Five Golden Reels

The Deep Ellum Film Festival grows up--nicely

The Fog of War Errol Morris, maker of The Thin Blue Line, could have released this film at any time, and it would still resonate like a thousand church bells rung in a shoe box. Its lessons are timeless and universal; its regrets, also. When an architect of war comes to regret his creations, which is to say his destructions, it makes for riveting viewing--a look at someone who wishes he could undo his past, with the horrific knowledge there's no going back. But the words spoken by Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson, seem especially relevant today. When the man, 85 years old when interviewed by Morris for this film two years ago, says, "If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better re-examine our reasoning," you can't help but wince a little. He's talking about Vietnam, but of course could be referring to Iraq; the film is subtitled "Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara," and you're reminded how tragic the consequences when others fail to learn from the past. McNamara comes close to admitting failure and regret but stops just short; he blames others for their shortsightedness and stubbornness, and condemns himself only by admitting complicity. Though he wants to take back the fire bombing of 100,000 civilians in Tokyo during World War II, he instead damns General Curtis Le May for ordering the use of incendiary weapons. He would prefer to be remembered as a do-gooder--his work as a maker of safety features at Ford is mentioned, as is his insistence that no rifles be loaded during peace mongers' march on the Pentagon in 1967--but knows he will be granted no such pardon. Instead, he will have to pay for decisions made in the fog of war. October 29, 9:45 p.m., Angelika. (R.W.)

In America It's ironic a movie about a man who refuses to cry makes you do nothing but, or perhaps it's merely unwise to see a film in which every scene's haunted by a dead young boy when you've just had your own. Writer-director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Boxer) turns a real-life dead brother, lost at 11 to a brain tumor, into the son of a fictional family moved from Ireland to New York City in the 1980s; they trade tragedy for poverty, moving into funky-junkie squalor sans air conditioning and medical insurance, in order to start over. Johnny (Paddy Considine) hustles for stage work, Sarah (Samantha Morton) gets a gig scooping ice cream, while their two girls, camcording Christy (Sara Bolger) and adorable Ariel (real-life sister Emma), attend school, assimilate our pop culture and befriend an AIDS-afflicted artist (Djimon Hounsou) whose bitterness and fear they initially mistake for madness. Frankie's the dead kid little seen but often talked about, but Johnny's the corpse seen on screen for two hours; unable to cry or even feel anything since Frankie's death, he's the hollow man whose own kids can no longer identify him during one crushing scene. But Sheridan, tossing out fairy dust, isn't out to deprive anyone of a happy ending--Christy and Ariel don't love E.T. for nothing, and Sarah doesn't work at a parlor called Heaven for grins. He just wants to dull the shiny a bit, to make the fantastic more ordinary and remind us that some people die while others barely survive, so say your prayers now. October 24, 7 p.m., Angelika. (R.W.)

Girls Will Be Girls Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp), Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson) and Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick) are the "girls" in question in this Hollywood satire that doesn't cross any new cross-dressing boundaries, but manages to be fitfully entertaining, especially in light of its minuscule budget. Evie is a faded alcohol-and-controlled-substance-abusive and former game-show star rather half-heartedly plotting a comeback. As her live-in companion, Coco (who's nursing personal heartbreaks of her own) performs household duties in lieu of the rent. Consequently, a boarder (Roberson) has been taken in to make ends meet. Writer-director Richard Day shows considerable talent, particularly in a climactic drug-hallucination pool-party scene. Still one can't help but wish that these "girls" had something more to do than strike up Valley of the Dolls attitude without any juicy Valley of the Dolls scenes to back them up. October 29, 9:30 p.m., Angelika. (David Ehrenstein)

Bad luck of the Irish: A family wins and loses In America, Jim Sheridan's poignant fairy tale.
Bad luck of the Irish: A family wins and loses In America, Jim Sheridan's poignant fairy tale.
Hello, my baby: Alien: The Director's Cut opens Deep Ellum Film Festival.
Hello, my baby: Alien: The Director's Cut opens Deep Ellum Film Festival.

Manhood It's tempting to deem this the fest's most disappointing offering, but seeing as how it's the sequel to writer-director Bobby Roth's singularly awful Jack the Dog, it pretty much lives up, which is to say lives down, to expectations. Nestor Carbonell, brilliant as The Tick's Batmanuel, returns as pussyhound Jack, now a settled-down and newly single dad surrounded by a family of buffoons, lechers, scammers and scumbags, among them Janeane Garofalo as his sister, John Ritter as his brother-in-law and Nick Roth as their tatted-and-pierced son, whom Jack is forced to take in. The whole endeavor feels a bit icky, as it's run amok by porn freaks and prostitute fetishists; Roth didn't cast Traci Lords for her acting ability. October 25, 7:45 p.m., Angelika. (R.W.)

Melvin Goes to Dinner Over dinner and drinks in L.A., old friends and new acquaintances ponder the meaning of life--check, please! But before you scamper too far from the table, consider it was directed by Bob Odenkirk, one-half of Mr. Show, and written by former Daily Show contributor Michael Blieden, based on his play; and rest assured it doesn't sink in the tar pits from the weight of its heavy discussion, which touches upon all things sexual and spiritual (one of the women at the table even confesses to murder, a nice touch). It often feels like a Richard Linklater talktalktalkie wrapped around Mr. Show sketches, when Jack Black and David Cross and Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, among many others, show up in flashback sequences designed to add levity to the gravity of the fat being chewed 'round the dinner table. October 29, 7:30 p.m., Angelika. Michael Blieden and Bob Odenkirk are scheduled to attend. (R.W.)

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