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Movie Reviews from the Sarasota Film Festival


And call this Sunday at 6pm eastern / 5pm central to ask questions concerning these films!

The recent 9th annual Sarasota Film Festival was the biggest yet, hosting around 210 films from all over the world.  This event has become increasingly popular with both film fans and industry leaders.  Here are some of the cinematic impressions I took away from a handful of the festival offerings this year.  Expect longer reviews of some of these in the near future:


Joey Pants, Marcia Gay Harden and director Joesph Greco at the Sarasota premiere of their film "Canvas" 

Waitress – Opening on May 2 in a limited number of cities before branching out for a wider release, "Waitress" is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.  Telling the story of a down-on-her-luck waitress (played by Kerri Russel) and her attempts to redefine the scope of her life after becoming pregnant, the film delivers a load of laughs, heartwarming tears, and pleasant surprises (like a co-starring appearance by Andy Griffith).  Keep yuor eyes open -- this is the next big sleeper hit; this year's "The Devil ears Prada". The film is made all the more bittersweet due to the murder of the film's writer/director/co-star Marianne Shelley. A-


Lake of Fire / Zoo – Two of the most talked about and controversial documentary films of the year. "Lake of Fire" is director Tony Kaye's (American History X) exhaustive examination of the abortion issue.  Beautifully shot in elegant black and white (in an attempt to draw irony out of the complex issue, I suppose), and held by extremely tight, truth-telling close-ups, the film is notable mainly for its fair depiction of each side of this troubling issue.  All it lacks is a sense of urgency and discovery. "Zoo", on the other hand, sorely lacks anything that would make a film remotely enjoyable or illuminating. Actors portray their real-life narrating counterparts in this tale of bestiality involving an internet cult and a stable of horses.  Oddly disconnected and featuring the sleaziest of production values, this is one film to avoid in spite of its sensationalized plotline. Lake of Fire: B, Zoo: F


The Hawk Is Dying – After the runaway success of "Sideways", star Paul Giamatti signed on to star in this Gainesville-shot drama about a tortured hawk trainer who looks for a shot at redemption following the death of a close family member.  The film confuses hypnotic with sleepy and lacks the narrative energy and thrust to save it from inspiring boredom. Giamatti, however, has never drenched a performance in such vividly realized emotional intensity before. C+


Winona Ryder falls in love with a dummy in "The Ten"

The Ten – An undeniable mess.  Featuring an all-star cast that includes Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba, Liev Schreiber and Winona Ryder, "The Ten" is a spoof-like silly fest that chronicles each commandment in the form of separate ten -minute shorts.  Barely cohesive, with groan-inducing attempts at humor, the picture is a major letdown, especially given the impressive number of talents involved.  "The Ten" gets a wide release in theatres across the country on August 3.  C-


The Camden 28 – The most relevant, moving documentary of the year. Director Anthony Giacchino assembled this 82-minute depiction of the infamous Vietnam protest group from over 100 hours of footage.  The result is an astonishing piece of work, drawing clear parallels to today's turbulent war-ridden climate even though the current conflict is never mentioned by name.  The film will play in limited cities before it airs on PBS this September 11. A

Parker Posey and Jeff Goldblum star in Hal Hartley's "Fay Grim"

Fay Grim – Funny, quirky spy comedy featuring two of our quirkiest actors, Parker Posey and Jeff Goldblum.  About twenty minutes too long, the film never lifts off the screen as it should; it never lives and breathes.  The story hardly matters here, either, as one trick falls upon another until you're too whip-lashed to care. But there are many high points of humor delivered by an outstanding cast. B-


Canvas – There's a razor-thin line between a careful examination of mental illness and a Lifetime Movie of the Week clone.  Unfortunately, "Canvas" suffers the pitfalls of the latter.  Shot on a shoe-string budget in Hollywood, Florida, the film stars Joe Pantiliano ("The Sopranos", "The Matrix") and Marcia Gay Harden ("Mystic River") as a family barely clinging to hope in the face of schizophrenia.  Harden's screen time is relegated to outbursts and rampages and, as a result, her character lacks a sense of depth, especially since her connection to her child barely registers onscreen.  The usually flamboyant Pantiliano, though, comes through with a moving portrait of an everyman struggling to keep his family together. C+


Away From Her – Here's a portrait of mental illness that gets it right. First time writer-director, but long-time actress Sarah Polley gives us this film that examines the effects of Alzheimer's on a 44-year marriage.  The picture works on the luminous wonders of Julie Christie's performance, and the unexpected, but truthful turns of a top-notch character-driven screenplay.  This is a film that paints its characters with a variety of colors and refuses to be defined by the illness at its center. A-


Quiet City – A film about the human connections that happen on every corner on every day, "Quiet City" is a naturalistic portrayal of young love in bloom.  It's a slice of life picture in every sense of the word; nothing is heightened or made more needlessly dramatic than it already is.  Writer-director Aaron Katz shows a sure hand with both his actors and his inobtrusive camera in this charming, powerfully assured and observant indie feature. B+


Philosopher Slavoj Zizek discusses the psychoanalytical themes of "The Birds"

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema – Not nearly as seedy as the title makes it out to be, this documentary of sorts is a powerfully entertaining and enlightening look at the power movies have over the subconscious.  Philosopher Slavoj Zizek gives us what is essentially the most exciting lecture ever captured on film, as he steps into the world of films as diverse as "The Birds", "Blue Velvet" and "Star Wars Episode III" to illustrate a feast of witty, fascinating observations.  Who knew the three floors of the Bates house in "Psycho" represent ego, superego and id? A


Exiled – Director Johnny To's latest effort is an ideal mix of John Woo action frenetics and Hitchcock camera staging.  Solid premise sets a group of assassinations against two of the area's biggest crime lords.  Simple, down and dirty, with just enough hints of poetic character defaults.  B+


Dark Matter – Meryl Streep and Aidan Quinn co-star as mentors to a brilliant visiting Chinese student who finds that the land of opportunities is not all it's cracked up to be.  The climax of the film is a bit of a stretch and should ultimately leave this film shelved for quite some time, in light of the recent Virginia Tech shootings. Aidan Quinn turns in strong work, though Streep seems lost and in search of a role. C+


To hear our exclusive interviews with "The Camden 28" director Anthony Giacchino and original member John Swinglish, "Canvas" co-star and Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Aaron Katz, writer-director of the independent film "Quiet City", go to