By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
March 24, 8 p.m., Video Box
Animated Stories Compilation Mr. Footface, "star" of Philip Holahan's Stubble Trouble, is an original character crafted of Mr. Potato Head facial features glued to the bottom of a human foot. It could fall flat, but it doesn't. Instead of relying on endless sight gags, the film is well-shot with a solid, albeit silly, story. Elevator World speaks to "spatial harmony and aesthetic balance" in a CG-animated piece that looks like film-school students' work. Utopia Parkway is an elegant, avant-garde film featuring nice 3D animation sequences by Joanna Priestley, with a nod to visual artist Joseph Cornell. Macabre and gut-wrenching, Jeff Varrington's The Flocculus is shot in surreal monochrome with all the suspense of an Outer Limits episode. The filmmaker explores oozing, dripping, bulbous masses hanging from the chins of morose factory workers in a kind of World Health Organization outpost for the sadly disfigured. Don't try to eat anything while watching this film, but do appreciate its hip, bleak mood and original story. Also among the animated shorts are The Life of a Student, with Christopher Brady-Slue's fine-art-quality animated pencil sketches; Halls of Wonder: Celestial Reveries; Dream; and Kafka's Bugaboo, a curious retelling of Kafka's Metamorphosis with animated insects. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 3:45 p.m., Video Lounge
McKinney Avenue Contemporary
3120 McKinney Ave.
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Assistant Manager with Everything Must Go Two very different takes on the working class are paired in these short videos shot in Austin. "Very different," as in one stinks, and the other isn't half-bad. Video fest press materials describe Webster Lewins' Assistant Manager as a "dark comedy," which it is, one supposes, if by "dark" you mean "mean-spirited" and by "comedy" you mean "asinine." Assistant Manager is the tale of middle-aged Jimmy, who aspires to become assistant manager at a burger joint. What sort of man dreams of such a promotion? Why, a goober-talking feeb who can't even put his boots on right. Isn't that a hoot? Think Farrelly brothers, but with less humor and maturity. The shortcomings of Lewins' one-note "joke" are almost made interesting by pairing it with Everything Must Go. Heather Courtney gives us an endless night in the work lives of two clerks at a 24-hour dollar store. Guess what? People forced to work at shitty jobs sometimes have brains enough to know they have shitty jobs. Some adjust, and some even have the wits to rebel, if just for one night. Courtney's 15-minute short isn't exactly Norma Rae, but at least it features real people. (Patrick Williams)
March 25, 10:30 p.m., Video Lounge
Artist What a hoot it would be to research every single film clip concerning art and artists as depicted by Hollywood and compile it into a single work. Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg did it with Artist, an appealing video that groups famous film portrayals of artists (Charlton Heston's Michelangelo and Kirk Douglas' Van Gogh) with witty discourse on art in film (Richard Burton's art critique in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Anne Bancroft's confessing to Dustin Hoffman she used to be an art major in The Graduate). It's a riveting piece of work for film history fans and art lovers. Moffatt and Hillberg have thrown in television clips as well, from Frasier and Britain's Absolutely Fabulous, for example. Their montage of music and footage proves that everyone's an artist and everyone's an art critic through the highs and lows of mass media. The pacing is perfect, and vintage scenes are loosely grouped by topic. Hold your breath for the destructive conclusion. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 2:30 p.m., Video Lounge
BINGO! the documentary "How can you tell when you're middle-aged?" asks a wheezing, cig-puffing bingo fanatic. It's when you're too old for karaoke and too young for bingo. Filmmaker John Jeffcoat turns a gentle, intelligent eye on the low-rent gaming set who have made bingo, a modern variation on an ancient lottery, into a $6 billion industry with 37,000 games operating nationwide. Jeffcoat's camera ranges from seedy halls in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland to an elaborate all-bingo sea cruise. (Too much cruising, not enough bingo, complains one woman, sitting in a tropical pool.) Jeffcoat easily might have lampooned or condescended to his interview subjects. Instead, he lets the players and operators speak for themselves about the game that is an obsession for some, a cure for loneliness and boredom for many. Surprisingly articulate and self-aware, the players know exactly what the game offers them -- a cheap rush and a reason to get out of the house: "I don't have to go play bingo," says one, "but I don't really have anything else to do." (P.W.)
March 23, 7 p.m., Video Lounge
Bionic Beauty Salon Imagine a sort of retelling of the Frankenstein myth through the 1970s television classic The Bionic Woman, and you'll get a whiff of the plot of Gretchen Stoeltje's film. It starts out simply, but quickly gets complicated with heavy overtones of feminism and Oprah-esque discussions of power, self-image, popularity, and fat. Still, this film handles the debate via a parade of thoughtful young women who, if they are spouting scripted dialogue, seem very natural in their feelings and delivery. These 14-year-old philosophers talk about impending womanhood, makeup, makeovers, high school, and whether it would have been better to have been born a boy -- all fascinating stuff. The film intersperses Barbie stop-action with clips from episodes of The Bionic Woman, as well as close-ups of the adolescent actors. The only weird parts involve a woman who's an out-of-place protagonist having a soul-searching discussion with a pair of lips seen in a compact mirror. She's trying to pull herself together, appearance-wise, and relying on the superficial pronouncements of an Ivana Trump soundalike. This part bogs down somewhat, but the teens steal the show and make the strongest statements. As one insists, "Everyone would like to be someone else." (A.M.H.)
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