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October 21, 2003

Five Films Vie For Starfish Award
By  Rick Murphy

The Hamptons International Film Festival will award $180,000 in goods and services to the most outstanding narrative film. In the past, the festival for the most part has failed to attract the upper echelon releases reserved for Sundance, Cannes, and some of the other more prestigious festivals. However, the overall quality of the films has improved each year as the local festival spreads its roots.

This year's Starfish nominees are a mixed lot to be sure, but fortunately, there is a genuine sleeper in the bunch. The nominees are: Easy Six, directed and written by Chris Iovenko; Little Kings, directed by Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno (she also co-wrote the screenplay along with Jerome Bongiorno); Screen Door Jesus, written and directed by Kirk Davis; Burning Annie, directed by Van Flesher and written by Zack Ordynans; and Virgin, written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier.

Of the group Easy Six is probably the most high profile and in the end the most disappointing. An English professor, played by Julian Sands -- who turns in a lukewarm effort -- tracks down a former student who has become a prostitute (Katherine Towne). As the convoluted story line unfolds it becomes apparent the student has revenge on her mind. By the time Jim Belushi's Elvis impersonator hits the screen the film has lost its edge, though Belushi gets some well-earned laughs. John Savage's over-the-top performance as the girl's father tests reality further. It all evaporates in the classic Greek tragedy twist.

The gem of the quintet is Burning Annie. Gary Lundy plays Max, a college nerd who has trouble relating to women, but not his muse, Annie Hall, the character from the Woody Allen movie of the same name. The film asks the question "Is a 20-year-old movie about failed relationships causing a 20 year old's relationships to fail?"

Max and his buddies alternately stumble, bumble, and occasional score in the slice-of-dormitory life. It's at once touching and funny, but never cloying or cute. Credit the deft writing touch of Ordynans and the relaxed yet crystal clear camera work of Stephen Schultze. Brian Klugman, as Max's best friend, Sara Downing as Julie, the blonde Max yearns for ("I got over her. The restraining order helped."), and Kim Murphy Zandell as Beth, all exhibit a presence that suggests each will be seen again on the big screen soon. Throw in an excellent score and this little film comes up big-- Burning Annie is the pick here to win the Starfish.

Screen Door Jesus, a drama that focuses on religion, spirituality, and free will is well intentioned, but a bit formulamatic. A sighting of Jesus on a screen in a small Texas town triggers the tale and establishes a dialogue between free will and fundamentalism. The actors try hard but for whatever reason, the film never really grabs the viewer's imagination. Another film set in a small town, Virgin, also draws of religion as a theme. A fine performance by Elizabeth Moss is marred by an over eager makeup artist and a healthy dose of the director's self indulgence.

Little Kings is an enjoyable comedy set in Staten Island. Three Italian American brothers are chronicled as they interact with members of the opposite sex a la The Brothers McMullen. It's not brain surgery but the film is a mild diversion that has its moments. Unfortunately, the copy provided for review conked out midway, testament again that the festival still has a way to go before it is as sleek and hip as some of the others. Then again, this is off-season on the sleepy East End-- maybe a dose of small town amateurism in an industry mired in shallow commercialism is a welcome thing.

The winning film will be screened October 26 at 11:30 a.m. at the United Artists Theater in East Hampton.

Copyright © 2003 East Hampton Independent News Co.
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