Tuesday, February 26, 2013

At Cinequest Film Fest: ONE SMALL HITCH from John Burgess and Dode B. Levenson

I've never been to the Cinequest Film Festival -- it's in San Jose, California, and its 23rd annual edition begins today -- but as I've been asked to check out a movie premiering there, I thought I'd look into the fest. Here's what its web site has to say:

Cinequest (CQFF) remains one of the last big festival bastions 
for the discovery of new and emerging film artists. 
CQFF presents a dynamic, 13-day event of 200 international 
films with over 600+ film artists, technologists, and professionals  
from 44 countries in attendance. 
Over 10,000 artists have attended CQFF to date.
(This year's Maverick Spirit is Salman Rushdie, below)

Sounds promising, no? And a look at this year's film schedule makes it seem even more so. But where to begin? With a roster of films divided into various "feeling" groups (how very California!) -- celebration, innovation, inspiration, thrills, laughs, life and love -- there's plenty to choose from and no way that any one person could manage to see 'em all.

The film I'd been sent -- a smart little rom-com  titled ONE SMALL HITCH -- turned out to be a pleasant and quite enjoyable movie, well-written, very well-acted and directed, and with technical polish to spare. If you're a rom-com fan, this one should sate your appetite nicely.

Directed by John Burgess (at right) from a screenplay by Dode Levenson that begins with a smart premise and opens up gamely from that point on, the movie packs in lots of funny, sweet, romantic moments that jump off from believable reality -- but never jump too far. Thanks to its attractive, energetic cast, the film sails along to exactly the point we expected to reach. But getting there -- which is what makes rom-coms work (or not) -- proves both fun and, on occasion, surprising.

Arranged marriages are said to work as well as not (just ask India!), and though most rom-coms wouldn't get near anything so "unloveable" as that, still, they often create scenarios in which two seemingly very different people are somehow forced into a situation of togetherness and end up "in love." If that's doesn't reek of arranged marriage, Hollywood screenwriter-style, what does?

So it is with One Small Hitch, which actually begins with an event -- a woman's betrayal by a man -- almost identical to that of a movie we covered just the other day, Girls Against Boys. Yet how very different is the outcome (that's what separates slasher/horror films from rom-coms).

In addition to the oil-and-water mix provided by our "couple," there's also the families' religious differences that date back entertainment-wise to Abie's Irish Rose (probably even further back than that). All this makes for some good chuckles, with nothing taken any farther than reality and sensible comedy might allow.

The fine cast is topped by Aubrey Dollar and Shane McRae (three photos above) as the odd couple, and Janet Ulrich Brooks (above, second from left, and two photos above), Daniel J. Travanti, Ron Dean (far left, above) and Mary Jo Faraci (second from right, above) as their parents, with good work also coming from Heid Johanningmeier (below, as the sexy "other woman" who is also pretty wise), and Robert Belishi (shown at bottom) and Rebecca Spence (far right, above) as brother and sister-in-law.

Burgess' film, if not cliche-free, is at least not ham-fisted in the use of the tried-and-true. But please, filmmakers: Can we have a moratorium on the scene which our heroine (and maybe her friend) try on various outfits, one after another, accompanied by fast editing, cutesy movements and bouncy music. This was clever and original nearly a quarter century ago in Pretty Woman but has lost some luster with each use since.

One Small Hitch, via Principle Entertainment, will play the CQFF this Friday, March 1, at 6:45 at the Camera 12 Cinema; again Sunday March 3 at 10:30 am (think of it as church) at the San Jose Rep Theatre; and finally on Thursday, March 7, at 4:15pm, back at the Camera 12 Cinema. If not picked up for theatrical distribution, TrustMovies expects that this one will, at the very least, make a deal for VOD, streaming and DVD release.

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