Today At the Dallas International Film Festival (4/4/11)

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.


Documentary Shorts (Repeats: Today, 9:45 p.m. – Angelika 8) As with all of the short programs at this year’s festival, the quality of the films has ranged rather broadly. In the documentary shorts slate, the highlights include Tussilago, a animated dramatization of an interview with the former girlfriend of a West German terrorist, and “39-A: A Travel tale of Interminable,” a high brow spoof on art theory, deconstruction, documentaries, and reality itself. “Grandpa’s Wet Dream” is a curious entry. Briefly following 75-year-old Japanese porn star Shigeo Tokuda, it spends a third of its 16 minutes setting the audience up for the sensational revelation: that an ordinary middle-aged man with a wife and family was somehow roped into a decades-long career in the adult entertainment industry. The film then leads to a moment of self-reflection on the part of Tokuda, who is challenged by a friend to wonder what the legacy of his “acting” will be. At 16 minutes, we are not given much time with Tokuda, but what is most striking is the bland normalcy of the little man, calloused perhaps by a life mediocrity and districted by questions of legacy at any cost.

“Just About Famous” and “The High Level Bridge” generate laughs, but through widely different menas. Matt Mamula and Jason Kovacsev’s “Just About Famous” offers a brief glimpse into the world of celebrity impersonators, submerging us in the world just long enough to share a taste of the eccentric, un-hinged personalities that seem to be a job requirement for the gig. “The High Level Bridge” is a sardonic, black comedy by Canadian Trevor Anderson, who reflects upon the notorious history of a bridge in Edmonton that has been the setting of countless suicides, concluding by throwing the camera itself off the bridge. – Peter Simek

October (Repeats April 5, 4 p.m. – Angelika 6): What is a family? Is it the people who brought you to life, or the people who stand by you every day? In the case of October, a family is a moneylender, his newborn baby, the single woman next door, an old man who’s incredibly adept at crossword puzzles, and the old man’s wife, who he recently sneaked out of a hospital. If this sounds like it has the makings of a Little Miss Sunshine brand of comedy, you couldn’t be more wrong.


October is an at times bleak look at every day life in Lima, Peru and centers around Clemente, a loan shark who is forced to take care of a baby dropped in his home. That the baby is the product of Clemente and a prostitute becomes the central narrative of the film, bringing all of the other main characters into the fold. The film is a stunning case study of personal reflection and growth, and a fine example of how much can be done with little dialogue. Shot in Spanish with English subtitles, October succeeds because it allows the viewer to see the changes in Clemente, rather than just rely on the character’s word to indicate a transformation. October crams more passion and emotion into 83 minutes than most films twice as long. It’s the best film I’ve seen at DIFF. — Bradford Pearson


By Day And By Night (Repeats April 5, 4 p.m. – Magnolia 4): Add Mexican director Alejandro Molina’s sci-fi meditation on family, love, and the bio-polar human tendency towards beauty and soul-crushing order to the long list of films at this year’s Dallas IFF that are astoundingly beautiful and mind-numbingly dull. By Day and By Night takes place in a fictional future in which a team of scientists have constructed a perfect city isolated from the rest of the natural world where the population has been segregated into two “shifts” to increase human productivity, one working at night and one during the day. In between sci-fi babble about how this was achieved (injected enzymes and the rest) the film follows three main characters. The first is a guilty scientist who has come to realize that this experiment, while greatly increasing life spans, has crushed the human spirit. Then there is Aurora (Sandra Echevarr), a woman who has lost her daughter but soon discovers that she has been switched from the day shift to the night shift, meaning Aurora will never see her awake again, as the humans are programmed to drop into deep sleep according to their shift roles. Finally there’s Urbano (Manuel Balbi) the son of the scientist who created the movie’s “New World Order” and later repented, fleeing into the “exterior” outside the city.

Comprised of numerously excruciatingly slow scenes a la Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tarkovskiy’s Solaris, By Day and By Night offers Molina an opportunity to indulge in some drawn-out moments of supposedly meditative poignancy while exploring ideas about human connectedness, familial love, and the suffocating tendencies of excessively ordered society. To that end Molina achieves a few moments of emotional poignancy, particularly with his careful attention to strained, bottled-up affection, but the overall impression is that the film is laboriously (and pretentiously) floundering towards an elusive intellectual – and not dramatic – goal. – Peter Simek


A Kiss And A Promise (Repeats April 5, 5 p.m. – Angelika 7): Philip Guzman’s beautifully shot psycho-pseudo thriller is a wonderful illustration of a movie being less than the sum of its parts. Luscious cinematography, an infectious lead performance by Mick Rossi, and a detective drama that explores an underlying capacity for eveil in the souls of every day characters, it made sense that in a post-screening Q&A Guzman nodded to Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock. But all the various elements of quality in the movie hardly congeals into a involving, feeling story, pulled apart by spotting acting in supporting roles and some atrocious dialogue and story development.

The movie – purportedly based on real events, a title card tells us – is about a couple that runs a bed and breakfast in a bleak, blustery Ontario town. Living with them is a struggling writer, Charlie Matthews (Sean Power). While all seems homespun at first, an early sex scene climaxes when the husband, David Beck (Mick Rossi) strangles his wife Samantha (Natasha Gregson Wagner) during the act (it’s how she gets off). Then he retreats from the marital bedroom to cuddle with Charlie. It’s an Alfred Kinsey revelation: we’re all kinkier than we tell ourselves, only it turns out David is into more than just the occasional boundary-pushing sexual indiscretion. The strangulation fetish quickly escalates; we see him murder a prostitute a sleazy motel room, trying, some corny back-and-forth between before the murder tells us, to achieve an elusive orgasm.

Perhaps that is what is driving David: his inability to be titillated by ordinary erotic acts. Or perhaps it is the power he feels when he forces his victims to submit. Or perhaps he is just an unstable mad man. Whatever is wrong with David, as soon as his psychopathic traits bubble to the surface, we loose what little we had to latch onto in this film in the first place. The resulting 70 minutes or so is an awkward, unengaging, emotional-forced attempt to woo the audience through strained and psychological intense scenes of orchestrated violence. Polanski is certainly an inspiration here, but what A Kiss A Promise doesn’t achieve, and what makes the Polish director’s movies so unforgettable, is that nail-biting experience of uneasy vulnerability to psychological possibilities of the characters on screen. Instead, style substitutes for real emotional engagement. – Peter Simek


Apart (Repeats April 5, 7:15 pm – Angelika Dallas): This is a tricky little movie about two longtime friends, Noah and Emily, whose extremely close bond causes them to suffer a rare mental disorder in which they share the same violent delusions, projecting false realities into each other’s minds. The story begins with the two of them in a car crash, and through a series of flashbacks slowly reveals what’s occurred in the previous 13 years. Most recently, Noah awoke from a coma after two years with little memory of his life and no memory at all of Emily. He knows only that his father died in a house fire and that he suffered the head trauma that landed him in his extended hospital stay on that same evening. As the film moves between scenes of Noah and Emily during high school, in elementary school, and in the present, the picture of what happened that night becomes clear. There’s tremendous mystery and style in the way the tale is told. I only wish that the final revelations made sense. It’s a shame to blow such terrific build-up with an anticlimactic resolution.   (A mesmerizing video for the song “Take Your Medicine” by the band Transfer precedes the film. The short clip’s hypnotic animated visuals are alone worth the price of admission.) — Jason Heid



Language of a Broken Heart (Repeats April 9, 9:30 p.m. – Highland Park Village 1): On Sunday, the cards were stacked in favor of “Language of a Broken Heart.” Shot in and around Dallas, with a Dallas and Park Cities-based crew, theater five at The Magnolia wasn’t going to let this movie fail. Every familiar face or opening credit received a raucous applause, and rightfully so. “Language of a Broken Heart” didn’t change the romantic comedy genre, but it does provide for an enjoyable 90 minutes of relaxation.

The film centers on Nick (played by the Ashton Kutcher-Ethan Hawke-extra dash of handsome cyborg Juddy Talt), a successful romance writer who — surprise! —can’t find lasting love in his own life. After his girlfriend throws him out of their New York apartment, Brown travels back to Rockford, Ill., where he finds his old friends, his mother, and new romance. It’s a rather “romantic comedy by numbers” film, but it works because the actors seemed to genuinely care what happened to their characters. Talt, who also wrote the script, allows the viewer to wonder whether his character is going to make the right decision, a thought that most romantic comedies gloss right over.

“Language of a Broken Heart” won’t surprise you, but you won’t walk out feeling like you wasted 90 minutes either. And hey, there’s the McKinney Avenue Trolley! — Bradford Pearson



Salvation Boulevard (Repeats April 10, 7:30 pm — Angelika Plano): If you regularly attend Fellowship Church in Grapevine or Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, or any of the other local mega-houses of worship, then you may not look kindly upon this dark comedy. As the movie’s director, George Ratliff, put it during a post-screening Q&A, “it’s a light satire on a world that doesn’t ‘get’ light satire at all.” The movie itself is lightly funny. Greg Kinnear plays Carl, a former drug user and Dead Head who’s been “saved” by Pastor Dan (Pierce Brosnan) and his massive Church of the Third Millennium. Carl’s fragile faith is shattered when he witnesses Pastor Dan accidentally shoot a famous atheist (Ed Harris) and then cover it up. The new life Carl has built for himself — with a zealous wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a social life that revolves entirely around the church — quickly unravels as he finds himself accused of the pastor’s crime. The film isn’t necessarily anti-religion, but neither does it have much respect for the brand of evangelism that turns Jesus into big business.  — Jason Heid


The Greater Good (Does not repeat): This documentary on the controversy surrounding whether vaccinations are, on balance, more harmful or helpful to children’s health raises a number of legitimate questions about the dangerous intersection of politics and business in approving pharmaceuticals for use in the United States. Unfortunately, Greater Good isn’t satisfied merely to do that. Though the filmmakers make a head fake towards objectivity on the issue, they clearly come down on the side of those parents and pediatricians who believe the current schedule of vaccines mandated for our young people has resulted in incidents of major neurological damage, autism, and death. Perhaps. I’m willing to listen, but their arguments (at least as presented here) are light on specifics. For instance, we’re told repeatedly that our nation is in the midst of an “epidemic of autism” due to vaccines, but the only evidence offered is anecdotal. And, in fact, one of the few pro-vaccine talking heads who gets screen time offers a reasonable explanation for why official autism statistics have risen (the medical field has significantly broadened the definition of the term). The movie oversimplifies a complex issue, and so ends up as a fear-mongering, rather than educational, experience. — Jason Heid




Other Reviews of Movies Showing Today

Norman Mailer: The American: Angelka 7, 4:15 p.m.Read our review here.

The Pipe: Magnolia 5, 4:30 p.m.Read our review here. 

Wild Horse, Wild Ride: Angelika 6, 7 p.m.  – Read our review here.

The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan: Angelika 7, 9:30 p.m.  – Read our review here.

Goodbye Cruel World: Magnolia 4, 10 p.m.Read our review here.

Today’s Movies With Good Buzz

BHOPALI: Angelika 8, 7:30 p.m. – Part of the Environmental Visions Competition, BHOPALI investigates the health problems that linger 25 years after the worst industrial disaster in the history of the world: a gas leak and groundwater contamination that took place in Bhopal, India in 1984. In light of a string of recent environmental disasters, from the Gulf oil spill to the nuclear problems in Japan, BHOPALI promises a not-so-foreign view into an uncertain future.

North Texas College Showcase: Magnolia 5, 10:15 pm. – Bumped into the Dallas Video Association’s Bart Weiss at Documentary Shorts yesterday and he said three of his students have movies in this program. This is a good way to get a sense of what our area’s future filmmakers (or future Los Angeles residents) are thinking about.

Image: From October


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