St. Petersburg Times: Weekend
St. Petersburg Times: Weekend

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Indie flix

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 26, 2002

A metropolitan midway

[Photo: Minaret Films]
Colleen Porch, left, stars as Kenna, a nightclub waitress and photographer who juggles her time with two lovers in Carnival Knowledge. One of them is Jeff (Bradley Cooper, right).

Carnival Knowledge (Not rated, probably R) (98 min.) -- The Tampa production company Minaret Films makes an ambitious debut with Carnival Knowledge, a movie with a few qualities to recommend and, above all, a multiplex engagement where moviegoers can enjoy them.

Channelside Cinemas in Tampa agreed to a one-screen, one-week engagement after seeing the finished project. It's easy to understand why management was impressed. Carnival Knowledge looks as if took more money to make than the $1-million budget it had, with interesting cinematography (even if you don't recognize the Tampa locales) and a polished cast of actors. So many independent filmmakers believe they're owed attention just for pointing a camera that it's refreshing to see a group such as Minaret Films knowing what to do with that camera.

Carnival Knowledge is a week in the sexually active life of Kenna (Colleen Porch), a nightclub waitress and photographer juggling two lovers, Martin (David Gail) and Jeff (Bradley Cooper of TV's Alias). The question of which, if either, she'll eventually choose isn't important. This is a character and culture study, not a handy romantic comedy/drama. Even if Kenna still seems a bit blurry at the conclusion, she's a cipher worth following through all these conversations about one thing.

The creative trio of Morgan Klein, Rob Allen and Peter Knight took the production to 20 Tampa locations over a 25-day shooting schedule, including the nightspot Rain, WMNF-FM and assorted watersides, restaurants and galleries. But the story isn't tapered to the locales, as many filmmakers on the fly seem to do. Familiar sites aren't distracting when they're so intrinsic.

We learn more about Kenna from flashbacks to her adolescence as the daughter of a carnival worker, with Gibsonton's show community adding authenticity. She learned the art of the con at an early age and the benefits of a kiss not long afterward. Both skills made her what she is today, tested by the persistence of two suckers who keep coming back. Porch is an appealing flirt with the dramatic chops to convey Kenna's growing disenchantment with both of them.

Carnival Knowledge occasionally veers into soapy waters with Martin's and Jeff's backstories and pining. Some characters get more attention than they ultimately deserve, and a couple of Kenna's clubbing excursions run too long. But it makes us feel certain that something at least as good as what we've just seen is around the corner. Minaret Films now has the same challenge for its next feature. B

'Harvard Man' is nowhere, man

[Photo: Cowboy Pictures]
Adrian Grenier, left, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Gianni Russo in Harvard Man play out a far-fetched, shallow tale about creeps behind ivy-covered walls.

Harvard Man (R) (100 min.) -- James Toback is a filmmaker who puts his obsessions onscreen: compulsive gambling and mob mechanics in his screenplays for The Gambler and Bugsy, respectively, plus drugs, sex and deep philosophy in Black and White, Two Girls and a Guy -- heck, just about anything with his name attached. Each of those topics figures into Harvard Man, and they seldom fit comfortably.

Adrien Grenier plays Alan, a point guard for the Harvard basketball team who needs $100,000 to rebuild his parents' home, destroyed by a tornado. His oversexed cheerleader girlfriend, Cindy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), is the daughter of a reputed mobster. Alan figures that if he throws a crucial game with Dartmouth, he can make the money.

Toback realizes that plot device won't carry a movie, so he tosses in Alan's affair with his philosophy professor (Joey Lauren Adams), allowing the writer to indulge his infatuation with introspective conversations that usually stop his films dead in their tracks. Alan retreats into a bad LSD trip, the only time Harvard Man takes flight, because Toback surrenders to something approaching a reason to turn on the camera. It's also fairly autobiographical; Toback has often recalled his bad acid experience in 1965 in interviews. This is the audience's bummer for 2002. D

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