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Film Reviews
Fort McCoy -- Film Review
By Karsten Kastelan, October 12, 2010 10:40 ET
Bottom Line: A heartfelt, personal film with great performances aims for the stars and falls back to earth.
BERLIN -- First-time screenwriter Kate Connor's "Fort McCoy" is as ambitious as it is personal: Together with co-director Michael Worth, Connor retells her grandmother's childhood experiences as the daughter of a barber on the post-World War II military base of the title, which includes a German POW camp. Although clearly heartfelt and trying to compete with studio pictures in look and scope, the film has neither the direction and focus nor the financial means to come close to its lofty ambitions.

Chances for a small theatrical rollout domestically are slight, with technical inadequacies further hampering any sales.

The film begins with Frank (Eric Stoltz) and Ruby Stirn (Connor), their two children, Lester (Marty Backstrand) and Gertie (Gara Lonning), and Ruby's younger sister, Anna Gerkey (Lyndsy Fonseca) ,moving to Fort McCoy, where Frank will do his part for the war effort as a barber. When Gertie befriends the young German Heinrich, darker parts of the outwardly idyllic base come into view, including the presence of ideologically unrepentant SS soldiers and child molestation among the prisoners.

"Fort McCoy" only touches lightly on these subjects, mostly because it is mired in several other subplots: Anna finds love in the form and shape of handsome G.I. Sam (Andy Hirsch); Frank feels jealous and inadequate because he cannot fight in the war; and a dangerous SS man threatens Ruby.

Although many of the subplots play nicely, they take away from the main thrust of the film: a tightly knit family living so close to the enemy, who rarely is seen and never understood. So this is relegated to a footnote in favor of story lines that, while wholesome, are neither dramatic nor cinematic.

"Fort McCoy's" main problem is a technical one, though. Cinematographer Neil Lisk tries to emulate the style and framing of lavish studio pictures but fails to take the extraordinary depth-of-focus of digital cinematography into account. This results in a wide array of shots that are too focused on everything -- thereby directing the audience's attention to nothing -- or images pretty enough to hang on a wall but too flat for dramatic content. Artificial color saturation -- apparently meant to create lush images reminiscent of old Technicolor -- hurts more than it helps.

The other problem is the sound. Although composer Dana Niu's sweeping theme makes several appearances, most of the film is neither scored nor underscored, and the foley work does not seem finished. This results in dialogue sounding too crisp and artificial.

Fortunately, most performances are more than up to par with the film's lofty ambitions. Stoltz is entirely convincing as a man humbled by his German heritage and prevented from showing his American patriotism on the battlefield. Connor clearly proves that she can carry a lead, especially if it's tailored to her period-piece-friendly looks. Fonseca is delightful as a young girl in love, with executive producer Hirsch also showing great potential as her paramour.

The exception is Josh Zabel, who clearly is too young for the pivotal role of Heinrich, which calls for a youngish 16-year-old boy, not a fourth-grader, which is what he looks like.

Venue: Oldenburg International Film Festival
Production: Marzipan Entertainment
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Kate Connor, Lyndsy Fonseca, Andy Hirsch, Camryn Manheim, Brendan Fehr, Seymour Cassel
Directors: Kate Connor, Michael Worth
Screenwriter: Kate Connor
Producers: Eric Stoltz, Kate Connor
Executive producer: Andy Hirsch
Director of photography: Neil Lisk
Production designer: Chuck Parker
Music: Dana Niu
Costume designer: Alicia Joy Ryding
´┐ŻEditor: Robert Brakey
No rating, 101 minutes

Fort McCoy -- Film Review
By Karsten Kastelan, October 12, 2010 10:40 ET
Bottom Line: A heartfelt, personal film with great performances aims for the stars and falls back to earth.
BERLIN -- First-time screenwriter Kate Connor's "Fort McCoy" is as ambitious as it is personal: Together with co-director Michael Worth, Connor retells her grandmother's childhood experiences as the daughter of a barber on the post-World War II military base of the title, which includes a German POW camp. Although clearly heartfelt and trying to compete with studio pictures in look and scope, the film has neither the direction and focus nor the financial means to come close to its lofty ambitions.

Chances for a small theatrical rollout domestically are slight, with technical inadequacies further hampering any sales.

The film begins with Frank (Eric Stoltz) and Ruby Stirn (Connor), their two children, Lester (Marty Backstrand) and Gertie (Gara Lonning), and Ruby's younger sister, Anna Gerkey (Lyndsy Fonseca) ,moving to Fort McCoy, where Frank will do his part for the war effort as a barber. When Gertie befriends the young German Heinrich, darker parts of the outwardly idyllic base come into view, including the presence of ideologically unrepentant SS soldiers and child molestation among the prisoners.

"Fort McCoy" only touches lightly on these subjects, mostly because it is mired in several other subplots: Anna finds love in the form and shape of handsome G.I. Sam (Andy Hirsch); Frank feels jealous and inadequate because he cannot fight in the war; and a dangerous SS man threatens Ruby.

Although many of the subplots play nicely, they take away from the main thrust of the film: a tightly knit family living so close to the enemy, who rarely is seen and never understood. So this is relegated to a footnote in favor of story lines that, while wholesome, are neither dramatic nor cinematic.

"Fort McCoy's" main problem is a technical one, though. Cinematographer Neil Lisk tries to emulate the style and framing of lavish studio pictures but fails to take the extraordinary depth-of-focus of digital cinematography into account. This results in a wide array of shots that are too focused on everything -- thereby directing the audience's attention to nothing -- or images pretty enough to hang on a wall but too flat for dramatic content. Artificial color saturation -- apparently meant to create lush images reminiscent of old Technicolor -- hurts more than it helps.

The other problem is the sound. Although composer Dana Niu's sweeping theme makes several appearances, most of the film is neither scored nor underscored, and the foley work does not seem finished. This results in dialogue sounding too crisp and artificial.

Fortunately, most performances are more than up to par with the film's lofty ambitions. Stoltz is entirely convincing as a man humbled by his German heritage and prevented from showing his American patriotism on the battlefield. Connor clearly proves that she can carry a lead, especially if it's tailored to her period-piece-friendly looks. Fonseca is delightful as a young girl in love, with executive producer Hirsch also showing great potential as her paramour.

The exception is Josh Zabel, who clearly is too young for the pivotal role of Heinrich, which calls for a youngish 16-year-old boy, not a fourth-grader, which is what he looks like.

Venue: Oldenburg International Film Festival
Production: Marzipan Entertainment
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Kate Connor, Lyndsy Fonseca, Andy Hirsch, Camryn Manheim, Brendan Fehr, Seymour Cassel
Directors: Kate Connor, Michael Worth
Screenwriter: Kate Connor
Producers: Eric Stoltz, Kate Connor
Executive producer: Andy Hirsch
Director of photography: Neil Lisk
Production designer: Chuck Parker
Music: Dana Niu
Costume designer: Alicia Joy Ryding
´┐ŻEditor: Robert Brakey
No rating, 101 minutes
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