Gasparilla Film Festival Recap

Last weekend I went to the ninth annual Gasparilla Film Festival, where I saw fourteen (!) movies, and that’s if you count blocks of short films as a single movie. There were way more hits than misses, and though it’s usually enough to just see one movie where I want to run around screaming, “OMG! OMG! You have to see this!!!” this festival had three of ’em: The Last Time You Had Fun, Spring, and Call Me Lucky. But there were plenty of great movies even beyond those three!

I was primarily there to see the short film The Wallet, because one of the stars is Susan O’Gara of Chomp fame. She plays a psycho lady in Chomp, and I’m sure you’ll all be very disappointed to hear that in The Wallet she does not discuss zombies, pick up a chainsaw, or lock anybody in a garage. It’s actually a touching film about lovers reconnected after decades. A chainsaw would’ve been superfluous.

On to the features. Because I don’t want any filmmakers to read this and say, “Yeah, well, Gave Up The Ghost wasn’t so great either, jerk!” I will only discuss the stuff I liked, which is almost all of it…

The Last Time You Had Fun – I really just wanted to see this one because it had stand-up comedian Demetri Martin in it. Turns out, it’s the funniest movie I’ve seen in at least a year. A morose, sweatpants-wearing father is convinced by his friend to go out to celebrate his official Divorce Day. Meanwhile, a pair of sisters are also out for an evening of attempting to force some fun into their lives. The two pairs meet at a wine bar, decide to continue the evening together, and wacky hijinks ensue…but not TOO wacky, since this is primarily a character piece. Though the more over-the-top elements (including an extended effort to herbally enhance their night) are hysterically funny, the movie also earns its slightly more serious moments. The kind of crowd pleaser that really deserves a wide theatrical release. I enjoyed every second of it.

Spring – One of my very first film festival discoveries, many years ago, was an extremely obscure shot-with-a-camcorder movie called The Robert Cake. So it was very cool to see the star of that movie show up in a supporting role early in this one. Spring is a romantic horror film…well, actually, it’s a love story with horror elements. And it’s also a dark comedy. Brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and one of the best movies (not just horror) I’ve seen since…okay, I guess Blood Punch from the Nevermore Film Festival (which I have yet to recap because I suck) wasn’t that long ago, but trust me, Spring is fantastic!

Call Me Lucky – A documentary by Bobcat Goldthwait about comedian Barry Crimmins, who was one of the first comedians to do deep political humor. (As opposed to, as the film states, “Gosh, Dan Quayle sure is dumb!”) Halfway through, the movie takes a sharp left turn into very dark, disturbing territory. One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, and Bobcat Goldthwait (who was there) seems to have a great sense of humor about the fact that most people still know him as the screeching guy from the Police Academy movies.

Ben’s At Home – Tired of the club scene, Ben decides that he never wants to leave his house again. This makes his life significantly better. Then it starts to mess things up. An extremely funny movie with a charming cast, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and accept that he wouldn’t just decide to leave his house less often instead of altogether. A Canadian film that was part of the World Showcase programming, making me think of the South Park movie: “It’s a foreign film! From Canada!”

Milwaukee – When a group of friends (three couples and a single guy) get together for a weekend, they’re convinced by the newcomer to the group to go with a “everybody has the freedom to do whatever they want” approach, with “Milwaukee” as the safe word for if somebody is uncomfortable. It ends up, oddly enough, not being a free-for-all of happy unrestrained hedonism. Yet another very funny film with a charming cast that works in its serious moments as well as the humorous ones.

Posthumous (the feature, not the short film with the same title that also screened here) – An unappreciated-in-his-time artist fakes his death (well, doesn’t correct the mistaken belief that he is dead) and the value of his work skyrockets. Much less a satire than a romantic comedy, but it gets points for not having what Roger Ebert called “The Idiot Plot,” where all of the problems would be immediately solved if the characters weren’t idiots. In this case, key characters figure things out pretty early on. A fun, light, entertaining movie.

Wildlike – A teenaged girl living with her uncle in Juneau, Alaska (I grew up in Fairbanks) runs away for a very justifiable reason. She latches onto a middle-aged man who is beginning a long-distance hike. The acting and writing are excellent; the girl’s reaction to the abuse shows up in believable ways, the hiker is a very nice guy who wants to help her but is also trying to enjoy his vacation, and the uncle never stops being a surface-level pleasant guy, even though he’s a monster. And the movie gets the Alaska stuff right. Remember 30 Days of Night, where apparently Alaska just suddenly goes from normal-length days to a month of all-darkness? Hee hee hee!

Error in the Menage – I actually saw this back in December at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival (which I have yet to recap because I suck). The fact that I went to see it again is an indicator of its entertainment value. A guy’s ultimate fantasy is about to come true, but before the title of the movie even appears on the screen, it goes awry. A dark comedy/thriller with plot twists galore.

Eadweard – The tale of Eadweard Muybridge, a turn-of-the-century (not Y2K) photographer who became obsessed with sequential photographs capturing movement, and then decided that everybody in his pictures should be naked. So if you’re thinking, “Aw, I don’t want to see a historical drama about a man slowly driven to insanity over his obsession with sequential photography!” note that there are plenty of nekkid people in it.

The Well – It stopped raining years ago. So almost everybody is dead. At the time I watched this, I was on my sixth movie of the day, and it was midnight, and I hadn’t gotten that much sleep the night before, and I was kind of thinking, “Okay, The Well, you’re welcome to end any time now!” A week later, fully rested, it’s a perfectly good post-apocalyptic flick.

X/Y – According to the program, this was X+Y, a movie about kids at a math competition. As a volunteer helpfully informed the audience before the film began, this was actually X/Y, a very, very different movie. In this one, the characters have lots of sex and there is no discussion whatsoever about mathematics.

I also went to one of the parties, but by the time I got there it was pretty much over, which was nice because I don’t like parties.

Overall, a spectacular selection of films and a fantastic weekend.

And, yes, I’m still going to recap the Nevermore Film Festival. I’m not on a book deadline right now, so I have no excuse.

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