6 Month Rule; After Fall, Winter; American Teacher; An Ordinary Family; Darwin; The Dynamiter; Hell and Back Again; Martha Marcy May Marlene; Ok, Enough, Goodbye; Pillow; Restive; Seamonsters; Some Guy Who Kills People; Somewhere West; The Stand Up; Strings; Treatment; You Hurt My Feelings
By Don Simpson | October 19, 2011
The 18th Annual Austin Film Festival and Conference is now underway! From Oct. 20-27, the Austin Film Festival will play host to filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, industry pros, and people who love all things cinema. The crack Smells Like Screen Spirit crew has already reviewed several of the films screening at AFF 2011 in order to provide a sneak preview just for you. Stay tuned for additional coverage of AFF 2011 throughout the next week; including interviews, tweets and many, many, many more reviews…
6 Month Rule is surprisingly formulaic for the first two acts, but then the final act surprisingly defies all conventional Hollywood rom-com/buddy movie tropes. In fact, if it was not for the final act — specifically the conclusion — 6 Month Rule would have never scored more than a four in my book. Sure the film has some interesting characters — notably Sophie — but it is really difficult not to be incredibly annoyed by Tyler. There is also a cartoonish “hipster singer-songwriter” character, Julian (Patrick J. Adams), who warrants nothing more than primal hatred and disgust. But then I eventually realized that all of the negative reactions I was having to the characters of Tyler and Julian were pre-planned by writer-director Blayne Weaver.
It seems as though films that portray characters who do not abide by vanilla heterosexual behavior in favorable and sympathetic perspectives are a dime a dozen these days. All of these films share a very similar message — we need to be honest about our sexuality, first and foremost with our lovers. Writer-director Eric Schaeffer’s After Fall, Winter is no different. That is not a bad thing. I think After Fall, Winter clearly communicates a message that needs to be pounded repeatedly through many puritanical Americans’ thick skulls.
We all have at least one teacher we can think back to as being a highly important person, not just as an educator but as someone that truly made a difference. American Teacher looks at the status and treatment of teachers in this country. By interviewing current and former educators around the United States, Roth is able to present a well-balanced look into the lives of American teachers.
An Ordinary Family conveys the age-old conflict between religion and homosexuality from a relatively unbiased perspective. Mike Akel — who co-wrote the script with Matt Patterson — never gets too preachy, though it is quite obvious that Akel is of the opinion that Christians should be more accepting of gays; otherwise the portrayal of the Christian minister is just as favorable as that of the gay characters. Accordingly, An Ordinary Family will be enjoyable for Christians and gays alike — though there is no denying that its target audience is gay Christians, a niche crowd if ever there was one… Also, An Ordinary Family is one of the few films that prominently features gay characters in leading roles that I would not consider a gay film, which is something I wish there will be more of in the future.
Nick Brandestini relies heavily upon the townspeople’s wackiness to drive his documentary, and there is no denying their cinematic appeal. It seems as though most (if not, all) Darwinians have come to the desert to hide from something — whether it be their checkered past, an all-too-judgmental mainstream society, legitimate employment, or life in general. Darwin appears to be a self-imposed penal colony of sorts where its constituents are able to live out a life sentence of self-enforced exile from mainstream society, yet this seclusion simultaneously allows them to enjoy near-absolute freedom. Together they have created a Utopian society of Libertarian proportions in which everyone enjoys their personal freedoms without much judgment from their neighbors or pestering by the police.
Writer-director Matthew Gordon’s The Dynamiter personifies the struggles of the poor as they attempt to claw their way up from their non-existent income bracket. Robbie is destined to remain poor because of his failure in the education system, his family history and lack of a support structure at home. His only chance to escape this poverty is to leave town and start over somewhere else.
As if visualizing the post-traumatic flashbacks that Sergeant Nathan Harris must be experiencing, Hell and Back Again seamlessly bounces from Harris’ present day experiences to his time spent in Afghanistan. Obviously not knowing that Harris was going to get injured in battle, Danfung Dennis initially tagged along with Echo Company as a full-immersion war documentary ala Restrepo and Armadillo. The war footage is brutal and ugly, but not nearly as scary as the noisy, crowded and fluorescent world waiting for Harris back in the United States.
First-time director Sean Durkin has the sure hand of a master director, establishing a mood and a psychological state through a precise orchestration of script, performance, image and sound. This is not a thriller at all. At the center is the stillness of a neo-neorealist film like Wendy and Lucy, but Durkin adds one more chord: a strain of menace and relentless tension that creates a searing and all-consuming emotional experience.
Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia employ lots of long, still shots punctuated by long stretches of silence. The film is also narrated by Attieh as if we, the viewer, are flipping through a travel brochure. Candid interviews are weaved throughout the film, providing a greater sense of depth to the characters, which Arzrouni’s character still lacks. Attieh and Garcia’s direction aids in a sense of discomfort the longer we look at this man. Should we feel sorry for him? Is he worth of it? Ok, Enough, Goodbye is a twist on the traditional coming-of-age story.
Co-writing/co-directing/co-producing brothers Joshua H. Miller and Miles B. Miller rely solely on their adept visual styling to convey the story because, well, the brothers in the film don’t talk much—heck, they don’t talk at all. Except for the screaming mother (who is only heard and never seen), Pillow is essentially a silent film. This stunningly photographed (by Gabe Mayhan) Southern Gothic tale set somewhere in the Southern Plains during the 1930s, recalls the stylistic sensibilities of the illustrious cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Personally, I enjoy when a film leaves me dazed and confused, especially when it is a purposeful tactic on behalf of the director in order to intensify the suspense — and this is exactly what writer-director Jeremiah Jones does with Restive. Even if confusion is not your ideal state of mind while watching a film, Restive is certainly worth watching for the impressively intense performances by Christopher Denham, Connor Hill, Michael Mosley, Marianna Palka, Ivan Sandomire.
In some ways, Seamonsters is incredibly evocative. Julian Kerridge succeeds in capturing that uniquely English, “Every Day is Like Sunday” sort of dead-end seaside ennui. The cinematography by Nick Gordon-Smith is frequently spectacular, rendering the low tide along the boardwalk with its endless stretch of glistening packed sand as something like the surface of an alien planet.
Some Guy Who Kills People might have a moral about bullies buried somewhere in the story, but does it really matter? Are you really going to watch a film titled Some Guy Who Kills People for its strong moral fiber? Oh, and keep any eye out for a humorously placed lens flare a little over an hour into the film. It is absolutely priceless.
Somewhere West is writer-director David Marek’s Master of Fine Art thesis project for the University of Colorado. I suspect that producing a film such as this one within the realm of academia is what permitted Marek the freedom to playfully experiment with the visuals of the film — doing so allows us to experience the world from Ian’s perspective. This technique lends Somewhere West a certain avant-garde aesthetic along the lines of Gus Van Zant’s Gerry. And, from what I have read, Somewhere West originally clocked in at 134 minutes; but Marek has since whittled it down to a much more festival-friendly length of 103 minutes. At its current length, Somewhere West plays at a pensive and meditative pace (which may be way too slow for some viewers); I really cannot imagine how slowly the narrative would move if it was 31 minutes longer.
Jonathan Sollis is excellent as Zoe. Not only does he have a great rapport with the kindergartners, but he plays the formulaic role with utmost sincerity and naturalism. It also helps that Sollis is not your typical Hollywood hunk — he is more of an everyman. If The Stand Up was a big budget Hollywood film, Seth Rogen would have been cast as Zoe; and though I like Rogen, I guarantee that he would have amped the character up to 11. Sollis’ subdued approach to Zoe reveals great patience; he is also able to communicate a heck of lot of information to the audience merely with his eyes.
Mark Dennis and Ben Foster’s Strings is one of those twisty thrillers that is impossible to discuss in any real depth without totally spoiling it. I think it is safe to say that Mike Simpson’s — no relation to yours truly — cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. But what really holds Strings together are the impressively strong leading performances by Billy Harvey, Elle LaMont and Chris Potter. At the very least, I can predict a strong festival run for Strings and bright futures for Dennis and Foster.
Treatment works well on many levels, but first and foremost it entertains. It is an intelligently written character study brimming with deadpan dialogue and sharp-witted one-liners. When it comes down to it, this is a story about two old friends who are teetering at the brink of a midlife crisis. Leonard is still waiting to prove himself as an artist (thus justifying his life as a parasite) while Nelson must take his trust fund status by the horns (thus justifying his life as a parasite). There is only so long you can live for free in this world before you have to show some kind of return.
An example of in medias res, Steve Collins’ film begins and ends almost mid-thought and the scenes in between appear to be aimless and random; but Collins aptly binds the narrative together as a cohesive whole by emotion and imagery alone. Impressionistically lensed by Putty Hill cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier, You Hurt My Feelings takes its audience through the emotional kaleidoscope of the four seasons; though visually stunning, the images are just as economically restrained as the wallets of the characters… You Hurt My Feelings internally portrays its characters’ senses of despair and isolation; like a silent film (John Merriman probably has less than a page of dialogue, Courtney Davis and Macon Blair have significantly less), feelings are never expressed verbally, only via the actors’ rich expressions.