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Fringe Report is now closed. Fringe Report closed on its 10th anniversary, Thursday 12 July 2012. It remains online as a record of 10 exciting years in the arts. Till July 2013, previously unwritten content is being added to the site from the past 10 years, but we are no longer reviewing new material. You can still write to us on the existing email addresses. Good luck with your shows.
Film - The View From Dallas
by Kevin Gillette, Dallas correspondent
This report contains a high-entropy assortment of films short and long, in English and other languages, selected to cover a broad spectrum of independent filmmaking.Danika (2006) is from director Ariel Vromen. It stars US-Academy-Award-winning actress Marisa Tomei as the title character, a mother whose fears about her family's safety become manifest in horrific visions. Is she losing her mind, or seeing the future? The director guides us through the visual and auditory minefield of Danika's psyche. The film has a devastating denouement, in which everything that has transpired is clarified abruptly. Danika features an impressive supporting ensemble including Craig Bierko (best-known so far as Max Baer in Cinderella Man (2005)) as Danika's bemused husband, and Regina Hall (Brenda Meeks in the Scary Movie film franchise) as Danika's psychiatrist, who tries to help her separate fact from fiction. The film plays as a taut psychological drama, with brief elements of the horror genre. It's engrossing and well-executed, leaving just enough detail untended to give food for thought. It also offers a stark commentary on mental illness. Tideland (2005), from director Terry Gilliam, is an eerie addition to his extensive oeuvre of bizarre films. Fans of Brazil (1985) will enjoy this one - it takes the same incredible liberties with the nature of our human connection with reality. It stars the bewitching Jodelle Ferland, who carries the film on her tiny 9-year-old shoulders (she is in virtually every scene), and features support from Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer. Jodelle Ferland plays Jeliza Rose, a little girl with an incredibly vivid imagination, who lives largely in a dream world to escape the pathologically dysfunctional nature of her real life with her drug-addicted parents. Indeed, the opening scene in the film features Jeliza Rose calmly cooking a heroin fix for her father, played by Jeff Bridges in one of his most dissipative roles to date. After her mother's death, Jeliza Rose and her father move out to the country to his ancestral home, a ruin of a house on the rolling plains somewhere in Texas. Things go worse for Jeliza Rose, but she continues to live her fractured-fantasy life with the help of some doll-heads used as puppets on her fingertips, and a mentally-damaged young man named Dickens (played daringly by Brendan Fletcher) who lives nearby. It would be difficult to outline the dramatic arc of the film, since it doesn't really have one in the usual sense, and different viewers may draw their own conclusions about what Terry Gilliam means. A warning: though the film features a young child as its star, it is definitely not for children or the faint of heart, as there are pervasive scenes of drug abuse and neglect, all featuring Jeliza Rose at the heart of things. At the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, the critics liked the film, while many moviegoers rated it 'unwatchable'. The director himself describes it as 'an adult fairy tale for people with dirty minds'. Watch it if you dare. The Kovak Box (2006) from director Daniel Monzon stars Timothy Hutton as David Norton, a science-fiction writer drawn to a Mediterranean island with his fiancée on the pretext of attending a sci-fi writer's convention. Norton discovers he has been lured to the island as a trap by the sinister machinations of Frank Kovak, played by the always-creditable David Kelly (Michael Sullivan in 1998's sleeper comedy, Waking Ned Devine). Norton needs to uncover the apparatus that Kovak is using to induce large numbers of people to commit suicide, typically in strange or excessively violent ways. Norton is aided by a mysterious Spanish girl (stunning Lucia Jimenez) who narrowly escaped her own Kovak-orchestrated demise. This is not an award-winning film, but it makes for an interesting and occasionally thought-provoking story that is worth at least one look. Timothy Hutton and Lucia Jimenez alone are worth the price of admission. The Dead Girl (2006), written and directed by Karen Moncrieff, outlines a series of vignettes tethered together by the violent death of a young woman (Brittany Murphy). Featuring an all-star cast including Toni Collette, Piper Laurie, Giovanni Ribisi, Rose Byrne, Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden, Kerry Washington, Josh Brolin, and many more, the film illumines the 'six degrees of separation' principle with a poison pen. One reviewer comments that it presents 'a dark comment on the hidden strength of women' - the principal character at the centre of each story's dramatic maelstrom is a woman. Little things make it outstanding – the dead girl's necklace and its trajectory through the story, and the personal transitions each of the leading women make in the film, for better or for worse. A must-see, particularly for the break-out performance of Britanny Murphy as Krista, the eponymous centrepiece of the drama. For Your Consideration (2006) is yet another stellar tour-de-force from writer/director Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap (1984), A Mighty Wind (2003)) and his writing partner, Eugene Levy. This gorgeous spoof follows a band of film actors making what looks like a truly forgettable film - Home For Purim - that unexpectedly begins to garner buzz about US Academy Award nominations for several of its ensemble members. The film explores the subtle and not-so-subtle egoistic tensions of actors, directors and producers, and the media frenzy that threatens to derail the film project itself. As in many of the director's films, this fine, understated comedy features an all-star line-up: Harry Shearer, Catherine O'Hara, Ed Begley Jr, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, and others. Fans of the Spinal Tap franchise, Best In Show (2000) or Waiting For Guffman (1996) will thoroughly enjoy this one. It is an oblique, moderately cynical, but ultimately side-splitting look at the process of feature film-making and the Hollywood crucible. Babette's Feast (1987), directed by Gabriel Axel, is a visually stunning and poignant adaptation of a short story by Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, the author of Out Of Africa. It features an ensemble of Danish and French performers not necessarily widely-known to English-speaking audiences. Babette's Feast won the 1988 US Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It is richly nuanced, well-paced, poetic, and eminently satisfying. It explores the lives of two spinster sisters in the latter 19th Century in a small coastal community in Denmark. They are carrying on the work of their father, a local Protestant minister who practised a form of asceticism which he brought to the entire village. One day, a woman named Babette - a refugee from the 1871 turmoil in Paris - arrives at their door. She has been sent by an acquaintance of the sisters from the past. The sisters take Babette in. She learns their language and live as they do, but she also brings a spark of humour and liveliness to their very workaday existence. Some years later, Babette learns that she has won a lottery prize worth 10,000 francs. The sisters realise that they will probably lose Babette back to Paris, now that she is a woman of means. But Babette asks - and is granted - permission to prepare a proper French feast for the village to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the minister. The rendering of this feast, and the profound spiritual changes it brings about among the sisters and the townspeople, are exquisitely told through facial gestures, infrequent discussion, and a sense of the power of mercy and gratitude. It's a film that every fan of human stories should see. Babette's Feast is in Danish and French, with English subtitles. The Journey (2006) is a wonderful short from director Katina Medina Mora, affording a fascinating glimpse at the transition from life in this world to the hereafter. A young girl, played by the luminous Lucy Joyce, finds herself lost in a sparsely-appointed world called 'the plaza'. There she encounters an old man, played brilliantly by veteran actor Alan Breck, who is similarly lost. Together they explore the plaza, which resembles a large theatrical stage upon which several live snapshot scenes have been erected. Both girl and man explore each of these scenes in turn, and each takes away something different and quite specific from each scene. The girl, as most children will do, focuses on those elements that seem to be meant for play and discovery. The old man finds himself reminiscing about each scene as it pertained to his life long ago. In the end, each character must make a choice about which way they are willing to go from the plaza. Another short subject, Fragile (c 2005), also from director Katina Medina Mora, is a cute romp through an imaginary world, featuring the above-mentioned Lucy Joyce. This second short subject will appeal to young children. They will probably understand it better than the adults watching it with them. It gently and amusingly explores the power (and fragility) of children's imagination.
END(c) Kevin Gillette 3 January 08
(Note - Kevin Gillette is Dallas correspondent for Fringe Report. This article was published 4 July 08)
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