International Film Festival 2000

Film Reviews

The Sound of Music Stop me if you've heard this one: A novice nun gets a job as governess for a stern captain's children and teaches the kids to sing before they flee Austria to avoid Nazi thugs. The screening is a benefit for KUHF/88.7 FM. Just keep telling yourself, "It's all for a good cause!" Cast: Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Director: Robert Wise.

The Spreading Ground Veteran cinematographer Derek Vanlint (Alien, Dragonslayer) makes a bid for multihyphenate status by directing this thriller about two police detectives on the trail of a serial killer. While the cops methodically pursue leads, the image-conscious mayor, anxious to avoid bad publicity while her city bids for a pro football franchise, makes a deal with the mob to eliminate the homicidal psycho. Cast: Dennis Hooper, Leslie Hope, Tom McCamus.

Spring Forward At heart, this richly rewarding, character-driven drama is a love story between two men who would be deeply embarrassed, if not seriously pissed off, to hear their relationship described in such a manner. Drawing upon his New York stage experience as director and playwright, Tom Gilroy keeps the focus tight and the situations simple in his feature filmmaking debut. It helps that he has a perfect-pitch ear for unaffected colloquial dialogue. It helps even more that his dialogue is delivered by the right people. Through the course of seven episodes, Spring Forward charts the emerging friendship and trust between two ordinary guys employed by the parks and recreation department of a small New England town. The picture basically is a two-hander for Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber. On the first day at his new job, Paul (Schreiber), a skittish ex-con, is partnered with Murph (Beatty), a grizzled veteran who's nearing retirement. The two men have little in common, and they're in no hurry to bridge any gaps. Early on, though, they're drawn closer by their shared contempt for a condescending moneybags (Campbell Scott) who can't understand why the workers aren't more grateful for his generosity to the city's parks program. Paul makes a rude comment about the rich fellow's masculinity, only to be humiliated when he's told that Murph's adult son is gay. Murph brushes off the offensive remark, but Paul feels compelled to do a kind of penance by describing the desperate crime that landed him in prison. All Paul wants now is a second chance. Fortunately for both men, that's exactly what Murph is willing to give him. Spring Forward was filmed sporadically over the course of a year, and the visible changes of season augment the overall sense of real life under close scrutiny. In a couple of instances, a scrap of throwaway dialogue plants the seed for a later payoff. For the most part, though, the narrative proceeds in a natural and unforced manner, seemingly unrestrained by a master plan, with one scene leading seamlessly to the next as Murph and Paul do nothing more dramatic than voice opinions, share confidences and, amusingly, challenge each other's philosophies. Schreiber gives an immensely appealing and shrewdly nuanced portrayal of an impulsive hothead who sets out to attain maturity through sheer force of will. Beatty's performance is even more remarkable, largely because it's such a delight to see that, even after nearly three decades of screen appearances, he's still capable of surprising an audience with the no-sweat, full-bodied skill of his craftsmanship. (J.L.)

Director Duane Clark will be present for the festival's closing-night feature, Family Tree.
Director Duane Clark will be present for the festival's closing-night feature, Family Tree.
Ossie Davis (center) and Ruby Dee (second from right) star in the made-for-cable drama Finding Buck McHenry.
Ossie Davis (center) and Ruby Dee (second from right) star in the made-for-cable drama Finding Buck McHenry.

Waco - A New Revelation Just in case your paranoia wasn't sufficiently stoked by William Gazecki's Oscar-nominated Waco: The Rules of Engagement, here's another documentary that questions the "official story" of what happened at Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993. Ex-FBI special agent Dr. Frederic Whitehurst is the narrator, and he has some unpleasant things to say about some of his former superiors. Director: Jason Van Vleet.

The Way Ferenc Moldoványi's documentary follows the misadventures of Liu Zhixian, a 60-year-old university professor who emigrates from Beijing to find a better life in Budapest. Cast: Zhixian, Liu Yanghe.

The Wedding Cow Although scarcely more substantial than a shaggy-dog story, or a laughing-cow anecdote, this sweetly whimsical German road movie is a light, likable treat. Smoothly directing from a script he co-wrote with Ela Thier, Tomi Streiff introduces Flora (Isabella Parkinson) as a small-town librarian who's journeying to her new job in a far-off hamlet. Ingenuous to a fault, Flora is easily tricked out of her money by a slick con man, and forced to hitchhike. Fortuitously, she gets a lift from Tim (Oliver Reinhard), a teddy-bearish plumber who's driving his small truck back to his Black Forest home. Tim is supposed to get married in a few days -- Hannah, the bovine scene-stealer in the back of his vehicle, is a wedding present -- but not surprisingly, he has second thoughts after a few picaresque adventures with his bookish companion. At its frequent best, The Wedding Cow comes off as a screwball comedy played at half speed, filled with straight-talking folk instead of quick-quipping free spirits. The title character may get most of the flattering close-ups, but the two human leads are even more engaging. (J.L.)

White Lies A theater director tries to shield his mother from the devastating news that she's dying of cancer in this Israeli-produced drama written and directed by Itzhak Rubin. Cast: Orna Porat, Sharon Alexander and Gina Lidoni.

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