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A cautionary tale for would-be assistants

June 13, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Azita Zendel spent four years as Oliver Stone's assistant, and her debut feature, "Controlled Chaos," is a roman a clef revealing what it was like to cover up for a tempestuous, demanding, Oscar-winning director with a messy private life and substance-abuse issues. Zendel, of course, is not saying that her Rick Jones is literally Stone, and what's more, she strives to be fair-minded in her presentation of Jones, who seems to believe that anything his own private Dr. Feelgood says is FDA-approved can't do him any harm.

"Controlled Chaos" unfortunately also reveals that Zendel's talents do not equal her ambitions. Her film is way too talky, and Zendel should have found ways to pare down the dialogue before starting to shoot. Sadly, too, none of Stone's drive and energy and scabrous wit have rubbed off on her, and the result is a film that is too often merely tedious. There are some individual twists here and there that could come only from personal experience in the Hollywood jungle, but the ruthless, ego-fueled ways of the world of filmmaking are not exactly news.

Still, Zendel deserves credit for her persistence in getting her movie made and onto a screen.

Her narrative does possess a dogged drive, and her film does acquire focus and dimension as it proceeds.

Her alter ego, Elsie, is well-written and well-played by Amy Blomquist. Rick Jones is similarly well-drawn, but Don Hughes is too lightweight an actor to give the director the overpowering and often outrageous impact the role requires if the film is to have a hope of coming fully alive. Other actors range from capable to callow, reflecting the unevenness that characterizes "Controlled Chaos" as a whole.


`Controlled Chaos'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Language, heavy substance abuse

Amy Blomquist...Elsie

Don Hughes...Rick Jones

Eric Engstrom...Slick

Charley Izabella King...Pam Jones

Kurt Hall...Doc

A Lovestreaks production. Writer-producer-director Azita Zendel. Cinematographers Brendon Phillips, Lila Javan, Brian Booth. Editors Eric Chase, Zendel. Music Pinar Toprak. Production designer Zendel. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue. (323) 655-4010.

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