THE ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN COLE
OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE - CHILL FACTOR
THE MUSE - DUDLEY DO-RIGHT
GENGHIS BLUES - FLOATING
THE ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN COLE
Yet another teen coming-of-age flick comes to the screen this late summer with "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," by first time helmer/writer Tod Williams. The story begins with the distant roar of an engine and a crash in the distance. Staggering out of the desolate desert wasteland is the bloody visage of the title character as he seeks help at a nearby home. Told that he's bleeding to death, Sebastian (Adrian Grier) gazes at a crumpled photograph of his family and is thrust back to the time of the picture. This is a year in the life of a young man whose family life is anything but routine.
Robin's review of 'The Adventures of Sebastian Cole':
Tod Williams takes a big nod from author John Irving in this story of a young whose family has, basically, fallen apart. When we meet the family, at the time of Sebastian's photo, his mom and dad are divorced, with both remarried or involved with a significant other. Young Cole, without the parental guidance, has become a bit of a problem as he lies his way through school and treats authority with disdain. The only solid anchor point the boy has is his stepfather, Hank (Clark Gregg).
Hank provides the discipline and love the boy needs but gets so rarely. Even this anchor, though, proves to be in troubled waters. Hank collects his little family together and announces that, for the good of all, he is going to have a sex change operation. This declaration fragments the already fragmented family as Sebastian's mother, Joan (Margaret Colin), wigs out and drags her son to England to live. As she tries to cope with her frustration through drink, her son leaves her and returns to the stability of his stepfather's (soon to be stepmother?) home. Hank has progressed with his "treatment" and is well on his way to becoming Henrietta when Sebastian arrives. This really begins the boy's coming of age, as he must deal with a broken home and a father figure that is really a mother.
"The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," from a coming-of-age standpoint, is pretty routine fare with the title character searching for adventure in his life so he can become a writer. Sebastian sees himself as a modern Ernest Hemingway and wants to live life to its fullest despite the costs and burden on others. As such, he's a pretty selfish kid and not very likable. His "adventures" consist of, mainly, his getting in trouble, cutting class and making renegade rides through the school corridors on his bicycle. Sebastian's adventures, for the most part, aren't all that adventurous.
Fortunately, the relationship that builds through the film between Sebastian and Hank/Henrietta is the strong suite and helps raise the ante a notch or two as this odd father/son story unfolds. Clark Gregg ("The Spanish Prisoner") gives an outstanding performance as the sexually changing Hank/Henrietta. His perf is akin to the film debut by John Lithgow, in the film adaptation of John Irving's "The World According to Garp," as Roberta Muldoon. There is a big difference, though, as Henrietta provides a good home, a caring parental figure and practical discipline for Sebastian. Like Lithgow, I'm also noting Gregg as a dark horse potential for best supporting actor at year's end. Not many will get to see this odd, touching little role but the actor gives a great performance.
The rest of the cast, including Adrian Grenier as Sebastian Cole, does not get away from being two-dimensional characters. Aleksa Palladino ("Manny & Lo") is fair as Sebastian's girlfriend and love interest, Mary. Margaret Colin ("The Devil's Own") is nondescript as his Brit mom, Joan (I was hard pressed to hear any signs of an English accent in her line delivery).er and his son. These two elements propel the film from less than fair to almost good. I give it a C+.
Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy, "The Faculty") lives with his blue collar dad (Alec Baldwin), younger, wheelchair-bound brother Jackie and their three-legged, one-eyed dog. Tim hangs out with his unambitious pot-smoking buddies, until one night, stoned and blinded by smoke, he runs into a parked police car. Dad's had it and forces Tim to spend his senior year at Cornwall Academy, a Connecticutt prep school that's a far cry from Tim's beloved, shabby Pawtucket, Rhode Island. There Tim will find true love and the rewards of applying himself in "Outside Providence."
Laura's review of 'Outside Providence':
When aspiring director and Rhode Island native Michael Corrente ("Federal Hill") found "Outside Providence" in paperback for $1, he figured he'd give it a shot. After reading it, he hunted down author Peter Farrelly and proposed a movie adaptation. Many years later, Corrente and the brothers Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary") got around to it - they cowrote the screenplay adaptation and Corrente directed this thoroughly charming, oftimes hilarious coming of age tale.
Unlike the Farrelly comedies we've come to know, "Outside Providence" is a warmer, realistic, and humanistic film with flashes of the type of humor we've come to expect from the bros. Tim, who fiercely protects his handicapped brother, treats him with tough love, maturely reasoning that Jackie needs to learn how to fend for himself and not get lost in self pity. Tim's relationship with his Dad, however, is a more difficult one. When Dad spies Tim (whom he calls Dildo) with his buddies outside, he insists the teenage troop come inside and say hello to his poker playing cronies, much to their mortification. They'd only intended to send Jackie for a bong, which Tim allows to drop to the floor and then tells his father is a musical instrument. Before leaving for prep school, Tim enlists his best buddy 'Drugs Delaney' (Jon Abrahams, "The Faculty") to help Jackie with his paper route (Drugs obliges by tying Jackie's wheelchair to the back of his van with a rope).
Once at school, Tim's strangely befriended by Wheeler (James Spader lookalike Gabriel Mann), who leads him to the huge bong (it appears to be made out of an old furnace) that's kept hidden beneath the boughs of a weeping tree on school grounds. Tim's paired up with bunkmate Irving Waltham (Jack Ferver), a bookish nerd who follows school rules stridently, yet gets drawn into a circle by Tim that wears away his geekiness. Then Tim's struck dumb by the sight of Jane Webster (Amy Smart, "Varsity Blues"), but Wheeler informs him he has no chance, as she's the most popular girl in school. But Tim overcomes his blue collar once more and makes Jane his in an utterly believable first serious romance.
Tim does have obstacles, though. When Drugs writes to him in a drug and alcohol induced stupor (uproariously shown in flashback), but forgets to put his name on the envelope, the letter finds its way into the Dean Mort's hands and Tim's under surveillance, much to his dorm monitor, Mr. Funderburk's (Tim Crowe) delight. (Later, Dean Mort brings the news of Drugs' death to Tim, and seems deeply sorrowed by the task - one of the film's many shining moments). Wheeler turns out to be a self-serving rat and Tim and his new pals are caught with pot and booze by Funderburk, who Tim manages to blackmail - but it's his beloved Jane, already accepted by Ivy League Brown, who suffers expulsion.
The cast of this film is marvelous, with young Hatosy perfectly creating a young man coping with coming adulthood in 1974, while trying to have a good time. Alec Baldwin shines in the supporting role of the father scarred by his young wife's suicide who deeply loves the two sons he treats with rough derision (in one scene, he teaches Tim how to tie a tie and the moment's touching with nary a drop of sentiment; in another he advises Tim that 'making sex is like a Chinese dinner - it ain't over til you both get your cookies' - great stuff!). Fresh faced Amy Smart is delightfully grounded as Jane. Jack Ferver is a new find as Irv and Jon Abrahams contributes an inspired Drugs. Tommy Bone is another find as Jackie Dunphy, playing Farrelly humor at its most outrageous when he exaggerates his handicap to get into a football game for free.
The screenplay adaptation is note perfect, with Corrente blending some of his own childhood memories (his mother really did shoot out the Christmas ornaments with his new toy rifle) to the Farrellys'. Providence locations and production design by Chad Detwiller have a real 1970's New England authenticity.
"Outside Providence" is a funny and touching winner. B+
Robin's review of 'Outside Providence':
Based on the novel by Peter Farrelly (of the Farrelly brothers), "Outside Providence" is the poignant and funny story of a young man coming of age in Rhode Island in the 70's. Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) has grown up in the blue-collar town of Pawtucket in a broken home with a three-legged, one-eyed dog, working class father, Pat (Alec Baldwin) and handicapped brother, Jackie (Tommy Bone). Tim is on a go-nowhere path with the rest of his friends - hanging out, drinking and getting stoned. Until, a "fortuitous" accident - Tim rear ends a police car while he and his chums are high - forces Pat to send his son to Cornwall Academy, a prep school where the young man is, initially, out of place and outnumbered in "Outside Providence."
The pairing of the slapstick, goofball humor of the Farrelly brothers ("There's Something About Mary") and the more serious, dramatic background of director and cowriter Michael Corrente ("Federal Hill") turns out to be an unexpected bit of cinema magic. The melding of the two very different filmmaking styles works together in a way that makes the sum total of the film greater than its individual parts.
Shawn Hatosy ("The Faculty"), in his first lead performance, is the anchor that makes the drama and romance of the story work so well with the humor of growing up in the 70's. Tim Dunphy is a typical under achiever who, when thrust into the rarified atmosphere of Cornwall, is forced to learn, fall in love and prove himself as a friend. Hatosy shows the talent and ability to be a new, young star.
The supporting cast is led by a surprisingly good Alec Baldwin as Tim's mechanic father. Pat Dunphy is a tough father who has had to raise his two boys after the suicide death of his wife and their mother years before. Pat doesn't show much outward affection for his son's, even giving Tim the lifelong moniker of Dildo. As the story unfolds, Pat also reveals the real layers of love he feels for his boys. In one beautifully balanced scene, dad teaches his elder son how to tie a tie. What could have been schmarmy and totally sentimental is rendered as a touching, real life event between a father and a son. It's the biggest stretch as an actor I have ever seen from Baldwin.
The rest of the cast features a good performance by Amy Smart ("Varsity Blues") as Tim's love interest, friend and tutor, in both school and life matters, Jane Weston. George Wendt gives a quirky little performances as Pat's poker-playing pal with a secret. The kids who portray Tim's buddies are mostly background, except for a funny perf, with a sad ending, by Jon Abrahams ("The Faculty") as the aptly named Drugs Delaney. Theater veteran Timothy Crowe makes an interesting screen debult as the students', particularly Tim's, academic nemesis, Mr. Funderberk.
The screenplay, though based on Peter Farrelly's novel, is really the combo effort of Farrelly, brother Bobby, and Corrente. The charm of "Outside Providence" lay in its core stories of young love and coming of age, while using the bawdy, raucous humor that is the trademark of the Farrellys to keep the humor factor high. The open use of pot by the teens also lends to the period humor, with the kids using a 55 gallon drum as a giant bong on campus. The strengths of "Outside Providence" are in its solid cast and story.
This is an assured feature by Corrente and an interesting change of pace from the Farrellys. In a summer movie season that has a bunch of coming-of-age films, "Outside Providence" is the one worth seeing. I give it a B+.
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich team as a pair of mismatched misfits who are thrown together to stop a plot by a renegade ex-Army officer who is trying to get his hands on a new, devastating chemical explosive. It's up to this unlikely team to thwart the plans and save millions in "Chill Factor."
Robin's review of 'Chill Factor':
"Chill Factor." That's the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach about ten minutes into this turkey. It pairs Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. with Skeet Ulrich ("Scream") as two guys who, through a moronic series of circumstances, must stop a madman from setting off a powerful new explosive that could kill millions. The lifeless script by Lou Gitlin and Mike Cheda is all smoke, crashes and explosions as the two average Joes best the efforts by the bad guy (Peter Firth) and his henchman with ease. There is no chemistry between the leads and we have to put up with stuff like a discussion on the trout (yes, the fish) as a noble hunter and lines like "When this is over, I'm gonna kick your ass." We've been here before and it's been done better, much better.
Stylish production values notwithstanding, 'tis better to chill on "The Chill Factor." I give it a D.
Steve Phillips (Albert Brooks) doesn't know it at the beginning of "The Muse," but his days as a successful screenwriter are over. Everyone, even his barely post-adolescent producer, tell him he's "lost his edge." Steve knows he's on the outs when he gets a studio walk-on-only (not drive-on) pass for a meet with Spielberg. Stan Spielberg (Steven Wright). Steven's cousin. The hapless writer seeks the help of his friend Jack (Jeff Bridges), another writer whose luck had miraculously changed recently. Jack reluctantly agrees to arrange a meeting with Sarah Little, one of the nine daughters of the Greek god Zeus. Put another way, Steve is about to meet his Muse.
Robin's review of 'The Muse':
At first, it all seems simple enough to Steve. He has a meet with Sarah, she inspires him, he gets his "edge" back. Simple. Until he actually meets Sarah and realizes he's in way over his head. To get her to "inspire" him, he must shower her with gifts, set her up in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, provide a limo and driver AND be on call for her 24 hours a day. When his wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell), starts to suspect another woman, Steve comes clean and moves his muse into his home. This get complicated as Sarah helps Laura start a new business, drains the writer's bank account, and gives him inspiration in small doses.
Albert Brooks has almost done it with his latest comedy. Almost. The West Coast Woody Allen has made a career of his whining WASP/nebbish characters and continues his tradition in "The Muse." For someone who is less than a big fan of Brooks, this might not be a good thing - except for Sharon Stone. The superstar actress got her start in comedy in "Irreconcilable Differences" and is marvelously cast as the Muse. The characters that Brooks plays in his own films are selfish, self-centered and demanding, but Stone's Sarah could give him lessons as the spoiled daughter of Zeus. Stone stands out in a beautifully rendered comic performance.
The inside Hollywood aspect of "The Muse" is well played with the help of some of the industry's top directors, and others, making cameo appearances and help add to the tongue-in-cheek poke at Hollywood. Rob Reiner and Martin Scorsese have brief, but amusing, bits as benefactors of the inspiration of Sarah. James Cameron gets a bit more on-screen time and, with Stone, provides one of the film's funniest pokes at himself and the business.
"The Muse" barrels along at a quick, funny clip and, for 90% of the film, is the best work Brooks has done. Then, he stops the story flow, introduces an out-of-the-blue insanity angle into the mix and, then, has everyone live happily ever after. Why Brooks dropped the ball so badly at the end of his story with such a trite and unimaginative finale is a mystery. It ruins the mystical elements Brooks builds up so subtly through the movie. The end just does not make sense. A simple, elegant finish with, say, Woody Allen showing up at Sarah's doorstep bearing a gift would have been a heck of a lot better (and, funnier) than the hack job Brooks does here.
"The Muse" is almost a terrific Hollywood-on-Hollywood comedy. The writing is funny and has wit. Stone gives an exemplary comic performance and has a whole new genre to explore as a star. It's too bad that Brooks cheaps out in the end, making "The Muse" a good, not a great, comedy. Still, I give it a B.
Laura's review of 'The Muse':
I've long admired Albert Brooks and enjoy his films, yet he's never made a really great one. Imagine the frustration of seeing him sidle up to his masterpiece only to throw it away in its last ten minutes, where he clearly lost his muse.
Brooks follows up his writer-blocked sci-fi novelist of "Mother" with Steven Phillips, an Oscar winning screenwriter who everyone claims is losing his edge. This is noted in insider-Hollywood fashion in the film's first scene, where Phillips notes upon receiving a humantarian award that 'being a screenwriter in Hollywood is like being a eunuch at an orgy.' When his young daughter asks him what a humanitarian is, he deadpans 'It's someone who's never won an Oscar.'
The next day he loses his studio contract over lunch as his boss fawns over Lorenzo Lamas. Wife Laura (Andie MacDowell) advises him to ask old buddy (and huge Hollywood success) Jack Warrick (Jeff Bridges) for help. That's where Steven first spies Sarah (Sharon Stone), who Jack reluctantly acknowledges as his muse. Steven gets an appointment, and arrives at the pampered princess' guest cottage bearing a small Tiffany box - which promptly gets tossed onto a heap of larger Tiffany boxes. Sarah lays down the rules - she doesn't write, she just inspires, and her client foots her bills, beginning with a $1,700 a night suite.
Sharon Stone goes to town with this comedic role - she's flighty, annoying, demanding, spoiled and somehow childlike, yet beloved by the movers and shakers of Hollywood (Rob Reiner is a former client, and both James Cameron and Martin Scorcese come begging for her advice in hilarious cameos). Her billowing, pastel costumes (by Betsy Cox) add to her aura as the daughter of Zeus. Brooks is in full Woody Allen mode, anxious, depressed, cynical, and whiny, particularly when Sarah inspires Laura to become a cookie mogul. MacDowell shows more liveliness than usual. Mark Feuerstein is perfectly oily as Phillips' boss.
Cinematography by Thomas Ackerman is bright and playful, particularly when shooting the interior of the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific which Sarah insists Steven visit for inspiration (he gets it and it certainly sounds dubious - is this a joke? - yet everyone around him seems to like his new idea involving Jim Carrey and sick fish).
Brooks throws all this delightful inspiration out the window, however, when he thinks he needs to provide an explanation for Sarah - it's abruptly handled, doesn't quite jibe with previous events and causes the film to deflate. "The Muse" is an A film with a C- ending.
Animation master Jay Ward created some of television's finest adult-friendly kids' programming that has ever graced the small screen. "Rocky and Bullwinkle," "Mr. Peabody," "Aesop's Fables" and the rest appeal to young and old alike with goofy humor and Ward's patented puns and topical references. In 1997, "George of the Jungle" hit the screen, boosting the career worth of star Brendan Fraser and making a pile of money, to boot. Now, writer/director Hugh Wilson ("Guarding Tess") hopes to hit gold, pairing Fraser and Ward once again, this time in the live-action "Dudley Do-Right"
Robin's review of 'Dudley Do-Right':
My hopes ran high when the theater darkened and the show started with a brand new rendition of "Fractured Fairy Tales" in "The Phox and the Box." The animated short has the same charm and humor as the original series and brought a nostalgic smile to my face. I rubbed my hands with the anticipation for what comes next. Then, the movie began. Whatever goofy humor and fun there was in "Dudley Do-Right," the TV show, was left by the wayside in this 80-minute long exercise in tedium.
Brendan Fraser, who has proven himself on several different levels of acting - from the aforementioned George to his solid performance in "Gods & Monsters" - is given nothing to do with the character of Dudley. There is a blankness, an emptiness, to Dudley that does nothing to make you like the hapless Mountie. Fraser is relegated to inflicting self-harm with loose floorboards (frequently) and talking to his flatulent horse, Horse. There is nothing likable about Fraser's Dudley Do-Right, who, at the very least, should be liked.
The veteran cast of actors joining Fraser all have strong ties to comedy and should be an asset to the film. I say should be. Sarah Jessica Parker ("Mars Attack!") does nothing for her role as Nell Fenwick, the love interest for Dudley and Snidely Whiplash (Alfred Molina). To the actress' defense, she was given nothing to begin with. Eric Idle is mildly amusing as prospector, bum and Zen master to Dudley, Kim J. Darling. Robert Prosky is dead on as Nell's father, Inspector Fenwick, but has only minutes of screen time. Alex Rocco got a small smile from me as the chief of the Kumquat Indian tribe from Brooklyn.
The only one who comes out of this mess intact is Alfred Molina as bad badguy, Snidely. The versatile Molina has some rip-snortin' fun as he goes over the top as the mustache twirling, greedy, sneaky, despicable Whiplash. Snidely also gets the best wardrobe in the inventive use of costume that helps convey his black-hearted and black-garbed badness. I think Molina is the only one, on the screen or in the audience, who had any fun with "Dudley Do-Right."
The screenplay, and its execution by its creator, Wilson, is almost totally without merit. The story has Snidely secretly seeding the streams and mines, near Semi-Happy Valley in Canada's far north, with gold. Meanwhile, he steals the town out from under its inhabitants and scares everyone away with vampire stories. Then, he makes a killing when Americans swarm to the newly named Whiplash City to create a 20th century gold rush. It's up to Dudley to stop this nefarious scheme and win the girl. From here on in, though, pyrotechnics take over and the decibel level rises, but there is nothing of substance to hang on the high quality F/X and good production values. These include several big-scale Las Vegas-style dance numbers that are totally out of place, but well done nonetheless.
The main failing of "Dudley Do-Right" is its lack of identification with the heart and soul of the TV show. The movie bears more resemblance to old Nelson Eddie/Jeanette MacDonald movies than to the Ward series. I didn't want Nelson Eddie. Helmer Wilson even wastes the greatest line from the show - "I'll save you, Nell!" - in a throw away moment toward the end. If I had known better, I would have left after the "Fractured Fairy Tale" short and been a happier man for it.
"Dudley Do-Right" is only for little kids or anyone with no discerning taste. Save your money and rent the old Jay Ward classics if you can find them. I give it a D+.
Laura's review of 'Dudley Do-Right':
I'm afraid Dudley done wrong with this second pairing of star Brendon Fraser and a Jay Ward cartoon. While their live action take on "George of the Jungle" proved to be a sweet surprise hit, "Dudley Do-Right," while its heart is in the right place, rarely clicks.
We're introduced to the three principals as children, where Dudley already aspires to join the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, Snidely Whiplash displays a penchant for evil-doing and Nell, the object of both their affections, cannot decide between them. Flash forward and the now adult Dudley (Fraser) has achieved his dream while Whiplash (Alfred Molina, "The Man Who Knew Too Little") has devised a brilliant scheme to turn Semi Happy Valley into Whiplash City by seeding the river with enough gold to incite a faux gold rush. When Do-Right discovers him shooting gold bullets into a stream in the dead of night, Whiplash gets rid of him by concocting a story about killing vampires and sends the dim Dudley scrambling back to the safety of his outpost.
Nell (Sarah Jessica Parker) returns to her home town with several fancy degrees and a former ambassdorship to Guam and Dudley begins to woo her, but she's quickly swept off her feet by the now enormously wealthy Snidely. If that's not bad enough, Dudley's beloved Horse runs away, and then he's stripped of his uniform by Nell's father, an Inspector of the RCMP. In Karate Kid fashion, Dudley's trained by his new 'master,' (Eric Idle), a down and out drunken bum who became famous when he was the first to find gold ('I was on Regis and Kathie Lee,' he tells anyone who will listen in the streets of the now Vegas-like Whiplash City).
The film does has some funny moments, particularly when Dudley, then Snidely, take Nell to see the Brooklyn Kumquat Indian Tribe's 'Riverdance- like' production of the local Corn Festival. Horse runs away leaving a cartoon-cutout horse silhouette in the wall. Whiplash is dismayed to find that the now dirty-fighting Dudley has toilet-papered his miniature golf course. However, most efforts to revive the cartoon fall with resounding thuds. The introduction of dirt bikes and RVs are a too modern distraction.
Fraser does embody the square-jawed Dudley, but is called upon to perform too many stale pratfalls. Molina is an amusing Snidely, but the role could have been played much more outrageously - there's nary a mustache twirl in sight. Parker is a thoroughly boring Nell. Idle is wasted. The most entertaining member of the cast is Alex Rocco ("Boris and Natasha") as the Brooklyn Kumquat Chief.
Production design is appropriately cartoonish. Director Wilson ("Blast From the Past") lets scenes play on far too long making the film feed padded at an approximately 80 minute running time.
"Dudley Do-Right" is preceeded by a new Fractured Fairy Tale cartoon, "The Phox, the Box and the Lox," which is every bit as hilarious as the 1960's series episodes. Unfortunately, the short doesn't make the feature worth sitting through.
Blind San Fransiscan bluesman Paul Pena is scanning his short wave radio one evening when he picks up music like he's never heard before - people creating 2-3 notes from within their throats. Investigation at the local world music store uncovers a CD of Tuvan throat singing. Meanwhile, adventurer Ralph Lighton, who journeyed to Tuva (north of Mongolia) on the basis of a stamp, is running the American organization "Friends of Tuva" (co-founded with the late, nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman) and has arranged for a small tour of Tuvan throatsingers featuring Kongar-ol Ondar, the country's most reknowned performer, which stops in San Francisco. When Pena approaches Ondar at intermission and breaks out into Tuvan song, Ondar is overwhelmed and invites him to enter a Tuvan throatsinging competition. Feynman is delighted with the idea and decides to fund the expedition, documentarians Roko and Adrian Belic decide to make their debut film chronicling the event, and a rag tag crew including a of tree-doctor soundman and retired DJ set out on a most unusual trip.
Laura's review of 'Genghis Blues':
Winner of the audience award at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival "Genghis Blues" tells a many-layered tale with a lot of heart.
Pena, who learns a 50-word Tuvan voculabary by translating Tuvan into Russian, then English, because there are no Tuvan-English dictionaries, is received by Tuva with open arms. This is an unparalled love fest, although many hardships befall the American group.
Pena delights one and all with his mastery of the deeper style of throatsinging, causing the Tuvans to nickname him "Earthquake." After the first part of the official competition, where Pena is so nervous he almost backs out but then delights the crowd with his own composition sung in Tuvan, the group is taken on a tour of the country. Pena notes his frustration with his blindness, where he can be in the thick of things yet still not know what's going on (such as when he's led to participate in a sheep slaughtering ritual). Later, problems begin when the DJ Mario has a heart attack and Pena's anti-depression drugs begin to run out and it looks like the journey may have to be cut short.
Pena's drugs are miraculously found, however, and Mario temporarily recovers for Pena to go on for the final round of the competition as an audience favorite. He really nails his second performance, but I won't give away whether he wins the grand prize of a Tuvan horse.
"Genghis Blues" is a miraculous document of the human spirit, tinged with both joy and melancholy, culturally rich and musically exotic. B+
Robin's review of 'Genghis Blues':
One cannot complain about a year in film where not one, but two fine documentaries are produced about forgotten or unknown ethnic music. Earlier this year, with the "Buena Vista Social Club," Ry Cooder re-introduced the wonder and charm of the lost music of Havana, Cuba. Now, there is "Genghis Blues," the story of a blind blues singer from San Francisco whose fascination in Tuvan throatsinging leads him and a like-minded band of documentarians to travel half way around the world to attend the country of Tuva's annual throatsinging shootout.
Paul Pena, blind all of his life, first "discovered" the unique music years ago and, with members of "Friends of Tuva," they began the daunting task of putting together a documentary team to travel to Tuva for the annual musical event. They, somehow, make the long, hard journey and, for Paul, it is like a homecoming. The Tuvan people embrace the sightless music man and his talent. The throngs of music fans attending the event were thrilled by the American's talent in accurately creating the unique music of their country. At one point during his performance, Pena takes his limited Tuvan vocabulary and creates a song of praise for the people and performers in the little-known country. (Tuva is northwest of Mongolia and is a member of the Russian Federation.)
"Genhis Blues" is, ultimately, the story of one man's journey home to a place he's never been before. Pena's grasp of the unique musical form of Tuva is coupled with a total acceptance and instant affection for the blind man by all who meet and hear him in the remote land. He is transformed by his experience with the Tuvan people and the viewer feels the pain that Paul feels when he must leave his new "home." His return to San Francisco is equivalent to being exiled in a hostile land.
"Genghis Blues" is for lovers of both music and documentary filmmaking. The hitherto little known art of Tuvan throatsinging is a revelation to the musically minded. The documentary effort is also an interesting example of the difficulties that can be encountered following this particular craft. I give it a B.
The latest addition to this year's lengthy list of teen coming of age films is a locally grown effort by writer/helmer William Roth. Calvin Klein poster boy Norman Reedus is Van, a young man whose father lost his legs in a car wreck years ago. Van's mom was unable to take the changes, both physical and mental, in her husband following the accident, so she packed her bags, took all the money and left. Van, since the desertion, has been trying to cope with his dad and his torment, peer pressure about going to college, and no monetary means to further his education. A general mental malaise over his burdens has squashed any ambitions Van may have had in "Floating."
Robin's review of 'Floating':
Van and his friends, Flip and Jason, during the summer following high school graduation, are in hyper-slacker mode. Smoking dope, drinking and, for Van's buddies, breaking and entering have become the pastimes to help cope with the summer doldrums. Van gets increasingly disenchanted with his father's woes and the pressures put upon him by his old girlfriend to go back to school. Van appears to be headed for trouble, until the fortuitous arrival of a new summer resident on the lake - a young guy named Doug (Chad Lowe).
Handsome young Norman Reedus makes a striking debut as the star of a "Floating." This model turned actor shows some good chops and exudes a natural charisma on the screen. Reedus captures the confused cynicism of Van and the actor conveys the frustration the boy feels about himself and his future - or lack thereof. Van shows a subtlety of emotion in his interactions with those close to him. He is mother, father and companion to his father and you can feel his frustration in his dealings and caring, both physically and emotionally, for his old man.
The hopelessness and resigned acceptance to his condition is tempered for Van when Doug arrives. Two very different boys, they have a lot in common. Both have demanding fathers, though Doug's, the athletics coach at State College, demands much more of his son's spirit than does Van's dad. Academically, physically and, we come to find out, sexually, Doug is a disappointment to his father. For the two boys, Doug's sexual preference doesn't make a difference as they bond like brothers. As the personal angst of each boy comes to the surface, it becomes obvious which, of the pair, is emotionally stronger. The dramatic climax shows the real inner power that lay within Van and the boy is equal to the task. Chad Lowe gives a sympathetic performance as the troubled Doug.
Will Lyman leads the supporting clways happy to support local and independent film production. It's nice when the product is worthy of the notice. I give "Floating" a B.
Laura's review of 'Floating':
Winner of the 1999 New England Film and Video Festival, "Floating" is a true regional independent produced, written and directed by Boston area locals and shot in Concord, Mass.
Former Calvin Klein model Norman Reedus stars as Van, a young man who tells us that he used to have it all, a white picket fence existance ruined when his dad lost his legs in a car accident and his mother left, taking most of the family's money.
Van and his dad (Will Lyman) now live across the pond from their former, modern upper middle class home in a run down, winterized summer cabin. Van's dad has become a bitter alcoholic who only takes pleasure in his collection of antique toy soldiers and nagging his son to mow the grass. Van, who had dreams of joining a college swim team, now spends his days caring for his father, swimming in his pond and hanging with his stoner buddies Flip (Josh Marquette) and Jason (Jonathan Quint). When Van's former preppie friends return to summer at the pond before heading off to various Ivy League colleges, Van tries to take up with his former girlfriend (Sybil Temchen), but she doesn't want to continue the relationship because he won't be following through on the school plans they had made.
More demoralized than ever, Van drifts through life until one day, when he's sitting on by the shore, he spies another young man swimming in the pond. Doug (Chad Lowe) introduces himself and Van discovers that this boy's family is moving into his old house across the water. This presents an immediate dilemma, as Flip and Jason have been robbing the fancy homes in the area and storing their loot in the basement of Van's empty house (something Van has knowledge of but has not participated in).
The three befriend Doug in order to get inside the house, but Doug quickly learns of their ulterior motive. Unperturbed, he helps them carry out the assorted VCRs and stereo equipment and, feeling guilty, Van makes a weak attempt to suggest they meet for a swim. Turns out Doug is what Van longs to be - a member of a collegiate swim team, although Van has more raw talent. They have even more in common - tumultuous relationships with their fathers. Doug's father has pushed him into swimming as the team's coach. In fact, Doug's father is trying to push him into any macho pursuit because he's in deep denial over his son's homosexuality. Van discovers Doug's secret inadvertently when he finds a gay skin mag under Doug's bed.
"Floating" features some fine performances. Norman Reedus is not just another pretty face - he creates a character of depth and feeling in Van, who can become outraged when out of towners disregard his env\ironment and understanding when presented with Doug's issues. He shows both love for and frustration with his father. Reedus is a rising star. Chad Lowe is also good as the conflicted Doug who sees Van as a means of escape and becomes despondent when his father dangles a swimming scholarship in front of his new friend. Will Lyman creates a man in pain who's numbed himself from life with booze. But Van's dad isn't simplistically drawn - Lyman gradually conveys that he's coming around to his son's needs by his subtle observations of Van's new friendship with Doug. A beautiful job. Van's friends don't make as much of an impression, but Marchette adds some nice dollops of humor and they never seem less than real people.
Unfortunately, Doug's father is a walking cliche - the macho father who tries to wear his son down by brutal football games and cutting remarks about picking up girls. The film also has a less than satisfying ending, where important events go unexplained and Van repeats his opening narration with a pat twist. Location photography is nicely done.
Writer/director William Roth has created a coming of age tale that stands out from the pack with its humanity and truth. B
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