20 December, 2012

Savannah: Narrative feature competition round-up

Savannah's beautiful Lucas Theatre.

This year, the Savannah Film Festival featured a dream slate of films. It covered all bases; from the star-studded "Silver Linings Playbook," to heart-wrenching French language films like "Rust & Bone" and "Amour," or even the animated holiday themed "Rise of the Guardians." Anyone could be entertained, regardless of their taste in movies. The competition line-up, however, left something to be desired. Four films competed for the narrative feature awards and all four films fell short of my expectations. Kate Connor's "Fort McCoy" went on to win the big prize, with "Missed Connections" winning the festival's first ever Audience Award. Check out a word about each film after the jump.

Robbie Kaller & Jillian Leigh star in "A BIG Love Story"
"A BIG Love Story" has been floating around the country earning good marks from various film festivals throughout 2012 and previously screened under the title, "Worth the Weight." The dialogue comes across as mostly natural (kudos to first-time screenwriter Dale Zawada), but the film lacks a certain transparency. The ensemble works together and definitely possesses some chemistry, but there still seems to be a table-read quality to the overall picture. It runs a quick hour-and-a-half, but some additional subplot could have kept it from dragging a little. "A BIG Love Story" doesn't necessarily rise above some of the typical romantic comedy plot devices, but by the end, the cast has worked hard enough to endear themselves to you.  3 out of 5 stars.

Jacob Wysocki stars in "Fat Kid Rules the World"
"Fat Kid Rules the World" is actor Matthew Lillard's directorial debut. The film is pieced together very well, clearly displaying Lillard's dedication to the project. The screenplay struggles to find its focus; be it Troy's state of depression, Marcus' drug addiction, their complicated new friendship or their newly formed band. Each of these things are valuable to the story, but the emphasis shifts too much for any investment to really pay off. (I have not read the novel, so this could very well be more of a problem with the source material.) Embodying the struggle between nurturing and enabling, Billy Campbell is the best I've seen him in years, as Troy's father. Hopefully our lead, Jacob Wysocki, can do something a little different from this and "Terri," as we already know how good he is at playing a troubled, overweight teen. Lillard certainly shows a knack for working behind the camera. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Jon Abrahams & Mickey Sumner star in "Missed Connections"
"Missed Connections" starts out like a CBS sitcom that never aired. (Even an NBC sitcom would've been a much different story.) Though the film kicks off with absurd scenarios, audience-insulting clich├ęs and all-too-lenient plot assumptions; Jon Abrahams and Mickey Sumner fearlessly trod through the mud until they find a clear path. Abrahams, in particular, exudes enough charm to make up for the early failures of the screenplay. Sumner does the most heavy lifting and creates the a multi-dimensional character out of her hard work. The pair convince you to smile a bit by the end and, while it didn't seem possible at the start, you kinda love it. The ambitious, on-location filming schedule in New York City for such a small-scale picture makes you appreciate the filmmaker's intentions all the more. Walking away with the festival's Audience Award, "Missed Connections" is totally silly, but aggressively persuasive.  3 out of 5 stars.

Andy Hirsch & Lyndsy Fonseca star in "Fort McCoy"
"Fort McCoy" is a passion project from writer-director-producer-star Kate Connor. Connor possesses a soothing presence on screen, but "Fort McCoy" fails to go past anything that the Disney Channel could have produced on the same subject. A rich, warm color palette and a likable cast provide a pleasant enough viewing experience for the first half-hour, but the subdued melodrama starts to wear thin pretty quickly. "Fort McCoy" carefully follows the instructions on 'how to make a film' but lacks any real texture or grit. I admire Connor and company's goal to produce an engaging family film, but it needs a little less sugar and a little more substance. 2 out of 5 stars.

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