I recently attended the 7th annual Austin Film Festival and Heart of Film Screenwritersí Conference, Oct. 12-19. Attendees included Paul Mazursky (AN UNMARRIED WOMAN), David Chase ("The Sopranos"), John August (CHARLIEíS ANGELS), Shane Black (THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT), Bill Broyles (APOLLO 13), Tim McCanlies (THE IRON GIANT), Polly Platt, (A MAP OF THE WORLD), Anne Rapp (DR. T AND THE WOMEN), Scott Rosenberg (GONE IN 60 SECONDS), and Steven Zaillian (SCHINDLERíS LIST).

My favorite panel was titled Car Chases, Explosions, and Fist Fights, a.k.a. "The Fun Stuff". The panelists were Shane Black, Barry Josephson, and Scott Rosenberg. This panel was so fab because the audience seemed to be 50-50 aspiring screenwriters and action-film fans. Those fans asked what was on their minds, barely pausing to couch their questions in diplomatic terms. And it was great to hear Rosenberg and Black respond baldly that GONE IN 60 SECONDS and ARMAGEDDON and many other movies were pure shite. There was some tap-dancing, however, about why these movies became shite and why these writers continue to participate in the making of big-dollar shite. Not that they needed to admit what was so obvious ó they are where half the folks in the room want to be.

I also attended a roundtable of women in film, where panelists (including Elizabeth Avellan, Polly Platt, Anne Rapp) traveled from table to table, answering questions about their professional trajectories and about what they feel women bring to this industry. Another good panel covered the fine art of adaptation, from page to screen. Then there was this very loud Variety party at the historic Driskill Hotel where I got to buttonhole a few more screenwriters, but which was mostly populated by loads of journalists.

Weíre developing a tendency to talk about movies as though they spring full-grown from the foreheads of directors, so this festival, with itís focus on the screenwriter, definitely keeps it real. But enlightening as it was to hear from the screenwriters, for me itís all about the movies. Hereís a quick and dirty guide to some upcoming releases I got to see at the festival.

CICADAS

Mutiny Productions

Director and Writer: Kat Candler. Producers: Scott Bate, Kat Candler, Shawn Higgins

Kat Candlerís CICADAS could have been just another routine tale of high-school alienation and middle-class family dysfunction. But luckily for us, Candler is bold enough to present a realization of the shifting terrain of adolescence. Where many movies about teens go awry is in their depiction of teen angst at its extreme. This tale of Anna Roberts (Lindsay Broockman), lonely and robbed of her childhood, finds what is personal about a commonplace situation (and also recognizes that it is commonplace and doesnít try to make it tragic) so that you truly empathize with the characters. Standout performances by Paul Conrad as Annaís older brother, Jacob, and Brandon Howe, as James, the new neighbor with whom she begins a tentative dance toward friendship. Highly recommended.

STATE AND MAIN

Fine Line Features

Director: David Mamet

Written by: David Mamet

Producers: Dorothy Aufiero, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Cornick, Sarah Green, Rachael Horovitz, Mark Ordesky

The last two David Mamet movies included roles for his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, and this one is no different. Here, she plays Ann Black, a clear-eyed, decisive bookseller who is neither bowled over by nor cynical about the "movie people" who have invaded her picturesque Vermont hometown. The filmmakers include Wm. H. Macy as the filmís director; Alec Baldwin as a star who has a troublesome and felonious hobby; Sarah Jessica Parker, as the none-too-bright female lead; David Paymer, as an alternately funny and reptile-scary producer; and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the scriptwriter who falls for Ann. This is yet another skewering of the movie business, and no one enjoys seeing it spitted so much as . . . movie industry people! The crowd at this movie laughed out loud and oh so knowingly at every gibe. Whether itíll play in Peoria is another matter, but I would guess that it will. A point that Mamet takes care to make, in fact, is that in the information society, anyone can and is likely to keep abreast of entertainment industry news. The plot is a trifle about obstacles, both internal and external, to the successful filming of this movie, but thatís not the point. The raison díetre of Mamet movies is the dialogue, and STATE AND MAIN does not disappoint. Recommended.

WHAT'S COOKIN'?

Trimark Pictures

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Written by: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha

Producers: David Forrest, Abe Glazer, Beau Rogers, Jeffrey Taylor

Gurinder Chadha also wrote BHAJI ON THE BEACH, but donít let that get your hopes up. WHATíS COOKINí? is simple, simple-minded and formulaic. This trite story introduces four families ó one black, one Jewish, one Latino, and one Vietnamese ó preparing for their family Thanksgiving dinners. Fairly quickly, weíre allowed to see the cracks that are barely beneath the surface of each familyís veneer. Chadhaís thesis here, running counter to Tolstoy, is that all unhappy families are the same, that is, all families have issues to confront. And you can just tell that family with a capital F will overcome by the end of this United Nations of a film. The sad fate of actresses such as Alfre Woodard (It is a crime that this woman isnít cast in more movies.), Mercedes Ruehl, Joan Chen, and Lainie Kazan is that they can be choosy or they can work. For a much better treatment of the horrors of family holidays, rent HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, cuz this oneís a turkey.

The Yards

Miramax

Director: James Gray

Written by: James Gray, Matt Reeves

Producers: Christopher Goode, Jonathan Gordon, Kerry Orent, Matt Reeves, Paul Webster, Nick Wechsler, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein

James Gray wrote the harrowing LITTLE ODESSA a few years back, so I went into THE YARDS with unrealistically high expectations. Mark Wahlberg is Leo Handler, a small-timer whoís just out on parole. His new step-uncle (James Caan) heads a company that has contracts for subway and train cars. Instead of honest gainful employment, though, Leo gets involved with the work of his old pal, Willie (an excellent Joaquin Phoenix), Uncle Frankís "fixer." Needless to say, events spiral out of control, and Leo finds himself a murder suspect. Iíve read that, basically, most criminals are just plain dumb, and to his credit, Wahlberg plays Leo as none too bright. This story doesnít provide the fireworks of LITTLE ODESSA, though Gray returns to his theme of ethnic American families-in- crime and also continues his willingness to kill off major characters. Though itís nice to see so many older actors employed here ó Faye Dunaway, Caan, Tony Musante, a pleasingly cheesy Steve Lawrence, and woman of the month Ellen Burstyn (whose films THE EXORCIST and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM are also on screens now) ó itís not enough reason to see a movie. Faintest recommendation.

ó Roxanne Bogucka, An Action Girl!


HYBRID Ratings Guide:

***** Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

**** Itís worth a full-price ticket.

*** Itís worth a matinee ticket.

** Wait for video rental.

* Check out the video from the library, if you must.

0 While I would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


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