By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
Note: The 25th Annual USA Film Festival runs Thursday, April 20 through Thursday, April 27 at the AMC Glen Lakes theater, 9450 North Central Expressway (except for The Stars Fell on Henrietta and Panther, which will be screened at the General Cinema NorthPark III-IV, North Central Expressway at Park Lane).
Tickets will be available at the theater box office beginning at 1 p.m. on the day of the program you'd like to see. All tickets are $6.50 per program, except for opening night tickets, which cost $10. Seating for all programs is general admission. Call 821-NEWS for more information. The following notes are by Jimmy Fowler, James Mardis, Edith Sorenson, and Matt Zoller Seitz.
* denotes a film the Observer recommends.
Thursday, April 20
The Stars Fell on Henrietta. You read about the making of this movie last year in Dallas Morning News writer Jane Sumner's industry column, which seemed to run four or five blurbs a months while the picture was filming in and around Austin and Abilene. Here's your chance to see the finished product. The film by actor James Keach, which makes its world premiere at the 25th annual USA Film Festival, concerns a Depression-era wildcat oilman (Robert Duvall) who tries to convince a destitute farm couple (Aidan Quinn and Frances Fisher) that they're sitting on a very crude patch of land, if you get his meaning. (Matt Zoller Seitz) Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Frances Fisher, James Keach, and producer David Valdes in attendance.
Friday, April 21
The First 100 Years. Not available for screening at press time, this new feature from the Academy Awards producers' unofficial imagesmith-in-residence, Chuck Workman (Precious Images), combines over 800 clips to give us an overview of cinema's first century. World Premiere. (MZS) Chuck Workman, film critic Roger Ebert, USA Film Festival founders L.M. "Kit" Carson, Bob Porter, and Don Safran in attendance.
*Coldblooded. A tightly crafted, involving strangely sweet black comedy, Coldblooded bears an executive production credit by faded '80s star Michael J. Fox, who also makes a brief appearance. If Fox continues to oversee movies as brisk and charming as this one, he needn't worry about his waning status in front of the camera. Writer-director Wallace M. Wolodarsky strives for a deliberately poker-faced approach to this tale of a witless bookie's secretary (Jason Priestley) who suddenly finds himself promoted to hit man by the new boss of his organization. Trouble is, Priestley is a TV-addicted loner who's never held a gun, much less fired one. He receives training from a philosophy-spouting, alcoholic professional killer (Peter Riegert, whose unforgettable motto is "Guns don't kill people, we do") who discovers his inarticulate protege possesses the aim of an expert marksman but still has trouble justifying the merciless nature of his new career. Priestley is further bamboozled when he falls in love with a yoga instructor (Kimberly Williams) who believes her string of bad relationships has ended once she meets this shy, sweet-natured dolt with the mysterious job.
Coldblooded shines with the kind of droll dialogue that's only possible when the relationships in a movie are fully realized. That the film contains several fairly graphic contract killings doesn't upset the tender mood so much as establish a loopy alternate universe in which the protagonist can commit murder and still sweat the details of first love with virginal enthusiasm. Jason Priestley lets his sweetly confused spaniel eyes carry much of the role, but he's effective enough to whet your appetite for his next film. Shown with Karen Young's short film "The Pesky Suitor." (Jimmy Fowler) Karen Young in attendance.
*The Sum of Us. Sift through the recent avalanche of gay-themed motion pictures and you'll find a conspicuous omission--stories about how gay men and lesbians function within their biological families. For this reason alone, Kevin Dowling's movie version of Australian playwright David Stevens' comedy-drama The Sum of Us seizes our attention with the brashness of a trailblazer.
Even more provocative, Stevens and Dowling bypassed the predictable mother-gay son scenario to focus instead on how a widower father (Jack Thompson) and his grown gay son (Russell Crowe) maintain a live-in relationship. Thompson and Crowe are roommates, drinking buddies, combatants, best friends, and most of all, enthusiastic supporters of the other's search for true love. The jolly, laid-back Thompson has long ago accepted his son's same-sex proclivities and even works (albeit a bit too hard) to secure a monogamous partner for his boy.
Thanks to two robust, lived-in lead performances and a script by Stevens filled with authentic verbal roughhousing and poignant moments of compromise and confession, the relationship never feels like a movie contrivance. Unfortunately, Dowling didn't find a way to transcend the stage-bound structure of the conversations, and having Thompson and Crowe intermittently speak directly to the audience sometimes disrupts the rhythm of the story. The three-hankie hairpin turn toward tragedy during the film's final third feels tacked-on, but for all the rough edges that steal some of the greatness from The Sum of Us, you've never seen a father-son relationship like this one before. (JF) Director Kevin Dowling is in attendance.
Pom Poko. Japanese folklore says that the raccoon is a trickster who possesses a human intelligence to plan, and supernatural abilities to carry out its tricks. This is the basis for the full-length animated Japanese feature Pom Poko, a bittersweet fable that begins as a plea for environmental restraint à la Watership Down and then turns into an examination of the messy politics that motivate a community under oppression.
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