2008 San Diego Film Festival Coverage: Part 1 of 2
I always make a concerted effort each year to attend the San Diego Film Festival, mainly because it feels like my duty as a San Diego native to foster the “growing” program. And yet, each year I attend, I can’t help but feel like the selection is getting more and more intolerable. Rarely do programmers book foreign films or experimental features. It seems as though SDFF is stuck in commercial-territory, although I don’t know why given the fact that it seems less commercially successful with each passing festival. My first day at the event this year was Friday–I had to skip out on Thursday given my now out-of-town academic obligations–and not a single showing I attended was even close to being sold out.
All that said, I really don’t mean to bash the folks who run SDFF. They’re hard-working, always nice, and this year even graciously provided me with a free pass to catch screenings. But it’s depressing that hardly any film on this year’s line-up will see a theatrical release; most of the selections will be doomed to see straight-to-cable fates. (Even some good movies I’ve seen at the festival in years past–the Jeremy Renner/Gabrielle Union vehicle Neo Ned comes instantly to mind–have suffered this exact pattern.) In fact, 2008 marks the first year I’ve skipped a day I could have attended the festival–Saturday–due to complete apathy for the choices. To my credit, I did use the day to catch the festival’s Thursday-night opener, The Lucky Ones, in a regular theatre, and liked it very much. So kudos to programmers for scoring that one.
Today is Sunday, and the three movies that I am about to see look to be the best offerings at the festival: The Brothers Bloom, Remarkable Power, and Morning Light. Two of them already have releases slated–one with an Oscar campaign–and the other has good buzz. Yes, I’ve whittled down my choices this year to the bare essentials, but can you blame me? Perhaps I’ll actually leave SDFF this year with a 50% recommendation-rate as a result. Watching Friday’s mediocre crop, all I could think about was how much better this year’s AFI Fest would be. Here is what I caught:
Lost in the Fog is a nice little documentary by first-time director John Corey about a special racehorse, but being “nice” isn’t enough to make the movie worth seeing in this case. I was interested in the movie’s portayal of the horse’s San Francisco-based owner, Harry Aleo, for the first thirty minutes, but once Corey turned the focus almost solely on the titular horse, the doc got old quick. Yes, I can respect the fact that Lost in the Fog may have indeed been a one-of-a-kind competitor, but what’s stirring about this story on a human-level? Not much, and hence the film fails to win over those of us who aren’t horse-racing enthusiasts. The picture isn’t unpleasant, but it’s mediocre in the sense that it doesn’t reach for anything nearly as special in the cinematic-world as that which its subject did in the equestrian-realm.
Just as Lost in the Fog won’t interest anyone who isn’t a horse-racing fan, The Wrecking Crew probably won’t grab the attention of non-Rock ‘N Roll diehards. The doc is directed by Danny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco. “Who?” you might ask. Yeah, Danny thought you might say that. Tommy was the guitarist for “The Wrecking Crew,” a group of studi0-musicians who did the instrumentals on countless albums in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The bunch turned in tracks for The Monkeys and the Beach Boys, among others. At their height, they would lay down an album a day — six tracks in the morning, six at night. Yes, the story is interesting, but perhaps it was only meant for an hour-long HBO special. Danny Tedesco’s version is an overlong indulgence in his father’s career and the musicians that surrounded it, which is understandable but not cinematically-forgivable. After sitting through The Wrecking Crew for 95-minutes, I had more than had my fill of the material. The movie proved to me that the group was indeed amazing, but did little more to captivate me beyond that.
Jacob Medjuck and Tony Dean Smith’s Summerhood was perhaps the most enjoyable movie of the day because I could see it in full detail (out of the three, this was the only one shown in 35mm), but it was also the most rote and uninspired selection of the bunch. The movie is a rumination on the pains and pleasures of childhood summer-camp, told through the emotional-POV of a nine-year-old boy known by fellow campers as Fetus (Lucian Mesel). The topic could’ve been ripe for nostalgia had it been handled in a more original way, but Summerhood is a completely cliche and indulgent take on the subject matter. The only area in which it branches out is in its surprisingly adult take on the actions of the camp-employees, which proves more oddly-unsettling than its does humorous. Sure, some of the kid-actors are charming, but who really cares when the movie is as shallow as this one? Daddy Day Camp was a more profound take on the topic. Summerhood may get a small theatrical release because it is narrated by John Cusack, but it won’t be very successful if it does.
Now it’s time for me to catch some films that may actually be good for a change. Please don’t disappoint me, Rian Johnson — The Brothers Bloom is first on my agenda!