By Leonard Klady

Opening Weekend Festival Picks

The Champagne Spy (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.). The saga of an Isreali agent posing as a German horse breeder in 1960s Egypt is detailed through the eyes of his son. The non-fiction exploration tantalizes as the image and reality skews when his cover is blown and he becomes a media celebrity for a fleeting moment. The pursuit of the son to discover a father that by necessity had to be oblique isn’t quite as compelling.(Landmark Pavillion)

It’s Winter (Saturdy, 2:30 p.m.). A brooding and elliptical love story from Iran. Naturalistic and poetic, the film grapples with a young mechanic who’s come to Tehran seeking gainful employment who becomes enamored with a young woman and her child abandoned by a husband seeking a better life. The sense of longing muted by culture reserve provides the film with poignancy. (Mann Festival)

Join Us (Saturday, 7:15 p.m.). A documentary exploration of religious cultism made chilling by the seeming avuncular quality of its leader. The film is most effective in conveying how easy it is to fall under a charismatic spell as it details how four families seek to wrest his control at a deprogramming center but only find catharsis by returning to confront their victimizer.(Majestic Crest)

The Last Winter (Friday, 9:30 p.m). A horror yarn with an ecological strain. Flaunting genre conventions the film outwardly recalls The Thing with its Arctic locations but places its emphasis on characters unraveling rather than visualized perils. Centered around a team exploring the ecological impact of oil drilling in an Alaska reserve it definitely gets across not to fool with Mother Nature. (Majestic Crest)

Liberty Kid (Saturday, 7:45 p.m.). There’s the suggestion of something catastrophic brewing in this story of two young men who lose jobs at the Statue of Liberty on September 12, 2001. Ultimately it’s a very engaging and life-affirming tale despite endless bad decisions and dead ends as they strive to create new lives. The film’s disarming honesty trumps the sort of hyped drama we’ve been accustomed to swallow in similar sagas. (Landmark Regent)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Friday, 6:30 p.m.). John Ford’s classic 1962 western about “printing the legend” rather than the banal truth is worth revisiting. It’s a great story of the civilization of the American frontier that’s effectively bittersweet. John Wayne and James Stewart are clearly 20 years too old for their roles and one can only fondly imagine the actors doing it on the heels of Stagecoach and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. (Billy Wilder Theater)

Prison Town, USA (Saturday, 3 p.m.). One of the stronger documentary entries, the film takes a close look at a small California town whose penitentiary is the primary economic engine. Rather than merely a look inside, it trails struggling farmers not benefiting from the institutional presence, those trying to get guard jobs and inmates making the transition to the outside. Humanistic and non-judgmental, it has plenty of sneaky punches to shake up one’s preconceptions.(Landmark Regent)

Straight Time (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.). Dustin Hoffman at the height of his commercial clout began directing an adaptation of Edward Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce, a tale of a recidivist struggling to go legit when he gets out of prison. On the second day of filming it proved too much and he begged Ulu Grosbard to take over and that led to a famous fight over final cut. Despite the acrimony it’s one of the actor’s best performances and a brutally frank examination of a character whose best efforts are thwarted by his worst instincts and an indifferent and suspicious society. A real gem. (Billy Wilder Theater)

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon