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Chasing a 'Whale' in Lake Placid 

For some reason, Fate has seemed determined to keep me from the Lake Placid Film Forum. I didn't even know about the first Forum, in 2000, until it ended. In 2001 I was all set to go but got run over by a truck instead. Last year, the Forum ran opposite the World Cup, and let's be frank: The World Cup takes precedence over everything.

            I finally made it for the fourth annual four-day Forum, which wrapped up this past Sunday after a few soggy days of screenings, panels, discussions, and book signings. Here's a quick recap of how things went down in the Adirondacks:

Day one (Thursday)

Arrived in what appeared to be a ghost town at 3:30 a.m. and spent about 30 minutes searching for my hotel while praying my bladder remained intact. Woke up in time for the big opening night film, which may find its way to Rochester for this fall's ImageOut Fest. Camp, a strange blend of Wet Hot American Summer and But I'm a Cheerleader, is about a young man (Daniel Letterle) who shakes things up at a summer camp for future Broadway stars. In other words, he's the only straight boy there (and the sports counselor is very bored). A lot of the show-tune references went way over my hetero head, and Camp ran long at nearly two hours. But Stephen Trask's score here was just as catchy as his work in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

            The only other screening on Thursday turned out to be the best picture of the entire Forum (and just about everyone else agreed, as it took home the Silver Deer for the audience's favorite). Whale Rider, which is scheduled to open at the Little Theatre the week of Independence Day, is not only the most magical film since Amélie, but also the best water-related cinematic fable since The Secret of Roan Inish.

            Rider is set in New Zealand and follows the life of a young native girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes) who would find herself in the unique position of being her tribe's next chief, if only she had the requisite outdoor plumbing. To make matters worse, both her twin brother and mother died during the birth, and her mourning father hit the road, leaving the poor thing to be raised by her uncompromising grandfather. Perhaps the most beautiful picture of the year to date, and definitely home to the finest performance by an unknown actress.

Day two (Friday)

Warmed up by screening three consecutive hour-long programs of shorts, including our own Matthew Ehlers' hysterical Autobank, which is a blast to watch in a packed theatre when you already know the payoff. There was also one called The Long and Short of It, which Sean "Don't Call Me Rudy" Astin made while shooting The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You won't see Gandalf or Smeagol, but astute eyes recognized Oscar-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie as the lead, as well as Rings' director Peter Jackson, who briefly appeared as a bus driver.

            Next up was The Heart of Me, a dreary Brit romantic tragedy about two sisters (Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams) in love with the same lucky guy (Paul Bettany). Bonham Carter's presence brought to mind the far superior threesome pic Wings of the Dove, though I did appreciate this picture's ability to make its two naturally attractive actresses look considerably less so at certain points during the topsy-turvy story. Based on Rosamond Lehmann's novel.

            The Polish brothers' '50s-themed Northfork, about a small Montana town being evacuated so the whole dusty place can be turned into one big lake to drive up the property values, plays like a lightweight movie by two better-known brothers (read: Coen). The flick is full of zany characters, including a guy with an ark, a dog on stilts and a dying orphan who might actually be an angel. Still, it's way better to be a Coen brothers knockoff than a sequel to The Fast and the Furious.

            Bounce Ko Gals reminded me a lot of a film I saw in Toronto a couple of years ago called Scout?Man, which was about the seedy profession of standing on a busy street corner in Japan and conning innocent girls to do naughty things for lots of money. Where Man was about the men, Gals focuses on the girls (duh!), who sell their soiled panties to dirty old men with lots of money. The girls do a lot worse, too, which makes this film kind of depressing, even with a surprisingly uplifting finale that gives viewers the impression Japan's underground sex industry is full of friendly do-gooders with hearts of gold. And I'm pretty sure it ain't.

            While many perverts at the Forum went to the midnight screening of Larry Clark's Ken Park (it's art porn), this pervert opted for Takashi Miike's equally disturbing Visitor Q because I had already seen Ken Park. Anyone familiar with Miike (his Happiness of the Katakuris screened at our High Falls Film Festival last fall) knows what to expect here. The titular Q brings order to a very dysfunctional family (by bashing the patriarch in the head with a rock), which naturally leads to all the lactating and necrophilia you can stand. Hopefully.

Day three (Saturday)

I had never heard of Southern author Larry Brown (he wrote the book that became Forum feature Big Bad Love) and didn't really cotton to the idea of learning about him or dragging myself out of bed to make the 10:30 a.m. start time of The Rough South of Larry Brown. But I did it anyway, mostly because I had read that writer-director David Gordon Green and cinematographer Tim Orr (All the Real Girls) had something to do with it. They did, taking part in shooting reenactments of three of Brown's early short stories, and it was all scored by Vic Chestnutt, too. Now I suddenly like this Larry Brown guy, even if he won't be coaching the 'Sixers next year.

            Nosey Parker was one of those films that sounded cheesy, fit really well into my schedule, and ended up being very entertaining. It's about a New Yorker who moves to Vermont, refurbishes a giant old house, and becomes best friends with one of the gossipy locals, who looks like one of the old ushers at Silver Stadium. Silver Deer Doc winner What I Want My Words to Do to You, a documentary about a writing program at a women's prison, started out as a whiny blame session but eventually evolved into a series of emotional stories. Well, mostly emotional --- I'm still not buying Pamela Smart's tale.

            Shane Meadows' Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, the final picture in his Nottingham trilogy, was kind of disappointing, but it did feature Robert Carlyle doing his full-on Scottish thing (though I think a lot of his dialogue went flying over the heads of most audience members because they weren't laughing at the funny parts). He plays a lowlife who tries to get his woman (Shirley Henderson) back after her new boyfriend (Rhys Ifans) proposes to her on national television. Also, Ricky Tomlinson plays a country music star called Charlie Nashville, so it's still worth seeing if only for that.

            And finally, German import Tattoo, a weird hybrid of Silence of the Lambs, Seven, and Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, creeped everyone right the hell out, and not just because the senior half of the veteran cop-rookie cop tandem looked just like Daniel Benzali. Did you see The Pillow Book? It was about turning a dead guy's tattooed skin into a book, for chrissake. And this is even freakier. I'd tell you how, but I'm out of space.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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