Top picks of the flicks at the Deep Ellum Film Festival

05:38 PM CDT on Thursday, October 23, 2003

It's not often that Dallas audiences get an early peek at some of the best films set to open in the fall and winter. But that's exactly what the Deep Ellum Film Festival is offering in its fifth year.

It's clear which flicks are the top picks: The Cooler, Die Mommie Die!, The Triplets of Belleville, The Fog of War and Bubba Ho-tep. But others may pique your curiosity and be well worth seeing.

The following summaries are from staff writers Rob Clark, Gary Dowell, Charles Ealy and Chris Vognar.


IN AMERICA: Paddy Considine gives off star wattage in Jim Sheridan's sentimental tale of an Irish family making the transition to New York and trying to grieve for a lost child. Some nice moments and raw power, but it's hard to shake the feeling that the movie wants you to cry. Not that that's a bad thing. (7 p.m. Friday, Angelika) C.V.

DIE MOMMIE DIE!: Charles Busch is a hoot as the washed-up singing star Angela Arden, who still has a killer wardrobe and delusions of grandeur. Jason Priestley, being the best of sports, plays the lover not only of Angela but also of Angela's daughter (Natasha Lyonne) and son (Stark Sands). Frances Conroy has a fine role as a platitude-spouting maid. Campy melodrama at its best, with lots of allusions to some of your favorite divas. (7:30 p.m. Friday, Angelika) C.E.


GIRL WRESTLER: Filmmaker Diane Zander's documentary is a finely crafted, often touching look at a 13-year-old Austin girl who likes to wrestle. Young Tara Neal battles critics inside and outside the ring – including those who believe girls should not wrestle boys – as she struggles to the National Championships. An intriguing look at modern girlhood. (11:30 a.m. Saturday, Angelika) G.D.

BUTTLEMAN: Think of Jackass: The Movie. Then think of a tame series of stunts. Then add a guy who has no self-awareness and actually believes he's a heroic "professional risk taker." This is the essence of Buttleman. Your enjoyment will be in direct relation with your ability to identify with the would-be hero, played by John Hawkes. (1:30 p.m. Saturday, Angelika) C.E.

MANHOOD: Nestor Carbonell stars as Jack the Dog, a single parent who's trying to raise a son and deal with a wild nephew who has been dumped at his door by his sister (Janeane Garofalo). It turns out that the sister is having a crisis with her loser husband (the late John Ritter). Manhood strives to be a dark comedy in the early stages, but descends into maudlin territory by the end. (7:45 p.m. Saturday, Angelika) C.E.

SHTICKMEN: This Dallas mockumentary focuses on the weird world of standup comedy. Its ambitions are similar to those of Christopher Guest's Best in Show, shining a light on a group of misfits. The central character is Johnny Crass, who teaches a comedy class full of people who want to be funny but aren't. North Texans Jeff Hays and Eric Jewell serve as writers, producers and directors. Definitely a festival curiosity. (9:30 p.m. Saturday, Angelika) C.E.


DAY OFF THE DEAD: A whimsical, romantic journey through a surreally animated world populated by skeleton people. The adventures of Dead Jack and Jill are full of sly, clever and occasionally bawdy humor. Screening as part of Shorts block 5. (12:30 p.m. Sunday, Angelika) G.D.

SCREEN DOOR JESUS: Fans of the short story collection by Texas writer Christopher Cook will be curious to see how the big-screen adaptation of his Screen Door Jesus turned out. Don't let this stop you from going, but be prepared. The characters are far too plentiful, the epiphanies far too frequent. And there's nothing more tedious that listening to stereotypes debate religion. (3 p.m. Sunday, Angelika) C.E.

IN THE NAME OF LOVE: Shannon O'Rourke explores the world of Russian marriage agencies and the desperate Russian women and rich American men who use them. Ms. O'Rourke focuses not only on several couples but also on two agency heads and their oft-disturbing outlook on love and romance. An eye-opening dissection of the highs and lows of modern love. (10 p.m. Sunday, Angelika) G.D.


PARTY MONSTER: Newshounds may remember the case of a New York party organizer whose life began to spiral out of control when he started bragging about killing his roommate. Macaulay Culkin stars as the guy who injected his friend with Drano and dumped the body in the East River. Co-starring Chloe Sevigny and Seth Green. (7:30 p.m. Monday, Angelika) C.E.


THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE: Don't miss this one. The French have produced an incredibly eccentric animated feature that needs few words. It focuses on a mother who tries to help her misfit son become a bicycling champ, only to see him kidnapped during a race. With the help of her trusty dog and three former vaudeville stars, she sets out to free the boy from the clutches of a gangster. A hit in Cannes, and a surefire winner in Dallas. (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Angelika) C.E.

THE TRILOGY I: ON THE RUN: Written and directed by and starring Lucas Belvaux, this French drama is an intense, noirish thriller about Bruno, an ex-revolutionary who escapes from prison and attempts to settle some scores and pick up his crusade where he left off, even though his former colleagues have since moved on. Mr. Belvaux gives a harrowing performance as the selfish and dangerously obsessive Bruno. (9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Angelika) G.D.


MELVIN GOES TO DINNER: This drama/black comedy comes from the minds of writer Michael Blieden (who stars as the title character) and director Bob Odenkirk, co-creator of the great HBO program Mr. Show. It centers on four thirtysomethings during one long dinner conversation that hits all the big issues: love, faith, sex, death. Melvin may try to be too many things with all that heady gabbing, but it's often witty and, as the wine continues to flow, raw and brutally honest. (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Angelika) R.C.

THE COOLER: William H. Macy is in downtrodden schlump mode. He plays a Vegas denizen with luck so bad it's contagious. Alec Baldwin is the casino honcho who hires him to cool off winning customers with his mere presence – until he wins the heart of a cocktail waitress (Maria Bello) and he's no longer needed. Clever and well-written, with Mr. Baldwin's best scene-stealing turn since Glengarry Glen Ross. (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Magnolia) C.V.

THE FOG OF WAR: You could say that Errol Morris is at the top of his game – except that he's always at the top of his game. This time, the documentary maestro delivers a penetrating, surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Robert S. McNamara, focusing on but not limited to his role as secretary of defense during the Vietnam War. The usual Morris visual magic and unmatched eye for internal human conflict. (9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Angelika) C.V.

GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS: Paired with Die Mommie Die!, this flick makes the Deep Ellum fest look like a weekend at camp. Three men play actresses who are struggling to find love and happiness in heartless Tinseltown. Jack Plotnick is Evie, the witch who has nothing nice to say about anyone. Clinton Leupp stars as her hapless assistant, Coco. And Jeffery Roberson is Varla/Marla, the overweight starlet. The humor is wicked, but not nearly as sharp as in Die Mommie Die! (9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Angelika) C.E.


BUBBA HO-TEP: Long ago, Elvis switched places with an impersonator, and he's still alive. But he's living in a nursing home in East Texas, along with Ossie Davis, who swears that he's JFK but has undergone a dye job. The two must team up to battle a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy that's preying on the old folks. Bruce Campbell is nothing short of great as Elvis. And this has all the makings of a cult classic. Clearly one of the best of the fest. (7 p.m. Thursday, Angelika) C.E.