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SCREENING ROOM

A pitch-perfect paean to friends

August 21, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

The International Documentary Assn.'s annual presentation of new films, previously known as DOCtober, returns for the seventh year as the InFACT Theatrical Documentary Showcase. This year, the IDA will showcase 11 features and eight shorts at the ArcLight starting Friday.

Laura Gabbert's "Sunset Story" has such an abundance of wisdom and courage, as well as plenty of warmth and humor, that it lingers in the heart long after it is over.

With affection and respect, Gabbert introduces us to Lucille Alpert, 95, and Irja Lloyd, 79, residents of Sunset Hall, the retirement community for political progressives that is an inviting and attractive oasis in L.A.'s seedy MacArthur Park neighborhood.

Alpert, a social worker, and Lloyd, a special education teacher, both worked until they reached 76. Both are sharp, independent, thinking women much engaged with contemporary issues. Each regards the other as her salvation, arriving at Sunset Hall only two weeks apart and finding themselves surrounded by many people not nearly as alert as they. A serious heart attack has confined Lloyd to a wheelchair, which Alpert can both push and lean on. Together they go to Langer's deli for lunch or visit a beauty salon.

The film is not only a paean to friendship but also, on the part of Alpert, a lesson in the dignified, resolute, un-self-pitying, unblinking confrontation with mortality. Lloyd, in turn, emerges as a pillar of self-reliant creativity and tireless activism. Throughout, Gabbert has hit just the right note of affection and respect.

Trapped

Among the key offerings is Jose Padilha and Marcos Prado's "Bus 174." On July 12, 2000, Sergio do Nascimento, in his late teens, was trapped by police when he attempted to rob a bus passing through Rio's fashionable Botanical Gardens district. Armed with a gun, he took 11 passengers hostage, mainly young women on their way to work.

What ensued became a textbook example of how not to deal with a hostage situation. In the course of the film's overly long two hours, Padilha and Prado reveal the plight of street kids in a society indifferent to them and the brutality, corruption and ineptitude of the country's justice system. The film's inherent urgency could surely be heightened by some tight editing.

The gadfly

Wayne Ewing's "Breakfast With Hunter" is a warm but clear-eyed, up-close portrait of counterculture hero writer-journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Ewing attempts no assessment of Thompson's work, not even to explain that Thompson's landmark 1971 "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" deals with the dying of the American Dream.

This observant documentary will be best appreciated by admirers of Thompson's work. Still, it stands on its own merits as a film journal of the life of an acclaimed writer and an outspoken political gadfly over the span of some months in 1997 and 1998.

Hunter, who lives in considerable style in his ranch outside Aspen, Colo., emerges as a man worth taking seriously for his body of work and for his role as cultural critic even though some of his well-known clownish antics seem childish for a man well into middle age --a man most often seen with a cigarette and a bottle of Chivas Regal close at hand.

"Breakfast With Hunter" becomes more than anything else a chronicle of a famous hard-living writer caught up in the celebrity circuit of fancy limos, hotels and fetes. Ewing leaves it to his viewers to sort out the implications of this aspect of Thompson's life.

Dirty work

The Laemmle Theaters Around the World in Sixty Days weekend series of recent foreign film continues with Aluizio Abranches' revenge drama "The Three Marias," so lurid and fevered that hopefully it is a deliberate put-on. Either way, there is little point beyond suggesting that if women seek lethal revenge they'd better be prepared to do the dirty work and not count on men to do it for them.

Sometime in the early '70s in Northeastern Brazil, the fiery Filomena (Marieta Severo) rejects her fiance Firmino (Carlos Vereza) for another man. Three decades later Firmino is widowed and renews his overtures to Filomena, who again rejects him.

In his rage Firmino orders his two sons to execute Filomena's husband and two sons by some of the most savage methods possible. To her three daughters Filomena declares: "Never feed your pain until you give sustenance to anger!"

To this end, she dispatches each daughter to a hit man to eliminate Firmino and his two sons; not surprisingly, plans go awry in a grisly and bizarre manner.

Abranches is a skilled storyteller with a gift for the outrageous, but "The Three Marias" seems as silly as it is ultra-violent.

*

Screenings

"Sunset Story," "Bus 174," "Breakfast With Hunter"

What: InFACT Theatrical Documentary Showcase, ArcLight, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

When: Friday through Aug. 28.

All films in the festival will receive multiple screenings.

Info: (213) 534-3600

"The Three Marias"

What: Laemmle Theaters Around the World in Sixty Days

When: 11 a.m.: Saturday-Sunday at Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, (323) 655-4010; Aug. 30, 31 and Sept. 1 at Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741; Sept. 6, 7, Playhouse 7, Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; Sept. 13, 24 at Fallbrook 7, West Hills, (818) 340-8710.

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