almost always falls
on "Parents Weekend," which means
that there are more folks who have no clue
than usual wandering the campus and clogging
the roads; b) serious mismanagement as far
as timing and scheduleing go...it's apparent
that nobody involved with the fest ever
worked in a movie theater; c) the supreme
fallacy that people from out of town know
their way around (my tickets arrived in
Pittsburgh with...nothing. Actually, that's
not true, I did get a nice little envelope
with "Thank You!" scrawled on
the outside. No map, no tips, no nothing.
I only got a program and schedule because
of my sister and the Internet. If I wasn't
familiar with the area I would've been supremely
screwed! Maybe that can be the theme of
next year's festival!)
TIGHTROPE was hosted by screenwriter/director
Richard Tuggle, but I missed that 'cause
traffic was a mess and I had little or no
clue how to get from the parking garage
to the theater. I asked a bunch of bewildered
student-looking types before I stumbled
into a Visitor's Center for the Parents
Weekend and got directions from a freshman
who gave me a map. She also said I seemed
"reasonably intelligent," so her
opinion goes RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW!
The flick holds up about as
well as I remember from my first viewing
back in 1984. Whew! That's 13 years ago
gang! Clint Eastwood portrays a New Orleans
detective who's just a slight riff on his
Dirty Harry character...with mixed results.
Unfortunately, the person behind me had
noinner monologue and felt the need to spell
out all the plot twists (even some made
up in his own twisted head) for his companion.
Flick is somewhat hampered
by the overwhelming darkness and the fact
that Genvieve Bujold looks like a pig. For
a moment I thought I'd stumbled into the
1978 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS! Also,
you don't get a real feel for the villain
of the piece, so it's hard to work up much
interest in the mystery. They would've been
better off showing MANHUNTER.
of the great things about this festival
is the fact that they get premieres and
"works in progress" to show. Such
a flick is HOME FRIES, a comedy from the
screenwriter of WILDER NAPALM, who currently
writes for X-FILES (but I won't hold that
against him). Jake Busey and LukeWilson
(who steals the flick with his hang-dog
Gary Cooper persona) star as brothers that
"accidentally" cause the death
of their stepfather. In a series of convoluted
twists, Wilson ends up falling for the shake-jockey
(played by Drew Barrymore) carrying his
stepfather's love-child! Whew!Trust me,
it sets up more easily than it sounds. Unfortunately,
the flick's wonderful set-up and hilarious
first 2/3 are blown to hell by the outlandish,
overwrought last act. And that'd not just
my opinion...the festival crowd and
screenwriter also felt HOME FRIES was bogged
down by the over-the-top climax. I give
it points for a bunch of funny scenes, plus
the interaction between Busey and Wilson
and Wilson and Barrymore (a real-life couple
at the time of filming).
After the five-hour drive
from Pittsburgh the selection of an 11 pm
showing of the French farce KING OF HEARTS
was probably a bad idea. The 1967 cult flick
was much more appreciated by the late night
crowd than this jaded gorehound. As WWII
(the last good war) winds to a close, SS
and Allied troops wage a war of "wits"
over a small French town. When a Scottish
soldier (Alan Bates) is sent to disarm the
SS bomb that will blow the town to smithereens
(not to get too technical...Smitherneens
is about 10 km to the west), he takes refuge
with a group of lunatic asylum escapees
that have taken over the deserted town.
So, the point is that war
is crazy and that...no, that's about it.
Okay, I GET IT. NEXT PLEASE! Unfortunately,
I had to sit through nearly two insufferable
hours of mincing, camping, and oh yeah,
prancing that would embarass the members
of Monty Python. Tedious and overrated,
but interesting 'cause it also starred Genvieve
Bujold (this time as a virginal hooker).
Other audience members thought it "delightful,"
I coulda sworn it was horribly dated.
After a good night's sleep
and a hearty, aretry-clogging McDonald's
breakfast, I plunged headlong into another
long day at the festival.
First up was WACO: RULES OF
ENGAGEMENT. It's pretty tough to take events
that've been well-reported in the evening
news and turn them into an effective, intriguing
tale that unravels over the course of two
The reported facts of the
standoff and siege in Waco, TX are well-known.
On February 28, 1993, officers of the US
Dept. of ATF attempted to serve a warrant
to David Koresh and members of the Branch
Davidian Church. With fear -- or malice,
depending upon whose version of the day
you accept -- the residents exchanged gunfire
with ATF officers on the ground and in helicopters
(which leads to one of the film's funniest
exchanges...a testament to the world of
semantics). Several feds were killed and
many were wounded, leading to a 51-day standoff
between members holed up in the church and
its connected buildings and officers of
the FBI (who took over in the wake of the
botched ATF raid).
WACO follows the story from
its roots and bookending confrontations
to the Congressional hearings that followed
in the halls of Congress via news footage,
archival audio and video tapes, and interviews
with surviving members of the confrontation.
While some of the film's most powerful moments
come courtesy of the infrared video taken
during the final siege, it's the video and
audio of David Koresh that give WACO its
most dramatic impact. This isn't a "cult
leader", by any stretch of the imagination.
Koresh, as shown by the tapes, may be a
fanatic for his religious order, but he's
far from the Messianic Cult Leader portrayed
by both the government and the mainstream
I'd be remiss if I failed
to mention the flick's most unintentionally
funny moment: California Representative
Sonny Bono turning a teary-eyed face from
the proceedings. You can show me all the
charred bodies, government riff-raff, and
defense exhibits you want...Sonny Bono just
makes me LAUGH! (If you're interested in
more details about the flick, you can visit
One of the festival highlights,
before I even arrived, was sure to be the
screening of THE
PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT attended by Flynt
and lawyers from both sides of his Supreme
Court battle with the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
(Unfortunately, I missed the day's earlier
panel discussion of the case attended by
Flynt AND Falwell.) I'd seen THE PEOPLE
upon initial release and thought it funny
and interesting, but certainly far from
the remarkable tale critics and industry
wags held it up to be. Essentially the same
holds true after viewing #2, though I was
more fond of the pacing and less annoyed
by Courtney Love. (Sorry Kurt ol' buddy.)
Maybe I just needed some distraction from
anticipated, the man in person provided
far more memorable moments and laughs than
his biopic. Flynt brought forth the fact
that he actually appeared before the Supreme
Court five years before the climactic battle
used in the flick. Though he requested,
at that time, to act as his own defense,
the judges refused and appointed a defender.
Flynt blasted thehigh court as "nine
assholes and one token cunt" and was
removed from the courtroom. When asked about
his relationship with Falwell, Flynt admitted
that it was quite cordial and the pair frequently
get together. On the other hand, he responded,
"he's trying to keep Ellen in the closet
and I'm trying to get him to come out."
Unlike the bumbling, barely
intelligible students and audience members
that questioned him, Flynt closed the proceedings
with an eloquent discourse on the price
of freedom in a democracy -- well-deserving
of the lengthy standing ovation (and chorus
of "Happy Birthday") that closed
Normally a tough act to follow,
Michael (ROGER & ME) Moore had little
trouble meeting the gauntlet thrown down
by the paralyzed HUSTLER
publisher. Moore's new flick, THE BIG ONE,
continues to rip the lid off corporate America
and expose it for the cancer it is.
Framed around his book tour
for DOWNSIZE THIS: Random Threats From an
Unarmed American, THE BIG ONE is guerilla
filmmaking at its best. Moore and Crew take
on corporate security guards, bookstore
clerks, and even Nike CEO Phil Knight. There
are, of course, plenty of light moments
as he calls McDonald's "fuckers"
for placing "vegetables on my Filet-O-Fish"
(I agree with him) and he gets his own media
rep detained as a stalker.
I may not agree with everything Moore says,
his feelings about government and big business
hit close to home. An exceptionally funny
AND bright documentary, THE BIG ONE deserves
all the kudos it'll receive next year (an
April release from Miramax is what Moore
told the audience). Stick around during
the credits for Phil Knight's comment that
14-year-old Indonesians working in factories
didn't bother him, as well as the ex-felon
who once worked at TWA's prison-based reservation
Moore also scored huge points
from this writer by addressing nearly an
hour's worth of questions from the audience
(many of them incredibly dim-witted) as
well as signing books and chatting in the
lobby till the cows came home.
Last up on the itinerary was
the director's cut of BLADE RUNNER. Granted,
I think the theatrical release of this flick
is one of the most massively overrated fan-boy
flicks ever made. But, with the garish voice-over
narration removed, maybe the flick would
be more watchable. Um, not really. BR still
holds up as a silly exercise in sci-fi wanna-be,
though it does advance the idea that Deckerd
himself is a replicant.
After that there was nothing
to do but hop in the Probe and head home
with the new Replacements "best of"
blaring on the box!
That's it for this week...