Today at the Dallas International Film Festival (4/2/11)

Here are reviews of movies from last night that will repeat today and this week, reviews of other films showing today, and a few picks that have generaged good buzz coming into the Dallas Independent Film Festival.

REVIEWS FROM LAST NIGHT

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times (Repeats Today at 12:15 p.m – Angelika 7): Media columnist David Carr is the feisty heroic center of this love letter to the Gray Lady and to the value of old-fashioned newspapering — even in a world where the paper and ink have gone out of a style. It’s fun to spend 100 minutes watching smart people with a passion for their craft push themselves to produce extraordinary work. The points that the film makes about the industry’s troubled finances, and the questions it raises about how well we’re served by a new media landscape dominated by aggregators and rumor mills (like Gawker and the Huffington Post), cover no territory unfamiliar to anyone who pays even a little attention to the state of the media business. The movie offers no solutions for how we can guarantee the future of institutions like the Times, because no one has those solutions. But seeing a small segment of the paper’s dedicated reporters and editors hard at work can’t help but give you hope. — Jason Heid


Lucky (Repeats Today at 12:30 p.m. – Magnolia 5): It’s the classic story of boy meets girl. Or, more accurately, serial killer (and lottery-winning) boy meets kind, but gold-digging girl, and Ann Margret’s around too. It’s not that Lucky is a bad movie, because it’s not. It is, however, a movie that never quite finds its place on the dark comedy spectrum, oscillating between lighthearted “Oh look at the dead body” gags and actual murder. (I mean, not actual, actual. Everyone left the theater alive, far as I know. But the lead characters kill a few innocent people.)

The first and third acts of the film are fine, filled with a decent amount of full-audience laughs. The second act (when murder comes to play), is nearly devoid of comedy, leaving the audience to wonder if the first act was actually funny, or just funny because the guy in the front of the screening told us it was a dark comedy. Colin Hanks is serviceable in the film, but shows no real command of a role that requires more nuance due to his character’s complexity. Jeffrey Tambor is underused, and Ann Margret serves no purpose other than attaching her name to the bottom of the movie poster.

Ari Graynor is the saving grace of the film, channeling the least annoying qualities of Anna Faris and exhibiting a decent handle on physical comedy. Lucky will never be this summer’s Little Miss Sunshine, but it might be this year’s Choke: a film with decent potential, but not enough care to pull it all together. — Bradford Pearson (Follow Bradford on twitter throughout the fest: (@bradfordpearson)

Shorts Program 1 (Repeats Today at 3 p.m. – Angelika 6): The first of two collections of shorts at the Dallas IFF showed a wide variety of themes, approaches, and success with the medium. Highlights include Moon Molson’s “Crazy Beats Strong Every Time,” a parable of violence about a young African-American man who stumbles upon his alcoholic step father passed out in a stairwell and decides – against his friends’ wishes – to help get the guy a place to rest. The escalating situation climaxes with a struggle in the front seat of the car, both man and young man contemplating suicide and murder. What leavens the tale is the well-executed comedy by ensemble characters.

“The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting” is a thin, but enjoyable comedy whose charm lies in its effective comic conceit: a man describes a fantastic story about stumbling upon a gaggle of naked women in a moonlit forest. The girls then put on feathered cloaks, turn into swans, and fly away. One day, the man steals one of the cloaks and film cuts to a dinner table where we realize the man is describing how he met his girlfriend. It is a hilarious take on relationship anxiety that flip-flops in mood a few times before the surprising climax. David Lowery’s “Pioneer” also blurs fantasy and reality to create a hyperbolic vignette about the relationship between a dad and his boy. When the child awakes at night, he asks his dad to tell him about his mother. The story goes back to the father’s journey to America on a boat, his drafting into the Civil War, Indian battles, baby thieves, and all sorts of escalating, fantastic episodes that become increasingly funny as they are absurdly unbelievable. The filmmakers do well to leave numerous details unexplained or unacknowledged – costumes, story details – so that “Pioneer” never becomes a pure fantasy tale, just a touching portrait of fatherly love. — Peter Simek

Midnight Shorts (Repeats Today at 10:15 p.m. – Angelika 7): While the shorts in the regular competition program succeed in various degrees at achieving emotional poignancy, the midnight shorts proved vastly more enjoyable to watch, if only for their visceral ambition and the delight they take in pure movie making. The best two in the program, “Sasquatch Birth Journal 2” and “The Legend of Beaver Dam” are so off-the-wall hilarious and enjoyable that I won’t spoil any of their from-left-field impact by spilling any bloody details. Nicholas McCarthy’s “The Pact” is a fairly effective ghost tale that does a good job at creating a tense, tightly-stretched and spooky experience. “All Flowers In Time,” starring Chloë Sevigny, is largely a boggled jumble of David Lynch-style surrealist cinema tricks, but it does manage to create a few freak-out moments and enough jumps to keep you guessing and engaged. — Peter Simek

The Legend of Hell’s Gate: An American Conspiracy (Repeats Apr 7 at 10 p.m. – Angelika 6): Starting with the overblown title, it’s all just too much. Far too many unnecessary subplots and characters. And a score that huffs and puffs and leaves seemingly no moment without musical accompaniment, as though fearful that we’ll be lost without its constant emotional cues. This low-budget western, set in 1876 North Texas, adds up to far less than the sum of its many superfluous parts. My guess is that director Tanner Beard couldn’t decide which movie he wanted to make: a historical drama based on a little-known legend about the true fate of an infamous killer, or a pale imitation of a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-like buddy movie. He just needs to call this version a rough draft, dive back in, and remove about half of the current cut. Then he might have something. Maybe.  — Jason Heid

13 Assassins (Repeats Apr 9 at 10 p.m. – Angelika Plano 3): Y’all like blood? How ‘bout revenge? Oh, and what’s that now, hour-long fight scenes are your weak spot? Well step right up folks, 13 Assassins is here to please.

A quick rundown of how I chose what movies to see at this year’s DIFF: if the title had anything to do with killing or weaponry, I was in. 13 Assassins is about 12 samurais, and a 13th dude who kills people with rocks, a la David and Goliath. I’m soon going to use this logic when I make every day decisions, just to see how things progress. I see plenty of Death by Chocolate cakes and Murder, She Wrote in my future. But as I was saying, plenty of anticipatory build-up (A shamed family! A girl with no limbs! Or tongue!), coupled with a wide lens that made me feel like I was in an iMax theater, and 13 Assassins had me hooked in the first 20 minutes. But it kept me in my seat for the next 120 minutes (yes, it’s 140 minutes long) was care to the individual characters, personal vendettas, and the aforementioned hour-long fight scene to end the movie.

As a warning, the first 20 minutes are almost unwatchable due to the gore, but stick it out. But be warned, it’s a film for a very specific audience, mainly the type of people who ask, in at theater full of people, “Does this 141 minute run time include the 14-minute bordello scene from the original Japanese print?” That dude was wearing a red beret all night, though, so unless he was going to a screening of Rushmore later, I think we can all just agree he might have been a little bonkers. — Bradford Pearson (Follow Bradford on twitter throughout the fest: (@bradfordpearson)

Other Reviews of Movies Showing Today

The Perfect Game: Northpark AMC 4 4 p.m. Read about it in our festival preview.

Boy Wonder: Northpark AMC 4 10:15 p.m. Read about it in our festival preview.

Soul Surfer: Northpark AMC 9 7:30 p.m. Read about it in our festival preview.

Being Elmo: Angelika 6; 12:30 p.m. Read about it in our opening night review

Today’s Movies With Good Buzz

Wuss: Magnolia 5; 8:15 p.m: Produced by the guys who run the Texas Theater, Wuss is a dark comedy about a bullied high school boy who teams up with a girl for revenge. Expect beautiful cinematography and sharp tongues.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Magnolia 5: 3 p.m.: A Sundance favorite, Morgan Spurlock turns the guy on the street documentary style to the motion picture industry to skewer commercialism yet again.

Comments

  • Michael Thomson

    My favorite film of the festival so far has been Legend of Hell’s Gate. I couldn’t have agreed LESS with Jason Heid, the film was entertaining, shockingly humorous and for a low budget western beautifully shot! Director Tanner Beard with a great cast really knocked my socks off! Thanks let’s keep western alive.

  • jeremy

    Summer Glau plays in Legend of Hell’s Gate, this is enough to at least have a look at it.
    The Festival had its red carpet at the Angelika Theatre in Dallas yesterday, and among the attending directors, actors and moviegoers was Ms. Summer Glau.
    You can find the pictures and many more at The Summer Glau Wiki : http://summerglauwiki.com