CINEMA: Our Daily Film Fest Picks


WAGES OF SPIN (2008, directed by Shawn Swords, 68 minutes, U.S.)

One show only!  Starting the film with a title card defining “Payola”, Wages of Spin comes on like a cheap shot attempt to smear Dick Clark’s legacy from Philly’s American Bandstand heyday.  If the line of inquiry for the sea of graying talking heads shows an attempt to harvest sour grapes, Wages of Spin picks up much of its cantankerous personality from its stubborn half-century grudge with the former “World’s Oldest Teenager.” Wages of Spin‘s greater value though is in letting old hands like Ed Hurst and Wee Willie Weber tell the history of how rock and roll radio jumped over from radio to the TV screen, propelling the burgeoning youth marketing phenomenon to new heights.  Kids were given a corner of the broadcast medium in which to see themselves and mobs of them laid siege outside the Bandstand studios (and right in front we see Philly legend Jerry Blavat, a photo showing the teen Geator leading a protest for the return of Bandstand’s original host, Bob Horn).   Wages of Spin captures that fleeting moment when Philadelphia was the teenage capitol of the country. Did Dick game it for a buck? Absolutely, (they even apparently gave the musical acts checks that the performers had to sign straight back to the show) but it is far from the most interesting story in this low-rent but enjoyable music doc.–DAN BUSKIRK


Wednesday April 1, 6:45, I-House (with special guest CHUBBY CHECKER)



JURY DUTY (2008, directed by Edouard Niermans, 88 minutes, France)

When we meet Monsieur Duval he appears to be a nice older gentleman enjoying a day fishing with his drowsy friend.  Moments later he sneaks off and attempts to rape a young woman, who ends up dead.  Murder should be enough to alienate us from this tightly-wound little man but his nagging guilt and Edouard Nierman’s efficient direction pulls us into this conflicted murderer’s plight.  Set in the years of the French/Algerian war, Jury Duty shows an extra level of depth by examining how race and politics plays a factor in rounding up a culprit for the crime.  Jean Pierre-Darroussin gives an award-winning performance as Duval, who is forced to sit on the jury of a man accused of a crime he himself committed and the plot’s juicy possibilities are well-mined in this low-key yet satisfying French television production.–DAN BUSKIRK

Wednesday, April 1, 4:45 The Prince
Saturday April 5, 7:30, Ritz East 1

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MISSISSIPPI DAMNED (2009, directed by Tina Mabry, 120 minutes, U.S.)

The most exciting surprise of the festival so far has been this rich and unblinking look at an impoverished family’s struggles in the modern day South.  Shot with a casual beauty courtesy of cinematographer Bradford Young, Mississippi Damned concentrates on the sensitive younger daughter Kari (played by both Kylee Russell & Tessa Thompson) who observes her extended family as they deal with deep-cycle poverty and the stresses that it brings to all parts of their lives.  The film is busting with incident but the story isn’t what is most important here, it is what first-time director Tina Mabry sees that makes this riveting ensemble film one of the most original American debuts I’ve seen in some time.  Film has a way of defining people by their actions, Mabry’s intelligence and eye for detail shows an understanding of how community, landscape and politics shape and define its characters.  And how time molds its wounded survivors as well, as Mabry’s deceptively well-structured script jumps ahead from 1986 to 1998, letting us see how its characters are changed over time by momentary decisions made long ago.  Shot without a syrupy score to direct your emotions, the documentary feel of this film left me surprised to see that its cast is drawn from long-working actors with wide-ranging credits; I’d been guessing that Mabry was working with non-professionals portraying folks much like themselves.  Nope, it just part of the invisible artistry that gives Mississippi Damned the appearance of being the first rustling of a major new American filmmaker.–DAN BUSKIRK

Wednesday April 1, 9:15, Ritz East 1
Saturday, April 4, 12:00, Ritz East 1

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GOD’S FORGOTTEN TOWN (2008, directed by Juan Carlos Claver, 90 minutes, Spain)

At the opening of this odd Spanish thriller we meet Julia (a strong performance by Belen Lopez), a journalist traumatized by an experience she had while meeting a subject who believed she was being haunted by demons.  Lopez’s performance is so natural and compelling it is a shock when the film turns to being a quite ridiculous horror film about the ghosts of Nazi’s tormenting a Spanish town nearly seventy years after the war.  With the film’s quartet of good-looking leads delivering such textured performances you might think they would elevate the production.  Instead, they serve to underline how preposterous the film’s Indiana Jone’s-style drooling Nazi ghosts are.  With its historic ghosts and fable-like story, God’s Forgotten Town would like to evoke the gravitas of Pan’s Labyrinth, but it doesn’t have the visual pizazz needed to make us overlook the script’s corny ideas.–DAN BUSKIRK

Wednesday April 1, 9:30 Bridge
Friday April 3, 2:45, Ritz East 2
Sunday April 5, 9:15, Ritz East 2

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