The 2008 Atlanta Film Festival has ended, and already the film world of North Georgia is less exciting. The awards have been announced and, in my opinion, almost none make sense — which makes this festival fairly typical of all film competitions, large and small. Nevertheless, my review of the event itself is overwhelmingly positive. Again, there is no way to cover everything, so here are a few more recommendations.
‘Son of Rambow’
This quirky, endearing, coming-of-age movie should be coming to a screen near you, and I couldn’t recommend it any more highly.
The story is set in 1980s England and takes place over the course of a school year. Pre-teen Will (Bill Milner) is being raised by his mother (Jessica Hynes) among the fundamental Christian community The Brethren. Will has a vivid, hyperactive imagination, partly because he is so sheltered from the outside world. Will forms an unlikely friendship with kleptomaniac bully Lee Carter (Will Poulter), whose dream is to win a national film competition.
Inspired by the film "Rambo: First Blood," the two boys attempt to make their own Rambo-style movie. They creatively use all sorts of objects as props and perform their own stunts (you definitely don’t want to show this movie to children young enough to think they should copy what the characters do). To begin with, the boys have little in common other than the deep wounds of growing up fatherless, but that of course changes as the film plays out.
This is the kind of independent film you cheer for. Director Garth Jennings ("Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy") and producer Nick Goldsmith attended the festival, and since the film will open the same week as "Iron Man," they joked that their film would "kick ‘Iron Man’’s butt!"
"Son of Rambow" will never earn more than one of the summer’s biggest-budget, comic-based films, but, gee, it would be nice if we lived in a world where that was a possibility.
‘Priceless’ (‘Hors de prix’)
"Priceless" is the French version of a big-budget summer comedy. The film has already made its way around the world during the past year and is just now hitting American screens in limited release only. Which means for those of us in North Georgia, this is most likely a DVD pick.
Beautiful but materialistic gold digger Irène (Audrey Tautou) mistakes hotel bartender Jean (Gad Elmaleh) for a wealthy playboy. She makes him her next mark, and quickly finds out that she has left her sugar daddy for a poor man. Jean is persistent, though, and enters Irène’s jet-setting lifestyle just to be near her. Romance and comedy result.
Tautou gets to break away from her innocent "Amélie" persona and play a despicable seductress, and it works. Elmaleh steals the show, though, with deadpan comedic expressions reminiscent of Buster Keaton. It’s a predictable yet tasty summer cocktail.
‘Dance of the Dead’
This zombie comedy was the hometown favorite of the festival. Director Gregg Bishop and most of the leading cast are from Georgia. Shot almost entirely in Rome, it seems half the town either appeared in the film or supported the production in some way.
As independent films go, it’s an epic production. They used hundreds of extras wearing sophisticated make-up and prosthetics, and they spent what little money they had on first-rate special effects for key moments. "Dance of the Dead" isn’t quite as good as "Shaun of the Dead" or the classic "straight" zombie movies, but it will make you laugh and it maintains a break-neck pace beginning to end (the mere fact that I’m comparing it to films on that scale should tell you something). It’s destined to become a cult favorite and will likely launch the careers of many talented Georgians (including Gainesville High’s own Chandler Darby). It deserves every bit of the support it’s been getting throughout the South.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.