By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
King of Kong is the prototypical festival film: a documentary about fringe-dwellers obsessing over minutiae in the margins. That's applicable shorthand for David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's work-in-progress, Kamp Katrina, about the efforts of a woman named Ms. Pearl to restore some semblance and dignity to her small corner of New Orleans in the weeks and months after Hurricane Katrina. Pearl and her husband—a man named David Cross, who looks like Blues Traveler's John Popper—allow into their backyard 14 folks displaced by the hurricane; they live in tents and are forced to abide by the couple's rules, which include no drinking or drug use. They want folks to "help themselves and help the city"—and they pray to God they're gone after six months, more or less.
But, of course, it doesn't work out that way: Residents of a would-be utopia, desperate strangers (including a pregnant woman who considers naming her unborn child Katrina, till she thinks better of it) clinging to a vestige of civilization, find a way to work and live together for a short while. But soon enough, more than a few of Kamp Katrina's residents start to believe they're living, as one man puts it, at "ground zero of the apocalypse." And when you've set up residency there, well, you need more than a few bucks, a soccer ball and a some musical instruments to keep you occupied—and sane.
There are more conventional docs in the fest as well, among them Rob Stewart's stunning-to-look-at Sharkwater, about the sacrificing of sharks for their fins and the devastation it's wrought upon their once-estimable numbers, and The Rape of Europa, about how Hitler ordered the theft and even destruction of European masterpieces during World War II. What he adored, including works by Da Vinci and Klimt, he kept for his own; what he abhorred, what Hitler considered degenerate painting, he had destroyed. Based on the book by Lynn H. Nicholas and acclaimed during its festival screenings late last year, the film has considerable local money in it: It was co-produced by former St. Mark's and SMU tennis star-turned-philanthropist Robert Edsel, who has spent the last several years honoring the so-called "Monuments Men" who went about rescuing the stolen art that was being horded or sold off at auction.
Another film with substantive local ties is the narrative The Night of the White Pants, which debuted at Tribeca last year and which will forever be known around the office as the movie featuring Jim Schutze's yellow car. Written and directed by Amy Talkington, who shot all over East Dallas last year, the movie stars Tom Wilkinson as a Dallas hot-shit hot-shot with a fucked-up family life: The missus (Janine Turner) shows up to throw him outta the house, forcing Wilkinson's Max to spend a night out on the town—by which we mean at the Double Wide in Expo Park, among other locales—with his daughter (Selma Blair) and her dope-dealing punk-rocker boyfriend (Plano's Nick Stahl). What does he find? Horny hot chicks and the seedy, carefree life every Highland Park millionaire craves sooner or later.
White Pants isn't your average film-fest fodder, your prototypical downer indie filled with single-chord soundtracks and Elliott Smith songs and dying moms and troubled teens and the injured and infirmed. But AFI has plenty of movies for folks craving the archetypal experience, two of which star Zooey Deschanel. In Steve Berra's The Good Life, she plays an angel in a hellhole Nebraska town who woos and inspires a movie-obsessed kid (Mark Webber) who hides his pale, alopecia-ravaged pate beneath a sweat-jacket hoodie. (A Sundance downer, The Good Life was one of three movies at that fest to open with the sound of a gun being fired; we're supposed to figure out by whom and why by film's end.) And in The Go-Getter, Deschanel plays a woman whose car's stolen by a kid (Lou Pucci Taylor) headed cross country to tell his older half-brother their mom's dead. Deschanel spends half the film as a disembodied voice on a cell phone; turns out, grand theft auto's a great way to start a relationship.
Another troubled, movie-loving teen finds his way into The Favor, in which Christopher Plummer plays a forgotten film director who's drowning himself in booze and old movies. Plummer, sporting several shades of accents, winds up mentoring a high-school kid (played by Michael Angarano) trying to win a film contest. You'll never guess what happens...oh, wait, you probably already have.
The opening- and closing-night movies are also medical melodramas: Opener Music Within stars Ron Livingston as Richard Pimentel, a real-life Vietnam vet who returned from war with a horrific case of tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that left him, more or less, deaf. Pimentel would go on to fight for the rights of the disabled—he was among the central forces behind the Americans with Disabilities Act—and if the tale offered by director Steve Sawalich occasionally rings the Afterschool Special bell, it's also a measured and thoughtful portrait of a man who stopped thinking about himself the moment he could hear no one else.
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