Today at The Dallas International Film Festival (4/15/12)

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

NEW REVIEWS

Atomic States of America (Repeats Today, 12:30 p.m. Angelika 8)

Rating: Go See It

Atomic States of America is not a down-the-middle, both-sides-of-the-story documentary. It’s, in the words of grandfathers everywhere, lefty pinko work. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic. Atomic focuses on the public and private nuclear power and research entities throughout the country, of which there are hundreds. It talks about helpless the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is, relegated to a rubber-stamp office, approving the relicensure of nuclear power plants without even checking if the plant is on a seismic fault line.

Following the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the eyes of the world turned to their local plants, expecting the government to shut them down, or at least ramp up inspection. They did neither. Atomic is a terrifying movie, but one that’s exceptionally artistic in its storytelling and vision.– Bradford Pearson

 

 

Kid-Thing (Repeats Today, April 15, 3:30 p.m. Angelika 8) 

Rating: Worth a Shot

A frightening look at a young girl left largely to her own devices, due to the inattentiveness of her father. Annie (Sydney Aguirre) terrorizes other children, frequently shoplifts, smashes bugs in her bare hands, makes angry crank calls, and throws a large wad of dough at a passing car — all, it would seem, to provoke a reaction not only in others but in herself. She’s already a young sociopath, and one suspects that she lacks the capacity for empathy. It’s a well-crafted portrait of a character very true to the reality of the world in which she lives. When Annie one day hears the voice of an old woman calling out for help from the bottom of a dark hole in the forest, the girl’s response is both chilling and consistent with what we know of her.

Sounds like I’m setting this up to be a rave review, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, writer-director David Zellner undercuts much of the strength of his work by playing many scenes for oddball laughs. At times the movie seems to think it’s Napoleon Dynamite. I was too full of pity for Annie to find any of it amusing. That, and the film’s tendency to linger upon moments far longer than necessary, made me restless in my seat. — Jason Heid

 

Bindlestiffs (Repeats Today, April 15 at 7 p.m. Angelika 6)

Rating: Worth A Shot

After being suspended from high school from debasing a school bathroom with a drawing of a penis ejaculating onto their high school, the three main characters of Bindlestiffs pledge to live their newly found time like Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. Instead, one ends up losing his virginity to a homeless woman, the next a crack dealer, and the last a prostitute. Heartwarming, this is not. Bindlestiffs is a raunchy, disturbing, callous film. I also laughed the entire time.

It feels like a first feature, and it is. Despite its short running time, a quick waltz through the editing room would’ve helped, but it’s an otherwise promising start. John Waters would be proud. – Bradford Pearson

 

Juan of the Dead (Repeats Today, April 15 at 10 p.m.)

Rating: Worth A Shot

Zombies become a metaphor for the malaise of life lived under a controlling government in Cuban director Alejandro Brugués’ Juan of the Dead, a goofy, campy horror flick that shows Havana overrun by the un-dead. Told from the perspective of a band of hapless crooks and misfits, Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) is scraping through life — robbing tourists, sleeping with married women, and grappling with his relationship with his estranged daughter — when neighbors and relatives begin dying and turning into zombies. With his buddy, the ironically-named Lazaro (Jorge Molina), the two brandish crude instruments and begin offering their services as Zombie-wackers. “Juan of the Dead,” they answer the phone. “We’ll kill your loved ones.” That’s the kind of wisecracking humor that drives Brugués’ movie, which shuffles into buddy movie conventions while never losing hold of the charm of its likable, vulnerable characters. There’s plenty of the morbid, gore humor you’d expect from an “of the Dead” movie, which plays well to the midnight crowd. But there’s also a shrewd political undertone — Cuba’s isolated stagnation imagined as a zombie island. — Peter Simek

 

Intouchables (Repeats Apr. 21 at 10:15 p.m. Angelika 7) 

Rating: Go See It

Intouchables is a cultural phenomenon in France, raking in $312 million in Europe and being named the cultural event of 2011 by 52 percent of the country. In America, I had never heard of it. When I walked out of the theater Saturday afternoon, though, I knew I had seen the best film of the festival. Is it sappy? A bit, but it balances that with enough wit and warmth to keep the viewer from groaning.

Intouchables is the story of Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic, and Driss, his unlikely Senegalese caretaker. Philippe teaches Driss about Chopin, Driss teaches Philippe about Kool and the Gang. They smoke weed together, and Philippe cons one of his rich friends into buying Driss’s terrible painting.  It’s a comedy, but one with considerable depth of character and plot. If you see one movie for the rest of the festival, make this the one. –Bradford Pearson

 

Punch (Apr. 22 at 3:30 Magnolia 4)

Rating: Go See It 

When I left Punch, I immediately called my mother to tell her I loved her.  The movie’s the story of a poor, angry Korean boy with a hunchbacked, tap-dancing father, a non-existent mother, and a verbally abusive teacher who lives next door. If the pope was involved, it would sounds like the set-up of a life raft joke.

How those four people — and those around them — become a family, forgetting the past and looking to the future, is the crux of the film. The son, Wan-deuk, is a poor student, prone to violent fits and skipping school. His father, the hunchback, tap-dances on the street. The tenderness of their relationship, despite the circumstances, buoys an otherwise average film, making it worthwhile. It will make you want to call your mom, I hope. — Bradford Pearson

 

ALSO TODAY:

Satellite of Love (12:30 p.m. Magnolia 5)

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

 

Cowgirls N Angels (2:15 p.m. Angelika 6)

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

 

Thank You For Judging (2:30 p.m. Magnolia 4)

Rating: Worth A Shot.

Sean Fornara and Sean Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) return to their high school, Plano Senior, to make another Spellbound set around a speech and debate tournament. Populated with undeniably talented and dedicated competitors, the documentary walks through the highs and lows of the Texas state championships and makes it case for why these kids work harder than any high school football players. Fornara and Urie used to be debaters themselves, and Urie appears on camera to muse about how his participation in dramatic and humorous interpretation, two branches of speech and debate in which students act-out scenes and dialogue, set the stage for his entire career. Charming and engaging, Thank You For Judging will surely pack its screenings as it plays to a hometown crowd. Still, I was left longing for more of the debate performances themselves and less of competition-style drama, which felt like something of a repeat. — Peter Simek

 

We’re Not Broke (6 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

 

Qwerty (9:30 p.m. Angelika 6)

Rating: Worth A Shot

To say Qwerty is a movie about Scrabble is a misstatement. But to say it isn’t a movie about Scrabble would be a bit disingenuous. Let’s just say it’s a movie where Scrabble is maybe the, eh, fourth lead.

Word nerd Zoe meets Marty in an unlikely scenario: while he’s getting fired from his security guard gig for screaming at customers, asking why they’d ever spend $55 on underwear. It’s a legitimate complaint, I think, and one that makes Marty’s disheveled, hobo-esque character loveable. The two loners begin a whirlwind romance, topped off by the National Scrabble Championship. Zoe’s a competitor; Marty’s just there to watch.

It’s a pretty standard love story, but rarely do romances focus on characters so alone. Marty is a recluse by choice; Zoe by circumstance. Within each others’ flaws they find a way to step out together, or at least step away from the threat of suicide.

The film could use a bit of editing — including the complete removal of a homeless man who lives outside of Marty’s house, who serves little purpose other than to remind the viewer, “Hey, at least Marty has a job.”— but is an otherwise warm, endearing look at love. — Bradford Pearson

 

Bringing Up Bobby (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

 

Father’s Chair (10:30 p.m. Magnolia 5, also at 4 p.m. April 16)

Rating: Worth a Shot

A father goes in search of his missing teenage son, and the ordeal unexpectedly helps him to reconnect with his estranged wife and father. This Brazilian film develops quietly as the father, Theo, encounters a series of characters during his trying journey who help him to see things about his son Pedro that he’d never appreciated before. The strained relationships tidy themselves up a little too easily, leaving us wondering what could have caused the rifts in the first place. Yet we’re still left with nice thoughts about our own connections to those we love and don’t perhaps appreciate enough for who they are, rather than who we’d like them to be.  — Jason Heid


 

 

Image: From Atomic States of America.

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