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Acting up a storm at Method Fest

March 29, 2007|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

ACTING is what drives the selections for Method Fest, the indie film showcase starting its ninth year tonight in Woodland Hills and Calabasas and continuing through Wednesday. Needless to say, one of the joys of moviegoing is getting caught up in an actor's talent, whether the film is successful or not. "The Elephant King," which shows Sunday, may dwell on a couple of psychically damaged, responsibility-escaping brothers (Jonno Roberts and Tate Ellington) tearing it up in Thailand, but the drama would mean little without Ellen Burstyn. Her facial and vocal anguish with every fruitless, long-distance call to cajole her sons home casts a bitter, poignant pall over the film.

A nasty jumble of a British gangster flick called "Dead Man's Cards" tries mightily to work up a Tarantino-esque mixture of redemptive boxer tale and barroom western. But the film's most effortlessly pulpy appeal comes when craggy-faced Paul Barber (from "The Full Monty") is front and center as a gruff, lone wolf bouncer. There's more surfeit of ambition -- in terms of style and sentiment -- coursing through writer-director Michael Schroeder's "Man in the Chair," a movie-geek fantasy that allies an aspiring 17-year-old filmmaker (Michael Angarano) with a cranky, profanely witted and long-retired Hollywood gaffer. But when the gaffer is played with bottomless old-man gusto by the legendary Christopher Plummer (who's being honored at the fest's awards ceremony), much is forgiven.

Writer-director Brad Gann's taut drama "Black Irish" not only bats a thousand with its memorable cast but offers sharp writing and pinpoint direction to upturn the cliches of the genre: explosive father (the great Brendan Gleeson), cold mother (Melissa Leo), pregnant daughter (Emily VanCamp), thuggish son (Tom Guiry) and obedient son (Angarano again). Gann avoids misery chic by zeroing in on the push-and-pull of the separate relationships within a downtrodden family, so that every small victory for cohesiveness -- a funny father-son talk about women, a bullying older brother sticking up for his weaker sibling -- makes the cruelly timed setbacks even more disturbing.

Iranian cinema

UCLA Film & Television Archive's 17th Annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema begins April 7, with the low-key charmer "When Fish Fall in Love," director Ali Raffi's story of rekindled romance in a seaside town. When political prisoner Aziz (Reza Kianian) returns home after years away, he finds that Atieh (Roya Nonahali), the great love he left behind, has turned his estate into a popular, artisanal restaurant. The conflict is in strong-willed Atieh's fears that her old flame has come to reclaim his property, but suspicions subside with the time-honored connection between a happy stomach and a rekindled heart. Raffi is no kitchen-as-boudoir fantasist: Atieh and the women in her kitchen often sport a realistic film of sweat as they toil at their Persian delicacies. But that only seems to enhance their inner light as figures worthy of love. This is the kind of movie in which a woman bearing a tray studded with mouth-watering dishes is the equivalent of a seductive embrace anywhere else.

REDCAT: Everson

The nuts and bolts of hard work also drives filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson's impressionistic documentary feature "Cinnamon," showing April 9 at REDCAT, about a young black female mortgage loan officer's off-work stint as a racer on the African American dragster circuit. Everson, who likes to fuse experimental technique with images culled from the daily routines of African Americans, has called his great theme "the relentlessness of everyday life," and "Cinnamon" is filled with halting, repetitive bursts of visual and sonic energy. What Everson captures are the intellectual elements of a sport outside the filmic representations that typically rely on the heart palpitations of pure speed and competition. It's an ode to the web of labor and parts that go into a brief, ecstatic burst of performance. "Cinnamon," which has screened at Sundance and Rotterdam, will show with a handful of Everson's short works, including "According to



Method Fest Independent Film Festival

* "Man in the Chair": 6:30 p.m. Saturday

* "The Elephant King": 9 p.m. Sunday

* "Dead Man's Cards": 9 p.m. Monday

* "Black Irish": 9:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Louis B. Mayer Theatre, Motion Picture Television Fund, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills

Info: (800) 838-3006,

UCLA Film & Television Archive 17th Annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema

* "When Fish Fall in Love": 7 and 9:30 p.m. April 7

Where: Billy Wilder Theater, the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood

Info: (310) 206-8013,

Kevin Jerome Everson

* "Cinnamon": 8 p.m. April 9

Where: REDCAT, Disney Hall, 2nd and Hope streets,

downtown L.A.

Info: (213) 237-2800,

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