Here are reviews of movies from yesterday and reviews of films showing today at the festival. For all our Dallas IFF coverage, go here.
Mariachi Gringo (Repeats Today, April 16 at 1:30 p.m. Magnolia 4)
Rating: Worth a Shot
Probably goes without saying, but if you hate mariachi music, this movie isn’t for you. I enjoyed this straightforward story of a young man from Kansaswho begins learning the traditional music of Mexicofrom a local immigrant restaurateur and decides to go south to Guadalajarato become a full-fledged mariachi himself. Were he not fortunate enough to meet a pretty, English-speaking Mexican girl who saves him from a couple of corrupt cops during his first night in the city, he may not have gotten far. But he does. Director Tom Gustafson’s film is filled with both music and the useful reminder that if we aren’t willing to take risks to fulfill our dreams, then what’s the point of life? — Jason Heid
The Imposter (Repeats Today, Apr. 16 at 4:30 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Go See It
The first screening of Bart Layton’s The Imposter, which wowed audiences at Sundance, was sold out, and festival programmer Sarah Harris suggested that additional screenings of the film will possibly be added later in the week due to the huge interest in the film. The hype is deserved. The Imposter is an Errol Morris-style documentary that retells the improvable and unbelievable story of a young Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, who assumed the identity of a missing boy fromTexas, Nick Gibson, after pretending to resurface on the streets ofSpain. His web of lies and ability to tease-out the behavior of a troubled and abused youth managed to convince Spanish and American officials and police, as well as the boy’s family, landing the 22-year-old Bourdin in aSan Antonio home, attending aSan Antonio high school.
The Imposter’s story is fantastic enough that even the straightest retelling would fascinate, but Layton takes care to bring to the surface the must befuddling and ponderous aspects of its tale: the willingness of a family to convince themselves a stranger is their son, and the character of an enigmatic man, Bourdin, whose identity persists as a fleeting mystery. Throughout we are left in doubt, about what happened really happened to Nick, about who is telling the truth, about who is guilty of what, and most significantly, about what it means that lies and the lies we tell ourselves can cut us adrift in ever-elusive sense of reality. – Peter Simek
Documentary Shorts (Repeats Today, April 16 at 9:15 p.m. Angelika 7)
Rating: Go See It
Themes of love and death – tied together by technology – run through the seven diverse and strong films in the documentary shorts programming. The program opens with a haunting home video appropriation, “Family Nightmare,” which splices together holiday clips of an unknown, working class family, with the sound removed and dialogue and sound effects over-dubbed by filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa. We watch aunts get fall-over drunk, uncles watching pornography on Christmas evening, and grandparents smoking and glaring in vacant, wood-paneled living rooms. The grainy shots, strange sounds, and bizarre behavior create something of a hallucinatory horror, tedious and obscure, but frighteningly raw and uncomfortably familiar.
The first film in the set ended up my favorite, but other strong pieces include the vérité “Lifelike,” which follows a taxidermist from dead dear to stuffed head; “The Elect,” a jarring look into the extreme zeal of a Baptist family’s vicious version of Christianity; and “Love Hacking,” a quirky story about a computer geek’s Skype romance and eventual marriage to a Nepalese woman. Though slow and slight, “The Love Competition,” rounds out the program with a scenario fit for RadioLab: scientists measuring our capacity for love by scanning the brain. Fit for its form and an ideal capstone to this program, the short finds a quick route into something charming and appealing about its array of lovers. – Peter Simek
Being: Café Tacvba (Repeats Today at 10 p.m. Magnolia 4)
Rating: Go See It
Heading into Sunday’s screening, I considered myself a decently knowledgeable music fan. Walking out, I felt like a n00b.
Being: Café Tacvba tracks the Mexican rock-pop-ranchero-jazz band Café Tacvba through their twenty-plus year existence, charting the ups, downs, and every in between. It’s mostly a documentary, blended a bit with live performances. As a newcomer to the band, it served as an excellent intro to the music. If I was a fan of the band, I imagine it would’ve been close to perfect. Being doesn’t sugarcoat the bandmembers ambivalent feelings toward each other, but it also doesn’t try to find drama where there isn’t any. For fans of Café Tacvba, it’s a must-see. — Bradford Pearson
Still Life (Repeats Apr. 17 at 10:45 p.m. Magnolia 5)
Rating: Go See It
Stillleben, the first feature film from Austrian writer/director Sebastian Meise unfolds slowly through a series of slow, meditative shots (still lives, if you will), opening with the drafting of a letter which describes sexual acts and solicited role-playing. We then see a woodshop in the countryside outside Vienna; an apartment in the city where an older man (Fritz Hörtenhuber) is finishing floors with his adult son, Bernhard (Christoph Luser); and a prostitute standing on a busy street. The father hands the letter to the prostitute, and Bernhard trails her. We’re are not sure what it all means, but when Bernhard gets his hands on the letter, the film sinks into the nightmare we reluctantly expected, an insinuation of incest, which, when discovered, shatters the family’s tenuous ties.
Still Life fits in somewhere in between two other movies at this year’s Dallas IFF, North Texas director Ya’Ke Smith’s drowning drama about child abuse, Wolf, and Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos’ Alps, an absurdist drama about grief, role-playing, and elusive identity. Meise’s film may be the best of the three in that it achieves its tightly wound moral and emotional tension with an economy of effort, creating a quietly ponderous and troubling film that is never brutal, obscure, or forced. – Peter Simek
Policeman (Repeats April 18 at 1:30 p.m. Anglika 7)
Rating: Go See It
Writer/director Nadav Lapid’s wonderfully acted, chilling second film, Policeman, is a diptych that juxtaposes two intimate portraits of easily reducible characters. The movie’s first half follows a member of an elite squad of Israeli police officers. His wife is pregnant, one of his friends has cancer, and his unit is embroiled in a court case involving the killing of a handful of Palestinians during one of their recent raids. Unfolding the policeman’s character through a series of day-to-day vignettes, Lapid is more concerned with the back-slapping comradery and grunting masculinity of his policemen than placing their private lives in the context of any political setting.
That’s why the politically-charged second half of the film comes as a surprise, as we are suddenly thrust into the upscale apartment of a young woman who is plotting revolution with three young males, all of whom seem infatuated with the girl. It all escalates to a kidnapping, and the police unit from the film’s first half is brought in to rescue the billionaire victims. Lapid’s film’s strength lies in its moral ambiguity, and the way he submerges us in the intimate lives of his characters. There is a harrowing and deeply critical political subtext to Policeman, which likely plays better to an audience more familiar with Israeli’s social tensions, but the vividness of the movie’s characters and the excruciation of its moral situations are infectious and universal. – Peter Simek
Heleno (Repeats Apr 18 at 7:15 p.m. Magnolia 5)
Rating Go See It
Rodrigo Santoro turns in what is perhaps the best singular performance I have seen at this year’s Dallas International Festival as Heleno de Freitas, the title character in Brazilian director José Henrique Fonseca’s bio-pic. Shot by Walter Carvalho (Central Station) in exquisite and ethereal black-and-white, the movie tells the story of the rise and fall of the proto-Pelé, a Brazilian soccer star in the 1940s and 1950s that lead the country to a Copa America win in 1948, but whose life went into a tailspin, ruining chances for club and World Cup glory thanks to a potent and eventually fatal combination of sex, drugs, and pride.
We have seen this kind of character before (indeed, there is more in common between Heleno and Raging Bull than just beautiful cinematography), but Santoro ensures that what we experience through his character is a deeply-rendered sense of empathy, forcing a recognition of the relate-able flaws that find a bedfellow in heroics and excellence. Fonseca accentuates the exasperation of Heleno’s tragic fall by jumbling the chronology of the narrative so that the full focus of the film is not on the failure on the man on the field, but rather the failure of an oh-so-human heart that beats in the chest of a super-human talent. – Peter Simek
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (Repeats April 19, 10 p.m. Magnolia 4)
Rating: Go See It
Morgan Spurlock, king of the stunt documentary (like Super Size Me), turns his camera on the annual entertainment mega-fest inSan Diego and comes away with a film that’s not only funny but also surprisingly touching. Started as a small gathering for comic book aficionados in 1970, Comic-Con has grown into a massive test marketing opportunity for entertainment corporations. Hundreds of thousands of people attend each year, and Spurlock wisely keeps himself out of the picture entirely (unlike in his previous work) to follow the stories of several.
“Hope” turns out to be the key word in the movie’s title, as we meet (among others) aspiring comic book artists hoping to find their big breaks, a costume designer hoping to wow the convention with her work, a man hoping to propose to his girlfriend during a Q&A session with director Kevin Smith, and an old-school comics dealer hoping that he can do enough business on the convention floor that he doesn’t have to sell one of his rare, treasured books.
Interweaving celebrity testimonials ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon to has-been actor Corey Feldman with footage following the four days of the convention, Spurlock conveys the sense of community that keeps these geeks coming back year after year. — Jason Heid
Bonsai (Repeats Apr. 21 4:30 p.m. at The Texas Theatre)
Rating: Go See It
(Prior to Bonsai’s screening, there’s a short, The Birth of Saint Eliseo. It’s about 15 minutes long, ham-fisted with its message, and otherwise not very good. What I’m saying is if you’re 15 minutes late to Bonsai, don’t worry.)
At the intersection of Proust, punk, and first love, Bonsai welcomes the viewer to an experimental experience, one where art imitates life, even when the art being created doesn’t know those events have happened. The story centers on Julio and Emilia, young lovers whose relationship begins when Julio lies about reading “Remembrance of Things Past.” The 90 minutes that follow are full of the interweaving tales of the young couple, their eventual break-up, and Emilia’s eventual death. That’s not giving anything away; a narrator spells it out in the first frame of the film.
Written and directed by Chilean Cristian Jimenez, Bonsai takes an unpretentious look at a pretentious relationship, relying on coy cutaways and dialogue to tell the disjointed story of Julio and Emilia. In the end, the audience knows what’s best for both of them, even if they can’t see it.
Patriocracy (1 p.m. Angelika 8)
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
Father’s Chair (4 p.m. Magnolia 4)
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
An Over Simplification of Her Beauty (4:30 p.m. Magnolia 5)
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
America’s Parking Lot (6 p.m. Angelika 7)
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
Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare (7 p.m. Angelika 6)
Rating: Go See It
Taking a careful look at the American health care system with a desire to uncover real possibilities for solutions, Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare feels like the documentary the American health care industry needs right now. Lacking the publicized ire of Michael Moore’sSicko, Escape Fire is a more sober assessment, and it systematically picks away at the incongruities in the system that warp American health care. One of the movie’s chief complaints is the way doctors are compensated on per-procedure basis, which drives up the overall costs of health care, while economically crippling doctors who specialize in general care, the frontlines in real disease prevention. Some of the film’s most moving moments come when it looks at a pilot program in the U.S. military which uses alternative techniques, such as acupuncture and mental therapy, in treating pain and post-combat psychological disorders in lieu of freezer bags full of prescription drugs. Escape Fire doesn’t have all the answers, and it doesn’t gloss over the fact that there are powerful forces and systematic dysfunctions preventing reform. But at least it offers a glimmer of hope. — Peter Simek
Thank You For Judging (7 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
Let Me Out (7:30 p.m. Magnolia 5)
Rating: Don’t Bother
Either something is lost in the translation of this cartoonish South Korean comedy, or it’s just plain not funny. It’s the story of a film student who’s full of criticism of other people’s work but has never actually made a movie himself. Finally, in his senior year, he’s required to take the helm of his own work: a zombie melodrama. He’s got to deal with diva actresses, the demands of his sponsors’ product placements, and compromising when he can’t afford to shoot his original vision. Surprise: making a movie is tough. Let Me Out has the tenor and look of a low-budget late-night basic-cable comedy from which all the titillating scenes have been excised. — Jason Heid
Andrew Bird: Fever Year (9:45 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Worth a Shot
In a world of AutoTune and saxophone solos, Andrew Bird is a welcome respite. Beautiful and meandering, Bird’s orchestral pop transports the listener to a parallel place, one where Katy Perry has no place. That same conceit, however, also makes falling asleep during a movie pretty easy.Fever Year follows Bird on tour for a year — “I’m either sweating bullets or freezing all the time,” he admits, without seeking medical help — from the stages of Chicago to his family farm. It’s beautifully shot, with a built-in soundtrack.
The problem is it doesn’t go anywhere. Moviegoers unfamiliar with Bird may love or hate the film, but it’s entirely based on whether or not they like his music. Unlike the tension that builds in 2002’s Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Fever Year serves as little more than a concert film with snippets of interviews interspersed. And, as that, it’s fantastic. The intricacies of Bird’s recording and performing styles are explored, but at only surface level. A welcome cameo by St. Vincent lets the viewer explore Bird’s collaborative side, but director Xan Aranda leaves plenty of Bird unearthed. I found myself nodding off during Fever Year, because Aranda left me nothing to do but listen to Bird’s music, which I could just do with my iPod. — Bradford Pearson
ON THE FRONTROW STAGE:
Filmmakers will join FrontRow’s movie writers for interviews on a stage adjacent to the Magnolia Theater in the West Village each night of the festival, between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Here’s a list of upcomming guests. Come out and join us.
Monday, April 16
Let Me Out
Tuesday, April 17
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel
Wednesday, April 18
Biba! One Island, 879 Votes
Thursday, April 19
The Other Dream Team
Image at top: Still from The Imposter