Magical Universe


Even in black and white Al Carbee's world is full of magic.

Even in black and white Al Carbee’s world is full of magic.

(2013) Documentary (Wheelhouse) Al Carbee, Jeremy Workman, Astrid von Ussar. Directed by Jeremy Workman

Florida Film Festival 2013

Art means different things to different people. Some prefer the more traditional, others the Avant Garde. Some people will take two blocks of wood, nail them together and proclaim it art. Others will nail those same blocks of wood to their head, film it and proclaim it art. There are some who think that it isn’t art if it isn’t challenging you or pushing your boundaries.

Al Carbee thought a lot about art and the artistic process. You see, he had this thing about taking pictures using Barbie dolls as models. His late wife never really understood it and was actually kind of embarrassed about it but Al just kept things on the down-low. He created these elaborate environments for his pictures and created collages with them. They began to look more and more like art.

Jeremy Workman, a young filmmaker, was vacationing with his girlfriend Astrid von Ussar in the area around Saco, Maine when he got a call from a newspaper editor friend telling him about Carbee, so Jeremy went and shot some video of Al and his work. He made a documentary short called Carbee’s Barbies which you can Google – I believe it’s available on YouTube and if not, he shows it in its entirety during the film.

In most cases like this, that would be the end of it but Jeremy and Astrid continued to correspond with Al who’d send long, rambling letters, sometimes with pictures. Soon the idea came up for Jeremy to do a feature film on Al. Jeremy was agreeable and began to do just that. He showed some of the early footage to Astrid who to his surprise was not very happy. “You’re making him look like a crazy person,” she admonished sternly, “You need to put Al in there.” And she was right, Jeremy realized.

Frankly put, it’s pretty easy to go down that road. On the surface of things, Al is pretty much a whacko and I leaned over to Da Queen several times and said so. To her credit she said nothing and held her opinion to herself (until after the movie of course – Da Queen isn’t shy about sharing her opinions with me or anyone else for that matter). As the movie progresses you get quite a different opinion of Al than just a lonely old man playing with dolls.

Much of the film is wrapped around an exhibition of Al’s work at the local art museum, an event which really seemed to vindicate Al and bring him some satisfaction. It’s not that he needed an audience for his work – he mostly made it for himself I suspect – but to be validated as an artist, to be told his pictures have some value. That was important to him.

Throughout the time that Jeremy knew him Al was having money troubles. He was deeply in debt and had to improvise his environments using whatever he could find. Most of his Barbies were found in thrift stores and at tag sales (that’s New England for yard sale or garage sale if you’re reading this on the West Coast).

Although Al had made substantial renovations to his home, they were almost all his own handiwork and to a certain extent somewhat Winchester Mystery House-like in their layout – the house is described as something of a labyrinth by one of the few who were given access to the inner sanctum (Al had also dug a cavern in which he placed Barbies in an atmosphere that was described as “magical.” Unfortunately, Al passed away a few years ago after a brief illness and his landlord, who had waited with baited breath for Al to go, bulldozed the property and much of his art (although his nephew apparently saved quite a bit according to Workman). Mostly, this film remains as a testament to what he accomplished.

Da Queen thinks he’s an artistic genius and maybe he is. I’m really not going to make that determination; that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. What I can say is that this documentary takes you inside his world, allows you to experience his art and more importantly, allows you to experience the man as well. In my book, that makes this a crackerjack documentary that is worth seeking out and given the glut of documentaries out there that don’t even do that, that’s pretty solid praise.

REASONS TO GO: Not your standard documentary. An interesting look at the creative process.

REASONS TO STAY: Some people might be uncomfortable with the concept (hopefully they’ll watch the film and come to a different understanding about it however).

FAMILY VALUES:  While the concept of an old man taking pictures of Barbie dolls – some without clothes – is a bit creepy, there isn’t anything here I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting a kid watch.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Workman has directed several documentary features and shorts, he is best known in the industry as an editor for which he has an Emmy nomination (in 2002 for the Oscar telecast).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/19/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; the film made its world premiere at the Florida Film Festival and will doubtlessly be hitting film festivals around the country for the foreseeable future.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Universe of Keith Haring

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: 42

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2013 Florida Film Festival


Florida Film Festival 2013Although there are a few more films yet to be screened as I write this, at last for me the Florida Film Festival has come to an end for another year and in all honesty I have to admit that this one from my standpoint was the most successful one yet. Although I have enjoyed every one I’ve been to thus far, at this one I had more fun, met more new friends and saw more great movies than ever. There were several that took me by surprise (i.e. I Declare War, Magical Universe both of which have reviews pending) as well as a few that were as good as any films we’ve seen at the festival (Forgotten Kingdom, This is Where We Live).

We got to meet Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and who is appearing in Free Samples and at 83 years old she’s as beautiful and alluring as women half her age, as well as Cary Elwes, star of The Princess Bride who was as gracious and as charming as any star I’ve met. I also got to hobnob with indie filmmakers ranging from Oscar winner Bill Plympton to newcomers Marc Menchaca, Jeremy Workman and Joe York. All of them have terrific careers ahead of them.

So it is with some bittersweet feelings that I write this closing piece on the Festival. Work will begin shortly on the 23rd FFF for 2014. Still, as the army of volunteers heads home and the staffers at the Enzian take down the decorations, the tents, the tables and the posters, those of us who attended can applaud the hard work of all those who put the Festival together and kept it running smoothly. Special thanks to Enzian press relations queen Jennifer Guhl, box office manager Adam Kelley, program director Matthew Curtis, Enzian president Henry Maldonado, projectionist and general tech guy Joshua Martin, and the box officers, servers, bartenders, ticket takers and line managers that kept a smile on their face and a can-do attitude despite near universal exhaustion on all their parts. I’d like to particularly single out Adam Smith, Danielle Best, Will Reddy, Mark Yancey, Christina Lucero and Anna Wallace for making my experience even better through their unfailing good humor, willingness to assist an occasionally grumpy press guy and to do that hoodoo that they do so well.

I honestly hope you made it to this year’s festival. If not, do make plans to go next year. I know it’s a bit of a gamble going to movies you know nothing about, but the producers of the Festival take a lot of the worry out of it – the movies they pick for the festival are really, really good and there were so many of them that I couldn’t fit them all in during the run of the festival so for the next few weeks you’ll be seeing more festival film reviews even though the actual festival is over – and those I didn’t see will still proudly bear the Festival logo when I do get around to seeing and reviewing them.

So once again a very heartfelt thanks go to everyone involved with the 2013 Florida film festival, and congratulations are due all of them for an extraordinary job well done. Believe me, every sleepless night, every tired and aching muscle, every minor panic attack was worth it for all the joy you brought to the festival goers and the exceptional reflection you all were on Central Florida. I’ll be seeing you at the next one.

Florida Film Festival 2013


Florida Film Festival 2013

The Florida Film Festival will be returning from April 5 through April 14. As in years past, Cinema365 is proud to cover our local film festival and this year will be bigger and better than any year before, with 173 features and short films taking up screen time. Voted one of the 50 best film festivals in the world, it’s different than the industry shmoozefests that are Sundance, Tribeca and TIFF. Those are places where filmmakers go to make a deal. FFF is where they go to mingle with the audience. There is an intimate feel that is missing from some film festivals where there is so much going on that you’re exhausted from day one. There is a more leisurely pace here but even so by the 14th you may well be reaching your limit.

The guest of honor this year is legendary Hollywood actress Tippi Hedren who will be honored with a screening of her classic film The Birds. She’ll be on hand to answer qustions, some of which hopefully will be about her new film Free Samples which will also be playing at the festival. These events always sell out so you won’t want to wait too long before getting your ticket. Also attending the festival will be renowned stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell who will be on hand for a screening of Deathproof, the Quentin Tarantino-directed half of Grindhouse.  She’s done some of the most amazing stunts of the past decade so you won’t want to miss that either. Finally for those of a more romantic bent, the Festival will have Sunday brunch on the 14th with a screening of one of my all-time favorites The Princess Bride with star Cary Elwes in attendence. This promises to be an unforgettable event and, like the other celebrity appearances, is likely to sell out early.

But a film festival is all about, well, films and as usual there are a plethora of exciting entries at this year’s festival. While I’m not going to preview them all here, I will give you some films that I think are worth looking out for. The opening night slot is always a big deal at any film festival and the FFF is no different. This year the honor goes to Twenty Feet from Stardom, an acclaimed documentary that drew raves at Sundance earlier this year. For those who love classic rock and roll, the film focuses on the backup singers who share the stage and recording studio with some of the biggest stars and on the biggest hits of all time. It’s an amazing get up and dance kind of movie that is bound to have opening nighters boogaloo-ing in the aisles. Opening night is another event that sells out early so you’ll want to order your ticets as soon as you can.

Unfinished Song stars Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave in a film that reminds me a little bit of Young @ Heart, about a grumpy senior whose life is transformed by singing in a chorus. Lore takes place at the end of World War II in occupied Germany when a group of children whose parents were arrested as Nazis try to make their way across the country to their grandmother’s. Renoir is the story of the love triangle between the great Impressionist, his son and his model slash muse. It looks achingly beautiful. Mud stars Matthew McConaughey , Reese Witherspoon and Sam Shepard in a thriller about a couple of kids who befriend a man on the run from the law, who is haunted by the woman who may have inspired him to do wrong.

V/H/S 2 is the sequel to the hit indie horror anthology and should be packing them in at midnight showings. So too should Cockneys vs. Zombies, a East End-set zombie flick that looks to be a worthy successor to Shaun of the Dead with a wicked sense of humor that had preview audiences laughing til they screamed. Starbuck is a French-Canadian film about a man who is ready to be a father of his girlfriend’s child although she is none too certain about his paternal skills. Matters aren’t helped when it is discovered that as a repeated sperm donor back in the day he had wound up fathering over 500 children. I’m sure his tie collection will be legendary.

SOMM is a food documentary chronicling the difficult process of becoming certified as a master sommelier. In the music realm Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me and AKA Doc Pomus look back at legendary figures in classic rock and roll while Bad Brains: A Band in DC looks at one of the most influential punk bands of all time.

The narrative competition films have some real promising entries this year, with The Forgotten Kingdom following a young man’s journey to reconnect with his family in Leostho, Putzel which is a different kind of romantic comedy (I know a lot of rom-coms claim that but this one really looks like the real deal), The History of Future Folk which has the daft premise of an alien invasion which goes awry when the aliens decide to become folksingers, All the Light in the Sky in the meantime follows an aging actress who is watching her indie career dwindle as younger actresses nab the roles that once went to her. Nancy, Please is a terrifying thriller about the roommate from Hell who goes to extreme lengths to reclaim the book she left behind and Be Good which observes new parents adopting to their changing roles.

The documentary competition is equally impressive with Year of the Living Dead which looks back on the lasting impact of George A. Romero’s legendary Night of the Living Dead while Magical Universe explores the bizaare world of artist Al Carbee’s Barbie-centric art. Shepard and Dark explores the unique and moving friendship (mostly expressed through correspondence) between actor/playwright Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark who was at one time married to the mother of Shepard’s wife. Informant traces the path of Brandon Darby from respected activist to FBI informant while Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story traces the career of revolutionary children’s book illustrator Tomi Ungerer.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Films like 8 1/2, Sleeper, The Sting and Pulp Fiction will also be screened as well as a plethora of foreign films, short films, documentaries, narrative features, family films and animated shorts. Individual tickets will go on sale on March 17th (this Sunday) although you can still buy passes and packages of five, ten and twenty vouchers which can be redeemed for individual films right now. For more details on the festival, ticket purchase information and directions to the festival venues, click on the logo above which will take you right to the Festival website. That same logo will appear on all festival film reviews even after the festival is over.

It should be noted that nearly every year since I started attending this event my number one movie on the year-end countdown has played at the Festival. Some of the films that have played here have gone on to commercial success (The Blair Witch Project) or Oscar nominations (Winter’s Bone). While there are no guarantees, I can tell you that this is one of the best-curated festivals that I’m aware of and the overall quality of the films that play it are nothing short of spectacular.

Enzian president Henry Maldonado liked the Festival to a gathering of friends, not unlike a reunion and he’s right. The atmosphere at the Festival is like none other I’ve experienced. Part of that is due to the bucolic scenery at the Enzian itself (although the atmosphere at the neighboring Regal multiplex in Winter Park Village where many of the screenings take place is no less idyllic) but most of the credit goes to the staff, volunteers and the attendees themselves. This is the kind of thing that loses something in the translation but once experienced for yourself will hook you for life. Even if I were to move out of the Orlando area, I’d come back every year for the FFF. I hope I’ll see some of my Orlando-area readers at the Festival; those who can travel to come see it should make the effort to do so. This is no theme park but if you’re a movie buff, this is so much better.