CUTUD: The Crossing (Scott Wurth) ***
Here is another festival documentary with a religious theme. It follows a group in the Philippines who re-enact the crucifixion of Christ. And it's not a magic show with a bunch of fancy tricks. These people actually get nailed to the cross. Wurth's intense and shocking film explores the individuals involved in these ceremonies, the commercialization of the event and the natural controversies that ensue.
The movie explores the history of the event and how the local government has had changing opinions about it. They discuss some of the rivalries, particularly over who gets to be on center cross. Some of the best parts involve the reasons certain individuals participate. For example, Ruben is a man who survived a fall from the third floor of a building and now feels he owes it to God for saving him. Another man is recovered from a drug habit and wants to prove to God that he is truly reformed.
The film builds to the climactic moments where we see the participants nailed to the cross. It is as disturbing and shocking as you'd expect it to be, but also a revealing testament to what people will do if they strongly believe in something. If there's a problem here, the film is too short. At only 42 minutes, the film doesn't have enough time to explore the many subplots and controversies it brings up. It certainly held my interest, but left me wanting more.
Handsome Harry (Bette Gordon) ***
Another Pink Peach selection, Handsome Harry is a surprisingly laid back film considering the nature of the plot. It's about a Vietnam vet named Harry (Jamey Sheridan) who gets a call from dying former war buddy Tom Kelly (Steve Buscemi). Tom wants to make amends for something they both did to a fellow soldier (Campbell Scott). It quickly becomes clear (especially since we know it's a Pink Peach film) that they beat this person up because he was gay.
The film follows the structure of a road trip movie as Harry travels to meet the other members of the unit that were involved in the beating, finding that they have all gone in wildly different direction and have varying opinions about the actions they took. The structure is just a little too neat. The story goes from A to B to C in a rather ordinary fashion and I wish they had dispensed with some ill-advised subplots, like Harry's dalliance with the wife of one of his former buddies.
The best thing about the film is the nuanced acting by both Jamey Sheridan and Campbell Scott. This movie doesn't to the grand melodrama that the backstory would seem to suggest. There are only a handful of scenes between the two characters, but they are all a fine example of exquisite acting. It's nice to see both a director and actors have enough confidence in the material that they don't need to overplay everything. They bring the film to a wonderfully bittersweet ending.
The Eyes of Me (Keith Maitland) ***
The Eyes of Me is a documentary that follows a year in the life of four high school students. that's certainly nothing new for a documentary, but the difference here is that all four students are blind and they are attending the Texas School for the Blind. Keith Maitland's film is an interesting exploration of how different people cope with this problem.
Certanly the student that will get the most attention is Chas, a Senior who lives in his own apartment and struggles both with schoolwork and paying his bills. He has a dream of being a rapper and is so dedicated that he will run a really long cord outside his apartment to steal electricity for his computer. He's a compelling figure that definitely has ups and downs during his senior year.
The two female students, Meghan and Denise, are also very interesting, providing a strong emotional arc to the film. The one student who doesn't come across well is Isaac, who is not very likeable as portrayed in the film. Whenever he was on screen, I was looking forward to the film switching back to one of the other kids. It's not a perfect documentary, but Maitland does a number of things right (including some incredibly well done animated interludes) that make this a winning documentary.
8: The Mormon Proposition (Reed Cowan) ***1/2
Reed Cowan's film is about the battle over Proposition 8 in the 2008 California election, where the state was voting on whether to ban same sex marriage. Going in, I expected the film to take a direct harsh attack on the Mormon church for its policies and there is certainly some of that, but what makes this film so good is the decision to focus on one gay couple and their emotional appeal to be accepted and allowed to marry.
By doing this, Cowan makes an argument that will be more successful in reaching out to those on the fence. The film opens with their marriage and shows just how important that is to them. It's hard for even the most cold hearted person to not be somewhat touched by their enthusiasm and love for one another. Their are several attacks against the Mormon church of course, some of them more successful than others, but this film finds its true power in the simple story of two memorable people in love fighting a society that says they shouldn't be.
The Square (Nash Edgerton) ***
Nash Edgerton's The Square is preceded by one of his earlier short films called Spider (which will also be the case in the theatrical release). which does a great job of getting the audience ready for his dark sense of humor. This is one of the chief pleasures of The Square, a film noir with some fairly standard elements that is elevated by Edgerton's artistry.
Raymond Yale (David Roberts) is a married man having an affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), who is also married. Carla notices her husband has some money stashed in the attic and hatches a plan with Raymond to steal the money and have the house burned down so her husband will think the cash was lost in the fire. It doesn't go as smoothly as hoped and they must now deal with the consequences as their lives begin to spin out of control.
One of the pleasures of flms like this is watching the perfect plan foiled piece by piece. But Edgerton adds some really twisted humor in this film, especially during a scene where a dog is swimming to meet another dog. This makes it more interesting than your standard film noir. The only complaint here is that Edgerton lets come scene run too long and includes scenes that should have been excised altogether. The pacing is problematic at times, especially during the middle section. Still, it's a stylish, darkly funny movie that is a strong start for a filmmaker that seems to have a bright future.