FILM- May we suggest? <i>Hook</i> experts pick best of the fest

With 80 films at this year's Virginia Film Festival, there's a little too much "Funny Business." As always, the Hook is here to help winnow down the choices by tapping our experts to ask what they'd see.

Justin Humphreys


Rashomon (1950) 

In Akira Kurosawa's frequently imitated story of four witnesses' highly subjective accounts of a rape and murder— none match (and one is told by the murder victim himself, via a medium). Rashomon is a grave, beautifully shot meditation on the elusiveness of truly true second-hand information and humanity's inherent selfishness. Director Sam Peckinpah called it "the finest picture ever made." 

3pm Saturday, November 7, Regal 3 


Pink Flamingos (1972)

Nearly 40 years have in no way dissipated this unrelenting movie's ability to horrify, offend, and amuse. Festival guest John Waters set out to terrify hippies (and everyone else) with this, his cinematic anti-Woodstock. The film follows two factions warring for the title of "The Filthiest People Alive," all set to a phenomenal, gutbucket R&B and rock soundtrack. Waters himself narrates as "Mr. Jay," a reference to Mr. Ray's Wig World, a seedy shop in Waters' beloved hometown, Baltimore. 

10pm Friday, November 6, Newcomb Hall


My Man Godfrey (1936)

A film that asks the question, "If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?" Depression-era audiences no doubt relished seeing high society get literally trashed (in several senses of the word) in Gregory La Cava's flawless, stylish, and very relevant screwball comedy. A brilliant, hilarious supporting cast (including Eugene Pallette and Mischa Auer) nearly steals the show from the sublime Carole Lombard and William Powell (as Godfrey). 

12:30pm Saturday, November 7, Regal 3

Sherlock, Jr. (1924) and Safety Last! (1923)

Watch silent comics Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd perform the most insane, dizzying stunts this side of Jackie Chan. Keaton was, to me, the single greatest silent comedian, and an astoundingly good stuntman, to boot. Keaton directed and stars in Sherlock, Jr. as a daydreaming projectionist and wannabe detective who enters into the world of the film he's screening. Keaton's deft and advanced manipulation of the cinematic medium goes way beyond being merely imaginative. 

11am Saturday, November 7, Culbreth Theatre

Duck Soup (1933)

"If you think this country's bad off now, just wait 'til I get through with it," sings President Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) of Fredonia, who for once is telling the truth. This beloved, anti-authoritarian Marx Brothers classic launches a multi-megaton assault on politics, diplomacy, wealth, and propriety. The film is loaded with classic Marx bits: Groucho demolishing a Cabinet meeting; Chico's "Shadowday" exchange; and the immortal mirror pantomime, starring three Grouchos. The Marxes' only flop during their heyday, subsequent generations have lovingly embraced this farcical tale of a venal government miserably failing its populace. 

4pm Thursday, November 5, Regal 3

Justin Humphreys has written several books and numerous articles on film and has appeared in documentaries for Paramount Home Video and the Starz Channel.  

Steve Warren


Death at a Funeral (2007)

Currently being remade in "American" with Chris Rock, this English comedy directed by Frank Oz is unlikely to be surpassed for hilarity.  It's a typical story of family secrets coming out after the death of the patriarch, but brilliantly constructed so the laughter keeps building. Oz orchestrates to perfection, and Alan Tudyk raises stoner shtick to new highs. You'll have to see for yourself whether the title refers to a literal death or just the likelihood that you'll die laughing.

Noon Friday, November 6, Regal 3

Departures (2008)

A Tokyo cellist becomes an encoffinista– one who prepares bodies for burial in a Japanese ritual– in the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner.  Returning to his hometown, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) applies for what sounds like a travel agent's job and winds up with a good gig that takes some getting used to. Yôjirô Takita's serious consideration of death is spiked with quirky, mostly deadpan humor. It's long and slow but wouldn't work so well if it were rushed.

9:45pm Friday, November 6, Regal 4

Somers Town (2008)

Short and sweet, this simple black-and-white dramedy directed by Shane Meadows (This Is England) details the friendship between a Polish immigrant and a Midlands runaway in a working-class London neighborhood.  It delights film buffs by revealing its inspirations when its two mid-teen protagonists, brunet Marek (Piotr Jagiello) and fair-haired Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) romp through London with a woman they both desire. The woman is older (Y tu mama tambien) and French (Jules and Jim).

7pm and 9:30pm Sunday, November 8, at Newcomb 

That Evening Sun (2009)

In a clash between two unpleasant men, retirement home escapee Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) wins our sympathy because he's "an 80-year-old man with a bum hip and a weak heart." His son (Walton Goggins) is trying to sell Abner's Tennessee farm to white trash wife-beater Lonzo Choat (Raymond McKinnon) and Abner plants himself in the sharecropper's house to fight the sale. Scott Teems' slow, deliberate drama (from a William Gay short story) shows why the South looks "strange" to outsiders.

7pm Saturday, November 7, Regal 3

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (2009)

In the early 1950s, even before everybody loved "Lucy," Jewish-Americans– and enough gentiles to impact the ratings– loved Molly: Molly Goldberg, the Bronx housewife created and played by Gertrude Berg (1898-1966). Berg receives a loving tribute in Aviva Kempner's no-frills biographical film about the granddaughter of immigrants from "the Old Country" who created a radio show that evolved into television's first sitcom. Berg was also branded a "communist sympathizer" for supporting Philip Loeb, a cast member who was blacklisted. 

2:30pm Saturday, November 7, Regal 3

Hook movie reviewer Steve Warren is available to scare you on Halloween with his appearance in Scarce, available on DVD.  

Laura Parsons


Easier with Practice (2009)

Non-writers fantasize about the thrill of book tours and adoring fans, but authors know writing is the refuge of misfits who often are better at dealing with imagined narratives than real life. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's humane and tenderly funny movie about a lonely writer who finds solace in phone sex has won numerous awards on the film festival circuit. Filled with gorgeous shots reminiscent of Hopper paintings, the film features a cast who hit every beat with unhurried perfection. Trust me, it's not what you think. 

5:30pm Thursday, November 5, Newcomb Hall

Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975)

Never ever to be missed, this Terry Jones- and Terry Gilliam-directed Monty Python cult classic, featuring Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Michael Palin, is an absurd send-up of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table's quest for the legendary grail. The Knights who say Ni, the Trojan Rabbit, and 16-year-old virgins in need of a spanking have been making viewers cry with laughter and offer up random quotes at dinner parties since 1975. I fart in your general direction.

10pm, Thursday, November 5, Newcomb Hall

The Garden (2008)

Following the 1992 L.A. riots, a group of enterprising South Central community members began cultivating a 14-acre stretch of gutted inner-city blight, turning it into the nation's largest urban garden. But endings are rarely happy when politics and money get involved. Filmed over six years, this Oscar-nominated documentary follows the impoverished farmers' attempt to keep their garden after a land deal of questionable legitimacy threatens to evict them. The film's production values may be uneven, but the story unfolds with gripping intensity and the beauty of a Shakespearean tragedy. 

10am, Saturday, November 7, Regal 4

Pixar Shorts (2007) 

Who could have predicted a Luxo adjustable desk lamp would become one of the most beloved animated characters in history? Luxo, Jr., which launched computer animation giant Pixar on its course to thrilling moviegoers with Monsters, Toy Story, and, most recently, Up, is just one of the shorts in this family-friendly animated feast. Unfortunately scheduled at the same time as The Garden (sigh– the Film Festival curse), these witty and visually stunning films are definitely not a downer.

10am, Saturday, November 7, Paramount

Election (1999)

Reese Witherspoon may have won an Academy Award for her role as June Carter Cash, but her acting masterpiece is her portrayal of high-school perfectionist Tracy Flick in Election. Matthew Broderick is also stellar as Flick's foil, nebbishy civics teacher Jim McAllister, who is determined to bring her down. Darkly humorous, the film has become a cult classic, and Tracy Flick has risen to the status of cultural icon, now serving as the gold standard of ruthless ambition when assessing female politicians (both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were called Flick-like during the 2008 presidential campaign).

3pm Sunday, November 8, Culbreth

Laura Parsons is the Hook's art critic.