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The Spice (and All That) 

Viewfinders is the film festival for youth. It's put on by the Atlantic Film Festival organization in the spring, as well as being one of the programs during the main festival. The big screening is happening Saturday, something called The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang, but I decided to go and see We Shall Overcome, a Danish drama. The actual Danish title is Drommen, which directly translated means The Dream, referencing Dr. King's “I Have Dream” speech. I'm not sure why they decided We Shall Overcome was a better choice.

I should mention that before the screening they showed work by local young filmmakers: Bruno, an animated short about a dog needing to be walked, by Aven Fisher, and Blue Ruin, a look at an abusive relationship, by Daniel Boos. Both were well done and could have been slotted in Frame x Frame or the Atlantic Shorts program. I should also make special mention of the group of students in the balcony who felt it necessary to yell at the screen and make regular comments on the plot of the feature. You guys were so fucking hilarious, I could barely watch the film because I kept hoping you'd keep saying all really funny shit. I hope you come to all the rest of the film festival screenings and talk all the way through them, 'cause that would be sick, yo.

I liked We Shall Overcome immediately though hearing the familiar language helped me warm up to the picture---I got the Viking blood in me. The film is about a rural Danish community in 1969, and is full of gorgeous exterior cinematography and quirky supporting characters. A boy who lives on a pig farm goes to a new school with a tyrannical headmaster who doesn't believe in sparing the whip. The boy is punished for spying on the girls' locker room, and almost has his ear torn off. The parents get irate, the father especially as he's a bit emotionally unstable. The new music teacher, a hippie, is in the boy's corner, but the fusty school board is slow to change and they're all intimidated by the headmaster. About an hour and a half in, the film finds a high point that it could have easily ended upon, but it strings us along through another 30 minutes of plot, unlikely character betrayals and an implausible conclusion that mirrors where it was half an hour before. Too bad, cause the first three quarters really had me.

“Wave of Mutilation” is just one of those songs that if you hear it once, it's with you all day. I enjoyed it in Loud QUIET Loud: A Film About The Pixies six hours ago, and it's still with me, with Frank Black, or Black Francis, or Charles, or whatever he calls himself now, singing the word “Ocean” in three syllables. We get to follow the band through their reunion in 2004 and along the subsequent tour. In structure, it's a by-the-numbers music doc, but for fans of the Pixies, it's absolutely essential. The filmmakers had total access to the band (even to Charles splayed across his hotel bed in his Calvins, something you may not be in a hurry to see), and the anti-glamour of their work---of rock and roll as a slog that takes you away from your family---will be clear to all. These are musicians in their 40s who may have been a hugely influential act, but when we meet them in their lives pre-reunion, none of them are tooling around in limos. What's most charming is their reaction after the first gig of the warm-up tour at the legendary First Avenue club in Minneapolis---performed following rehearsals where they had to listen to their original recordings on iPods to remember how they went. Bassist Kim Deal, plunging her blistered fingers in a tub of ice, says through a huge grin, “That freaked me out!” They really had no idea that they would be hailed as conquering heroes. The band sold out the Brixton Academy in south London in a record time. Four shows went in less than five minutes each. And they sound great, no doubt. But what is also clear is why they didn't last the first time out. They're older now, and the maturity helps them manage, but I bet back in the day Deal and Black were at each other's throats, especially if a lot of self-medication was going on. Drugs continue to haunt the band even now, as do major issues with communication. They just don't talk to each other. Funny, Kim and Kelley Deal (who goes along for the ride as a producer of the doc and to keep her sister from falling off the wagon) are exactly as I expected them to be: Chain-smoking, a little fried, but really creative people.

Next was Parting Words. Now, I need to declare a moratorium (Can I do that? Fuck it, I will!) on movies about 30-something men who are emotionally stunted and can't seem to have a healthy relationship with women. And no, it isn't because I relate! This one is particularly irritating, because these three buddies who grew up in the same Catholic Brooklyn neighbourhood are all so fucking childish, they end every argument with “Go fuck yourself.” They're all in marriages with women who aren't much more in touch with what they want than the guys. The problem is their old friend Laura: Laura is dying, so at one of their weddings, she makes a drunken toast where she admits she wants to sleep with all of the guys before she goes. Naturally, this makes them sort of flip out, and their wives instantly hate her, if they didn't already. All I'm thinking at this point is that everyone in the film is a caricature. Edward Burns has been telling stories with these kinds of men in his films The Brothers McMullen and She's The One, but he actually writes funny and naturalistic dialogue that allows for some affection for the characters, even when they make really bad choices. The real moral of this story is that men and women can't be friends, because the guys have secretly wanted to sleep with their female childhood friends all their lives. That's more than a little twisted, painfully under-evolved and unfunny. Finally, I should say the film also looked really cheap and poorly lit, which helped not at all.

My first in the Late Night Series was Cocaine Cowboys. This is a documentary that feels like it was cut by someone actually on coke. Maybe spiked with a little speed. Its frenetic machine-gun approach certainly never bores, and neither does the subject matter. The film looks at the recent history of Miami, a city that in the late 50s had a single police car to cover a region the size of Rhode Island and in 1982 had over 600 homicides. It explores how this happened, how in the 70s the city had a massive influx of narcotics from Colombia, and everything was gravy until a drug war began in 1979 between the Colombians and the Cubans. Then Castro emptied his prisons onto the Florida beaches, and things got even more complicated. Anyone who thought Scarface and the recent Miami Vice movie were a little over the top should see this documentary. The truth of corrupt law enforcement, highly paid assassins and regular, highly lucrative drug shipments is bigger and scarier than can be imagined. In the early 80s, Miami was practically lawless. The dealers had a massive amount of power and influence, and they sunk big money into real estate, eventually building the cosmopolitan centre it is today. The documentary uses stock footage and interviews with former drug dealers and killers (some still behind bars) who tell their stories with enthusiasm. I don't think I've ever seen footage of so much illegal product, or so much money.


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