By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
*Salvaged Lives. Edward James Olmos narrates this terrific documentary about a unique rehabilitation system in California's Chino State Prison, where hardened cons are put through a fantastically rigorous program that trains them for careers as industrial divers.
Director Barbara Liebovitz doesn't allow an excess of technique to come between herself and her material, choosing instead to follow a representative group of trainees from the beginning of the program through its emotional finale in a series of clean, direct, simple scenes. (Since developing upper body strength is a key ingredient in gaining success as a diver, a large portion of the film consists of images of men doing hundreds of pushups and pullups, crabwalking through mud, and having long conversations with their instructors while balancing on one arm and one leg.)
In its own unobtrusive way, Salvaged Lives says more about the failures of the correctional system than any number of speeches. The proof of the program is in the statistics: where 60 percent of Chino's regular prison population returns to jail within a few years, less than 5 percent of the industrial diving program's graduates become repeat offenders. (MZS) Barbara Liebovitz in attendance.
*Party Girl. Everyone give a raucous round of applause to writer-director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, who has created the wittiest, most insightful, least self-conscious Generation X comedy yet. Indeed, slapping the label "Generation X" on her delirious but tender comedy Party Girl does it an injustice. Although the film deals with self-enraptured, aimless twentysomethings who rely on their own community of friends to make it in cold, unpredictable New York City, it recognizes a world far wider and richer than the pop trivia-soaked setpieces in Reality Burns or the amateur philosophizing in Before Sunrise. Indie film fave Parker Posey plays a rave veteran whose drug-addled public parties eventually get her arrested. To pay the fine, she's compelled to work in the New York Public Library with her stern godmother--a woman with many regrets that prove educational to Posey. At the same time, she falls in love with a Lebanese street sandwich vender who's appalled at the frivolousness of her life. Parker Posey is an extremely graceful actress to whom the word "statuesque" easily applies. She and von Scherler Mayer escort the character through a hilarious series of changes which reflect the exigencies of that process we call "growing up."(JF) Daisy von Scherler Mayer is in attendance.
*American Gigolo. (1979) After the screening, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert will present Schrader with the USA Film Festival's Great Director award. See article "Magnificent Obsession" for more on Schrader and the film. Ebert and Schrader in attendance.
Tie-Died: Rock 'n' Roll's Most Deadicated Fans. A documentary about the Grateful Dead's devoted coterie of followers. See article "Dead on arrival" for more. Shown with Ira Israel's short film "Hungreed."
Light Sleeper. (1992) Writer-director Paul Schrader's kinder, gentler reworking of Taxi Driver, about a fortysomething drug dealer (Willem Dafoe) struggling to find some kind of direction in life. See article "Magnificent Obsession" for more on Schrader. Paul Schrader and Roger Ebert in attendance.
Organized Crime and Triad Bureau. From Hong Kong filmmaker Kirk Wong, the director of Jackie Chan's acclaimed melodrama Crime Story, comes this action-adventure about the ongoing war between a ruthless fugitive (Anthony Wong of Hard-Boiled) and the driven squad of lawmen who are determined to bring him back to justice (they're led by Danny Lee, who played another obsessive lawman in The Killer). Not available for review at press time.
Road Kill. A surprisingly reserved, predictable low-budget road "thriller" about a dumb college kid hitchhiking to California who gets hooked up with a homicidal maniac and his dim-witted girlfriend. Although the film features rape, mutilation, and death by superglue, Road Kill isn't violent enough to entertain us, and it never quite musters the sleazy mood appropriate to the white-trash antics on display. (JF)
Trailers from the Crypt. Joe Bob Briggs' midnight series spotlights the twisted tastes of Dallas-area special effects maven Tom Rainone, who will preside over an assortment of cheesy horror movie trailers.
*Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even bloodied-in-the-wool splatter fans have reason to dread yet another sequel to the 1974 low-budget smash: the last couple of entries have been lackluster, to say the least.
But this one, scripted and directed by Kim Henkel, who wrote the first film, is more than competent; in fact, it's terrific--possibly the toughest, nuttiest, most artistically committed horror comedy to come screeching down the pike since Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2. And as the leader of the band of incestuous killers, Austin-bred actor Matthew McConaughey (who played the eternal high schooler Wooderson in Dazed and Confused) gives the looniest, scariest, most inventively whacked-out performance since Jack Nicholson went way over the top in Batman.
This film is living proof that with a handful of chump change, a cast of talented actors, and enough burning vision, it's possible to fire up an old saw so that it roars like new again. (MZS) Kim Henkel in attendance.
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