By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Touch of Evil was his last best shot for a comeback.
The 1958 film, loosely based on a long-forgotten novel by Whit Masterson, originally was intended as a star vehicle for Charlton Heston. According to Hollywood legend, it was Heston who suggested that Welles, already cast as the villain of the piece, be allowed to direct. The studio bosses readily agreed, since Heston, then a hot property in the wake of The Ten Commandments, carried considerable clout. They panicked, though, when they saw how the creator of Citizen Kane had turned a conventional thriller into an impressionistic "art film." The movie was recut, and several scenes were reshot (by contract director Harry Keller). Worse of all, Welles was rebuffed when he desperately tried to regain control of the project. For all practical purposes, the misadventure marked the end of his American directing career.
To be sure, Welles continued to make movies one way or another, in Europe and elsewhere, until his death in 1985. (He financed many of his projects with acting gigs and TV commercials.) And more than a decade after his passing, preservationists working from Welles's notes were able to cobble together a new and improved version of Touch of Evil that is as close to definitive as we're ever likely to see. Even so, the desperate struggles and bitter disappointments that Welles endured for most of his professional life should serve as a sobering object lesson for the first-time filmmakers and eager wanna-bes who will flock to WorldFest/Houston.
Consider: You live by the hype, you can die by the hype. Just ask Michael Cimino, the Oscar-winning Deer Hunter director who has never recovered from the self-indulgent disaster of Heaven's Gate. Check with Steven Soderbergh, who earned top honors at the Cannes Film Festival with sex, lies & videotape in 1989, then dropped almost completely off the radar until the double-barrel comeback of last year's Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Investigate the stalled careers, sad declines or near-complete disappearances of the dozens of hot properties who cooled off or burned out.
Early in Welles's first masterwork, an impudent young Charlie Kane explains why he wants to take over the moribund New York Inquirer: "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper." Watching Citizen Kane, it's easy to think it would be even more fun to make a movie. Trouble is, the fun doesn't always last.
Amy -- Rachel Griffiths, currently on view in Blow as Johnny Depp's monstrously overbearing mother, plays a much more sympathetic parent in Nadia Tass's family drama about an Australian girl who's shocked into speechlessness by witnessing the accidental death of her rock musician father.
Babe -- The little pig who could is back on the big screen for a special SPCA benefit screening.
The Blue Children of Perm -- Galili Smolinsky's documentary focuses on the medical and moral dilemmas facing doctors who must chose eight of 1,000 Israeli children for life-saving heart surgery.
Blue Tower -- Forget about Mt. Fuji and the Ginza. If you've ever wanted to experience the real Japan, this is your chance. Here is an up close and personal view of the lives of another culture's ordinary people. But you must be patient with Katsumi Sakaguchi's film, an excruciatingly detailed depiction of the depressing life of Toru, a 19-year-old social misfit whose only interest seems to be his water flea collection. For those who speak the language, there is lots of languid, repetitive voice-over in which Toru slowly quotes his own teen-angst diary. He finds an abused schoolgirl on a derelict canal boat and takes her home to live. No one seems to find this odd. His downtrodden mother works nights as a legit masseuse. When she tries to make small talk with a client, the man casually belts her. No one seems to find this odd. Eventually Toru and the girl liberate the water fleas to accompanying metaphysical musing. No one seems to find this odd, either. Shot on digital video in the long-shot, long-take style in vogue among young Japanese filmmakers, Blue Tower has a disconcertingly immediate quality. It also has a disconcertingly murky narrative. (J.H.)
The Bread, My Sweet -- All grown up since Happy Days, Scott Baio makes a personable impression as the lead in writer-director Melissa Martin's sentimental drama. The plot revolves around Dominic (Baio), a Pittsburgh-based mergers-and-acquisitions executive who somehow finds time to operate a neighborhood bakery with his brothers Eddie (Billy Mott), a hungry womanizer, and Pinio (Shuler Hensley), a mentally challenged gentle giant. Dominic's favorite customers -- and, apparently, closest friends -- are Italian immigrants Massimo (John Sietz) and Bella (Rosemary Prinz), an elderly couple who rent the apartment above his bakery. When the sweetly maternal Bella confides that she's dying of cancer, Dominic impulsively decides to make her final days happier by marrying her footloose daughter, Lucca (Kristen Minter). Initially dubious, Lucca reluctantly agrees to the setup to fulfill Bella's dream of a lavish wedding for her only child. Nothing that happens next is surprising, but much of it is surprisingly affecting. (J.L.)