Some nights you get lucky. Writer-director John Rubino's debut film, Lotto Land, sneaked into town as quietly as a balsero. I attended the preview screening not because I particularly wanted to see the film -- I knew nothing about it and the title didn't make the movie sound promising -- but because there weren't many other entertainment options available on that particular Monday night. (Melrose Place be damned.)
The film was an unexpected delight. They used to call these "small" films A charmers that don't set out to outgross E.T. or to change the way you look at cinema forever. Lotto Land works its way into an audience's good graces through detailed, unconventional characterization, heartfelt acting by a cast of talented, ingratiating unknowns, and the uncanny ability of Rubino, a Brooklyn native, to bring his neighborhood to life on the big screen. While not avoiding the gritty realities of the street, Rubino digs into the dreams, friendships, romances, and familial ties that make for a complex urban landscape.
Black high school basketball star Hank Stokes (Straight Out of Brooklyn's Larry Gilliard, Jr.) graduates from school to a job stocking shelves at a liquor store. His father Milt (acting novice and blues guitarist-vocalist extraordinaire Wendell Holmes of the Holmes Brothers) doesn't have it much better, working a dead-end job for the phone company, gigging on the street for tips, and drowning his troubles in whiskey purchased from the very store that employs his son (although not until after the boy has gone home for the day). Hank dreams of escape to a better world; Milt hopes only to do right by his son. Ignoring the taunts of his crack-dealing brother, Hank squanders his meager savings on lottery tickets and squires his college-bound Latina girlfriend Joy (Barbara Gonzalez) to the prom. Joy and Hank struggle awkwardly through first love while Milt and Florence (Suzanne Costallos) -- Joy's adoptive mother and Hank's boss at the liquor store -- kibitz. And that's pretty much all there is to Lotto Land until the TV reporter arrives with the news that the winning ticket for that week's $27 million jackpot was purchased at the liquor store -- and that nobody has claimed the prize.
It's a slim premise, but Rubino makes it work to his advantage, fleshing out the details with a knowing, human touch and letting the Holmes Brothers work a little musical magic when the going gets slow. The vagaries of luck A how you don't have to hit the jackpot to win at life -- are clearly subjects Rubino knows a thing or two about. In the mid-Eighties he used money he received from a college writing fellowship to put a down payment on a dilapidated brownstone in Brooklyn. He renovated it and sold it years later at a substantial profit, the proceeds of which financed the making of this film. His intimate knowledge of that community comes through here; the neighborhood becomes as important a character in Lotto Land as are any of the actors.
Bigger films have spent more on famous actors and expensive sets and cutting-edge hardware, and they still have come away with much less. Lotto Land may not be a windfall, but it offers a substantial return for the price of one small ticket.
Written and directed by John Rubino; with Larry Gilliard, Jr., Wendell Holmes, Barbara Gonzalez, and Suzanne Costallos.
The B.A.R. is dead. Long live the bar! Fans of that gritty, grungy, Gothic gargoyle of a movie theater-performance art showcase known as B.A.R. Space, located just around the corner from Lincoln Road Mall at 1663 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach, will be chagrined to learn that the venue has moved -- next door.
"The new place is larger, it has air conditioning, a working bathroom, and there's a place for a projection booth on the second floor, so now when somebody stands up they won't block the beam from the projector," explains Bill Orcutt, director of the Alliance Cinema, which often exhibited films at the dark and musty B.A.R. Space.
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While Orcutt looks forward to the move to more civilized digs, Cinema Vortex organizer Jose Isaza, who showed his film series at the space on weekend nights, feels a tinge of regret. "It's a plus-minus thing," he sums up. "The best things to me were the unfinished wall surfaces and that ceiling. They're just going to cover it all up with beige paneling or something."
Cinema Vortex has called the B.A.R. Space home for more than a year, while during the same time span the Alliance Cinema has used it as a back-up exhibition outlet; neither has paid any rent for the privilege. The space also hosted underground and guerrilla filmmaking events, such as the Anti-Film Festival and the Movie Mavens screening, as well as poetry slams and performance art. But the venue's landlord, the South Florida Art Center, decided to lease the former gay bar to a tenant who would pay rent: Alcoholics Anonymous.
"I guess they're going for the irony that it used to be a bar," speculates Isaza. "Maybe if we had called it something else they wouldn't even have known it existed. It's kind of a whimsical choice for them if you think about it. It shows that somebody at AA has a sense of humor."
At least the B.A.R. Space went out in style; Halloween weekend offerings included Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, which pitted legendary Japanese behemoths Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla against the titular tricephalic in a battle over Tokyo, and Spirits of the Dead, wherein Federico Fellini, Roger Vadim, and Louis Malle each contribute a short film based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe.