Campy to the Max
These reviews are part of our continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Sexina: Pop Star PI. "Probably, intending to be campy is always harmful...," Susan Sontag wrote in her famous 1964 essay "Notes on Camp." "The results are forced and heavy-handed." Never mind that the same could be said of Sontag's essay and, hell, her whole damned career. The summation's most interesting failure, for the moment, is how poorly it explains the wild appeal of Sexina: Pop Star PI — a camp film so purely intentional that it's a tincture of the form and, in fact, maybe even a different thing altogether. Sexina (Lauren D'Avella) is the reigning queen of the pop universe. By night (or whatever), she's a black-leather-clad crime fighter, busting corruption in the music industry. In Pop Star PI, she's out to take down "The Boss" of Glitz Records (Adam West! Really!), who's trying to take over the music world with a robotic boy band (built by a kidnapped scientist who was part of the '60s group the Bunsen Trio, as in Bunsen burner, and who is now the world's leading expert in... oh, never mind). Sexina's also got a spiffy subplot about a high school reject (Vera, played by Kellie Fernald) getting even with her mean-girl tormentors and doing it with the football team's star quarterback. It's all very stupid, very self-conscious, and in excruciatingly poor taste (witness the breathtaking number of gay jokes proffered by the football coach, Sexina's assistant, and Mr. West). But by the time a would-be assassin is mauled to death for no good reason by a man in a cheap bear costume, you're convinced that filmmaker Erik Sharkey is nuts enough to try anything. That's worth a lot. (Sexina: Pop Star P.I. shows November 6 at 9 p.m. and November 7 at 1 p.m. at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Center for the Performing Arts.) — Brandon K. Thorp
Portage isn't really a genre piece, though it looks like one. Four female campers, 15 years old-ish, are lost in the Canadian wilderness. Their guide, Jonah, the 20-something brother of one of the campers, is dead. Steph, the kid sister, won't leave the corpse. Her father died a few years before, the result of a nasty collision with a speedboat, and the only reason Jonah was even on this trip is because Steph wouldn't go otherwise — since Dad died, she's been too afraid of the water. There is dissent among the girls. Dysentery too. The film is composed in candid-camera style, with an amateurishness that communicates like realism. If the girls occasionally look like they're acting, it doesn't seem fake; it looks like they're trying to figure out their lines in a situation for which they have not been prepped, for which all of girlhood has failed to make them ready. The young campers — Alysha Aubin, Candice Mausner, Morgan McCunn, and Stephannie Richardson, all of whom use their real names in the film — never seem to develop much in the way of individual identities, but that too is OK. Where they go to school, what they want to be when they grow up — these individuating concerns seem secondary to getting out of the woods with this rotting corpse in tow, which, as the film goes on, seems more and more like a job for Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. These girls didn't kill the albatross, but they've got to drag the thing behind them anyway — not as penance but as duty. It's a difference between girls and men as huge as the Canadian landscape that frames it. (Portage plays November 4 at 9 p.m. and November 5 at 3 p.m. at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Center for the Performing Arts.) — Thorp
Pose Down is depressing to watch. Maybe it's the southwestern Florida setting, where everything — from the small, imitation-stucco homes to the dusty roads winding through sawgrass — looks lifeless and cheap. Or maybe it's that the so-called McGuffin that sets the film in motion seems a lot more interesting than the film's actual story. That McGuffin, if you care, has to do with an amateur body-builder killing a competitor just as his former high-school sweetheart, Marlena Gates (Kristin DiSpaltro), is rolling into town to clean up her deceased mother's affairs. She's in a bad mood, and the film quickly becomes an inventory of the ways she acts out while coming to peace with her Floridian past. This would be great if her Florida past were interesting. It's not. Neither are the ways in which Marlena expresses her angst: a drunken roll in the hay in the parking lot of a biker bar; a DUI; a one-night stand with a kid on the night of his 18th birthday (which is portrayed as illegal, though, as far as I know, such a tryst would be A-OK in every state of the union). That filmmaker Erika Yeomans managed to include a handful of truly novel elements makes Pose Down's overall failure doubly frustrating. When Marlena attends an informal high school reunion, her conversations with former classmates are overdubbed with the messages they scrawled in her senior yearbook. That's cool, and so is the way her deceased mother is portrayed, in flashbacks, as a satanic cross between Joan Crawford and Angelica Huston. Scary stuff, but totally unsatisfying after the murder mystery come-on and definitely not worth the trip west. (Pose Down plays November 4 at 7 p.m. and November 5 at 5 p.m. at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Center for the Performing Arts.) — Thorp
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.