Nicolas Cage and director Ridley Scott were in TO to help promote Scott’s Matchstick Men. The movie is one of those con man efforts that doesn’t quite achieve the brass ring. Cage plays an obsessive-compulsive, germ a-phobic, agoraphobic con artist. He smokes, too. Things are falling apart in his life – to say the least. Just as his mental issues are getting worse, he discovers he has a teenage daughter. He’s ill-equipped to raise her and the thrust of the movie is the nature of their testy interaction and Cage’s character’s having to deal with continuing to flim-flam to live and eat. Director Scott, who usually makes big budget, special effects movies, handles the material well; he can do small, but every time Cage pretended to be a dad, I cringed. He also overacts a tad too much for the less-than-heady material. As his criminal partner, Sam Rockwell is good, as always. Alison Lohman, who is this weekend’s hot, new thing has talent. The movie falters because we keep wondering how Cage got to be such a success at conning if he’s such a mess. Big themes are trumpeted when cinematic psychology rears its boring head as the daughter figures out the answer before Cage. An attempt at a happy ending turns the movie to mush.

Cabin Fever was a popular hit at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival, and it’s finally getting its distribution due. It’s a very good horror movie about a camp in the woods and a flesh-eating virus. Directed by Eli Roth, who co-wrote the screenplay with Randy Pearlstein, the movie has a solid run of good jolts and eventually gets under your skin (sorry). Jet Lag was also a hit at the 2002 festival and I wrote good things about it back then. Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno star as mismatched people who meet at an airport and bond. It’s all very French and very good. The Secret Lives Of Dentists had its premiere at the 2002 TO film festival. The fascinating movie is based on Jane Smiley’s novella The Age of Grief, and stars Campbell Scott as a dentist who has a strange dream that shakes up the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Hope Davis is his wife in this well-acted film.

Into the woods again with Camp, a pleasantly entertaining movie about a summer camp for the arts. Mickey and Judy never put on a musical show like this one. With television’s Boy Meets Boy, Will & Grace, and Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, I’m not sure how any parent can be clueless about their child’s sexuality. But if gay issues remain, seeing Camp will continue to help sort out matters.

Northfork is another quirky tale from the writing-directing Polish brothers, Michael and Mark. This ethereal and engrossing movie stars James Woods, Nick Nolte, Claire Forlani, Anthony Edwards, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Ben Foster, and Kyle MacLachlan. In 1955, the residents of a small Montana community are forced to move their homes and alter their lives to make way for a new dam that will bring electrical joy to the region. The Polish brothers make compelling movies that are almost eerie in their rhythmic strangeness, and this is no exception.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star features the endlessly annoying David Spade as a Peter Pan type who was a big television star as a kid but needs to reconnect with a childhood he never had to score roles as an adult. He hires a family to teach him about what he missed. The lackluster movie has umpteen cameos by real-life former child stars, but it never quite delivers anything other than tedium and a desire that Spade keep his clothes on for the rest of his life. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Back in Buffalo for a brief respite before returning to Toronto for the international film festival. There’ll be a complete festival story in the next issue of ALT, including reports on my one-on-one interviews with director Gus Van Sant for his movie Elephant, and with actress Mary Steenburgen for her work in John Sayles’ Casa De Los Babys. In the City of No Illusions, your beloved Buffalo, some new movies have opened, including one that was a Gala presentation at the Toronto Film Festival, and some that scored well there in 2002.