Saturday, May 31, 2008

Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers are (already) back, with their first release since they conquered the Oscars. Burn After Reading looks to be much more Big Lebowski than No Country, proving that one of the greatest things about this directing duo is their range. The new RED BAND trailer - meaning it's restricted and pushes the limits of censorship - is online. It doesn't look like the Coens' best, but given their immeasurable talent and the fiery hot cast, I'm in. Take a look:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Hello, my name is Fabulous"

At long last, the Fab Four are back to conquer the multiplex. Do they succeed? Read MY REVIEW to find out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack: 1934 - 2008

Director/producer/actor extraordinairre Sydney Pollack succumbed to cancer on Monday at the age of 73. The renowned Hollywood figure was responsible for some of the most celebrated films of the last few decades, both in front of and behind the camera.

As director, he was the man behind Tootise, Out of Africa and The Way we Were. As procucer, his credits include everything from Sense and Sensibility to The Talented Mr. Ripley. As actor, he was most recently seen in the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton and the Patrick Dempsey vehicle Made of Honor. For his full, impressive filmography, CLICK HERE.

"Heat" 2?

The trailer for Righteous Kill has hit the web, the film that marks only the second on-screen pairing of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro since Michael Mann's explosive Heat. This time, the two larger-than-life actors are directed by Jon Avnet, who's probably most famous for helming Fried Green Tomatoes, but is also responsible for Pacino's recent misfire 88 Minutes. Will Righteous Kill right that wrong and prove worthy of such a powerhouse match-up? You decide:

*I know what you're thinking: The Godfather, Part II, right? As is often overlooked, Pacino and DeNiro never shared any screen time in that film.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Kiddie Oscars of Summer

I can remember when I graduated from the MTV Movie Awards to the Oscars. It was some time around the turn of the century, just before a little film called The Lord of the Rings began conquering the world. Ironically, that movie was bridging the gap between the two entities, being the rare cinematic creation that appeals to serious film people and mainstream audiences. Now, every year, I smile when the MTV nominees are announced, because it reminds me of when I proudly became one of those serious film people.

Still, I thank the movie Gods for the existence of the MTV awards show. It's the only prominent cinematic celebration of the summer, giving cinephiles a little taste of awards frenzy in between Oscar seasons. Also, where else will one find fun categories like Best Kiss, Best Villain, and Best Fight. Many of the choices are laughable and completely dictated by ticket sales and the often half-witted MTV audience (National Treasure 2 for Best Movie? Seriously?!?). And like every other year, no matter how unseen or un-celebrated, any performance by an of-the-moment pop star is bound to sneak in (hence Chris Brown's Breakthrough nod for This Christmas).

This year is not unlike the time of LOTR, in which one of Oscar's darlings will likely walk away with top honors (Juno, and for that matter, Ellen Page). It's always interesting to see what kind of company top contenders from this past winter will be keeping in the summer (Javier Bardem up against...Topher Grace?). And if for nothing else, it allows previously snubbed hopefuls to earn a little more well-deserved recognition (Amy Adams and Denzel Washington, anyone?) At least young moviegoers are getting a little bit of culture. I may not watch the telecast (at least when it's broadcasted live on Sunday, June 1 at 8pm), but to be given another lineup of nominees, for an Oscar junkie, is undeniably fun. While a golden tub of popcorn doesn't hold a candle to a naked golden man, here are my picks (in bold) and predictions (in italics) for 2008's crop of hopefuls. Oh yeah, and Mike Myers is hosting again. Yawn.

Nominees for the "2008 MTV Movie Awards" are:

-- Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
-- Transformers (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount Pictures)
-- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Pictures)
-- I Am Legend (Warner Bros. Pictures)
-- Superbad (Sony Pictures)
-- National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Walt Disney Pictures)

-- Will Smith -- I Am Legend (Warner Bros. Pictures)
-- Shia LaBeouf -- Transformers (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount Pictures)
-- Denzel Washington -- American Gangster (Universal Pictures)
-- Matt Damon -- The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal Pictures)
-- Michael Cera -- Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

-- Ellen Page -- Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
-- Keira Knightley -- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Pictures)
-- Katherine Heigl -- Knocked Up (Universal Pictures)
-- Amy Adams -- Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)
-- Jessica Biel -- I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Universal Pictures)

-- Johnny Depp -- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks SKG/ Warner Bros. Pictures)
-- Denzel Washington -- American Gangster (Universal Pictures)
-- Angelina Jolie -- Beowulf (Warner Bros. Pictures/ Paramount Pictures)
-- Topher Grace -- Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures)
-- Javier Bardem -- No Country For Old Men (Paramount Vantage/ Miramax Films)

-- Johnny Depp -- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Pictures)
-- Adam Sandler -- I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Universal Pictures)
-- Jonah Hill -- Superbad (Sony Pictures)
-- Seth Rogen -- Knocked Up (Universal Pictures)
-- Amy Adams -- Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)

-- Matt Damon vs. Joey Ansah -- The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal Pictures)
-- Tobey Maguire vs. James Franco -- Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures)
-- Hayden Christensen vs. Jamie Bell -- Jumper (20th Century Fox)
-- Sean Faris vs. Cam Gigandet -- Never Back Down (Summit Entertainment, LLC)
-- Chris Tucker & Jackie Chan vs. Sun Ming Ming -- Rush Hour 3 (New Line Cinema)
-- Alien vs. Predator- Aliens vs. Predator -- Requiem (20th Century Fox)

-- Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer -- Disturbia (DreamWorks SKG)
-- Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey -- Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)
-- Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Leung -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros. Pictures)
-- Ellen Page and Michael Cera -- Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
-- Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman -- Step Up 2 The Streets (Touchstone Pictures)

-- Zac Efron -- Hairspray (New Line Cinema)
-- Seth Rogen -- Knocked Up (Universal Pictures)
-- Jonah Hill -- Superbad (Sony Pictures)
-- Michael Cera -- Superbad (Sony Pictures)
-- Chris Brown -- This Christmas (Screen Gems)
-- Nikki Blonsky -- Hairspray (New Line Cinema)
-- Megan Fox -- Transformers (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount Pictures)
-- Christopher Mintz-Plasse -- Superbad (Sony Pictures)

-- Iron Man (Paramount Pictures/Marvel Entertainment)
-- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount Pictures/Lucas Films)
-- Sex and the City: The Movie (New Line Cinema)
-- Speed Racer (Warner Bros. Pictures)
-- The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media)

* Nominees are chosen through a national poll of MTV and MTV2 viewers.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lackluster Blockbuster

Harrison Ford's still got it, but we've all been to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull before. Is it worth going back?

Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
3 stars
(out of 5)
by R. Kurt Osenlund

When word broke that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were planning on reviving their wildly popular Indiana Jones franchise, the first thought that came to my mind was no doubt buzzing through the brains of fans everywhere: can 67-year-old Harrison Ford still hack it as the iconic hero? Rather than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, titles like Hall of the Golden Walker seemed unsettlingly more appropriate. Thankfully, Ford fits very nicely back into that famous fedora. It's the rest of this new installment that feels like it's been around the block one too many times.

Crystal Skull delivers just what one would expect from an Indiana Jones movie, which is precisely the problem. The formula that worked so well for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 - and, arguably, for its sequels, The Temple of Doom (1984) and The Last Crusade (1989) – doesn't hold up so well in 2008, after so many other film predecessors have beaten the formula to death. Dr. Jones may be one of the originators of the cinematic outdoor adventure, but like all things that strive to sustain longevity, he has to be able to acclimate his trademark to changing times. Obvious plot elements and stock characters run through nearly every frame of Crystal Skull, moving it from comfortably familiar territory to tiresome, been-there-done-that land faster than the crack of a whip.

Set in 1957 - nearly twenty years after the events in Last Crusade - this new chapter unfolds during the height of the Cold War, pinning Indy against Soviets instead of Nazis. The film opens in a Southwest desert, where Jones and new partner Mac (Ray Winstone) have fallen into the hands of a Soviet army led by the evil Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett in “Natasha” mode). Spalko and her cohorts are in search of the Crystal Skull, a legendary object shrouded in mystery, which they hope to use to - duh - take over the world. Jones escapes their clutches, but returns to Marshall College (where he's still teaching – for now), to find more characters in pursuit of the Skull, like young greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). Mutt pitches to Indy his plan to find the idol, thus saving his kidnapped mother and honoring the professor who turned him on to the legend. From there, the two embark on a perilous journey that involves the usual creepy crawlies, cobweb-covered caves, and, oh yes, snakes!

Director Spielberg wisely stages the action to accommodate what can only be described as Ford's “age limitations.” Indy can still kick some serious butt, and the movie certainly isn't short on fight sequences, but many of them are shot so that Ford's naturally diminished physicality goes virtually unnoticed. As the new blood, LaBeouf's Mutt gets almost equal screen time, helping to carry the weight of the heroism and stepping up as a possible heir to the tomb-raiding throne. Karen Allen (who doesn't seem to have aged a day) reprises her role as Ark's Marion Ravenwood, only this time she's doubling as Mutt's mom under the name of Marion Williams (which eventually provides the answer to an only-too-obvious question). These are good characters, but David Koepp's script renders many of them cartoonish. In his first scene, Indiana is revealed the way any beloved character would be: a slow tilt, the rise of familiar music, a triumphant close-up. But once he begins to speak, he sounds more like a caricature of the action star than the man himself. And Blanchett's Spalko may as well have Boris standing alongside of her. It's understood that these movies are meant to be adventure comics come to life, but there are parts of Skull that feel as though some of that life has been sucked out.

The new elements that do pop up here are intended to refresh the series, but instead, feel oddly out of place. One of the foundational characteristics of the Indiana Jones films has been an earthly, archaeological theme, often tied with biblical and/or mythological legend. Not to give away any of its surprises (because there are very few), but Crystal Skull's narrative and the origins of its titular object are more Close Encounters than Raiders. Scientologists will likely rejoice, but devout fans of the franchise may feel like fish out of water.

Without recanting any criticisms, as a summer blockbuster, Indy 4 is a fun ride. It's family friendly, it's never boring, and it's bound to make a killing at the box-office. However, one can only enjoy the same ride so many times before it starts to feel stale. It's no secret that moviegoers are welcoming back Indiana Jones with open arms. Whether or not The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the way they had hoped to receive him is another matter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mischievous Marquees

Normally, you won't find any vulgarities here at MovieBuddy, just the occasional controversial element. But I couldn't resist giving a nod to these hilariously lewd signs, photos of which have now been cruising the web for many moons. Silly, goofball images like this crack me up anyway. Throw movies into the mix? Forget it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

After "The Fall"

Movie Review: The Fall
4 stars (out of 5)

Classic storytelling and dazzling contemporary visuals come together in The Fall, a new children's fantasy for adults from imaginative filmmaker Tarsem Singh (The Cell). The movie is being touted as having the support of directors David Fincher (Zodiac) and Spike Jonze (Adaptation.), both of whom got their start in music videos alongside their friend Tarsem (as he is preferably called). It could have just as easily been presented by Guillermo Del Toro, because at this point, the slightly dark fairy tale feels like it might just be this year's Pan's Labyrinth.

Set amidst the dawn of motion pictures in 1920's Los Angeles, The Fall stars Lee Pace (TV's “Pushing Daisies”) as Roy Walker, a movie stunt man who's hospitalized after a fall from a horse in an action sequence cost him the use of his legs. Literally adding insult to injury, Roy is also battling addiction and heartbreak (his sweetheart left him for the the film's lead star). Bed-ridden and depressed, he's got little to live for when he meets Alexandria (debut Romanian talent Catinca Untaru), a little girl who also suffered a fall, resulting in a broken arm. Seeing an opportunity in the impressionable child, Roy begins entrancing her with a fantastical adventure tale, in the hopes that she'll unknowingly assist in his suicide by stealing him morphine pills. He gets all Wizard of Oz as he incorporates hospital staff, fellow patients, Alexandria and even himself into his pirate/vigilante story of five bandits who collectively seek revenge on the aptly named Governor Odious, an evil dictator who wronged each of them in the past. Drawing from his own misfortunes (he makes his ex's new lover the villain) and information Alexandria discloses about her family, Roy's fable quickly becomes an allegory of the pair's lives, which, as the two continue to bond, grow increasingly dependent on one another.

Like the twisted fantasies of Vincent D'Onofrio's serial killer in The Cell, the real awe of The Fall comes from the images born from Roy's mind. They're taken to a much brighter place in this film, but Tarsem has not lost his touch in manipulating locations and colors to create set pieces that look like pristine installation art. He shot the film in 18 countries (including South Africa and India), subsequently making the setting of Roy's story a kaleidoscope of landscapes. There's a butterfly-shaped island surrounded by a sapphire-blue sea, open deserts of white and red sands (reminiscent of those inhabited by Jennifer Lopez in The Cell), palaces of gold and stone that feature towering staircases and a labyrinthine pit, and an approximately 80 ft., blood-red memorial tapestry that echoes the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

And Tarsem doesn't stop there. Everything from the costuming to the fight choreography in this picture is heightened to a visually arresting level and shot with a grace that's on par with the work of China's Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers). One of the bandits, identified as Charles Darwin and played by the same actor who plays the hospital's orderly, is outfitted in a vivid fur coat that looks like it was stolen from Cruella DeVil after PETA members doused her in red paint. The story's princess, played by Justine Waddell (Dracula 2000) who doubles as the duty nurse, wears gowns and headdresses in designs that seem to have leaped from the subconscious (the costumes are by Oscar-winner Eiko Ishioka, who also dressed Lopez in The Cell). No expense is spared in putting the fancifully-suited characters into action, either. In one macabre yet ravishing scene, a warrior is neatly supported by the dozens of arrows by which he was slain. In another, hundreds of Odious' black-clad guards close in on the heroes like ants to a crumb. It's the kind of eye candy that makes one feel sorrowful pity for the blind.

Though it lags in its midsection, and the intermittent whiny-ness of Untaru's acting verges on irritating, the only real problem with the The Fall is its undefined target audience. It may be tailor-made for the buzzing imaginations of youngsters, but its hefty amount of bloodshed makes it very adults-only. With the inclusion of multiple impalements, a character's martyrdom via explosives, and enough plasma that it's even used as paint, Tarsem may have shot himself in the foot. For what will no doubt excite the senses of serious film buffs could also fuel the nightmares of unsuspecting children. Still, regardless of what different viewers take away from it, The Fall is an aesthetic feast told in a fail-safe, old-fashioned style that may as well have pinned the lead characters around a campfire. If it marks the second installment of some Tarsem franchise of exciting, stylistic films that start with “The” and end in “ll”, you can bet I'll be in line for the third.
- R. Kurt Osenlund

The Wonder about Down Under

The official trailer for Baz Luhrman's Australia is now online! And guess who's got it for you, right here:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Cameron and Ashton Show

Who'da' thought? What Happens in Vegas is actually quite a blast - one of the most fun times to be had at theaters right now. Not to mention, I've been obsessed with this gorgeously lovable poster since its big reveal (I went ahead and removed all that pesky type).

The big reveal of my review is tomorrow - look for linkage in the Vault to the right.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely

This is the first review I've published within a post in months. Behold:

Review: Mister Lonely
3.5 stars (out of 5)
Playing: Select theaters (Ritz Theaters in Philadelphia, PA)

I tend to shy away from films that could be defined as “art for the sake of art.” Too often, semi-talented filmmakers who strive for eccentricity presume that whatever is caught by their camera's lens becomes art in the recording process. Not so, in my opinion. Cinema is a medium of storytelling, meant to operate in conjunction with its imagery. That said, I'm also a sucker for gorgeous photography. Put that same camera into the hands of a true artist - with similar intentions but a singular vision - and the result can be something exceptional and transfixing to watch. Despite its unique subject matter, writer/director Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely doesn't have a whole lot to say thematically that hasn't been said before (and with greater effect). But it's so beautiful in its presentation that I couldn't help falling under its spell.

The movie opens with the iconic Bobby Vinton song of the title. It plays as a man is riding a mini-motorcycle around a track, dragging a plush monkey with wings behind him (is it the monkey on his back, or the angel on his shoulder?). The man is Michael Jackson, but not the one you and I know. He's a celebrity impersonator, played by Diego Luna (the Mexican Robert Mitchum of Y Tu Mama Tambien and Criminal). Michael is a lost soul living paycheck to paycheck performing in Paris, until a gig at an old folks' home leads him to meet a Marilyn Monroe look-alike played by two-time Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (In America, Sweet and Lowdown). Marilyn invites Michael to her seaside castle in the Scottish Highlands, where impersonators like themselves congregate whatever impersonators do.

Michael accepts the proposal, and when they arrive at the majestic, fog-swathed location (via rowboat), he meets an entire commune of people living as famous figures. There's the Pope, the Three Stooges, Madonna, the Queen of England, James Dean, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn's husband Charlie Chaplin (French actor Denis Lavant), her daughter Shirley Temple (newcomer Esme Creed-Miles), and more. All of the characters go by and are called the names of their celebrity counterparts in the film, so there's no sense in saying that each is playing a role. They've all gathered to build a stage and put on spectacular, collaborative shows for an audience that may not even exist. The setting and events seem otherworldly and absurd, made all the more perplexing because they're inhabited by individuals pulled from popular culture. It's like a hippie acid trip populated by well-known faces of the twentieth century.

Running parallel to that narrative is a story about a convent of nuns deep in the jungles of Latin America who renew their faith in God when they discover that they can leap out of airplanes - sans parachutes - and land unscathed. Renowned auteur Werner Herzog makes a brilliantly hilarious appearance as the sisters' priest/pilot, who discovers their impossible abilities when one of them accidentally falls out of his private jet during a routine food drop over a needy nearby village and lives. The meaning and/or connection of the nun plot line to the rest of the movie is left entirely up to interpretation, but that should be expected from a film about a cult of impersonators living on a mountain top. Viewers will either be infuriated by the film's lack of cohesion, or embrace it as a legitimate artistic choice.

The highly controversial Korine (who also helmed Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, and wrote the scripts for Larry Clark's Kids and Ken Park) said in an interview that the side story was inspired by one of his dreams. His movie is dreamlike, alright. The random haphazardness of its jigsaw structure and its disturbing beauty are Lynchian in nature, reminiscent of the director's Mulholland Drive (right down to a scene with a red curtain and a flickering spotlight). Yet unlike David Lynch, and unlike Korine's previous work, Mister Lonely is neither dark nor foreboding. None of its characters appear to have any malicious intentions beyond the occasional selfish act. It's whimsical, funny, and happy and any discomfort arises only from the unfamiliarity of its many oddities. I'd describe it as Tim Burton's Big Fish for the even more art-house crowd.

The cinematography by Marcel Zyskind (who also shot Michael Winterbottom's Angelina Jolie vehicle A Might Heart from last year) is nothing less than breathtaking, and it steers the whole picture. There is little to take away from Mister Lonely as a text aside from it being a hallucinatory meditation on finding ones self, sprinkled with miraculous goings-on. It is understood that these people – Michael, in particular - cannot find peace with their own identities, so they take on those of others (most even display their subject's distinctive behaviors). There are also biblical references, from the nuns to the slaughtering of a herd of sheep, but none of it is so poignant as to cause any deep emotional response. It's the look of the film that achieves that, through vibrant color, handsome scenery, and exquisite composition. About halfway through, I gave up trying to decide what Mister Lonely was attempting to tell me, and reveled in what it was showing me. I submitted, drank the Kool-Aid, and joined the cult.

- R. Kurt Osenlund

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Iron Efficiency

Four past Oscar contenders - Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard - work together to make Jon Favreau's Iron Man one of the best superhero movies to ever grace the screen. Sleek, mature, and truly awesome, this new blockbuster benfits greatly from its casting, namely the somewhat vanguard choice of Downey Jr. as the lead.

Catch my review to learn more - CLICK HERE. Do it!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Far From a Horror Film

Brideshead Revisited may sound like the next teen slasher flick, but on the contrary, it's a lush literary adaptation based on the bestselling 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by English author Evelyn Waugh. It tells the story of a WWII Captain who gets increasingly involved with the members of the rich family who own the castle at which he's stationed.

It was made into a PBS miniseries in 1981, starring Jeremy Irons, John Gielgud, and the great Laurence Olivier. This new film version - directed by Britain's Julian Jarold - stars Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Greta Scacchi, Matthew Goode, and Perfume's Ben Whishaw as the lead characters. The trailer is great (it was brought to my attention by a fellow aristocrat who also appreciates classy cinema); here's hoping the film is too. Take a look:

Sunday, May 4, 2008

17th Philadelphia Film Festival

Last month, I had the privelege of covering selected events and screenings for Philadelphia's 2008 Film Festival. I had interned with the Film Society who puts on the show last year, so it was quite interesting to be on the other side - as press. The films I saw (4) ranged from very good to very draining, but the collective experience was one for the, the blogs.

Below is the link to my kick-off article, which covers the opening night festivities, including the opening night selection - the sweet, harmonious documentary Young@Heart. Following that is my wrap-up article, which has been pasted into the body of this post because the website where it could normally be found is apparently under some serious construction. No worries, it's been some time since I posted something really substantial and scroll-worthy. Enjoy.

Artist profiles highlight the 17th Philadelphia Film Festival:
One critic's coverage of selected events

by R. Kurt Osenlund

“There are over 500,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary, but we just want to focus on one tonight. Just one little word: thanks.”

So said Development Director Thom Cardwell to a packed crowd at Chestnut Street's Prince Music Theater on April 15, paving the way for the 2008 Phildelphia Film Festival's Closing Night celebration. It would be Cardwell's final audience introduction for the 17th annual event, in which he expressed his gratitude to guests, filmmakers, curators, staff, and volunteers.

“It takes a lot of people to put a festival together,” he said. “It's not a singular sensation.”

The evening, however, was just that – a sensational night of awards, of music, a night that would wrap-up nearly two weeks of showcasing nearly 250 films from around the world and the artists who helped bring them to the screen.

Cardwell mentioned at least two of those artists in his speech, The Deal star William H. Macy and What We Do is Secret director Rodger Grossman, both of whom were Festival guests. But many more gifted individuals were recognized during the Festival's 13-day run, including Artistic Achievement Award recipient John Leguizamo, Rising Star Award recipient Shane West, and the star of Closing Night herself, legendary folk-rocker Patti Smith.

Leguizamo graced Philadelphia film-goers with his dynamic presence on the night of April 10, when he accepted his award prior to a 7:00 pm screening (also at the Prince) of his film The Take, directed by Philly native Brad Furman. Flashing his razor-sharp grin and delivering hilarious one-liners not unlike those of his many screen counterparts, Leguizamo sat down on stage for a pre-show Q&A with longtime Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey. The Columbia-born, Queens-raised actor matched wits with Rickey, and answered questions about on-set quarrels with former co-stars, how he feels about the industry's representation (or lack thereof) of his culture, and what truly inspires him about showbiz.

“The passion that's behind people like Brad [Furman] is the reason I'm in the business,” he said. “[It's] people like me who are hungry to do great things that attract me to [it].”

The Take features Leguizamo in one of his meatier roles, as an armored truck driver who seeks revenge after a robbery nearly kills him and the aftermath tears his world apart. Shot in a guerilla style that effectively conveys its frantic tone, the movie plays like a cross between The Fugitive and Falling Down, but looks and feels like a '70's thriller. Though it suffers from a saccharine ending, it's an impressive feature debut for Furman, who was also on hand to thank his family, his friends, and his city.

“It's great to be home,” Furman said. “I wore my Philadelphia T-shirt.”

West also showed up at the Prince to claim his honor, just before a 7:00 pm showing of Grossman's What We Do is Secret, in which he portrays '70's punk icon Darby Crash. West is only the second recipient in the short, 2-year history of the Festival's Rising Star category, following 2007's debut honoree, actor Mark Webber. Rugged and down to earth, West expressed humility upon accepting the award, while also looking to the future of his career.
“It feels like this is kind of the beginning for me,” he said, observing the good ink his performance in Secret has earned him thus far.

Surely, the work West displays in the hard-rocking biopic of the hard-living Crash (and his band “The Germs”) is a far cry from the actor's earlier turns in teen fluff like 2000's Whatever it Takes and 2001's Get Over It. He digs deep – literally - into the skin of the bisexual, self-mutilating, and eventually, suicidal musician, whose death in 1980 was overshadowed by the far more public demise of John Lennon.

Rock star Patti Smith's life could also warrant one helluva musical biopic, but instead gets the documentary treatment with Steven Sebring's exhausting Patti Smith: Dream of Life, the Festival's Closing Night Selection. The film was unveiled just after local radio hosts Michaela Majoun and Robert Drake of WXPN gleefully announced the winners of the Jury and Audience Awards for the best of the fest, in 10 categories including Feature, Documentary, and Animation (for a full list, go to Sebring's entry, while relentlessly passionate for its subject, never had a chance to rank among them.

Hired by SPIN magazine to photograph Smith over 10 years ago, Sebring took the opportunity above and beyond the original job description, documenting the next decade of the musician's life on 16 mm. Dream of Life is the overly long, aimless, and haphazardly edited result of that documentation, which will leave everyone other than die-hard Smith fans scratching their heads and checking their watches. The definition of “art for art's sake,” Sebring's film demands way too much from the viewer, somehow managing to present one mundane sequence after another in the life of a woman whose interesting story deserved a much better platform on which to be told.
Thankfully, Smith made a crowd-pleasing appearance after the movie's credits rolled, righting all the wrongs of Sebring's misguided work with her wonderfully disheveled, kooky, and human stage demeanor. She brought the audience to its feet with a performance of her hit single “Because the Night,” and like Furman, she too paid tribute to her Philadelphia area roots.
“Infinite things [about Philadelphia] have influenced me,” she said. “Thomas Payne, Thomas Jefferson, William Penn, The Mummers' Parade, ...Scrapple. It's not just memories, it's part of who I am everyday.”

The Closing Night screening/performance was followed by the Closing Night Party, held at the luxurious Top of the Tower on the 50th floor of Arch Street's Bell Atlantic Building. Catered with a menu of hand-carved meats, featuring cocktails by P.I.N.K. Vodka, and fueled by tunes selected by DJ Robert Drake (moonlighting from his announcing gig), the bash ended the Festival with style.

“They've really rolled out the red carpet for us,” observed Grossman of the city's refined hospitality; and while not all of the films featured in the Festival were the best representations of their talents, artists like him were the highlights of a cinematic smorgasbord that continues to enthrall Philadelphians each year.