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The Extra Man leads the RiverRun round-up at 12th annual film festival

by Mark Burger

With the 12 th annual RiverRun International Film Festival opening this week, there are quite a few noteworthy films being screened during its 11-day run. Screenings will take place at the Stevens Center (405 W. 4 th St., Winston-Salem), the a/perture cinemas (311 W. 4 th St.) and in the screening auditoriums at the ACE Exhibition Complex at the School of Filmmaking, on the UNC School of the Arts campus (1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem).

THE EXTRA MAN

The opening-night film, The Extra Man, is the latest effort from the husband-and-wife writer/director team of Robert Pulcini and Sherri Springer Berman (who earned an Oscar nomination for 2003’s American Splendor), an adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel.

This is an offbeat, quirky celebration of friendship, as it throws together a delightfully unlikely duo: Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a bookish would-be playwright seeking self-identity, and Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), himself a one-time playwright, perennial raconteur and over-the-hill escort — of no great repute in any (except to himself), yet willing to share his wit and “wisdom” with the guileless Louis, whose process of “finding himself” leads him down some unusual roads, some comedic, some touching, and others bizarre.

Dano plays his role quite ably, but the film really comes to life whenever Kline is onscreen. With theatrical flourish and dramatic panache, he’s in grand form, yet he never overwhelms the story. Everything is kept in balance, which is imperative in story that is designed to be consistently off-balance.

There’s also room for the supporting cast to make its mark:

Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, Marian Seldes, John Pankow, Alicia Goranson, Dan Hedaya, Patti D’Arbanville and Salem College and UNC School of the Arts alumnus Celia Weston, who seems to be in everything these days and usually quite good — and she is again here.

(7 p.m. April 15 at the Stevens Center, 10:30 a.m. April 18 in the Main Theatre of the UNC School of the Arts campus, 8:30 p.m. April 19 at the a/perture cinema)

THE GOOD HEART

Paul Dano also appears, in a role that’s not entirely dissimilar, in writer/director Dagur Kari’s The Good Heart, a bittersweet comedy/drama reminiscent of the works of Charles Bukowski, America’s Poet Laureate of the Barstool.

Here, Dano plays Lucas, a depressed, homeless drifter who attempts suicide, fails, and winds up in the next hospital bed from Jacques (Brian Cox), an embittered, hard-headed barkeep who has just suffered his fifth heart attack. Jacques forges something of a friendship with Lucas, whom he wants to take over his business, and proceeds to teach him a few things about life — from his own, highly personal and uniquely volatile, perspective. “We’re not here to save people,” Jacques tells Lucas. “We’re here to destroy them.” — and there’s a lot more where that came from.

Dano is in fine form, again playing something of a passive character to whom things happen (as opposed to making them happen), and there’s a nice turn by Isild Le Besco as the French lass who lassoes Lucas into marriage, but it’s Cox who dominates the proceedings with yet another superlative performance, one as creative in its emotional foundation as in the character’s frequent (and frequently uproarious) use of profanity. Like fine wine, Brian Cox just gets better with age, and he’s in peak form here.

This is a little film with a lot of heart and not a little heartbreak.

(8 p.m. April 21 at the Stevens Center, 9:30 p.m. April 24 in the Main Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus, 1:30 p.m. April 25 in the Babcock Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus)

MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE

Presented by no less than David Lynch, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, the latest film from acclaimed director Werner Herzog, is a complete and unmitigated disaster — and maybe the worst film the RiverRun festival has ever shown.

Nevertheless, if you’re going to show a failure, it might as well be one as star-studded and with so seemingly prestigious a pedigree as this one.

Loosely based on an actual incident in 1979, the film stars Michael Shannon as a would-be actor, sometime religious fanatic and full-time bore who, as the film opens, has just murdered his mother (Grace Zabriskie). The reasons why are explored in flashbacks that lurch from one to the next, laden with symbolism both overt and obtuse.

This is one of those films where the entire cast has given itself over to the filmmaker’s “vision,” and the resulting performances are some of the least interesting (and most stilted) that the actors have ever given. The cast also includes Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe, Brad Dourif, Michael Pena, Irma P. Hall, Loretta Devine and Udo Kier — proven commodities all — but the only one to truly survive this misbegotten effort is Peter Zeitlinger, whose cinematography is quite good.

Don’t be surprised, however, if this achieves some sort of cult notoriety. Stranger things have happened (read on) … (7 p.m. April 24 at the Stevens Center, 4:30 p.m. April 25 in the Main Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus)

BEST WORST MOVIE

When he was just a lad, Michael Paul Stephenson played a leading roll in the schlock shocker Troll 2 (1990), a film so widely — and wildly — reviled by critics and audiences that it has, not entirely surprisingly, become a cult favorite among bad-movie buffs worldwide.

In his award-winning feature documentary Best Worst Movie, Stephenson gets behind the camera to offer an amusing, engaging history of Troll 2 and its unexpected legacy. This is a good documentary about a very bad movie.

In addition to the fans, Stephenson encounters old co-stars and friends, including George Hardy, a practicing dentist who played Stephenson’s father in the film, and director Claudio Fragasso, a familiar name among aficionados of Italian horror films (particularly bad ones), who repeatedly states his case that, as much as he enjoys the fans’ appreciation of the film, they don’t seem to understand its distinctive dramatic nuances.

Then again, look what’s happened to those who’ve tried!

(8:30 p.m. April 16 and 7:30 April 17 in the Babcock Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus, 9:30 p.m. in the Main Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus) As an added bonus, there will be a special screening of Troll 2 — yes, the actual Troll 2! — beginning at 11:59 p.m. in the Main Theatre, shortly following the end of the 9:30 show.

SUCK

As rock ‘n’ roll vampire comedies go, writer/director Rob Stefaniuk’s Suck sometimes bites off more than it can chew (pun intended), but it’s an extremely good-looking and refreshingly unpretentious offering that gets by on good vibes.

The up-and-coming rock group the Winners has a new novelty: A bass guitarist (Jessica Pare) who’s a vampire. This tends to complicate the band’s latest tour but it also propels them to the brink of stardom… if only it weren’t for that pesky Dr. Van Helsing (Malcolm McDowell), who’s bent on canceling their tour — permanently. McDowell’s not playing a bloodsucker here, but merrily chews the scenery nonetheless.

Stefaniak (clearly a talent to watch) also plays the bumbling but likable leader of the band, and there are cameos by the likes of Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins and Moby, as well as the requisite in-jokes for fans of rock music and vampire movies. Dave Foley plays the blissfully supportive band manager, and there’s no question that Pare is one of the most alluring screen vampires in many a moon. When she’s onscreen, it’s apparent that Twilight is just kid stuff.

(9:30 p.m. April 16 in the Main Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus, 4:30 p.m. April 17 at the a/perture cinema, 10 p.m. April 23 in the Babcock Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus, 9:30 p.m. in the Gold Theatre on the UNC School of the Arts campus)

For more coverage of RiverRun, see our cover story here

more info 2010 RiverRun International Film Festival April 15-25, 2010 To purchase tickets, or for more information about the 2010 RiverRun International Film Festival, visit the website: www.riverrunfilm.com

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