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Philly Film Fest 2008 – Day 10: Philadelphian Teen

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(In case you were wondering what happened to Day 8, it was a day of rest so that I wouldn’t grow to hate movies and everything they stand for.)

Son of Rambow was my most anticipated film of the fest. After hearing the film's geektastic premise – two boys decide to remake First Blood – and the accompanying Sundance love, I was hooked. It did not disappoint.

Writer/director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith (known collectively as Hammer and Tongs) take all of the things that worked about their feature film debut, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and jettison everything that didn't. What's left is absurdist humor mixed with the sweetness of a kid's film that (unlike some I could mention) entertains sans treacle.

Bill Milner plays Will Proudfoot, a sheltered young boy growing up in 1980's England. He meets his school's Bart Simpson, Lee Carter (Will Poulter), whom he insists on calling by his full name (e.g. "That was great, Lee Carter!"). It's endearing.

Turns out, Lee's making a film to enter into a BBC young filmmaker contest. He recruits Will to be his stuntman. Having just seen his first movie against his mother's wishes (his religion forbids it), Will is all for it. That movie, of course, is First Blood.

Son of Rambow captures all the energy a film can infuse in a little boy. Especially a little boy without a lot of friends and a huge imagination. Having some experience with that, I can tell you they get it right. But the film is great for a hundred other reasons besides that, and you don't have to be a film geek to fall in love with it.

By the same token, you don't have to have grown up in the Philadelphia school system (I didn't) to be heartbroken by the next film I saw, First Person. Six Philly teens in the public school system here were given camcorders and asked to document their junior and senior year as they apply for college. What follows is pretty much what you'd expect from a system where 78 percent of students expect to get into college but less than half actually do.

It's one thing to know a school system is bad, but it's another to actually live it through these students' eyes. The only thing I can fault the film for is occasionally poor sound quality, since I really wanted to hear what these kids have to say.

It's also interesting to watch this film in the same fest as American Teen. It's like two different countries.

The filmmaker, Benjamin Herold, has actually started a scholarship fund in the film's name.

Next: Three Hong Kong filmmakers walk into a tea house. 

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