By Don Simpson | March 31, 2011
The Dallas International Film Festival is heading into its 5th year with a lineup that is highlighted by highly anticipated new films from Steve James (The Interrupters), Morgan Spurlock (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), James Marsh (Project Nim), Takashi Miike (13 Assassins) and Miranda July (The Future) as well as films that have been buzzing around the festival circuit for the past few months such as Armadillo, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey and Littlerock.
A menagerie of high profile stars are also slated for attendance, including: Maria Bello, Russell Brand, Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Connelly, Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Jennifer Garner, Paul Giamatti, Summer Glau, Amber Heard, Helen Hunt, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Dennis Quaid, Michael Sheen, Mira Sorvino, Marisa Tomei and John Waters.
With 157 films representing 26 countries, nine World Premieres and six US Premieres, the 11-day Dallas International Film Festival will run March 31 – April 10, 2011. The ever diligent writing staff here at Smells Like Screen Spirit has already seen several of the films that will be screening at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival. Here is what we have to report:
13 Assassins is an unexpectedly mature and profound film for the incredibly prolific Takashi Miike, and truth be told, I never thought I would find myself in a position to compare Miike with Akira Kurosawa. They have both traditionally been polar opposites for me: Kurosawa the formal master and Miike the guilty pleasure. Suddenly, with 13 Assassins, the two worlds have collided. 13 Assassins is dramatically more violent than anything Kurosawa ever created; but otherwise, 13 Assassins could very well be a remake of Seven Samurai.
Armadillo is a truly amazing and stunning film. Danish documentary filmmaker Janus Metz and his team became fully immersed in Afghanistan’s Green Zone in order to follow this platoon of young Danes. The resulting film is not only proof that Metz and his production team risked their lives in order to bring these images to multiplexes around the world, but Armadillo is also a staggering technological achievement — albeit a questionable one — in the world of documentary film making.
Following up on her near brilliant directorial debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, writer-director Miranda July takes The Future to some new and fascinating places. The Future, unlike Me and You and Everyone We Know, dives deep into a world that mixes magical realism (the talking cat, Jason’s ability to stop time, etc.) with surrealism. She may have felt somewhat confined to cinematic conventions in Me and You and Everyone We Know; but with The Future, July expresses a uniquely personal freedom of expression. As psychologically cerebral as The Future seems, it is the work of unadulterated eye candy as well, with its luscious color palate, keen fashion eye, and wondrously theatrical scenes of performance art.
Written and directed by University of Texas at Austin alumni Jack Zagha Kababie, Adiós Mundo Cruel plays as satirical slapstick comedy about the foibles of capitalism. It is a dog eat dog world that Angel lives in. His boss offers no explanation for why Angel is being laid off, other than the ambiguous claim that the Chinese are to blame. Angel’s subsequent interviews delve into a realm of sheer absurdity, with psychological exams (what is your favorite animal?) and oblique logic problems (how many tomatoes would fill this room?). The capitalist world throws Angel into a life of crime, but Angel is still able to retain his moral fiber. Angel does not want any handouts; and, as it turns out, he does not want any easy money either.
With Littlerock, writer-director Mike Ott paints what most Americans would see as an unsightly locale as a beautiful and magical one (as if through the eyes of Atsuko) — poetic slow-motion bike rides, transfixing images of the desert from moving cars, beautiful landscapes enveloped in luscious sunshine, even the most dilapidated buildings and trailer homes are portrayed in the most romantic perspective available — and all of this imagery mashes brilliantly to the psych-folkish tunes of The Cave Singers.
Mija’s interest in poetry is not without purpose. Mija learns during her poetry classes to “really see” the world, which teaches her to truly recognize the preponderance of violence and selfishness in the sex-obsessed male world. This new insight allows Mija to come to terms with her grandson’s sexually violent crime, as well as contend with the male conspiracy to cover up the crime and silence [the female voice of] Agnes’s mother. The male characters in Poetry repeatedly use their power, sex and money to control the female characters, and the language of poetry becomes a tool to liberate Mija from the oppression and cruelty of the masculine world.
I enjoyed Man on Wire, but Project Nim is a significantly more advanced documentary production. The pacing and structure of Project Nim are practically flawless, and Marsh’s propensity for sprinkling humor throughout this seemingly serious documentary is right on par with Errol Morris (The Fog of War, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control). I have a sneaky suspicion that the masses will go ape shit (sorry, I just had to!) for Project Nim and this will be a serious contender for the best documentary of 2011.
Quite awesomely narrated by the great Don Morrow, Eric Hueber’s Rainbows End chronicles the California-bound road trip of these six men, two roosters, and one dilapidated green bus…all in search of their proverbial pot of gold. Presumably shot in the strange vein of Babakiueria, Fear of a Black Hat, Forgotten Silver and This is Spinal Tap, it is difficult not to conclude that this is a world of fiction (though it is screening as part of Austin Film Festival’s Documentary Feature Competition). No matter if Rainbows End is a work of truth or fiction (or both), the film does include a brilliantly absurd cacophony of music, wrestling, cockfights, mayhem, zaniness and — let us not forget — cars that are blown up by a cannon. For some viewers the unbridled craziness might be a bit too much to digest, but for others who are willing to take a couple hits and go along on this far out trip, Rainbows End promises to be pure comedic gold.
When I first heard about Wuss — writer-director Clay Liford’s follow-up to Earthling, one of my SXSW 2010 favorites — it seemed like such a drastic turn in subject matter. But, while certainly more humorous than its predecessor (Earthling is as far from a comedy as cinema can get), Wuss still has plenty of dark and brooding undercurrents. And it turns out that Liford also has a killer knack for realistic representations of taboo student-teacher relationships.