By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
with his Great Director award. (AWJ) Sydney Pollack and Teri Garr in attendance.
* Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern. "What is success and failure in a life, and how do you tell the difference?" This is the question posed at the conclusion of Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern, a documentary by the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Jean Jordan and Steven Ascher. Troublesome Creek takes its name from an awkwardly winding, twisting creek behind the Jordan homestead. The title is befitting this odyssey of the Jordan family, which hails from the outskirts of Atlantic, Iowa, a small farming town. Four generations of Jordans--spanning 100 years--have lived a sometimes modest, oft-times successful family life on this land. Now, as the fourth generation nears its natural closure, a new economic reality threatens its farming tradition. The usual villains inhabit this tale of farming woes in the late '80s and early '90s. Each of them--bankers, loan officers, siblings, and, if the natural course of things can be villainous, life itself--earn the viewer's disdain in this saga involving the filmmaker's family. In a remarkable testament to the farming community's respect for traditions, friends, families, and a host of others try to rally in the Jordans' 11th hour. On the day their farm is to be auctioned to repay bank loans, one old neighbor travels 120 miles in a snow storm to show his support. From this, a viewer would never suspect the final outcome of the Jordan family's ordeal. (James Mardis) Steven Ascher in attendance.
* In a Strange City. Director Chi Yin charts more sorrowful emotional terrain between the personal and political in Taiwan's evolving national identity with In a Strange City. Almost devoid of music, shifting between the morose and the hopelessly passionate, the film concerns a schoolteacher (Kuei-mei Yang) and a businessman with political ambitions (the dashing Winston Chao from Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman) who conduct a torrid affair in the middle of a campaign season. The film builds from a slow, luxurious exhalation to a sigh. In between, you may think Chao and Kuei-mei are the most beautiful creatures you've ever seen on a movie screen. (JF) Chi Yin in attendance.
Stonewall. A fictional story based on the seminal 1969 event that kicked off the gay-rights movement in America. See Jimmy Fowler's review, "This history's a drag." Actor Guillermo Diaz in attendance.
Back to Back. A bitter ex-cop and a Japanese gangster become unlikely allies when both are the targets of corrupt policemen and the L.A. mob. Not reviewed. Michael Rooker, Lloyd Keith, and director Roger Nygard in attendance.
* Brain Dead. Filmmaker Adam Simon, whose terrifically entertaining Sam Fuller tribute The Typewriter, the Rifle, and the Movie Camera also screens at the Festival, will be honored with a revival of his 1989 feature-film debut. This wickedly suspenseful psychological thriller cleverly manipulates two great strains of American cinematic paranoia--the technology-gone-mad warnings of '50s sci-fi and Hitchcock's persecuted man-on-the-run. Bill Pullman, a compelling Everyman long before While You Were Sleeping hit big at the box office, plays a shy neuroscientist tapped by his sleazy college buddy (who else but Bill Paxton?) to operate on a homicidal mathematician (Bud Cort) so the killer's former employees can tap his formulas. Simon is skillful enough as a filmmaker to poke fun at hoary suspense techniques while wringing out their last drops of effectiveness. (JF) Adam Simon in attendance.
Sunday, April 21
* Husbands and Wives. Woody Allen's midlife-crisis film--about two New York couples and the farcical, poignant ways they define their relationship--is probably most noteworthy for Judy Davis' sophisticated, emotionally volatile performance. But Sydney Pollack, as the man from whom she is separating, is simply great: confused, petulant, pretentious, sad, vulnerable, and testy. (AWJ) Sydney Pollack in attendance.
Short Film and Video Winners. For the 18th time, the USA Film Festival presents its National Short Film and Video Competition awards, selected by a special jury. Winning shorts and videos not available for review.
* Cadillac Ranch. Three estranged sisters (Suzy Amis, Caroleen Feeney, and Renee Humphrey) find themselves abandoned by a criminal father only to be reunited with him in his waning years. His parting gift to them is a host of trouble in the form of a corrupt former lawman (Christopher Lloyd). A silly, juvenile chase ensues, as the girls traverse the Texas landscape while searching for their father's hidden riches. Cadillac Ranch borrows from 1995's Boys on the Side--as well as many other clichŽs--on the way to daddy's gold, but it's still Texas. Somehow, that fact and the attractive cast make up for all of Cadillac Ranch's whining, poetic misdeeds, pseudo-psychological and -sexual situations, and that busty woman who thinks she's still in fourth grade. (JM)
The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blache. Another in the Festival's "Cinema on Film" series, this hourlong documentary by French-Canadian filmmaker Marquise LePage traces the all-but-buried contributions of Alice Guy-Blache, who at the turn of the century was not only the first woman writer-director in cinema history, but very likely the first individual to record a story: Her first film, The Cabbage Fairy, was a fantasy about childbirth that sold 80 copies. Narrated by Guy-Blache's granddaughter, The Lost Garden is tender, eloquent, but adamant about Guy-Blache's blazing trail, later walked by the likes of Leni Riefenstahl, Ida Lupino, and Dorothy Arzner. (JF)
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