In the Screening Room

For the Deep Ellum Film Festival, the third time's the charm

Battle Royale Something of a coup for the DEFF, Kinji Fukasaku's 2000 film will not receive any mass distribution in the United States; indeed, it's accrued something of a prized rep among underground collectors who shell out $30 and up for a bootleg video of questionable quality. At issue is the film's depiction of graphic violence perpetrated by young children, sentenced to duke it out on a deserted island with only the strongest or smartest standing at battle's end; the movie's horrifying to watch, more so, perhaps, in a post-Columbine (and, now, post-September 11) environment in which such gore feels more palpable and less entertaining. The whole thing's intended as social critique--in the near-future, the Battle Royale Act is passed by the Japanese government after schoolchildren become unruly and, ultimately, unteachable--and as youth-in-revolt cinema goes, it's far more compelling than the recent O; indeed, it's horrific precisely because it feels so honest, so authentic. It's funny, in a nervous-laughter sort of way (perhaps skittish giggles deflect the gore), but it's also a damning commentary on video games, pop-culture violence and the manga animation that infect the film like a virus. Hard to watch, harder still to stop watching. (RW) Screens at 9:30 p.m. November 16 at Expo Lounge.

The Business of Strangers In writer-director Patrick Stettner's captivating first feature, a middle-aged business executive (Stockard Channing) and her mysterious young assistant (O's Julie Stiles) vie for power in the course of a long night at a soulless airport hotel. United by their gender but divided by clashing values, the two women go round and round in a tense psychodrama made even more explosive by the presence of a slick headhunter (Frederick Weller) who may harbor a nasty secret. The film's biz-world manipulations and ruthless con games sometimes play like reheated David Mamet, but in the end New Yorker Stettner finds a voice and a style all his own--wary, smart, occasionally very funny. As for the actresses, it's a pleasure to watch them circle and attack, conspire and conflict in the shark tank of American corporate culture. (Bill Gallo) Screens at 1 p.m. November 16 at the Angelika Film Center.

Beloved Austin country-music institution Don Walser’s life is celebrated in Pavarotti of the Plains.
Beloved Austin country-music institution Don Walser’s life is celebrated in Pavarotti of the Plains.

The Devil's Backbone Finally living up to the often excessive hype that's surrounded him since his debut film Cronos, Guillermo del Toro delivers a tale that's clearly very personal to him, about a haunted boys' boarding school caught up in the Spanish Civil War. We enter the story through young newcomer Carlos (Fernando Tielve), who must deal with bullies, harsh punishments, lack of food, uppity caretakers looking for gold and "the one who sighs," an asthmatic-sounding apparition that wanders the halls and warns of impending doom. When the ghost finally appears, it's quite a sight, one of the more memorable onscreen phantoms ever created. The movie's not overwhelmingly a horror film, though; some scenes are horror, others social statement, but never the two at once until the end of the film. The climax is shockingly sadistic, which is kind of the point (what are war and boarding school if not sadistic?), but the sensitive viewer should be forewarned: Del Toro is not above letting children die onscreen or making gross-out jokes about fetuses. (Luke Y. Thompson) Screens at 3:30 p.m. November 18 at the Angelika Film Center.

Dinner Rush Bob Giraldi, director of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video and co-director (with Henry Jaglom) of 1981's National Lampoon Goes to the Movies, launches into a promising second phase of his career with this ensemble piece set in a restaurant over the course of one busy night. A restaurateur himself, Giraldi is in his element telling the story of Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello), a bookmaker and former chef trying to go straight while feuding with prima donna son Udo (Edoardo Ballerini) and two thugs named Black (Alex Corrado) and Blue (Mike McGlone) trying to muscle in on the business and rub out the sous chef (Kirk Acevedo) with a gambling compulsion. Other storylines converge and diverge during the course of the evening, with fine supporting performances from Vivian Wu, Sandra Bernhard, John Corbett, Jamie Harris and Mike Margolis. They're all so natural you'd think the film might have been improvised, but, no, it's more coherent than that. Like the best cooks, Giraldi manages to make a film that appears deceptively simple even as it contains many different ingredients to savor. (LYT) Screens at 4:30 p.m. November 17 at the Angelika Film Center.

Drive-In Movie Memories Actor John Corbin's prediction of a drive-in movie renaissance near the end of Drive-In Movie Memories, phrased as "build it and they will come," comes off even more stale and cheesy than a plate of concession-stand nachos, even when compared to the documentary's earlier scenes of beach-blanket blunders and karate-chopping stewardesses. But during this 57-minute-long homage to the outdoor movie palaces of yesteryear (and tomorrow, if Corbin is right), the words and images fly past so quickly--sometimes fading into one other before a succinct point is made--that before Corbin can laugh at himself, the film has already moved onto someone else waxing nostalgic. However, it makes perfect sense that Drive-In Movie Memories shifts gears so quickly. Local writers and drive-in enthusiasts Don and Susan Sanders have crammed about 80 years of history and the utter basics of their two full-length books on the subject into this candy-coated documentary. After crossing 40 states to visit drive-ins and dig through memorabilia, the couple has amassed quite a bit of paraphernalia. We only wish we got to spend more time with some of it, such as those laughable snack-bar ads and the concept of big-screen porn (hello, Midnight Plowboy), and fewer moments listening to Leonard Maltin, John Bloom, elderly theater owners and a handful of B-movie actors talk about popcorn. (Shannon Sutlief) Screens at 5:15 p.m. November 17 at the Angelika Film Center 2.

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