Today may be the single best day of the festival. Here are reviews of movies from yesterday and reviews of films showing today at the festival — and they are nearly all worth seeing. For all our Dallas IFF coverage, go here.
Luv (Repeats Today, April 19 at 4 p.m. Magnolia 4)
Rating: Worth A Shot
Set in Baltimore, Luv is a day in the life of Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), a 13-year-old boy. After his uncle Vincent’s (Common) return from prison, the two set off for a day of business. By the end, nearly all the main characters are dead. That’s not a spoiler, it’s just the truth. In the north Baltimore neighborhood the film jumps from, death isn’t an “if,” it’s a “when.” Vincent attempts to get his life back on track, and show Woody what it takes to do so, but the call of the streets and the game returns.
Rainey’s performance is astonishing for such a young actor. The audience watches the character grow over the course of the film, a testament to Rainey’s skill. Buoyed by supporting roles from Danny Glover, Michael K. Williams, and Dennis Haysbert, Luv is an imperfect, if not appealing, crime story. While it doesn’t spend as much time developing the emotions of the lead —Uncle Vincent — as I’d like, it makes up for it by making Woody such a believable, earnest character. — Bradford Pearson
Teddy Bear (Repeats Today, April 19 at 7 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Go See It
Dennis is a Danish bodybuilder with huge muscles and no guts. He’s been cowed into a submissive state by years of living with his selfish, controlling mother. Even at age 38, he must lie to her when he goes out on a date, to prevent her from flying into a jealous rage. His only real moments of pleasure come when he’s working out in the gym or striking his bodybuilding poses. His loneliness pushes him to vacation in Thailand, where he’s been told it’s much easier to meet women. It takes the love of a tiny woman to inspire this mountain of a man to stand up for himself. Teddy Bear is a quiet film that reminds us that we can’t allow others, even those we love, to define our lives for us. — Jason Heid
Compliance (Repeats Today, April 19 at 9:30 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Go See It
As I left the theater last night, I had an overwhelming sense of worry. I worried that my fiancée wasn’t safe at home, that I might get jumped on my walk home, or that I’d get hit by a car. Watching 90 minutes of slow, grinding torture porn will do that. Before the screening, the Dallas IFF rep said something along the lines of “This is a divisive film; please stick it out.” That’s an understatement. Throughout the film we witness a rape, consistent manipulation, and the total abuse of power. The fact that it was based on true events made the duration of the film nearly unwatchable. But I did watch it, and I was blown away. Compliance director Craig Zobel uses a deft hand to not overplay the drama, and lead Dreama Walker’s role as the victim is metered and perfect. This is not Saw. The torture is emotional and degrading, rather than bloody and murderous. But viewers will leave the theater with the same apathetic feeling towards humanity; we’re all screwed. — Bradford Pearson
Shorts 2 program (Repeats today, April 19 at 10 p.m. Angelika 7)
Rating: Go See It
Though I was underwhelmed by a few of the titles in the festival’s second program of fictional shorts, there’s enough interesting work in this group of mini-movies to make it worthwhile. My favorite was the sleekly stylish and absurd Aaron Burr Part 2, a purported attempt by the former vice president (and famed killer of Alexander Hamilton) to rehabilitate his historical image. I also enjoyed the locally produced Raspberry Jam, which tells a sort of fractured fairy tale about a paralyzed man, a bird, and jam-covered toast. A Letter to Julia, from Spain, is fun, featuring a retired couple dealing with the sighting of a UFO.
The most serious film of the bunch is Aurora Borealis, in which a power outage at a nursing home functions as an allegory of the dementia suffered by so many of the elderly. The Dump, from New Zealand, has the funky sense of humor we’ve come to expect from the Kiwis. The Swedish short Fungus is about a slighted girlfriend who has a bodily itch that drives her to strike back at her ex. Izzy & Salvador plays like a series of picture postcards from the road trip of a young couple on the brink of starting a family, somewhat reluctantly. And in the Indian-produced Audacity, a girl finds a satisfying way to teach her abusive father a lesson. — Jason Heid
5 Broken Cameras (Repeats April 22 at 3:15 p.m. Angelika 7)
Rating: Go See It
5 Broken Cameras, a documentary shot by a Palestinian father living in the tiny West Bank town of Bil’in, is the kind of film I would normally expect to see at the Dallas Video Festival. It is strikingly astute, exasperating, uncompromising, and difficult. It is also a product of citizen journalism, a film made possible by the increasing accessibility of the art of the moving image to the everyman. As a result, it offers an unfettered, unmediated, and unforgettable perspective into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
The filmmaker is Emad Burnat, who lives in Bil’in, a Palestinian village that in 2005 began a nonviolent resistance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank which were being constructed on village land, the olive groves sustain the Palestinian villagers. Emad purchases his first video camera around that time, after his fourth son is born, and one of the narrative threads running through the film is watching his boy grow up amidst the protests and eventual violence that engulf Bil’in. Emad captures the increasing encroachment of the settlements and the escalating aggression of the Israeli army, which fires rubber bullets, tear gas, and sometimes live ammunition at the protesters, mostly men, but also women and children. Over the course of six years, five of Emad’s cameras are broken, which becomes another way of marking the impact of the conflict on his person and family.
5 Broken Camera’s strength is its honesty, which it derives through the soft-spoken, appealing personality of Emad. He is, like his film, devoid of ideology, and his documentary lends a humanity and sensitivity to the Palestine people that feels rare. The most shocking moments in 5 Broken Cameras are those that show the vicious, unprovoked brutality on the part of the Israeli army. Horrifyingly, in one moment we see one of the beloved villagers shot. He dies, right there on the screen, which is a moment both terrifyingly gruesome, but also necessary. Video is a mediation between the viewer and reality, and Emad even admits to using his filmmaking as a way of shielding himself from what is taking place around him. But there is no way to really empathize with what is happening with Bil’in without feeling the blunt impact of death. It is a moment that drives home 5 Broken Camera’s real message: what the news cycle misses in its jabbering over politics and events is what is really at stake in the West Bank: the life and death of the innocent.
Sironia (Today, April 19 at 4 p.m. Angelika 8)
Rating: Worth a Shot
Singer Wes Cunningham plays Thomas, a talented musician who’s never quite gotten his big break in Los Angeles and decides to move with his pregnant wife (played by Dallas native Amy Acker) to a small city in Texas so that he can experience “a real place, with real people, just raising a family.” Of course, he learns that the grass is never quite as green as it seems to be from afar, and that finding where you belong in this world has much more to do with whom you’re with than it does the physical place you’re in. Much like Cunningham’s music (featured throughout the film),Sironia is an agreeable enough entertainment, if not terribly original or insightful. — Jason Heid
No Ashes No Phoenix (Today, April 19 at 4:30 p.m. Magnolia 5)
Rating: Worth a Shot
A documentary about a German professional basketball team, freshly promoted to the country’s premier league, struggling to avoid a finish at the bottom of the standings. After a series of lopsided losses, the Hagen Phoenix obtain star player Michael Jordan (no, not that Michael Jordan) to improve its roster. Instead they learn how destructive an outsized, self-obsessed personality can be to a locker room. As the Phoenix fight to avoid relegation to a second-tier league, we don’t hear enough about the motivations of the individual American and German players and coaches. Are they seeking a long-shot launching pad to the NBA, or are they just happy to be playing the game anywhere? The movie isn’t concerned. Still, No Ashes, No Phoenix was worth watching just to learn the delightful fact that there’s a German pro team whose mascot is the “New Yorker Phantoms.” — Jason Heid
Biba! One Island, 879 Votes (Today, April 19 at 5 p.m. Angelika 6)
Rating: Go See It
On the island of Tinian, part of the US-controlled Mariana Islands, a mere 879 people participate in a heated democratic process to elect a local leader. Holding sway over a great number of jobs, not to mention the future of the island’s grasp at prosperity (a fledgling casino industry) the election is all-important on this little island, but through its sharp focus, it also paints a sharp picture of the stakes and mechanisms of the democratic system. The incumbent is supported by civil employees whom he feeds and boozes with copious picnics (whole-roasting pigs is an almost daily, mouth-watering occurrence on Tinian), while his challengers accuse the incumbent of corruption. Colorful and pertinent, there is something almost Monty Python-like in the quaint and quirky microcosmic satire of Biba!’s scope, only none of it is very funny. – Peter Simek
Dirty Energy (Today, April 19 at 7 p.m. Magnolia 4)
Ratings: Go See It
In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, the government and British Petroleum rushed to clean up contaminants that threatened to decimate one of the world’s richest seafood habitats. But did they clean the Gulf, or just cover up the mess? That’s the question Bryan Hopkins’ Dirty Energy asks, but never quite definitely answers, by going to the people who know the waters the best: the fisherman. The stories that come out are disheartening, as an entire way of life seems on the verge of disappearing. Sickening are the insinuations that not only BP, but the US government, were colluding in a plan that sought to first get images of the spill of television sets, while taking measures to address the environmental catastrophe that may have worsened the situation, for example, by using toxins to sink oil to the Gulf floor. Dirty Energy is a canary, the first indication that the story of the BP oil spill is only just begun its second chapter. — Peter Simek
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (Today, April 19 at 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 Slayercreator 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
ON THE FRONTROW STAGE:
Tonight is the last night filmmakers will join FrontRow’s movie writers for interviews on a stage adjacent to the Magnolia Theater in the West Village. Join us between 6:30 and 7 p.m for conversations with Peter Weller, star of Robocop, and Dallas Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson, who appears in tonight’s centerpiece screening of The Other Dream Team.
Image: From Teddy Bear