By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
A civilization of raccoons living in the forests and mountains surrounding Tokyo find their land is being leveled by Japanese government officials, who want to build apartment settlements. The raccoons wage a war of illusion against the humans, transforming themselves into talking inanimate objects, ghost children, and other phantasms to scare off the developers. When that doesn't work, they seek the leadership of mountain elders, who encourage them to concentrate all their illusion-making skills to create a massive hallucinatory spectacle that recalls the explosion of an atom bomb.
Pom Poko is far too talky and sophisticated in theme for little kids, and many adults, for that matter, but it's a must-see for Japanimation fans who crave that unique blend of science fiction, mysticism, mythology, and social commentary in which Japanese animators specialize. (JF)
Clean, Shaven. Actor Peter Greene seems to be on his way to Dennis Hopper status. In the past few years, he's played a number of baroque character parts with terrifying conviction, including Denis Leary's savage lieutenant in Judgment Night, the philosophical street hood protagonist of Nick Gomez' Laws of Gravity, and the hillbilly rapist Zed in Pulp Fiction.
His role in this independent horror film by director Lodge Kerrigan makes those other guys look like pretty well-adjusted individuals: Greene plays a rootless schizoid pursued by the authorities for murder who drives inexorably across country in search of his daughter, enduring disturbing hallucinations and equally disturbing encounters with average Americans along the way. Kerrigan makes your skin crawl via atmosphere, music, composition, and subtext rather than cheap shocks and gore (although there are a few of the latter in the movie, including an astoundingly graphic self-mutilation scene that will ensure that you never look at a pair of pliers the same way again). The film is fascinating at first but off-putting because it just slimes steadily and monotonously along rather than building in intensity. (MZS) Writer-director Lodge Kerrigan in attendance.
The Wife. From writer-director Tom Noonan (What Happened WasE) comes this tale of a dysfunctional marriage. Not available for screening at press time.
Haunted Symphony. This Roger Corman-produced sleazetravaganza was rescued from the direct-to-video market by its unusually tight direction and a series of low-budget special effects. In 18th century France, a naēve composer (Ben Cross) is commissioned by a "classic beauty" (Jennifer Burns) to complete, for her impending wedding, the symphony begun by her uncle, a man torn apart by an angry mob that believed his music was written in praise of the devil.
Problem is, the piece really is damned (the title on the score sheet, "Satan's Symphony," gives us our first clue), and finds a protector in none other than Beverly "My Three Sons" Garland, who portrays a kind of devil-worshipping Mrs. Danvers. The composer begins to finish the symphony, kills Burns' groom in a swordfight, and then enlists her in seeking more victims for his hellish obsession.
Haunted Symphony moves briskly, but you'll probably wish you'd rented it for three bucks on a Saturday night. (JF) Director David Tausik is in attendance.
Mars Needs Women. In this 1966 camp classic from Dallas-reared schlock filmmaker Larry Buchanan, Tommy Kirk, of all people, plays a Martian scouring the earth in search of curvaceous concubines. Co-starring Yvonne DeCarlo (TV's Batgirl). Larry Buchanan in attendance.
*Spider Baby. The jewel in the crown of the Festival's Joe Bob Briggs Midnight Series, this cannibalicious 1964 horror comedy from director Jack Hill features Lon Chaney as the chauffeur guardian of a family suffering from Merry Syndrome, a degenerative brain disease that causes its victims to regress into a violent primal state. The last living relative of the kids' father comes to claim them, and all hell breaks loose. Spider Baby transcends the genre of "bad" cinema by being smart enough to know it's an exploitation flick, and using every trick necessary, from low-brow humor to some surprisingly scary images, to hold the viewer's attention. Expertly directed, hysterically funny, and graced with a great turn by some spastic bald guy who looks and acts like Jerry Lewis cross-bred with a rhesus monkey. A must-see. (JF) Jack Hill is in attendance.
Saturday, April 22
*Taxi Driver. (1976) See article "Magnificent Obsession" for more about Schrader. Schrader and Roger Ebert in attendance.
Frank and Ollie. In one of this movie's first scenes, old, bald-headed Frank Thomas does a stiff-but-enthusiastic monkey dance. Then we're shown a scene from The Jungle Book--a red monkey doing that same boogie, a monkey animated by Thomas.
Thomas and his partner Ollie Johnston started working at Disney Studios in 1934 and 1935, respectively. During this documentary, we see several examples of them working out characters by acting out scenes, and through their actions, the old men, making faces and testing postures, are thoroughly charming. Of course, the animated clips are familiar--Frank and Ollie worked together on all of the Disney classics from Snow White on up.
Although writer and director Theodore Thomas, son of Frank, indulges himself by letting this movie go on too long, he doesn't present an annoyingly sentimental version of his father's career. The vignettes, interviews, and archival footage are put together with a pleasant rhythm and, as a whole, offer a wealth of technical and historical information about Disney Studios. For those who are not Disney or even animation fans, the story of Frank and Ollie still works as a thoughtful and moving documentary about being creative, and about teamwork. (Edith Sorenson)
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