Mia & Peter & Liza & Mazursky

The USA Film Festival offers an unapologetic orgy of movie delights

Saturday, April 19, 9:30 p.m.

I Was a Jewish Sex Worker. The Festival warns that at this midnight showing, "no one under 18 will be admitted" for good reason. This shortish, revelatory documentary by Phillip B. Roth is more sexually explicit than the controversial Crash, and also significantly more entertaining. Roth is a homosexual Jewish filmmaker from New York whose other short films--Boys/Life and 25-Year-Old Gay Man Loses His Virginity to a Woman--have met with some success on gay cable TV, and there's an incredible personal aspect to his filmmaking that you rarely get in movies, even at festivals. Roth is confused about sex and life, and that he is willing to candidly discuss his profession, euphemistically called a "full-body masseur," earns him credit for honesty. Beyond the sexual cataloguing--there's lots of it--is a raw, uncompromising glimpse we get of the charismatic women that his family has turned out: a plain-spoken grandmother, a delightful aunt, and a tolerant mother. Godard said "Film is truth as 24 frames per second." If that's so, there's a "truth" to the content of this film, if not the form. (Many of the scenes from his life are staged, or re-staged, for the camera.) For Roth, reality is reflected through the prism of his filmic artifices, and a greater truth emerges from it. This is the kind of clever, introspective interview-intensive self-documentaries that many other films think they are about, but don't have the teeth to really say. (AWJ) Phillip B. Roth in attendance.

Saturday, April 19, midnight.

It's in the Water. It sometimes seems that Dallas area filmmakers are unusually preoccupied with homosexual issues: To Gay TV: The Movie (also screening at the Festival this year) and last year's hit Late Bloomers, add It's in the Water. Like Only in America at the 1996 Festival, It's in the Water thinks that its soap-opera ethic, lazily drawn cookie-cutter stereotypes, and toothless satiric riffs amount to something more than a pedestrian caricature of foo-foo Highland Park society. They do not. Characters that are one-dimensionally pompous are too-easy targets for the script's flaccid wit, and the plot--about a rumor that homosexuality is caused by a tainted water supply--lacks a frenetic kick. The closest this limp satire, painted with broad brushstrokes, comes to psychological development is suggesting that upper-class women are the product of a daddy-obsessed, mommy-dominated upbringing. Ho-hum. Almost lost in this are two notable performances: Keri Jo Chapman, who has the same straightforward appeal of Sandra Bullock, and John Hallum as Spencer, a bitchy queen whose lover is dying of AIDS. (AWJ) Director Kelli Herd in attendance.

Sunday, April 20, 5:10 p.m.

Good Luck. A few years ago, one of the treasures of the Festival was Joe's Rotten World, a daft and offbeat social comedy written and directed by Richard LaBrie. When the Festival announced that LaBrie had another entry this year, expectations were high. Unfortunately the product, Good Luck, has none of the personality or wit LaBrie showed in Joe's Rotten World. The story is fairly routine--a preprogrammed "uplifting" tale of a self-pitying, blind ex-jock (Vincent D'Onofrio) and a paraplegic (Gregory Hines) who team up to enter a whitewater rafting competition; fuzzy male bonding ensues. The few moments when Good Luck enters the realm of absurdist romp are fun, but these unhinged moments give way to the greater goal of the script (by Bob Comfort): to be a feel-good entertainment without much invention. (AWJ) Gregory Hines, Max Gail, and Richard LaBrie in attendance.

Sunday, April 20, 7:15 p.m.

Short Stuff. The short film compilations are one of the high points of the Festival--last year's best entry, Breathing Lessons, went on to win the Oscar last month for documentary short. This year you can savor Dear Diary, Dreamworks' Oscar-winning live action short. The writer/director is David Frankel, whose previous film (Miami Rhapsody) and short-lived television series (Grapevine) feature the same insane pacing--there's not a slow moment in the whole thing. Bebe Neuwirth stars as a publishing executive whose incredibly weird day inspires her to record events in her diary, which are then acted out with staccato speed and lots of humor. The quality of the shorts, unfortunately, tends to go downhill from there--but two films manage to offer worthwhile delights: Inside Out, Jason Gould's largely autobiographical indictment of Scientology, media, and love in the '90s; and Static, a somewhat predictable but entertaining tale of a soldier standing over a triggered, but yet-to-explode, landmine in the Kuwaiti desert. (AWJ) Michael Goorjian, director of Liber Nox, in attendance.

Sunday, April 20, 9:15 p.m.

Rubber Carpet. Tula (Judy Coffey) and Ansel (Jonathan Wilson) are trying to work out the niggling details of their relationship, like whether to put up with a neighbor known only as "Clapton-fuck" because of the white-noise generated by his continuous playing of "Layla," and whether Ansel can sell any of his art, such as "Piss-muffin," an indictment of large bakeries. In this skewed comedy, writers John May and Suzanne Bolch explore the slapdash philosophies we cobble together to make some sense out of our lives. In its very personal view of romantic life, I couldn't help but think of Rubber Carpet as the Canadian version of Clerks: part sight-gags, part self-pity, all fun. (AWJ) Director John May in attendance.

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