The Maryland Film Festival (http://www.md-filmfest.com) is happening next week (May 5-8). Lucky me, I got to preview some of the films.
Better This World
No matter what your political predilection, prepare to be outraged when you watch the documentary Better This World. It tells the story of two earnest young men—Brad Crowder and David McKay— who traveled from Texas to Minnesota to protest the 2008 Republican National Convention. After Molotov cocktails were found in their possession, they were both imprisoned for domestic terrorism. An open and shut case of youthful idealism turned violent? Not so fast. Turns out, they were recruited, riled up, and essentially dared to “do whatever it takes” by a charismatic, older fellow activist, who was in fact an FBI informant. Would the boys have made the Molotov cocktails without his influence? Would they have even gone to the convention at all? Sure to be a real festival conversation starter.
The Catechism Cataclysm
The best possible setting to watch Todd Rohal’s gleefully profane and fitfully funny The Catechism Cataclysm would be at a rowdy midnight screening on a college campus. The worst possible setting might be on your living room couch, alone, at about 7:30, which is how I saw it. The film features the goofy Father Bill (Steve Little), who is having a crisis of faith. (He’d rather watch viral videos on YouTube than give spiritual advice to his flock.) He meets up with his boyhood idol (Robbie Longstreet)—a one-time high school cool guy who now strings lights for the IceCapades—and the two embark on a day-long canoe trip. What seems at first like a riff on the classic odd couple road flick—a la Planes, Trains, and Automobiles—gets more outrageous (and, frankly, offensive) as it goes along. Go to a crowded screening, check your moral outrage at the door, and there should be laughs aplenty.
The Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, as filtered through the ripe imagination of French director Catherine Breillat. In this telling, Anastasia (scratchy-voiced tom-boy Carla Besnainou) is cursed by an evil fairy to fall into a dream-like state at the age of 6 and wake up, 100 years later. None of this fazes our resourceful heroine, whose trip through this dreamscape involves trains, dwarves, trolls with boils, gypsies, and an albino prince and princess. Most importantly, it involves Anastasia’s one true love, a kindly boy named Peter who disappears when he is tempted by the Snow Queen, a metaphor for the end of childhood. Eventually, she does wake up, in modern times, as a timid but wise 16-year-old girl. The Sleeping Beauty is rife with arresting visuals, sneaky humor, and Jungian meditations on time, gender, sexuality, and mortality. My only objection? At 82 minutes, the film is too darn short—a meal without dessert.
In the Congo, a charming con man tries to make a bundle off stolen gas tanks, but gets caught in a morass of gang violence and systemic corruption. Shot entirely on location, this high octane (ahem) thriller combines American gangster tropes—beautiful mols! mack daddy mob bosses! badass lesbians!—with documentary-style social realism. The result is audacious, exciting, and slightly dizzying.