By Eric Campos | October 7, 2008

Let the Good Dick In
Early Saturday afternoon and I was all ready for some movie watching. Like I mentioned previously, I had already seen everything I needed to see for my jury duty, so I was a mad movie nerd on the loose. Now, here’s the thing about the Sidewalk schedule of films, especially this year as they reported a record number of programmed features crammed into a short weekend – when you go see one film, you’re usually sacrificing two or three others that you also really want to see because everything is playing on top of each other. This year’s Sidewalk program was more impressive than it’s ever been, in size and quality, but it could get frustrating, not to mention impossible, to try and see everything on your “must-see” list. This obviously happens to other weekend long festivals and it’s kind of a good problem to have – at least the program doesn’t suck.

With that being said, there was one movie that I absolutely had to see, no matter what was playing opposite of it, no matter what was going on.

“The Rock-afire Explosion”
A couple of months ago, Mary Anne Bargen, the producer I work with at Reelzchannel on the “Fanticipation” segments I’ve been posting here on the blogs told me about a trailer that was floating around the web for a documentary about the animatronic animal band – The Rock-afire Explosion – that played at Showbiz Pizza restaurants in the 80s. And so “The Rock-afire Explosion” became the first “Fanticipation” segment to stray from the bigger Hollywood fare we had been covering. We were stoked and I was even more stoked to discover, right after we were done taping that segment, that “The Rock-afire Explosion” would be playing Sidewalk.

A full review of the film will hit the site shortly, but for now just know that if you were a Rock-afire junkie when you were a kid, or are even a fan of crazy ’80s bullshit, then this doc does what you want it to do to you. It provides equal portions of history and fandom and it all blends together for this celebration of childhood fun. Total crowd pleaser!

“Medicine for Melancholy”
This film was so impressive that we wound up giving it the Best Director award on Sunday night. Okay, try this on for impressive – “Medicine for Melancholy” is about two San Francisco hipsters who officially meet one morning after having a drunken one night stand at a party the evening before, so then they decide to hang out all day and tour the city and we get to follow them around for the whole thing. Okay, here comes the impressive part – the movie is about that and it’s not annoying, boring, pretentious or generally awful – it’s a genuinely charming good time. Nothing incredibly remarkable happens – it’s just two people coming together to get to know and like each other – but the key is that they’re so likable and we’re not hit over the head with how cool they are. I, and my fellow jury members Skizz Cyzyk and Amy Dotson, believed that it took major filmmaking talent to make such a naturally entertaining film, thus the award to Barry Jenkins for Best Director. IFC has “Medicine for Melancholy,” so definitely keep an eye out for it in the near future.

“Good Dick”
This won’t come as much of a surprise to many of you, but I absolutely love “Good Dick.” Written and directed by Marianna Palka, who also stars alongside Jason Ritter, “Good Dick” is a unique romantic comedy in that as much as it charms you and draws you in with some genuinely amusing performances, it at the same time repels you with frank sexual dialogue and a highly uncomfortable relationship between its two main characters. Ritter’s character is this kind of wide-eyed innocent little boy, bursting with energy, who works at a video store. It is at the store that he meets Palka’s character who comes in every day to rent pornos. She looks to be a total hermit and you get the idea that she only ever leaves her apartment to rent porn and buy Big Gulps at 7-11. It should also be noted that neither character is given a name. Anyway, Ritter’s character takes a liking to this strange girl and starts forcing himself into her life until they’re both watching porn together in her living room… much to her reluctance. Putting these two together is a trainwreck and I couldn’t get enough of their abnormal chemistry. Definitely one of my top favorites of this year.

“Drag King”
Decided to show some love and support for fellow Film Threat writer, Don Lewis, and went to check out his film, “Drag King,” playing in the Shorts Docs block. There were about five or six films making up the entire block and they were a bit of alright, but programmed right in the middle of these mild-mannered little films was Don’s unruly eight minute hell on wheels that focused on a particular demolition derby that takes place in California (Alabamians were actually pissed, and shocked, they didn’t think of this first) where stock cars drag, not tow, boats behind them as they book it around a smoke-clouded race track – the object being to smash the hell out of the other drivers’ boats. It’s the kind of radness that’ll put hair on your bathing suit area, especially being that Don and crew really put you in the middle of the smash-up as they had cameras in some of the cars. While the other shorts were aiming to educate, maybe even change the world, Don’s simply aimed to entertain. I liked Don’s short the best.

“Let the Right One In”
Oofa! This one has been doing the festival rounds for a little bit now and it’s been cleaning up wherever it goes, if not in awards, then in praise – the kind of pee-pee pants fanboy praise that makes you wonder – come on, could a vampire movie be that good?

The answer is – f**k yes!

This Swedish horror movie at first introduces us to a young boy – Oskar, about 12 years old – who lives in a lonely, snowy apartment community and is picked on at school by a pack of bullies. Obsessed with thoughts of violent retaliation, Oskar is quickly distracted as a new family moves into the apartment next door to him and a part of that family is a young girl – Eli, also 12. The two form a very cute, natural, heart-warming bond… but then weird murders start taking place around town… and then there’s the whole thing about Eli being a vampire… and then… yeah…

Perfect. This movie is perfect. And later that evening at the party, instead of dancing and whooping it up with most everyone else, I was tucked away in a corner with several other movie nerds, all of us debating this movie that refuses to leave you alone after it’s done. It’s a visually and emotionally gorgeous film as it takes its time in building this relationship between Oskar and Eli, slowly meting out the gruesome vampire goods, especially in several key sequences that are delivered like sucker punches to the senses. You’ll be reeling for days, if not weeks. I’m still trying to get myself up off the mat.

And I will go as far as to say that this is the best vampire film I have ever seen. Word.

Thriller Night
The Saturday night party took place in some kind of cathedral… thingy. Bathed in red light and armed with a bar at either end of the dancing field, the place looked like an awesome version of Hell. It was nice and spacious for everyone to spread out and do what they needed to do. Very late into the evening, the DJ’s beats turned from Alabama indie hipster to R&B and the dancing began – the highlight being most of the crowd doing the zombie dance when “Thriller” was playing. Nobody was really in time with anybody else, but it was the thought the counted and it helped make the evening all the more memorable.

Morning of the Living Dead
Moving a little slow on Sunday morning… or afternoon as it were being that I had been out till about 5 in the morning. But by this time, I had been drinking such a steady stream of beer that it really wasn’t a hangover I was concerned with, but instead a general wearing down from festival activity. I started longing for home and my cat who was, I’m sure, lounging on our couch in his smoking jacket and watching late night Animal Planet. I was tired, but I pressed on – there were movies to see.

And in this documentary about the Miss Gay America Pageant I found the perfect cure for the common festival weariness. The film follows five drag queens as they compete for the Miss Gay America crown and in doing so we learn of their backgrounds, their passions and we get to see them strut their stuff for the judges and pageant audience. We’ve seen pageant docs before, so there’s nothing really new here, but it’s still really, really, really fun and, honestly – what’s more fun than a drag queen?

“Cook County”
And finally we come to what we, the jury, decided deserved the Best Narrative Feature Award. In “Cook County,” an absentee dad returns to his Texas home to see his teenage son who is living with his meth-crazed brother. It’s a rocky family reunion and one that’s surprisingly affecting considering the amount of drugged out filthiness going on in the film. “Cook County” doesn’t sensationalize the life of the speed freak, it doesn’t purty it up for the audience – it just shows us how unfortunate the situation is… and it also takes us down some really despicable roads that may be difficult to digest. “Cook County” isn’t a particularly easy movie to watch and that puts it right up my alley.

Baked Ham
I was feelin’ it pretty hard by the time I reached the awards ceremony, but was able to pull it together after a few beers and ended up partying into the night… well, ‘til midnight anyway. I had placed a cap on the evening’s activities in order to avoid another all-nighter, which I really didn’t need.

And so the Sidewalk was closed once again and I am happy that another batch of out-of-town filmmakers were able to experience Birmingham the way I have over the past few years. I love proving to people that I’m not crazy when I talk about how great the city and its festival is. Every year more and more people learn that Birmingham is the place to be for a rockin’ fest. Thank you to Catherine Pfitzer and crew for another year of high class fun. Here’s looking to another ten years.

For more about the festival, visit the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival website>>>

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