2017 Florida Film Festival Music Sidebar

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 26th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held from April 21st  through the 30th throughout Central Florida, offers more than 180 feature-length and short films from 40 different countries, in addition to special events, film forums, parties, and celebrity guests including Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, David Zucker, and Robert Hays.

This year’s festival includes 19 features and 65 short films competing in narrative features and documentary programs for the American Independent Competition. The programming includes special screenings of food films, international films, midnight movies, family programming, spotlight films, retro films, and Florida films. In keeping with its annual tradition, this year’s Festival also offers a music sidebar, in which two fascinating full-length music documentaries and one short film provide looks at lesser-known people, places, and musical traditions.

Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke

This fun documentary focuses on an Austin, Texas, honky tonk celebrating its 50th anniversary. Broken Spoke, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team James and Annetta White, welcomes the biggest names in country music to perform on its modest stage for enthusiastic locals and tourists from all over the world. Performers are quick to point out that Broken Spoke is not a classy dance hall where patrons get dressed up, nor a concert hall where people come merely to listen. This is a honky tonk where musicians play music so people can dance for hours on end. Known for its authentic Texas ambience, long-standing tradition of exclusively hiring country music bands, and serving its famous chicken fried steak (using Annetta’s family recipe), this well-known establishment remains unchanged amid the rapidly developing neighborhood around it. This satisfying film examines the music, food, family, culture, and history behind Broken Spoke.

  • Director: Sam Wainwright Douglas and Brenda Mitchell
  • Stars: The White family and dozens of country music stars including Willie Nelson and Dale Watson
  • Run time: 75 minutes
  • Screenings: Tuesday, April 25, 4:30 p.m. (Regal Winter Park Village); Saturday, April 29, 2:30 p.m. (Regal Winter Park Village)
  • Rating: 3.5 / 5

Vinyl Revival. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Vinyl Revival

In its World Premiere, this short film looks at the aesthetics of vinyl records and why for some music lovers, CDs and digital downloads just won’t do. Three Florida record store owners offer their opinions on the subject.

  • Director: Shasta Ford
  • Run time: 10 minutes
  • Rating: 3 / 5
  • Additional Information: Screens with Honky Tonk Heaven

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

This ambitious documentary traces Native American influence on rock and roll, blues, and folk music. Spanning decades in time and locations around the country (including some scenes in Toronto, Canada) and filled with interesting historical information, the film provides profiles of nearly a dozen musicians of Native American descent. Beginning with Link Wray, whose notorious 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble” was banned from radio because of its perceived ability to incite violence, the doc uses live interviews specifically for the film (Stevie Salas, Robbie Robertson, Tony Bennett, Iggy Pop, Slash, Steven Tyler, Buffy Saint Marie, Taj Mahal, Martin Scorsese, etc.), in addition to archival interviews and concert footage. The filmmakers provide a broad picture of the evolving music scene and how it relates to Indian history and culture. The film never promises to be all-inclusive and it’s not. Some indigenous musicians are excluded and certain aspects of Indian culture are minimized or ignored. However, the exhaustive amount of research and obvious dedication to bring little-known information to the general public, make this an important film for all music lovers.

  • Director: Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana
  • Run time: 103 minutes
  • Screenings: Monday, April 24, 9:00 pm. (Regal Winter Park Village); Saturday, April 29, 6:30 p.m. (Regal Winter Park Village)
  • Rating: 4 / 5

Visit the Florida Film Festival website for full movie listings and ticket information.

 

Gifted – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Filled with gentle humor, Gifted tells the story of an exceptional little girl at the center of a power struggle between her uncle and her grandmother.

Chris Evans and McKenna Grace star in Gifted. Photo copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) never asked to be the caretaker of his young niece. He’s a young single man with boats to build and beautiful young women to romance. Even so, after his older sister killed herself several years ago and entrusted her little girl, Mary (McKenna Grace) to him, Frank has grown to love her deeply. After teaching Mary everything he can to prepare her for first grade, Mary attends classes kicking and screaming. Once there, she immediately alienates others by her condescending tone and amazing math skills.

Recognizing Her Giftedness

Her new first grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), recognizes her giftedness and talks to the principal about moving Mary to a gifted school that can better address her needs. The only problem is that Frank promised his sister to provide the little girl with a normal life – not a life of seclusion in a think tank like Frank’s mother imposed on his sister, who was also a math genius.

Just when Frank figures he’s got things under control at the school, his very British, very uncompromising mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), enters the picture, and she’s so intent on taking Mary home with her that she takes her son to court to fight for custody. Though Frank has Bonnie on his side (as well as in his bed), it’s a losing battle against such a formidable opponent. Unless, of course, Frank can come up with a secret weapon to get Mary back.

Pluses and Minuses

Just as there are obvious pros and cons of having Mary stay with Frank, the film itself has readily apparent strengths and weaknesses. On the minus side, some of the scenes are overly familiar. How many times have we seen would-be lovers declare it will never happen between them, only to have the next scene show them in bed together? A few scenes with a handheld camera may have been used to heighten drama or indicate intimacy, but all they accomplish is causing motion sickness in the viewer. And finally, the worst flaw of all. It’s obvious from the beginning that Frank is too focused on dumbing Mary down to give her a normal life, and that Evelyn is too obsessed with substituting her granddaughter’s math skills for those of the similarly gifted daughter she lost. And what’s even more obvious? That a compromise is the only healthy choice for everyone. Yet it takes the entire film for Frank and Evelyn to figure this out.

On the plus side, the casting is excellent, and the main characters feel real enough to elicit a range of emotions in the viewer. In particular, little McKenna Grace as Mary and Evans as her uncle have some beautiful scenes between them. Duncan is effective as the strong-willed grandmother, and Octavia Spencer lovingly plays the role of a concerned neighbor who wants what she thinks is best for the child. We expect Mary’s precociousness to supply some laughs, but there’s also unexpected humor weaving itself throughout the film, which helps lighten what could be a heavy drama with a damaged child at its core. Despite a few flaws, the film’s good intentions and stellar performances make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

 Gifted

  • A single man fights to keep his seven-year-old niece – a math prodigy – under his care despite his unconventional lifestyle.
  • Stars: McKenna Grace, Chris Evans, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate
  • Director: Marc Webb
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, and some suggestive material)

Family-Oriented Features at the 2017 Florida Film Festival

By Leslie C. Halpern

Held throughout Central Florida each spring, this year’s Florida Film Festival (April 21-30) presents more than 180 feature-length and short films from 40 countries, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, and parties.

This year’s Festival includes competing films in narrative features and documentary programs, plus special screenings of food films, international films, midnight movies, and Florida films. Though focused primarily on programming for adults, in keeping with its annual tradition, the Florida Film Festival also offers a variety of entertainment for children throughout various categories and genres.

For Tweens and Teens

Menashe. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Menashe

Based largely on the true story of the film’s star, Menashe Lustig, this film explores family life in the heart of New York’s Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Within this ultra-Orthodox community, a mother is required to be present in every home with children. So when Menashe’s wife dies, tradition demands his young son be removed from his home to live with a married relative. The film looks at the final week before the wife’s memorial service, when father and son spend their last few days together. The movie was shot secretly within the Hasidic community that it depicts.

  • Director: Joshua Z. Weinstein
  • Run time: 81 minutes
  • Rating: This film is unrated
  • Additional Information: In Yiddish with English subtitles
  • Part of Spotlight Features.

Step. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Step

This documentary chronicles three inner-city Baltimore girls in their senior year of high school at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. Members of the Lethal Ladies dance team, Blessin Giraldo, Tayla Solomon, and Cori Grainger look ahead to next year in college (where each will be the first in her family to receive a higher education) while currently working on the Bowie State step competition.

  • Director: Amanda Lipitz
  • Run time: 83 minutes
  • Rating: This film is rated PG (for thematic elements and some language)
  • Part of Spotlight Features.

Circus Kid. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Circus Kid

Growing up in the circus led to a lifetime of performing in public for Lorenzo Pisoni, who entered the ring at age 2. Now an adult working as an actor in television, film, and theater, Lorenzo looks back on his time being a clown partner to his perfectionistic father, Larry, who owned and operated The Pickle Family Circus. This documentary examines the artistry of this innovative circus, the behind-the-scenes work involved in producing such a show, and the family dynamics of having both parents, two children, and several employees working closely together in a traveling act. Though alcoholism is briefly discussed as a contributing factor to problems within the circus, the overall content is family-friendly and interesting for all ages.

  • Director: Lorenzo Pisoni
  • Stars: Lorenzo Pisoni, Larry Pisoni, Bill Irwin, Geoff Hoyle, Margaret Snider
  • Run time: 71 minutes
  • Rating: This film is unrated
  • Part of Documentaries in the American Independent Competition.

For the Little Ones

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Albion: The Enchanted Stallion

In its Florida Premiere, this adventure features a 12-year-old girl (Avery Arendes) who encounters a mysterious black stallion that leads her to the magical world of Albion. Only she can bring peace to those who live there and save the entire race of people from the evil General Eeder (John Cleese). Filmed in Bulgaria, Florida, and Michigan, this movie features exotic locales and comedy in an imaginative coming-of-age story suitable for the entire family.

  • Director: Castille Landon (who also plays the part of a young warrior), Albion: The Enchanted Stallion
  • Stars: Jennifer Morrison, Debra Messing, Stephen Dorff, Daniel Sharman, Liam McIntyre, and Richard Kind
  • Run time: 103 minutes
  • Rating: This film is unrated
  • Part of Family Programming.

Supergirl. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Supergirl

This documentary introduces audiences to 12-year-old Naomi Kutin, an Orthodox Jewish girl from New Jersey who is breaking worldwide records in powerlifting. Although she seems to be a normal girl, going to school, studying the Torah, and spending time with friends, she’s simultaneously struggling to maintain her title as the strongest girl in the world who can lift three times her body weight. Her ever-present mismatched knee socks and sweet smile belie the determination and courage of this one extraordinary supergirl.

  • Director: Jessie Auritt
  • Run time: 80 minutes
  • Rating: This film is unrated
  • Additional Information: Preceded by the four-minutes short film Big Booom, a brief history of humanity and the world in claymation, as seen through the eyes of Russian director and writer Marat Narimanov
  • Part of Family Programming.

Click here for information about special guests at the Festival, and check the official website for show times, ticket information, and additional films of interest.

 

2017 Florida Film Festival Special Guests

By Leslie C. Halpern

The 26th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held from April 21st  through the 30th throughout Central Florida, offers more than 180 feature and short films from 40 different countries, in addition to celebrity guests, special events, film forums, and parties.

This year’s festival includes 19 features and 65 short films competing in narrative features and documentary programs for the American Independent Competition. The Festival also includes special screenings of food films, international films, midnight movies, family programming, spotlight films, retro films, music films, and Florida films.

So while film buffs need to check the Festival’s online schedule to make their movie plans, star gazers should buy their tickets early to reserve a place at the limited-seating special guest events. Tickets for these events can be purchased with General Admission tickets or through a Backstage Pass, which includes the event, plus a Meet & Greet, and photo opportunity (for guests who bring their own camera).

Billy Crudup. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Billy Crudup

Special Festival guests this year include actor Billy Crudup for “An Evening with Billy Crudup, featuring Jesus’ Son,” the 1999 Alison Maclean-directed drama. The event takes place on Friday, April 28th from 7:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at Enzian Theater. Known for his work on stage and screen, Crudup appeared in the recent films Jackie, 20th Century Women, and Spotlight, and in the upcoming Alien: Covenant and 1 Mile to You. Crudup will be available for Q&A after the film screening.

Lea Thompson. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Lea Thompson

The Festival also welcomes Lea Thompson for “An Evening with Lea Thompson, featuring Back to the Future,” the 1985 Robert Zemeckis-directed sci-fi adventure that started the series. The event takes place on Sunday, April 23rd from 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater. Known for her work in film, theater, and television, Thompson also directed several films for Hallmark as part of the Jane Doe film series, in addition to directing The Goldbergs, and the upcoming film The Year of Spectacular Men, in which she co-stars with her daughter, Zoey Deutch.

David Zucker (l) and Robert Hays (r). Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

David Zucker and Robert Hays

On Saturday, April 29th from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Enzian Theater will host “An Afternoon with David Zucker and Robert Hays, featuring Airplane.” Zucker co-wrote and co-directed the 1980 comedy classic that starred Robert Hays as the handsome, but traumatized former fighter pilot who is called upon to save the day when a series of disasters occur onboard his plane. The cast includes Leslie Nielsen, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.

Visit the Florida Film Festival website for full movie listings and ticket information.

The Last Word – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

If you had the money and power to hire your own newspaper obituary writer while you were still living, would you do it? For wealthy control freak, Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), there’s no hesitation in making the decision. Only Harriet gets the last word on how she will be posthumously remembered in print.

Shirley MacLaine stars in The Last Word. Photo copyright 2017 Bleecker Street Media.

The former successful advertising executive has always been concerned about public image. That was her specialty, after all, until she was fired from her own advertising agency for a disastrous temper tantrum in front of clients. Universally despised – though respected for her intelligence and professional achievements – Harriet has no friends or loved ones in her old age.

Rewriting Her Life Story

Realizing she may end up with a generic obituary, she bulldozes her way into the local newspaper office where she still has enough clout to get the editor to bow to her will. Harriet coerces him into assigning young obituary writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) to the case – against Anne’s wishes, of course.

Harriet’s research reveals that a memorable obituary needs to cover specific areas of one’s life, so she’s determined to re-write her life story at this late stage. Specifically, she wants to mend fences with her estranged daughter (Anne Heche) and ex-husband (Philip Baker Hall), re-gain the respect of her co-workers, perform charity work with an at-risk minority, and be remembered for a “wild card,” that is, some random act that helps identify her quirkiness.

Overly Familiar Stereotypes

What begins as the stereotypical wide-eyed youth forced into a close relationship with a grouchy old person turns into another stereotype: the interaction between young and old causes the heart-of-gold beneath Harriet’s rough exterior to emerge, and in turn change Anne’s life for the better. Woven into the script are a romance between Anne and an independent radio station manager (Thomas Sadoski), (enabled by Harriet, naturally), and a sassy young black girl (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) whom Harriet mentors.

Though much of the storyline and characters feel overly familiar, MacLaine stamps the movie with her own unique mark. She rises above the material to find the humanity in her larger-than-life character. The others are not quite as successful: The idealistic young writer stuck cranking out obituaries, the foul-mouthed at-risk minority youth who changes almost instantaneously into a good kid, and the handsome single radio station manager just waiting for the love of his life to walk through the door are shallow stereotypes without depth or weight. The script by Stuart Ross Fink provides a few laughs, but most viewers likely will not remember anything about this movie beyond MacLaine’s powerful performance.

 The Last Word

  • A wealthy elderly woman hires a newspaper obituary writer to memorialize her while she’s still alive.
  • Stars: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, AnnJewel Lee Dixon, Thomas Sadoski, Philip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott, Joel Murray, Anne Heche
  • Director: Mark Pellington
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Other Films with Shirley MacLaine