by William Goss
Kissimmee, FL | September 1 - 4, 2006
This past Labor Day weekend marked the commencement of the first ever Central Florida Film Festival.
Not to be confused with spring’s Florida Film Festival in Orlando, the Central Florida Film Festival, or CenFlo, was held at the Osceola Center for the Arts in nearby Kissimmee from September 1st through 4th, and made for a pleasant program that offered independent fare to an area usually deprived of it at a time when the entire region seems to be most lacking in it.
Catching only one of the festival’s four days, particularly Saturday or Sunday, allowed for attendees to catch the majority of the programming, a convenience rarely associated with film festivals. However, as a starting point, one could easily see future programming growing in breadth. For now, the inaugural selections were composed of a fine variety of local efforts and other low-profile offerings, in additions to two shorts programs, several seminars, and even the occasional Q&A session.
(Ratings are out of five stars.)
Plagues and Pleasures On The Salton Sea: An utopia to some, a hellhole to others. The towns surrounding California’s manmade Salton Sea, a farming-community-turned-desert-oasis-turned-retirement-community-turned-fishing-capitol-turned-ecological-disaster, house many an eccentric, from a bawdy Hungarian freedom fighter to an elderly nudist to a crazed Christian. Once attracting the likes of the Marx Brothers, the Beach Boys, and Sonny Bono (advocate for the Sea until his death and briefly beyond it), several stubborn residents reside in the bleak remains of half-flooded trailer parks, where suicides sometimes outnumber bars, stores, and gas stations, hoping against hope that the region will one day return to its former glory. Directors Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer stumble upon a locale, history, and cast of characters that make the tragic tale of the Salton Sea effortlessly fascinating from beginning to end. (4)
Final Move: Although the culprit just fried in the electric chair, the Chess Piece Murders continue, as a possible copycat begins killing killers that got away unpunished. The whole deal is a diluted rehash of Manhunter/Red Dragon, with every other serial killer procedural cliché and an alleged twist tossed in for good measure, as detective Lochlyn Munro (White Chicks, Little Man) teams up with his former partner, grumpy psychic Matt Schulze (Torque, The Transporter) to solve the case by saying ‘vic’ instead of ‘victim,’ staring aimlessly and nodding awkwardly whenever the two put two and two together. Actual dialogue includes lines like, “You have until midnight.” – beat – “We’ve only got ‘til 12 PM.” and my personal favorite, “This is one sick puppy.” Amanda Detmer shows up as Munro’s sister and Schulze’s wife, usual suspect Daniel Baldwin seems to be imitating James Woods (and quite poorly, I might add), and David Carradine makes an appearance because all of the Kill Bill money must’ve dried up already. Ah, let us not forget the brief gratuitous nudity, the conveniently timed yet ineffectually delivered newscasts, random shots of LA cityscapes to act as transitions, a vaguely sick daughter whose illness is never named, and a lot of bright white flashes to suggest that something is actually happening the whole time. Yet there is still some residual too-bad-for-direct-to-video entertainment value that surrounds the whole self-serious shebang. Just make sure there aren’t more entertaining infomercials on. (1.5)
(It should go noted that the distributor of Final Move refused to send the program directors a copy of the film to show that didn’t have a “Property of Imageworks Entertainment Int’l” watermark on it, a remarkably inconsiderate move on their part. As if anyone would have bothered to copy it…)
Beautiful Dreamer: Despite the generic title and wholesome demeanor, this proved to be a surprisingly pleasant film for even us more jaded and cynical individuals. Imagine A Very Long Engagement, only with a shorter running time and no subtitles, as Claire (Brooke Langton) finds her sweetheart, Joe (Colin Egglesfield), in a nearby small town a few years after he was declared MIA in WWII. However, he has no memory of her and has adapted a different identity there, leaving Claire to hang around and hold back from trying to snap him out of his amnesia, lest it does more harm than good. It’s all squeaky clean, yet rarely cloying, and works better with relative unknowns than recognizable stars. The time period is faithfully restored in not just production design, but also in disposition, although some of the CGI used in the flying sequences is somewhat weak. Predictable as all get out, the film still manages to work overall, especially after dropping the distracting subplots just in time for a rather swift resolution. All’s swell that ends swell. (3)
Short Features Program A:
-Hollywood Stars & Stripes Forever, a pretty pointless, but harmless, montage of film clips new and old depicting American armed forces, capped off with a proud-of-our-troops/support-the-USO message (2);
-Coming Home, a Vietnam vet shares his story through a wealth of pictures and footage from his tour, as well as good narration (although interrupted with a handful of ‘um’s and pauses) and even better music by John ‘Too Cool’ McCool, that provided an refreshingly unpreachy, though occasionally pandering, look into that conflict and offered a pleasant, more purposeful contrast to the preceding montage, although it ends with a none-too-subtle message about how our forces need to have a plan of action in order to help people (3.5);
-To Form A More Perfect Union, produced in 2004 by the United States Postal Service, plays like a high school history class video chronicling ten important events that shaped civil rights, including the Million Man March, Brown v. Board, and the bus boycott, all conveniently corresponding to a similarly themed stamp collection and all less significant than many other legitimate documentaries covering such chapters in greater detail (2);
-Enid gets off to a slow and vague start but manages to be just intriguing enough, with red rooms, creepy girls, and snippy spouses, leading to an understandably underwhelming conclusion and the slowest end credits known to man (3);
-The Kids’ Table brings a NYC family together for Thanksgiving and creates a genuinely sincere dynamic between the characters, so when the inevitable revelation occurs, it stays just on this side of hokey and melodramatic (3.5);
-A Tale of Two Megans features a young prodigy who wants a balance between his girlfriends of the same name, one sensitive, one sensual, so he naturally decides to combine them to make the perfect woman, and while the short begins to run out of steam towards the end (and could stand to lose the prologue), it forms a giddy charm that carries it home. (4)
Undertaking Betty: After receiving a skimpy Stateside release last fall, this British charmer (titled Plots with a View in all other territories) made it to DVD last March before becoming a last-minute substitute to a special screening of the original Superman with producer Ilya Salkind (apparently a local) in attendance. Conveniently enough, Betty producer Terry Chase Chenowith also wrote and produced Beautiful Dreamer, a CenFlo feature, and apparently, accommodations were made. As for the movie itself, undertaker Alfred Molina attempts to fake the death of belated crush Brenda Blethyn so they may elope from their sleepy Welsh hamlet, just as Christopher Walken and Lee Evans attempt to muscle their way into his market by offering fun funerals done to embellished effect. Thrown in consistent chuckles and Naomi Watts in a surprisingly skanky supporting role, and you have a modest charmer that couldn’t be more fitting for such a festival. (3.5)
Zzyzx: – Pronounced “zizz-icks” – If The Blair Witch Project was a step forward for University of Central Florida alumni, then Zzyzx must be a step back. In the same way that they couldn’t stop boasting that Beautiful Dreamer supporting actor James Denton is most recognized from “Desperate Housewives,” the programmers never hesitated to mention that Kenny Johnson, one of Zzyzx’ three stars, is best known for “The Shield.” His character, Lou, is en route to Las Vegas with Ryan (Ryan Fox) when the latter convinces the former to make a detour onto the titular road, at the end of which eleven abandoned bodies were found, from where cryptic broadcasts emanate and no one has ever come back… ALIVE! Soon enough, they come upon a man waving towards them, and as the pair jokingly swerve into his path, they collide with him unintentionally and before you can say “body in the truck,” his wife (Robyn Cohen, the ever-nude biologist from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) shows up, looking for Mr. Candice. Lou and Ryan agree to help her look, which leads to a lengthy patch of drinks, drugs, and chit-chat before leading to a climax as dreary and protracted as the previous hour was tedious and… protracted. Johnson turns out the most obnoxious performance in ages as Lou, who not only gets to bully around Ryan, but also gets most of the lines in an effort to make him as unappealing a character as possible, with Fox and Cohen not faring much better. The movie quickly becomes a wholly wearying experience, not even nearly as scary, creepy, intriguing, or suspenseful as the filmmakers may have been under the impression it was (their sites name-check Saw, The Hills Have Eyes, Hostel, and Memento, while touting an unrated DVD, although the original cut was never actually rated by the MPAA. Uh-huh…). Maybe everyone else in the audience was just being kind, especially with the writer/producer in attendance; maybe I just need to start watching “The Shield.” Oh, and quoted on the flyer among the likes of Ain’t It Cool News and Blair Witch co-creator Daniel Myrick is our very own Rob Gonsalves. You can read Rob’s rave review right here. (1.5)
Having such a narrow selection qualified just about every title for either a prize or a finalist spot. As such, Beautiful Dreamer took home Best Feature Film, while Zzyzx came in as a runner-up, and The Kids’ Table and To Form A More Perfect Union were both finalists in the shorts category, among others. At the time, the festival is small enough to kick off with a film directed by its own artistic director, Bob Cook, without stirring up too big a conflict of interest, and place their own ratings upon more mature titles (although they should use content warnings in place of real ratings when the films themselves are not officially rated by the MPAA. Besides, Plagues & Pleasures... wouldn’t really garner an NC-17.)
However, the screenings were always prompt and the staff was always courteous. CenFlo has quite the potential to take off and spread out in years to come without losing that local touch.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1940
originally posted: 09/15/06 19:23:17
last updated: 10/17/07 03:27:00