Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quick hits: Sarasota Film Fest Film Reviews

With so many films to see and so little time, I have been lucky to screen a handful. Here's a quick rundown of them.

"The Extra Man" starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, John C. Reilly and Kaite Holmes

The story: Louis Ives (Paul Dano)moves to New York City to find himself and begin a new career as an aspiring writer after being fired from his teaching job at a prep school. To make those dreams happen, though, he needs a place to stay. Luckily, he finds a roommate - the eccentric Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline.) Louis discovers, among Henry's quirky traits, that his new roommate is an "extra man" who serves as a social companion to rich widows.

The acting: Kline is a comic tour de force as the wonderfully bizarre Henry. Dano also shines as the sensible but under confident Louis, who, from time to time, lives life as if it were narrated. Reilly also brings the laughs as the gruffly-looking neighbor who, surprisingly, talks with a high-pitched voice and is less rough around the edges than he seems.

Does the story work: Yes, it does indeed. This witty script is full of great one-liners and many awkward moments in Louis' life that will have you laughing your head off. The plot involves weird twists like Louis' curiosity with cross dressing, but the characters in this film are all so odd that the plot twist works. The story as a whole is strong on humor, wit and entertainment. This will hit the theaters nationally in July.

"Tiny Furniture"

The story: A feature narrative about a recent college grad named Aura (Lena Dunham) who moves back in with her mom and sister at their New York loft. Though Aura is an artist, she struggles with finding herself and figuring out what to do with her life.

The acting: Dunham is oddly charming as well as the rest of the quirky cast.

Does the story work: This coming-of-age tale doesn't have a glamorous ending. In fact, it kind of leaves you hanging with the storyline. Aura is the nerdy heroine of this film who just can't seem to get life right at times. I wish this film would have told more of her story, but it does do a good job of painting Aura's awkward relationships with her mom, sister, best friends and the couch-surfing non-love interest that comes into her life. This film runs noon April 17 and 3:45 p.m. April 18 at the Hollywood 20.

"Ms. Senior Sweetheart"

The story: This is a documentary feature on Sarasota's Ruth Berkel and a group of women of a certain age who compete for the Ms. Senior Sweetheart pageant, held in Boston.

Does the story work: Though slow moving at times, this film is a treat for women who are curious about the lives of older beauty pageant contestants. It does a nice job presenting the background of the the women vying for the crown. Some of their stories will make you smile. Others will move your heart.

"Brownstones to Red Dirt"

The story: A documentary featuring a pen pal project between a group of students from Brooklyn's housing projects and a group of students from Africa's war-torn Sierra Leone.

Does the story work: This wonderful film is both educational and enchanting as it goes back and forth between the joys and the struggles these students have in both countries. Through their letters, the students form bonds with their overseas counterparts. But for the Brooklyn students, their newfound friendships mean much more - it opens their eyes to a bigger picture of the world, a world where they can make a big difference. To find out what that difference is, go see this film. The next screening is at 7:15 p.m. April 14 at the Hollywood 20.

"The Hooping Life"

The story: A documentary on the new wave of hula hooping.

Does the story work: Yes, in ways you never expected. This film takes a look at the culture of hula hooping - now known as "hooping" - as an art form and as an unexpected source of healing for inner-city youth, a woman who was raped and a once suicidal adult living in the Bible-belt. Check this film out 5 p.m. April 14 and 8:15 p.m. April 15. It will inspire you to pick up a hoola hoop afterwards.

- January Holmes

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