By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
* Boom!. Mysteriously, there is only one film included in the Festival's new feature, "John Waters Presents." I suggest an entire festival chosen and personally introduced by Waters, long pigeonholed as a trash auteur but deserving recognition as a droll, whip-smart cinematic historian. Imagine Martin Scorsese as an articulate gay man who's honest about his Catholic love for violence and depravity, and you have some idea of how high Waters places on the ladder of independent American-filmmaking history. The writer-director stops in Dallas to introduce a personal favorite among truly monumental messes--the hilarious 1968 Joseph Losey-directed, Liz-and-Dick debacle Boom! Universal Pictures, which shot Boom! on a lavish budget, prayed that the success of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? could be carried over to another work by a great American gay playwright. Unfortunately, the Edward Albee of Virginia Woolf was on his way up, and the Tennessee Williams of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore had already drowned in the near-psychotic sentimentality his brilliant characters warned about. (JF) John Waters in attendance.
* Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. New York documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky won the audience award at Sundance for their 1992 feature debut Brother's Keeper, which profiled the squalid rural lifestyles of the three brothers Ward. Past middle age, the illiterate Ward brothers ran a small dairy farm inherited from their parents, and were thrust into the national spotlight when a fourth brother died mysteriously in bed. The documentary featured the perplexed, disgusted attitudes of residents of an upstate New York county who suddenly wanted to defend the brothers when they saw uppity national correspondents invading their business. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a second enthralling analysis of "white trash" America as it reacts to national TV's lust for sensationalistic stories. The tabloid press descended on West Memphis, Arkansas, after the bodies of three second-graders were discovered in a ditch beside the highway--naked, beaten, sodomized, mutilated, and repeatedly stabbed. When three local teen-agers who'd confessed an interest in Satanism were charged with the murders, the town began to generate wildly false rumors about homosexual orgies and dismembered penises in jars. Paradise Lost follows the trial of each teen-ager and spares no one involved--including the tiny community--from the damning details of their behavior. (JF)
My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports. "Remember" is the operative verb in the recent spate of Holocaust documentaries, and the way it's used, it's clearly intended to be an action verb. The two documentary Oscar winners this year--the feature Anne Frank Remembered and the short One Survivor Remembers, and even the recent after-school special, Children Remember the Holocaust, join this film, subtitled Remembering the Kindertransports, in reminding us, "Shame on you for not thinking of the Holocaust today!" There's nothing wrong with remembering that tragedy, of course, but the constant barrage of documentaries on the subject presents some interesting dilemmas for a film critic: How do you criticize elderly former refugees recounting the horrors of concentration-camp survival or, in the case of the kindertransports, small children (now grown) telling of how they escaped the Nazi regime by abandoning their parents in favor of political asylum in Great Britain? Is it wrong to say the movie was a bit too long to fully sustain my interest, or that the facts and statistics director Melissa Hacker recounts--while relevant and sometimes astonishing--have long since become old hat? Am I some kind of monster for feeling the slightest bit of indifference to this movie? (AWJ) Director Melissa Hacker in attendance.
* Mouth to Mouth (Boca a Boca). This farcical comedy from Spain, about a male phone-sex operator (Javier Bardem) and the intrigue that follows him, goes right in every place that Spike Lee's recent fiasco Girl 6 went wrong. The similarities in the setup for both films are remarkable: An aspiring actor in need of money accepts the job of talking dirty to closet perverts, and convinces him/herself this is just another role to perform; complications ensue. But where Girl 6 was pompous and preachy--as well as stylistically bankrupt--Mouth to Mouth revels in a serious wackiness. Bardem, whose sexy performance in Jamon Jamon was the best thing about that film, plays the lead with aggressive passivity. He's pretty much a dupe in the classic film-noir vein, a likable loser so easily manipulated by women smarter than he that the clue to his real charm lies not in his cleverness, but in his fearsome resilience. Bardem looks like a cross between Raul Julia, Antonio Banderas, and Dean Cain, and the look is intentional. Director Manuel Gomez Pereira spends a good deal of time spoofing early Pedro Almodovar films, especially those in which Banderas played a dull, sexually ambiguous cypher. Pereira alternates the tone of the film between thoughtful drama, perceptive satire, and screwball comedy--it's the kind of film that Almodovar used to make. It's one of the most fun foreign films to come around in a while. (AWJ)
* Notes From Underground. Praise the heavens writer-director Gary Walkow chose not to muddle Dostoevsky's hilarious, bleak short novel with a lot of technical tricks. He remains acidly true to the source, even lifting whole paragraphs and conversations from the text, in this tale of a city employee (Henry Czerny) obsessed with his own, mostly unrealized potential for cruelty and his tentative relationship with a needy prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Walkow pays tribute to a warped classic, finding stark, simple visual equivalents to an already compelling narrative. (JF) Gary Walkow in attendance.
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