Evolution of a Criminal

Today at the Dallas International Film Festival (4/5/14)

We have reviews of today and yesterday's movies, and let you know the film talent that will be in attendance on the third day of the film festival.

 Shorts Program 2

12:30 p.m. April 5, Angelika 7 | 5:30 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

Based upon an oral history, Tobacco Burn (B) reproduces an episode of defiance among slaves in the antebellum period. The stirring Ni-Ni (A) zeroes in on one of the aimless youth of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and his noble attempt at redemption. Aftermath (A) is a visually striking coming-of-age vignette, set against the bleak backdrop of a post-apocalyptic ice age, in which men must kill or be killed. Tryouts captures adolescent angst through the potent story of a hijab-wearing Muslim girl who wants to join her high-school cheerleading squad.  — Farraz Khan

Queens & Cowboys

2:30 p.m. April 5, Angelika 6 | 12 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

Grade: B

Matt Livadary’s documentary follows the gay rodeo circuit for a year, using aSpellbound format. The film peeks into the lives of some of its prominent competitors, framing them against he story of the rodeo and its importance to gay culture as well as the it challenges American presumptions about masculinity, strength, and western bravado. Two characters who stand out are Wade Earp, a Dallas-based competitor who lost his partner to aids and struggles to beat the best cowboy on the circuit, and Chris Sherman, a young man from Oklahoma who couldn’t find a roping partner on the “straight” circuit after his college teammates found out he was gay. There’s not enough story here for Queers and Cowboys to be a truly great documentary, but the film still delivers a engaging, candid, and occationally moving look at the lives of a handful of characters that you root for, not only in rodeo, but in life. — Peter Simek


The Road to Austin

4:30 p.m. April 5, Angelika 4 | 4:30 p.m. April 7, Angelika 6

Grade: B+

This promotional video for something called the Artist Wellness Program gets markedly better about 20 minutes in, once it becomes a concert film, though it’s frustratingly vague about when and where exactly this tribute show to musician Stephen Bruton took place. The producers would have been wise to skip the cheesy introductory segment during which John Paul DeJoria and Kris Kristofferson pretend to have a casual conversation at a roadside honky-tonk. How much you enjoy the rest of Road to Austin will depend on how much you enjoy the music of the likes of Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt, though the highlight of the show for me was the astonishing vocal talents of opera singer Cara Johnston. As much praise as the participants heap on Saint Willie Nelson, it’s a shame he didn’t take part in the production. — Jason Heid


Shorts Program 1

 Repeats 5 p.m. April 5, Angelika 6

Once again the short films prove to be among the highlights of the festival. The best of this group of six — The Bravest, the Boldest (A-) — depicts a woman being visited by two soldiers who’ve come to tell her that her son has been killed in a war overseas. Its final, heartbreaking moments are honest and well-earned. Most of the rest are offbeat comedies. The Lottery (B+) is a lightly funny story about a guy marrying his girlfriend so that she too can obtain a green card to come to the United States. Balcony (B) is a technical feat, all told in one continuous 20-minute take. This Albanian language short from Kosovo is about the chaos that slowly builds as a crowd of onlookers gathers below to watch a child who refuses to come down from the ledge of his apartment’s balcony. In Dig (B), a father begins shoveling a hole in his backyard for unexplained reasons, and only his young daughter comes to his defense when the rest of the neighborhood thinks he’s gone nuts. Satellite Beach (B+) is directed by Luke and Andrew Wilson and appears to have been shot guerilla-style as the space shuttle Endeavor was transported 12 miles through the streets of Los Angeles to its retirement home at the California Science Center. Luke plays the protagonist and unreliable narrator of the story. The only letdown in the group was Jack’s Not Sick Anymore (C), which is overly wrought in its music and emotionality. — Jason Heid


Brazilian Western

Repeates 8:15 p.m. April 5, Angelika 8

Grade: B+

Don’t be fooled by the title, because it’s difficult to categorize this gritty crime saga, inspired by a Brazilian folk song, about an outlaw (Fabricio Boliveira) who becomes entangled in an early-1980s world of drug dealers, alluring women, and political corruption. The stylish result is uneven but frequently thrilling as it puts a fresh twist on familiar themes such as forbidden passion and gangster vengeance. — Todd Jorgerson



8:30 p.m. April 5, Angelika 7

Grade: B-

Eric Hueber’s follow-up to his madcap, surrealistic, psychedelic documentary, Rainbows End, is a sweaty and hard-worn, though heartfelt family drama called Flutter. Musician David (Jesse Plemons) has left JoLynn (Lindsay Pulsipher) with their son, Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.) who suffers from severe glaucoma. She grows marijuana for treatment and struggles to pay her bills. A nosy mother-in-law, who lives next door, hounds her and calls child protective services. Johnathan lives in a dream world with his pet pig, battling imaginary sea monsters that parallel the adult stand-offs. The film’s heart is in the right place, and is supportive by a handful of sensitive performances as well as a flare for surrealistic asides that mesh childhood imagination with the stresses of adult life. But an over-wrought script and uneven pacing create characters which never quite feels present, and a wistful sense of melancholy that never quite gels. — Peter Simek


Evolution of a Criminal

9:30 p.m. April 5 Angelika 4

Grade: A

Darius Clark Monroe was a good kid, adored by his parents, respected by his teachers. He grew up in a lower middle class household outside of Houston. His parents worked, sometimes multiple jobs, but still had trouble making ends meet. By his own account, Monroe felt the burden of his parent’s financial struggles. He used to tell his mom that he would rob a bank for her. Then, when he was sixteen-years-old, Monroe did.

Evolution of a Criminal is a rather remarkable first person documentary that takes us through the implications of the director’s crime, how it affected his life, his family, and the people in the bank the day he and two friends crashed through door waving a shotgun. The result is a film that functions both as an act of atonement and a intimate look into the challenge facing convicted felons trying to build a life after conviction. — Peter Simek


Ladies of the House

11:15 p.m. April 5 Angelika 7

The raucous premiere screen of John Wildman’s Ladies of the House, a buoyant and irreverent genre flick, was not enough to keep me awake for its 93 minutes. This is no fault of the film. It was Friday night, the film started about 20 minutes after its scheduled midnight time slot, and I’m, apparently, becoming an old man. That experience proved for a surrealistic experience, hearing second hand about strange scenes involving caged men, cannibalism, and copious nudity. The movie opens with three horny guys following a stripper from the club to her home with hopes of getting their slow-minded friend laid on his birthday. At first it seems to work. She invites them inside; they drink tequila and smoke marijuana. But a scuffle in the bed room and wayward gunshot escalates the situation. Soon the wounded stripper’s three stripper roommates come home. The boys hide, but these girls are more than what they bargained for. Gory, festishistic mayhem ensues, and the late night crowd on the festival’s first day ate it up. — Peter Simek


Other reviews from yesterday:

About Mom and Dad

Repeats 7:45 p.m. April 10, Angelika 8

Grade: C+

This Texas-made film seems like a perfect fit for a weekend slot on the Hallmark Channel, populated as it is by characters required to forgo any semblance of logic, good sense, or emotional consistency in service of its overly contrived screenplay. There’s little chemistry among any of the couples in this story of various infidelities and rekindling of romance against the backdrop of a family wedding. Still, the likeable cast might make it a pleasant enough movie for an afternoon of laundry folding. — Jason Heid


Cast/crew scheduled to appear at DIFF today, April 5: 

BELIEVE ME — Alex Carroll (Producer), Will Bakke (Director) and Michael B. Allen (Screenwriter)

ANNA — Jorge Dorado (Director)

ROAD TO AUSTIN — Gary Fortin (Director, Screenwriter), Ken Kushnick (Associate Producer)

RANDOM STOP — Benjamin Arfmann (Director, Screenwriter), JP Castel (Producer)

WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE — John Lang (Producer), Nick Robinson (Associate Producer)

LITTLE ACCIDENTS — Sara Colangelo (Director, Screenwriter)

DAKOTA’S SUMMER — Tim Armstrong (Director, Screenwriter), Benjamin Feingold (Producer),  Jade Pettyjohn (actor), Leslie Anne Huff (actor)

MR. LAMB — Jean Pesce (Director, Screenwriter),

EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL — Darius Clark Monroe (Director), Sigrid Tillman (Mother of Darius Monroe)

I WAS A TEENAGE GIRL — Augustine Frizzell (Director, Screenwriter)

PRODUCE — Chris Dowling (Director), Milan Chakraborty (Producer), David DeSanctis (Producer, Actor), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Producer), McKaley Miller (Actor)

SIDDHARTH — Richie Mehta (Director, Screenwriter)