Film Reviews

USA Film Festival

Page 2 of 8

10 p.m.
*They Shoot Horses, Don't They? This exhausting, downbeat story, populated as it is with a seamy, diverse collection of disgusting losers and hopeless wannabes--there are fewer outright likable characters here than in most Scorsese pictures--is as sweat-producing and tiring as the dance marathon during which it is set. This was Jane Fonda's first film after Barbarella, the sex sci-fi trash-wallow that nearly canned her career before it really got started. She was stunning as the nihilistic Gloria, but it was Gig Young, in the greatest departure of his career, whose role as the sleazy emcee won him an Oscar. (AWJ) Sydney Pollack in attendance.

11:30 p.m.
Shopping. Every second of British director Paul Anderson's high-adrenaline teen-age gangster flick Shopping pants with envy at America's more glamorous problems with youth violence. Check out the soundtrack, loaded with insipid Anglo "rap" songs that parrot last year's gangsta material. Note the way filmmaker Anderson always traces his post-apocalyptic view from a skycopter, like the newscams that preserved the Los Angeles riots. Notice how the post-adolescent urban hellhole of video arcades, punk clubs, and abandoned buildings echoes the later, equally insipid American thriller Hackers. Indeed, Shopping offers a painfully sincere, shepherd's-pie version of the bubblegum sugar highs in Hackers, but without a similarly overwrought art design as compensation. (JF) Paul Anderson in attendance.

Saturday, April 20
5 p.m.
Follow the Bitch. Six male friends, who have been playing poker together every Friday night for years, get a bit of a shakeup when one friend announces he's getting married, two others confess infidelities, and for the first time a woman joins the group, all to the dismay of the party's host and only spiritual constant, Bill. Although Bill is an obnoxious, pompous blow-hard--Eric Bogosian as played by Tim Curry--some of the other characters are surprisingly well-drawn, notwithstanding the tendency toward caricature. (The Krameresque roommate is the most odious, derivative example.) But while the dialogue is occasionally right on target, the entire episode feels fake and cheap. Like those to Village Idiots and Stonewall--also featured in the Festival--the musical score is simply terrible; not only is it repetitive and totally out of sync with the tone of the scenes it is meant to complement, it sounds as if it were written by a $99 Casio synthesizer set on "auto-compose." Normally bad music alone wouldn't necessarily sink a film, but the score is merely a symptom of a more serious disease: a presumption that affable, sometimes funny, fairly slick-looking drivel like this is what a feature-film festival audience is seeking. (AWJ)

The Way We Were. One of the weepiest tearjerkers Hollywood has yet produced, this 1973 Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford love story relegates the theme of blacklisting to a minor subplot, but all the actors are at their most earnest and sentimental. The Prince of Tides, directed by Streisand, seemed like a weak-willed tribute to this minor classic. (AWJ) Sydney Pollack in attendance.

5:15 p.m.
Trinity and Beyond. The title may be suggestive of Buzz Lightyear's battle cry from Toy Story, but Trinity and Beyond is something very different: a compilation of declassified government film of nuclear testing from the '40s, '50s, and '60s. What's remarkable about the movie is that for 90 minutes it does not become boring watching dozens of nuclear blasts go off--in the air, the ocean, in deserts, and over Japanese cities. There's a primal horror to watching these events; you don't need a degree in physics to get chills thinking about the awesome power of the atomic bomb. But while relevant even today, Trinity and Beyond is better as an idea for a documentary than as a film itself. The director, Peter Kuran, has taken the footage and assembled it for presentation, but notwithstanding lip service to the technological developments that led to each new bomb's creation, there's precious little analysis going on here. There's a feeling of incompleteness to it, and you can't help but feel you're missing the real story in favor of a chilling episode of the old SCTV sketch, "Farm Film Blow-up." (AWJ)

7 p.m.
Late Bloomers. This bittersweet comedy by the Dallas-based sibling team of Gretchen-Julia and Stephen Dyer was championed by local media, especially after this year's Sundance accepted the film for competition. The filmmakers, however, received positive notices but few substantial bites from distributors; Late Bloomers still languishes without a deal for commercial release. One suspects the cool reception to this tale of a love affair between the married principal's office secretary (Dee Hennigan) and the gym coach (Connie Nelson) of Eleanor Roosevelt High was triggered by the film's "square" (read "nonpolitical") treatment of lesbian love. Crap like Kids and The Brothers McMullen wins raves at Sundance for deliberate overstylization, while Late Bloomers tells a well-acted, patented shaggy-underdog story with a straight face--and gets screwed. (JF) Gretchen, Julia, and Stephen Dyer in attendance.

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Jimmy Fowler
Arnold Wayne Jones
James Mardis