By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
* Short Stuff II. The best reason to see the second part of the short-film collection is good enough to recommend the entire program: the documentary Breathing Lessons, by Jessica Yu. The subject of Yu's film is Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist from Berkeley, California, who also happens to be confined permanently to an iron lung, having contracted polio 40 years ago. O'Brien looks like little more than a disembodied head floating at the end of a giant metal tube, and his faint, dreamy voice cuts through the air like a dull hum. But the beauty and pristine economy of his words, revealed in the story of his life and poetry steeped in painful truths, trumps his physical limitations quickly. His story transforms you: It's a pure "cinema moment," and maybe the best 35 minutes you'll enjoy during the Festival. (AWJ) Jessica Yu in attendance.
Voices. A documentary about the world of barbershop quartets, including Dallas' own Vocal Majority. Also screens on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Not available for review. Director Daniel Bushnell in attendance.
Wednesday, April 24
Village Idiots. The premise of Village Idiots sounds more contrived than the movie actually is: The star (Elon Gold) of the popular sitcom Mr. Mitch returns home to Lawndale, New Jersey, to make what appears to be a pretentious and pointless documentary about the darker side of a comedian. It pretty much goes off in every direction after that, hopping from one small-town resident to another with little rhyme or reason. The film is occasionally nicely rude, and for a short while captures the essential sitcom clichŽs of the Mr. Mitch show, but mostly it's random and patchy. Director Jonah Meyers too often draws attention to needlessly restless camera movements and marginal acting (though Gold does a great impersonation of Jeff Goldblum), so that the atmosphere he achieves never seems quite wild enough to sustain the movie through the rough spots. (AWJ)
Palookaville. A comedy, a la Bottle Rocket, about three friends who plot a heist. Not available for review.
Celestial Clockwork. A comedy in Spanish about a Venezuelan woman who runs off to Paris to become an opera singer. Not available for review. Director Fina Torres in attendance.
* The Toilers and the Wayfarers. The Festival screens BBC director Nigel Finch's godawful Stonewall the same year it offers this humble coming-of-age story produced by Marc Heustis (responsible for the wildly successful 1992 documentary Sex Is). Shot in black-and-white, The Toilers and the Wayfarers was written and produced by German native Keith Froelich, who solves his own cultural-literacy deficiencies by setting the tale in the American-German town of New Ulm, Minnesota. The sexually charged friendship between two first-generation Americans (Matt Klemp, Andrew Woodhouse) is complicated by the arrival of a twentysomething German alcoholic (Ralf Schirg) whose relationship with a young man propels their pursuit across Minneapolis slums by the police. All three youthful characters float in a cultural nether world that parallels their sexual alienation from traditional families. The Toilers and the Wayfarers reinvents young gay love as a Godardian fugitive crime, and in the process reawakens our interest. (JF) Keith Froelich in attendance.
International Shorts. This is easily the least interesting collection of short films the Festival has to offer. The best of the lot is the first, En Garde, Monsieur. Basically just an excuse to mount some swashbuckling fencing scenes, it's full of the energy and flourish of the old Errol Flynn classics, with a trace of irony thrown in. (AWJ)
* Things I Never Told You. Performed in the key of indigo, Isabel Coixet's Things I Never Told You is a romantic comedy for people who have just kicked their anti-depressant pills. The mood is mellow, occasionally morbid, and the performances bring to unnerving life a series of characters utterly lonely and isolated by the decisions they've made. The central duo is an electronics-store employee (Lili Taylor) and a real-estate agent (Andrew McCarthy) who meet accidentally during a desperate phone call on a suicide-prevention line. There's also a disgruntled transsexual (Debi Mazar), and a thieving Federal Express employee (Alexis Arquette) who adores his neighbor. Things I Never Told You generates ample art-house appeal from its low budget because Coixet knows how to use basic film techniques to achieve painterly on-screen effects. (JF) Isabel Coixet in attendance.
Thursday, April 25
Heaven's Prisoners. The Fest concludes with what may be its weakest entry: the screen adaptation of novelist James Lee Burke's Heaven's Prisoners. The buzz on this film has been miserable for a long time, and with good reason: It's a dreadful mess. Director Phil Joanou's latest is a thriller for those who are easily scared and don't like to be challenged at the movies. (AWJ) Phil Joanou in attendance
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