And I'm already dragging. Didn't get much sleep last night. Long story, and it was nothing serious, but a little police activity delay on my bus home cost me about an hour of valuable sleep time. Maybe the movies will be boring today so I can make some of it up.Nope, no such luck. Not that they were all great, but as I draft this write-up on the bus home I saw six movies and except for a few minutes in one of them I didn't sleep through any.
First up was MOTHER COUNTRY, a rather interesting road trip movie with some great acting (particularly star Thomas Galasso) and some not-as-great writing. Galasso plays Dwight, an African American in Austin. He seems to be a bright, good young man but not strong enough to resist his cousin when he puts a gun in his hand and insists he must help him get revenge. Things go wrong and he ends up on the run, on foot across the desert. His goal is to get to his old high school teacher's place in California. But along the way...well, to avoid spoilers let's just say there are difficulties all along the way. And, at the risk of generalizing, those difficulties all seem to center on race issues, questions of personal responsibility, or both. In the end, we're supposed to believe he has learned a lesson and will make an important choice. I just saw his choice as very naive, and it won't work out the way he thinks it will. I'm sorry to be so vague, but I'm struggling with spoilers here. If you've seen the movie, I can talk about it more. And if you haven't, your last chance is today (Sunday the 12th) at 5 pm.
Next up was the shorts program An Animated World. Yay cartoons (and other forms of animation)!
(BABY) ITS YOU: The robot Frankenstein of love. Cool stop-motion animation.
WALTZ OF THE DEMON KING: Very cool story of warriors, the demon king, and the unconquerable love of a big sister.
ATTACK OF THE KILLER MUTANT CHICKENS: It's exactly what it sounds like, with the extra bonus of being Bangladeshi. Awesome.
THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS: Robot naturalists in search of phosphorescent rabbits. Yay, glow-bunnies!
THE REALITY CLOCK: Lots of clocks, but reality still seems to be disintegrating. Perhaps a visualization of the struggle with a deteriorating mind.
SHERMAN: Minimally animated over still pictures, it tells the story of a decaying house from the point of view of an abandoned, imaginary friend.
BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN: The hilarious story of a little girl whose drunk mother tells her how she was born a boy but she wanted a girl so she asked the doctor to cut her willy off.
ANIMEDITATION: A cool, simply drawn bit of surrealism--shapes, faces, etc.
EVIL: A music video for Marble Hill, all about what is considered evil--dancing gorillas, samurai, boats in the sky, brains, alien invasions. Maybe evil is just your opinion, man. But that gorilla head flying around with arms is evil, I don't care what anyone says.
MASKS: First the score was written, then the animator invented this story to match the music. It's a story of mask-wearing giants who eat the little white people
KISS: A gorgeous black-and-white film of the mingling of the sun and moon during an eclipse, set to Bjork-ish music. Made I 3-D, but shown in 2-D here (it's still beautiful.)
TIME FOR CHANGE: This was easily my favorite, the secret life and troubled marriage of the characters who ring in the hour on the big town clock.
THE MAN WITH THE STOLEN HEART: And when he finds his heart, it's irretrievably connected to another.
BRUCKE: In the swinging post-WWI world, a disabled veteran struggles to fit in.
An Animated World plays again Wednesday the 15th at 7:15.
Then I saw a pretty interesting feature I LIKE YOU. I was surprised to find out the actors were amateurs (and real high school students), because they were excellent. I was a bit surprised to learn director Jamie Heinrich was a veteran filmmaker, but I wasn't surprised to learn he had made shorts but this was his first feature. In principle it's a very simple teenage love story. Avery (Mike Brenna) is smitten with Parker, the new girl in class (Parker Peterson), even though she has a boyfriend who is likely to beat the crap out of him. Plus his band mate and best friend Echo (Brian Boush) also likes her, and it's not clear at first if Parker even likes him. I found it very odd and challenging how individual scenes were great but seemed to end in the middle and not lead directly in to the next scene. It would jump from Avery talking to Preston to fighting with Echo or talking to his uncle without a lot of connecting tissue. But in a way that reflects the fractured, compartmentalized, multi-faceted life of a young man in love. So maybe that actually worked. Or maybe I'm being too generous. In any case, the aerial shots of them on the railroad bridge were pretty awesome. I LIKE YOU plays again Tuesday the 14th at 7:15.
And then one of the highlights of the festival, Belgium's Oscar nominee, BULLHEAD. It's a story of mafia and growth hormones in Flanders. Mostly illegal amounts of bovine growth hormones to increase the size and price of cattle. But there's also the cocktail of testosterone supplements that protagonist (it's impossible to call anyone in this dark, violent film a "hero") Jacky takes. That is a result of a squirm-inducing childhood incident, and let's just leave it at that. In the tense aftermath of a murder of a "hormone cop" there's a new cattle mafia deal in the works that brings up Jacky's traumatic past, and that just ends up being bad news for everyone. Excellent acting (I particularly liked seeing Sam Louwyck of EX-DRUMMER and 22ND OF MAY show up as a mafia boss, and it amuses me that I have a favorite Belgian character actor) and a good story with enough twists that I'm sure it would reward multiple viewings, if you can stomach that. BULLHEAD plays again Monday the 13th at 7:15.
Then I saw a really daring and novel documentary/narrative hybrid, SNOW ON THA BLUFF. According to a statement from the director, the beginning and ending were staged but everything in between is raw documentary footage, but I'm not sure I believe that (there is at least one scene where the subjects had to have been mic'ed, they were too far away from the camera for the built-in microphone to pick them up so clearly.) In any case, here is the story as presented: a drug gang steals a documentary crews camera, shoots their activity for several days, then drops of the footage to an editing house to make this film. That footage includes doing drugs, stealing drugs, shooting rival gangs, getting shot at, gratuitous nudity, and a surprisingly tender and innocent love of their children. To be honest, I had trouble following the story or the characters. I hope that has more to do with the raw nature of the footage--no establishing shots defining the characters and their relationships--and less to do with me being a racist who can't tell one black drug dealer from another. In any case, I spent almost the whole film awash in disbelief at the raw visceralness of this unique view into such a crazy fucking world. That is, except for the few minutes I nodded off. Hey, I was tired and this was my fifth film of the night. SNOW ON THE BLUFF plays again Thursday the 16th at 9:30.
And finally, I ended the night with a delightfully sick torture comedy, CHOP by Trent Haaga (writer of DEAD GIRL) and starring Tromeo himself, Will Keenan, who was there for the screening and is an awesome live wire. Will (credited as Billy Bakshi) plays Lance Reed, a seemingly normal guy who gets caught up in a hellish situation. It seems he has offended a stranger (Timothy Muskatell) who demands a sincere apology or he will make Lance's life a short, torturous hell. First he forces Lance to...do something horrible (must...avoid...spoilers.) Then when Lance doesn't play entirely by his rules, he systematically removes everything important to Lance...like his wife...or his limbs. And as Lance tries desperately to remember his infraction, he confesses to increasingly horrible behavior (turns out he used to be quite the drug-addicted asshole, and maybe he doesn't exactly deserve to survive this.) It's hilariously sick and twisted, with loads of insane characters--a detective who get off on solving weird torture cases, a crippled drug-dealer, his Conrad Bain-obsessed pervert bear cousin, and a blackmailing hooker to name just a few. Quite an unforgettable and hilarious experience. CHOP plays again Monday the 13th at 9:30 (and Will Keenan will be there again)
Total Running Time: 543 minutes
My Total Minutes: 264,857