NEWS- Kin Flicks: Bob's your uncle

"The less you have, the more you need music," John Turturro told the sold-out crowd at Romance and Cigarettes, which he wrote and directed, and which opens nationally November 9.

Family– we venerate it, we sometimes find it the root of all evil. Ultimately, it all comes down to family, doesn't it? 

And just as families celebrate– or suffer through– reunions, so, too, do movie lovers, who flock every year to meet with their film fest families at the Virginia Film Festival. There's Uncle Sy, taking our ticket. Cousin Gary once again manages events at the Regal. Distant Cousin Dweeb can always be counted on to ask annoying questions and bore our socks off. Thank goodness we see him only once a year. 

Some of the higher profile members of the family didn't make it this year. There was no Uncle Morgan, no Uncle Bobby with his folksy, sometimes not-quite PC comments. But we got to know some of the quieter cousins, like Cousin Jesus— who knew that guy was so smart, and not at all the psycho we always thought? 

The 20th Virginia Film Festival chose family as its theme this year, running the risk that Kin Flicks might attract some porn lovers who didn't read the program carefully. There was some skin, but mostly it was kin: some exhilarating, some painful, some on your last nerve. But hey, it's family. 

And just as we were happy to see them come November 1, after a full weekend of film fest family events, it's also nice to see them head out the door by November 4. But we still love ‘em, and look forward to seeing them again next year. 

Who organized this reunion? Some gatherings are better planned than others, and confusion marked opening night, when hapless Cousin Jenny went to the Paramount at 6pm to buy tickets for John Sayles' Honeydripper, only to be sent to the Regal, only to be directed back to the Paramount. "What a screw-up," she said, turning a little cranky.

A new and improved festival award: As the Virginia Film Festival learned early on, one sure-fire way to attract celebs to Charlottesville is to pass out an award. In 1989, the film fest named John Sayles Distinguished Filmmaker. Eighteen years later, he's back, and upping the ante, festival director Richard Herskowitz coins "Exalted Deity of Independent Film."

Headliner in a minor role: UVA grad Sean Patrick Thomas took the lead in Save the Last Dance for Me in 2001. In Honeydripper, he supports Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and Stacy Keach in the story of an Alabama juke joint.

Playing against type: "I'd never played someone who didn't have a noble character," says Thomas of his Honeydripper role as Dex, who comes to town packing heat, which we know can only lead to trouble.

Love the music: Sayles wrote some of the tunes in the blues-packed Honeydripper, set in 1950, the year the electric guitar was born, which he calls the birth of rock and roll because it elevated the guitar player from sideman. Another benefit of writing your own lyrics: "It's fun, it's half as expensive or less," he says, adding that music is such a big expense in movies, a Scorsese film may spend $3 to 5 million for tunes. "There's a great song called ‘Honeydripper' that we can't afford," he mourns.

Where Rebel without a Cause was born: In a "ludicrous" office painted an "awful" shade of green at Warner Brothers, where screenwriter Stewart Stern had to check in with a cop upon arrival, although he could then sneak out the back way, the 85-year-old tells the audience at the November 2 screening.

The inspiration for Jim Backus' costume in Rebel: Stern dredged up a memory of an apron his own father used to wear for the scene in which James Dean's father, wearing a frilly number, cleans up his mother's dropped breakfast tray. 

He shot puppies? Clearly Sal Mineo's character, Plato, was destined for a bad end from the first scene in juvenile detention, where he displays a characteristic commonly attributed to serial killers.

We don't remember it being this campy: "That has to be the gayest movie I'll see at the film festival," says fest regular Richard Sincere. 

Neverland: We'd never made the connection that the scene in which Dean, Mineo, and Natalie Wood play house in the abandoned mansion came straight from Peter Pan. Duh!

Silence is golden: One of the hallmarks of the Virginia Film Festival is that the filmmakers get to chat it up after the screening, and they can be insightful. But after an few inarticulate directors plus the inevitable inane audience questions over four days, sometimes it's a relief to just see a movie. Such was the case with the November 2 screening of Starting Out in the Evening, a quiet tour de force with Frank Langella, Six Feet Under's luminous Lauren Ambrose, and Lili Taylor. Actually, we wouldn't have minded hearing more about this film, one of our festival favorites, from its maker.  

Who called the cops? In a Virginia Film Festival first— at least in our experience– moviegoers at the 10pm November 2 screening of Tamara Jenkins' The Savages are wanded and have bags searched and camera cellphones confiscated— at least temporarily. The reason for the security: The Savages hasn't been released yet, and the film company didn't want to see it end up on YouTube.  

Your pain is our pleasure: The festival follows up The Savages with a 10am November 3 screening of director Jenkins' debut 1998 work, the semi-autobiographical Slums of Beverly Hills, about growing up in a down-and-out family in a high-rent zip code, proving the point that whether you're broke or rich, family can be excruciatingly embarrassing. Her humorous look at poverty is a constant theme, again revealed in the short Family Remains, where even if the only food in your Beverly Hills crib is olives, you can still look good. 

Something for everyone: Although the Hook didn't take in any documentaries, Metro Herald's Tim Hulsey reports that The Battle for Haditha could be the "iconic" film about Iraq, and that it and Hoop Reality, the follow-up to the popular Hoop Dreams, both were "shockingly" sparsely attended.

If we've told you once, we've told you a hundred times: Buy your tickets ahead of time, people, especially for headliner shows. John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes had sold out its general admission tickets at the Paramount, and a long line formed of those who just don't plan ahead and who were hoping to score a ticket when the seats held back for passholders went on sale 15 minutes before the screening. For those who finally got in, the seats were awful, and the movie had started.

John Turturro does a musical? "I won't tell you much about the film except that it's slightly dirty," says Turturro before the screening of Romance November 3. Turturro casts big guns James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Mary Louise Parker, and Eddie Izzard to sing their hearts out in blue-collar Brooklyn. While we could have listened to Winslet talk dirty all night, apparently it wasn't enough to keep the two seniors we were sandwiched between awake. But they were a very small, snoozing minority, and the film opens November 9 with raves from the New York Times— and the Hook.

Maybe this is more than we want to know: Dirty talk is one of Turturro's secrets for keeping a long marriage hot. 

Why Winslet looked even more buxom than usual: She was nursing, and Turturro asked her not to pump milk right before a scene. "I was very happy she'd just had a baby," the writer/director confesses.

Original combos: Turturro explores the "obscene and spiritual" in Romance and Cigarettes, and imagines it as a collaboration between Charles Bukowski and Bruce Springsteen.

One way to get cheap music rights: Turturro asked Springsteen to be in the movie. The Boss declined, but did offer up the rights to "Red Headed Woman." 

Why aren't Ray McKinnon's movies more widely seen? A couple of years ago, writer/director/actor McKinnon and his wife, actress Lisa Blount, were here with their dark drama, Chrystal, which we loved. Randy and the Mob screened to a middling 10pm crowd November 3, and the tight comedy makes it on our list of this year's festival faves. 

Don't get above your roots: Okay, we may have imagined hearing McKinnon describe himself as an "intellectual hillbilly" on WINA, but the moniker fits. The South informs every scene of Randy and the Mob, with McKinnon playing both inept entrepreneur Randy Pearson and his twin gay brother, Blount a depressed baton twirler, and Walton Goggins a cracker-talking mobster who steals the show.

Let's not forget the deeply disturbed-family movies: Uncle Charlie is a serial killer who comes to visit in Hitchcock's favorite movie, his 1943 Shadow of a Doubt, and a family heist goes bad– very bad– in Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Stewart Stern reveals he and James Dean do mean imitations of cow moos– as well as pigs and sheep.