Though the last two nights have been bitterly cold, some fine movies and my favorite film of the festival thus far–the excellent WORDPLAY–have helped keep the soul warm and toasty. This incredibly entertaining, cleverly constructed look at the institution known as The New York Times crossword puzzle, has just enough of everything you’d want in a doc of this nature—historical perspective, star editor Will Shortz, the “constructors” of the puzzles, a National Championship tournament with a great assortment of characters, wonderful music, and commentary by fans such as Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, NY Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, and The Indigo Girls. The first film worthy of an unequivocal “5!”
THE PROPOSITION is a terrific and brutal western from Australia, written by musician Nick Cave and starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, and Emily Watson. Set in the savage1880’s bush frontier, the story combines British soldiers, an Irish gang of criminals, and native aborigines into a violent and haunting story of family bonds, racism, and colonization.
PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS , the first feature in a decade from Maria Maggenti (“The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love”), is a sweet, funny romantic comedy that pays homage to the screwball comedies of the past. Perhaps turning on one too any coincidences to keep the story percolating, the attractive cast of Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Kirk, and Gretchen Mol make this triangle-with-a-twist and its “Sex in the City” caliber dialogue a probable crowd pleaser.
13 TZAMETI is the unusual title of one of the most gripping films I’ve seen in years. Filmed in B&W widescreen (yea!), this is a thriller unlike anything you’ve seen before. A young Frenchman unwittingly gets involved in an underground gambling ring where the contestants engage in group Russian Roulette—intense, economic, and highly original, this ain’t no cockfighting flick.
Running into legendary folk singer Judy Collins (“Both Sides Now”) at the way-fun Full Sail party last night, condo mate and Metro Orlando Film Commission’s Suzy Allen swore to me that the famous musician was Joan “Dynasty” Collins’ sister. Though I explained to her that “Alexis Carrington’s” sister was a bestselling trash novelist (and not mentioning that the Collins sisters are British), Suzy wanted to bet me on the accuracy of her pop culture knowledge. I am way too nice to take advantage, but we did have a good laugh at her expense.