Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival - 2009 - Preview

They've done it again! The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! One must be careful for what one asks for! So, I'll be pouring through these during the next couple of weeks and will hopefully begin postings the week before each screening!
In the meantime, here is their official release:


Tickets on sale now for 12 days of funny, provocative, informative and uplifting features and shorts

ATLANTA, GA. (December 9, 2008) – The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) today announced its film selections and schedule for the ninth annual celebration of Jewish life and culture through film. The festival, running from January 14-25, 2009 features 48 visually-stunning and evocative Jewish films that would otherwise not be available on the big screen in Atlanta. The films represent 20 nations and deliver the broad human relations mission of the American Jewish Committee, presenter of the AJFF.

From Argentina to Spain, from Israel to Switzerland, the selected films in the 2009 festival lineup represent a diverse array of cultures, yet tackle issues familiar to us all. This year’s featured films include Hello Goodbye, a French romantic comedy co-starring Fanny Ardant and GĂ©rard Depardieu about a married Jewish couple living in Paris who flee to Israel during a midlife crisis, screening on Opening Night, and Strangers, the Young Professionals Night film selection, a narrative feature that traces the unlikely romance between an Israeli kibbutznik and a Palestinian woman who meet serendipitously on their way to the World Cup finals in Berlin.

“This year’s lineup touches on a wide array of subject matter, from thought-provoking to heart-wrenching to just plain funny,” said Executive Director Kenny Blank. “The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival features something for every kind of movie-lover, Jewish or non-Jewish.”

Tickets and a full film schedule for the 2009 festival are available on www.ajff.org. Films in the 2009 festival will be screened at Lefont Sandy Springs, Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station Stadium 16 and at the Regal Medlock Crossing Stadium 18, the festival’s North Metro venue in Duluth.

Founded in 2000, the AJFF has quickly grown in size and reputation, with an estimated attendance in 2009 expected to top 18,000 moviegoers. Screenings are supplemented by guest speakers, providing a dynamic forum for audience dialogue with actors, filmmakers, academics, authors and other expert panelists.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) is presented by the Atlanta Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the country’s oldest human relations organization, to support its mission of “building bridges of understanding” across community lines. Since its founding in 2000, the AJFF has enjoyed robust growth across all fronts, including attendance, audience diversity, community visibility, depth and quality of programming, and sponsor participation. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is a non-profit event, and made possible with the generous support of corporate, foundation, government and individual sponsors.

The Ninth Annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will be held January 14-25, 2009. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, December 9, 2008. For more information, go to www.ajff.org or call 404-806-9913.

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Maxxxxx says

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THREE DECEMBERS, followed by Three Courses!

My Christmas gift from Gretchen this year was attending THREE DECEMBERS and then dinner at Bay Wolf!!

San Francisco Opera presented THREE DECEMBERS (Last Acts) (composer: Jake Heggie; libretto: Gene Scheer, based on a play by Terrence McNally; conductor: Patrick Summers; director: Leonard Foglia), a new piece by Jake Heggie (DEAD MAN WALKING), which premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in March of this year, featuring its world premiere cast: Frederica von Stade, Keith Phares and Kristin Clayton. Yes, it is only a cast of three in this chamber opera which would probably work better on an Off-Broadway stage than it does in a place as cavernous as Zellerbach Hall, in Berkeley. However, since Heggie is considered a "modern operatic composer", his sentimental, little piece is relegated to the massive halls, voices and expectations of the opera houses around the country.

The drama is about the relationship between a Broadway musical star (Frederica von Stade) and her two adult children. Essentially, if you took "Glamorous Life" from Stephen Sondheim's "A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC" and extended it for two hours, you would have this opera. In other words, the plotting is slight, so there is an increased pressure for characterization. However, the libretto tends to focus on a lot of off-stage events and exposition, in which the three characters literally narrate via the device of the mother's Christmas letters. The opening duet in which brother and sister are on the phone with each other, singing the first letter, straight out, is an exceptionally ineffective way to launch what should be an intensive three-part character study. It insists that the performers infuse the words of their mother with their attitudes about her and musically mocks someone we have not met or heard from yet. In other words, the audience must begin to make assumptions during the opening moments, instead of concentrating on the characterizations and the musical structure. The piece does not really begin to take life until late in the first act, in which the brother and sister have a beautiful duet about their father on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The second act, comprised of two scenes, each ten years apart, work much more effectively, as Heggie is no longer bound to the family's emotional exposition. The "shoe duet" (for lack of a better description), in which the children mock their mother's shoe-shopping-as-therapy habit, is delightful and oddly reminiscent of another Sondheim piece ("A Little Priest"), and von Stade is given a gorgeous lullaby to perform. There is much to like in the score. However, it never crosses that line of "ecstasy" that feels necessary in opera, or musical theater in general. In other words, to perhaps over simplify the case, the mother never has the "Momma Rose Moment"! Though there is emotional resolution, which is sentimentally well done, the cathartic climax (when the truth about the father is revealed) comes as yet another piece of exposition. The mother is only given the opportunity to encapsulate why she did what she did, so her eventual capitulation seems unsatisfactory, since she is not allowed to fully express the emotional toll it took on her and her relationship with her children. Regardless of the many beautiful moments within the work, it just can not withstand the scrutiny of the particular arena it has been placed and the dramatic demands that are required of it.

However, the requirements of our dinner at Bay Wolf Cafe' and Restaurant were successfully met! The avocado, pink grapefruit and roasted beet salad with arugula and creamy anise dressing, which both Gretchen and I had, was incredible! I could have stopped there! However, I moved on to potato gnocchi with butternut squash, and Gretchen had the crusted salmon and risotto cakes (which I had an extra side of!). The gnocchi was rich and, for lack of another term, beefy! The desert featured eggnog ice cream sandwiches! Gretchen had the chocolate bouche. She also ordered a half bottle of Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), which topped things off, nicely! I LOVE Bay Wolf!!

Maxxxxx says
re THREE DECEMBERS: "Dooby dooby doo-oooo"
re BAY WOLF: "Breakfast?!"

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cioa and yawn... (er, CIAO and Yawn!! I typo'ed...)

Opening this week is a film that received a pair of screenings at this past year's Frameline Film Festival. I can't help but to repost what I felt about it, since just the title pushed my annoying button! There are just so many other high quality gay-related, SMALL budget films, that seem to be going straight to video (but thank you, TLA Video!), that I am just trying to get the word out there to insist on a more selective theatrical distributions! Anyway...

CIAO (dir. Yen Tan, US, 2007, 87 mins.). Oh dear. Well, I can appreciate the "quiet camerawork" and director Yen Tan's near zen-like pacing and palette. It is a "serious drama", and Tan has cast the entire production in a gray fog. Even the performances are underplayed and dour. However, the script is ludicrous and completely unbelievable. At least for me. A man discovers some email between his newly deceased partner and a man from Italy, who were planning to finally consummate their internet affair. Now, WHY the widower goes ahead and invites the Italian (who had never met his partner) to visit anyway, was beyond me. Even in the dialogue, the email relationship is merely regarded as internet-flirting, so the widower does not feel betrayed. There is no basis to invite the dead boyfriend's chat buddy to stay! I just couldn't get past that point. And THEN, as if it weren't enough (spoiler here!), THEY fall in love! OH PLEASE! That was cliche' and annoying, even if the production style was incredibly deft.

Maxxxxx says
re CIAO: "Is it bedtime?"

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I found it surprising that after the moderate success of it's predecessor, that ANOTHER GAY SEQUEL: Gays Gone Wild (dir. Todd Stephens, US, 2008, 97 mins.) wasn't as ably produced, if not more so. However, I enjoyed it, in spite of its clunkiness. Most of the credit for keeping me involved in the little farce goes to returning cast member (and executive producer) Jonah Blechman, with no small effort from the film's beleaguered director, Todd Stephens. Though a little bit of Blechman's character can go a long way, there is a comedic void that definitely needs to be filled.

The other three co-stars, though adorable, do seem a bit lost (all of which is fairly explained in the commentary). Supporting roles by gay porn figures work actually smoother than some of the co-stars. Brent Corrigan, in particular, displays an unexpected charm and innocence as Stan, the Merman and Colton Ford and Michael Lucas fill their roles with the requisite gags. However, Perez Hilton seems to be last-minute stunt-casting (replacing the character meant to be Muffler, played by Ashlie Atkinson, who was unavailable, except for an all too brief appearance), and he doesn't have the chops to justify the irrelevant subplot. It is a shame, too, that Stephens did not replace nearly the only female character in the film with a woman! What happens is that as the episodes continue to spool away, I got a bit weary of watching another gay male character act out! It needed some balance, or grounding in a not-so-gay-testosterone world. Ironically, though RuPaul and "Lady Bunny" are in the cast in full drag, it is Blechman's Nico that carries the burden of giving us an escape from "the boys", and he is more than able to do it. His fantasy musical number (featuring a terrific dance solo by Blechman!), which is literally the climax, is worth the price of a rental! It is the one sequence in which all the production values and Stephens visuals come together successfully!

And it is the commentary track by director Todd Stephens and producer Derek Curl that makes the DVD worth the price of purchase! Stephens and Curl don't hold back about the near catastrophy the production faced in its first couple of weeks. They are generally kind and gracious about the participants and more forgiving of the "stumbling blocks" in casting than the film is itself. (The opening dream sequence in which the original cast is "replaced" is fabulous!) There are also three "making of" videos about the BIG Musical Number, "Stan, the Merman" and the appropriately named, "Puke Fest". There is the complete end-credits music video by Perez Hilton, where he displays more energy than he did in the film. Deleted scenes are included, which are exceptionally minimal, seeing as this is the "Uncut Theatrical Release". (Oh! Speaking of... Be aware that if you rent this from Blockbuster, you will see a censored release, according to the commentary!)

The transfer is in anamorphic widescreen and the colors pop more than they probably did on screen! The sound design is clear and not a syllable is lost, though at one point, dialog sounded overly looped.

Overall, as hesitant as I might be to recommend the film itself, the complete DVD package is worth the $24.99 MSRP. It releases from TLA Video on December 9.

Maxxxxx says
re ANOTHER GAY SEQUEL: GAYS GONE WILD!: "Dooby dooby doo-ooo!"

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