The USA Film Festival, now in its 32nd year, may never again be the powerhouse fest it was at its inception--which is not to damn it, since there are several excellent offerings this year, but merely to accept a rather delightful reality. At its inception, there was no Sundance, no South by Southwest and certainly no Deep Ellum Film Festival or Dallas Video Festival, among so many other local fests. Art houses were exotic palaces showing mysterious flickers in faraway places. The easy riders and raging bulls of the '70s and '80s were still in their infancy, meaning Robert Altman could bring his M*A*S*H unit to town or Dennis Hopper could light up his Last Movie and dazzle locals heretofore untouched by such movie madness. Now, with the recent openings of the Angelika Film Center and the Magnolia Theater, we damned near have a film fest in town every weekend, as almost a dozen films of all shapes and shades open here each Friday. What once seemed singular--odd, even--is now the casual norm; indeed, several films screening here will open in Dallas mere days following the fest's wrap, among them Big Bad Love, Enigma and the elongated Amadeus.
There has long been a debate in the local film community about the function of the USAFF: Is it a social event, a seen-and-be-seen shindig for its generous patrons, or is it a true celebration of great film for casual fan and obsessed fetishist alike? In truth, it's a bit of both--a gold-plated opportunity for the Highland Park crowd to hang with Friend Matt LeBlanc and Master Screen Artist recipient Debra Winger and Tony Shalhoub, you bet, but also a rare chance to visit with some of this year's guests, including a far-out, farsighted visionary such as Tommy and The Lair of the White Worm director Ken Russell (whose new The Fall of the Louse of Usher will debut here) and Oscar-winning production designer Henry Bumstead, who will be honored with screenings of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sting.
The inclusion of films by radical animators John and Faith Hubley also suggests a profound love for films made by true independent revolutionaries; they were pioneers who risked their lives to make extraordinary, intimate films outside a studio system that disowned them during the House Un-American Committee hearings of the '50s. And certainly, there are few who would take issue with the fest's selection of Michael Apted as this year's recipient of its Great Director Tribute; his contributions are copious as a teller of truths (his so-called Up series, Incident at Oglala, Moving the Mountain, his revealing Sting doc Bring on the Night) and an interpreter of them (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist and now Enigma).
The 32nd USA Film Festival
Angelika Film Center , 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane
April 25 through May 2. Opening night's film will screen at the Lakewood Theater, 1825 Abrams Parkway. Tickets are $10 per event, $8 for USAFF members; opening-night tickets are $15 and include a post-screening reception with guests. For more information, call 214-821-3456 or visit the USAFF Web site at www.usafilmfestival.com
And, with rare exception, this year's offerings intrigue on some level--even if it's just to witness the curious spectacle of Matt LeBlanc taking drag dress-up tips from Eddie Izzard. Among this year's highlights are the documentaries: American Mullet, Rocks with Wings, Missing Allen, Adrift and the locally made Hell House, among others; each serves to remind there's nothing so interesting as what happens when we turn the cameras on ourselves. And Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing, about how people know others better than themselves, has such an abrupt ending it should jump-start heated conversations about whether it's a heroic move or just a give-up.
Below, in alphabetical order, are recommendations--and a few words of warning--for most of this year's entries; we've included everything made available at press time. If nothing else, the USAFF is to be commended for not surrendering after years of enduring criticism and staring down cocky comers who believe they throw better fests and fetes. That it can still provide us with even a handful of special thrills at this late date suggests the veteran can still play ball.
April 27 at 9:45 p.m.
"All I ever wanted was just to be with him, and all he ever wanted to do, when we were alone, was to coach me," Tom Curran says, referring to his late father in Adrift, his directorial debut. Tom's pop died when Tom was 12 years old, yet he lived in his son's mind for much longer; as Curran says near the beginning of the 55-minute documentary, it took him 25 years to realize why he could never let go of his father's expectations, why he always had to be No. 1 or (almost) die trying. Curran, an Emmy-winning cameraman who's worked for ABC's Wide World of Sports, never let these feelings out of his head before, pushing them down deep where they couldn't hurt him or anyone else. And while it's clear he was never alone in those thoughts--especially during interviews with his mother, Mary Jane, bodybuilding sister Maeve and commercial fishermen brothers Desmond and Gavin--Curran was hit the hardest by his father's determination to produce a family of champions, mainly because he spent the most time on the team. Even after his father was gone, Curran remained in his dad's grasp: He promised he'd become a pro athlete (Dad's dream) when he found out his father had passed away, a vow made more out of shame than to honor his old man's wishes. "I was relieved when Mom told me you were dead," he admits late in the film, finally removing the mask he used to hide his real feelings. At times, it's difficult to sit through Curran's long-repressed grief, but only because it is so uncomfortably real, the product of two decades of frustration, fear and failure rather than any manufactured tension. Adrift is the most personal kind of film, a bouquet of flowers on his father's grave, but it connects and won't let go. Curran's dad would be proud. Tom Curran is scheduled to attend. Screening with The Wormhole. --Zac Crain
All the Queen´s Men
May 2 at 7 p.m.
After directing 2000's frightening Anatomy, Stefan Ruzowitzky returns with something far more disturbing: Matt LeBlanc in drag. This is high-concept in low places, The Dirty Dozen Like it Hot as LeBlanc and Eddie Izzard play soldiers donning dresses to infiltrate a Nazi factory cranking out code-making Enigma machines. The film, written largely by old-time TV vets whose prior gigs include directing Barnaby Jones and writing The Wild, Wild West, occasionally plays as creaky as the writers' credits. It has its giddy moments (Izzard running into his ex-wife and her male driver, with whom he was also involved) and occasional glimpses of warmth (a German girl is convinced that one of LeBlanc's comrades is her presumably dead mommy). And LeBlanc is affable enough as he tries gamely to embrace his essential Joey-ness and distance from it at the same time; this is a high step up from Ed, but so's amateur porn. But it too often collapses in a heap of rubble and rubbish--around the time, say, Udo Kier, as a masochistic Nazi bigwig, gets his kicks by getting slapped around by LeBlanc, who he thinks is a she. And bits of it make no sense at all, which may be the point; if you're distracted trying to follow the story, maybe you won't notice how pedestrian everything around it is. Matt LeBlanc is scheduled to attend. --R.W.
Amadeus: Director´s Cut
April 29 at 7 p.m.
Celebrated British playwright Sir Peter Shaffer (Equus) seems to have grasped the concept of jealousy in reorchestrating the intertwined lives of 18th-century composers Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). Shaffer and director Milos Foreman transformed fact into fantasia, maestros into metaphors. Now we're treated to the gluteally challenging but otherwise rewarding three hours of the director's cut, which is not too discernibly altered from the original cut's narrative about a truly beautiful mind, which swept the Oscars in 1984. Equally rapturous for the ear and eye, Forman's take on Amadeus is as impressive as ever. Seeing Amadeus again also summons its stunning prescience in the pop world of the 1980s and early '90s, as prodigious boy-men such as Prince and Michael Jackson would seem increasingly deranged and Kurt Cobain's specific genius would end in his untimely death. --Gregory Weinkauf
April 28 at 7:10 p.m.
Seems like another American Movie at first, an echo of Chris Smith's 1999 excuse to make fun of "filmmaker" Mark Borchardt's cluelessness. And Jennifer Arnold's look at the short-in-front-long-in-back hairstyle and the men and women who proudly wear it certainly has elements of Smith's film, though it should be said, it's not her fault. (Or not all her fault, at any rate.) Being the object of ridicule lies squarely on the shoulders (alongside all that hair) of the participants, and they deserve the snickers. Not just because of their ludicrous haircuts, but mainly the way they feel about their Kentucky Waterfalls and Canadian Passports and Soccer Rockers--the excuses they make, the rationalizations and explanations and, God help us all, political statements (cf. the lesbian who believes her Femullet allows her to "transcend gender"). Plenty of people explore "the common bond between working-class white guys and lesbians," and most of them, apparently, have absolutely no clue what they look and/or sound like. There's the biker with the "A woman's place is on my face!" sticker on his helmet: "I've had people tell me it's a lesbian hairstyle. And I'm OK with that. I like women." There's the guy who compares himself to such rebels as George Washington and Jesus Christ and the poor kid, maybe 6 or 7, who doesn't know any better and was forced into it by his mom, who he honestly believes will "go crazy" if he wants to cut it off, as she laughs nervously. And mainly, there are the scores of lesbians who believe their hair gives them away as such and that's why they wear it; many say they learned it from watching other lesbians. (What ever happened to, oh, I don't know, gaydar?) Arnold gives them all time to justify themselves, but it doesn't help their case. At all. As the owners of mulletsgalore.com (one hidden in stocking cap and camouflage kerchief, like a terrorist leader) explain: "It's like hunting deer." Jennifer Arnold, director of photography Patti Lee and producer Allison Hebble are scheduled to attend. --Z.C.
Big Bad Love
April 27 at 7 p.m.
Actor Arliss Howard's debut as a director explodes with brave ambition while falling a little short, perhaps, on traditional narrative sense. So be it. If devotees of the cinematic art were willing to slide down a tunnel into John Malkovich's head a few years back, there's no reason to balk at a few hours inside the fertile, chaotic mind of an impoverished, drunken Mississippi writer named Leon Barlow. There we find the poor bastard's twisted poetic fantasies and occasional bolts of insight, his grieving for a lost wife and a sick child, his hilarious rage over a drawerful of rejection slips, even his war nightmares. It's a tall order, but Howard (who also stars) presses forward without fear--without much sense, some would say. The trip is constantly touching and surprisingly funny. Adapted from a collection of stories by Larry Brown. Co-starring Debra Winger, this year's Master Screen Artist; Paul Le Mat and Rosanna Arquette. Arliss Howard and Debra Winger are scheduled to attend. --Bill Gallo
The Business of Fancydancing
April 28 at 7:20 p.m.
In the 90 minutes of film, flashbacks and completely unexplained footage from interviews and performances, it's never clarified what fancydancing is or what it has to do with Seymour Polatkin, a gay Spokane Indian who's an acclaimed poet in "the white world" and a hack back on the reservation, where his former best friend Aristotle accuses Seymour of raping his life in the poems. When the two enemies reunite at the funeral of a childhood friend, Seymour and Aristotle fall perfectly into the roles of guy who got off the res and guy who came back. Screenwriter Sherman Alexie (Smoke Signals) lines everything up: Seymour makes $10,000 per speaking engagement; the average Indian on the res makes $10,000 a year. Seymour "puts on the beads and feathers for the white people" as public relations warrior; Aristotle is angry and unstable with a grudge against white people that turns violent without provocation. But The Business of Fancydancing also has a love triangle: Seymour, his college girlfriend (the half-Spokane, half-Jewish teacher who went to the res to "get the white out") and Aristotle, her new lover. All three have issues to confront together and alone, the least of which seems to be the untimely death of the young and talented violinist called Mouse--the most intriguing of this lot. Michelle St. John is scheduled to attend. --Shannon Sutlief
April 26 at 9 p.m.
"We parents have but one wish, to give our children a better life," says one of director Ruby Yang's subjects in China 21, a poignant documentary about family life in 21st-century China that's extraordinary in its portrayal of the ordinary lives of the Chinese. Yang's camera tracks four families from booming Shanghai and impoverished rural China as they struggle to educate their children, survive economically and deal with government-imposed restrictions on family size. China 21 is frequently moving in its depictions of the hardship facing poor and undereducated rural Chinese--the image of 6-year-old Zhong Qui walking two hours to school barefoot because her only pair of shoes is too large is heartbreaking. But the film truly fascinates by its interviews with parents and children from various classes who speak candidly about their hopes and challenges. Perhaps it's because most Americans--or this American, at least--know so little about China that Yang's work seems to open up a mystery. These are parents, kids, young lovers, students. They want better lives for their families. Hey, I know these people. Producer Lambert Yam is scheduled to attend. --Patrick Williams
The Doe Boy
April 29 at 7:10 p.m.
In this story from Dallas-based filmmaker Randy Redroad, hemophilia separates Hunter Kirk from relationships with his white father (who wants him to play sports and hunt deer with a gun while dressed in camouflage) and his mother, a Cherokee Indian whose heritage dictates hunting be done with a single arrow. But his disease isn't his only stumbling block: When the young Hunter's dad takes him hunting, the boy accidentally kills a doe. Stuck with the nickname "Doe Boy," he's overprotected and isolated in a macho world in which he can't compete. About the only thing he can do well is run--both physically (in races) and emotionally (away from everyone who tries to stifle him)--and it takes unforeseen circumstances to make him realize his hemophilia and his reputation aren't blocking his path, simply his own fear. Once he takes control, The Doe Boy gets a second wind; too bad the finish line is within such a short reach by then. Randy Redroad is scheduled to attend. --S.S.
Down and Out with the Dolls
April 26 at 9:45 p.m.
According to writer-director Kurt Voss (Border Radio, Sugar Town), being in a band is not all it's cracked up to be. One of the members of the fictional Paper Dolls actually says so at one point, not that anyone needs it spelled out for him--in the film or reality. The letters are all over the place in Down and Out with the Dolls, as Voss' cast of mostly newcomers make speeches rather than interact with one another like normal people, or even characters in a film. Art vs. commerce is the real debate here, but sledgehammer vs. skull is a close second; Voss' detail-obsessed script beats you black and blue with rhetoric until it all begins to feel like an after-school special or, perhaps, a very special episode of Bands on the Run. (The Paper Dolls are, in fact, strikingly similar to that show's Harlow.) Following the all-girl rock group's rise from backyard barbecues to major-label record deals--in what feels like a few weeks--Voss manages to work in every Behind the Music cliché, most of them engineered by the power-hungry lead singer, Fauna (Zoe Poledouris, who probably still has a bit of scenery left on her chin). The jokes are broad, and the broads are jokes--one-note roles that, to their credit, they play the hell out of at times. (And, if nothing else, they look like a real rock band onstage.) Down and Out with the Dolls is fun, occasionally--especially when Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister turns up as a paranoid, closet-dwelling, hammer-wielding drifter--but Voss seems to want more than that from the film; too much of the time, it's A Statement. Kurt Voss and DeeDee Cheriel are scheduled to attend. Screening with Baker's Men. --Z.C.
April 28 at 7 p.m.
There is more than a little of A Beautiful Mind's John Nash in Tom Jericho, the hero of Michael Apted's World War II-era romantic thriller. Both men are brilliant mathematicians, breaking military codes for the government while hovering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nash, of course, was a real person whose film persona only imagined he was engaged in important code-breaking activities, while Jericho is a fictional character set against the very real story of British cryptographers struggling to break the Nazis' infamous Enigma code. Rather than present a straightforward account of the real events, the movie, based on a best-selling British novel, throws in a love story involving the heartbroken genius, the mysterious beauty who ditched him and then vanished, accusations of treason and the beauty's frumpy roommate who helps the mathematician solve the case. The technical explanations are impossible to follow, and Jericho's brilliant sleuthing regarding the missing girlfriend stretches credulity, but the acting--from Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet and Jeremy Northam--is top-notch. Michael Apted is scheduled to attend. --Jean Oppenheimer
April 26 at 7:15 p.m.
The only shocking thing about Hell House--a documentary about the controversial "alternative" haunted house in Cedar Hill that depicts botched abortions, teen suicides and date rapes--is that it refuses to smirk. To date, most of its reviewers have expressed faux horror at the thought of normal American teen-agers believing in anything as intellectually embarrassing as hell, demons and the like. But director George Ratliff plays it straight with good reason: He was granted unlimited access in 1999 to the teens and adults of Trinity Church of the Assemblies of God as they planned Hell House X, complete with a Columbine skit, and the camera doesn't judge. Ratliff does a great job of creeping into the subculture of evangelical Christianity and letting his subjects explain their world as they compete for such roles as "Abortion Girl" and "Suicide Girl." The kids' acting is hilariously over the top--"It's too late, you killed your baby--you're a murderer, Jan!" one stringy-haired girl shrieks--but when Ratliff follows one family, the Cassars, you begin to understand where all that passion is coming from. Burly, beleaguered John Cassar, a church member and single father of four, hustles his kids out of bed in the morning, slops scrambled eggs and hounds the teen-age daughter monopolizing the bathroom. In an unforgettable scene--which has nothing and everything to do with Hell House--Cassar's infant boy, who has cerebral palsy, goes into a seizure while strapped in his high chair. Cassar yanks him out, plops him on a bed with his tiny limbs thumping and simultaneously dials 911 on a cell phone and bends over the child to pray that Jesus will protect him. The seizure stops, and Cassar is cradling the boy's head as medics arrive. At Hell House, Cassar dons a rubber demon mask and plays escort for the thousands of kids who tour the place every year. Toward the end, we finally get the missing piece of his story: Mom dumped husband and kids for her Internet lover, and Dad is on his own, struggling to hold it together. Hell House is the highlight of his year, and it's no wonder: He's lived there. He knows exactly what he's talking about. George Ratliff is scheduled to attend. --Julie Lyons
Horns and Halos
April 30 at 9:10 p.m.
The title refers to author J.T. Hatfield's description of what a proper biography should do: expose both the light and dark sides of its subject's character. That's what Hatfield claims he tried to do with his controversial George W. Bush biography Fortunate Son, which was pulled from publication after The Dallas Morning News revealed Hatfield had a past conviction for murder solicitation and countless others questioned the accuracy of his reporting. (Hatfield never seemed to grasp that a proper biography should also be factual.) Horns and Halos tracks the half-assed efforts of publisher Soft Skull Press to reissue the book from its offices in the dank basement of the building where Soft Skull's young chief, Sander Hicks, works as a super. Hicks and company--a punk collection of Bush-haters--see themselves as radical underdog publishers challenging mainstream media and Powerful Forces to tell the truth about Bush. Watching them, however, you're left with the creepy feeling that Hatfield and company are merely a left-wing version of the same sort of conservative "journalists" and fundamentalists who attacked Bill Clinton with whatever rumor or innuendo they could lay their hands on. Is Hatfield, who eventually committed suicide, a tragic figure or merely a liar caught in his own web? Horns and Halos makes few judgments about him or his work and offers him plenty of opportunity to defend himself, but you're left wondering, just what is the truth? Co-directors Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky are scheduled to attend. --P.W.
Independent Spirits: Faith Hubley/John Hubley
April 27 at 7 p.m.
The animated films of John and Faith Hubley--the best known of which aired during The Electric Company, rendering them one of the most unwittingly influential filmmakers on a generation--would often feature the voices of their children (among them Emily, currently an animator, and Georgia, of Yo La Tengo) and jazzers (Dizzy Gillespie was a blessed constant). But theirs were often grim cartoons that dazzled even as they dealt with such topics as overpopulation, disease, war and death; the Hubleys were satirists with enormous hearts. John began as a Disney animator working on the likes of Snow White and Dumbo; he left after the acrimonious Disney strike of 1941, moved to Columbia, wound up on the underground all-star team of animators at, of all places, the Army's First Motion Picture Unit and went on to co-found the filmmaking collective United Productions of America. Faith came to filmmaking as a messenger on the Columbia lot. The two married in 1955, and theirs was a fruitful partnership: They won Oscars, made commercials and animated The Doonesbury Special in 1977--the year of John's death at 62 years old. Faith would continue making more experimental films; hers were almost line drawings, abstract enough to let the viewer fill in the myriad, magical blanks. Faith died last December, but the Hubleys left an extraordinary legacy; without them, says one fellow animator, there'd be no Simpsons, as one small instance. Sybil DelGaudio and Patty Wineapple's doc is wonderful but frustrating; it leaves you wanting to see more of the couple's films. Blessedly, the fest is also screening a handful of terrific offerings from the Hubley Studios: The Hat, Tall Time Tales, Witch Madness and Northern Ice, Golden Sun. Emily Hubley is scheduled to attend. --R.W.
Janice Beard: 45 Words Per Minute
May 1 at 9:20 p.m.
Director Clare Kilner's debut--a short masquerading as a feature, meaning at 78 minutes it still runs out of gas before pulling into the petrol station--plays odd and familiar at once, which is why something so engaging sadly becomes so rote. A cross between Herman's Head and Office Space, its best bits take place in the mind of its heroine, Janice Beard (Eileen Walsh), a 23-year-old Brit who leaves home to raise money for her mum, who's trapped in the house of her own volition. Janice's dad died at childbirth--a novel joke that hints at a twisted sense of humor that never quite arrives--leaving her mother a pale, obese recluse too afraid of the outside world; Janice will have adventures, she promises, to raise money for the necessary psych treatment. Janice finally goes to work for a car company weeks before the launch of its new auto; she's under a frostbitten boss (Patsy Kensit, tight and tough) and wants to be under the errand boy Sean (Rhys Ifans, wonderful but wasted), who's more than he appears to be. Wacky chaos ensues, as the film veers toward a subplot about industrial espionage, but the film's never as daft as it should have been. --R.W.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
April 26 at 11:20 p.m.
Spoofing '50s B-movies is a tricky proposition: Why make fun of a medium that's already so inherently amusing? Writer-director-star Larry Blamire's Cadavra pits feuding scientists, alien invaders and an evil skeleton against each other in a race to obtain the rare radioactive element "atmospherium," with a big, foam-rubber mutant and an animal woman running around in there somewhere. Blamire has his deadpan dialogue parodies down pat ("All skeletons are against me--they always have been!"), but he falls in love with the script a bit too much; the endless talking slows down the film's pace. Still, the skeleton's a hoot. Andrew Parks is particularly retro as the alien "Kro-Bar," and despite the slack pacing, the movie is frequently very funny. But even at 90 minutes it feels as though Blamire's stretching the joke a bit thin. Larry Blamire is scheduled to attend. --Luke Y. Thompson
Lovely and Amazing
May 2 at 7 p.m.
The Marks women are a sad, unlucky brood: Mother Jane (Brenda Blethyn), sagging and alone, is a wealthy woman raising a precocious black girl (Raven Goodwin) who wants only to be white; unhappy with her body, Jane goes in for liposuction and damned near doesn't come out. One daughter, Michelle (Catherine Keener), is a 38-year-old who watches more cartoons than her beloved daughter; harboring artistic pretensions (she makes and hopes to sell her teeny-tiny chairs and handmade wrapping paper), she's saddled with a distant and bitter husband (Clark Gregg) who demands she get a real job. Jane's other daughter, Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), is an actress who goes on "chemistry reads" with sleazo actors (Dylan McDermott) and sells her bit part in an upcoming movie by revealing nipples in a salacious fashion spread. Elizabeth has man problems and self-image issues; she's beautiful but cursed, she's told, with flabby arms and a, ahem, "big bush" revealed in full. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking) loads down these women, all extraordinary actresses playing ordinary, till they literally appear to droop toward the ground; when Michelle's busted for statutory rape (she's having a tentative fling with her 17-year-old boss at the photo mat), it's the tip of the quickly melting iceberg. Too bad, then, the movie plays like a pilot for Sisters 2; it's as glib as it is glum, substituting calamity and tragedy for insight and revelation. And the ending, in which everything's left hanging, is absolutely astonishing--to be damned by cynics, to be celebrated by others who will say it's just like life. Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Keener are scheduled to attend. --R.W.
The Making and Meaning of ¨We Are Family¨
April 27 at 5 p.m.
Danny Schechter's documentary is better when it focuses on what happened September 11 rather than what producer-songwriter Niles Rodgers and Tommy Boy Records organized on September 22: an all-star re-recording of Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," with all proceeds from the resulting single benefiting the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Seven months later, Schechter peels away the bandage but doesn't pick at the scab, putting his audience in the right frame of mind without resorting to tragedy porn. The rest of the film feels a bit like a big pat on the back, but in this case, at least, it is deserved. After all, every little bit helps: "In times of uncertainty, one of the most comforting things that we have are familiar faces, familiar voices, familiar anthems." Rounding up a curious assortment of actors, singers, professional athletes, cops, doctors and firemen to redo "We Are Family" in the same studio the original was recorded, Rodgers, if nothing else, gave a few hundred people something else to think about for a few hours. Removed from the circumstances surrounding the singalong, The Making and Meaning of... is almost surreal; the only other place you'll find Dionne Warwick, Macaulay Caulkin, the Indian from the Village People, Hootie, David Hasselhoff and New Kid Joey McIntyre together is a punch line. Danny Schechter is scheduled to attend. --Z.C.
The Medicine Show
April 27 at 9:15 p.m.
The premise has promise--wisecracking young TV writer (Jonathan Silverman, still a Single Guy) gets colon cancer and confronts it with a cracked grin--but it slowly dissipates. Silverman's Taylor finds having cancer can be an aphrodisiac; standoffish co-worker Kari Wuhrer at last wants to suck him off before his surgery. He also discovers a long hospital stay is a good way to meet chicks--in this case, Natasha Gregson Wagner as the wisecracking, long-suffering leukemia patient whose room is decked out like a Pottery Barn outlet store. There are nice touches--the wandering folkie who soothes patients' troubled bodies with even more troubling songs about going into the light, Taylor's perception of the hospital as a house of foul-smelling-and-sounding horrors, a friend's description of his cancer as "the embodiment of all our fears"--and there are nice performances; in all, it's an amiable comedy about the fear of death (and a fear of living), and it's to be celebrated for it. If only it didn't bog down in the sap toward film's end; writer-director Wendell Morris, making his debut, wants you to feel good, which isn't necessary in a film about people feeling awful. Wendell Morris and Jonathan Silverman are scheduled to attend. --R.W.
May 1 at 9 p.m.
The Allen in the title is Allen Ross, a Chicago-born filmmaker who vanished in 1996 after marrying the leader of a bizarre, apocalyptic cult called the Samaritans. German documentary maker Christian Bauer ventures into an American heartland of darkness as he tracks his friend's erratic journey into the cult, from its run-down former headquarters in Oklahoma to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Ross disappeared, leaving a wide circle of friends and family to grieve. Bauer, a dogged investigator, eventually uncovers what happened to his former collaborator, but the greater mystery is unanswered: What drew an amiable young cameraman into the paranoid world of cultists who see demons, sin and government conspiracies conspiring to ruin the world? While the central plot of Ross' disappearance and Bauer's detective work drives the film, Missing Allen is equally engaging for its glimpse of the strange workings of a cult operating largely unnoticed in the middle of Middle America. --P.W.
April 28 at 9 p.m.
Something very creepy happens to Diane Keaton throughout the first half of this clumsy mob comedy, in which she plays a ditzy accountant suckered into gangland slayings. First, for no reason, she swipes the fedora from one of her would-be victims, played by Maury Chakin; then she borrows some clothes from her brother (Bob Balaban, who looks the part)--she needs to clean up, so he says. And then, voilà, there she is resplendent in the wardrobe of her better days: Diane Keaton is, once more, Annie Hall; all she's missing are the tie and tennis racket. She's even playing Woody Allen, more or less, stumbling and bumbling through a plot that has her doing Paul Sorvino's dirty work by shooting his rivals; only, instead of killing them, she kidnaps them and dumps them off at her brother's Florida home, resulting in a mobster's ball out in the lush, green countryside. The scenes at Balaban's house are charming--even delightful--and almost enough to make this bearable; but it's undone by Sorvino's ham-fisted (ham-bodied, actually) gangster and his stunted sidekick, not to mention the worst Casio-composed score ever. Produced by Matt Salinger, son of J.D.; maybe this is why he's in hiding. --R.W.
Rocks with Wings
April 27 at 4:40 p.m.
Due to air on PBS this year, director Rick Derby's moving and gripping documentary is one of those too-good-to-be-true tales: A black basketball coach from Texas named Jerry Richardson winds up in Hellhole, New Mexico (Shiprock, actually, though its mostly Navaho residents consider it a purgatory), ends up coaching the high school's girls basketball team (the Lady Chieftains), offends them as women and as Native Americans and winds up befriending them all on the way to... Actually, to give away more--whether the team takes the district title from its nearby rivals, for instance--would spoil the ending; this is the real-life Hoosiers commingled with Remember the Titans. It's an astonishing sports story but quite a bit more--a film about the clashing of cultures, spirituality, pride, anger, despair, retribution and, most of all, the desire to make something of one's self in a desolate wasteland where the only constant is a low-grade suffering that sweeps through the town like dust. "I just want to get away," says one of the ballplayers, though all want out; the only thing Shiprock has going for it is the promise of divorce and poverty. "People," says another, "are used to failure." Which makes the Lady Chiefs that much more important to the town, and Derby makes astonishing use toward film's end of two nearly complete games (with play-by-play, no less) from 1987 and 1988, when the Chiefs clashed with the girls from Kirtland and played them to a tie quarter after quarter, overtime after overtime. Rick Derby is scheduled to attend. --R.W.
Room to Rent
April 29 at 9 p.m.
Like most movies these days, director Khalid Al-Haggar's 2000 feature is sitcom-funny; it isn't deep or wise, but shallow and witty, which is almost enough. Egyptian expat Ali (Said Taghmaoui) is trying to stay in London without a visa; he's got three jobs but only a few weeks before he's to get sent back. So he bounces from room to room, from situation to situation, from wacky character (promiscuous gay photographer, played by Rupert Graves) to wacky caricature (a wannabe Marilyn Monroe, played by the so-that's-what-happened-to Juliette Lewis) in search of refuge and assistance; what he really needs is a "white wedding," which would let him stay for good. At last, Ali winds up with a blind old lady who thinks him the reincarnation of her dead lover; she can't see where this is going, even if you can. And, yes, it's so reminiscent of Green Card at times Lewis even feels compelled to reference it; and, no, there are no original ideas left anywhere. --R.W.
April 30 at 7:15 p.m.
When, early in Rebecca Cammisa and Rob Fruchtman's documentary about her, Sister Helen Travis says, "Some people need a crisis in their life to clean up," she's not talking about the two dozen men she houses in The Travis Center, the safe house for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics she runs in the South Bronx. She's referring to herself: A former daily drinker, Travis became a Benedictine nun at the age of 56 after the deaths of her husband and two teen-age sons (one was stabbed to death, the other died of an overdose). She shuffles down the rat-infested halls screaming "fuck" and "damn" while providing the tough love she never gave her own kids, which is why she says, "I try to do for other people's sons what I didn't do for my own." She subjects the men--who range from white-collar crack addicts to last-chance senior citizens--to curfews, inspections and random urine tests ("When I say 'piss,' you piss," she yells). Though some fight, complain and get kicked out, Travis' effect on these men as they learn to live in "the real world" again is evident when, without her, even the most assured and rehabilitated lapse and the house falls into chaos. Rebecca Cammisa is scheduled to attend. --S.S.
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Slap Her, She´s French
April 25 at 7:30 p.m., Lakewood Theater
TV actress Jane McGregor plays Starlahead cheerleader, beauty queen and wannabe Good Morning America anchor who's already been voted by her classmates as "most likely to end up in People magazine." Starla's ribbon-wrapped world is thrown into chaos with the arrival of a French exchange student (Coyote Ugly's Piper Perabo), who slowly steals Starla's entire life: her QB boyfriend, her family (including alky mom, dim dad and smart-pants little bro), her cheerleading spot, perhaps even her future; she's a conniver with a past, no duh. Director Melanie Mayron (best known for playing Melissa on thirtysomething) gets all her actors have to givethey damned near scream from the screen, as though this were the dawn of the sound eraand McGregor, in particular, plays the noxious, self-absorbed Texas beauty queen as though the stereotype were brand-new. McGregor's got the lines ("Charity work makes people not hate you," she explains) and the nerve to pull them off. But the story has all the charge of basic-cable filler; this is teeny-pop territory, with a few obligatory curse wordsand hints of pedophilia and lesbianism, woweethrown in to make it adult, as if. It plays like Drop Dead Gorgeous, sort of, and Bring it On, kind of, though I read recently this was supposed to be All About Eve set in a high school; wanna Bette? Melanie Mayron is scheduled to attend. --R.W.
Very Annie Mary
April 20 at 9:30 p.m.
The Full Monty, half-assed bare-assed whimsy at best, ruined British cinema--this go-round, at least; witness the litany of clumsy farces to arrive on this shore since its release, among them Waking Ned Divine and Blow Dry and Greenfingers, all utterly charming and completely insubstantial. Add to their ranks this would-be "musical" from Alex Cox and actress-turned-writer-director Sara Sugarman, whose Very Annie Mary tugs the heartstrings so hard you're likely to stroke out halfway through--around the time Jonathan Pryce, as the Puccini-singing-bread-baking bastard-of-a-pop, does the same thing. Six Feet Under's Rachel Griffiths plays his daughter, a singing prodigy who stayed home to tend to her dying mom; she's since lost her gift, thanks largely to a father who keeps her under his thumb like a fingerprint. Sugarman has laid it on thick (sure her name's not Saccharineman?): There's the dying best friend who just wants to hear Annie Mary sing one last time (God, no...); the frumpy 'fraus who don Village People get-ups to butcher "Y.M.C.A."; the gay twosome who tend ye olde local shoppe; and little boys who literally re-enact The Full Monty's payoff for no apparent reason. Griffiths, playing either dim or dumb, is docked further points for channeling SNL-era Mary Gross, which does no one any good. --R.W.
April 30 at 9 p.m.
Funded by writer-director-star Darien Sills-Evans' stint on Cosby, X-Patriots would probably make Bill C. choke on his pudding pop should he ever happen upon the film. Not the whole thing, really, just the scenes where struggling thespian Manny insists on acting out Mandingo sex fantasies with his pretty white Dutch wife, making her yell out for some "nigger cock." Set in the Netherlands, where Manny foolishly moved with his bride a year earlier, X-Patriots is ostensibly about Manny and his writer friend Dexter's attempt to put on a play. But that plotline is dropped as soon as uptight Dexter arrives in the Netherlands, exiled from NYC, where his girlfriend has just ditched him and his boss wants him to write "a fucking Denzel" instead of trying to push a script about "three urban bush women." His arrival upsets the already tenuous relationship between Manny and wife Elia: Manny's a lazy wannabe actor who uses his talents mainly to lie about his various affairs; Elia's career-minded, family-oriented and much too forgiving. Dexter (Sills-Evans, doing his best Taye Diggs) is black and proud, perhaps too much so; he falls for Simone (a girl with a black mom and white pop) before shying away, since she's "not black...just visiting." Though Sills-Evans sometimes gets a bit carried away trying to be erotic, X-Patriots is an assured first effort, deftly handling black-white relationships and all the gray in between. Darien Sills-Evans is scheduled to attend. --Z.C.
April 28 at 7:10 p.m.
When a loaf of bread sells for the same price as a bushel of wheat, how can a small farmer get by? Badly, but that doesn't deter the handful of people remaining in Zenith, Kansas, from trying to hold their dying community together. Beset by hard times and despair, they turn to religion and decide to produce The Great Plains Passion Play. How does the passion and crucifixion of Christ relate to the macroeconomic forces killing small farms? Director Kirsten Tretbar's documentary never draws the line clearly, and Zenith's long scenes of combines cutting wheat and locals rehearsing for the passion play seem, in the end, a bit shallow. While the Kansans' efforts to rally around faith are admirable, you're left wondering: What exactly is Christlike in trying to maintain a small business--the family farm--in an industry transformed by mass production and economies of scale? Light on reporting, context or depth, Zenith is still interesting at times for its candid interviews with the hard-worn people of Zenith and Stafford, Kansas, but at an hour in length, it feels about 30 minutes too long. Kirsten Tretbar is scheduled to attend. --P.W.