Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Last year we honored the FLIFF in this category almost begrudgingly, in part because it was "pretty much the only game in town." Well, after a decade and a half it's still the biggest game in town and at 28 days has expanded to claim the dubious honor of being the longest film fest in the world. (Palm Beach, of course, has its own affair, but it just doesn't stack up.) Fortunately the FLIFF has clung to the things that have long set it apart, including its predilection for films with little or no commercial potential, its support for gay and lesbian cinema, and its occasional sixth sense when it comes to anticipating Academy Award contenders. The most recent festival gave us samples of each: the shamefully overlooked Maze, a fascinating study of an unlikely romance between a Tourette's-afflicted painter (Northern Exposure actor Rob Morrow, who also directed the flick) and a friend (Laura Linney, whose excellent work was overshadowed by her Oscar-nominated performance in You Can Count on Me); the knockout, Cassavetes-style gay drama Straight Man and the uneven but worthwhile lesbian-themed coming-of-age tale Swimming; and the Oscar-nominated Shadow of the Vampire, as well as the surprisingly overlooked State and Main from director David Mamet. The festival also reaffirmed its commitment to independent filmmaking with a tribute to John Waters, including a screening of his underrated Cry-Baby, a showing of a documentary about him titled In Bad Taste, and an appearance by the rogue moviemaker.
He was just passing through, never staying in one place more than a year. We knew that, but it's still hard to admit that's he's really gone -- with no forwarding address. That's probably why we feel a little like a jilted lover. The good news is, Chris Chandler liked us. He really, really liked us. He wrote about the area in an e-mail to his South Florida friends, "I like to think of Hollywood as pre-scene'.... The rent is cheap, there are a dozen places to hear affordable live music where the beer is cheap, and there are no A&R reps shaking the bushes to find Eminem taking a leak." High praise indeed. And of course, audiences who heard Chandler perform know this "folken-word" poet was just warming up his praise when he typed that missive. We'll miss the guy who pointed out poetically that the coldest place on earth is a South Florida movie theater, that karaoke-style, cover-tune-like guitar-strumming is crap, and that many of our residents look like George W. Bush when he's asked a simple question (which goes a long way toward explaining the election). Let's hope we do something really stupid that attracts national attention soon so Chandler comes back for a visit.
Theatergoers found a lot of reasons to dislike Paul Tei this season. He played a cold-blooded child-murderer in New Theatre's Never the Sinner and a hot-blooded serial killer in GableStage's Popcorn. But he is so good at being bad that we can't really hold it against him. Tei is the kind of actor who looks at a role not only as an opportunity to perform but also as a chance to create a persona. Consequently he can portray several different degenerates without his performances overlapping. As Wayne, the gun-toting redneck in Popcorn, Tei kept us riveted to our seats -- appalled and laughing. But as Richard Loeb, a wealthy young Chicago man who, along with his lover, kills a young boy on a Nietzsche-inspired whim, he was outstandingly appalling. Tei never let audiences simply dislike his character. With his willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of character definition, he could make Ted Bundy funny. He dared to play the insolent, arrogant murderer Loeb as childlike and capricious -- clubbing a kid in the head one moment and going out for hot dogs the next. Tei's topnotch acting transformed these two good plays into excellent ones.
An actress's success in a dramatic role can fall into one of two categories: the ability to make the unbelievable believable, and the ability to make the believable unbelievably incredible. Bridget Connors managed to do both in her role as a young Jewish woman dying of a terminal illness. That's the believable part. Rachel's plight could easily have been a case study in Harold S. Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. She expressed all the predictable emotions and asked all the right metaphysical questions. The not-so-believable part is the conversion experience she had, which was facilitated by her sister, a devout member of the Christian Science faith. Believable or unbelievable, Connors brought something magical to the role from the moment she stepped on-stage. Her ability to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal left theatergoers feeling as if they were seeing a tragedy for the first time.
There are traditional galleries, and then there's Lumonics, "a specialized sensory environment," as its founders put it, which is easily South Florida's most unusual venue for multimedia art. Housed in a nondescript strip of businesses just north of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Lumonics brings together light sculptures, water sculptures (in other words, fountains), performance art, digital video, laser art, dance, and music, all in one blow-your-mind complex. Dorothy Tanner and her husband, Mel (who died in 1993), started Lumonics as a showcase for large-scale acrylic sculptures that combine bright colors with internal lighting. Those pieces, along with water sculptures, are still displayed in a few small rooms and in the large main theater, which is where things really get interesting. From an upstairs control booth, a pair of artists (originally Dorothy and Mel, now Dorothy and Marc Billard) create one-of-a-kind performances set to music that include digital video projections and lasers dancing across a 35-foot wall that serves as their palette. Tanner and her collaborators originally created their soundtracks using jazz, classical, and New-Age music, but have lately leaned more toward original material by Tanner and Billard. And their regular hour-and-a-half shows have evolved more or less into "happenings," with the main performance followed by late-night parties in the adjacent Nite-Light gallery, where visitors can dance to cutting-edge DJ music or just hang out among the light sculptures.
Who can turn the world on with a smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Better still, who can sponsor a punk-rock food fight, inviting fans to attend a show and pelt band members with fruits and vegetables? It's the Mary Tyler Whores, of course, Broward's messy purveyors of stripped down, below-the-belt punk. For authenticity the band includes Joey Image, original drummer for protohardcore pioneers the Misfits. For fun the band sports an irreverent, clever handle. And for the hell of it, the musicians will let you throw your rotten citrus at them for no extra charge. Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room is a prime spot to pick up these Whores.
What sort of music do you like to hear when you just wanna party? In South Florida some folks gravitate toward whumpity-whump thumpatronics. That's fine, but when you want a rippin' guitar solo and high-octane rockabilly, there's no better choice than the Hep Cat Boo Daddies. Comprising rip-snortin' guitar slinger/singer Joel DaSilva, bassist Sean "Evil" Gerovitz, and drummer Randy Blitz, the Boo Dads perform instrumental surf, slow-simmered blues, and even the occasional Smithereens cover in their action-packed live shows. There's nothing fancy about what the trio does. In fact every town oughta have lean, no-frills fare like the HCBDs, who you can always be found thrilling weekend crowds at the Poor House.
Enter the tent of white sailcloth and gauze. Supreme Beings of Leisure play on the stereo, which is apropos, as leisure reigns supreme here. Proceed to the marble-top bar and order a drink, which will be ready in approximately the amount of time it takes to cast your lazy gaze across the Intracoastal. It's all trendy white upholstery in here, like a J.Lo video, but somehow you're too chilled out to care. Perhaps you could be bothered to amble into the dark-wood lounge, where the music's louder, the light is darker, and candles flicker in the fireplace. You are feeling... supremely languorous. Nevis. Rhymes with bliss.
When considering such a lofty title as this, there are a great many factors to consider. The easiest thing to do is first rule out any place that is overpriced, which excludes the beach bars, the Las Olas Riverfront, Himmarshee Village, and, well, just about every other place in Fort Lauderdale. Next lose any place where you can't get a nice European beer. Now all the dives are gone as well. You'd think there would be nothing left, but luckily a few communities surrounding Fort Lauderdale still have bars where the owners believe in serving quality drinks in a price range that allows even those bargoers on a strict budget to get tanked. Wilton Manors is one of those communities, and Shakespeare's Pub is about the best thing going. On a righteous night at Shakespeare's, you can drink a high-quality yet reasonably priced beer or five while listening to some good local bands and laughing at some piss-poor ones. And that's what going to a bar is all about, isn't it?
The oldest gas station in Delray Beach is still the best place in town to get gassed. All right, so that's a bad pun. But there's something about the funky, open-air bar in Delray's now-trendy downtown that inspires goofiness. And it's not just the giant picture of Elvis, the mounted fish, the moldy-looking moose head, the stained longhorns, or the giant Orange Crush bottle cap. It's the atmosphere, the blending of the past with the present, of down-home folk with glitterati, of wannabes with I-don't-cares. The bar at Elwood's is the former station's car lift; once used to hoist cars above the heads of greasy mechanics, it now serves as a place for patrons to rest their elbows while hoisting brewskis. Just as Elwood's is proud of its past, it makes no apology for its location. When trains scream by on the adjacent tracks Thursday nights, Scott Ringersen, Delray Beach cop by day and Elvis impersonator by night, simply raises his voice. Ditto 301 East, the versatile band that calls the bar home. While renowned for its ribs, the best thing about Elwood's is free -- grab a barstool, sit back, and watch the well dressed, pretentious types stroll down the avenue or gawk at the impressive array of Harleys lined up in the parking spots owner Mike Elwood reserves for his biker friends. If you're looking for quiet conversation, go elsewhere. At Elwood's there's always something to shout about.
When the well drinks have gone dry at other Broward bars, parched partyers' divining rods point to Casey's. Seven days a week from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., ice cubes are clinking, the DJ is spinning, and nobody (thank God!) knows your name. Best of all, after-hours gal Susan Hayslett provides service with a sympathetic smile. She doesn't smirk when you roll in, eyeliner smudged, and order a shot of Jäger. In fact you kinda get the feeling she's been there, too. And in that case, make it a double.
Holiday Bowl might be small, but it has a '50s ambiance that you can't find at gargantuan game rooms and theme parks. This joint's sincerity so impressed Carnival Cruise Lines last year that it shot a commercial here depicting tourists on vacation -- in the Bahamas. Its 16 lanes, café, and lounge have catered to bowling aficionados, Québecois tourists, and hackers for more than 40 years. Manager Bernie Harrold rolled his first gutter ball here when he was seven years old. At two bucks a game, it's easy to see why other youngsters have followed his lead. Murals on both sides of the alley picture kids taking aim. The "Beer Frame" lettering on the east side of the alley refers to a time when the trailing party in the fifth frame had to buy the next round. Nowadays the alley hosts leagues, tournaments, and also those looking for a drink or dinner. The pro shop polishes your ball for eight bits, and if you arrive in sandals, don't fret. You can pick up a pair of socks there as well. We recommend it. After all, some of those shoes have probably been around for decades.