By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Simon Abrams
By Amanda Lewis
By Scott Foundas
By B. Caplan
The Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field A frustrated lover unleashes the power of the Kabbala to win the hand of his beloved. Based on a classic Jewish legend of ill-fated lovers. Cast: Ayelet Z'urer, Yehezkel Lazarov. Director: Yossi Somer.
Fallen ArchesDirector Ron Cosentino's film has two very different tones, which compete with, rather than complement, each other. But it's also ambitious, well acted and generally one of the festival's more interesting entries. Two brothers live in a crummy part of L.A. with their boozy mother. The three of them take care of one another as best they can -- and are rather touching in the process. But the family has a criminal strain. Dad is away doing hard time, and the young men could wind up there themselves. That is, if they're not killed first by a local mobster who is very angry that his 65 pairs of Italian shoes, handmade to accommodate his deformed feet, have been hijacked by friends of our heroes. The two tones are these: Whenever the loving but unlucky family is on screen, we have Brooklyn in L.A.; they have the accents, the criminal pals, the low self-esteem. But when the gangster shows up, we have a film in the David Lynch mode, self-consciously weird. It doesn't quite work, but the cast is fine, especially Karen Black as the ne'er-do-well mom. (D.T.)
Family Tree It's hard to imagine a film festival targeted at adults closing with a picture so clearly aimed at very young adults. But here it is nonetheless, with Duane Clark's Family Tree.A small town near Anywhere, USA, has been suffering hard times since the factory closed two years ago. So a local stalwart proposes to become the town hero, a title he has wanted ever since he was a kid, by enticing a new company to build a plant there. There's only one catch: To build the plant, they'll have to cut down the town's favorite tree. It's certainly the preferred tree of the would-be hero's ten-year-old son. The boy considers the tree his secret friend, so he defies the town, and his dad, in order to save it. He's joined in his crusade by a mysterious figure who was once the town's real hero, in football and in the Korean War. Dad, of course, has always been jealous of the guy. The cast -- Robert Forster, Naomi Judd and Cliff Robertson -- is strong, but the story is more simple and sappy than your average after-school special. (D.T.)
Finding Buck McHenryScheduled for an April 16 premiere on the Showtime channel, this made-for-cable drama deals with a youngster's search for a legendary Negro League baseball player. Cast: Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Michael Schiffman. Director: Charles Burnett (The Glass Shield, To Sleep with Anger).
A Force More PowerfulThis documentary could be titled Gandhi's Legacy. The film covers nonviolent uprisings in the American South, South Africa, Poland and Burma, but much of its time is spent with the nonviolent movement's spiritual father, Mohandas Gandhi. The story is familiar to anyone who saw Richard Attenborough's Oscar-winning film bio about the saintly Indian. The fact that Ben Kingsley narrates the documentary accentuates its familiarity and gives the film a sort of home-movie feel. But even if you know the ins and outs of Gandhi's story, the film is still compelling, as filmmaker Steve York has unearthed reels of seldom-seen (at least in this country) footage of the political movement and of Gandhi himself. In his frail humanity -- he's almost naked, all skin and bones -- Gandhi is an inspiring sight. (D.T.)
Gentleman BWith Charlie Mattera and Mark Pettraca's screenplay, the filmmakers had a solid foundation on which to build a film. The writers provided some interesting twists on the old falling-out-among-thieves story. After a brief career as a jewel thief, one crook turns against the other, ratting him out so he will be captured in mid-heist, leaving the rat to marry his friend's girl and move her from New Jersey to California, where they can start a new life. So new, in fact, that he becomes a cop. When the wronged crook finally gets out of prison, he goes to California in search of his lost love and double-crossing friend, only to find them divorced. She's trying to raise a daughter by herself. When the ex-con begins reingratiating himself with his old girlfriend, the criminal-turned-cop objects rather violently. A game of cat and mouse begins between the two men, each trying to set the other up to take a fall. This is a promising story line, but director Jordan Alan overplays his hand. The cop is so blatantly corrupt that he loses credibility, even as a member of L.A.'s tainted force. And the good-guy criminal isn't a compelling enough character to hold our interest. (D.T.)
The Happy Family PlanDirector Abe Tsutomu's film is of some modest ethnographic interest, to the extent that it provides a window onto the workings of a contemporary Japanese family. The story is inspired by a Japanese game show called The Happy Family Plan, in which real-life fathers compete against each other to see who can be the best housekeeper. The winner gets a big pile of yen. Here, Dad has been a breadwinner for decades, dutifully keeping the long social and business hours expected of him. But when he loses his job for performing some shady work at the behest of his superiors, he has to reinvent himself, but not before he has been thoroughly humiliated in front of his wife and video-game-and-television-addicted kids. He can only redeem himself with them by winning at The Happy Family Plan. The story is conventional, but nicely executed. (D.T.)
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