Today At The Dallas International Film Festival (4/14/12)

Here are reviews of movies from yesterday and reviews of films showing today at the festival. For all our Dallas IFF coverage, go here.


Shorts 1 (Repeats Today at 12:15 p.m., Angelika 7)

Rating: Go See It 

The first shorts program at the Dallas International Film Festival is diverse and strong, highlights being Ian Harnarine “Doubles With Slight Pepper,” Todd Sklar’s “’92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card,” and Nash Edgerton’s “Bear,” which won’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the Australian director’s other short, “Spider.”

Both “Bear” and “’92 Skybox” offer gut-splitting moments by ratcheting up a surprising and hilariously succession of absurd events. Set around two estranged brothers reunited at their father’s funeral, Sklar’s film is driven by the natural chemistry of its co-stars (and long-time friends), James Pumphrey and Alex Rennie, which allows for a perfectly-timed comedic romp that doubles as an honest take on the combative nature of fraternal love. Edgerton’s “Bear” is almost identical to “Spider,” revolving around a playful boyfriend’s practical joke that goes terribly wrong. Even though Edgerton fans will see some of the twists coming, there is still a brute suddenness to them, and a stark and extremely dark edge to the humor that is both excruciating and hilarious.

Harnarine’s “Doubles” is an exquisitely acted story about a father returning to the son and wife he abandoned years earlier inTrinidad. Told from the son’s perspective, “Doubles” applies sharp pressure to its familiar immigrant situation, rendering a conflict of emotions that gets at the heart of generation and morality. It’s Harnarine’s first outing as a director, and his is a name to remember.

The rest of the block is more inconsistent, but there are moments to admire in each, including “Playtime’s” effortless melding together of a succession of three loosely related vignettes, and “Perfect Fit’s” succinct portrait of loneliness that is feeling, if a little sweet. — Peter Simek


The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (Repeats Today at 4:15 p.m. Magnolia 4)

Rating: Go See It

I’m probably not the most impartial person that could’ve reviewed this movie. As a New Yorker I’m preternaturally trained to instantly love anything that mentions the five boroughs in its title — A Bronx Tale, “King of Queens”, Maid in Manhattan. Couple that with the fact that The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best was filmed in Maryland, my home for my first four years out of college, and the bar was set pretty low for me to enjoy it. It sailed over the bar.

Brooklyn is a fantastic story that follows Alex (writer/director/star Ryan O’Nan), a musician/real estate agent/ musical moose, from Brooklyn to San Diego. Along the way he picks up various cohorts, but it’s not a typical road trip movie. Sure, they’re traveling from A to B, but the themes could’ve been examined even if they just crashed at a bar for the night. Loss, heartbreak, the always-around-the-corner thought that “Damn, maybe I’m just not that good at what I want to do.” Brooklyn takes all of those themes, smashes them into 100 minutes, and looks damn good doing it. O’Nan and costar Michael Weston performed all the songs in the film, and broke out their musical talents at the Real FX party last night.

Even if the film doesn’t take off — which it should — the soundtrack will. Even though one character described the music as “The Shins meets Sesame Street,” it’s essentially thoughtful Brit pop. Done in a movie with Brooklyn in the title, that was filmed in Maryland. I’m sold. – Bradford Pearson


Somebody Up There Likes Me (Repeats Today at 7:15 p.m. Angelika 7) 

Rating: Worth a Shot

A socially inept man-child named Max (Keith Poulson), broken up about losing his ex-wife (Kate Lyn Shell), decides to marry the next woman who shows interest in him, which turns out to be Lyla (Jess Weixler), herself a socially inept waitress obsessed with eating breadsticks. Max has a mysterious suitcase (the contents of which may be the same as those found in the mysterious case in Pulp Fiction) that he carries with him as he and Lyla get married, have a son, get rich, and drift apart into their own affairs. The story leaps over five-year gaps several times, and it’s not nearly as straightforward a narrative as I’m describing here. (Plus Nick Offerman plays Max’s best friend Sal, who’s kind of a lighter version of Offerman’s character Ron Swanson on TV’s Parks and Recreation.) It’s funny in small doses, but I find the movie’s brand of contrived quirkiness to be grating. At 76 minutes, it plays more like an over-long short film than a short feature. — Jason Heid


Bringing Up Bobby (Today at 8 p.m. Magnolia 5; April 15, 10:15 p.m. Angelika 7)

Rating: Don’t Bother

Milla Jovovich vamps it up playing Olive, a Ukrainian immigrant and small-time con artist who dotes on her son Bobby (Spencer List). The movie jerks too suddenly from being a lighthearted crime comedy to a serious-minded drama when Olive is arrested. She’s compelled to allow a wealthy Oklahoma City couple (Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross) to adopt her son until she can prove to a judge that she’s fit to be a mother. Written and directed by actress Famke Janssen (the X-Men movies), the screenplay very much wants us to share the pain of Olive’s sacrifices, and the often overbearing music score pleads with us to do so. But it feels like a first draft, and much of the dialogue (particularly Bobby’s lines) rings false and often hokey. — Jason Heid


Late Night Shorts (Repeats Today, 9:30 p.m. Angelika 7)

Rating: Don’t Bother

I was disappointed by this year’s collection shorts that make up the typically off-beat late night program, which rather than fringe or experimental, felt more amateurish or crudely half-baked. “Chores,” a lackluster, if cleanly executed horror about a man stuck in the routine of burying the undead on a remote farm, ends up being one of the strongest of the lot, along with the tongue-in-cheek video-essay, “Pluto Declaration,” which subjects the demotion of the planet Pluto’s status from planet to “dwarf planet” to a critique rooted in post-colonial polemics. It’s worth a chuckle.

There are also some half-laughs in “The Hiccup,” which tries to shock with graphic elderly sex, and “Meaning of Robots,” which tries to shock with graphic pornographic dolls. And there is some visual ambition to the luscious food music video “Zergüt,” and the almost one-shot “At The Formal,” but neither transcend the look-at-me nature of their visual mechanics. “Once It Started It Could Not End,” which uses yearbook photos as its medium, is nearly unwatchable, and “The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke,” a fictional retake on the life of a member of 2 Live Crew, packs the occasional chuckle and clever art direction, but its resolution leaves the entire piece feeling plain and obvious.  — Peter Simek


Save the Date (Today at 10:30 p.m. Angelika 8) 

Rating: Go See It

In romantic comedies it’s usually clear who’s going to end up with whom right from the start. Halfway through Save the Date, I still wasn’t sure how it was all going to end. Lizzy Caplan plays Sarah, an artist and bookstore manager who freaks out when her musician boyfriend (Geoffrey Arend) proposes. She bolts their relationship and soon takes up with another guy (Mark Webber). Meanwhile her sister Beth (Alison Brie) busily plans her own wedding to Andrew (Martin Starr). The story is a carefully observed look at the way in which falling in love is often the result of pure circumstance, but staying in love must be a decision we make rather than a fate we accept. Director Michael Mohan imbues his film with a visual style — nearly every shot is beautifully composed — that’s missing from most other young-people-talking-about-love-and-sex indies. I can’t believe it doesn’t have a distributor. — Jason Heid

Alps (Repeats Apr 20 at 7:30 p.m. Angelika 8)

Rating: Go See It

Alps, the latest film from Academy Award-nominated Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), is a parable of estrangement, submerged in the director’s characteristic Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, the camera and characters obscured in a difficult and alienating pictorial world. Aggeliki Papoulia plays a member of a small team that calls themselves “Alps,” and they offer a strange service to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one: pay-for role play. Each character takes on the part of a deceased lover or family member, acting out staged scenes seemingly to fill the void or the silence that accentuates the onset of grief.

Lanthimos’s films deliberately subvert dramatic and emotional feeling, creating anti-melodramas that are nonetheless caught up in a profoundly devastating dramatic arc. We never really get to know anyone as we are used to “knowing” characters in cinema, instead each personae operates in a world that is robotic and oppressive. There is an undertone of physical and emotional abuse; the two males in the foursome that make up “Alps” are chauvinistic, brutal, and totalitarian. The women are strangely obsessive about their desire to submerge themselves in their fictional personae, and as the film progresses, it becomes clearer that they themselves are lost to the layering of roles and role playing.

What is remarkable about Lanthimos’ films is that even though they are structured to alienate the audience from the characters and their world, there is a slow erosion of feeling that takes place as a result of his deliberate and lumbering style. Shots are excruciatingly long, as are the many uncomfortable settings, and humor is achieved through a recognition of the pure absurdity of the drama. In one scene, Papoulia’s character acts out a scene with a man in which she pretends to break up with him and move to Toronto, over and over. The scene is in English, and the language is stilted and insufferably staged. It is impossible not to laugh, but there is something truly heart wrenching and surprisingly honest about it all.

There is a temptation among critics when writing about Greek art to carelessly toss around the word “tragedy,” but with Lanthimos there seems to be a working through of the structure and effect of tragedy, mingled with a very modern approach to obscuring pathos. It makes for a very difficult movie (and a number of people worked out of the Dallas IFF screening), but if you give yourself over to Lanthimos, you can’t help but find yourself deeply affected by a palpable and true-feeling desperation. — Peter Simek


Qwick (Repeats Apr. 22 6:30 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Don’t Bother

In the pre-festival literature, Quick is described as being “made in the spirit of American action movies Speed and Crank.” And while that’s true, audiences would be better off buying editing equipment, renting Speed and Crank, and splicing the two films together. Quick, for all its explosions and motorcycle chases, is boring in its delivery, spending too much time putting its characters from scenario to scenario, and not enough time developing why they’re there in the first place.

Like Speed, a man and a woman have been co-opted by a homicidal maniac, who’s rigged the two of them with bombs. Like Crank, some of this takes place on a motorcycle. The influence is palpable. But while Speed and Crank are tongue-in-cheek funny — “Harry, there’s enough C-4 on this thing to put a hole in the world!” — Quick honestly thinks of itself as a humorous film. The fat detective in charge of the investigation is a bumbling dullard, the butt of all the jokes. Maybe something is lost in translation, but I didn’t laugh once. There are sure to be plenty of other films in the South Korean Spotlight showcase worth your money. Quick is not one of them. – Bradford Pearson



Patriocracy (12 p.m. Magnolia 4) 

Rating: Worth A Shot

Have you heard? The American political system is a mess. The culprits: the polarizing politics of entertainment-oriented news channels, campaign financing that allows for too much corporate influence in Congress, and the galvanizing of public opinion on the fringes of the left and right. Driving home these points comprises the majority of Brian Malone’s political film, Patriocracy, which reads like a recap of a few years worth of news reports. The problem is that the movie can’t find its way behind the headlines, avoiding any real provocation into the nature of democracy or capitalism itself for a familiar grazing of the “issues.” It’s an unsatisfying rehash, and its own lack of new ideas is indicative of the fact that Malone seems to terminate his search for solutions at a “rally” held by Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Man, we really are in trouble. — Peter Simek


Wolf (12:30 p.m. Magnolia 5)

Rating: Go See It

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding University of Texas at Arlington professor Ya’Ke Smith’s first feature, which debuted at South by Southwest last month and garnered Smith an Indiewire nod. If the film doesn’t completely meet expectations, it is not because it isn’t an exasperating, emotionally tense, well-acted social unpacking. Set in a suburban Texas community, the movie introduces us to a young, obviously emotionally troubled high school student, Carl (Jordan Cooper), who is ailing from lost love, haunted by dreams, and scaring himself. A suicide attempt is a call for help, roping his gruff, if affectionate trucker dad, night student mother, and church preacher, Bishop Anderson (with a show-stealing performance by Eugene Lee,) into the mystery of his soul’s unrest. Wolf pulls us tightly to its uncomfortable subject matter, blurring the kind of scandal easily reduced to a headline into a complex knot of personal suffering and emotional malice. The movie’s momentum is a bit uneven, some of its visuals are a tad overwrought, and its multi-last shot ending could find more punch with a few simple edits, but it is the characters that count here, and Smith finds their dimension in a way that makes Wolf a frontrunner in the Texas competition.  — Peter Simek


America’s Parking Lot (1:45 Angelika 6)

Rating: Worth A Shot

A somewhat sloppily produced documentary about diehard Dallas Cowboys fans who spent more than 20 years tailgating together at Texas Stadium only to find themselves having to adjust to the uncomfortable new reality of the NFL as a mega-business catering to corporate customers when the team’s new Arlington stadium opens. The movie, which clocks in at only 73 minutes, isn’t sure what it wants to be: a complaint that regular fans are being priced out of seeing games? A portrait of the sort of people who would delay building their dream home in order to buy season tickets? An indictment of the public financing of pro sports? All these subjects are touched upon, but none are explored with the appropriate depth.  — Jason Heid 


Cinema Six (2:15 p.m. Magnolia 4)

Rating: Go See It 

In high school, I worked as a lifeguard at a really ridiculously wealthy country club in New York. Everyone who worked there was middle-class or poor. The lifeguards hung out with the chefs, who hung out with the maintenance guy who lived in the golf shed, who eventually died of a drug overdose. We were one big, reasonably happy family.

Watching Cinema Six, I was transported back to Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club, where people worked because they had to. The film is set in a family-run movie theater, the kind of place that still sells pickles in bags and the ticket-rippers let their friends in for free. The leads — Mason, Dennis, and Gabe — couldn’t be more different, less their hatred of Stanton Family Cinemas. The movie examines their day-in, day-out lives in anAdventureland kind of way, a realization I made even before an apropos cameo. It’s quick, fun filmmaking at its finest, with the movie wrapping up enough plots and leaving enough loose ends to make it believable. It feels like a deeply personal film, but one that can be appreciated by anyone who’s held a job just for the money. Cinema Six also reaches Departed levels of vulgarity and profanity, complete with defecation. In other words: it’s pretty close to perfect. — Bradford Pearson


Faith, Love, and Whiskey (5 p.m. Angelika 8)

Rating: Go See It

Never has a Communist Bloc country looked so beautiful to me. Director Kristina Nikolova’s long-form debut, Faith Love and Whiskey, tells the story of Neli, a Bulgarian 20-something who falls in love in the United States, then returns to her native Bulgaria. Upon her return, she falls in with her old, alcoholic boyfriend, then has to choose between the decidedly American-sounding Scott and the equally Bulgarian-sounding Val.

Nikolova takes us through the mountains, fields, forests, and streams of Bulgaria, letting the camera linger on a sunrise or pooling water. It makes you cherish youth, but also reel at its violence and foolhardiness. Whiskey is anchored by Ana Stojanovska, who plays Neli. Beautiful and sad, Stojanovska bounces between her character’s two worlds flawlessly, weighing her role in each. In the end, the viewer doesn’t know which world she should choose, but is confident it doesn’t matter: Neli will be fine.

Nikolova crams years of history, backstory, and Eastern European culture into 75 sharp minutes, a feat that does not go unnoticed. This is the debut of a filmmaker that should also not go unnoticed. — Bradford Pearson


Cowgirls N Angels (5 p.m. Northpark AMC 5)

Rating: Don’t Bother

A piece of “family-friendly” pablum that’d be right at home airing some Saturday afternoon on ABC Family or the Disney Channel. Ida, a trouble-making 12-year-old, convinces her mother to let her join the Sweethearts of the Rodeo, a troupe of trick-riding cowgirls, so that she can search for the cowboy father she never knew. The Sweethearts travel “all over the West” — Oklahoma and Kansas — with James Cromwell strangely cast as the ex-champion rider who teaches Ida to ride and acts as a surrogate grandfather. Pre-teen girls may enjoy seeing the horses and be moved by the subplot about Ida’s fellow rider who’s forced to choose between romance and staying with the Sweethearts. I was amused only by the fact that Ida has (without irony) a Chuck Norris poster on her bedroom wall, and by counting how many former Friday Night Lights cast members I could spot (3). — Jason Heid


Satellite of Love (7 p.m. Magnolia 4)

Rating: Don’t Bother

Will James Moore sets a simple romantic dichotomy in motion in Satellite of Love, a kind of mumbling, pop-advice Jules et Jim, as two men hash out their lives and love while sipping wine on a Hill Country stand-in for Provence. At the movie’s opening, Samuel (Nathan Phillips) is a stoned Aussie in love with Catherine (Shannon Lucia), while the pokier Blake (Zachary Knighton) looks on. We reunite years later after Catherine has switched teams, marring Blake, who now runs a bistro, while Samuel flops about Europe. Samuel has skipped his best friend’s wedding (you know, because he stole his girlfriend), but to make it up to the couple, he invites them out to the vineyard which is owned by a sage-like old dude, Alex (Patrick Bauchau) who pops up towards the film’s end to spout some mellow platitudes about life. Tagging along is Michelle (Janina Gavankar) a sexy, uninhibited aristocrat DJ.

Back at the ranch, the wine pours freely, and the libidos simmer. Blake finds himself in the kitchen as Samuel shamelessly moves in on his ex. Catherine loves him, because she loves life, but she also loves Blake, because she loves responsibility. What will she do? Frankly, it is hard to care, as we quickly tire of slogging through a muck of relationship babble alongside four of the dullest wannabe libertines ever to unfasten a belt buckle. It all comes to resolve itself in the status quo, as Samuel stairs off at a sunset, glassy-eyed, a little more drunk than enlightened. — Peter Simek


We’re Not Broke (7:30 p.m. Angelika 8)

Rating: Worth A Shot

I really sympathize with Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes in We’re Not Broke, an advocacy documentary that turns its attention to the way multi-national corporations manage to avoid taxation. There is something sickening — in an Enron-sort of way — about the fact that you and I likely pay less in income tax each year than Bank of America or Cisco. Doubly infuriating is that Joe Small-Business-Owner is also paying more taxes than these companies, and he or she has to compete on unfair ground. Still, unlike its stylistic forebear, the fantastic info-economic documentary Inside JobWe’re Not Brokeproves less than convincing in its diagnosis of America’s fiscal woes because it lacks the same intellectual authority and broad-based comprehension of its subject matter. Collecting money is one thing; spending it well is quite another, and We’re Not Broke overemphasizes solving corporate taxation woes as a cure-all. When the movie lands on Occupy Wall Street as a hope for the future of American policy, it already feels both dated and quaint. — Peter Simek


An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (9:30 p.m Magnolia 4)

Rating: Worth A Shot

Any film that begins with an explanation of how the film works should probably take a step back and examine its role. Is it to engage the audience? Teach them something? Or just to exist for art’s sake?

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is one of those films. Or, rather, two of those films, since it’s a pair of intertwined pieces. The story revolves around Nance and a woman he’s falling in love with. It’s undulating and repetitive, which is exactly what the director Terence Nance wanted, I imagine. The problem is that within that context, the repetition can occasionally become boring, replacing character development with character introspection, often to the point (again) of repetition.

That’s not to say Nance hasn’t created something beautiful and forward-thinking, because he has. The circular storytelling is unique, it just needs some tweaks. And its shuffling between live-action and animation, while not necessarily groundbreaking, is deftly done, and not too heavy-handed. It allows an insight into the character’s psyche that may not be as clear with live-action. Oversimplification soars artistically; I hope Nance eventually finds a story to match that art. — Bradford Pearson


For the full Dallas International Film Festival schedule, go here.


Image at top: From the short, “Doubles With Slight Pepper.”


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