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Festival Honors Method Acting

MOVIES | Screening Room

Character-driven films, performance symposium highlight Pasadena event.

August 19, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Method Festival, designed to celebrate notable performances in independent films, accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. Every one of the films selected for preview from Charter Communications, the festival's sponsor, is marked by outstanding performances. The Method Festival will be held Friday through Aug. 26 at the State Theater, 770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.

Understandably, the films are strongly character-driven, yet most all of them are worthy for more than their performances, although a pair could benefit from tightening. The festival is competitive, and Maximilian Schell, Mark Rydell and Shirley Knight are among those participating in a Method Acting Symposium at the State on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m.

In 1996 Kirk Harris made a notable feature debut as writer, director and star of "Loser" as a troubled young man going nowhere fast. Harris returns in "My Sweet Killer" (Friday at 8 p.m.), which he also wrote, under Justin Dossetti's direction. Although the film is overly theatrical and contrived, Harris is again impressive as an even more disturbed individual, a mental patient with an even darker past than anyone suspects. He's tempted by street drugs, especially when denied any aids to sleep by his perfunctory, dangerously obtuse psychiatrist. Indeed, the film is as much a criticism of the inadequacies of the support available to mentally disturbed outpatients as it is a study of a disintegrating personality.

Andrew Shea's "The Corndog Man" (Friday at 10 p.m.) offers veteran character actor Noble Willingham the role of a lifetime as a perfectly contented 70-something South Carolina boat salesman, who loves to fish, eat and practice his trade, at which he's top-notch. But his life starts unraveling when he begins receiving harassing phone calls from an individual clearly bent on exacting revenge for some terrible past deed. Even though the film does not proceed with the relentless, airtight logic of a "Sorry, Wrong Number," it is nonetheless compelling, thanks especially to Willingham's portrayal of a man systematically destroyed by an only partially glimpsed nemesis (an insinuating, insistent Jim Holmes).

Among the various short films screening is Jared Seide's 26-minute "Creampuff" (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.), an engrossing study of the interplay of power and dependency within a relationship between Jack (Seide), a now-crippledOscar-winner , and Robert, a hefty young man who takes care of him. Robert (Scott Harlan, wonderfully self-possessed) is the object of Jack's constant invective, directed toward Robert's weight and homosexuality. Secure in the knowledge that Jack is helpless without him, Robert serenely ignores the steady stream of insults. "Creampuff's" finish packs a nifty punch.

"Creampuff" is a curtain-raiser for "Eight Lanes in Hamilton," written by Ken O'Donnell, directed by Aslam Amlani and set in a small Oregon town, to which the supremely manipulative wastrel Sandy (a formidable Joe J. Garcia) returns eight years after deserting his wife (Susan Doupe) and their son (Mickey Blaine), now 17, and a younger daughter (Jessica Moon). The film is a largely persuasive, well-acted cautionary tale about the eternal vulnerability of decent people to those who possess no scruples. The pace of life in this little town is mighty slow, and "Eight Lanes" could heighten its already considerable plausibility and impact with some editing.

The above sentence applies even more to "Abilene" (Sunday at 4 p.m.), by far the most accessible film among those previewed. Some judicious trims would improve this observant and wrenching film, written and directed by Joe Camp III in his feature debut. As it is, it's pretty impressive, affording Ernest Borgnine and Kim Hunter two of the very best roles either has had in a while. Hunter plays Emmeline, the lovely, gracious but resigned wife of a surly Texas farmer (Alan North), whose apoplectic nature at last fells him with a massive stroke, from which he cannot be expected to recover and from which he mercifully may not linger long. Borgnine is the man's crusty, long-estranged brother, Hotis, summoned by a hesitant Emmeline. It takes the proud Hotis, recently deprived of his driver's license, three days to cover only 100 miles. In time we realize that the lengthy time it takes the story to get going is part of the point: Hotis and Emmeline, like a number of their friends, live lonely lives that are going nowhere. Other acting honors go to James Morrison, Wendell Pierce, Park Overall, Rance Howard and especially Adrian Ricard as Emmeline's staunch, wise friend.

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