Sunday, April 15, 2018

LA neo-noir is a cool whodunnit

I didn’t quite finish with my reviewing and summing-up of this year’s Tampa film festival. (Alas, given the weather in Windsor-Detroit this month I long to be back in the warm caress of central Florida.) …...A standout in the festival’s lineup was Aaron Katz’s Gemini, a contemporary take on LA noir. This cool film for the social media age is marked by its constant tease, never fully resolved (and that’s a good thing) of which of the characters supposedly murdered a Hollywood starlet (Zoё Kravitz). A gumshoe (John Cho) has pinned the crime on Heather’s personal assistant Jill (Lola Kirke) (photo above left) who decides to assume a changed persona (ok, disguise, but this movie is so hip, “persona” sounds better). Not only are the characters and plot engrossing but the cinematography is super, with the scenes’ color backgrounds - for example, from neon signs - imbuing the characters' features and entire frames.  The opening scene, an inverted look at overhead palms, is stunning, setting the look and feel for the rest of the film. The taut dreamy electronica is the musical complement…...Meanwhile, Eric Stolz, he of innumerable movies and TV but perhaps best known for playing Lance in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Pulp Fiction, is an affable, engaging – and well-dressed – director, and was present for the screening of his latest film, Class Rank. It’s a kind of update on Alexander Payne’s 1999 Election but has a comedic freshness all its own. Socially awkward Bernard Flannigan (Skyler Gisondo), a whiz kid with a superb sense of right and wrong, is running not for student council but the oppressive local school board. His erudite granddad is played by Bruce Dern, an actor now 81 and who’s in movies everywhere it seems these days……Itzhak (Alison Chernick) is a documentary about the great Israeli violinist, one-time child prodigy – now in his 70s – Itzhak Perlman. The film melds Perlman’s professional brilliance with his otherwise down to earth personality, complaining about the lack of accessible public restrooms (he was partly parlalyzed by polio), and being a fanatical fan of his hometown New York Mets. 
This was my second year attending the Tampa festival (officially the Gasparilla International Film Festival, Gasparilla being the all-purpose central Florida nickname, harking back to a famous area pirate). The festival continues to attract numerous and impressive local sponsors and has an enthusiastic contingent of staffers and volunteers. And this year’s showcase of more than 50 features, in quality, seemed a cut above what I saw last year. But GIFF still suffers from a lack of audience, with many screenings having noticeable numbers of empty seats. The fact that this year the festival combined with Tampa’s Jewish film festival was a smart move, so it – or both fests - can build their audiences. Yet the lack of filmgoers is a puzzle. The Tampa Bay area has more than 3 million people and several universities and colleges. Contrast this to Windsor’s international film festival, serving a population one-tenth the size (it hardly draws from Detroit) and which has been in existence about the same time. Yet the Windsor fest’s screenings, many in larger theatres, are sold out or near packed. Let’s hope Gasparilla finds a wider audience, to match its spirit, in the future.

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