Film festival finds its Pants 

Bada bing! Red-hot character actor Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano will appear June 10 at Maitland's Enzian Theater as part of this year's Florida Film Festival. Known to pistols-and-pasta fans as Ralphie Cifaretto on HBO's The Sopranos, Pantoliano is currently on screens nationwide as the mysterious sidekick in the fall-down-fabulous memory-loss thriller Memento. (What do you mean, you haven't seen it? Go now ... before you forget.)

The film that will be screened in conjunction with Pantoliano's Enzian visit is "Bound," the 1996 noir thriller that got most of its mileage from putting stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in sapphic close contact. "Bound" is hardly the tallest platform Pantoliano has ever stood upon, but it's the one he's chosen to bring to the festival, the Enzian folks say.

The only negative in Pantoliano's booking is for this year's crop of student filmmakers, who will now have their pet projects shown at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. Lesson One, kids, is that life ain't fair; Lesson Two is that when a Soprano muscles in on your turf, you don't say peep.

Also coming to the Florida Film Festival is Jason Lee, who will essentially close the event with a June 17 screening of 1997's "Chasing Amy." That film is one of four Kevin Smith-directed pictures in which Lee has co-starred (including the forthcoming "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back"); last year, he did strong work as the lead singer of Stillwater, the rock band in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous.

It's all good for the marquee value. But what about the underground cred? Well, there's the planned Enzian visit of Jeff Krulik, the documentarian who's become a cult hero by training his unsparing camera on Ernest Borgnine, Judas Priest fans and the creators of the TV series "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp." Also on the festival's arrivals list is actress Honey Lauren, who plays the lead role of a blackmailing dominatrix in the camp-fest "Satan Was a Lady." Ask nicely, and she may tell you about her days as a dancer with satiric shock-rock outfit the Tubes ... or her recurring roles on sudsers "Days of Our Lives" and "Port Charles." Let's hear it for multitasking.

Your Meat's ready

For more than a year now, the closest thing Orlando has had to a vintage Tubes concert has been periodic public performances by the cast of "Meat Street," a perpetually in-the-works musical comedy about the mental-health industry. If you were near the outdoor stage during the last two editions of the Orlando International Fringe Festival, or attended the opening-night gala of last year's Florida Film Festival, you're all too familiar with the "Meat Street" teaser: a multitude of buxom nurses and sign-carrying "protesters" who swanned around as a velvet-throated physician sang a little ditty titled "The Doctor Is In."

The audience reaction to this toe-tapping bit of guerrilla theater customarily ran along the following lines: "Who are those people?" "Do the Moonies have something to do with this?" And, the most often heard from seasoned spectators: "Will that show ever be ready?"

The jury's still out on the first two questions, but the third can now be answered. "Meat Street" will be staged in its entirety beginning Aug. 29 at the Osceola Center for the Arts. Audiences will have 12 chances to see the show before it closes Sept. 9. But even one run-through would be sweet vindication for composer Neal Fox, who allegedly started work on the project in the 1960s. Bringing it to reality, he's said, has been a "long, hard, twisting road." (Sounds painful. Maybe he needs the doctor.)

As the countdown advances, keep track of the latest Meat Street doings by logging on to Fox's site or Meat Street the Musical. Just don't make the mistake I made and go to Meat Street, which is ... uh, something else. Something that looks like meat, all right.

Fringe files

Speaking of the Fringe Festival, official word is that 17,981 tickets were sold to this year's 10th-anniversary event. Is that a record? Maybe. According to Matt Wohl, the Fringe's former producer, last year's tally was just under 18,000. But he can't quote an exact number; that information, he says, is in the hands of the current leadership.

It isn't. Brook Hanemann, who took the producing reins for the 2001 festival, says that a combination of factors -- including multiple office moves and changes of storage facilities -- have left last year's ticket count impossible to locate or re-create. Other records (including those retained in soft-copy form) have survived, like the $70,000 in ticket monies that was given back to the performing artists last year. This year's official computation: A vastly improved $102,136.

Overall attendance at Fringe 2001 was 54,000 people, and it's that information Hanemann calls "the hardest thing to find" -- maybe because it's an admittedly inexact amalgam of various data, including buttons sold, tickets sold and head counts taken at outdoor shows.

"It's a shame if we don't have certain breakdowns," Hanemann says. "But we're really trying not to compare ourselves to any year before. We're trying to move forward."

; ;

Fatal attraction

I never thought I'd say it, but poor, poor Disney. The company is still taking it on the chin from ninja midget Jeffrey Katzenberg, and now another former employee is using the entertainment giant as his personal dart board. That would be pink-slipped Imagineer Jason Surrell, who's the writer and director of the feature-film comedy "Characters." (Tag line: "The Movie MICKEY doesn't want you to see!")

According to producer Aaron Bernard, Surrell's film is "basically Clerks in a theme park. It's an indie movie about how Disney is the happiest place on Earth, unless you work there." The experience is certainly no picnic to the film's two lead characters, who are desperate to move to Los Angeles after eight years of servitude as "happiness associates" at the Adventure Kingdom of Fun, Surrell's stand-in for rodent-land.

"Characters," Bernard says, was shot last summer, long before Surrell got the heave-ho from Uncle Eisner. The budget was about $750,000 -- a sum raised from family, friends and other investors. (I want that family and those friends.) The Universal Studios sound stages doubled as Surrell's Adventure Kingdom, making the project's get-even angle even juicier.

Look for the finished film to be screened locally in late July. In one sense, that's already too late: Half the cast, Bernard says, has since moved to L.A. How life imitates leisure sometimes.

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