Thursday, April 23, 2009


MICKEE FAUST'S GIMP PARADE (dirs. Diane Wilkins, Donna Marie Nudd, and Terry Galloway, Mickee Faust Artistic Director; USA; Total Running Time: 65 mins.) is a compilation of videos from one of the most provocative, inspiring, outrageous and challenging performance groups in the country. This first DVD from Mickee Faust features their work regarding (dis)abilities, though I am most familiar with their work and submissions to lesbian and gay film festivals. I was first introduced to the work of the Mickee Faust Club nearly seven years ago by the opening short of the DVD.

The DVD is bookended by I KNOW WHY THE CAGED RATS SING (dirs. Donna Marie Nudd and Diane Wilkins, US, 2008, 3 mins.), which introduces us to the troupe, as well as a bit of a primer of what you are about to experience...

ANNIE DEAREST: THE REAL MIRACLE WORKER (plus APOLOGIA) (Dirs. Terry Galloway and Diane Wilkins, US, 2002, 9 mins.) When this screened at the 2003 Frameline Festival, I laughed until I had tears! I attempted to incite a protest when it did NOT win Best Short that year! I ordered VHS copies for all my friends for Christmas! I became friends with Ms. Wilkins and have tried to follow her work with the Faustketeers since! This short, in particular, is a hysterical reworking of the near legend that the relationship between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan has become. It is a piece of slapstick brilliance! (It is followed by the APOLOGIA, which does not so much apologize for the work, but expands on the satire.)

LETTER TO PENTHOUSE (Dirs. Randel Shard, Diane Wilkins) is simply a visual presentation of a simply fabulous monologue in which a certain astro-physicist reads his provocative letter to Penthouse Magazine. It is just long enough to get the punchline without overworking the bit.

DIS(ASTER)ABILITIES: SPECIAL NEEDS FOR SPECIAL TIMES (Dirs. Diane Wilkins, Terry Galloway and Donna Marie Nudd, US, 2007, 6 mins.) An excellent satire of all those industrial emergency preparedness videos, plus an additional elbow-jab at the near dizzying and nearly unmaneuverable rules and regulations surrounding the American Disabilities Act. Though the slapstick is not as heavy as its potential might hold, the final frames are exceptionally effective, if not chilling.

THE SCARY LEWIS YELL-A-THON (Dirs. Diane Wilkins, Terry Galloway and Donna Marie Nudd, 2004, 13 mins.) Terry Galloway takes the performance reigns in this piece, which is at the same time, irresistibly laughable, but also possibly the angriest work from the group. Galloway plays a character similar to the exceptionally omnipresent recipient of this year's Jean Hersholdt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars, who also garnered a great deal of protest from his "benefactors". The skit exposes that terrible line between exploitation and then leaps across it! Galloway herself (in the pants role, as it were), is unabashedly caustic in her interpretation of Mr. Lewis, and by the final footnote, one can't help but to feel her community's anger. It is an exceptional piece of guerrilla/protest theater caught on video.

MR. HANDCHOPS (Dr. Diane Wilkins, US, 2006, 3 mins.) This is perhaps the most abstract and avant garde of the shorts included on the disc. In fact, after having watched it several times, I'm still not exactly sure what is happening - which is not necessarily a bad thing! But it is not the easiest piece to watch.

PROFESSOR RINGER ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS ON: ETHICS (Dirs. Diane Wilkins, Donna Marie Nudd, US, 2008, 5 mins.) Well, who else but Mickee Faust could actually concoct a comic presentation about euthanasia?! You just must see it!

RATS AND ROACHES (Dir. Diane Wilkins, US, 1 mins.) "Everybody must get stoned." More or less. Hee hee...

DISABILITY FACTOR (Dirs. Diane Wilkins, Donna Marie Nudd, 2008, 15 mins.) As if PROFESSOR RINGER... didn't go far enough, this is an exceptionally pointed and provocative skit in which participants compete for the Grand Prize: the right to die. Hosted by a host with Tourette's Syndrome, the piece swirls into a giddy, yet angry maelstrom of satire.

The DVD is available at the GIMP PARADE website for the remarkable price of $29.99, and worth every penny! Mickee Faust will also be releasing a compilation of its Lesbian and Gay shorts as GAYPARADE later this year! I. Can't. WAIT!!

Maxxxxx says

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San Francisco International Film Festival 2009 - Stage to Screen

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 23–May 7, 2009 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre and Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco; and the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to

Although already screening in Los Angeles and New York City, the San Francisco International Film Festival will be presenting the premiere of EVERY LITTLE STEP (dirs. Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern, USA, 2008, 96 mins.) What establishes this documentary about the audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of A CHORUS LINE apart from the latest trend in "competition documentaries" (i.e. SPELLBOUND, WORD WARS, etc.) is that there is a nice amount of material about the origin and creation of the show, starting with the interview tapes that Michael Bennett made during the workshops in 1974. The interviews with surviving original cast members Donna McKechnie and Baayork Lee (the revival's choreographer) and the revival's director Bob Avian, who co-choreographed with Bennett in 1974, and Marvin Hamlisch, the composer, also give the film a broader focus than just "the competition".

However, the film does eventually come down to the auditions, and there are a couple startling, if not nearly revelatory moments! Jason Tam's audition for "Paul" is simply spectacular. The vocal battle to sing Didi ("At The Ballet") has a visceral thrill to it, and the performers reading for "Sheila" lend the film it's most suspense. (What I found missing, was any reference to the character "Morales", who has two of the best numbers in the play. However, as can be the case with filming a performance based process, signed releases may have come into play.) The film skirts the controversy of the original cast's reimbursement for its part in creating the show. It also plays a bit into the criticism that has been leveled at Richard Attenborough's failed film version: it plays to the idea that these are "kids" at the start of their careers, and not to the struggle of the professional dancer on Broadway.

In the end, if you are at all a fan of the show, you should love this, especially as it screens at the Castro Theatre's big screen! (Also, a little shout out to Michael Gorman, assistant choreographer: "Hey there!" And a moment of silence in memory of Tharon Musser, light designer.)

Also on the festival's schedule is an adaption of Noel Coward's EASY VIRTUE (dir. Stephan Elliot, England/USA, 2008, 93 mins.) Jessica Biel nearly steals the film from British screen pros Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas. Mind you, she is costumed by Charlotte Walter in some breathtaking clothes, but she maintains the mystery of the character that attracted even Alfred Hitchcock to film the play (in his 1928 silent version). However, even with the exceptional costume and production design, and the overly capable cast's delivery of Coward's dialogue, there is just something missing. Director Stephan Elliot has not really let his productions "fly" since his spectacular signature piece THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Though all the parts are present in EASY VIRTUE, there is a certain lead-footedness about the proceedings. The cast is working almost too hard to be witty and, in its third act, to be dramatic. As gorgeous as it is to look at, I keep forgetting I've seen it without looking at my calendar notes, I am sorry to say.

Maxxxxx says
re EVERY LITTLE STEP: "Dooby doobie doo-ooo!"
re EASY VIRTUE: "Is it bedtime?"

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

San Francisco International Film Festival 2009 - Sci-Fi/Animation

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 23–May 7, 2009 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre and Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco; and the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to

Though science fiction and animation are not strangers to the San Francisco International Film Festival, they are typically schedule "out of the way": matinees and midnights. Not so this year, and it could be to the high quality of programs. Of the previews I've seen, i am HIGHLY recommending:

THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF LITTLE DIZZLE (dir. David Russo, USA, 2009, 100 mins.) Though some of its corporate snarkiness may be a bit fizzled to the new fans of the recent television series BETTER OFF TED, there is still a great deal of independent, alternative and punkish humor to keep it from being sit-com fodder. Also, the animated elements from director David Russo and Dutch animator Rusto elevate the film to some really cool psychedelic plateaus that aren't generally distributed for mass consumption. (At one point I thought Russo had stolen an idea from I AM (NOT) VAN GOGH (SFIFF 2006), until I realized that it was HIS film, too!) It is as if Russo has created a polished and beautifully designed cult flick!

What makes a great cult flick is its subversive script. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, though the program guide sort of does that, but eating the latest corporate experiment in food products, which release in males a psychedelic experience, followed by a butt pregnancy, as it were, is something you just gotta know when you walk into it! The script also touches on slacker, artistic and corporate greed. There are no innocents in the cast, with the possible exception of Dory (Marshall Allmann), who is the adorable innocent, who loses his corporate job and finds a job with the punkish band of janitors led by the ferocious and magnetic performance of Vince Vieluf.

Of course, I can always get snippy about script and editing. There was a point where it felt longer than its 100 minutes. However, I am not so sure what one would cut. The hallucinations probably go on longer than necessary, but I LOVED them! There is a romantic triangle of sorts that is a bit in the way, but that's just me quibbling. Overall, it is a hoot of a flick and I hope it makes its way to the screens and beyond.

MOON (dir. Duncan Jones, England, 2008, 97 mins.) I am finding it hard to start in commenting on this exceptionally complex and sophisticated science fiction throw back to the sociological conscious dramas of Serling, Kubrick and Jerome Bixby. I guess you have to start with the visuals. Director Duncan Jones has unashamedly designed around the films of the late 60's and early 70's: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is is most obvious influence, but there is also some SPACE: 1999 and ALIEN grittiness thrown in there. Apparently the interiors were film in a self contained set. The exteriors appear to rely on models and animation. The design of GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) is something of a throwback to the rough droids of SILENT RUNNING. The production design could best be described as Industrial Sci-Fi, without a lot of bells and whistles, which is a blessing as that would have distracted from an intense screenplay.

Nathan Parker's script relies nearly solely on the abilities of Sam Rockwell, as the lone astronaut at a mining site on the Moon. Rockwell is required to play himself, opposite himself, in various stages of duress. The makeup and hair designer, Karen Dawson, receives an unusual opening credit. However, her work with Rockwell is so exceptional, that whatever accolades he will receive for his performance, I hope he shares it with her. As his various "identities" (I'm working hard here not to spoil it!) interact, there is no question as to who is talking to who, even though we might not know the reality that the "who" is existing in. And this is where Parker's script is a maze of existentialism. The drama that enfolds is so internal to the character that it is both involving, yet frustrating. Once pieces start to fall into place, his role in the universe becomes an even bigger question, which might frustrate some viewers, but might transport hard core sci-fiers into existential nirvana!

The special effects are stunning for such a low budget film. I don't want to over elaborate, but the ping pong game blew my mind!

Now, on to the one sci-fi/animated flick I've seen as part of SFIFF 2009 that was not that fulfilling.

BATTLE FOR TERRA (dir. Aristomenis Tsirbas, USA, 2007, 100 mins.) In the spirit of full disclosure, I saw a preview of BATTLE FOR TERRA in 'real 3D' which will not be the format that it will screen at the SFIFF. However, the production design of the film is compelling. More compelling than the script, I am afraid. It is pretty simple minded and exceptionally heavy handed. After the film, all I could think of was "I guess it's sort of the Revenge of the Sea Monkeys against their human captors?" There is some notable voice talent, particularly James Garner and David Cross. Beyond that, however, it's pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Oh, speaking of, the film did screen at the Mill Valley Fest this past year as "BATTLE" and it will open nationwide May 1st. So unless moved by the "fest atmosphere" or if you have an open slot on your fest schedules, you may want to save this for later.

Maxxxxx says
re MOON: "What's your name?"

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San Francisco International Film Festival 2009 - Animation and More

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 23–May 7, 2009 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre and Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco; and the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to

In addition to some exceptional examples of animation in features that the SFIFF has programmed this year, there is a program of shorts and a related documentary.

The animated shorts this year are gathered under the title, A THOUSAND PICTURES. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a member of the co-presenting sponsor, ASIFA-SF and am a member and the Secretary of ASIFA-Atlanta.) It is an international collection of seven pieces, and in apparent screening order:

PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS (dir. Laurie Hill, England 2008, 7 min) This is the first and my personal favorite of the program. It is an exceptionally humorous piece in which an interview with Matthew Butson, an archivist at Getty Images, is animated with pieces from the archive, detailing the unusual, if not totally inane requests the archive receives, i.e. a photograph of Jesus! It is an excellent use and example of collage animation!

AANAATT (dir. Max Hattler, England 2008, 5 min) A purely abstract piece of stop motion animation, where Max Hattler has photographed in such angles and design, that perspectives of "up and down" or "front and back" are completely turned on their heads. It is a beautiful and perplexing piece! I hope it keeps viewers involved, though I can see where its disorienting visuals may turn some minds away. I, on the other hand, was completely captivated!

KANIZSA HILL (dir. Evelyn Lee, USA 2008, 8 min) A severed head explores the intellectual universe, while its body searches desperately for it. More or less. I found it to be a more sophisticated relation to Count Lear Bunda's HITLER'S BRAIN, perhaps, though Evelyn Lee used a lot more mixed media and once she went into some of the psychological testing, I was starting to blow my mind... In a good way, though!

SLAVES (dirs. David Aronowitsch, Hanna Heilborn, Sweden 2008, 15 min) This "animated documentary" visualizes the stories of two Sudanese children who were abducted by the government-sponsored militia and made slaves. Their stories are as difficult to listen to as most holocaust events in which families are torn apart and murdered in front of their children can be. I think that animating it is to make it easier to take, as well as protects the identities of the children who are speaking. It is difficult to watch too, though not due to the visual style as it is due to the simple task of subtitling technique - ah yes, the dreaded "white-on-white". The print I previewed was not the final sound print, and perhaps that finalization will include replacing the subtitles with amber print. I know it sounds petty, considering the subject matter, but CONSIDERING the subject matter, the story should be delivered as clearly as possible.

FAR AWAY FROM URAL (dir. Katarina Lillqvist, Finland 2008, 25 min) Though it is technically a marvelous piece of puppet animation, set to a fantastical story of forbidden love, it was just a bit too... expressionistic for me to grab on to. I seem to have gotten all confused with settings. I have no idea where Kirghizia is and did not realize until after wards that it was set against the Finnish Civil War. Plus turning the captain into a mythical man-horse-suitcase with wings, was just a bit of a stretch for me to grasp. I understood the "forbidden love" part with the young Kirghizian boy, but I was just too confused by the mythology aspects of the story to keep involved with the visuals for its near thirty minute length.

THE HEART OF AMOS KLEIN (dirs. Michal and Uri Kranot, Israel 2008, 15 min) As the program notes describe: "Hand-drawn, live-action and archival footage combine to explore significant moments in the history of Israel from the perspective of an aged senior army officer." What it does not mention is the art is exceptionally suggestive of Bill Plympton's work. The script is non-linear enough that I was confused, even though there were intertitles for each segment. It seems to be an attempt to reverse engineer on man's attitude regarding the Israel occupation of Palenstine. Sort of involved and heavy stuff for a 15 minute animated short.

LIES (dir. Jonas Odell, Sweden 2008, 13 min) Using three types of computer animation (flash, hand drawn and rotoscope) to illustrate three stories of liars - a corporate thief, child who took money from his, and a mother who is a drug addict. His design is so spectacular at points, that I was more interested in watching than listening. And these lies were a bit complicated to begin with, so paying attention is a must!

THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS' STORY (dirs. Gregory V. Sherman, Jeffrey C. Sherman, US/England, 2009, 100 mins.) Ok, I will admit that I walked into this selfishly expecting a warts-and-all-VH1-Celebrity-Biography trash down! Well, as the lights dimmed and the Magic Kingdom made its presenting presence known, I immediately sat back, shifted gears and awaited the 100 minute corporate fluff piece. Though the film was the genesis of an idea between two of the sons of the Sherman brothers (who were RARELY allowed to see each other even though living only 7 blocks away) after meeting at the opening of the stage production of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG in London. They wanted to explore why the families are so estranged from each other. Well, it would seem that the brothers don't really want to talk about that. Or the Disney people would rather talk about their Oscars. In either case, if you are a fan of the Sherman Brothers' work, particularly during the last hurrah of the Disney Studios, then there is more than enough material to send you into nostalgic haze and there are some nifty bits of trivia that do get exposed along the way. (No spoilers here!)

However, in particular to the SFIFF World Premiere Screening at the Letterman Center, there is a reception at the yet to be opened Disney Family Museum in the Presidio after the film. The EVENT makes this more than worth the opportunity to attend. I am also certain that one if not both directors will be present for what could be an exceptionally enlightening Q&A that might fill in some of the holes of the film. The film itself is fine and would actually be a nice bonus disc addition to a yet to be released DVD collection of something. The film presentation at the Festival could be a not to be missed event!

Maxxxxx says
re PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS: [Maxxxxx attacks cameras, if possible]
re THE BOYS...: "Doobie doobie dooo-oooo!" [currently "doobie'ing" along with "We've got to Boogie" from BILLY ELLIOTT]

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