LAFF 2008: Oh Heavenly Prince

The day before yesterday, we spoke of misleading titles, like how there are no flying monsters in WINGED CREATURES. But it works both ways – sometimes movies have titles that lead you to believe they’ll be immeasurably lame, and they’re not. PRINCE OF BROADWAY, for example, sounds like it’s going to be a documentary about some gay musical icon. Not even close. It’s the tale of an African street hustler named Lucky (Prince Adu) in New York, whose M.O. is to lure rich-looking customers off the street into a secret room in the back of a “wholesale only” retailer, where he sells them knock-off Louis Vutton handbags and Nikes. This is a role that easily could have been a nasty black stereotype (especially if, say, Ja Rule had been cast), but Lucky, while a confident salesman, is frail on the inside, and damn near comes apart at the seams, when a former girlfriend unexpectedly dumps a baby on him that may not even be his.

LAFF 2008: Oh Heavenly Prince

Meanwhile, in a mostly irrelevant side storyline, Lucky’s Armenian boss Krikorian (Karren Karagulian) is having marital issues: his young wife thinks of their marriage as one of convenience for him to get his green card, but he has taken it seriously, and is amazed that she wants out.

Shot in a gritty, hand-held style in mostly run-down locations by director Sean Baker (TV’s “Greg the Bunny”), the film successfully conveys the plight of the immigrant trying to grab a piece of the dream but misplacing priorities in the process. I would rather not have seen the gratuitous vomit and snot shots – Baker mostly eschews the cheap gross out, only to suddenly lay it on thick once or twice – but that toddler, Aiden Noesi, is remarkable. Presumably a combination of careful editing and manipulation was needed, but the performance this nearly pre-verbal kid (he can say “no!”, and that’s about it) gives is amazing.

Amazing for totally different reasons is the documentary FINISHING HEAVEN, which tells the tale of Robert Feinberg, a former film student under Martin Scorsese who, 37 years ago, left his first feature (which starred various Andy Warhol-related folks like Ondine, Holly Woodlawn, and Mary Woronov) unfinished. Many years later, his ex-girlfriend Ruby asked him what happened to the movie, and he decided to try and finish the thing. This documentary, by Mark Mann, was made with their permission on condition the film company paid for the old 16mm prints to be transferred to digital.

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However, this was no easy feat, not just because of the technical issues, but because what had once been a tempestuous coupling had evolved to a full-on, shouting-all-the-time, replica of George Costanza’s parents on Seinfeld. Ruby demands due credit for all her work, and Feinberg won’t give it; neither will give in, and both are extremely vocal in that New-York-Jewish-Parent kinda way. Both are also former drug addicts.

In many ways, this could be a sequel to AMERICAN MOVIE – Robert Feinberg is who Mark Borchardt could end up becoming 20 years down the line. And neither, by the way, is a fool – much like the glimpses of “Coven” in AMERICAN MOVIE, what we see here of HEAVEN looks compelling and creative. And yet the personality of the auteur is so much larger than his creation, you wonder if maybe reality shows and personal appearances will be their mainstay from now on. The Q&A afterwards proved nothing has changed; in front of the LAFF audience, Ruby and Robert continued to argue about credits, and to what extent he wants to continue editing the now-supposedly finished film.

FINISHING HEAVEN debuts in 2009 on Cinemax, which probably makes it ineligible for a Best Documentary Oscar. But by God, it’s the best I’ve seen this year. See it even if you hate documentaries, and especially if you’ve ever been a filmmaker in any capacity.

Following the movies for the day, I was happy to attend the 10th anniversary party for RottenTomatoes.com, the movie-review-compiling site that has been the source of most of my readership and inbound links these past 9 years or so. Plates of cured Italian meats and cheeses were the main snack event, with free wine and Stella Artois for the quaffing.

But the best party gimmick was the green-screen photo booth, in which folks could pose with the RT folks, and a tomato costume, against various digital backgrounds. That was awesome, but even cooler was when Scott Prendergast, writer/director/star of last year’s excellent festival hit KABLUEY (finally opening July 11th at the Sunset 5; SEE IT!) let me pose wearing the Kabluey costume (think blue Keith Haring drawing with oversized head). He didn’t have the headpiece, because he says it doesn’t fit in his car. But posing in an actual movie costume of a great flick is one of those things you don’t get to do every day (though if anyone wants to buy the dirty, worn-out sneakers I wore in WICKED LAKE, make me an offer!).

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