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

Monday, May 1, 9:15 p.m.

This morning, I stopped by a seedy bar on my way to work (long story), spent 10 minutes inside, and met a woman convicted four times of DWI who describes her profession as "running over people." I was also introduced to an incredibly attractive, quite erudite woman drinking a beer at 8:30 a.m., wearing a straw cowboy hat, who could not get through a sentence without cursing in the most disgusting/appealing way. What I'm trying to say is, even though much of the movie Lush deals with supposedly eccentric characters, bars, and alcoholics, spend a few minutes inside a real bar and you'll be far more entertained than you would be spending two hours with this film. Lush, filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (cuz it's so Suth-en, honey child), tries to get you intrigued about the story of Lionel Exley (Campbell Scott, equally annoying here as he was in The Spanish Prisoner). Exley is a drunk golfer (thin, unlike John Daly) who is busted trying to bribe his way out of a DWI. Upon his release, he returns home to Louisiana, where he hooks up with friends old (in particular, Laura Linney, easily the best thing this movie has going for it) and new (Jared Harris as Firmin, a drunk suicidal richboy lawyer, the kind of guy with nothing but mustard in his 'fridge and vodka in his freezer). Through a series of mishaps and binges, Exley is accused of killing Firmin, who has suddenly turned up missing after a night of debauchery; coincidentally, Firmin had signed over his life insurance policy to Exley the night of his disappearance. (Zounds!) The movie then degenerates -- can a movie that is already unwatchable "degenerate"? -- into a series of scenes in which Exley runs through town in his undershirt. (Quite a feat for Scott, an actor so lightweight and wooden, you want to tie a triangle of fabric to his torso, attach a string, and fly him while running through the park.) Linney, the wife in The Truman Show, manages to shine despite the poor material she's given. She's the only one in the cast who deserves a drink, if only for the headaches this production surely caused her. (Eric Celeste)

The Natural History of the Chicken
Sunday, April 30, 7:30 p.m.
Courtney Love plays Joan, wife of Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs, in Beat, part of the Texas Filmmaker's Showcase, Friday, April 28, 9 p.m.
Courtney Love plays Joan, wife of Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs, in Beat, part of the Texas Filmmaker's Showcase, Friday, April 28, 9 p.m.
Carefree or a menace to society? Heather Graham is Committed to not letting her man get away, Thursday, May 4, 7:30 p.m.
Carefree or a menace to society? Heather Graham is Committed to not letting her man get away, Thursday, May 4, 7:30 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

Documentarian Mark Lewis has garnered a reputation for filming people who are happy to make fools of themselves for the animals they love (Cane Toads, which featured the title creatures in various stages of human drag, remains his most beloved opus). Meanwhile, those of us who caught numerous episodes of the prime-time "Freak of the Week" newsmagazine Real People in our childhoods may still feel the lingering hangover from overconsumption of bestiophiles, and Lewis' new The Natural History of the Chicken, hardly as exhaustive or even informative as its title suggests, only makes our heads throb further. Although you may not personally know anyone who blow-dries, diapers, and swims pool laps with a pet rooster, if you're like us, you already feel like you do, so actually watching such a woman is shorn of the novelty Lewis probably expects it will hold for audiences. Ditto the woman who gave mouth-to-beak resuscitation to a frozen hen and rescued it from imminent death (although she's grounded enough to realize why the U.S. media swarmed to her farm to cover the story -- it happened during the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial, and she figures people were hungry for a "Cinderella" story, even if it involved poultry). But there's another, genuinely bizarre story in The Natural History of the Chicken that we think deserves a documentary all its own -- the Colorado rooster who was decapitated but survived to prowl the farm, apparently healthy, for months in the '40s. The luckless married couple who owned him traveled around the country showcasing the headless fowl, believing that they would become rich from their pet oddity but receiving instead a torrent of negative mail and publicity for not "finishing the job" on one of "God's creatures." (J.F.)

Split Decision
Monday, May 1, 9 p.m.

A tragic boxing story seems redundant, like saying a tale about puppy dogs who survive a tornado is "heartwarming." It can't be anything but. The sport is the last refuge for the poor kids too short to play football, too stupid not to take up baseball (utility infielders are millionaires, for goodness' sake), too white or brown to play basketball. It's a sport with a great history, the event our grandfathers used to gather to listen to on Friday nights, the sweet science that gave us the 20th century's most important athlete, Muhammad Ali. Now, it provides the drama of a first-round charity tennis tournament. Quick, name three heavyweights. One lightweight. That this movie makes you remember the name of featherweight Jesus "El Matador" Chavez is a testament to his amazing story more than to superb filmmaking, but it's important nonetheless. Chavez's story -- arrested after a promising start in Chicago, shipped back to Mexico, smuggled back in by his dad, then moved to Austin, where he became a world-champion featherweight before being deported again -- is at once mystifying and terrifying. It's also one set firmly in the real world, where there are no easy sides to take and where even Chavez admits he's rightly paying for sins he committed. All of which make his forays into the world of the ring, a world he mastered seemingly before he ever saw boxing gloves, all the more powerful. His cool savagery and elegance between the ropes make his halting, confused life outside the gym even more haunting. When his grandmother, living in Mexico, says of Chavez's desire to return to the states, "such is life...they grow, and they fly," you hope she's right. You hope Chavez hasn't been shot down for good. (E.C.)

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