The MichaelVox Movie Review Weblog
Proudly Spewing Unsolicited Film Opinion Online Since 1996


HARRY, UN AMI QUI VOUS VEUT DU BIEN
(WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY)
2000


March 18, 2001
Camera Cinema Club

Camera 3, San Jose

-->Directed.....Dominik Moll
-->Written.....Dominik Moll and Gilles Marchand
-->Cinematography.....Matthieu Poirot-Delpech
-->Michel.....Laurent Lucas
-->Harry.....Sergi Lopez [Morir (O No) (To Die (Or Not))]
-->Claire.....Mathilde Seigner [Venus Beaute (Institut) (Venus Beauty Institute)]
-->Prune (Plumb).....Sophie Guillemin

Chance meeting in rest area between two former schoolmates, changes both their lives forever.

Slowly paced. Well acted. Michel is on vacation with his wife and three daughters in France where they've purchased a fixer-uper. While in the restroom, a man strangely stares at him. Harry claims to be a former classmate from highschool. Michel can hardly remember the man, but Harry can recall sports incidents and even recite some of Michel's high school poetry. Somehow, Harry and his sexy, but dim girlfriend end up following Michel's family towards the country home. To say any more would almost immediately give away stuff best left to be discovered slowly as the film unspools. There is upper v. lower class. There is lazy v. hard-working. There is sex v. love. Parent v. child. Husband v. wife. There are mysteries and extremely dark comedic moments. Several plot points go in completely different directions than what you're expecting.

The slow pace and careful setup provided a stronger ending. I must confess I was bored for about half an hour in the middle until I was brought right back for the powerhouse ending.

I'm told that the American rights for this film have already been secured. Do yourself a favor and go see the original French one while you still can.


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BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
2000


March 10, 2001

Videotape

-->Directed.....Julian Schnabel [Basquiat]
-->Reinaldo Arenas.....Javier Bardem [High Heels]
-->Lazaro Gomez Carilles.....Oliver Martinez [sleeping with Juliette Binoche on a nightly basis, Le Hussard Sur Le Toit (The Horseman On The Roof), La Femme De Chambre Du Titanic (The Chambermaid On The Titanic)]
-->Johnny Depp [A Nightmare On Elm Street, Platoon, Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick Of Time, Donnie Brasco, Sleepy Hollow, Chocolat]
-->Sean Penn [Taps, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Bad Boys, Racing With The Moon, The Falcon And The Snowman, At Close Range, Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, Colors, Casualties Of War, We're No Angels, State Of Grace, Carlito's Way, The Crossing Guard, Dead Man Walking, She's So Lovely, U-Turn, The Game, The Thin Red Line]

The story of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas.

Acting tour-de-force by Bardem makes this a compelling story. How did artists, especially gay artists fare when Castro came to power? His childhood is unhappy and poor. Only when he gets to university does he begin to shine as a writer. He is celebrated by other members of the literati, but shunned by freedom fighters as being too soft. There is poetry mixed in with the filmmaking. There is love and sex and prison and humor all kept together by the acting skill of Javier Bardem. I've seen all the nominated performances besides POLLACK and my personal oscar goes to Bardem after seeing this film.


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LANSDOWN
2000


World Premiere
March 4, 2001

Cheap, non-professional answer to FARGO. The acting ranged from competent to terrible. The conversational editing was atrocious. From one cut to the next there were pauses that don't happen in real life. The story wasn't compelling either. I didn't care what happened next.


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THE ANARCHISTS

U.S. Premiere
March 4, 2001

A highly stylized Korean film about a group of anarchists in Shanghai in 1924. Follows the now-conventional trappings of Hong Kong action, with slow motion running and diving with guns blazing. The music is fantastic and adds mood. Our narrator for the film is a youngster who is learning the ropes from his older comrades. He is bumbling, but honorable. There were dozens of characters but most of them were fleshed out pretty well. There were elaborate nightclub floor shows filmed in breathtaking color. This one has a chance in general release.


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SANDSTORM

Bay Area Premiere
March 3, 2001

The story is about an Indian woman who is the member of one of the lower castes. She is a potter. I guess they name their castes after their exact jobs. Another village woman is verbally and almost physically attacked while she does her wash in the river. The women of the village mount a march towards the man's house. The lead character, played by the absolutely gorgeous Nandita Das (who was at the screening), so impresses a woman from the city, that she is given a job as a woman's rights advocate. Her husband is happy to get the financial help that this job provides. The town elders and religious leaders are unhappy as the women become more and more powerful and outspoken. While gathering firewood, Das and her husband are attacked. The husband is beaten and held down as his wife is repeatedly raped by several men. She demands justice first by the crooked policeman, then by the uncaring prosecutor, the slimy government doctor, until finally there is a trial that ends the picture.

I am angry at this film. First of all, the story is powerful enough without having the music swell and poetry written about the exploits of this brave brave woman. I have not seen many Indian films and maybe this is a cultural thing that they do differently but the point was made within seconds of the film starting and then repeated and repeated and repeated. Yes I know the caste system is still in place and is sexist and classist and that the powerful will do anything to stay in power. I know that rape is wrong and many men are bad people. But I feel like I've been beaten over the head with these ideas to the point of unconsciousness. There is not a hint of subtlety here. Again, since this was made for an Indian audience (who apparently have not been allowed by censors to view it yet), perhaps I'm being too nitpicky.

There were scenes involving the defendants and their political ally where terrible things were said. There is no way that either the plaintiff, writer, or director could possibly have known what was said in those private meetings. This is the type of film where a single, specific group of male rapists are bad, so therefore every possible male (with the exception of the long suffering husband) are absolute bastards. I'm sure her ordeal was horrendous and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I'm sure someone from the pottery caste trying to get justice in the big city is an nearly impossible task. She deserves to be commended on not giving up. But for god's sake, less preaching, more storytelling. There are two characters besides the lead who act at even the minimum level of humanness. The husband, and an upper-caste attorney. The entire rest of the country, including women, men, politicians, delivery people, poets and priests are against this woman's case. They lost me by underestimating my beliefs.

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HOTEL SPLENDIDE
2000


Bay Area Premiere
March 3, 2001

Toni Collette travels to a run-down dank and scary resort because she believes her ex-boyfriend has sent for her. She is a chef and insists on preparing meals that taste good, instead of the bland fare that is normally served "to aid digestion". Three siblings run the resort and several dozen guests are all but prisoners there due to infrequent ferry trips to the mainland.

Collette is far and away better than the rest of the cast. There's a reason she's a star. She's not incredibly beautiful, but you can't stop looking at her. I'm no fan of Terry Gilliam or other directors who create sets from whole cloth. This was no exception. It looked fantastic but I didn't care what happened next. There was some humor, but the whole thing was so dank, I wanted a shower after watching it.

IMDB


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SEE JANE RUN
2000


World Premiere
March 3, 2001

Clea Duvall (Girl, Interrupted) plays Jane who is committing suicide when we first see her. She is interrupted by an exterminator who doesn't try to talk her out of it. Over the next couple days she is interrupted while trying to kill herself over and over again. She finds a gun and a new plan for her life: she's rob stores. She doesn't want the money, she wants the merchandise. Pretty soon her apartment fills with candy and pinatas and condoms. She fancies herself public enemy number one, but in truth the cops don't even know she exists. She is surrounded by idiotic people of all walks of life. She may be the only normal person in L.A. No wonder she's suicidal.

This film was better than I expected. It's a bit Tarantinoish for my tastes but the acting is good and there are several hilarious parts.

IMDB


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MAZE
2000


Bay Area Premiere
March 3, 2001

See my full length review.


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DER HIMMEL KANN WARTEN
(EXIT TO HEAVEN)
2000


U.S. Premiere
March 1, 2001

Surprisingly compelling story about two best friends. One is a lady's man whose bedroom has a revolving door. The other is a cancer survivor with an artificial leg. The two are both aspiring standup comics, which is saying something when you consider they live in Germany. The cool guy doesn't treat the sickly guy any differently and that's what gives them their bond. The cancer survivor guy is aching to be loved and the cool guy tries to help him in that regard with unfortunate results. It was realistic and the friendship was very well done. The characters were well drawn and the cast was stunningly attractive. It was funny and heartbreaking.

IMDB


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PRESTON TYLK
2000


Bay Area Premiere
March 1, 2001

Luke Wilson. Dennis Farina. It started well. Man finds out that wife is having affair. Later that same day, wife is killed and boyfriend's car is spotted leaving the scene of the crime. Husband goes to boyfriend's house to confront him and violence erupts. Husband spends rest of film on the run with detective Farina in tow. Luke Wilson is no actor. Or if he is, he was not himself during this one. Farina does the best with what he's been given, which isn't much. Got worse as the film went on.


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MORIR (O NO)
TO DIE (OR NOT)
2000


Bay Area Premiere
March 1, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A bit disappointing after all the hoopla I'd heard about this from people that saw it in Toronto. Intersecting stories of death and chance and coincidence. Well done and gives you a lot to think about, but not as great as I'd hoped.



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IRIS
2000


California Premiere
March 1, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A little girl decides she needs to get Irises for her mom's birthday. The whole island tries to dissuade her but they fail. The island off Palermo was gorgeous. The girl is a real doll whose acting seemed to get better as the film went on. She encounters people on her way around the island: a too charming sailor, a scorned woman, a bunny, some backpackers. It all adds up to nothing in the end but it's fun to hang out for awhile. Subplot with two German tourists probably added for topless swim scene.


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QUE FAISAIENT LES FEMMES PENDANT QUE L'HOMME MARCHAIT SUR LA LUNE?
(FAMILY PACK)
2000


February 28, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A Belgian woman is away at college in Montreal. Her parents expect her to become a doctor and find a husband. She instead finds photography and a woman to love. Her inability to tell her mother the truth causes her lover to leave, which in turn makes the woman flee back to her hometown. Her mother will not listen to her attempts to tell the truth. The family has no interaction whatsoever. Some good ideas (a dwarf who insists she’s adopted, a grandma’s former love) are hidden within a one-joke story about a mother not listening.


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PRAMEN ZIVOTA
(THE SPRING OF LIFE)
2000


Bay Area Premiere
February 28, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A village girl with 'perfect Aryan features' leaves her village in Czechoslovakia to become an elite member of the Nazi breeders. She is luminous and does a good job in her role as an extremely religious and naive teenager. The filmmaker overpowered the audience at every possible turn with symbolism, drama, and especially the music. The music belonged to a much more campy-serious film or a soap opera. The idea is extremely compelling. A girl taught to be so in awe of Nazis that she'll do whatever they say. In the course of the film, however, she of course grows a backbone, falls for a Jew, and doesn't play by the rules. It was a good film, but could have been so much better.


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DOKHTARI BA KAFSH-HAYE-KATANI
(THE GIRL IN THE SNEAKERS)
1999


Bay Area Premiere
February 28, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Two teenagers are arrested, yes arrested, for talking together in a park. Welcome to Iran. The traditional first credit on screen, 'praise be to God', is extremely fitting in this morality play on obeying your parents. A cute 15-year-old loves a less well-to-do young man. When arrested, her parents are outraged and afraid that they've had sex. A state-sponsored medical exam proves that they have not. She is grounded and banned from contacting the boy again. Her mother tries to explain, but no explanation is good enough for the girl who plays hookey from school and constantly calls her beloved. Her trusting nature with men has her narrowly escaping several tough situations. Every guy she comes into contact with is a jerk and after her womanhood.

The actress with her huge eyes and easy smile is so charismatic that we don’t mind watching her walk around the city for hours at a time.

Interesting Muslim filmmaking side note: The girl becomes friends with some street people who help her. They are afraid her ‘fancy clothes’ will get them police interest. Her fancy clothes consist of a black scarf around her head. She is given a paisley scarf to put on. Onscreen just when we’re aching to see her hair, for god’s sake, they cut away and cut back when the new scarf is on. It’s like Disney gone amok. Any glimpse of her hair will throw the audience into a frenzy. It was sort of like a made-for-tv movie where someone is changing and they cut away as the girl pulls the shirt over her head and then cuts back as she pulls the new one down. This film was an interesting look at a teenager’s life rebelling against her parents in a country where morals are more than a state of mind.


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THE FRIGGIN' MAFIA MOVIE
2001


World Premiere
February 27, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Locally shot in and around San Jose on digital. Sort of a behind the scenes look at filming a low budget movie. Tries to be funny and Spinal Tappish but fails miserably in every possible way. I may have laughed out loud three times and that's because I was sitting next to the cast. It didn't start well, had no pacing or story, and the scenes went on way too long.


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TATAWO
2000


California Premiere
February 26, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Beautiful to look at in both shot selection and personnel. The lead actress (Mercedes Ortega) is incredibly beautiful and covered with tatoos and naked half the time. The bodies of all the participants are great to look at and it is sexy, but I have way more questions than answers now that I've seen it. I'm not sure about the time line. I understand it takes place in India and Barcelona. I'm not sure what the motivations were from character to character. We have piercing of every kind of body part, tatoos, sex, lesbian scenes, underage hookers, Cubans, clubs, and music, but I'm not sure we have a movie.


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ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND

February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Story of Indian takeover of Alcatraz at the tail end of the 60s. Pretty comprehensive. Shows the charisma of the leaders and the problems that can arise with any protest action. I had heard it all before, but perhaps not in such depth.


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POPCORN!
2001


World Premiere
February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Story of Bay Area guy who attempts to set the world record for largest container of popcorn. He rents a warehouse, recruits his buddies, gets several dozen airpoppers, and gets to work. Interesting story of an obsession that most people simply can't understand. He will end up spending thousands of dollars and 'wasting' more than a month in this pursuit. He becomes something of a media sensation. Film style done very well with talking heads and voiceovers and well-edited footage.


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A REFUGEE AND ME

February 25, 2001

Story of college kid who meets a young Budhist monk in Thailand and ends up staying with him. The monk is a refugee from neighboring Myanmar who is subsequently thrown in jail because he lacks a Thai work visa. Our narrator flys back to Thailand to help him with his case and with acquiring a work visa. The monk, Tway, is almost unbelievably charismatic. He is quick to laugh, even in the face of poverty and brutality. Very well done on a tiny budget.


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AMARGOSA
2000


Bay Area Premiere
February 25, 2001

Story of Marta Becket, who in her 70s moved from New York City, where she had been a ballet dancer, to Death Valley Junction where she restored by hand and now performs in the Amargosa Opera House. Extremely slick and professional. A bit long for my tastes.


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HORRIBLE ACCIDENT
2001


World Premiere
February 25, 2001

Lori Petty of LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN fame's directorial debut. It is apparently about a brother and sister who were abused as children and how they deal with it in their later years. Petty was onhand to answer questions and she said it was about what goes through a man's mind just before he pulls the trigger on the gun in his mouth. Some day she'll be a good filmmaker, but not yet. She certainly was nice and gonzo about the process, though.


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COMRADES

World Premiere
February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Absolutely riveting documentary about a guy who finds a picture from 1981 of his army unit and tries to reunite with each person in the picture after the breakup of Yugoslavia. I usually turn the channel when a story about the former Yugoslavia is on, but this film did a fantastic job of putting faces on a conflict I have little knowledge about. It's sort of a GREAT DAY IN HARLEM in Macedonia. He must find 15 or so men who have scattered throughout seven or eight different countries. He continually remarks when people ask him what ethnic group a buddy belongs to, that they never discussed such things while in the army. He goes to towns where the new leaders have completely changed the street names to erase proof of Yugoslavia. This provides a logistical nightmare as our narrator must go across borders to find people who are now enemies to each other. When he describes his plan to townspeople, they shake their heads in disbelief. Some of his buddies are dead, some have disappeared, most have demolished houses. In one memorable scene, we see the childhood home of an army buddy with the living room in Croatia and the bedroom squarely in Bosnia. All of this could still be boring, but somehow the humor of Mitko Panov's story is just what we need to take us along. I learned more about the conflict from this film than any ten newsreports.


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KING OF THE JEWS

February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Another Jay Rosenblatt found footage story. This one about his growing up Jewish and believing his people killed Jesus until learning, in a film, that Jesus himself was Jewish. He has basically cornered the market on this kind of filmmaking. He uses clips of old, mostly instructional footage, to tell his story. Half the fun is figuring out the connection between the image onscreen and how it relates to the story he's telling. He's had better efforts.


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SHIT--THE MOVIE

February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Hard to watch, but ultimately hilarious study of all that is defecation. I turned my head often but laughed in spite of myself. With the exception of a Penn-educated doctor, most of the interviewees were wacky young people in touch with their movements.


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ECCENTRIC NATION

February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

It looked like a TV series about three wacky Americans. I'm a big fan of watching wackos and was entertained. There was a science guy that claimed that any two bodies repel each other, they don't attract one another. The second person was a UFO woman, but that type has been done much better in Roswell or Trekkies. The final person was an old woman running a burlesque museum. She seemed the most normal. This type of thing has been done better by any number of documentarians.


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JOHN SCHUELER: A PAINTER'S LIFE

February 25, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Short documentary on life of John Schueler. When a painter tries to explain what he is doing, it's sort of like a comic explaining what funny is. It can't be done. There is great footage of him actually creating artwork. In one installation, he painted a piece that was already hung on the wall and visitors could watch him work. He became part of the art. His finished pieces did nothing for me. Narrated by Campbell Scott.


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THE PERFECT SON
2000


Bay Area Premiere
February 24, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A charming Canadian film about two very different brothers brought together after awhile by the death of their father. The younger one is freshly out of rehab and is thought of in the family as the screw up. The older one is a successful Toronto lawyer, who was a star athlete in high school. When the extremely closeted older brother is stricken with AIDS, the younger one must come to terms with his secret lifestyle and care for him.

What separated this film from many others is its subtlety and honesty. The sibling relationship was shown in an incredibly realistic way. Brothers do things for each other, even if they don't want to and are not sure if they should. The dying brother is shown joyous, cocky, horny, and sobbing. The younger one takes on responsibilities he's not sure he can achieve. Both actors did fantastic jobs fleshing out their characters. I liked this one a lot.


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LUNA PAPA
1999


February 24, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A teenager, living in Central Asia, is seduced by a travelling actor, and a search begins with her father and brother to find the man.

Chulpan Khamatova plays the young girl whose pregnancy is great cause for alarm in her family and village. The boyfriend from Run Lola Run plays her dimwitted brother. The film is expertly and beautifully shot with sweeping dry hill vistas and crane shots. Thoroughly enjoyable for me until a bit too much wackiness took over. Worth a look.


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YOU CAN COUNT ON ME
2000


February 24, 2001

AMC Saratoga

-->Written and Directed by.....Kenneth Lonergan [Analyze This]
-->Cinematography by.....Stephen Kazmierski [Listen Up: The Lives Of Quincy Jones, The Myth Of Fingerprints, Happiness]
-->Samantha Prescott.....Laura Linney [Lorenzo's Oil, Dave, Searching For Bobby Fisher, Tales Of The City, Primal Fear, Absolute Power, The Truman Show, Maze]
-->Terry Prescott.....Mark Ruffalo
-->Brian Everett.....Matthew Broderick [WarGames, Ferris Buehler's Day Off, Project X, Biloxi Blues, Torch Song Trilogy, She's Having A Baby, Glory, Family Business, The Freshman, The Night We Never Met, Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle, The Cable Guy, Addicted To Love, Godzilla, Election]
-->Bob Stegerson.....Jon Tenney [Mr. Terry Hatcher, Equal Justice, Guilty By Suspicion, Tombstone, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, Fools Rush In, Brooklyn South, Homegrown]

Two grown orphans are reunited in their upstate New York hometown, when the brother visits the sister.

Absolutely fantastic story of siblings who after more than 30 years, still cannot spend any amount of time together before arguing. Linney plays a single mother who works at a bank and is looking for love without commitment. Her brother is played in pitch-perfect slackerness by Mark Ruffalo. The sister is a go-getter, the brother moves around from job to job in state after state. They've both adapted to their parents' deaths the only way they know how. Linney's son is played by still another Culkin kid who is way too good for his age. (What the hell is in the Culkin's water supply?).

The interaction between the two siblings is honest and realistic. Neither one is perfect. They both offer something that the other wishes they had. They are at first polite to each other, but then old habits come back and they assume the roles they've had all their lives. The town in which they grew up is nothing short of spectacular. It's green and everyone knows everyone else. Terry couldn't wait to leave the town when he was growing up and he suggests to Samantha's son that he do the same. The scenes between Terry and his nephew, in which he treats him as a man, instead of the 12 year old he is, are priceless.

I can't say enough about this one. It is great from start to finish. There doesn't seem to be a false note in it and it is surprisingly full of humor. The two performances of the leads are flawless. Broderick is in another one of his terrific supporting roles. Go see it.

Praise:
~~Best Picture: Broadcast Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics Nomination, Sundance Grand Jury Prize
~~Best Director for Ken Lonergan: Boston Society of Film Critics
~~Best Original Screenplay for Ken Lonergan: Academy Award Nomination, Chicago Film Critics Nomination, Golden Globe Nomination, Independent Spirit Award Nomination, Los Angeles Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics, Online Film Critics Society Nomination, Sundance Waldo Salt Award, Writers Guild Nomination
~~Best Actor for Mark Ruffalo: Chicago Film Critics Nomination, Independent Spirit Award Nomination
~~Best Actress for Laura Linney: Academy Award Nomination, Chicago Film Critics Nomination, Golden Globe Nomination, Independent Spirit Award Nomination, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics, Online Film Critics Society Nomination, Screen Actors Guild Nomination


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GIBTOWN

February 24, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

A short documentary about Gibsontown, Florida. A place where carnival people go when they're not on the road. They all converge in a huge mobile home park. Your view of carnys will cause you to either love or hate the story. The characters are too good to be true. The 2-1/2 foot woman married to the 8 foot 5 inch guy. The midget that eats fire. The illusionist. Not any bigger than the sum of its parts. I'd have liked to hear about carnys on the lam from the law and hiding out or the way the midway games rips people off. But it was so rosy as to make the workers seem too perfect. I swear I've seen the same material produced in a more compelling way.


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THE BEATING HEART

February 24, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Short about a guy sitting on a bench in a train station. As passengers sit next to him, the conversation always seems to move towards child raising. Well done, but didn't hold my interest. Guy on the bench is Michael Horse from Twin Peaks fame.


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FOR EARTH BELOW

February 24, 2001

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Short about a couple. The woman goes to visit her ailing father played by Hill St. Demigod Daniel J. Travanti. Man stays behind at hotel and gets high and wrestles with a stranger. Good photography and humor hide the fact that there's not much story here.


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