Here are my five movies to look for during the Atlanta Film Festival:
THE TV SET (R) 4 stars – Writer/director Jake Kasdan exploits his behind-the-scenes experience with such TV series as "Freaks and Geeks" for a knowing satire of the television industry. Reminding us of his gifts as a comic actor, David Duchovny plays a writer/producer trying to create the pilot of a dramedy inspired by his brother's suicide, only to see his labor of love suffer a death of a thousand compromises. Comparable in tone and wit to HBO's many sitcoms about Hollywood, The TV Set stands out as a particularly shrewd film about show business, partly because the roles aren't gross caricatures but hard-working, passionate individuals, hypersensitive about hurting each other's feelings but pitted against each other by the debased demands of network television.
Sigourney Weaver offers a funny turn as Lenny, a brash, workaholic executive who hates "smart" and likes "broad." Lenny would not care for The TV Set. Fri., April 20, 7:45 p.m.
THE KING AND THE CLOWN (NR) 4 stars – In 16th-century Korea, a group of minstrels lampoons a tyrannical king (Jung Jin-young) and bets their lives that they can make him laugh. South Korea's top-grossing film of all time, The King and the Clown proves reminiscent of Farewell, My Concubine with its lavish period detail, behind-the-scenes portrayal of Asian performing arts and homosexual subtext in the relationship of the lead characters. The film avoids spelling out the intimate details in the relationship between outspoken acrobat Jang-seng (Kam Woo-sung) and his androgynous partner Gong-gil (Lee Joon-ki), but the depths of their love is undeniably affecting. The film draws out too long and becomes a bit too melodramatic, but it's a compelling tale about a true dilemma: If a king is a psycho, having him as a fan might be more dangerous than incurring his wrath. Wed., April 25, 9 p.m.
ROCKET SCIENCE (R) 3 stars – Jeffrey Blitz, the director of the terrific documentary Spellbound, goes back to school for another tale of competitive, compulsive students, in this case, a fiction film about high school debate teams. Scheming debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) encourages lovelorn Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson) to try out for the debate team, despite his debilitating stutter. At times Rocket Science's ironic, deadpan tone feels overly calculated, as if Blitz tries too hard to emulate Napoleon Dynamite and films of Wes Anderson (they're all similarly amused at the sight of foreigners who behave foolishly). Nevertheless, Rocket Science's script takes surprising twists and satisfying resolutions, buoyed by the performances of its young cast (including Nicholas D'Agosto as a legendary but enigmatic debater) and the music of the Violent Femmes. Fri., April 27, 7:15 p.m.
DANTE'S INFERNO (NR) 3 stars – Director Sean Meredith presents a one-of-a-kind adaptation of Dante Alighieri's epic journey through the nine circles of hell. With a far-ranging and bawdy satirical spirit, the filmmakers (including puppeteer Paul Zaloom) bring the text to life with hand-drawn paper puppets that resemble scathing editorial cartoons in motion. Although the script hews to the structure of Dante's original cantos, the film presents a torn-from-the-headlines vision of hell, with echoes of New York street protests, exclusive gated communities and Washington corruption (complete with a song about lobbyists that's like the evil twin of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill"). At one point, Dante (voiced as a hungover urbanite by Dermot Mulroney) accuses his irascible guide, Virgil (James Cromwell), of making up sordid details about history's worst popes, and Virgil replies, "Young man, go forth and Google." Sat., April 21, 7 p.m.; and Tues., April 24, 1:45 p.m.
AMERICAN FUGITIVE: THE TRUTH ABOUT HASSAN (NR) 3 stars – The 2001 Iranian film Kandahar drew worldwide attention for the unexpected cameo appearance by Hassan Abdulrahman, aka Daoud, aka David "Teddy" Belfield, an African-American radical who spent the past 25 years in exile in Iran for the 1980 assassination of one of the Shah of Iran's spokesmen in America. This Canadian documentary (in English with French subtitles) finds Hassan to be both an articulate and remorseless subject, whose life and politics span from the origins of America's black-radical movements in the 1960s to the failures of the Islamic Revolution a generation later. American Fugitive offers a compelling, fatalistic footnote to how the War on Terror has evolved. Wed., April 25, 9:30 p.m.; and Thurs., April 26, 4:30 p.m.
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