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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Slamdance 2005

“Phil the Alien”Canada (86 minutes/Color) 2004, U.S. premiereDirected and written by Rob Stefaniuk

Four out of five stars

Variety magazine warned “Phil the Alien” director Rob Stefaniuk that his loopy new comedy-touting an alcoholic-turned-born-again-Christian alien, a super-intelligent beaver and the winner of “Canadian Idol”-might be too bizarrely Canadian for American audiences.

Here’s the story: Phil, a shape-shifting telekinetic alien, crash-lands into the Canadian wilderness. In the span of several days, Phil meets and beats alcoholism, finds Jesus and gathers a motley, hilarious following on his journey to find a way home.

Pretty standard, really.

Thanks to its intrinsic Canadianness and an inventive script (courtesy of Stefaniuk), “Phil’s” simple fish-out-of-water premise shimmers with startling freshness. Stefaniuk (who also stars as Phil) and his gaggle of talented actors deftly deliver hilarious dialogue and delightful one-liners, even amid the squalor of “Phil’s” rugged Northern Ontario setting. Amazing!

Lions Gate Films Canada bought “Phil,” and the film will open in the Great White North on Feb. 24, 2005.

With any luck, this film might tickle an American distributor-and audience-as well.

Jenni Koehler

Ben Zalkind

“Ill Fated”Directed by Mark A. LewisWritten by Mark A. Lewis and John CallenderStarring Peter Outerbridge, Paul Campbell, John Callender, Nicki Clyne and John F. Parker96 minutes

Four out of five stars

Blending elements of Greek tragedy with rural, laugh-out-loud comedy isn’t something often (or easily) done. Mark Lewis’s feature “Ill Fated” takes on such a task, yielding twisted, funny and shocking results.

Jimmy, unlike most of his rural Canadian neighbors, graduated from high school, and plans to escape directionless small-town life. Jimmy’s father returns to town to reconcile the mistakes he made 17 years earlier, but his presence only throws the community into disarray.

The characters in “Ill Fated” are achingly real, and their hard-life attitudes are accented by a good sense-of-humor. The cinematography is beautiful (shot in British Columbia’s interior), and the movie’s outcome is appropriately ambiguous.

Ultimately, “Ill-Fated” succeeds in capturing the tough realities life often brings, and the consequences of the choices we make.

Judd Nielsen

“Mall Cop” USA (137 min/Color) 2004, World PremiereDirected by David GreenspanWritten by Selena Chang and Matt ReynoldStarring Derek Cecil and Kathleen Robertson

Four out of five stars

If any film showcased at this year’s Slamdance deserves distribution, it’s “Mall Cop.”

Unlike many festival pieces, “Cop” displays a seldom-seen polish, a sense of veteran deliberateness and a certain inimitable character. Its witty script and dark humor complement an understated mood and expertly wrought characters.

Every element-every piece of this cinematic jigsaw-fits together perfectly.

Frank (Derek Cecil), a night mall cop, loses his right arm in pursuit of a petty thief. Six months later, a broke and despondent Frank returns to his beloved mall, and encounters his replacement, Donna (played by Kathleen Robertson, whose jawline ranks among Hollywood’s finest).

Their relationship develops as Frank underhandedly acquires money to realize his dream-a bionic arm. And soon after meeting Donna, he discovers the whereabouts of his original extremity.

Plagued by the hindering antics of the impossibly sleazy White Wedding (Nick Searcy), Frank and his sometimes-helpful gang of mall employees must embark on a perilous quest to recover the long-lost limb.

“Mall Cop’s” cast and cinematography glimmer with a subtle brilliance. Pacing is key in any film, and this one flows like butta’.

[email protected] Ben Zalkind

Jenni Koehler

“Zombie Honeymoon”

Directed by Dave Gebroe

Produced by Dave Gebroe and Christina Reilly

Written by Dave Gebroe

Starring Tracy Coogan and Graham Sibley

Four out of five stars

“Zombie Honeymoon” brings us Danny and Denise as they head off on a monthlong honeymoon by the Jersey Shore. Little did they know it would be a zombie honeymoon.

The couple is minding their own business on the beach when a mysterious man comes out the water and attacks Danny (played by Graham Sibley). The man grabs Danny hard and spits a dark black liquid into his mouth before dying. Tasty.

Danny appears to be all right at first, or at least until Denise (played by Tracy Coogan) comes home to find him eating what appears to be their next-door neighbor. Denise tries to run in terror but is stopped by Danny’s pleas. He explains to her that he can’t help himself and that he must have contracted a disease from the man on the beach.

Going against her better judgment, Denise decides to help her husband hide his victims and follow him through his murderous adventures.

“Zombie Honeymoon” is a giant ball of gore, sex and violence, and the film is just delightful.

One of the best things the film has going for it is actress Tracy Coogan’s performance as the zombie’s unknowing, and somehow innocent wife.

John Leonard

“This Revolution”Written and directed by Stephen MarshallStarring Nathan Crooker, Amy Redford, and Rosario DawsonUnrated (definitely R)/90 min

Three out of five stars

In 1969, documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler famously shot his film “Medium Cool” in the midst of the Democratic National Convention. Riots broke out and his actors were swept up in a wave of violence. “Look out, Haskell! It’s the real thing!” someone shouted.”Medium Cool” was a revolutionary step forward in the realm of cinema verit. “This Revolution” is writer-director Stephen Marshall’s deliberate homage to that earlier classic, this time set against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. “Revolution” is true to the near- documentary style captured by Wexler’s film. The only thing is, the movie cheats by trying to sell us an impossible ending that veers into fantasyland.Jake Cassavetes (Nathan Crooker) is a cameraman for a national TV news network. His boss and occasional lover, Chloe (Amy Redford, daughter of Robert), assigns him to cover the convention.Complications arise when Jake discovers his new love, Tina (Rosario Dawson), a single-mom whose husband was killed in Iraq. Tina is involved in a radical group of anti-Bush protestors (i.e., anti-corporate, anti-war, anti-etc., etc.).Director Marshall and his cinematographer, Brian Jackson, get some terrific guerrilla footage in the trenches of American dissent. Several actors were actually arrested and held in police custody. Later the actors managed to convince the authorities that they were only actors playing protestors.The performances are a mixed bag. Crooker is most compelling when he learns some awful truths late in the film. Dawson plays a woman who is deeply scarred by what she sees as a country betraying its citizens. She has a heart-breaking scene on a fire-escape during which she tearfully describes why she does what she does. Redford and the other fringe players read their lines a bit awkwardly, but they don’t sink the ship.Alas, there is an iceberg, and it’s a big one. The details of Jake’s revenge at the end are completely implausible, especially in the current world climate. For a movie that strives for realism, this simply won’t do. And how the nation reacts to his revenge is hopeful, yes, but also unlikely and glib.Despite some credible performances and daring photography, “This Revolution” gives up just shy of the finish line. Aaron Allen

“Kung Fu Hustle”Directed by Stephen ChowWritten by Stephen Chow, Tsang Kan Cheong, Lola Huo and Chan Man KeungStarring Steven Chow, Yuen Wah, Yeun Qiu, Chan Kwok Kwan and Lam Tzi Chung99 minutes

Four and a half out of five stars.

Stephen Chow is one of Asia’s biggest movie stars, and has said he always wanted to be a kung-fu hero. “Kung Fu Hustle,” the vehicle he’s created for that chance is exhilarating and flat-out hilarious. “Kung Fu Hustle” may be the best movie at Sundance this year.Chow plays Sing, a loafer who aspires to be part of the violent and infamous Axe Gang. The story that unfolds blends Spaghetti western showdowns, Tarantino-cool dance numbers and wild kung-fu action. Luckily, it is slated to be released in the United States sometime this spring. Be sure not to miss this gem.Judd Nielsen

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