SXSW Film Picks
Staff picks for SXSW Film
To clarify: Just because a movie isn't included does not mean it is bad. It could mean we didn't get a copy -- Blow, for instance, which we know you're going to see anyway. Or it could mean the dub was garbled, like Godass (which, by the way, Kate Messer said "looked good"). In the overwhelming number of cases, it means the writer assigned to the film chose not to recommend it. That turned out to be roughly half the films. Not a bad ratio, but not surprising, either. The film selection this year is quite fantastic. We should know. -- Sarah Hepola
Film passes are $45 at Waterloo Records. Individual tickets are $6 ($5 prior to 6pm) and go on sale to the general public 15 minutes prior to showtime.
*Indicates filmmakers/cast confirmed to attend Alamo Drafthouse & Cinema 409 Colorado
(CC) Convention Center Theater Cesar Chavez & Red River
Dobie Theater 2021 Guadalupe
Paramount Theater 713 Congress
Bad Dog comedy Theater 110 E. Riverside
Aaron Cohen's Debt*D: Amalia Margolin; with Moshe Ivgi, Avital Abergel, Youssef Abou Warda. (Video, 96 min.)
This compelling Israeli prison drama follows the last day of its title protagonist (thrown into jail for unpaid alimony). Deftly blending past and present with a nonlinear narrative that slowly reveals information, the film remains a taut, unsettling character study. By focusing on the bureaucratic complacency of the police rather than the wrongdoings of Cohen, Debt avoids the overearnestness that dampens the average melodrama. (Dobie 2, 3/10, 7pm; Bad Dog, 3/12, 1pm; Bad Dog, 3/17, 9:30pm) -- Barry Johnson
Amato: A Love Affair With Opera*D: Stephen Ives. (Video, 60 min.)
The Amato opera house in New York is billed as the smallest opera house in the world. And it is tiny. While profiling the couple that runs it, this hourlong documentary also follows the end of one opera production to the beginning of the next. As interesting as that is, owners Sally and Anthony Amato are far more appealing, almost irresistible. It's very sincere and charming, but never sappy or cheaply sentimental. No easy feat. (Bad Dog, 3/9, 6pm; Alamo, 3/11, 7:45pm; Bad Dog, 3/17, 5:45pm) -- Michael Bertin
Amores PerrosD: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; with Emilio Echevarria, Goya Toledo. (35mm, 154 min.)
The title means "Love's a Bitch," and that proves to be fitting for this bizarre tale of canines and couplehood. Three stories intertwine and collide (à la Pulp Fiction), each of them teetering on the fate of a dog. Sound strange? It is, and this frenetic blast of Mexican cinema also finds humanity among the murder, theft, and infidelity. The film is nominated this year for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. (Paramount, 3/9, 9pm; CC, 3/14, 1:30pm; Paramount, 3/16, 6pm) -- Barry Johnson
Bartleby*D: Jonathan Parker; with David Paymer, Crispin Glover, Glenne Headly, Joe Piscopo. (35mm, 83 min.)
There's stroke of genius, and then there's Stroke of Genius. This flashy, surreal updating of Melville's classic short story features wild man Glover as Mr. "I would prefer not to," one of the most audacious casting decisions of all time. See Bartleby not work, not care, not do much of anything at all, and then wonder at the futility of it all. Brilliant, yes, and did I mention Joe Piscopo is in it? Fanfare for the common man, indeed. (CC, 3/10, 7:15pm; CC, 3/13, 1pm; CC, 3/16, 5:15pm) -- Marc Savlov
Caesar's Park*D: Sarah Price. (16mm, 65 min.)
A Milwaukee neighborhood full of aging residents who barely talk to each other -- not the world's sexiest documentary subject. But director Price, who lived in Caesar's Park herself, records her neighbors puttering in their tiny backyard gardens, running errands to the local nursery, sharing memories about this seemingly unremarkable place where they live -- and gradually reveals beneath their Midwestern reticence complicated and feeling personalities. (Alamo, 3/11, 5:45pm; Alamo, 3/13, 11am; Alamo, 3/15, 4:30pm) -- Robert Faires
Cinéma Vérité: Defining the MomentD: Peter Wintonick. (35mm, 103 min.)
A truly terrific, whimsical look at the international revolution in documentary-making that changed the way we see the world today. Whodathunk that The Blair Witch Project and today's ubiquitous reality-based TV would be the progeny of a small group of Canadian filmmakers who got to wondering why Cartier-Bresson-like decisive moments couldn't be captured on motion pictures. Along this breathless romp, we see a lot of famous faces both in front of and behind the camera: Jack and Jackie, Stravinsky and Nabokov, all those familiar (and opinionated) American doc-makers -- the Maysles, Ricky Leacock, Bob Drew, D.A. Pennebaker, Fred Wiseman -- and then some. (CC, 3/10, 11:30am; Paramount, 3/15, noon; Alamo, 3/16, 12:15pm) -- Anne S. Lewis
Climax*D: Sean Baker; with Fred Berman, Matthew Dawson, Paul Weissman. (Video, 84 min.)
Remember those post-high-school all-night parties? The ones whereby there were always more guys than gals, the beer tasted as though it had been strained through your roommate's sock, and the conversations invariably began and ended with "dude"? Sean Baker sure as hell does, and Climax is a caustic, funny trip down memory lane to a time when the parties sucked much, much more than you can now recall. (Paramount, 3/13, 4:15pm; Bad Dog, 3/14, 1pm; Alamo, 3/15, 7:45pm) -- Marc Savlov
Comrades*D: Mitko Panov. (Video, 106 min.)
The human face of war and ethnic hatred is what Panov uncovers in this personal documentary, and it's also what makes it so unforgettable. A national of the former Yugoslavia now living in the U.S., Panov returns to search for his old army comrades. While in the service, none of them paid attention to their various ethnic and social identities. Now they mean everything. Or do they? (See "Brothers at Arms," p.74.) (Bad Dog, 3/10, 1pm; Alamo, 3/14, 7pm; Bad Dog, 3/17, 1pm) -- Marjorie Baumgarten
A Constant ForgeD: Charles Kiselyak. (Video, 200 min.)
Nobody ever said that watching a John Cassavetes film was easy. Neither is Charles Kiselyak's documentary on the director/writer/actor, which clocks in at a hefty 200 minutes. Interspersing interviews with actors like Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk with film clips, academic analyses, and Cassavetes' first-person narrative as read by Lenny Citrano, this is an intense, but ultimately rewarding, meditation on the life and work of Cassavetes. (Paramount, 3/13, 10am; Paramount, 3/14, 6pm; Paramount, 3/17, 8:30pm) -- Kim Mellen
Cornman: American Vegetable Hero*D: Barak Epstein; with Adam Lockhart, Mike Wiebe, Melissa Bacelar. (Video, 70 min.)
You could load up on El Frenetico and Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD at the Wacky Superhero Buffet, and still have room for Cornman: American Vegetable Hero, shot for about $13.79 in various back yards, public parks, and laundromats. Two catfights, one kung-fu army, three decapitations, two foot chases with banjo accompaniment, man-corn love, diarrhea, a cameo by Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, and make-up effects by something called Chainsaw. Loved the Gymkata gag. A weird, crude little gem. (Dobie 2, 3/10, 11:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/14, 11:45pm; Bad Dog, 3/16, 11:30pm) -- Marrit Ingman
Freestyle*D: Kevin Fitzgerald. (16mm/video, 60 min.)
"The rules are this: The shit is freestyle." Those are the first words you hear, and that's pretty much what you get. It's a lot of people rhyming off the tops of their heads, or talking about rhyming, or talking about the difference between written raps and freestyle rhymes. It's a vibrant look at both the art form and the subculture, and Freestyle is loaded with great footage of people in action. (Alamo, 3/12, 7pm; Alamo, 3/15, 10pm; Dobie 2, 3/16, 10:30pm. Various featured artists will also attend.) -- Michael Bertin
Frontier*D: David Zellner; with Zellner, Wiley Wiggins, Nathan Zellner, Stephanie Wilson. (Video, 90 min.)
Fans of obscure foreign cinema take note: Frontier is entirely in Bulbovian! Never heard of it? Let director David Zellner explain. "Bulbovia is an extremely downtrodden country, and that's why it's forgotten about in the news. It's been occupied by almost every country in existence. Even Switzerland." Along with his brother Nathan, David rattles off how the pair came across the story -- how it's based on the Bulbovian classic Fröktag, how it was published by the privileged son of a government official, how star Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) recently discovered he was one-quarter Bulbovian. Occasionally, David and Nathan crack up. Not much, but loudly, and at the same time.
Filmed on video over 14 days on a ranch in East Texas, Frontier follows two Bulbovian soldiers, played by Wiggins and David Zellner, colonizing a foreign land, but that's as far as any plot synopsis can go. Not to baffle you with irony: It really is entirely in Bulbovian, a strange hybrid of German, Russian, and gibberish. And a partial list of props includes: one cow (dead), several crickets (live), five eggs (raw), and one and a half furry brown costumes ("dumpy Sasquatch" style).
All this should come as no surprise to fans of the Zellner brothers -- that's David, 27, and Nathan, 25 -- an Austin filmmaking duo known for getting their goof on. They have already established a following with their Web site POI, "a juggernaut of vital information for the masses," and their debut film Plastic Utopia, being released on video by EI Cinema later this month, about "a mime who fights back against society." Now comes Frontier, an inspired and truly bizarre -- if rather nonsensical -- entry into the Zellner oeuvre. Witness Wiggins give a tree a tongue bath. Witness David and Nathan fight with raw chickens ("an ancient Bulbovian sparring custom"). Witness live crickets crawl out of Nathan's mouth ("They have sharp little claws," Nathan says. "They poke you.") Witness the love that dare not bark its name.
But if it offends you -- and surely, surely it will -- don't blame the Zellners. Blame famed Bulbovian author and poet Mulnar Typsthat.
After all, says David, "We stayed as true to the story as we could." (Bad Dog, 3/9, midnight; Bad Dog, 3/11, 11:45pm; Alamo, 3/16, 11:45pm) -- Sarah Hepola
Gibtown*D: Melissa Shachat. (Video, 64 min.)
This visually delicious documentary depicts the life and times of Gibsontown, Florida, the winter resting nest for traveling carnival and circus folk. With subject matter rich from the get-go (ferris wheels against blazing sunsets and a man who hammers nails into his head, for example), first-time director Shachat creates a sensitive glimpse into a vanishing world. (Bad Dog, 3/9, 7:45pm; Bad Dog, 3/12, 3:15pm; Bad Dog, 3/15, 5:45pm) -- Kate X Messer
Ginger SnapsD: John Fawcett; with Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Mimi Rogers. (35mm, 107 min.)
Werewolves, death, and menstruation. No wonder some gals call it "the curse." This low-budget Canadian horror movie is a product of the post-Buffy age, so it comes as no surprise that the director is a veteran of Xena: The Warrior Princess and Femme Nikita. With a funny but serious twist on the same old bloody conventions, Ginger Snaps plays it both ways as we get to simultaneously stare at young girls' butts while recoiling in horror at the lyncanthropic tails poking through the seams of their panties. (CC, 3/10, 9:30pm; CC, 3/14, 9:30pm; Alamo, 3/17, 2:45pm) -- Marjorie Baumgarten
Green*D: Laura Dunn. (Video, 50 min.)
Green director Laura Dunn proves to be green herself, but this unfocused documentary survives on the strength of its gripping subject matter. Green exposes environmental racism along the shores of the Mississippi River (the so-called Cancer Alley) and how it has lead to increased instances of cancer among the lower-income families who live near petrochemical manufacturing plants. The faces and stories are heartbreaking, showing what damage big business can wreak when Erin Brockovich isn't around. (Paramount, 3/12, 1:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/13, noon; Bad Dog, 3/16, 5:45pm) -- Barry Johnson
How's Your News?*D: Arthur Bradford. (Video, 82 min.)
One day Arthur Bradford got a phone call from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The creators of South Park wanted to tell him they were big fans of a video he had made, a video that fell into their hands by accident, really. A friend of a friend of Arthur's had told them that they should see this tape of mentally handicapped people who go up to strangers, stick a microphone in their face, and say, "How's your news?" Bradford directed that video because, as a counselor at Camp Jabberwocky in Massachusetts, a camp for adults with disabilities, he taught a video-making class. Bradford told Parker and Stone that it had been his dream to make a documentary in which the following things would happen: A group of disabled adults, led by Bradford and a crew that had experience taking care of them, would travel in an RV across the entire United States. The adults would become reporters who would ask strangers how their news was. So, funded by Parker and Stone (and indie guru John Pierson of Split Screen), Bradford got to do just that.
Now all that Arthur had to do was convince the parents of the five reporters he wanted for How's Your News? that he wasn't crazy. "Larry's parents, for example, he's 56, and his parents are in their 70s, and they were just really confused about this whole idea," Arthur says. "They were thrilled that someone wanted to spend time with their son, but they just thought it was so strange that we wanted to make a news show and have Larry be a news reporter." How's Your News? begins in New Hampshire and ends in Venice Beach, Calif. Along the way, a street-corner evangelist asks Robert Bird, a reporter with Down syndrome, if he knows Jesus Christ; Susan Harrington is rebuffed by an angry homeless man who doesn't want to talk about his news; and Ronnie Simonsen kisses Chad Everett's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame because he is Everett's "spiritual brother." Simonsen, who is fixated on Hollywood, is a gregarious interviewer, and during a stop in Arkansas, he asks a laborer the following questions:
Ronnie Simonsen: What's your biggest dream?
Subject: I don't know.
RS: You must have something. You can't have anything if you don't have anything, right?
S: Yeah. I ain't never thought too much about it.
RS: Okay. Listen, it was good to talk to you. Thank you for your time. I didn't mean to disturb your lunch.
S: That's all right.
RS: I wasn't trying to be nosy like Barbara Walters or the Hollywood press.
The line between exploiting people with disabilities and depicting them honestly is often mercurial and hard to navigate, and the filmmakers wanted to be certain that How's Your News? would not become a platform for audiences to laugh at the reporters. "I love to discuss those issues with people," Bradford, a 1998 Michener Center for Writers graduate, says, "because I think that it's really important for people to know that the people with disabilities in this movie are aware of what they're doing, and they're really proud of it, as are the families. I think sometimes people feel like these people shouldn't be so flamboyant and shouldn't be so in-your-face. I understand why there's that worry that it's exploitation, but I really was very careful in the editing to make sure that we weren't doing something that was against our ethics. How's Your News? for me is a reaction against what I think is the typical disability documentary, which is usually just way too sentimental and sappy for my tastes." (Bradford and three of the reporters will perform original songs from the documentary and screen the 25-min. pilot at the Hideout, 617 Congress, Monday, March 12, 9pm. Bradford also promises "special mystery guests." Screening times: Alamo, 3/11, 9:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/14, 4pm; Bad Dog, 3/16, 1:30pm) -- Clay Smith
HybridD: Monteith McCollum. (16mm, 93 min.)
Sex and corn. What more is there? Not much, for aged Iowa farmer Milford Beeghly, who began peddling his hybrid seed corn to local farmers way back in the Thirties. McCollum's documentary takes a skewed look at a very strange and equally interesting man whose passion for all things corny apparently supercedes even his love for his family. You can't make this stuff up, folks. (Alamo, 3/9, 9:15pm; Alamo, 3/12, 2:30pm; Alamo, 3/16, 9:15pm) -- Marc Savlov
Karaoke Fever*D: Arthur Borman, Steve Danielson. (Video, 91 min.)
The characters that populate Karaoke Fever have not a lick of the slummy coolness that Levi-Strauss has infused into the pastime with their newest ad campaign. There's a reigning karaoke king whose claim to fame is supplying the voice for Jack in the Box's Meaty Cheesy Boys, a middle-aged impersonator of the young Frank Sinatra named Vaughn Suponatime, a swordfighting vixen with a five-octave range, and a Blues Brothers act dripping with Schadenfreude. Also absent is the über-produced sheen of the Gwyneth Paltrow/Huey Lewis flop Duets as this ragtag assortment klaws their way toward the Karaoke Fest krown (the zenith of the Southern California scene). And that's a good thing -- this lo-fi delight proves that karaoke is best enjoyed in the raw. (Alamo, 3/10, 7:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/13, 5:15pm; Bad Dog, 3/17, 7:15pm) -- Kim Mellen
Lontano in Fondo Agli Occhi/An Impure Glance*D: Giuseppe Rocca; with Giusi Saija, Andrea Refuto, Mariagrazia Galasso. (35mm, 95min.)
A sepia-toned but surreal portrait of a boy's coming of age in rural postwar Italy, an environment dominated by nuns, nannies, and persnickety grandmothers. A schoolboy falls in love with his earthy teenage housemaid, watching from afar while a grappa-swilling Lothario steals her heart. The pace is slow, and the tone is poetic, punctuated by bursts of dreamlike imagery -- religious visions, the ghost of a child, a monstrous lover -- that conflate fantasy and memory. (Paramount, 3/10, 2:45pm; CC, 3/12, 3:45pm; CC, 3/17, 5:30pm) -- Marrit Ingman
Los Trobajadores/The Workers*D: Heather Courtney. (Video, 48 min.)
A disjointed narrative and low production values don't detract too much from the impact of this local documentary: Day laborers (mostly illegal aliens) in Austin organize to build a new day site and overcome the racism and isolationism of their new neighbors. Los Trobajadores is a speedy affair that jumps around too much, but it's engrossing stuff nonetheless, this story of men who cross borders to keep their families alive. (Paramount, 3/12, 3pm; Bad Dog, 3/13, 1:30pm; Alamo, 3/15, 6:15pm) -- Kimberley Jones
MementoD: Christopher Nolan; with Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano. (35mm, 113 min.)
Director Christopher Nolan may hail from London, but don't mistake his new thriller Memento, which wowed audiences at Sundance and across Europe, for your standard Masterpiece Theatre fare. Such mysteries typically begin after the real excitement has passed, with the discovery of a corpse, and then proceed stodgily forward as some dandy inspector (presumably armed with deerstalker cap and calabash pipe) attempts to uncover the motive and thereby unhand the killer.
True to form, Memento begins with a murder, but rather than stewing in the aftermath, it plunges backward, through the intrigue, and double-crosses that precipitate the killing. The catch: The man holding the smoking gun suffers from a condition in which he can't make new memories. He can remember why he's seeking revenge, but after his next short-term short-circuit, will he be able to remember that he actually settled his vendetta?
Leonard, played by Australian heartthrob Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential), exists within a disorienting tangle of forgotten 10-minute segments, recording what few facts he can through Polaroids and tattoos. As the film progresses, we see how strangers manipulate him, contaminating the few scraps he holds as "facts."
"People refer to it as a nonlinear structure, but it's not," explains Nolan. "It's incredibly linear. You can't remove a scene from the film. Each scene depends on the scene before it and the scene after it in a more extreme way than a conventional film."
Emerging from a short-story idea by brother Jonathan Nolan (published in the current issue of Esquire), Memento teases our narrative expectations, creating a world in which each new detail reveals a new interpretation of things that have yet to happen. The inverted structure represents a gamble on Nolan's part, though audiences willing to play along should enjoy examining the tricky ways in which memory can deceive us. If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?
"It's a weird thing that people so quickly forget the fact that this is a film that's told backwards," Christopher Nolan says. "This is a film that a lot of people don't understand. I felt that I was taking an incredible risk, but I felt like that was the appropriate thing to do for a new filmmaker starting out. I think we have to be daring to offer something that's different from what the studios would offer. There's no point in making a studio film cheaply. What you need to be doing is embrace the freedom of making an independent film to do something that's truly a little bit different." (CC, 3/10, 4:30pm; Dobie 2, 3/12, 11am; Paramount, 3/15, 9:30pm) -- Peter Debruge
Never Again*D: Eric Schaeffer; with Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Clayburgh, Michael McKean. (35mm, 90 min.)
A comedy about fiftysomethings seeking sex may call to mind a bad episode of The Golden Girls -- and director/screenwriter Schaeffer (If Lucy Fell) is not immune to schticky sitcom set-pieces -- but the performances elevate this tale of middle-aged crazies into an unlikely romance with a surprising amount of heart. Clayburgh is essentially An Unmarried Woman + 20 Years, but as appealingly vulnerable and comical as ever, while perennial second banana Tambor proves himself a terrific leading man: droll, wistful, and quietly charming. (Paramount, 3/11, 5pm; CC, 3/13, 10pm; Alamo, 3/16, 5pm) -- Robert Faires
No Early Birds*D: Michael Bayer, Stan Steen. (Video, 72 min.)
It's the same story you've heard a million times:
°Boy Gets Idea (Let's make a movie!)
°Idea Goes to Paper (Let's write a proposal! For a documentary! About um garage sales!)
°Idea Gets Funding ($2,500 grant)
°Boys Get Canon XL1
°Footage Gets Shot
° Lots and Lots of Footage Gets Shot
°Boys Max Out Credit Cards and Discover That Garage Sales Are Really, Really Boring
That's how first-time director Michael Bayer describes them and the first few thousand hours or so of tape that he and compadre Stan Steen shot at Austin yard sales. "We were wide-eyed and bushy-tailed," says the Southwest Texas-ex of their baptismal proposal process, which earned a grant from the Texas Filmmakers Fund despite the fact that, at that point, the story was not even close to coming together. "But after countless hours of mindless drivel and not getting anywhere," Bayer continues, "we just had to stop."
So what saved No Early Birds? What turned it from the stereotypical first-time filmmakers' nightmare into the sweet little incisive look into second-hand subculture that it is? One might speculate that it has something to do with the directors' good instincts to stick by two lead characters, ultra early birds Roxanne and Dale, and let their early morning slacker antics guide the narrative. One might also argue that garage sales aren't as boring as the directors might have indicated. But in reality, what turned the film around was music.
"We had a draft, looked at it and said, 'This sucks! There is no ending!' For two years, we sat, watching that footage, drinking beer, trying to numb the pain," remembers Bayer of their freshman ordeal. "For every foot you shoot, there are several hours spent looking at it." They sent the video along to their pals Drums & Tuba (a New York un-rock jazz ensemble originally from Austin), who sent back a perfectly ominous soundtrack, a loomingly grim orchestration that sent the directors into a spin. "We thought it was rather dark," Bayer understates. The music opened the doors to experimentation.
At this point, the boys realized they had a little gem in their cans and that the secret to success, or at least to finishing their first film, was having a little fun with it. Bayer muses, "We had to finally decide to do something to make us happy." So they toyed with some montages, consulted a few psychologists, studied up on Clever Juxtapositions 101, added some coy tangents, and voilà! A film was born.
The first unofficial Austin screening for No Early Birds at the Alamo Drafthouse was packed, Bayer reports. There's no reason to believe that these SXSW showings will be any different. Might we suggest that you get there early? (Bad Dog, 3/11, 7pm; Bad Dog, 3/13, 3pm; Bad Dog, 3/15, 11:45am) -- Kate X Messer
Okie Noodling*D: Bradley Beesley. (Video, 57 min.)
Okie documentarian Bradley Beesley takes a light yet reverential look at the downright bizarre: catfish noodlin', or hand-fishing. No rods, no hooks, no nets, no tricks -- just a man and a catfish in eye-to-eye combat. It's an engaging film (with a score by Okies the Flaming Lips) that never judges or mocks these sportsmen though you'll probably have a hard time maintaining a straight face at these alpha-male rednecks waxing poetic on the art (or cult) of noodlin'. (Bad Dog, 3/10, 3:30pm; Alamo, 3/12, 10:15am; Bad Dog, 3/14, 6:15pm. Real noodlers scheduled to attend.) -- Kimberley Jones
Pavarotti of the Plains: Don Walser's Story*D: TJ Morehouse. (Video, 80 min.)
This documentary couldn't happen to a nicer guy: Don Walser, elder statesman of the Austin music scene, Texan, yodeler. How many other people get such effusive praise from their peers, notable when those peers include Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Gary P. Nunn, and some guy name Willie Nelson? Director-producer TJ Morehouse has captured some truly moving moments from recent years in Walser's life. (Paramount, 3/10, 10pm; Paramount, 3/14, 4pm; Paramount, 3/16, 1:30pm) -- Michael Bertin
Pedal*D: Peter Sutherland. (Video, 60 min.)
If you've ever been to New York City -- or any large urban area, for that matter -- chances are you've caught glimpses of the bike messengers Sutherland's doc focuses on. Pedal ingeniously takes advantage of the maneuverability of both digital cameras and skateboards-as-dollies. The film moves as fast as its gritty, stoic subjects, and a near-Zen-like buoyancy is achieved through the film's editing, zipping us from the dangerous city streets to the relatively safe harbor of the dispatcher's office and back again, all in a fluid blur. (Alamo, 3/10, 3:15pm; Dobie 2, 3/12, 1:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/15, 7:30pm) -- Marc Savlov
Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy*D: Scott J. Gill. (Video, 75 min.)
Enjoy 93/4 inches of pure, unadulterated American manhood in Scott J. Gill's first full-length feature about the porno industry's most unlikely star -- the paunchy man they call the Hedgehog. What makes Jeremy so desirable and so prolific in an industry that sucks off body image and makes mincemeat out of most of its male stars? Porn Star interviews past starlets and porn-virgins alike -- all onscreen partners with the Hardest Working Man in Blow Business -- as well as other notable figures in the biz to discover the secret behind this porn star's enduring effervescence. (Bad Dog, 3/11, 9:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/13, 7:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/16, 9:30pm) -- Kate X Messer
Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town*D: Micha X Peled. (Video, 57 min.)
How did Sam Walton's retail chain become a department-store Goliath? Let's see: low prices, huge selection, and, oh yeah, riding roughshod over all the little towns where it plants its behemoth stores. Peled follows a year in the life of Ashland, Virginia, where concerned citizens unite in opposition to a Wal-Mart invasion, only to discover community runs a poor second to capitalism in modern America. A smartly shot look at big business splitting apart a small town. (Dobie 2, 3/11, 2pm; Paramount, 3/13, 2pm; Bad Dog, 3/17, 3:30pm) -- Robert Faires
Superstarlet A.D.*D: John Michael McCarthy; with Starlet Kerine Elkins, Gina Velour, Alicja Trout. (Video, 70 min.)
It's a Betty Page apocalypse! Lingerie-clad women brandishing machine guns and toting reels of old burlesque film footage roam through bombed-out black-and-white towns. Lipstick and eyeliner are currency. Fishnets, impeccably tweezed eyebrows, and the occasional color reel of medium-core lesbian porn rule in this world without any males save menacing cavemen. Obscure S&Mish battles are waged. The warring tribes break down along hair color lines, and "It's not a good time to be blonde." (Dobie 2, 3/9, 11:45pm; Bad Dog, 3/12, midnight; Alamo, 3/13, 11:45pm) -- Ada Calhoun
The Sweetest Sound*D: Alan Berliner. (16mm, 60 min.)
Alan Berliner does it again. Remember Nobody's Business (1996) -- when he trained his masterful lens and quirky sensibility on his cranky, uncooperative dad? This time Berliner, annoyed by being repeatedly mistaken for other Alan Berliners -- congratulated for the films of Belgian filmmaker Alain Berliner, say, or for the Madonna photos of a photographer in L.A. -- decides to get to the bottom of the "What's in a name?" question by zeroing in on his own. In signature Berliner obsessive overdrive, he goes up one side and down the other of the name issue, eventually tracking down all the Alan Berliners in the world and inviting the 12 of them to dinner at his NY home. The result is alternately hilarious (they roared in Berlin, even with subtitles), informative, thoughtful, and sobering -- and always brilliant. (BTW: Did you know about alphabetical neurosis? People with names at the end of the alphabet tend to have more strokes and heart attacks than those at the beginning of the alphabet? Now you know.)
Austin Chronicle: Okay, I'll bite. What's in a name?
Alan Berliner: Each of our names is a kind of private melody. I would like to think the film shows names to be more complicated and richer than anyone would have thought. Particularly the way we read one another -- in terms of compressed histories, a set of codes telling us who we are, who we were, or even who we might want to become. Names have an evocative power, maybe magical.
As far as what my name means, the Alan Berliners gathered around my dinner table were a sort of visual dictionary of what my name means. As it turns out, [beyond the separate first and last name meanings], the combination of Alan Berliner in the year 2001 means middle-class, middle-aged, mostly Jewish, white male. I learned that; I didn't know that.
AC: While your quirky sensibilities are never far from the surface in your other films, this first-person essay form was a first for you.
AB: Yes, and it was very difficult for me. For the first time, I'm the fish, the fisherman, and the cook -- the main subject, the main character, and the author. It's certainly narcissistic to make a film about your name. To pull it off, you have to attain what I call an "ebullient narcissism" -- this being my wink to the viewer that I want them to know that I know that they know that I'm smiling through it all. Throughout the making of this film, I kept reminding myself that I had to be able to stand in front of an audience and be able to say -- sincerely -- that this film really is not a film about my name. It has to transcend that. It's me taking a journey that any one can take along the highway of identity. The film is always moving from inside to outside, weaving issues about my name -- where it comes from, how I got it, what it means, my struggle sharing it with others -- with insights about the American name pool. (Alamo, 3/10, 10pm; Alamo, 3/13, 7:45pm; Dobie 2, 3/17, 5:30pm) -- Anne S. Lewis
Tillsammans/TogetherD: Lukas Moodyson; with Lisa Lindgren, Michael Nyqvist, Emma Samuelsson.
(35mm, 102 min.)
The year is 1975, and the Swedish commune "Together" is gliding merrily if passive-aggressively along. Until, that is, one member's sister leaves her husband and moves into the hippies' house, her children in tow. Soon concessions to the group's humorless socialist ethic are being made, interpersonal relationships are imploding, and ironically, everyone starts living by the values they've theretofore pledged. Together is moving, compellingly voyeuristic, and remarkably uplifting for a Scandinavian film. (CC, 3/10, 2pm; Paramount, 3/14, 10pm; Paramount, 3/17, 6pm) -- Ada Calhoun
The Trouble With Lou*D: Gregor. Prod: Teddy Newton; with Lou Romano, Katheryn Cain, Tom Winkler, Teddy Newton. (Video, 85 min.)
"I wish we could get the film out to more younger people," says The Trouble with Lou's producer Teddy Newton. "I feel that even at festivals it tends to attract people over 30, and when we play it for people who are, say, 17 to 25, the response is just amazing."
That's to be expected with a film as insidiously lowbrow-yet-hi-test as Lou, a sly parody of those 1950s mental hygiene films routinely screened for nervous high schoolers in between duck 'n' cover exercises. Films with titles such as Dating Dos and Don'ts, The Last Prom, and Narcotics: Pit of Despair regularly sought to guide hormonally challenged young people along a safe and narrow path to adulthood, and The Trouble With Lou marches right alongside, albeit to the beat of a different, uh, drummer. Directed by the single-monikered Gregor and featuring Lou Romano as Lou Romano, the film replicates the grainy, poorly staged ambience of this nearly forgotten chapter in cinematic history and infuses it with a healthy dose of contemporary sleaze, just the way we like it.
But what is the trouble with Lou, you ask? I won't beat around the bush: Lou's trouble is -- gasp! -- chronic masturbation, a case so severe that he's too ashamed to even approach a real girl and instead spends his days locked in his bedroom surrounded by hand lotions and girlie mags. Lou's situation changes (sort of) when he meets the comely young new girl at his school (Katheryn Cain) and promptly falls in love. From here the film cleverly riffs on both the joys of onanism and the undeniable need for human contact other than one's own hand, with occasional forays into the surreal. It's touching, really, to see how Lou finally comes to grips with his troubles and gets things well in hand, tackling the situation head-on with the help of his newfound lady friend. (No, seriously, it is.) As for the men behind the man with his hand in his trousers, Newton (who attended Cal Arts with Romano) and Gregor (late of USC film school) met in high school and eventually began working as animators at PIXAR Animation Studios (Toy Story), where they hatched the plot for Lou in 1999.
Rarely has there been a more fertile topic for a comedy-love story, but what sets this film apart from the Porky's and American Pies of the world is Newton and Gregor's unique, weathered, educational film style, achieved through a combination of 16mm and running out of money all the time.
"We had written another film first and didn't have any money to do anything like this script we wrote," says Newton. "We were terribly depressed until Greg had this idea about doing a film about masturbating. At the time I thought it was an awful idea, but the notion of using Lou, who was a friend, and then setting it in the Fifties made it somewhat less icky to me."
The end result -- the climax, if you will -- of Newton and Gregor's endeavor is a triumph of giddy retro-camp, a two-fisted comedy like no other, whacky in all the right places. (Bad Dog, 3/9, 9:30pm; Alamo, 3/12, 11:30pm; Bad Dog, 3/15, 9:15pm) -- Marc Savlov
We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll*D: Penelope Spheeris. (35mm, 90 min.)
We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll covers Ozzfest -- former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne's traveling metal circus. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, who did The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, as well as Wayne's World, this entertaining doc demonstrates that it's a lot more fun to watch people tear shit up than to watch civilized musicians talk about how significant what they are doing is. A random fan states, "We're going to smoke some dope and just fucking rock, man." Amen to that. (See cover story, p.54.) (Paramount, 3/11, 10pm; Paramount, 3/14, 2pm; Alamo, 3/17, 5pm. Along with Spheeris, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne will be in attendance.) -- Michael Bertin
William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories*D: Mark Neale. (Video, 88 min.)
A fascinating, quite literal trip along the "information highway." From the back seat of a moving car, the father of the term "cyberspace" expounds on topics from nanotechnology to his seminal sci-fi novel Neuromancer to the last writings of William S. Burroughs. Imagine "My Cab Ride With Andre": social commentary, telling personal observations, and wisdom conveyed in an intimate, conversational setting. Thoughtful and intelligent, Neale's film speaks to anyone living in this modern world, whether you know Gibson's writing or don't. (Bad Dog, 3/12, 9:45pm; Alamo, 3/14, 12:15pm; Paramount, 3/15, 2:30pm) -- Robert Faires
The Zeros*D: John Ryman; with Mackenzie Astin, John Ales, Rachel Wilson, Jennifer Morrison. (Video, 92 min.)
If you've never seen anything like The Zeros, don't worry, you're not alone. Set in an eerie, vaguely futuristic world, Ryman's film is part comic road trip film, part David Lynch daydream, and all weird. The story revolves around Joe, who embarks on a quixotic journey to track down his long-lost love Joyce. Karaoke, strippers, New Orleans, and mutant TV talking heads are only part of Joe's wild ride into (in-)sanity. Relax and enjoy the trip. (Bad Dog, 3/10, 5:15pm; Bad Dog, 3/12, 5pm; Bad Dog, 3/16, 7:15pm) -- Marc Savlov