Reel People

It's about the artists, not the stars at the 31st annual USA Film Festival

startup.com
Friday, April 27, 9:30 p.m.

The remarkable thing about the films made by Chris Hegedus and her husband D.A. Pennebaker (among them Moon Over Broadway and The War Room) is how quickly you forget you're watching a documentary. Theirs are the very best kind of narratives: real stories about real people saying and doing real (and, sometimes, real stupid) things, and always without voice-over to distract or deflect. In this case, two pals--Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman--attempt to find venture capital for their new Web site, govWorks.com, which will allow users to, among other things, pay traffic tickets online. Hegedus and co-director Jehane Noujaim (a friend of Tuzman's, which didn't hurt when it came to access) construct a thrilling, intimate narrative not just about the world of high-tech biz and v.c. hoop-jumping, but also about the dissolution of a friendship. Tuzman spends the entirety of the film trying to raise millions for their baby; Herman spends the movie trying to get the site running and trying to find his place in the business he helped create. But, of course, soon enough he's out the door--a casualty of the marketplace and, worse, of a partnership built more on self-indulgence and greed than ideology. Director Chris Hegedus is in attendance. (RW)

Following
Saturday, April 28, 5 p.m.

Philip Baker Hall in A House on a Hill
Calliope Films
Philip Baker Hall in A House on a Hill
Mel Gibson in The Million Dollar Hotel
Mel Gibson in The Million Dollar Hotel

Bill (Jeremy Theobald)--out of work, lonely and with a vague notion of becoming a writer--develops the habit of following strangers down the streets of London. One of his subjects turns out to be Cobb (Alex Haw), a slick young burglar who, as a result of his professional skills, quickly spots Bill and confronts him. He ends up taking Bill under his wing, showing him how a real invader of privacy works. Seduced by what he learns, Bill goes even further and violates one of Cobb's cardinal rules: Based on photos and belongings, he grows so infatuated with Lucy (Lucy Russell), one of their victims, that he contacts her and insinuates himself into her life. The rest of the plot unfolds as a series of genuine surprises; Memento writer-director Christopher Nolan's little-seen debut packs an amazing number of complications into a film that barely times out at 70 minutes. Nolan tells his story out of chronological order, somewhat in the manner of Kubrick's The Killing. At first, this intercutting makes the story hard to comprehend, but, on second viewing, Following almost seems like a different film--an even more intriguing one. (AK)

Diamond Men
Saturday, April 28, 7 p.m.

This is the kind of film Robert Forster starred in before his career was resurrected by Quentin Tarantino and Jackie Brown; it's direct-to-video, by way of Starz! Forster stars as Eddie Miller, a traveling diamond salesman on his way out after a heart attack renders him uninsurable. He stays on the job just long enough to break in the new guy, who he hates from the start: a smart-ass know-it-all named Bobby (Donnie Wahlberg). But the, ahem, ice between them thaws soon enough: Bobby's awed by Eddie's ability to sell to anybody, and Eddie likes the kid's spunk, enough to let him drag his weary ass to a whorehouse, the Altoona Riding Club, for a rubdown and, eventually, a robbery. It's a road movie and a buddy pic, complete with Tess Harper and Jasmine Guy, and given director-writer Dan Cohen's family history in the diamond biz, it's spot-on when it comes to the thrill-seeking of the salesman. But as a movie, it makes for really good television. Director Dan Cohen is in attendance. (RW)

We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n´ Roll
Saturday, April 28, 7:15 p.m.

Director Penelope Spheeris goes to OZZFest so you don't have to, and bless her for that. The director of the three Decline of Western Civilization docs, not to mention Wayne's World and The Beverly Hillbillies, turns her camera on Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne's love child and comes back covered in muck; such is to be expected when you swim in a sea of metal and misfits, booze and cooz and big tits, middle fingers and nipple rings, cocks and bullshit, fake music and real blood, and gene-pool castoffs who get fucked up when they can't get fucked at all. Think of this as the sequel to the second Decline film (The Metal Years, starring KISS and Lizzy Borden and Oz himself), only without the profundity and surprise; the biggest revelation comes late in the movie, when Ozzy, fronting the reunited Black Sabbath, is seen reading the lyrics off a TelePrompter, bringing to mind the sad last days of Frank Sinatra. Other than that, We Sold plays a little too much like an industrial film, a label-funded electronic press kit for, oh, Static-X or System of a Down or Deftones or Primus; it's heavy on the heavy rock, light on what goes on once the gobos go off. Shockingly, it's Rob Zombie who offers the best insight when he says, rightly so, that every band on the bill's just doing Sabbath songs--some fast, some slower, but not much different. "Thanks for not suing us," he says to the camera with the knowing look of the con artist who's just pulled a fast one and gotten away with it. The kids'll love it (more nipples than in a nursery); their parents will be appalled (the audience looks like it's made up of teen-agers and the hillbilly family from The Simpsons); and the rest of us will go back, watch Decline I and laugh about the good ol' days of 1981 when John Doe and Exene Cervenka seemed, ah, "dangerous." Screened with Spheeris' short film Banned in the U.S.A. Director Penelope Spheeris in attendance. (RW)

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