Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dallas International Film Festival Review

We spent this week at the 5th annual Dallas International Film Festival. We missed it last year and made up for it by going to seven screenings this year. There were two promos that ran before every movie that I feel the need mention, I wish I could find them so you could know what I'm talking about, but alas, I cannot. The first was the promo for the Earth Day Dallas 2011 event. It had the happiest, most infectious whistling jingle ever. You may hear me whistling it several months from now. The second was a promo for the festival itself. It features a fake director by the name of Vittorio Vere. It was sort of funny the first one or two times, but by the time I had sat through it for the seventh time I wanted to do a fist pump and yell "Hooray! I don't have to see that again!" Please, please, please DIFF, don't subject us to that again next year.

On to the movies! I will give a short review of each in the same order in which we saw them.

The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan: During the Vietnam War a man from Washington, Texas went AWOL and joined up with the VC. He vanished and hasn't been seen since the Khmer Rouge days in Cambodia. More than likely he was killed by the Khmer Rouge. A journalist who's been following the story for years, a Vietnam Vet who claimed to have met Nolan (which, according to the producer of the movie, might be doubtful), and Nolan's brother go to Vietnam to look for him. They meet Nolan's Vietnamese stepson and various other former VC and Khmer Rouge people who had dealings with him but get pretty well run around by them. I hope that they do find his remains one day. They're pretty sure that he's in a field in Cambodia, but there are a lot of people buried in that field and it could take quite a long time to figure our if any of them is Nolan.
I hate saying that this was probably the worst of the features that we saw because that makes it sound like I didn't like it. I did enjoy it quite a bit, it was a good documentary and I'd recommend it to anyone, but the others were better.

Documentary Shorts: There were six movies and I'll talk about them each individually.
Short 1: Tussilago: Swedish woman falls in love with a German terrorist in the 1970s, gets arrested and very poorly treated. Suffers from mental illness due to her poor treatment back then and doesn't get any treatment for it until a few years ago. Very sad. Visually fascinating.

Short 2: Grandpa's Wet Dream: Terrible story poorly told. Dirty old man in Japan makes some pornography, sells some movie posters for less money than he wants, and jokes with some people about how his family might be embarrassed about what he does. Don't see this. It's really bad.

Short 3: 39-A: A Travel Tale of Interminable: The spaceship old travel trip family Kennedy Cape. This is Amsterdam. Disjointed follow first at hard. Loved it.

Short 4: Just About Famous: A convention of celebrity lookalikes. Set to mariachi music. Lots of fun, very funny. Perfect subject for a short film.

Short 5: Closed for Storm: Six Flags New Orleans: This park closed for Hurricane Katrina and never reopened. This film feels like a series of photographs set to music. No words save for a few text cards at the beginning and end. I believe this is on youtube, and it's worth a look.

Short 6: The High Level Bridge: This bridge is a landmark in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It's a very popular place for suicide there. Apparently everybody in Edmonton knows somebody who's jumped. At the end they throw the camera off the bridge. This is a little hard to watch, but worth it.

Wild Horse, Wild Ride: Outstanding. Simply fantastic. This got a standing ovation. Wild mustangs are taken off of government land to prevent overpopulation. To encourage adoption of these mustangs competitions are held where trainers take a horse for 100 days to train it for competition and auction. The oldest and biggest of these competitions is in Fort Worth in September. The film follows a handful of these trainers over the course of the 100 days and the subsequent competition. The bonds that develop between these horses and the people who are training them is something to see. We're talking about going to the Extreme Mustang Makeover this year because of this film.

The Prosecutor: This fim follows the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court as the ICC begins to hear its first cases. They do a quite good job of showing not only the importance of the idea of the ICC to its supporters and the futility of the ICC in the minds of its detractors. Regardless of what you think of the court, its role, its legitimacy, etc. this is a film that is certainly worth your time. Like a good documentary should it got us talking and thinking about this issues it raised.

Small Town Murder Songs: Our first fiction film of the festival. The police in a small town in Ontario investigates a murder. The police chief has a serious anger problem and the actor who plays him shows him as a man on edge really well. His dealing with that anger is in a way a reason why the killer gets caught. The music may have been the best part of the whole thing. Shape note music turned up to 11!

Ironclad: Twenty men attempt to defend a castle and hold off an army led by King John as he tries to reclaim the power he lost after signing the Magna Carta. Some good, old fashioned, blood and guts battle scenes are a good way to start a double feature to end a festival. "You are no more a king than the boil on my arse," is quite the memorable line, and the Braveheart-esque scene where the Baron has his hands and feet cut off and then is flung by catapult against the keep of the castle while screaming for his men to hold the keep was impressive. My one big criticism is that I did not like the Hollywood-like forbidden love story. One of the defenders of the castle is a Templar Knight. Now, there's so much garbage out there about the Templars that I really don't trust anything I've heard about them, but it's presented in the movie as an order of warrior monastics. Monastics, as in celibate monks. If that's the historical truth or not, I don't know, but that's how it's presented in the film, so that's what I'm going with for this particular criticism. He is seduced by the Lady of the Castle. After he succumbs to the temptation and they have sex he feels guilty about it and tells her they shouldn't have done it. She tells him that she's not a sin and he doesn't have much to say about that. I couldn't help but think, well, no, you're not a sin, but that's hardly the point. You're a married woman and he's a monk! What you did was wrong. At the end when her husband was dead and he had been released from his order and vows and they go off together I had no problem with, but come on! The movie was about defending your principles, and this sub-plot was about the virtue of giving in to your passions. It made no sense. That aside, very good film.

13 Assassins: We joked going in that we were about to see the same movie that we had just left. We were right, sort of. It does deal with the same idea of standing up to corrupt power, but they are very different. This is a Japanese movie set in the waning days of the Shogunate. The Shogun wants his half-brother to be on the council. The half-brother is a sadistic maniac and doesn't believe that people beneath him in the social order are anything more than property and animals he can do what he wants with. If you had any doubt about his sadism it was dispelled when they showed his former mistress (I think) who, when he got bored with her, had her limbs and tongue cut off, her thrown out in the street and her village massacred. Not easy to watch. The justice minister knows that this madman cannot be put into power and recruits an old samurai to deal with him. He in turn recruits 12 others and they trap the lunatic as he travels from Edo to his home. The madman has a 200 strong armed escort with him. The assassins essentially purchase a town, set it up as a massive booby trap and kill everybody. The final scene has the old samurai and his nephew face the lunatic, the two remaining guards, and the chief guard, who happened to be a fellow student way back when with the old samurai. The nephew takes care of the two guards, no problem. The old samurai has single combat with his old classmate and (ahem) chops his head off. He lectures the lunatic and they stab each other. The lunatic thanks the samurai for the most exciting day of his life and the samurai chops his head off and dies. All I can think to say is, as my friend Ash would say, yowza, wowza, holy cowza!

In order of preference:
1. Wild Horse, Wild Ride
2. Ironclad
3. 13 Assassins
4. Just About Famous
5. 39-A: A Travel Tale of Interminable
6. Prosecutor
7. Small Town Murder Songs
8. Closed for Storm
9. The High Level Bridge
10. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan
11. Tussilago
12. Grandpa's Wet Dream

See you next year DIFF!

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