Reel People

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

Saturday, April 28, 9 p.m.

Flitting between quiet sadness and poker-faced wryness, writer-director Mia Trachinger's Bunny looks at both the ways in which urbanites settle for intimacy and the plight of a pair of immigrants who've fled their nameless war-torn country to collide with one collective cold American shoulder. Petra Tikalova and Edward Dratver are utterly convincing as the U.S. newcomers who can't find work, until a fellow refugee introduces them to Mr. Morri (Brian Morri), an insincerely friendly corporate trainer who works for a company that places men and women wearing pink bunny suits on random street corners. Children hug them; dogs hump them; couples argue and split up while standing over them, each holding a different ear. As anonymous and generic fuzzy creatures, Tikalova and Dratver are a smash; as dowdy immigrants who look and talk humbly, they're ignored. Ionesco might've loved Bunny, and if you're into a solemnly irreverent film that never violates its own deadpan absurdist goals, you should, too. Writer-director Mia Trachinger is in attendance. (JF)

The Rising Place
Sunday, April 29, 5 p.m.

Mark Webber and Laurel Holloman in The Rising Place
Mark Webber and Laurel Holloman in The Rising Place
Writer-director-illustrator Bill Plympton and a scene from his feature Mutant Aliens
Writer-director-illustrator Bill Plympton and a scene from his feature Mutant Aliens

It's a shame that earnestness is so often accompanied by a heaping helping of schmaltz. And it's especially unfortunate that director Tom Rice's dose of well-meaning Southern charms, The Rising Place, pours the sappiness on thick like molasses on a stack of flapjacks. Over the course of a holiday gathering, schoolteacher Virginia (Frances Fisher) takes her son Emmett (Liam Aiken) to visit her mother (Tess Harper), who lives with and cares for her older sister, Virginia's aunt Millie (Alice Drummon). There, Virginia finds a stack of letters that Millie wrote in her youth in 1940s Mississippi, when she (Laurel Holloman, as the young Emily) was a lovely, if somewhat naive, young lady with nothing but dreams in her eyes. Those dreams slowly dissipate as one hurdle after another befalls Millie--a brief romance with an Air Force pilot leaves her an unmarried woman with a child she has to give up for adoption, her close friendship with a young African-American woman ends tragically, and constant quarrels with her father force the family to exile Millie away from her hometown. Expectedly, Virginia--being of a younger generation who grew up in a proper Southern home that doesn't discuss the untoward foibles of their kin--knew nothing about aunt Millie's life, and as the aged Millie slowly succumbs to old age, the two women bond. The Rising Place has its heart in the right place--though its theme that family members shouldn't shut out older generations because they have so much to offer is a little too Oprah--but it far too often opts for the sentimental over the dramatic, resulting in a move that's a mere trifle. Writer-director-producer Tom Rice is in attendance. (BM)

The Million Dollar Hotel
Sunday, April 29, 9:30 p.m.

"The line between art and garbage is a fine one," says The Art Dealer (Julian Sands), and few know better than director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; Buena Vista Social Club), who saw this film pick up the Silver Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival only to wind up buried in the direct-to-video junkheap. Released in Los Angeles and New York in February, the film--based on a story by U2's Bono, a frequent muse for Wenders, and starring Mel Gibson--was so abhorred by critics Lions Gate figured it best to cut its losses without paying for prints and promotion. It was the distributor's loss...and ours: Million Dollar Hotel is a wondrous piece of filmmaking, a sad, surreal and, most of all, sardonic whodunnit so covered in grime it's indeed possible to miss the joke beneath the muck. Gibson plays Special Agent Detective Skinner, a cop on the prowl for a killer (or, perhaps, not) in a near-future downtown L.A. flophouse, with a neck brace and a playful smirk; he's Sam Spade after a dyspeptic diet of Lethal Weapon sequels. The Million Dollar's a real freak show, populated by, among others, a John Lennon soundalike (Peter Stormare) who fancies himself the real Fifth Beatle; an old lady who thinks "we're all fucked up" (she's Titanic's Gloria Stuart, good for a laugh); and the ghostly Eloise (a washed-out Milla Jovovich), who can't erase the traumas that haunt her photographic memory. Skinner's guide through this landscape is poor Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies, sporting a Flock of Seagulls 'do), who narrates the tales from beyond the grave (we see him in the film's opening moments leaping from the hotel's rooftop); Tom Tom discovers how much he loves life, only after meeting death. Maybe the critics didn't get the movie because it's a put-on with a heart--a parody of pulp made, deep down, of gold. It's slow, yes, but never dull; it's languid, thank God, if only because you shouldn't rush through it. Savor its beautiful shots of ugly things, and be happy you can see it, if but this one time, on the big screen, where it belongs. Director Wim Wenders is in attendance. (RW)

Mutant Aliens
Monday, April 30, 9 p.m.

There's something seriously wrong with Bill Plympton: On the outside, he's a quiet, thoughtful man prone to fascinating discourses about the solitary, if not downright lonely, art of hand-drawn animation; he even has an Oscar nomination (for his 1987 short film Your Face) for cred's sake. But what the filmmaker turns out are some of the most outrageous, disquieting reels of celluloid you're likely to see, whether they're shorts about the art of kissing (or, more appropriately, about swallowing another person's entire face) or full-length movies about mutant aliens who might, in fact, be the offspring of a lost astronaut and discarded lab animals. Mutant Aliens is, deep down, a criticism of advertising--at all costs, the government's about to launch into space the Adship, which will create a billboard visible from space--and a father-daughter love story, but it's really a showcase for Plympton's twisted takes on sex and violence. The once and future illustrator (there's a Mutant Aliens graphic novel forthcoming) is Tex Avery for the highbrow crowd, a serene, wacked-out visionary with a penchant for gross-out humor (say, oh, the sight of a man humping a spaceship full of animals) and horny hijinks (nipples the size of steering wheels). Think of it as Itchy and Scratchy on a steady diet of Heavy Metal, weed, Everclear and acid. You haven't even scratched the surface. Writer-director Bill Plympton is in attendance. (RW)

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help