Fest intentions

USA Film Festival: Amargosa, Committed, The Devil's Swing, Dropping Out, Hamlet, Lush, The Natural History of the Chicken, Split Decision, The Target Shoots First, Steal This Movie

And those laypeople are being courted like the last man at a Sadie Hawkins dance. As the USA Film Festival turns 30, annual film festivals in Fort Worth and Deep Ellum as well as niche-market movie events (Latino, gay and lesbian) have been launched, and the Shooting Gallery Film Series takes acclaimed indies to most major U.S. cities. Landmark and Angelika plan to open Dallas art-house multiplexes in the next 12 months. These realities, plus the fact that the burgeoning DVD format contains more in-depth, behind-the-shoot coverage than a live, 30-minute Q&A with a visiting director, make us wonder how Beth Jasper and the USA Film Festival staff plan to surprise us in the future. Like many movie fans, we've grown accustomed to having our most arcane fancies tickled by a variety of providers. The USA Film Festival needs to find a way to sweeten the deal before they can lure us back to making them a habit.

Tuesday, May 2, 7 p.m.

Don't be put off by the ponderous, "inner-journey" therapyspeak narrated by Mary McDonnell in the opening moments of Amargosa, director Todd Robinson's sweet and sad documentary about Marta Becket, a 76-year-old dancer and painter who operates a theater in the punishing heat and isolation of California's Death Valley. While the voice-over introduction prattles on about artists following their own light to the exclusion of worldly distractions, it's the details of those distractions that make Becket's story so poignant and, when layer upon layer is revealed, rather disquieting. Born and raised in New York City by a smothering mother and a vindictive father, Becket danced on Broadway and in nightclubs before happening upon an abandoned opera house surrounded by a modest settlement that used to house coal miners in the desert of Southern California. Becket and her husband decided to change their lives in mid-stream, from the morass of New York to the ominous emptiness of Death Valley, where she settled in to paint eerie, Renaissance-era audiences on the walls of the opera house. He eventually couldn't tolerate her obsession with the one-woman dance shows she choreographed and performed, at first to empty houses, and left her. Becket became even more insular, aligning herself with animal preservation causes (she freely admits humans are low on her preferred mammal list) and documenting the ghosts of the miners she believes haunt the settlement. Although Becket's talent for painting is obvious, we never get the sense of how good she is at her first love, ballet. Ultimately, director Robinson suggests it doesn't matter, and once Becket's past unfolds before us -- she has been abandoned by most of the important people in her life -- we get a firmer understanding of this eccentric loner than such documentaries usually offer. (Jimmy Fowler)

Author and actor Ethan Hawke has chosen to star in Hamlet, a story written by one of his fellow writers.
Author and actor Ethan Hawke has chosen to star in Hamlet, a story written by one of his fellow writers.
Kimberly Peirce, who filmed her fantastic film Boys Don't Cry in and around Dallas, discusses her career Monday, May 1, 6 p.m.
Kimberly Peirce, who filmed her fantastic film Boys Don't Cry in and around Dallas, discusses her career Monday, May 1, 6 p.m.


Tickets available at the box office at 1 p.m. each day, or call (214) 631-2787
April 27-May 4

AMC Glen Lakes,
9450 N. Central Expressway

Thursday, May 4, 7:30 p.m.

It's 597 days after Jolene (Heather Graham) and Carl (Luke Wilson) got married, and suddenly, Carl's out the door, disappeared into the who-knows-where. Carl has left behind no clues as to his whereabouts; all Jolene knows is that her new husband has grown frustrated with his job shooting pictures of food for a New Jersey newspaper, and now he's gone west to clear the fog rolling in his head. Just like that, Jolene ditches her job booking a New York City rock club and heads to Texas, where the fates have told her Carl's gone (actually, she drops a photo of Carl on a map, and he points to West Texas -- lucky!). She arrives in El Paso to find her husband employed at the local newspaper -- and shacked up with Carmen (Patricia Velasquez), a waitress at a Tex-Mex restaurant. But Jolene doesn't confront Carl. Rather, she stalks him, insisting the whole time she's doing nothing more than keeping watch over the man she vowed to love, honor, and protect till death did they part. Writer-director Lisa Krueger has attempted to make a film about how easily love turns into obsession; Jolene is committed, yes, but to the point that her vows have given her permission to stalk Carl, who clearly wants no part of their marriage. The film's almost too cute for its own good. In time, Jolene's brother (Casey Affleck) winds up coming to Texas and falling in love with Carmen, and Jolene strikes up a flirtatious relationship with Neil (ER's accented Clooney clone Goran Visnjic), an artist who lives in the prefab home next to Carl's...didn't see any of that coming. Krueger's tried to make a film about the thrill of taking a leap of faith -- the rush of hurtling into the unknown, hoping only that it all works out for the best -- but instead, she's made a movie about a woman too dense and self-absorbed to notice that the whole world doesn't revolve around her. Jolene's the narcissist as eternal optimist: She wants Carl back, but only because she's never failed at anything. And, of course, because she's a woman of her word, in sickness and in mental health. Graham's engaging enough to keep the film from falling apart (she's in damned near every frame, unlike Luke Wilson, who barely warrants a cameo), but she's a menace disguised as a hippie chick; that gleam in her eye isn't that of the sane. This movie has a happy ending, of course, but it really needs a restraining order. (Robert Wilonsky)

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