Mixmaster's Guide to Getting Started at DIFF's Huge Buffet of Film

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Wondering how the hell to navigate the more than 170 films gracing the screens of the Dallas International Film Festival? Well, how about some help from two DIFF-going veterans -- Merritt Martin and Jennifer Medina -- offering their best-intended, possibly challenging, but definitely enthusiastic assistance. Grab your hoodie (you'll need it), pack some snacks for line-standing in between films and check out these daily recommendations.

Pick one per day, or max out your viewing, but be sure to leave suggestions in the comments so you can help us help fellow DIFFers navigate repeat screenings. And on that note, we'll admit if we were real wrong. No shame, y'all. The fun of a film festival is trying to find your absolute favorite ... and the one that is soooo not.

Screening times and locations subject to change. Check diff2014.dallasfilm.org for the most current details.


Words and Pictures 7:30 p.m. at Dallas City Performance Hall If you need a reason to dish out the bucks for this year's opening night gala and screening, we have two words for you: Clive Owen. If, for some unknown reason, you need more, then you're just crazy, but here you go: Owen stars in this story about two artistic adults making their way through their wrecked lives to debate the virtues of words and pictures, with the assistance of a bunch of precocious prep school students. It's going to be sweet, it's going to be tender, and it's going to be your first step into this year's fest. JM


Evolution of a Criminal 7:15 p.m. Friday and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Angelika If there's any place to see documentaries, it's DIFF. This viewing experience comes with instant audience-friends you can vent/freak out/cry with, and when the doc is especially good, the theater just hums with emotion. Fairly certain Evolution of a Criminal is going to prove one of the more rewarding documentary experiences this year, especially considering its unusual perspective. Executive produced by Spike Lee and directed by the subject of the film, Darius Clark Monroe, Evolution examines how Monroe became a desperate teen who robbed a bank, served time and returned to the scene to make amends ... if such amends are possible. MM


Anna Noon Saturday and 2:45 p.m. Sunday, April 6, at Angelika Starring Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga, Anna (also known as Mindscape in its original Spanish release) looks to have all the makings of an exciting thriller -- a possible criminal mastermind in the form of a teenage girl and a broken man who has the ability to enter people's memories. With a heightened sense of paranoia in our veins, we're already pretty sure that this is going to be an awesome choice, regardless of the outcome (and how much of a mindfuck it turns out to be). JM

Believe Me 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Texas Theatre and 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at Angelika I'm gonna be honest: I'm not entirely sold on the plot of Believe Me. Kids create a fake Christian charity to raise tuition, it blows sky high, and maybe they start believing their own message. It could go schlock real fast. However! The presence of Nick Offerman in a film (often those filmed in ATX, as this one is) has proven a no-fail in five years of DIFF-ing, so this recommendation is based on his ability to pick solid projects. (Pro tip: The Offerman Method of Festival Film Picking also applies to character actors Chris Doubek and Alex Karpovsky, who sadly, as of yet have no films in this year's fest. I'm holding out hope.) MM

Siddharth 2:45 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 p.m. Sunday, April 6, at Angelika Don't call it a comeback -- wait, you probably should. After winning the Audience Award for Narrative Feature in 2008 for his film Amal, director Richie Mehta is gracing us with yet another film: Siddharth. A poignant family drama set in the land of New Delhi's underworld of child labor, a father goes on a heartbreaking search for his missing 12-year-old son when he fails to return home for Diwali. JM

Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 12 p.m. Sunday, April 6, at Angelika Rodeo is so closely associated with Texas that, at least here in the Lone Star State, a doc on anything involving a lasso seems a little tired at first. Unless you're talking about a doc that follows the International Gay Rodeo Association. Being gay in a rural sport? The fact that most of us can't begin to imagine that struggle makes it clear we need to watch this. Challenging stereotypes and wading through the bullshit (literal and figurative) of the rodeo circuit, three IGRA competitors address various challenges in achieving their rodeo dreams. Belt buckles, optional. MM

Web Junkie 3 p.m Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, at Angelika Internet addiction. It's something gamers -- or, more accurately, those who don't understand gamers -- often joke about. And yet, it's become such a problem in China, it's now an official clinical disorder. Web Junkie follows three teens in a Beijing rehab for their Internet addictions, as they participate in boot camp training, group therapy and intense bonding with each other ... as well as conflict with the parents who sent the boys there against their will. You and I might not spend 300 straight hours on WOW (don't act like you don't know), but if you've ever felt drawn to your electronics, this is one screen to stare at. MM


No No: A Dockumentary 8 p.m. Sunday and 4 p.m. Monday, April 7, at Angelika Did you hear the one about the Pirates pitcher who threw a no-hitter while tripping balls? Yeah, so did we. And, as interesting as that vignette may be, it's only part of the story that is the life of Dock Ellis. A black ballplayer in the '60s and '70s (with a Rangers stint from 1977-79), Ellis was an All-Star, an addict and an advocate of players' rights. No No: A Dockumentary tells the tale of Ellis through the words of the people whose lives he touched. JM


Obvious Child 9:30 p.m. Monday and 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at Angelika It's the seemingly perfect combination of a depressed stand-up comedian, really inappropriate break-up venting and unwanted pregnancy that draws us to this sweet, sarcastic comedy. OK, it's also, Jenny Slate, David Cross, Gaby Hoffmann and Richard Kind. But it's mostly the depression, inappropriate behavior and potential for comedic abortion. MM


The Congress 4 p.m. Tuesday and 10:30 p.m. Sunday, April 13, at Angelika After watching her calculated Claire grow more and more intense over two seasons of House of Cards, we are certainly going to see a feature starring Robin Wright. Especially a half-animated one in which she plays sorta-herself, sells her image (like her actual physical image) to a company to make up for being a diva, then has a crisis of conscience when transported in to a hallucinatory cartoon world. It's beautifully freaky sci-fi, directed by Ari Folman (Waltz With Bashir), based (in part) on Stanislaw Lem's challenging novel The Futurological Congress and starring Jon Hamm, Harvey Keitel and the underrated Danny Huston. MM

Doomsday Party 7 p.m. Tuesday and 10:15 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at Angelika We're convinced that the Chinese are masters of the crime/action/thriller/yay guns! genre. Luckily for us, DIFF never fails to deliver when it comes to these films, and we have high hopes for this year's Doomsday Party. In a story where five stranger's lives intersect amid a bomb-fueled bank robbery, the ensuing chaos and pandemonium can only be good, even if it ends badly for some people. JM

Firestorm (Fung bou) 10 p.m. Tuesday and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 11, at Angelika People tend to think that film festivals are full of artsy think pieces and enlightening documentaries, so if you're wondering where all the guns and explosions are, then look no further than Hong Kong's Firestorm. Starring Asian action staples Andy Lau and Gordon Lam, it looks to be the ultimate in Chinese cops and criminals movies, and we're super stoked about it. JM

We From Dallas 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and 10:15 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at Angelika A love letter to the hip-hop scene in Big D, We From Dallas touches base with all the people in the know about the history (and future) of local beats and moves. Local director Teddy Cool interviewed everyone who was anyone for some proper schooling in this in-depth look at the underappreciated local rap and hip-hop culture that's been years in the making. JM


Child of God 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and 7:15 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at Angelika While there's a slight draw just to see what the hell James Franco can do as a big ol' feature director, the lure is Child of God's source material: a pretty fucked up book by Cormac McCarthy. I sort of need to see it, because the thought of an outcast who takes a dead wife BEFORE he becomes an actual killer is terrifying in my head, so let's remedy this on screen. Also, it stars Tim Blake Nelson as the sheriff and yay for weird character actors. Now, the trailer could blow the best parts, but I'm thinking Scott Haze's creepy gaunt face is still going to terrify the shit out of everyone. MM

Hellion 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 4 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at Angelika Maybe you've got a thing for some Aaron Paul, but if you're a DIFF vet, you probably dig on the Jonny Mars. Calm down, because they're both in Hellion. More important, so is Josh Wiggins, making his film debut as a dirt-biking metalhead prone to vandalism. With a little brother taken by CPS a part of this tale, it's not all your typical heartwarming growing pains. And while The Hollywood Reporter dogged a bit on the script, it lauded Paul and Wiggins' performances, going so far as to call the latter's debut "head-turning." I'm game for some uncomfortable public crying. MM


We Are the Best 10 p.m. Thursday and 3:15 p.m. Sunday, April 13, at Angelika Everyone loves a coming of age movie, but rarely do they look like this. Screening as part of the World Cinema program, We Are the Best! proves that punk's not dead -- at least not to three girls in 1982 Stockholm. Breaking ranks with the standard expectations of the lives of preteen girls, this trio embraces mohawks, music, friendship and heartbreak as only the young can. JM


Locke 7:15 p.m. Friday and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at Angelika Tom Hardy (Bronson). Tom Hardy (Warrior). Tom Hardy (Lawless). Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises). Director and screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises). All the reasons you need. Wait. Did I mention Tom Hardy? MM


The Face of Love 12:30 p.m. at Angelika I have no shame in recommending what looks, by the stills and title, to be a sweet little Annette Bening and Ed Harris romance. Because, there's some weird shit going on with this drama. Nikki (Bening) loses her husband (Harris), only to meet a man five years later. Sounds great. Except he looks exactly like her husband. So much so she hides photos, keeps him from those who knew her husband, and takes him to the places they shared. Sure, this could turn into the best thing ever, but I'm already clenched with anxiety. Bonus: Non-funny Robin Williams. MM

The Starck Club 7:30 p.m. at Texas Theatre Sex, drugs and dance music. They were plentiful in the '80s, and especially so at the notorious Starck Club. A documentary five years in the making, Starck covers the rise and fall of the famous Dallas club, and it's finally making its way to the big screen. One of the most anticipated films of this year's festival, we're expecting quite a crowd at the doc's world premiere (a rough cut enjoyed a private screening at the 2012 DIFF). Be prepared for a packed theater, full of some people who remember the good old days and others who have no idea what's going on. JM

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