In the Screening Room

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

Helicopter Though the notion of a film made specifically to help its director deal with grief over a lost loved one doesn't sound like a pleasant experience for an audience to watch, Ari Gold's 20-minute film about the death of his mother, Melissa, is never mawkish and often quite innovative. Melissa was the girlfriend of rock promoter Bill Graham and died alongside him in a helicopter crash, which we see rendered in animation as a flashback. Answering machine messages back and forth between Ari and his mom (voiced by Ari's sister Nina) serve as the framing device, while Ari, Ethan and Nina (as portrayed by actors, though Ari himself does the voiceover) are shown attending the Graham tribute concert and searching for signs of mom's reincarnation afterward. "Long shots" like their limo arriving at the concert are cleverly rendered with toys. The mix of animation, toy manipulation, visual collage and dramatic scenes keeps things lively, and the viewer comes away hoping that it won't take another major trauma to persuade Ari to pick up the camera again. (LYT) Screens at 7:15 p.m. November 17 at the Angelika Film Center 2.

In the Bedroom There is a palpable torment that fills every square inch of this film, the first by actor-turned-filmmaker Todd Field (he was Tom Cruise's piano-playing pal in Eyes Wide Shut). You can do little more than grieve with Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Ruth (Sissy Spacek), a Camden, Maine, couple who suffer a couple's worst nightmare when their son Frank (Bully's Nick Stahl), a would-be college kid with an architect's ambitions, is slain by his lover's jealous ex-husband, a greasy son of a bitch named Richard Strout (William Mapother). Matt, a doctor, and Ruth, a teacher, are at once in love and in denial: They're as frisky as new lovers at film's beginning, but cold and incommunicative after the tragedy--as though they blame themselves and each other with equal ferocity. And their misery is inescapable, literally. Through the blank stares of anguish, they see Strout everywhere--on the seafood trucks that bear the family name, in the streets he strides as though he owns them (because his family does, more or less), even in the lit windows of the Strout-owned cannery that sits in the middle of the bay. The film, based on an Andre Dubus story, is as powerful as it is subtle--a gnawing feeling that builds slowly into rage, an anger that gives way to rationalized acts of madness. And the performances, especially from Wilkinson and Spacey and Marisa Tomei, as Frank's lover, are astonishing--so real they hurt long after film's end. (RW) Screens at 7:30 p.m. November 16 at the Angelika Film Center.

Nick Stahl and Sissy Spacek give remarkable performances in the grief-stricken In the Bedroom.
Nick Stahl and Sissy Spacek give remarkable performances in the grief-stricken In the Bedroom.
Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Armstrong are—and get?—busy in Lantana.
Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Armstrong are—and get?—busy in Lantana.

Karaoke Fever Oh, the humanity. If you're not scared off by the title or the haphazard DV shooting, there's an impassioned subculture here to peruse, as hopeful crooners gear up for their shot at fame and fortune at Southern California's Karaoke Fest. Documentarians Arthur Borman and Steve Danielson deliver their subjects with the expected cheekiness--inevitable, given songs from the Blues Brothers and Wild Cherry--but also take us behind the Muzak to explore the ambition and heartache fueling the performers. Among the dozen portraits is zany Eric Draven (no, not The Crow), who discovers his partner's criminal record while singing Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" en route to the top, and Dui, a mature woman who belts Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" following a string of bad karaoke relationships. Some strange semi-pros also work their way into the mix, including a spot-on Sinatra impersonator and a sword-obsessed young opera singer, proving--after Duets and Jackpot--that karaoke truth is much stranger than fiction. Fast, funny and winningly human, the project is as much about therapy as singing. You'll definitely depart believing that music truly makes the world--and occasionally the stomach--turn. (Gregory Weinkauf) Screens at 8 p.m. November 17 at Shadow Lounge.

Lantana Australian director Ray Lawrence (best known here for the quirky 1985 comedy Bliss) provides some high-toned soap opera nicely flavored with a touch of suspense and some well-timed jolts of humor. Playwright Andrew Bovell's busy, busy screenplay is crammed with philandering police detectives, grief-stricken psychoanalysts, traumatized gay men, gloomy husbands and alienated teen-agers, but the filmmakers manage to bind their untidy package of seemingly unrelated characters and boiling subplots together through the mystery of one woman's disappearance. The talented ensemble cast includes veteran tough guy Anthony LaPaglia, Aussie superstar Geoffrey Rush, re-emergent Barbara Hershey and Kerry Armstrong, among others. From many telling moments Lawrence constructs a teeming pastiche of human foibles that proves terrifically entertaining by the end. (BG) Screens at 7:30 p.m. November 15 at the Lakewood Theater.

La Mancha Blanca White spot (mancha blanca) is a viral disease that attacks shrimp, devastating harvests at commercial fisheries worldwide. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew used by South American shamans to achieve an altered state of consciousness. What does one have to do with the other? Well, there's this film, which tracks the efforts of a Peruvian psychologist and expert in traditional medicine to find new ways to deal with the scourge destroying his nation's coastal shrimp farms. The result is a narrative-less, confusing and downright boring mishmash of disjointed interviews that tells little about traditional shamanism or modern aquaculture other than to hint that some sort of new-age environmental law has been violated, bringing white spot down upon the heads of Peruvian farmers. Think Carlos Castaneda meets the USDA. Roughly shot, filled with distorted colors, images and sounds and long stretches of nearly static images, in parts La Mancha Blanca obviously intends to suggest a psychedelic trip. In fact, the film comes across more like a film student's bad vacation video from a magical mystery tour of the Peruvian coast. (PW) Screens at 11:59 a.m. November 16 at Expo Lounge.

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