Film Reviews

USA Film Festival Schedule

Page 7 of 12

Monday, April 24
7 p.m.
Ballot Measure 9. Writer-director Heather McDonald's documentary Ballot Measure 9 crackles with emotionally explosive scenes, creating a harrowing portrait of the 1992 Portland-based battle by gay and lesbian activists to prevent the passage of a measure that would deny homosexual citizens legal recourse against discrimination in housing and employment.

It's difficult to say which is harder to watch--the horrendous instances of intimidation and violence suffered by Measure 9 opponents both homo and hetero, or the mind-boggling campaign of cheap lies and unblinkered hate talk spewed by ministers, elected government officials, grandmothers, and children who seem to sincerely believe that recognizing tax-paying gays and lesbians as full-fledged U.S. citizens will lead to the collapse of America.

Of course, the filmmaker's sympathy tilts toward the "No on 9" activists, which is the central problem of Ballot Measure 9. While moments in the film are guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, you finish feeling not so much outraged as perplexed at the preposterous positions taken by the Oregonian homophobes. We get scenes of marches, protest sing-alongs, brainstorming sessions, and a tense election-night count-down on the pro-gay side, but there's no in-depth exploration of the peculiar paranoia that propels so many of the homo-haters to outright persecution. Ballot Measure 9 turns everyday people who fight gay discrimination into heroes, but it's the passionate villains, so sketchily portrayed here, that will intrigue some viewers more. (JF) Heather McDonald is in attendance.

Open Season. You know you're in for a long haul when the opening credits proclaim Open Season as "A fable by Robert Wuhl," and such gags as a network adventure series about a kung-fu-fighting nun ("Kicking the Habit") and a parade of whiny liberal public broadcasters, stuffy TV critics, and cigar-chomping network bigwigs are presented as the height of comic invention. As a director, Wuhl (an actor who had supporting parts in Bull Durham, Batman, and Cobb) hammers each punchline home with the oddly distanced zeal his sportswriter character in Cobb displayed while cursing out a baseball hero.

It doesn't help that Wuhl has cast himself in the lead as a righteous, fidgety, and decidedly humorless ratings company employee who rides public television's improbable breakthrough toward a journey of self-discovery. In terms of watchability and viewer sympathy, compared to Wuhl, Kevin Pollak is Jimmy Stewart. In case you're wondering, the character's last name is "Sane." It's that kind of movie. (MZS) Robert Wuhl and soundtrack composer Marvin Hamlisch in attendance.

Sony Pictures Classics Sneak Preview. The good folks at Sony Classics won't reveal what new movie they're going to show, but suspense isn't the only appeal of this program. There's also supposed to be a substantive discussion of the early years of the USA Film Festival, featuring Sony Pictures chair Marcie Bloom and festival co-founder L.M. "Kit" Carson. Co-presented with the Irving, Texas Film Commission. (MZS)

12 Steps to Death. Joe Queenan is a humorist best-known for his extravagant, archly observant essays on film trends in Movieline, so fans will be eager to see Queenan's first foray into low-budget filmmaking. Sadly, his debut as producer-writer-director, 12 Steps to Death, displays the cardinal sin of satirical cinema--an unfunny script that lurches on its course like a flatulent snuffalufagus, pausing before each target and expelling noxious gas that lingers unpleasantly in the air but never quite achieves the necessary rudeness.

Indeed, Queenan bludgeons the culture of codependency, recovery, and the Catholic Church with such monomaniacal clumsiness that the only sound you hear is an axe being ground till it's blunt. Stick to the word processor, Joe. (JF) Joe Queenan is in attendance.

9 p.m.
A Kiss to this Land. Daniel Goldberg's documentary about the historical and personal impact of Jewish immigration into Mexico. Not reviewed. Daniel Goldberg in attendance.

9:10 p.m.
Give a Damn Again. In the year of Newt Gingrich, whose ideas about social reform are based on movies like Boys' Town, this documentary proves a much more valuable addition to our collective list of cinematic sources. The film tracks down 10 participants in a 1968 New York City television campaign against ghetto poverty, in which a single question was posed to participants and viewers: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Filmmaker Adam Isadore, whose father worked on the original project, has sought out the children for a present-day comparison of their lives and their one-time dreams. In the process, he asks for and receives a plethora of answers to a deeper question: "Why has nothing substantive changed in the inner city during the past quarter century?"

Like last year's acclaimed Hoop Dreams, this film pokes holes in the American stereotypes about the monolithic inner city and points out that there is as much success and failure in the ghetto as in the rest of society. The difference, Isadore argues, lies in the mainstream media's portrayal of inner-city life; to their way of thinking, even boundless successes are presented with a fatalistic tone. Isadore's images are accompanied by academic and cultural commentary from professors bell hooks and Cornell West. (James Mardis) Filmmaker Adam Isadore in attendance.

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Jimmy Fowler
James Mardis
Matt Zoller Seitz
Edith Sorenson