As Is: A Downsized Life (unrated) Maryanne Galvin. This documentary is "Weekend Update" with its focus split between human interest and Mr. Bill. A somber Tina Fey-type follows the recently down-and-out as they cut their losses and reassess their lives, including downsized Disney designers and a laid-off Winnie the Pooh. Despite the hilarity of the latter's costume, the meat of the unemployment matter is depressing. It's difficult to not feel for the victims of downsizing; but just when the heartstrings grow a bit too taut, inexplicable animation makes its entrance, including stop-motion shoes, environmental awareness comics and Claymation where the subject shaves off his facial features. Ooooh noooooo!Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, November 18, at the Moore Auditorium on the campus of Webster University. (Kristyn Pomranz)
Derailroaded (unrated) A grating but nonetheless worthwhile documentary about obscure '70s joke-rock icon Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, who suffers from both paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression. Fischer's music a crude precursor to Weird Al Yankovic's goes down like gravel to the uninitiated. It would have served first-time filmmaker Josh Rubin well to not pound Fischer's cacophonous soundtrack into the viewer's head so doggedly, but he's a true believer, so he throws caution to the wind which may or may not annoy certain theatergoers into walking out of any given screening. Still, it's a neat slice of Los Angelino subculture reminiscent of (but far inferior to) George Hickenlooper's Mayor of the Sunset Strip, and Rubin rescues his film in its final trimester by tenderly focusing on Fischer's life-threatening bout with mental illness, splicing in thoughtful commentary from Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and a hilarious Afro-American freak named Freak. In any other city, Fischer may have had his illness properly treated long ago. But because he lives in LA, a twisted pack of quasi-famous enablers and fans keep Fischer's "pep." Their insistence upon keeping the nut out of the nuthouse for their own sick amusement almost kills Fischer. They're more fucked up than he is, and Derailroaded intentionally or otherwise illustrates this poignantly. Screens at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (MS)
Rockin' the boat: Iron Island dazzles.
Weirder Al: Joke-rock icon Larry "Wild Man" Fischer (right) and his mom in Derailroaded
The Self-Made Man(unrated) Susan Stern. On the eve of surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, and facing a worsening, though not terminal, case of prostate cancer, 77-year-old Bob Stern set up his video camera and explained to his wife and three adult children that he had decided to kill himself. This remarkable document is the spine of Susan Stern's brief, but utterly absorbing, documentary. Through a collage of interviews, home movies and her own reflections, she examines her father's life from his Depression childhood to his success as an opportunistic businessman, a visionary entrepreneur and a demanding, though loving, husband and father. Stern wisely downplays the larger ethical questions that her father's case raises, and at the end her father's suicide, the ostensible reason for the film's existence, is but the punctuation to a much deeper story, as human and as humane a portrait of one man's life and death as you will ever see. Screens at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 16, at the Tivoli. (Ian Froeb)