Lights Out, Flick Fancier!

The Palm Beach Film Festival asks for only a week of your time

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

A cross between a Merry Pranksters home movie and a Whole Foods infomercial, this documentary is the lovingly shot story of pleasantly eccentric organic farmer John Peterson. Set in Peoria, Illinois, Peterson's story, and that of the family farm he was born and raised on, is as rocky as the land he cultivates. Depicted in a straightforward, no-frills style, the film charts Peterson's humble beginnings as a farmer's son, alternately struggling and thriving in his father's shadow. A child of the '60s, Peterson is a walking dichotomy -- an earnest man of the land seemingly at ease both on a tractor and dancing pagan-like before a roaring bonfire. Like Ken Kesey with a backhoe, he tills the soil while simultaneously arousing the suspicions of his neighbors and town sheriff. After all, there's nothing more paranoia-inducing than a Doors-lovin' hippie who works the land while wearing a singlet and feather boa. To delve any deeper here would only spoil this quiet film's simple pleasures. Oddly enough, that's its primary drawback. The Real Dirt aspires to capture more than the human drama of Peterson's story and his accomplishments (he helped pave the way for the now über-chic organic farming movement) but falls just short of the mark. Obviously in love with the subject matter, director Taggart Siegel focuses too much on Peterson the man and, as a result, falters in his handling of the film's overriding theme, what one farmer eloquently calls "the death of the farm culture." Luckily, for both Peterson and viewer, The Real Dirt ultimately overcomes its minor shortcomings -- flirtations with melodrama and New Agey hokum -- and delivers a wonderful jolt of homegrown sweetness. (4 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Muvico Parisian and 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Larry Carrino

John Peterson: He tills the soil, follows his bliss.
John Peterson: He tills the soil, follows his bliss.
Gabriel Barre: Coming of age in his 40s
Gabriel Barre: Coming of age in his 40s


Thursday, April 14, through Thursday, April 21, at Muvico Parisian 20, CityPlace, West Palm Beach; and at Sunrise Cinemas, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-362-0003.

The Girl from Monday

While it poses a bleak future, this movie leaves you with the overwhelming impression that anything's better than the present. Although slick-looking and ambitious, it's 80 minutes without suspense or charm. There's a cast, but there are no characters. The audience doesn't learn a thing about anybody. The actors merely serve to drive the unremarkable, overly complicated plot. Set in the near future, Triple M (like 3M, get it?) is now the Orwellian supercorporation. With the proliferation of the Internet, bar coding, and target marketing, a corporate revolution has taken place in which market research has gotten so efficient and penetrating that Triple M knows everything about everybody. And because desire is so readily quantifiable, a person's economic potential is constantly readjusted in terms of how others desire them. So, if you want to get ahead, fornicate with someone who is more desirable than you. How did we sink this low? Triple M's market value is so pervasive that it's managed to tie human needs and emotions directly to transactions. There's no need now for a currency to measure market desires. Whew! Talk about sigh-fi. And we haven't even gotten to the aliens. They arrive from a planet in Galaxy Monday. Their purpose in the film? The best guess is they are noble savages, symbols to show humans the error of their ways. Why the filmmakers had to go to another galaxy to get that symbol is a mystery. The strength of the movie is its heavy-handed but rather funny satire. Criminals are sentenced to teach high school. Ritalin is now required. Advertising people are heartless monsters. The jabs are deft, but the targets are big. The problem is that the filmmakers seem to suffer from what they're condemning. They've made a movie devoid of feeling or any reason to engage. (9:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Muvico Parisian, and 1 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Jason Cottrell

The White Horse Is Dead

It's a raw, beautiful title for a film about bitterness without a shred of hope. All that's good is in the past. All that remains are the discarded pieces. Writer and director Pete Red Sky brings us the story of Naya, a pretty, intelligent, more-nervous-than-usual 17-year-old at odds with her overbearing, overmedicated monstrosity of a mother. Naya wants to be an anthropologist. Her immigrant mother, Giselle, wants Naya to be a model. But the tensions run deeper than that. We find out later that the white cross in the front yard marks the grave of Naya's father, a scientist who was experimenting with the anticlotting agents found in the saliva of leeches. Longing for her father, Naya keeps the leeches in tanks by the hundreds, talks to them, and places them on her naked body to suck her blood. And then things get weird. The tensions between Naya and Giselle escalate with the hiring of Vince, the new gardener. The introduction of a male into the house destabilizes what was a dysfunctional rut. We learn of a suicide, incest, and imprisonment. Without giving away the end, let's just say things get violent. The actors and dialogue have some rough spots, but the real problem with White Horse lies with the mother. She drives the plot, but we don't know what drives her. Does she want Naya to suffer? Or does she just not get it? What is plain to everybody else isn't plain to her. Why? Without understanding her, the violence in the final act has no payoff. And all the bizarre, intriguing events leading up to it simply evaporate. The White Horse Is Dead is a near miss, but hopefully Red Sky will continue filmmaking. (10 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Muvico Parisian and 3:45 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Jason Cottrell

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