The Method Fest

Now in its eighth year, the Method Fest (named for the Stanislavsky approach to acting) continues to hold to its goal of celebrating actors and their craft. That emphasis on performances instead of celebrity power or flashy filmmaking means a host of secondary bonuses for the viewer: films populated with bodies that bulge or sag like those of mere mortals; the occasional discovery of an offbeat cinematic voice that rings with unforced idiosyncrasy. But it also means too many films that are lazily executed in terms of screenwriting, directing, cinematography, etc., and which risk turning the festival’s mission statement into a loophole for mediocrity. Into this camp fall many of the films made available for preview this year. In director Eric Byler’s Tre, the spoiled, blunt (but deep-down sensitive and insightful) title character (Daniel Cariaga) moves into the mountaintop home shared by horse trainer Gabe (Erik McDowell) and Gabe’s girlfriend, Kakela (Kimberly-Rose Wolter), then proceeds to pull at the threads of the couple’s relationship until it unspools. It’s a mildly interesting character study of jealousy and deception that owes more to the casting agent’s eye (McDowell and Wolter are beautiful) than to the script or the merely competent lead performances. Slightly stronger is The Actress, in which the mysterious Emma (Caitlin Higgins) seduces the two geeky men and lovesick young lesbian who welcome her into their home, ultimately turning them against one another. Emma is a beguiling cypher whose agenda is never really made clear, but the feline, sexily smug Higgins almost makes the clichés in the screenplay seem bearable. Both the most interesting and most disappointing film previewed, Bangkok starts off as an unpredictably quirky psychological profile of its lead character, Paul (Abel Johnson), a disgraced soldier who discovers information that contradicts the official story on what happened to his father in Vietnam and heads east to see what he can learn for himself. Though Johnson’s performance is initially quite wonderful, impressively navigating the space between the character’s dimwit and smart-ass attributes, when Bangkok turns into a forced male-bonding dramedy between Paul and two misfits he encounters on the road, the film becomes a jarring clash of tones and conflicting purposes that throws Johnson off his game. Proof that even a talented actor is at a loss without a good script and a good director to guide him. (Louis B. Mayer Theater, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills & Viewpoint School, 23620 Mulholland Hwy., Calabasas; thru April 7;

—Ernest Hardy


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