Here's a quandary. I saw one of the films I'm not supposed to review, and once again, had a strong emotional reaction. Now, I know the embargo is really in place because the distributors don't want any bad buzz to kill its chance of making some money during the commercial release, but they don't mind so much if you say good things. So, I've pushed my luck a little when I've had good things to say.

The picture I saw yesterday morning I have very little that is good to say about it.

So, I've decided it's best I don't even mention the name of the film. What I will say is I saw a painfully overwrought, egregiously written, unintentionally hilarious drama about evil men and tortured women in which I began to feel sorry for the actors involved, given both the distractingly obvious wardrobe and what the director asked them to both say and do. If it had redeeming qualities, it was in the production design, which made it look like an A-list Hollywood movie (which it wasn't). Obviously, so much care (and probably money) went into its look, it's a shame so little went into the script.

Movies this bad just make me embarrassed, a feeling followed quickly by anger, especially if they're homegrown with public funds. You bastards bilked me out of 2 hours of my life (and who knows how many tax dollars) where I could have been strolling with my dog, sitting on the Common. watching the construction of the massive Rolling Stones stage, or sticking a sharp stick up my ass. All of which would have been preferable.

The evening brought Volver (bohl-BEHR) from acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (al-moh-DOH-bahr). I hope I have the pronunciations right, I've been wrestling with them for weeks. Almodovar's previous work is well admired internationally: I've read some calling him the best director working in Europe today. There's no doubt he has a distinct voice, and though I really enjoyed his newest effort, I wasn't hugely moved by it. You gotta love his characters, though. Penelope Cruz plays Raimunda, one of two sisters dealing with the sudden death of their aunt. The aunt believed her sister, Raimunda and Soledad's mother, was taking care of her at the end, even though the younger women know their mother died in a fire. But the ghost of their mother does appear, but only to Sole. Meanwhile, Raimunda's asshole husband Paco tries to molest her 14-year-old daughter and winds up with a knife in his belly for his trouble. Raimunda stores the body in a restaurant freezer, which she must dispose of, with the help of other women in her Madrid neighbourhood. The plot is thick with event, and never stops for a second before something else happens to change the dynamics, all held together by the excellent performances. Almodovar is like a Spanish Woody Allen in that he's regularly writing the best parts for his female actors. Penelope Cruz is awesome, with a sexiness and swagger she seems unable to muster when she performs in Hollywood. I did have a good time at Volver, though when it gets released, no one should see it expecting anything more that a delightful, light comedy. Quite frankly, there are too few of those around these days anyway, so enjoy it.

I rushed over to Park Lane to catch the Atlantic Shorts II. I shouldn't have been surprised to find the usually empty Park Lane garage bike rack full to capacity upon my arrival. As Megan Wennberg said when she introduced her film, people making short films don't make any money doing it. To add to that, I would suggest that in order to have the time to make them, it's hard to make much money doing anything else.

AFF programmer Lee Ann Gillan introduced the program to the very enthused crowd, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves throughout. It's funny how certain names keep repeating in the credits of these shorts, such as Jeff Wheaton, Chris Spencer-Lowe, and of course, everyone at AFCOOP. As usual, the shorts were varied, occasionally powerful and never dull, including work from Troy Howell (a giant teddy bear saves a life), Andrew Bush (the vengeful, put-upon wife), and even Coast Arts Editor Tara Throne (an outline of obsession). The feeling of community in that room was palpable, and I was glad to be there. I did feel bad for the director of A Leap of Fate, when some kind of digital projection error stopped the film, though we finally got to the end of it after three tries. There was a suspicion its tale of an unsatisfied corporate manager looking in the classifieds for love was inspired by Rupert Holmes's The Pina Colada Song, but there was no credit. The above-mentioned Spencer-Lowe had an ambitious picture of his own, YGGDRASSL, The World Tree, a fascinating film about Norse myth and modern imagery that apparently has taken years of gestation and much international travel. Nice work, and congratulations to everyone.

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