It seems like the film weather is shifting in a rather banal direction. First, the Academy Awards put us all to sleep (no matter how hard Billy Crystal tried), causing us to doubt that anyone from New Zealand has any creativity left after giving it all away to Lord of the Rings. Yes, you want to thank your mother, but sooo much? There must be something Freudian in them waters down in New Zealand.

Post-Oscar it didn’t get much better. You see, no movie failed to disappoint. Kill Bill Vol. 2, according to most critics, continued the pretentious journey that Vol. 1 started off. Disney’s Home on the Range failed to even get smiles, let alone laughs. The Punisher (pun intended), punched audiences in the wallet, and The Whole Ten Yards certainly didn’t go the whole way.

Yes, it’s a gloomy cloud swarming across Hollywood. The only consolation comes in the form of Connie and Carla, which, if truth be told, is not anywhere near being a masterpiece, but is a lovely way to spend some time with songs, jokes, and a bunch of queens. It is indeed a movie that inspires you to click those red shoes (that you know you have stashed somewhere in that closet) together and say that there is no place like – Broadway. For only on Broadway can you truly be the Diva that you are (red shoes and all), sharing songs by Liza Minelli, Madonna and Barbara Streisand.

With my My Big Fat Greek Wedding Nia Vardalos managed to bring in some laughs, family spirit, culture and a hint of fun into the Cineplex. Here she does much of the same, but without the memorability of the ‘Windex’ ad that featured so prominently in Michael Constantine’s (Gus, da father in the movie) words. Connie and Carla certainly has a fun aroma, and the big (REALLY big) Broadway numbers are a sell. Certainly worth a little visit to the cinema.

Luckily, though we had such an uneventful movie-period, there are some upcoming releases that may (hopefully) ease that pain. Van Helsing, Troy, Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Garfield, The Chronicle of Riddick, The Stepford Wives, Around the World in 80 Days, Saved! and The Terminal have all been spending ions of hard cash to manipulate our minds into thinking that each of those movies will be ‘The One’ to break the hard cold curse.

Will Shrek Jr. live up to the reputation set forth by the Senior film? Will Garfield annoy us, or ask us to take him home? Will Harry Potter finally die? Okay, not that… But will the hero make it around the world in 80 days, or would the film look like it didn’t even take 80 days to make? Will Mandy Moore save her singing career? And will The Terminal, a movie that is directed by THE Steven Spielberg and stars the stunning Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Hanks, terminate its flight on the top spot at the box office? Tough questions, of course. And only the coming months shall betray the answers.

Until that time, the Movie Guru is drooling over The Terminal, which combines a certain favourite actress (Zeta-Jones), a certain favourite actor (Hanks), a certain favourite director (Spielberg), and a beloved studio (Dreamworks SKG) that makes this (pun warning) certain teaming possible.

There is yet another film that looks promising. I was covering an event with the Dalai Lama last week. When the 26,000 attendees cleared from the coliseum, outside they were greeted by three insane men with pale faces and blood-red lips, waving signs with odd scribbles about embracing Jesus, and all the jazz. This scene reminded me of the relevance of issues discussed in the upcoming dark comedy from Universal Artists called, Saved!. The movie deals with those so-called born-again Christians and the intolerance that occasionally haunts those religious mirages. Saved stars Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Jena Malone, Eva Amurri, Heather Matarazzo, Patrick Fugit and Michael Urban. The script is excellent, the young cast is impressive (not to mention crazy) and the film comes out on May 28, 2004. It’s a timely film.

MAY'S Q&A

For this month’s Q&A we’ve got a guest expert to give her take on independent film.

After earning her PhD in American literature at UCLA, Beverly Gray spent nearly a decade in the film industry. As Roger Corman’s story editor and creative executive at Concorde-New Horizons Pictures, she oversaw the development of more than 170 low-budget genre films. Currently she teaches screenwriting at UCLA Extension and covers the entertainment world for the Hollywood Reporter. Her first book, Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking, was published in 2000, making its debut in the #4 slot on the Los Angeles Times hardcover non-fiction bestseller list. An updated and expanded version of the Corman biography, "Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers," has been released earlier this year from Thunder's Mouth Press. Beverly’s second biography, Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon . . . and Beyond, appeared in March 2003.

One of our readers asked Beverly the following question:

Q: What do you think makes the biggest difference between independent film productions, and mainstream Hollywood films?

A: Traditionally, the term “independent film” implied a movie that was produced and distributed outside of traditional Hollywood channels. But today that distinction no longer holds, because the Hollywood studio system has absorbed so many of the smaller film companies. Miramax, to cite the obvious example, is now a subsidiary of the huge Disney conglomerate. And most of the major studios have launched their own art-house divisions (like Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics) for the financing and distribution of lower-budget, more unconventional projects. It’s a sign of the times that James Schamus, whose Good Machine was long a mainstay of the New York alternative film scene, now heads Focus Features, a specialty division of Universal Pictures.

So what I would call indie films today are not always independent of the Hollywood studios in a business sense. Nor are they always made on the proverbial shoestring. For me, indie films are those that speak with a unique voice. They capture the filmmaker’s own personal sensibility, instead of being designed by committee to meet the requirements of the corporate bosses. John Sayles makes films that are truly independent. So do the Coen brothers, even though such Coen features as “The Ladykillers” are financed and released through major studios. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is unquestionably an indie, despite its $30 million budget. Charlie Kaufman is not a director, but he writes (and produces) movies—like Adaptation and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—that deserve to be called indies because they reflect Kaufman’s own idiosyncratic outlook on life.