George Vanbuskirk

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Camp Hell Review


Good
Even with some unnerving supernatural elements, the scariest thing about this low-key horror film is the earnest spirituality of the Christian community. The grounded approach and honest performances are provocative and unsettling. As is the fact that it's based on a true story.

Against his will, teenager Tommy (Denton) is sent to a Camp Hope by his deeply religious parents (Delany and McCarthy). More like a military bootcamp than a week of summer fun, the camp is run by a cult-like covenant community. The rules Father McAllister (Davison) enforces are painfully strict, although Tommy scores points because he's reading Dante. Fortunately, no one knows about his crush on Melissa (de Angelis). Meanwhile, after a violent demon-related incident, Daniel (Eisenberg) has been in a mental health facility for six months.

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The Dying Gaul Review


OK
In 1995, the internet was still a strange, scary destination for most Americans, a primary meeting place for pornography hounds and other assorted lonely creeps who sought out the thrilling anonymity of the web's myriad chat rooms. Based on one of his plays, Craig Lucas' (The Secret Lives of Dentists, Prelude to a Kiss) directorial debut The Dying Gaul is fascinated with the dangerous allure of these online social venues, which provide users with identity secrecy and, thus, the means to express taboo fantasies (and deal with emotionally corrosive issues) from the comfort and safety of home. Part movie industry critique and part Greek tragedy, Lucas' film charts the modem-enabled turmoil between a married Tinsletown power couple and an aspiring gay screenwriter in the luxurious Hollywood hills, a trio whose interpersonal dynamic is irreparably disrupted thanks to the nasty role-playing opportunities afforded by computers. Yet with its story of rampant duplicity and showbiz shallowness tied to a now technologically outdated mid-'90s milieu, and with its satire weighed down by banality, The Dying Gaul seems relevant only insofar as its cast effectively pinpoints the vengeful malice born from spurned love and squandered trust.

Jeffrey (Campbell Scott) is a bottom line-driven producer interested in Robert's (Peter Sarsgaard) script "The Dying Gaul," a semi-autobiographical tale about AIDS based on his relationship with his now-dead agent and partner Malcolm (Bill Camp). However, to make the project commercially viable, Jeffrey demands that Robert change the central couple from a homosexual to heterosexual duo. Jettisoning his integrity, Robert sells out and does as Jeffrey asks, in the process pocketing $1 million and establishing a close-knit friendship with Jeffrey and his failed screenwriter wife Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), whose life is so purposeless that learning how to control her multi-million dollar house's blinds constitutes an exciting afternoon. Yet the happy threesome's relationship is soon torn asunder when, after learning that Robert frequents chat rooms, Elaine strikes up an in-disguise online conversation with her new friend and learns that he's having an affair with Jeffrey. This devastating discovery frighteningly undercuts Elaine's sense of security and stability while also igniting a desire for retribution, leading to a dangerous game of cyberspace cat-and-mouse in which Elaine poses as the back-from-the-dead spirit of Malcolm and, ultimately, each character's true, less-than-savory personalities are drawn out into the blinding L.A. light of day.

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The Secret Lives of Dentists Review


Excellent
Can vomit be nominated Best Supporting Actor? Best Supporting Actress? Is puke gendered? Regardless, the stuff plays an essential role in The Secret Lives of Dentists. David Hurst (Campbell Scott) is emotionally sick with paranoia about whether his wife and fellow dentist Dana (Hope Davis) is having an affair. And then, he's quite literally sick, laid low with a case of the flu that spreads to Dana and his three young daughters over the course of five wearying, nauseous days. The stress and fear that takes hold of David in that time makes for the best movie about marital strife this side of American Beauty. However much director Alan Rudolph budgeted for creamed corn, it was worth every penny.

Dentists (adapted from Jane Smiley's novel The Age of Grief) opens with a brisk, gorgeously rendered sequence where David spies Dana being caressed lovingly by an unknown gentleman before she takes the stage in a small-town production of the opera Nabucco. As Verdi blares, David's mind swims. We rush through their romance in grainy flashbacks: Falling in love in dental school, starting a practice together, raising three daughters, and buying a weekend cabin in upstate New York. Scott, who's an expert at roles where he plays the well-meaning victim of circumstance, is excellent here. Subtly, he captures the way that wronged, anti-social people speak: Speaking a bit too loud to Dana, you can feel him studying her for evidence of sin. His eyes - and the camera - study her legs and the hem of her skirt, wondering what her sexual needs might be.

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Roger Dodger Review


OK
There's a certain kind of movie that I haven't heard a name for but its practitioners are the likes of Woody Allen, John Cassavetes, James Toback, and now Dylan Kidd, the writer/director of Roger Dodger. In their works, plot is an afterthought. The cinematography is at best atmospheric, and at worst, functional. The hearts of these films lie in dialogue, and the more the characters talk, the more they reveal, and the deeper we get into the mystery of who they are and why. We're interested as long as the characters keep talking.

The "Roger Dodger" here (Campbell Scott) does a whole lot of it. He's a mid-30s advertising copywriter in Manhattan, one of those guys who's always wearing a suit and smoking aggressively even though his job and lifestyle demand neither. Roger spends his lunch hours entertaining his colleagues with mildly aggressive (and brilliantly written) speeches about men and women and their evolutionary destiny and his nights trying to pull the same routine on women in bars. His refrain is that men work extraordinarily hard for sex because deep down they know it's just a matter of a few generations until they become unnecessary for procreation. He then proves his own case by saddling up to a woman and speechifying on how he's got her all figured out. Roger, of course, doesn't realize that your friends let you prattle on because they like you and are willing to indulge. Strangers just think you're being rude. Or maybe Roger does realize it, which is even creepier.

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Off the Map Review


Excellent
Within the past seven years, Campbell Scott has quietly become an important indie hyphenate, producing and starring in notable art house circuit films including Big Night, Roger Dodger, and the current The Secret Lives of Dentists. His passion for the craft of acting is obvious; it's now also clearly visible in his own directing, with the unconventional and often beautiful family tale, Off the Map.

Based on the play by Joan Ackermann (and adapted by Ackermann for the screen), Off the Map recalls one summer in the life of an offbeat family living off the land in rural New Mexico. It's essentially a series of dialogue-driven scenarios that actors like Joan Allen and Sam Elliott can sink their teeth into; Scott guides them there while avoiding any unnecessary scene-chewing or melodrama that could come with the subject matter. That's an accomplishment in itself -- but the visual dreaminess and charm that Scott weaves into, and wraps around, his performances elevate the film into a poignant and thoughtful work of art.

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