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Capsule movie review: ‘Handmade Nation’

Also: ‘In My Sleep’ and ‘Sita Sings the Blues.’

April 23, 2010

A compact look at the rise of the homegrown world of art and crafts — or as it's sometimes noted here, art versus crafts — Faythe Levine's documentary "Handmade Nation" takes viewers inside a movement that has gone far beyond your mother's knitted scarves and needlepoint pillows. Although it's not yet big business in the global sense (nor does it aspire to be), do-it-yourself crafting has proven a viable career for a wide swath of talented young American artists and creators, dozens of whom are informatively captured by Levine's road-tripping cameras.

Levine profiles an intriguing cross-section of the socially conscious, eco-friendly folks who work in such media as paper, glass, thread and fabric, crafting and selling handmade jewelry, books, clothing, quilts, calendars and much more. How and why these largely female entrepreneurs and artists produce their wares is examined, with an emphasis on the creative fulfillment and self-empowerment that helps drive their unique work. It's a gentle, enlightening film, with great respect and admiration for its genial subjects that easily spills over to the viewer.

However, unlike the eclectic, indie-spirited topic, Levine takes a mostly point-and-shoot approach to her filmmaking, which could have used a bit more of the DIY inventiveness shown in the movie's nifty opening and closing credits.

—Gary Goldstein

"Handmade Nation." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

Murder, while sleepwalking?

Writer-director Allen Wolf loads "In My Sleep" with so much psychosexual baggage you wish he just focused on one emotional affliction to propel this mediocre whodunit. Instead, we're taken on a bumpy ride with main character Marcus (Philip Winchester), a sex-addicted, commitment phobic masseuse with mother and father issues, who may or may not have killed Ann (Kelly Overton), his best friend Justin's (Tim Draxl) susceptible wife.

Marcus' uncertainty about Ann's startling murder is because of his lifelong parasomnia, a disorder that causes him to do things in his sleep that he can't remember the next morning. Though that little defect annoys the heck out of the buff guy's many hot hook-ups, on the plus side, it enables him to conveniently deflect accusations of sexual impropriety with the howler, "I was sleepwalking at the time." Guys, feel free to borrow that one any time.

Most of the film involves a guilt-ridden — and perpetually shirtless — Marcus and his earnest attempts to figure out if he actually did kill Ann and if the act somehow connects to his philandering father's death a few decades earlier, a mysterious subject Marcus' angry mother (Beth Grant) near operatically eludes. It's ultimately all too contrived and superficial to feel convincing, despite the story's often lurid appeal.

—Gary Goldstein

"In My Sleep." MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, violence and bloody images. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

Kicky animation, music buoy ‘Blues'

It's not in 3-D, it wasn't voiced by Hollywood heavyweights, and its budget was a fraction (of a fraction) of the average studio animated feature, but "Sita Sings the Blues" handily holds its own against its megaplex brethren — and then some. Written, produced, directed, edited and animated by singularly talented comic-strip artist Nina Paley, "Sita" is an ingenious and captivating little musical that stirs the soul and inspires the heart. It's also totally fun.

Paley juxtaposes a version of her real-life romantic travails against the story of the 2,500-year-old Sanskrit epic poem "Ramayana," while a trio of Indian-accented shadow puppets humorously attempts to recall the details of that ancient prince-dumps-goddess myth.

But it's the film's musical numbers, in which "Ramayana" dumpee Sita — transformed here into a saucer-eyed, hula-hipped, Betty Boop-like chanteuse — shares her pain via the lip-synced vocals of popular jazz-era singer Annette Hanshaw, that steal the show. These kicky, flash-animated ditties are a hoot to behold, with the toe-tapping "Who's That Knocking at My Door?" a standout.

Paley employs an eclectic array of animation styles (hand-painted, computer-generated, collages and more), kooky images and even an amusing three-minute "intermission" to tell "Sita's" playfully ironic tale, one that should enchant adults and savvier kids alike.

—Gary Goldstein

"Sita Sings the Blues." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

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