If he keeps making marvelous documentaries like this one, the image of Broomfield on the phone playing befuddled straight man to various low-level flacks, flunkies, thugs, and liars will become as familiar to documentary fans as the sight of Michael Moore shambling across America in his moth-eaten gimme cap. (MZS) Hitchens and Broomfield in attendance.

Among the Dead. Dallas filmmakers Glen and Kay Bay made this surreal, black-and-white, Hollywood-Eats-Your-Soul movie mostly on location in Dallas, with guerrilla-style exterior shooting in Tinseltown, where they had to duck the fuzz to avoid having to pay their way through the Los Angeles' Film Commission's spiderweb of red tape.

Although it was filmed at approximately the same time as Tim Burton's Ed Wood and shares the same seedily desperate milieu, it's a far bleaker movie, chronicling the pathetic life of an arrogant, self-destructive, chain-smoking, hard-drinking projectionist named Randy Calhern (Craig Dupree) who professes to have a production deal at Paramount and uses this bit of information to manipulate the lives of those around him, including a former "B" movie actress (Louanne Stephens) and an old cinematographer buddy from New York (Peter Lovett).

Exactly what Randy gains by promising his pals the moon and delivering nothing is unclear. One possibility, backed up by the character's trips to a celebrity-packed Hollywood cemetery and his occasional forays into Golden Age fantasizing, is that he's so obsessed with the fame he'll never have that he subconsciously treats other people as if he were some up-and-coming phenomenon instead of a burned-out loser.

The film is, frankly, rather tedious overall, since it consists mainly of two kinds of scenes: Randy humiliating other people and Randy being humiliated. But Russell Blair's rapturous 16mm photography and Kay Bay's resourceful and inventive production design (which locates the time period somewhere between Hollywood's past, present, and future) make it worth a look. That and the lead performance of Craig Dupree; despite being saddled with an irritating, one-note character, he somehow manages to maintain viewer sympathy throughout an overlong movie, and his unnerving resemblance to the young Robert Mitchum makes him far more visually intriguing than the celebrity-not-quite-lookalikes his character consorts with.

Keep one eye peeled for local stage treasure Phyllis Cicero in a small part as Randy's boss at the movie theater; in one welcome scene early on, she rips the irresponsible little whelp a new asshole with such righteousness that she makes you wish the movie were about her. (MZS) Glen Coburn and Kay Bay in attendance.

Hell Bent. Alienated youths who use violence to break the monotony of their ennui-deadened souls have been portrayed with sophistication and revolutionary shock from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange through Tim Hunter's The River's Edge, but it took Canadian filmmaker John Kozak to turn adolescent nihilism into a snicker-inducing clichŽ with Hell Bent, a wretchedly acted, poorly directed snapshot of three naughty kids who break into the home of a helpless elderly couple and torture them for kicks.

Pardon me for revealing the plot, but there are ticket buyers who'll be deeply disturbed by watching a wheelchair-bound old man beaten to death with a cane and his wife doused in Irish whiskey and set aflame. Save your offended sensibilities for a worthier film, because that's pretty much all that happens in Hell Bent. For those of us hardened to movie violence, it's difficult to suppress giggles during the poorly choreographed scenes of brutality, especially the burning old woman, whose wigged stunt double looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the maternity clinic scenes from Junior.

The cultural roots of vicious juvenile crime deserve serious film treatment, but Hell Bent provides no cultural context and no convincingly drawn juveniles, just a lot of pointless destruction that never justifies the time we spend watching it. Big-screen cruelty has never felt so tedious. (JF)

Thursday, April 27
7:30 p.m.
Panther. Mario and Melvin Van Peebles' drama about the beginnings of the Black Panther party. See article "Shooting blanks" for details. Courtney B. Vance and Melvin and Mario Van Peebles in attendance.

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