It was cold, wet, and raining as I drove into Santa Barbara for the 13th International Santa Barbara Film Festival. The perfect day to spend inside watching new films.
[ DOING TIME FOR PATSY CLINE ] ^ * * * ^ This Australian comedy tracks the fantasy and real life adventures of a young outback lad who loves American country and western music. Part western, part road movie, and part prison flick, its unexpected twists and turns make for an interesting tale. (Warning: the prison in this movie is not the hardcore – it’s more of a low tech, television style a la Mayberry R.F.D. facility.) It’s a fun but somewhat uneven romp, enlivened by its unusual setting and lovely female lead, Miranda Otto. Some of the editing jumps in this film should be used by continuity people in their union negotiations when studios try to claim their salaries are a waste of money.
[ WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE… ] ^ * * * * ^ Director Phillip Messina’s “With Friends Like These…” is a Hollywood comedy (in the vein of The Player ) about a group of friends (Robert Costanzo, Alan Arkin, David Strathairn, Jon Tenny) who are character actors competing for the biggest part of their careers: a leading role in a Brian Scorsese movie. An entertaining, clever look at the backstabbing actors do in search of recognition and fame. A broad comedy with very few cheap laughs, it styles itself as an independent film. With cameos by big names like Bill Murray and Scorsese himself, it hardly seems like anything but a studio project.
(Underground filmmakers note: next time you decide to do your own independent film, pick up the phone and ask your good pal Brian Scorsese to do a cameo.) That aside, it is well worth a look.
[ FUNKYTOWN ] ^ * 1/2 ^ “Funkytown” is a documentary filmed in the traditional shaky-handed, Hill Street Blues style about several Minneapolis bands playing in clubs and hoping for that big record contract. There is a lot of music in the film, and, being a documentary, the songs do in fact sound as if they were written by a bunch of unknown Midwestern bands. This turns out to be quite unfortunate for the audience. Also, if you’ve ever had to listen to the philosophic musings of burned-out, dope-smoking musicians, you can imagine much of the movie’s dialogue.
[ THE PROPOSITION ] ^ * * 1/2 ^ Lesli Linka Glatter’s “The Proposition” is a beautiful, technically perfect period film set during the 1930’s. Kenneth Branagh plays a Catholic priest who becomes entwined emotionally and romantically with Madeline Stowe, creating a love triangle with William Hurt, etc. etc. Although lovingly crafted, it is fatally flawed by a series of improbable coincidences and revelations. The general feeling is as if someone did a somber, classically acted rendition of the endings of several Scooby-Doo episodes and O. Henry stories.

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