Brown River Queen cover art

Monday, February 14, 2011

8th Oxford Film Festival Roundup

I know, I know, the Film Festival ended Sunday and serious bloggers pounded out their entries while the films were still fresh in their memories.

Well, how many of those smug smart-asses had a parachuting accident Sunday afternoon, huh?  Or crashed their Formula 1 race car into a fuel storage facility?

Not bloody many.  So I feel well vindicated for my tardiness, which matters of national security prevent me from explaining in detail.

I mentioned a film called Pillow earlier, as being my favorite at the mid-way point of the festival.

Pillow kept its place, and as far as I'm concerned, it was the best film shown at the Festival.

Taking second and third places are Worst in Show and The Happy Poet.  

Before I talk about why I liked Pillow, Worst in Show, and The Happy Poet so much, let me talk about a few things I didn't like.  I'm not going to mention any names -- just some general trends and traits that ruined quite a few other films for me, this year.

I'm a horror movie buff.  I love being frightened by a movie, although that seldom happens.

But people -- if you're going to be scary, be freaking scary.  And to be scary, you're going to have to be a bit faster on your feet than I am.  If you're making a movie about a man who has obviously been attacked by a vampire, and who we all bloody well know is turning into a vampire, don't expect us to be surprised, shocked, or even mildly amused when the newly-minted vampire chows down on the psychologist he summoned to his home in the middle of the night.

Really.  I saw that coming 15 seconds into the movie.  When it happened, I was almost dozing.

And I know I promised not to name names, but I'm looking at you here, Happy Face. Decent production values.  Good acting.  It seemed, at least, to be going somewhere.

But that movie fooled me, by thinking it had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It didn't.  People drove to the middle of nowhere and engaged in a bit of impromptu facial surgery.  Yes?  that's it?  It's over?

Mm-hmm.  Nice try.  So did we run out of money or lose the last ten pages of the script?

No matter.  I don't care.

So, for next year, let's try and scare Frank, okay?  Make him jump, just a little.

Keep him awake at the very least.

But back to the good stuff.

I think I described Pillow as 'deliciously cruel.'  And it was.  I did not see that ending coming.  Or the middle. Or the beginning.  I think that's why I'm so enamored with this little gem -- it was new.  This wasn't a rehash of an old Twilight Zone episode, or a weak adaptation of Faulkner.  This was written by somebody who has lived in the South more than long enough to know its stories, its people, its mythology.

And not just that.  They know how the South looks, how it feels, how it makes you sweat, how the sun can beat down on you long enough and hard enough to make the grim fantastic perfectly plausible.

Southern Gothic is a well-traveled road.  I've tried my hand at it myself (The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree).  Pillow takes you places Oh Brother Where Art Thou feared to tread, and it does it in a fraction of the time.

See Pillow.  

Worst in Show is a documentary about ugly dogs and the people who love them.  I'm a sucker for dogs -- ugly, pretty, big, small.  Of course, the real story behind Worst in Show is the people, who sometimes become the sort of obsessive monsters you normally see on Toddlers and Tiaras.  Not that I watch that.  Seriously, I'd rather watch American Idol, and that requires a gun to my head and a warning shot in the knee every time somebody cranks up an old Whitney Houston tune.

But Worst in Show was genuinely funny.  It's hard not to like the rare people who will champion ugliness without because they recognize beauty within.

Finally, The Happy Poet.  This was a full-length film, fiction, about a dude-speaking hipster who opens a vegetarian food stand in a park.  His home-made food is good.  His business sense is nonexistent -- and his delivery guy is using the stand as a cover for his own thriving weed trade.

The poor Happy Poet knows none of this, of course.  He thinks people are really into his eggless egg salad, because, dude, it's got, like, basil.

I won't spoil the ending for you, because it's sweet and funny.

I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention a funny little Western entitled The Hanging of Big Todd Wade. Half of Oxford had bit parts in it, and the gag was really funny.  I hope the gang submits it at other festivals, where I'm sure it would do very well.

That's my take on the 8th Annual Oxford Film Festival!  There's some amazing talent out there.  I had a blast watching the fruits of their labors, and I can't wait for next year!

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