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Film Reviews
 
Florida Film Festival 2022: Ready For Launch
| Tuesday, 03.29.2022, 05:26 AM |   (161 views)

The 31st Florida Film Festival is right around the corner and it looks to be filled with films, fun and food, all in-person and on a galactic scale.

The special guest of the 31st is an actor/author/producer/director/musician. Someone who, throughout his career, has travelled among worlds on the big and small screen, one who recently flew on Blue Origin and was transported to the true edge of space. On April 15th, Mr. William Shatner will be appearing with his film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Those lucky enough to have purchased a ticket to this sold-out event are anticipating stories about his boldly going where few men, or women, have actually gone before.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of those lucky few. Had I been, I would have inquired if Mr. Shatner ever watched any of the Trek shows that followed his original, what he thought of them if he had, and what gizmo he used on Trek that he wished were currently in use. Maybe I'll be able to pass along a note to a ticketed participant.

Trek precedent was set in 2019 when Nichelle Nichols' Women in Motion was the opening night film for the Florida Film Festival. Due to her groundbreaking role on Star Trek as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, NASA chose Ms. Nichols to be the face of the Agency.  Her role was pivotal to the growth of NASA, which historically, was basically male and white.  She reached out to women and minorities, successfully convincing them there was a place for them at NASA.

Back here on Earth, in Winter Park, Florida, I've already pre-screened films with some of the big name draws, some of whom have previously been honored with awards in multiple acting categories, including Dame Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad, Karen Gillian of Doctor Who.  Additional stellar celebs soon to be revealed here so get your tickets NOW. Passes are limited and, as you'll see, some of these films are out of this world.

And speaking of star-power, opening night, April 8, 2022 should be heavenly.  The film is Pre:Fab!, a biopic based on the memoir by drummer Colin Hanton, about his early years as a musician with a fellow Brit, a man by the name of John Lennon, and his fledgling band, The Quarry Men. He and his mates soon eclipsed the world of music.

Now let's transport you into the Festival orbit and illuminate the horizon of some of the films.  All systems GO! 

Hit The Road, a narrative by Persian Director - Writer Panah Panahi, will be most remembered for the outrageous antics and deadpan wit of young Rayan Sarlak, making his debut in this film as 'Little Brother'. A family of four has embarked on a road trip for a variety of murky reasons, with a sick dog in tow. Dad, with a cast on his leg that proves more of a help than a hindrance, believes he is running the show. But it's really Mom who is driving the family towards a destination which may or may not result in the upcoming marriage of 'Big Brother'. Hit The Road is a discourse on whether it is right or wrong to dissemble, even if your motivations are well-intended. At the 3/4 mark, the story loses its way a little bit, leaving the viewer uneasy about the family's final destination.

If you care anything about animals, documentary Tigre Gente will break your heart. We first travel alongside Marcos, Director of Madidi National Park in Ixiama, Bolivia.  Marcos is one of a handful of recruits engaged in the perilous battle against those participating in the illegal trade of jaguar teeth, skin and bones. There are only 100,000 jaguars left in the wild. Their survival is being further threatened by decimation of their habitat through global warming and human avarice. As the oceans rise, the jaguars lose their canopy home of trees, acre by acre. Meanwhile, construction crews are mowing down the heart of the jungle, with new towns and cities pushing the jaguar out of existence. 

Those big cats who try to survive enforced relocation are hunted by Chinese nationals, who have so ravaged their own population of native wild tigers for fake “ancient Chinese medicines”, that there are currently more tigers living in captivity than in the wild. We walk alongside a journalist in Hong Kong, who is searching through urban and rural wet markets to expose sellers actively contributing to the extinction of both species. We are left with the understanding that we must change minds if we want to change the future for these animals.

Those who love a good sci-fi, or are searching for a film that encourages repeat viewings, should look no further than Dual. Lead character Sarah (Karen Gillian), awakens in a pool of blood, but treats it as if this is just another day, nothing to be concerned about. She corresponds with her emotionally distant boyfriend through online video chats and occasional text messages. When she receives a fatal diagnosis regarding her recent bloodspew, one delivered unemotionally by her physician, she is given a choice that, on first examination, appears be the “best” thing for her family, who will soon face life without Sarah. She can have herself cloned. In this future, once your original passes on, your clone steps right into your shoes. No muss, no fuss. The catch – if you don't die, your clone must be eradicated. You can't have two of you in this world, it's just not done.

But what happens if your situation changes and your clone refuses to go quietly, triggering a duel to the death? Why, you enlist the services of a personal trainer, of course. Aaron Paul is delightfully deadpan in that role. The film will leave a psychological imprint long after the lights go on. Dual is definitely a “be careful what you wish for” tale, in a new world where survival is uncertain.

Which brings us to the star-vehicle, ripped from the headlines true story of the theft of a Goya painting, The Duke of Wellington. Acquired by Britain's National Gallery in 1961, The Duke had been purchased for an outrageous sum and was due to be put on display, when it was stolen and secreted somewhere in Newcastle. According to the film, the thief went so far as to send a series of ransom notes to the local constabulary. However, the notes indicate that the theft was perpetrated not expressly for the ransom or personal gain, but for 'the greater good' that ransom would benefit; those who want to watch their telly in the UK without paying an exorbitant government tax. 

The Duke, co-starring Dame Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent, is directed by the late Roger Mitchell, and packed with loads of hysterical one-liners, usually proffered by Dame Mirren towards her husband, Jim Broadbent. There is nothing like this Dame when it comes to tossing around some memorable bon mots. Her sharp mind cannot be concealed behind the dowdy dress, sensible shoes and greying hair of her character.

Digger is part of the Fest's International Showcase. Nikitas is a farmer who has devoted his life to keeping his small farm going, existing with other local growers in the Greek mountainside. Civilization is encroaching on their lands. Strip mining is literally flooding torrents of dirt and mud into their homes, each time it rains. The farmers are fighting against the tide and against the future, trying to keep their properties and memories intact. But the corporate monster is hungry, intent on tearing down their livelihoods to feed 'progress”. Nikitas has sacrificed all to keep his farm going – his wife left years ago, taking their young son with her. That son has now returned to Nikitas' farm, looking to claim his inheritance. 

The fallout from the reunion of father and son are plot points that parallel the destruction of the land. For me, Digger lost its focus about an hour in. Motivations to stay and fight or flee become murky. It's hard to decide if the choices the farmers are making will benefit them, or are they just staying because it's easier than facing an uncertain but potentially well-funded future.  Do they give up their unofficial roles as guardians of the land, or fight it out? 

Spotlight Film Ali & Ava is having their East Coast Premiere at the Festival. A British rom-com, with some social justice commentary about immigration and immigrants built in, the story revolves around a British Pakistani man (Ali) who meets and eventually falls for Ava, a slightly older Irish immigrant. Ali, humiliated by the fact that his Pakistani wife is leaving him for another man, keeps up the “happily married” façade around his parents and neighbors. Ava, still reeling from a bad marriage years before, has no intention of becoming emotionally involved with anyone,  finding solace in her job as a teacher and in helping raise her own daughter's children. But the couple find they can easily relate to each other through a shared love of music and mutual respect. Their relationship blossoms and grows until their families discover the truth. Ali & Ava explores the power of love and the fallout from the choices we sometimes make. The characters are highly relatable, and you'll find yourself cheering for them to succeed. 

However, as is the case with some foreign films, it's difficult to understand some of the dialogue. I had an especially difficult time with any scene in which one of the younger stars was present, and, without subtitles, had no idea what the child was saying.  It wasn't the slang, it was the muddy audio.

Stay Prayed Up, a music documentary, offers an extended look into the lives of the people who make up the gospel group The Branchettes. Ma Perry is quite the character, being in the music and soul-saving business for more than 50 years. Wilbur Thorpe, their keyboardist, has been a member of the group for almost as long. In their early years, The Branchettes faced down unremitting racism throughout the South, while touring through North Carolina, a state which once advertised itself as the “heart of Klan country”.

Present-day, Perry and the rest of the troupe are truly devoted in using their talents to help raise up the downtrodden and broken members of the communities they visit. However, unless you're willing to listen to a lay-preacher singing about the Lord and salvation for more than an hour, this may not be the film for you. It would have made a mighty good long-form short. But as a film, I'd have been more interested in hearing what they went though and the battles they faced than listening to a multitude of lengthy old-time spirituals.

Which brings us to Juniper, the final film of week one of pre-screening, another Spotlight Film and star vehicle for Oscar Nominee Charlotte Rampling.

Rampling's Ruth is an irascible woman of an older age, with a taste for gin that can only be sated by consuming approximately a bottle each day. She is also emotionally withholding, unable to express love towards anyone who crosses her path. This holds especially true for her immediate family. She sent her own son away to boarding school when he was a child, and now that man's son, Ruth's grandson Sam, has been picked up from his boarding school and is tasked by his father to take care of his ailing grandmother. Sam's dad quickly leaves town, so Sam shares the most unwelcome burden with Ruth's helper/nurse, Sarah.

We've seen similar characters as Ruth before; the scared older woman, alone and afraid, lashing out. The development of a character such as Ruth is, sadly, a common celluloid representation of older women. However, in this case, when the final scene played out, there was not a dry eye in the theater, which is both a testament to Rampling's skill, and to the film's Director, Matthew J. Saville. During one of her abusive tirades, Sam asks Ruth what she wants. Ruth replies, “one last love affair”. Everyone chuckles, including Ruth. And yet....things do play out unexpectedly.

But even after the film ended, I found myself stymied by the title, JuniperSo I did a deep dive and here's what I was able to infer. It's more complex than just the fact that gin, Ruth's beverage of choice, is derived from the juniper tree.  As a war photographer, Ruth survived and flourished amid the bleakest, most depressing environs on the planet.  With little sustenance, the juniper tree can thrive in similarly harsh and bare climes. The luscious berries are protected by bristly needles; you cannot simply pluck them off the tree without getting stung in return.  Ah... all is now laid bare. Recommended, with tissues.

Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor for In Focus Magazine.  She's been a News Editor at NBC affiliate WESH2 in Orlando for more than a decade. She was formerly with WKMG6 for 14 years as a News Editor. She spent nine years in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and MTV Networks. She also worked as an on-air host for local cable access programs. Lisa has covered the Florida Film Festival for the past 30 years as well as the World Peace Film Festival. She was a columnist for Lady Freethinker, ShelterMe.tv and Examiner.com.  She has been a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and now for In Focus Magazine. 

 

Lisa Blanck can be reached at: [email protected] 





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