Still from Tower, a documentary about the 1966 mass shootings at the University of Texas.

Today at the Dallas International Film Festival (4/17/16)

Daily updates and reviews from the festival.

We are rolling. The Nasher hosts two panels early this afternoon: One on the topic of virtual reality technology, the other on filmmakers making the leap from independent films to big-budget pictures. It’s a subject Dallas director and panelist David Lowery is intimately familiar with.

Special programming at Dallas City Performance Hall includes two showcases of shorts made by North Texas high school students, and the screening of the much-buzzed-about Towera dynamic documentary about the sniper who killed 16 people from the University of Texas Tower in Austin in 1966.

Here are the rest of the films showing today, along with reviews for the ones we’ve already seen. Check back here for daily updates and reviews from the festival.

What We Saw

Oddball
Repeats 11:45 a.m. April 23, Angelika 7
Grade: A-
I was completely won over by this charming Australian family film about a troublemaking dog who helps save a colony of penguins and in the process keeps a family together. It transcends the pablum fed to audiences in so many other kid-friendly fare with a genuinely funny script that makes time for wonderfully offbeat moments from even its minor characters. The cast is uniformly terrific and elevates the material. — Jason Heid

 

Collective: Unconscious
Repeats 7:15 p.m. April 21, Alamo 7
Grade: C+
This is an experiment in having a group of five filmmakers adapt each other’s dreams into a collection of five shorts linked together by a half jokey/half self-serious structure that emphasizes the relationship between hypnosis and dreams and cinema itself. While I enjoyed the premise of the sequence about a horrific children’s TV show hosted by the Grim Reaper, the others mostly served to reinforce the truism that there are few things duller in this world than listening to other people recount their dreams. — Jason Heid

 

Kill Zone 2
Repeats: 7 pm April 22, Alamo Drafthouse 2
Grade: B
This Hong Kong action thriller is so gleefully over-the-top you can’t help but cheer as it kicks, stabs, and shoots past the boundaries of good taste. Martial arts master Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) stars as an undercover officer locked up in a corrupt Thai prison after a job gone wrong. A guard with a young daughter in need of a life-saving bone marrow transplant finds himself caught up with the wrongfully imprisoned Hong Kong cop in a plot involving a sinister businessman with an army of well-trained cronies and his own health problems. The story isn’t quite as clever as the well-choreographed shootouts and fistfights, but that’s hardly the point. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride. — Alex Macon

 

Viva
Repeats: 7 pm April 23, Angelika 7
Grade: B+
Viva is a touching drama about a young man who is finding a new lease on life at a Havana drug club until his long-absent father returns in a whirlwind of late-stage alcoholism and misguided machismo. The Cuban city is shot beautifully, its slums and nightclubs equally striking. Hector Medina and Jorge Perrugoria, both with quietly breathtaking performances, turn what could be a trite story about a father and son getting to know each other into something more complex. — Alex Macon

 

Weiner
Repeats: 12:15 pm April 24, Angelika 7
Grade: B+
The media loves a good political scandal, and nobody can serve them up better than Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former New York congressman with the unfortunate name whose infamous sexting escapades ruined his career. This sympathetic documentary follows his ill-fated attempt to rebuild his reputation during a mayoral run in 2013, when his past indiscretions again threatened his marriage to a Hillary Clinton aide and dominated the news for the wrong reasons. The film digs behind the headlines with remarkable access to Weiner and his team, offering an amusing and topical cautionary tale about how quickly campaign issues can become derailed by a tabloid sideshow. — Todd Jorgenson

 

SonitaApril 17, Angelika 8
 
Grade: A-

This inspiring documentary follows the teen-aged Sonita, an Afghan immigrant who lives in Tehran and dreams of being a rapper. An oppressive government and her own mother, who hopes to marry Sonita off for the money, are less enthused about this budding music career. A classic “follow your dreams” story and a powerful denunciation of the injustices forced on young women, Sonita is as important as it is moving. — Alex Macon

 

Hotel Dallas
Does not repeat
Grade: B+

This sort-of-documentary should be seen for its visual flair, audacious and unconventional storytelling, and stranger-than-fiction story about the popularity of the TV show Dallas in the communist Romania of the 1980s. There’s also a wonderfully surreal road trip, music, and allusions to the execution of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife (other than Dallas, maybe the most widely-watched television event in Romanian history?) The film juggles a number of other ideas — some of them broad and existential, some more specific to the viral creep of Western pop culture into the former Soviet bloc — and I couldn’t help but think it would have benefited from dropping a few of them. Although it tries to be too many things at once, Hotel Dallas remains a fascinating effort from the duo of Livia Ungur and Sherng-Lee Huang. — Alex Macon

Showing Today

All the Colors of the Night

11:45 a.m. April 17, Angelika 4; 4:15 p.m. April 22, Alamo 7

Grade: C-

This Brazilian film about people (and at least one ghost) sitting around telling stories of violence to one another in tones of faux profundity felt like a long slog even at its relatively short running time of just over an hour. Set primarily in an apartment with a spectacular ocean view, two women ponder what to do with the dead body of a man that somehow came to be on the living room floor. They get side-tracked swapping tangentially related tales from their past, and I’m not sure I ever understood how what happened happened, or who it happened to, or even whether any of it happened. All the Colors of the Night is part of a grand tradition of would-be artistic works that attempt to pass off sheer inscrutability as emotional and intellectual depth.  — Jason Heid

 

A Tale of Love and Darkness

Noon April 17, Angelika 6

Natalie Portman makes her debut as a writer-director in this adaptation of a memoir about a family witnessing the creation of the modern-day state of Israel.

 

In Pursuit of Silence

12:15 pm April 17, Angelika 7

Grade: B

You might want to close your eyes during parts of this documentary, and that’s a good thing. As it mostly focuses its camera on mundane shots of rundown urban buildings and picturesque rural landscapes, it urges moviegoers to just listen to the natural sounds around you — without distractions from technology or incessant chatter. The point is that we don’t have enough silence in our lives, and although such a concept might seem obvious, the meditative approach of director Patrick Shen is persuasive. Although the pace is deliberate, those in the right mindset should appreciate a film that doesn’t need to speak to get its point across. — Todd Jorgenson

 

Romancing April

12:30 pm April 17, Angelika 8; 1 pm April 19, Angelika 7

A romantic comedy about two hopeless writers and even more hopeless liars falling in love in Puebla, Mexico.

 

Magallenes

2 pm April 17, Angelika 4; 4:15 pm April 21, Alamo Drafthouse 7

A taxi driver’s past as a violent and corrupt military officer in Peru comes back to haunt him in this drama.

 

Takim (The Team)

2:30 pm April 17, Angelika 6; 1:30 pm April 18, Angelika 8

Grade: B-

This Turkish film about two brothers who enter a tournament to save the family-owned soccer pitch from a sinister developer marks every single box on the “sports movie cliche” checklist. There’s the assembling of the ragtag group of misfit players, led by the stern coach whose own career ended short of the big leagues. The rival team, whose black jerseys might as well be labeled “bad guys,” oozing punchability with every snide put-down and haughty gesture. The rousing speech about the importance of teamwork, delivered in the huddle before the big game. Director Emre Sahin has some larger political ideas about urbanization and inequality in Istanbul on his mind, but, for the most part, Takim just wants to be a feelgood sports movie. It succeeds on that front, with a fun cast and stylish “street soccer” scenes that should leave a smile on your face, even though you’ve seen it all before. —Alex Macon

 

Shorts 2

2:45 pm April 17, Angelika 7

Those titles available for preview include the coming-of-age tale Battalion of My Beat, about a teenage girl who dreams of joining the Algerian military, which promotes a message of equality without turning preachy or melodramatic. … The amusing comedy How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps does provide the titular advice, but it’s more about the romantic travails of a guy (Beck Bennett) who goes to the gym. Conan O’Brien even pops in. … Heartfelt yet contrived, PB is about an unlikely musical partnership between two female outcasts at a snooty private school. — Todd Jorgenson

 

Sonita
 
April 17, Angelika 8

Grade: A-

This inspiring documentary follows the teen-aged Sonita, an Afghan immigrant who lives in Tehran and dreams of being a rapper. An oppressive government and her own mother, who hopes to marry Sonita off for the money, are less enthused about this budding music career. A classic “follow your dreams” story and a powerful denunciation of the injustices forced on young women, Sonita is as important as it is moving. — Alex Macon

 

Until Proven Innocent

4:30 pm April 17, Angelika 4

Grade: B+

The latest in the genre of true-crime, questionable-conviction documentaries (The Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer) benefits from having much of its story laid out in a gripping 2012 piece in Texas Monthly. Corpus Christi mother Hannah Overton was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of capital murder in the fatal salt poisoning of her four-year-old foster son, despite strong evidence that the child’s death was accidental. The usual suspects, including a myopic police investigation, an overzealous prosecution, and a complicit news media, are called into question. Overton’s lawyers and the Texas Monthly  journalist who brought so much attention to the case serve as the Greek chorus in an all-too-necessary investigation of the failings of our criminal justice system, and the film finds its emotional gravity in interviews with Overton’s family and the wrongfully imprisoned mother of four. —Alex Macon

 

Mr. Pig

4:45 pm April 17, Angelika 6; 9:45 pm April 18, Angelika 7

Danny Glover stars as an alcoholic farmer who sets out on a cross-country adventure with Howard, his pig, in an effort to save his farm from the crushing forces of global capitalism.

 

The Anthropologist

5:15 pm April 17, Angelika 8; 5:15 pm April 18, Angelika 8

Grade: C

Somewhere in this documentary, there is an important and powerful film about the catastrophic effects of climate change on long-standing cultural practices around the world. Yet the movie that could have been is interwoven with a cloying narrative about an American teenager’s ambivalence toward her anthropologist mother’s career, which takes them both from Siberia to the coast of Virginia, where rising temperatures are wreaking havoc on old traditions. This is paralleled, until it’s inexplicably abandoned about halfway through the movie, by an interview with the daughter of the famed 20th century anthropologist Margaret Mead, who happily followed her mother into the field. Perhaps this was meant to be a moving portrait of a mother-daughter relationship, rather than a profound call-to-action about climate change.The Anthropologist, a film suffering from a severe identity crisis, is neither. — Alex Macon

 

Life, Animated

5:45 pm April 17, Angelika 7

One of the most acclaimed documentaries to emerge from Sundance, Life, Animated follows an autistic young man who communicates with his family through animated Disney movies.

 

Honky Tonk Heaven

7:30 pm April 17, Angelika 4; 5:30 pm April 18, Angelika 6

A documentary about Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke, a national landmark for country music.

 

The Bad Kids

7:45 pm April 17, Angelika 8; 4:45 pm April 19, Angelika 8

Grade: B

A heartbreaking look at troubled students attending a last-chance alternative high school in Black Rock, Calif., The Bad Kids also delivers an inspiring portrayal of the administrators given the impossible task of breaking a cycle beyond their control. The tragedy is obvious, and deeply felt, with poverty, drug addiction, and domestic chaos working against whatever stability a classroom can provide. The teachers’ quiet compassion is a lifeline, but we’re left with the discomfiting impression that for every student pulled out of a hopeless situation, another is left to sink. The documentary is an effective reminder that the only “bad kids” are those we fail to help. — Alex Macon

 

Operation Avalanche

8 pm April 17, Angelika 6; 10 pm April 18, Angelika 6

A Cold War-era film about two CIA spies who, in 1967, uncover one of NASA’s biggest secrets in the course of an investigation.

 

Animated Shorts Competition

8:15 pm April 17, Angelika 7; 5 pm April 18, Angelika 4

Ten animated films from around the world.

 

Halfway

9:45 pm April 17, Angelika 4

Grade: B-

Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) gives a nicely understated performance in this earnest melodrama that features some powerful moments before turning heavy-handed in its second half. Aaron plays a bitter ex-con whose half-brother (T.J. Power) negotiates an early prison release so he can work on a fledgling dairy farm operated by a troubled single mom (Amy Pietz) in rural Wisconsin, where he has trouble adjusting to the quiet life among the redneck locals. The character-driven screenplay by rookie director Ben Caird includes some worthwhile observations about cultural diversity, the justice system, and second chances. Those good intentions make the predictable twists easier to digest. — Todd Jorgenson

 

White Girl

10:30 pm April 16, Angelika 8; 10:15 pm April 17, Angelika 8

Grade: C

The protagonist is indeed white, but it’s cocaine that plays the title role in this gritty urban drama with plenty of hot-button issues bubbling beneath the surface. It’s about an Oklahoma girl (Morgan Saylor) who moves to a working-class neighborhood in New York for college, where she becomes caught up in a downward spiral of drugs and debauchery, even falling in love with a small-time drug dealer (Brian Marc). The screenplay by rookie director Elizabeth Wood offers a moderately provocative look at racial profiling, gender politics, the justice system, and more, but overall seems more interested in pushing buttons than generating emotional depth for its characters. — Todd Jorgenson

 

I Promise You Anarchy

10:30 pm April 17, Angelika 7; 10:45 pm April 18, Angelika 8

Grade: B

There’s style and attitude to spare in this gritty Mexican crime thriller about a gay teenage skateboarder (Diego Calva Hernandez) involved in illegal blood trafficking whose quest to make some extra cash hits a snag when his lover (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) becomes ill and his operation becomes mixed up with a Mexico City kidnapping ring. At its core, the film is a coming-of-age romance that hints at broader socioeconomic issues including immigration and black-market pharmaceuticals. The evocative visuals from director Julio Hernandez Cordon combine with the natural performances by an ensemble cast of newcomers to bring a raw authenticity to some otherwise familiar subject matter. — Todd Jorgenson

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