THE GAME BAG (IL CARNIERI)
5 p.m., Mann's Chinese
(also 2:30 p.m. Monday, Monica)
Three Italian tourists on a hunting trip to the Balkan peninsula run into more trouble than they ever imagined when they get caught up in the Serbo-Croatian war.
Travelers Renzo (Massimo Ghini
), Paolo (Antonio Catania) and Roberto Roberto
Zibetti) press on toward a game reserve despite rumors of unrest in Yugoslavia. When their guide misses a rendezvous, they enlist the aid of the hunter's daughter, Rada (Paraskeva Djukelova
), to guide them.
Following a hunting accident, they seek medical aid in the city, are rousted by local police officials and forced to flee to a once-luxury hotel with dozens of other refugees. Sniper fire blasts the hotel constantly. The irony of hunters becoming prey is not lost on the party.
"The Game Bag", directed by Maurizio Zaccaro
, effectively paints the picture of war-torn city streets, hopeless refugees and grim civil war with the pathos of relatives torn apart by conflict.
Vivid photography, believable characterizations and a claustrophobic tale make this a worthwhile feature. The Italian film, subtitled, is likely to get good play in foreign-language venues.
THE BIG EMPTY
8:15 p.m., Monica
(also 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Monica)
It's always a pleasure when a genre gets a thoughtful twist. "The Big Empty" takes us on a bleak spin into the world of a private detective, a case of marital infidelity and the question of faith.
In this oddly stylized, sometimes dryly funny production, Lloyd Meadows (James McManus, who also wrote the script) is an alienated waiter who becomes an alienated private eye. His romantic ideals pretty much dissolve as the cases that come his way turn out to be ugly ones -- like getting the goods on unfaithful partners.
When Jane Danforth (Ellen Goldwasser
) steps into his life, he finds himself attracted to her innocence and looks -- with the darker side of him torn between shattering her illusions and protecting her. Was her husband, Peter (Pablo Bryant
) faithless, or is it all a misunderstanding?
Lloyd probes deeper and deeper into the couple's lives, his alliances continually shifting as some disturbing secrets are manifested.
Viewers will find themselves captivated by the plight of these three characters, even though the stylized acting work at times is so-so.
The story is rough and could benefit from more judicious editing, but director Jack Perez
is someone to watch with this ambitious, worthwhile venture. Production values are decent, and music (credit Jean-Michel Michenaud) is truly interesting.
There's a good chance that this film will be one of those to make it out of the festival circuit and gain some attention from art house audiences.
Michael FarkashSweet Jane
10:45 p.m., Monica
(also 6 p.m. Sunday, Monica)
Taking its title from the Lou Reed
song and its thematic cues from "Midnight Cowboy" and "Trainspotting", screenwriter Joe Gayton's ("Uncommon Valor", "Bulletproof") feature directorial debut nevertheless has something fresh to offer thanks mainly to its lead performances.
As Jane, a heroin addict who barely survives an overdose only to be informed she's HIV-positive, the always interesting Samantha Mathis
does her most adult work to date. Meanwhile, Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("3rd Rock From the Sun"), in the role of a 15-year-old in the advanced stages of the disease who picks Jane as his guardian angel, is similarly impressive.
While the salvation motif is somewhat shopworn, the young actors infuse the production with an affecting vitality.
(also 6 p.m. Thursday, Monica)
"If you were to die tomorrow, what moment would you most remember and how did it change your life?" More than 80 people are asked that question in "Perfect Moment", and the answers are often poignant and affecting.
Writer-director Nicholas Hondrogen
, in his classy, disturbing but overlong documentary, notes that all profits are to be donated to AIDS assistance, although AIDS is only one of the preoccupations expressed here.
In the documentary are images of birth, realized mortality and rape. Composer Philip Glass
and others remember the birth of their children as electrifying moments; broadcaster Larry King recalls the heart attack that changed his life; and a Los Angeles actress recalls the details of her terrifying rape.
The filmmaker also turns the camera on himself, moving nude about his apartment, expressing doubts about his film, philosophizing and even setting up some visual images -- including showing a gasping fish out of water to bring home a point about suffering.
"Perfect Moment", which won the Audience Awards at the 1997 Slamdance International Film Festival, focuses on a number of fascinating personalities. Nevertheless, the documentary could benefit from a little judicious cutting. We'd probably take more away with us if there were less voices presented.
HANDS ON A HARDBODY
1:30 p.m., Monica
(also 3 p.m. Tuesday, Hollywood Galaxy)
While the title may certainly sound provocative, the hardbody in question is actually a shiny new Nissan pick-up truck and the hands belong to two dozen Longview, Texas, hopefuls determined to take it home at the end of a grueling endurance test.
S.R. Bindler's amusing and unexpectedly stirring documentary keeps tabs on a select grouping of the competitors who must keep at least one hand on the object of their desire at all times, not counting brief hourly food and bathroom breaks. Three days later a dazed and confused winner will emerge, but along the way we get to know some of the annual contest's livelier participants.
Serving as an unofficial guide is former winner and return competitor Benny Perkins
, who offers up such morsels of wisdom as "When you lose your mind, you lose the contest" with the centered tranquility of a Zen master.
2:10 p.m., Mann's Chinese
(also 10 a.m. Sunday, Hollywood Galaxy)
Films about the theater are many, and, unfortunately, tend to be filmed as if they were stage presentations. Such is the aesthetic of "Marquise", a sprawling look into the backstage world of Moliere.
Centered around Marquise (Sophie Marceau
), a beautiful wench who wins her way into the fabled French troupe using her dancing prowess, not to mention her pelvic gyrations, "Marquise" is certainly no marquee production. Static, verbose and distended, this French film is mired in the conventions of the stage musical. Always populated by a screenful of highly costumed yowlers, "Marquise" is a mishmash of overblown characterizations. Its feeble plottings are generally advanced by desultory dialogue, usually shouted out in turn by a bevy of background characters.
Undeniably, it does provide an educational and amusing glimpse into the inner court of Louis XIV and a peek into the less-than-sparkling incandescence of Versailles.
7:45 p.m., Monica
(also 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, Monica)
Destined to outrage some viewers but winning points for its frank approach to a sticky subject, "Lover Girl" is a tight and well-realized comedy-drama about a runaway 16-year-old-girl (Tara Subkoff
) seeking shelter and eventually employment from a tough woman (Sandra Bernhard
) who manages a massage parlor where sexual activity is de rigueur. At first the lead, whose adventuresome mother has vanished, appeals to her wild sister (Kristy Swanson
), but she is quickly rebuffed and seeks a friendly port elsewhere.
Subkoff is superb as the affable new girl who doesn't follow strict orders to stay away from the clients when she hangs around the parlor. One thing leads to another and she becomes a clandestine employee, but her bonding with Bernhard's character makes her jealous sister come looking for work and jumping at the chance to earn good money. Soon, both siblings end up briefly (and uncomfortably) in the same room with a customer prepared for action and the rocky extended family begins to unravel.
The ensemble cast is amply fleshed out and the lead's eventual disenchantment with all around her is preordained. But the film's end is a bit too precious given the often acidic nature of the ongoing conflicts and heated rows she's caused.
Nonetheless, "Lover Girl" is a strong feature debut from filmmaking duo Lisa Addario
and Joe Syracuse
and could find an enthusiastic following in limited release with the proper handling.
REAL STORIES OF THE DONUT MEN
10:15 p.m., Monica
(also 5 p.m. Monday, Monica)
A Latino filmmaker's skirmish with the authorities over his illegally parked car leads to a goofy voyage down the rabbit hole in "Real Stories of the Donut Men" -- Donut Men is a reference to policemen.
Juan Pelotes (Randy Gatica
), after a beating by police, trips into strange territory that has only a marginal relationship to reality. Life for him turns into a sort of underground comic book, with cleverly subversive philosophizing.
In writer-director Beeaje Quick
's black-and-white film, Juan suddenly becomes a computer hacker, disables the police computer, and arranges for two anarchistic punk rockers to be set up as motorcycle cops.
For a full day, the two punk rockers throw their weight around -- director Quick playing Officer Homes, and Ignacio Alvarez playing Officer God. The two cops are deadpan, mean, and on a counter-culture rampage of absolute power. They enforce street punks' right to play their boom boxes loudly. They harass beautiful women. They beat up innocent squares.
Some of the high jinks are on target, some are muddled misses. It's clear that the director is spoofing the bureaucracy, but many of his points of view are murky.
This is the stuff of midnight art house venues, where "Real Stories" may have limited cult appeal. For the viewer in search of a giddy alternative film, with Three Stooges sensibilities in the mix, there's some funny stuff.
PUNCHING THE CLOWN: A PORTRAIT OF HENRY PHILLIPS
10:30 p.m., Monica
(also 2:15 p.m. Thursday, Hollywood Galaxy)
More mockumentary than documentary, this portrait of Los Angeles-based satirical singer-songwriter Henry Phillips is at its best when it sticks to the latter.
The fictionalized portions, in which director Gregori Viens
plays Phillips' affected French buddy Fabrice, aren't half as amusing as the pair apparently think they are. But "Punching the Clown" (a euphemism for a notorious solo activity) is most effective when it lets the singing do the talking.
Phillips' edgy songs, captured in black-and-white live performance footage, are actually quite good in a Tom Lehrer-meets-Lenny Bruce kind of way, with each innocent, pretty melody effectively counterpointed by a dark, downward spiral of caustic social commentary.
1:15 p.m., Monica
(also 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Hollywood Galaxy)
It may have enough soapy subplots to fuel a season of "Melrose Place", but what Luis Galvao Teles' "romantic comedy about the female sex" may lack in restrained refinement, it makes up for quite nicely with delectable performances from some of Europe's most fascinating actresses.
Besides looking absolutely terrific, Miou-Miou (as a school teacher who's having an affair with a lovestruck student), Marthe Keller
(as said student's hypochondriacal mother and said teacher's good friend), Marisa Berenson
(as the proprietor of an exclusive beauty salon) and Carmen Maura
(as a busy TV journalist with a faltering marriage) do finely seasoned ensemble work along with the fifth "elle" of the title, singer-dancer Guesch Patti
as a hyper chanteuse.
Life should be so glamorous.
3:15 p.m., Monica
(also 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Mann's Chinese)
In 1976, documentary filmmaker Ira Wohl
took home an Oscar for "Best Boy", a moving portrait of his 50-year-old, mentally retarded cousin Philly, whose aging parents were no longer able to care for him at home.
Two decades later, Wohl's equally affecting follow-up finds Philly just as spirited as ever despite the arthritis that has begun settling in on the eve of his 70th birthday. And once again, Wohl isn't exactly an innocent bystander. Having last time made an on-camera push for Philly to move into a group residence, this time he campaigns for his cousin to have his Bar Mitzvah, albeit 57 years late.
Once again Wohl's probing camera reveals a lot about family dynamics -- be it Philly's surrogate group home siblings or his colorful sister Frances, who functions as Philly's primary noninstitutional care-giver and a central figure in her own right.
THE WINGS OF A DOVE
7:30 p.m., Monica
Henry James was never more eloquently saluted than in this sterling adaptation of "The Wings of the Dove", one of his later novels. Scrumptiously realized, this Miramax release is a brilliantly polished work but one that has not been overrubbed as to wear off its human energy.
For those weary of the pretensions of the old-furniture genre -- namely those period classics that have been dusted off for highbrow audiences and presented with the detached dispatch of an elderly major-domo -- this Iain Softley-directed work is an exuberant, refined yet earthy affair.
In this gilded gem, the cast is magnificent. Helena Bonham Carter
is aswirl with unresolved passions, while Linus Roache
as her intrepid admirer is a keen mix of assertiveness and agony.
THE WITMAN BOYS
9:45 p.m., Monica
(also 2 p.m. Wednesday, Mann's Chinese)
For those who couldn't get enough of animal torture in "Gummo" comes "The Witman Boys", a chilly, clinical narrative of two young boys who, in the aftermath of their father's unexpected death, descend into a life of debauchery and sadism. However, this film is an unremarkable, old-stuff yarn that will enlighten no one in this Menendez brothers era.
Set on the eve of World War I in a tiny, Hungarian town, "The Witman Boys" is an icy, expressionistic tale of cunning and cruelty that, perhaps, is Hungary's version of Leopold/Loeb.
While screenwriter-director Janos Szasz ("Woyzek") intelligently lays out the boys' psychopathic proclivities, the narrative is so straightforwardly shaven as to be simplistic.
10:15 p.m., Mann's Chinese
(also 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Monica)
A winner at the recent Golden Calf Awards, the Dutch equivalent of the Oscars, Mike van Diem's ambitious directorial debut is based on a celebrated novel by F. Bordewijk set in 1920s Holland. The performance by Belgian actor Jan Decleir
as a monstrous civil servant and evil parent is a standout in the engrossing but downbeat tale of an illegitimate child's frustrating youth and young adulthood in the shadow of his powerful father.
Co-starring Fredja van Huer, Victor Low and Hans Kesting
, van Diem's well-paced and richly mounted film begins and ends with the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of Decleir's chillingly remote and unforgiving character, who opposes his industrious bastard's business enterprises and otherwise appears to have an unapologetic mean streak, both toward his own flesh and blood and the poor people he evicts with such grim enjoyment.
One longs for his comeuppance, but the director does not deny him a shred of humanity while his beleaguered offspring is pushed to the breaking point and contemplates the ultimate revenge.
COST OF LIVING
10:30 p.m., Monica
(also 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Monica)
A mysterious drifter named Billie finds her journey of fierce independence derailed in a small fishing village, where she runs afoul of a couple of local guys and has her bankroll stolen by person or persons unknown.
In "Cost of Living", Edie Falco
brings the character of Billie to compelling life. A woman on the run, scam artist Billie doesn't take nothing from nobody. She's also closed-mouthed about herself. But the more she conceals her past, the more we want to learn about this woman.
That enigmatic, dangerous past starts catching up with Billie as she lingers too long in the town. She's been done wrong by a fisherman and stays for payback. Soon, other dangers are popping up, including the lure of true love.
Falco's hard-edged take on the role of Billie, who must eventually choose between love and survival, is heartfelt and revealing in this character-driven tale. The episodic, stop-start feel of the work does not matter that much as long as we can watch Falco in action.
Despite the memorable characters, director Stan Schofield
has assembled an uneven film with too many loose threads. The plot could have been made a bit more twisty. It's unlikely "Cost of Living" will get a wide release.