By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
The Gate of Heavenly Peace. A new documentary about the 1989 events in China's Tiananmen Square. Not available for review.
* From the Journals of Jean Seberg. Mark Rappaport's quasi-documentary about the beleaguered movie star's sad career. See Arnold Wayne Jones' review, "Goodbye, normal Jean."
* Short Stuff I. This set of three shorts is probably the most compact and diverse collection of interesting films the Festival offers. The first short, Boy Crazy, Girl Crazier, written and directed by Illeana Douglas, is a lean, funny little number about a needy actress (played by Douglas) and the cruel boyfriend who betrays her for a part in a movie. You can see where the film is headed well before it gets there, and the boyfriend is so broadly drawn as to seem unbelievable, but Douglas attacks her screenplay as late in the story as possible. The film feels almost like a scene from a larger movie, an audition piece, and that's probably the point, since it draws a smile while commenting on how actresses are treated in Hollywood. The Day I Shot President Kennedy has some of the best dialogue of any Festival entry--and an authentic period setting in Dallas. Stephanie Taylor portrays a mousy, disturbed dishwasher whose descent into madness sets in motion a chain of events so bizarre as to make Oliver Stone take pause. But the big treat of the compilation is A Close Shave, animator Nick Park's most recent Oscar-winning short. Park is the reigning king of stop-motion comedy shorts, and all his films feature the same delightful characters: a dotty inventor named Wallace and his sophisticated dog, Gromit. Park supplies A Close Shave with an endless variety of clever, subtle sight gags and creative plot twists, and his ability to present characters with clear personalities makes it the kind of short you could watch over and over and always get something new out of. (AWJ)
Only in America. This locally produced satire of Dallas life is crowded with a variety of topics to lampoon, and one of the treats of the film is that it leaves no sacred cow untouched. Directors Susan Kirr and Rusty Martin have fashioned a structure designed to skewer everything: media, shallow Highland Park housewives and their empty volunteering, the casual damage wrought by gossip mills, suburban hysteria over adolescent drug use, and televangelism. Although frequently not truly outrageous, Kirr and Martin seem to have conceived of the film as a cheeky poke at numerous social conventions: It's Repo Man as directed by John Waters. At times Only in America hits its target better than many films in the Festival--but just as often, bad acting damages it. Orson Welles once said that the most important ingredient in a successful film was the acting. This makes a lot of sense: No matter how interesting a film may look, a bad performance can destroy the necessary illusion from the outset, and the audience won't get involved in the story. That was true of Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III, and virtually every film in which Ali MacGraw has appeared. Only in America contains so much amateurish acting, entire scenes are nearly derailed. The best performers are the many idle teen-agers who smoke joints and exchange subversive ideas while their parents meet at the club for lunch in between attending M.A.D.D. meetings; they are the tightest, most fully formed characters, and their energy gives the film momentum. When the teens aren't around, the pacing becomes lurching, and some unwelcome scenes linger like a fart in a phone booth. Only in America isn't cerebral enough to be taken as a thoughtful meditation on hypocrisy; it aims somewhat lower, and aside from a self-conscious, cop-out ending that practically moots all that came before it, it's the perfect teaser for those who like their satire served lukewarm. (AWJ) Directors Susan Kirr and Rusty Martin in attendance.
Tuesday, April 23
* Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick. William A. Wellman may not be as well-known as John Ford, but he was, along with Ford, one of Hollywood's scrappiest directors, the kind who would insult a studio head to his face, or dump a truckload of manure in his office to protest the lack of quality of the scripts he was assigned. He was also one of the most prolific directors in the studio system, guiding 76 films, among them Wings, The High and the Mighty (the first airline-disaster film), the original version of A Star is Born, and Battleground. He was a walking cliché of the macho director, a real tough guy and war hero who tempered his steel in the skies of Germany during World War I. This documentary, produced by his son, is a suitable tribute to him--if perhaps too loving as it looks at its subject through the forgiving lens of a child. In fact, aside from his notorious temper and rascally mischievousness, Wellman seems wholly vice-free, a family man who found time to make dozens of movies in between attending school plays. But whether it's a whitewash or not, Wellman directed some of the top films Hollywood produced during the '30s and '40s, and his films have left a lasting imprint. His gangster epic, The Public Enemy, most famous for the grapefruit-in-the-face scene, shot James Cagney to stardom in 1931, the year after Edward G. Robinson made Little Caesar and a year before Scarface. And The Ox-Bow Incident, a chillingly accurate profile of mob violence, has stuck with me since I saw it at age 11 because of its emotional power and sincere, affectless acting. While not groundbreaking, Wild Bill covers all the bases in showing the enduring quality of its subject's work. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Wellman's birth; it's about time for a reevaluation of his films, and this is an excellent beginning. Narrated by Alec Baldwin. (AWJ) Director Todd Robinson and producers William Wellman Jr. and Kenneth Carlson in attendance.
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