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Philly Film Fest Day Three: Taking on Grindhouse

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I'll be honest. I skipped out a little on the fest today to go see Grindhouse. Amazing stuff. Especially Death Proof. Threatened to overshadow the up-and-coming indies I was to see later in the day. But these two very different films held their own.

First up was Rocket Science, the first narrative feature from Spellbound director Jeffrey Blitz (and if you haven't seen Spellbound, stop reading this right now and buy, don't rent). I'm always interested to see what happens when a documentary filmmaker writes and directs his or her own feature. One assumes that a doc helmer has a pretty good handle on story as they have to cull a narrative from hundreds or even thousands of hours of footage, but can they handle dialogue? Can they work with actors? In the case of Blitz, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

Actress Lisbeth Bartlett introduced the film by asking who in the audience had ever had a fear of public speaking. Nearly every hand shot up. Blitz, she explained, not only had that fear as a kid, but had it coupled with a stutter, which he was reminded of during his public speaking engagements to promote Spellbound. So he decided to draw upon his own childhood experiences to tell the story of a kid with a disfluency who joins the high school debate team.

The result is a very charming, very moving, and very funny take on the coming-of-age flick which hearkens back to Lucas and Rushmore with its own unique flavor. It's coming out in August so keep your eyes peeled.  

I closed out the night, in the wee hours before Easter, with a movie about kee-raz-eee Christians, and no, I don't mean Alan Keyes, but that could make a good horror film, too.  Now, as a Christian, I was curious how I would react to a movie where the premise is, basically, that Christians are a pretty scary bunch, when you think about it. On the far Evangelical end you have all that shouting and gesticulating and praying in tongues and in many places wacko far right political intolerance. But in the end, any religious fanaticism is scary, and I think that's where End of the Line gets a lot of its potency.

This Canadian film starts out looking pretty bad. USA Up All Night bad, but not quite Sci-Fi Channel bad. And, to a certain extent, it does thrive on the schlocky zombie thriller aesthetic (any time you whip out the rubber fetus, you lose some credibility). But as the movie chugs along, the creep-out factor increases until you have a genuinely frightening and fucked-up chiller about zealots stalking non-believers through a subway system. In addition to the fairly surefire Fanatical-Christians-as-Army-of-the-Undead schtick it manages to throw in a few bigger scares into the mix (this is definitely the kind of film where the last two minutes make all the difference).  

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