The Dallas International Film Festival is winding down and I still have two more things to write about.
One of the good things about writing on film is that companies do send out screeners, just to make sure that the press has a chance to see the film even if they cannot make the screening. One such screener I received this week was Spilt Milk. The film is directed by Blake Calhoun and stars Jake Johnson, Chase Jeffery and Kimberly Matula.
It is the tale of one night at a grocery store. Jake plays Todd Wells, an assistant manager on the night shift. At one time, he was one of the high profile kids in high school. An accident has knocked the wind out of his ambition.
That night, the store is robbed by a low-level robber who was once a running buddy of Todd. Our robber takes a group as hostages while everyone waits for the automatic safe to open at 5 AM. Along the way connections are made by all the captured. Call it a cross between The Breakfast Club and Clerks.
It is a witty and funny little slice of life film that shows a low budget and Texas crew can make a film on the quality of a Hollywood feature.
The other great part of being a critic is that sometimes studios will screen a film just for critics. Beautiful Boy was shown to the area critics a few weeks back and made its debut at DIFF Thursday night.
Beautiful Boy is one of the hardest films to watch. It is the story of a mom and dad (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) who are given the shock of their lives. Their college age son has gone over the edge and become a mass killer ala Virginia Tech. It is a tragic love story where the people left behind have to sift through the 'how' and 'why' of a tragic event. It is also about the media and the macabre obsession some have with tragedy.
On Friday afternoon, I sat down and interviewed the makers of Beautiful Boy Shawn Ku, Michael Armbruster and Lee Clay. Closer to the release date in June, there will be an article on both the film and the film makers. They are three lively and animated young men who have crafted something very far from their basic personalities.
While I cannot write about the film, I can say that it is a bit of cinema that will be discussed well into 2012. It hits home on so many points about both family and media that it will generate all sorts of buzz. This is the kind of film that fills hours of radio talk show air. It is easily the most import work to be screened at the DIFF. Beautiful Boy should be a Must See for the Summer of 2011.
Monday night I caught a DIFF film but not at the fest that night. Soul Surfer was screened over the weekend but I did not make either screening. I caught it at the regular press screening and there are embargoes on films shown in this venue. So, even though it was shown for the fest, I cannot write comments because of where I saw it. There will be a full review at the end of the week.
Tuesday I made two different screenings. Gary Cogill, the former film critic for WFAA in Dallas introduced Blood of Eagles. Attending the screening are the father/son team who made the film, the second in a trilogy about the Indonesia fight with the Dutch in the aftermath of WWII. According to the makers, the film parallels for the Indonesia people the American Revolution and for the Dutch, the film parallels the Vietnam War.
The best way to describe the film is a cross between the Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare. The film is a stand-alone adventure with a ragtag group of former cadets who are forced to work together to fight the imperialistic forces of the Dutch. These guys must cross the countryside and take down an airstrip. They know that it is a suicide mission but they believe in freedom for their people. It runs more along the lines of one of those films shot during and just after WWII that showed the best of the troops.
Blood of Eagles is both a fun action adventure and a Indonesia flag waving patriotic flick. It is one of the best films at the DIFF and should not be missed, especially on the big screen.
My second feature was the animation competition. It is another mixed bag of films with one truly standout film. That film is Paths of Hate. It is a film of two WWII aces fighting in the skies and eventually on the ground, full of vile to the point of mindless destruction. Imagine Heavy Metal to a sinister degree. It rips at you in a way few films have ever done and is one of the best films of the entire festival.
The rest of the entries are ranked on nothing other than my opinion of best to worst. Something Left, Something Taken combines different styles of animation to tell a tale of a couple visiting San Francisco. They are the kind of individuals who obsess on the macabre and begin to wonder if their driver to the city may be the Zodiac Killer. Stanley Pickle is the most interesting film of the group. The story is of a wind-up family with a son who is interested in the fairy creature that lives in the woods just outside the house. It is done stop motion style but with live action creatures. The result is fascinating turn that rolls somewhere between an outtake of Hard Day’s Night and a Wallace and Gromit cartoon. Love Patate is an import about the love between a man and a root. It also mixes different styles of animation but does so seamlessly.
The Boy who Wanted to be a Lion is a weakly animated story of a hard of hearing boy who finds a kindred spirit with a majestic beast at the zoo. His eventual ending is telegraphed way too far in advance. Lipsett Diaries are an interpretation of the artwork of Lipsett, someone taken before his time. While somewhat interesting, all the browns and dark colors just didn’t work and the animation was purposely rough. It is kind of boring. Jupiter Elicius concerns a weather guy who dreams of carrying the biggest storm in the cosmos. The animation is flat and the story pedestrian.
After a Saturday night of motorcycle races and a day of computer catch-up, I was ready to hit the 3rd night of the fest at the Angelika, one of the best theaters in Dallas. First up, the short documentary contest. There were six different entrees in competition and they carried a wide range of styles and languages.
Rating them starting with my favorite: Just About Famous was about the celebrity impersonation business and national convention. It was lighthearted and funny, with these near celebrities giving it their all. The cast list included such nearly famous people as many former presidents, Dr Phil, and even Dane Edna.
Grandpa's Wet Dream is an Asian import about a sweet little old man who takes on a very adult career late in life. It is just a bit shocking but has an endearing heart.
Fussilago is a German film about a woman accused of terrorist acts. The visual style of the work is the single most impressive aspect of the film. It uses every trick in the visual handbook to tell the tale.
The High Level Bridge is about a filmmaker throwing his camera off a bridge known for suicides. Before he does, we get a taste of the bridge and its dubious history.
Closed for the Storm: Six Flags in New Orleans concerns its lens with an abandoned amusement part. It is more of a visual montage without narration.
The strangest little bird is 39A about an artist making his first artistic statement, shooting a family movie about visiting NASA back in the 1970's.
After a stern warning about the film I was going to see, I decided to take the advice of a fellow critic and caught Apart. This is a brilliant little work, that is part love story and part mental disorder. Saying anything more would give away the joy of discovery. The film forces one to pay attention as it slips to different parts of the lives of the two characters.
A major find of Apart is young Olesyi Rulin, the girl who haunts our hero's dreams. She gives a wide-eyed innocence in some scenes and a hard edge in others. This is a young performer to watch for.
Opening the show was a animated short. Though the name escapes me, it was a music video style production that just stunned the audience. After it played, there were chants from the audience to 'Play it Again", high praise from the film weary crowd.
Tonight is the first full night of DIFF and I’m still trying to get over the creeping crud that attacked my Thursday morning. With my sickness, I wasn’t able to make any event so far, so no press party. I’m looking forward to catching films and catching up on what is happening at the Fest.
Both films tonight were at the Magnolia, a theater that has the worst parking EVER. It is a major struggle to find a place to leave the car and then one has to struggle to get around all the beautiful people who stand around, blocking the sidewalks and acting if just being there makes them a part of the privileged class.
First up is Lucky, the film presented by Ann-Margret. The story is of Ben Keller (Colin Hanks) a down on his luck kind of guy who wins 36 million. His newfound wealth changes his world, giving him confidence to pursue Lucy St Martin (Ari Graymor). Little does the little gold digger Lucy know that Ben is a serial killer. As Lucy discovers all the truths about her new husband, the body count rises. It is the blackest of black comedy that had the audience in stitches up until the end. After the screening Ari Graymor and her director received a tremendous amount of applause.
The second feature tonight was Rainbows End and is a documentary that runs like a farce. The film is of a group of men who make a trek to California. This traveling band of brothers include a rock band that has pieces of the Challenger as a drum kit, a cock trainer, a twirling sidekick and an opening ‘one man band’ opening act. The story is their trip to the sun drenched coast. Along the way the guys have to deal with a broken down bus, chicken feathers and the stress of being caught in close quarters. It also was widely praised by the audience and looks to be a shoo in for the Texas Competition at the Fest.