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The seventh annual Dallas International Film Festival starts tonight, and we have the low down on what you should see -- and what you should skip -- at this year's fest.

Your Guide to the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival

UPDATE: To follow our continuing coverage of the festival, go here.

The seventh edition of the Dallas International Film Festival kicks-off tonight, and as we have for the past four years, we’ll help guide you to the best offerings at this year’s fest. First, some thoughts and highlights, followed by our preview reviews:

- The Multi-Film Opening Night: It may seem like a small thing: the festival is showing five films instead of one this year to kick things off. But in terms of how the festival understands its mission and scope, I think returning to the format first experimented with in 2010 says a few things. First off, it moves the tone of the festival away from the big celebrity, gala hoopla. I like this. The fact of the matter is that after the festival lost its affiliation with AFI, it hasn’t had the same celebrity pull it had in its first few years. Opening the fest with mediocre offerings like last year’s Liberal Arts with just a producer in attendance doesn’t really create the kind of buzz and excitement around the festival the opening night should.

The multi-film opening night takes a different approach. It says that the focus of the Dallas film fest is on the movies and creating an open, discursive, casual, and fun festival. In 2010, the conversation opener at the opening night party – “So, what did you see” – set the tone for the entire festival. The multiple film opening night may have been a decision driven by necessity, but if the Dallas IFF has an identity as a film fest, it is this kind of approachability, the ability to promote and sustain public excitement around the communal experience of watching movies. This opening night underscores that.

-  The Venues:  The question of creating excitement around a shared experience of movie watching leads me to my second point about this year’s opening night: the venue. I get why the Dallas IFF is opening at Look Cinemas in Far North Dallas on the border with Addison. It is a new theater; there’s probably a sponsorship involved. And for years the festival has been trying to figure out how to deal with Dallas’ regional character, hosting screenings and family events in Plano. Back in 2010, DIFF artistic director James Faust told me about how he admired the way the Toronto International Film Festival blanketed the city during its run. Opening in Addison before jumping to the Angelika and Magnolia, with detours to Oak Cliff and Plano, addresses this desire on the part of the fest to have more regional visibility.

But I’m skeptical that this approach works in Dallas. The region’s defining characteristic is its sprawl and its lack of a cohesive center. And when events are spread throughout the massive metro area, the effect tends to be a dissolution of energy around the event, not a broadening profile (c.f. North Texas Super Bowl). What creates civic energy in Dallas, in fact, is precisely the opposite approach: the creation, even if temporary, of a sense of cohesiveness, a hub of activity. The festival’s run at the Angelika and the Magnolia helps to create some of this energy, but I wonder if there is a way to go even further. Why not hold the entire festival downtown, with venues at the Dallas Museum of Art (two screens), Nasher Sculpture Center (one screen), City Performance Hall (one screen), Majestic Theater (one screen), and perhaps a few pop-up or outdoor or storefront venues? This would probably create a logistical nightmare for festival organizers, but it would create tremendous excitement around the fest in the city.

The Program: There are more than 175 films at this year’s Dallas IFF, but by my count there are around 80 feature length movies. In our preview, we screened 21 feature length movies. That’s about 25 percent of the program. It is disconcerting, then, that unlike previous years, out of those films I am only really excited about two or three films. The vast majority of the movies Jason Heid and I have watched so far this year have been decidedly mediocre at best, and nearly unwatchable at worst.

It is impossible to draw any conclusions about the quality of the festival from this small of a sample pool, but more than in previous years, I am concerned about the Dallas film festival’s depth. There could be a variety of reasons for an off year. Putting together a film festival is a tremendous undertaking. Every year we speculate if all the good films have been scooped up by distributors at SXSW and Sundance, or if the Tribeca Film Festival has first pick on films in April, leaving the scraps to the Dallas IFF. And often my favorite films at each festival are discoveries made during the festival, not through the movies that are available for preview. But there is also the fear that the Dallas IFF is becoming increasingly safe. My concern is that a casual first time filmgoer could buy a pass and struggle to find something really exciting at the festival. It is not that these films aren’t there, but it is not inconceivable that they could be missed. That’s the risk of a film festival, and also part of its excitement – the discovery of something rare. But to build and sustain a loyal audience, those discoveries need to be a little easier to find.

And so, here are our preview reviews. Check back each day during the fest as we add reviews of the films we catch. Also, for information on centerpiece screenings and other special events at the festival go here.

 

Terms and Conditions May Apply

10 p.m. April 5, Angelika 4

8 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

Rating: Worth a Shot

We need to rid the documentary form of Michael Moore. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the flair of a Michael Moore topic-bashing pic as much as the next guy. But it’s the Moore imitators who make me think the lightning rod director has been bad for documentaries. Take Cullen Hoback’s Terms and Conditions May Apply, a perfectly capable, informative, and necessary movie about the way the internet corporations – like Google and Facebook – take our personal information and use it to their own benefit. But Hoback’s exploration is casually biased, cutesy and clumsy in its exposition, and insufficiency balanced and researched. Finally it leans on that all-too-familiar trope of sensational confrontation to drive home its point: confronting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg outside his home to show us all that no one likes their privacy invaded. It’s too much of gotcha journalism stunt to make Hoback’s point stick, which is a shame. This is a topic that needs a serious exploration from a serious journalist documentarian. – Peter Simek

 

Stackers

11:45 a.m. April 6, Angelika 7

2:30 p.m. April 7, Angelika 4

Worth a Shot

Stacking is a sport, sport stackers are eager to pronounce. I remain unconvinced. The activity involves stacking plastic cups in a number of configurations. The best stackers can whip through a series of structures at a mystifying speed, with sleight of hand that mixes juggling and card tricks. The first few times you watch the best sport stackers move their cups, its mesmerizing. The intrigue doesn’t last. For one, competitive stacking has a hard time translating to the screen, and unlike the films it is modeled after (Spellbound, naturally) Jeremi Mattern’s documentary falters in its effort to build a dramatic arc surrounding the annual world stacking championship.

That said, I was happy I watched Stackers with my seven-year-old daughter. She was revited throughout, and so it makes sense that the festival is screening the movie in the Family Friendly competition. After all, interest in stacking — even among the stackers themselves — reaches its peak around the eighth grade. – Peter Simek

 

Rising From Ashes

Noon April 6, Angelika 6

2:45 p.m. April 7, Angelika 7

Rating: Worth a Shot

This gorgeously shot documentary may inspire you to book a cycling holiday in Rwanda, with its many panoramic aerial shots of rolling green hills. However, its would-be inspiring tale about the creation in 2006 of a Rwandan national cycling team suffers due to director T.C. Johnstone’s often disorganized storytelling. Even with frequent use of narration (by actor Forest Whitaker) too many elements of the story go unexplained, leading to confusion. It’s also strange that in a film that paints an extended metaphor of cycling as a means by which Rwandans could escape the haunting memories of their country’s 1994 genocide, far more screen time is devoted to discussing the trials and travails of the team’s American coach, Jock Boyer, than those of any of the individual riders. Still, it’s so beautiful look at, and does such a thorough job explaining the genocide’s origins in the policies of the previous Belgian colonial government, that it might deserve a look. — Jason Heid

 

Good Ol’ Freda

2:15 p.m. April 6, Angelika 6

12:15 p.m. April 7, Angelika 7

Rating: Go See It

It is amazing that despite the fact that the Beatles released their debut album fifty years ago, there is still an untold story involving the fab four’s career. That’s the subject of Good Ol Freda, which introduces us to Freda Kelly, an unsung protagonist who operated behind the scenes of the Beatles remarkable rise. Freda was a nice gal from Liverpool and an early Beatles fan who was plucked from the typing pool at a local firm to run the Beatles fan club. What followed was a fascinating 10-year career in the shadows of the mop-tops.

The reason Kelly’s story went untold has much to do with Kelly herself, and it is what makes her such an interesting figure. Private, demure, protective, and loyal, Freda Kelly was the conduit between the Beatles and their families and their city, a woman whose discretion helped sustain a fragile sense of privacy. Freda could keep a secret; and even her kids knew little about their mother’s exciting career. Fifty years later, now that the woman has decided to open up about her time at the center of the Brian Epstein Empire, there are some stones that will remain unturned. When asked if she ever “went out” with any of the Beatles during those early days, the still adorable Freda responds meekly, “Some things are just personal.” – Peter Simek

 

Tomlinson Hill

2:30 p.m. April 6, Magnolia 4

4:30 p.m. April 8, Magnolia 1

Rating: Don’t Bother

A well-intentioned documentary about the people of Marlin, Texas, Tomlinson Hill suffers greatly from a lack of a focus. It begins with journalist Chris Tomlinson indulging his desire to connect with the descendants of the slaves that his own ancestors once owned, but soon the film becomes a look at the economic hardship facing this small town. The root cause of Marlin’s troubles is vaguely blamed on the failure of the town’s white and black communities to communicate, but if there’s any valid basis for that claim, the evidence is missing here. It’s slightly shocking to hear older white residents explain away the local Ku Klux Klan as nothing more than a harmless “social group” or note that after integration they felt bad for the black students who had to “give up their own school.” But it’s just as infuriating for director Lisa Kaselak to lionize the efforts of Loreane Tomlinson (a Marlin native and mother of former pro football player LaDainian Tomlinson), who thinks she can fix what ails the economically depressed town just by starting a community center or a community garden. — Jason Heid

 

Lord Montagu

5:15 p.m. April 6, Magnolia 1

8 p.m. April 7, Magnolia 5

Rating: Go See It

Back before celebrities were celebrities for being celebrities, aristocrats found themselves in a similar situation: they were aristocrats for being aristocrats. In the case of Lord Montagu, he was born the heir of the great Montagu estate in southern England at a time when the lords were losing their position in the House of Lords. Perhaps more threatening to the institution of English aristocracy, the aristocrats could no longer keep up their country houses. Suddenly aristocrats couldn’t afford to be aristocrats just by sitting around being aristocrats.

Lord Montagu tells how the young and dapper English gentleman set about breaking the mold of the English aristocracy before reforming it in his own image. It was a two-pronged attack. In the 1950s, the attractive young man was ensnarled in a series of salacious, tabloid-driven scandals over his homosexuality, which was illegal at the time in Britain. Montegu manages to transcend his tarnished image, and in doing so, passively assists the broadening of social acceptance of homosexuality in his country. Later on, Montegu led a revision of thinking of how to handle the English legacy aristocratic estate, turning his own country home into a public attraction and auto museum. Impulsive and perhaps self-absorbed, Montegu’s vision and drive often came at the expense of his familial life and to the dismay of his upper crust compatriots. But he nonetheless remains a dynamic, compelling, and endearing historical figure, ably presented in Luke Korem’s documentary. – Peter Simek

 

Champion

5:15 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

2:30 p.m. April 13, Angelika 4

Rating: Don’t Bother

Champion is such an anodyne family film — the sort entertaining only to 10- or 11-year-old girls, and then only mildly so — that it seems pointless to criticize how its characters undergo huge mood swings and changes of heart seemingly at random, to suit the screenplay’s needs. Madison (Dora Madison Burge) has to spend the summer living with her grandfather (Lance Henriksen) on his Texas ranch after her soldier mother is deployed overseas. She’s none too happy about having no cell phone service or Wi-Fi, but soon gets into the spirit of country life after meeting the cute farm boy down the road. She decides to train her grandpa’s depressed (don’t ask) dog for a prestigious canine-obstacle-course competition. Bonus: first prize is $5,000, which just happens to be the amount grandpa needs to fend off foreclosure. Do you think she stands a chance of winning? (Rhetorical question.) — Jason Heid

 

Pit Stop

7:30 p.m. April 6, Magnolia 1

10:15 p.m. April 8, Magnolia 5

Rating: Go See It

Yen Tan’s Pit Stop takes place in a small Texas town, one in which the sense of claustrophobia and social isolation is heightened by the movie’s tight focus on its ensemble of love sick characters. . Gabe is a divorced man who discovered his homosexuality after marrying Shannon. They still live together with their daughter, but Gabe is reeling from a recent breakup. Shannon is trying out love clumsily with Winston. Ernesto is forcing out his lover Luis, while he visits the bedside of his ex. Les is a new teacher in town who takes Gabe out for an awkward date in Austin.

Where Yen Tan’s Pit Stop succeeds is in its unrelenting tone, a soft and steady, low-drone melancholy that underscores and infects its intersecting web of stories. This is a hermetically sealed, inwardly-focused world, driven by the floundering hearts of its protagonists. That self-absorbtion is both Pit Stop’s strength and frustration. It is a film that is masterfully sad and poignantly touching, with some rich moments of characterization, but still a little lost in itself and solipsistic. – Peter Simek

 

Clandestine Childhood

Noon April 7, Magnolia 4

7 p.m. April 12, Magnolia 5

 Rating: Go See It

Argentina’s reputation as the safest, most European-like country in South America belies the fact that it wasn’t so long ago ruled by a military junta that resorted to “disappearing” anyone suspected of working in opposition to the government. Clandestine Childhood offers a glimpse into that period of internal conflict, through the eyes of young Juan, whose parents are leftist guerilla fighters living under assumed names in a suburban neighborhood. Director Benjamin Ávila’s film marvelously blends the two sides of Juan’s life: afraid every time his parents or his beloved uncle go out that they might not come back alive and learning about love with his first girlfriend at school, á la The Wonder Years. In its more violent, emotionally charged moments the live-action images give way to gorgeously drawn comic-book-style animation that further helps capture a child’s perspective. — Jason Heid

 

In The House

9:45 p.m. April 7, Magnolia 4

7:30 p.m. April 12, Magnolia 4

Rating: Go See It

Francois Ozon’s In The House offers a post-modern narrative critique, an interlacing of stories that unfold through various prisms of voyeuristic perspective. Germain is a high school literature teacher and failed writer who begins to mentor young Claude, a promising writer who has infiltrated another student’s house, tutoring the boy at math while observing – and writing about – his friend’s parents’ travails. Claude’s stories engage his own sexual fantasies about his friend’s mother, and then take a more sinister tone. As the film progresses, there is an increasingly blurriness between what in this movie is the fantasy of Claude and what is happening outside the boy’s construed stories. The resonance of interpersonal desire only underscores a consideration of what we understand as reality and how our sense of self is rooted in the way we craft the stories that, true or false, construct our identity and perspective. – Peter Simek

 

I am Not a Rock Star

7 p.m. April 8, Magnolia 5

4:30 p.m. April 9, Magnolia 4

Rating: Worth a Shot

Bobbi Jo Krals documentary about the life of young piano phenom Marika Bournaki impresses on a few levels. The film manages to trace Marika’s career over a long period of time, using both home video and her own footage to show the pianist transgress a key moment in any one’s life, from 10- to 21-years-old. Krals also captures some surprisingly intimate moments, particularly between Marika and her father, who is a driving (and conflicting) force is sustaining the prodigy’s efforts at becoming a professional musician. Yet despite these flashes of intimacy, I Am Not a Rockstar plays like a film that has become a little too close to its subject. It lacks a dynamic sense of tension, and its pacing and exposition feels perfunctory, without a clear sense of climax or resolution. It’s scope and subject calls for something like a Hoop Dreams for classical piano, but the film is closer to a single episode in 21 Up, life in bullet points stretched out to feature length. – Peter Simek

 

Rushlights

7 p.m. April 8, Angelika 6

4 p.m. April 9, Angelika 6

Rating: Don’t Bother

This brainless would-be thriller is the sort of should-only-be-aired-at-4-a.m.-on-basic cable movie that resorts in its opening credits to having the letters of the film’s title change from black to red in color, as some lame attempt at an intriguing mood-setter. A pretty boy (Josh Henderson, from TNT’s Dallas reboot) hooks up with an ex-junkie waitress to claim the inheritance of her dead roommate. They travel from L.A. to small-town Texas, where they attempt to get away with their scam despite the suspicions of the sheriff (Beau Bridges) and his lawyer brother (Aidan Quinn). Director Antoni Stutz tries to add intrigue by including elements like the discovery of a secret gay sex tape, a violent crack dealer, and one inexplicably ominous shot of a pot of tomato sauce being stirred. Each new turn in the plot is dumber than the one before. — Jason Heid

 

Small Small Thing

7:30 p.m. April 8, Angelika 7

4:30 p.m. April 9, Angelika 7

Rating: Don’t Bother

In Liberia, 9-year-old Olivia and 12-year-old Clara and some unknown number of other girls have been raped over the past several decades. It’s awful, as is the way in which their communities and their government have allowed their attackers to go unpunished. I wish a better documentary than Small Small Thing had been made to tell their stories. The film lacks focus and specifics. I’d like to have heard at least one statistic cited to give a sense of the number of rape victims in the country — or context of how Liberia compares to other nations in this respect. Instead there are long digressions that left me questioning just what this movie is supposed to be about, as when the camera follows Olivia’s mother through the experience of giving birth via caesarian section. There’s a late, half-realized attempt to explain why Liberia’s culture and history make it more prone to this type of violence, but it’s far less than the issue deserves. — Jason Heid

 

Lawrence Anyways

9:45 p.m. April 8, Angelika 7

1 p.m. April 10, Angelika 7

Rating: Go See It

The long romance between Laurence and Fred is interrupted by a revelation: Laurence is a transsexual. The fallout includes a lost job, followed by a lost life, until, years later, the two not-so-young-anymore lovers try to reunite after years apart. Xavier Dolan’s balanced, emotionally resonate film is alternately funny and compelling, a curious and honest exploration of identity and purpose. Melvil Poupaud is a highlight here, and his performance does much to keep us engaged in the film despite its slagging third act. – Peter Simek

 

The Dirties

7:30 p.m. April 9, Magnolia 4

10:15 p.m. April 10, Magnolia 4

Rating: Go See It

You have to respect Matthew Johnson’s boldness. The filmmaker sets out to make a mock documentary about two movie nerds making a student film about high school bullies. But the boy’s fantasy of turning into vigilante killers who wreak revenge on the high school’s “bad guys” begins to overcome the reality. Soon we’re concerned: are these guys really going to do it? More disconcerting, particularly in a post Sandy Hook world, we are kind of looking forward to the school shooting.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play in Johnson’s film, which, despite the plethora of attempts at mixing a mock-doc style with a consideration of the way images create and warp one’s sense of reality (c.f. David Holzman’s Diary), manages to feel like a somewhat fresh attempt at the topic. The film tends to thin-out as it reaches its expect climax, but The Dirties is worth seeing if only for the endearing performances turned in by its two leads – Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams — two naturally hilarious Canadians with spot-on feel for the quirks and eccentricities of adolescence. – Peter Simek

 

Diving Normal

10 p.m. April 9, Angelika 6

10 p.m. April 10, Angelika 6

Rating: Worth a Shot

A decent-enough drama about a love triangle between a comic book writer, a beautiful-but-struggling-emotionally woman, and his simple-minded best friend. The film is nearly torpedoed by the truly dreadful performance of Scotty Crowe as Gordon, the friend whose mental condition lies somewhere on the autism spectrum, I think. Every time Crowe said a line I felt I was watching a recording of some beginner’s acting workshop, as his affectations never come alive as anything more than the phony creation of the script. Thankfully more of the screen-time is devoted to Fulton (Philipp Karner) and Dana (Susie Abromeit), who take their relationship slow because of Dana’s dark past as a drug addict and alcoholic. Both of the men love Dana, and in ways Diving Normal is reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac. Only this Roxanne’s got one hell of a kinky, wild side. — Jason Heid

 

Good Night

4 p.m. April 10, Angelika 6

10 p.m. April 11, Angelika 6

Rating: Don’t Bother

Imagine being dropped into a dinner party of strangers, forced to listen to their inane conversation, and you’ll have a sense of just how irritatingly dull this film is. I credit director Sean Gallagher with fostering a sense of realism, but I wish he’d kept in mind the second half of that old Hitchcock quote that drama is “life with the dull bits cut out.” A group of 20- and 30-something friends gather for the birthday of Leigh, who announces midway through the festivities that her leukemia has returned and that no treatment options remain. There are a few effective flashback segments that flesh out the story about how Leigh’s illness has affected her relationship with her husband Winston, but mostly the party guests just ramble on about nothing in particular for another 45 minutes or so. Gallagher puts a bow on this mess with an ending that isn’t nearly as bold as it likely intends to be, especially since it’s bound to remind many viewers of the conclusion of a certain Best Picture Oscar nominee from this past year. — Jason Heid

 

Azooma

4:30 p.m. April 10, Magnolia 4

7:30 p.m. April 11, Magnolia 4

Rating: Don’t Bother

South Korean cinema has a somewhat undeserved reputation for being coldly violent and morbidlybrutal, and Ji-seung Lee’s Azooma plays straight into the stereotype. It’s a bumbling, nonsensical film that takes a rather straight forward narrative – a little girl is kidnapped and raped, and her desperate mother tries to track down the perpetrator – and jumbles it into a confusing tumble of flashbacks and flashfowards. The problem is Azooma, despite its sensationally horrific crime, never grabs us with its characters or direction. The whole thing seems to be an excuse to get to the meat and potatoes: a disgusting scene in which revenge is enacted upon the rapist with a dentist’s drill. You can use your imagination to figure out what that means, but the problem with the movie is Lee leaves no room for imagination, showing the entire ordeal in bloody close up. Violence and gore like this has its place (speaking of South Korean violence and child rape, how about Oldboy?), but Azooma’s real flaw isn’t really its gratuitousness. It’s its pointlessness. – Peter Simek

 

Kings of Summer

7:30 p.m. April 10, Magnolia 4

10:15 p.m. April 11, Magnolia 4

Rating: Worth A Shot

Jordan Vogt-Roberts sporadically beautiful, hilarious, and fresh coming of age story is feeding off of the buzz it picked up at its debut at Sundance. It tells the story of two teenage friends, Joe and Patrick, who head out to the woods – along with a tag alone from a lost Napoleon Dynamite 2 script, Biaggio – to escape their overbearing, pampered middle class suburban families. For a while, life in the wilderness is sweet, but the sudden arrival of a female love interest sparks fraternal rivalry, and the adolescent dream comes crashing down.

On a level, Kings of Summer is a Stand By Me-style story of friendship and maturation, of hopes and dreams. It’s also a mumbling mash-up of tones, occasionally heartfelt and sincere, often times brash, irreverent and ridiculous. It is a fantasy, but also an attempt at emotional realism.  Its familiar central story arc, about the boys’ life spoiled by a female vixen, feels a bit like a retread. And the best thing about the movie, the stone-faced sarcastic father played by Nick Offerman, is out of step with a movie that otherwise jumps from saucy punch line to dreamy, flickering image. I enjoyed watching Kings of Summer, but felt pushed away by its comedic and visual pretensions. Vogt-Roberts has been compared to Wes Anderson, but even at Anderson’s most self-parodying, he knows how to create a film that is cohesive and dramatic focused, and his characters – however absurdly conceived – are nearly always rounded and dynamic, endowed with a palpable sense of humanity. Despite the pretty photography and the effective jokes, these kings are hollow. – Peter Simek

 

Reality

7 p.m. April 11, Magnolia 5

Rating: Go See It

A Neapolitan fishmonger gets a call back from the Italian version of the Reality TV show “Big Brother,” and it is enough to uproot his connection to, well, reality. Wordplay aside, Matteo Garrone’s film is an exasperating, astute, and befuddling contemporary parable that weaves the desperate story of a pitiful everyman into a rumination on life, dreams, media, aspiration, and even the nature of religious conviction.

Garrone is one of my favorite Italian directors working today, in part because he excels in a kind vernacular cinema, one that is thick with its regional sense of place. Reality is a particularly Italian film in the way it sets its critical sights on a national infatuation with status, wealth and prestige (some of the reasons why the successful playboy Silvio Berlusconi was reelected so many times). The film’s opening sequence is particularly strong, with Garrone’s camera gliding through a wedding scene. Perhaps the director is poking fun at The Godfather, the way cinema creates negative ideals (the Italian success story as criminal underworld), but it doesn’t take long for us to realize that this bourgeois wedding scene has been turned on its head, transforming it, through a subtle shift of perspective, from a vision of regal grandeur to crass contemporary kitsch. It’s part in parcel with the way Garrone sees the world, a place of deception, manipulated by forces both exterior and interior to ourselves. – Peter Simek

 

Chasing Shakespeare

7 p.m. April 11, Angelika 6

7:15 p.m. April 12, Angelika 4

Rating: Don’t Bother

Chasing Shakespeare won a 2013 SXSW Title Design audience award for its sharp and staggering opening sequence in which horses run in slow motion through flashing lightening and a rain-soaked landscape. The sequence appeals to lovers of commercial-style photography that is crisp and clear. It is also the best part of the film. After sequence, a story of a completely different tone and vitality begins. We meet William Ward (Danny Glover) as he crouches over the death bed of his dying wife Venus (Tantoo Cardinal). Over the next two hours (which feel like three), we flash in between the present day, as Ward struggles to come to terms with his wife’s passing — and their love story, whish shows how a young Ward pursued the sparking young Venus (Chelsea Ricketts). It’s a tired, cliché-ridden tale with the emotional depth of a Lifetime movie, replete with didactic posturing on race and sentimental reductions of love. The peppering of the script with bursts of Shakespearean quotes (Young Venus is an aspiring Shakespearean actress) only heightens the embarrassment, like drizzling truffle oil over a McDonald’s salad in the drive thru line. – Peter Simek

 

The Big Shootout: The Life and Times of 1969

3:30 p.m. April 13, Texas Theater

Rating: Worth A Shot

There was a lot of intrigue surrounding the showdown in 1969 between college football power houses University of Texas and University of Arkansas. The game marked the 100th anniversary of college football, and it pit the two teams gunning for the national championship against each other. Richard Nixon was to attend, opponents of the Vietnam War were going to protest, and African-American groups were going to storm the field in opposition to the University of Arkansas’ practice of playing “Dixie” after each touchdown. When national TV crews joined the fans that packed into the Fayetteville stadium that Saturday, they knew it would a good show.

Unfortunately Mike Looney’s documentary about the Big Shootout national championship game squanders some of the excitement. At times the movie feels like a video produced for an alumni reunion, to familiar or close to its subject, or too willing to allow locker room truisms to carry the film’s thematic focus. But the film’s fatal flaw is its un-compelling reconstruction of the game itself, in which high sporting drama comes across as a muddled reminiscence with little of the expected tension. – Peter Simek

8 comments on “Your Guide to the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival

  1. Wow…this guy, Peter, clearly has it out for DIFF. His review of the festival and some the films are quite malicious. I don’t value the reviews of someone who seems to have a personal vendetta against the festival. Maybe a case of movie critic from a smaller market who slams anything local in attempt to validate credibility or appear edgy to the Hollywood film community.

  2. This is about as honest an account of these films as I have read. I saw some of them in Park City and some in Austin and this guy is totally credible in his take. I’m sure James King would agree with nearly everything he’s saying here tbh. Good work dude.

  3. I had the fortunate opportunity to see a private screening of Chasing Shakespeare and I can tell you that it is a gorgeous movie! Danny Glover’s performance was simply outstanding. I found it to be both moving and uplifting. There was not a dry eye in the house. I usually don’t post comments, but I saw this review and wanted to share my opinion for whatever it is worth. My friends and I were all blown away by CS. I am a HUGE fan of the film and am dying to see it again. From my understanding, it has not even officially premiered yet but I noticed that it already has a great following on Facebook. I guess that I am not alone in my views.

  4. I am definitely NOT a filmmaker- that’s funny! I am just someone with an opinion that I wanted to share. To me, the film is beautiful and intriguing, that’s all. No need to lash out at others’ opinions or comments!

  5. I have already seen some great films at the Festival. Midnight’s Children, The Brass Teapot & 7 Boxes to name a few. I just go and see as many movies as possible and hope for the best. I think the film quality is better this year and I go every year.

  6. Agreed on Lord Montague; very pleasantly surprised and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Agreed on Tomlinson Hill; nice idea but lost its steam. Saw Iceberg Slim last night and was very impressed and will be released in July; definitely worth a watch. So far this year, the documentaries have been stronger than last year’s selection which were more of power point presentations than documentaries (probably due to being an election year). The feature lengths have been good, but nothing in that grouping has blown me away.

  7. Hi! I am a producer and actress on the the film CHAMPION. This is a family film – and is primarily for children up to tweens. I am saddened that it was given a “Don’t Bother” rating as I am positive that the gentleman who screened it is not our target audience. I understand that critiquing films is a very difficult process and I do not envy the task however… this is a nice film that employed 30 people for 26 days in the state of Texas which has been struggling with incentives for a couple of years. Champion is a film for younger audiences not for film critics. Is it slightly predictable? Maybe- but there is a formula in this genre of filmmaking and it’s nice for kids to feel like they are figuring things out. In a time when suitable programming is challenging even on public television – I beg that you.. the parent… reading this, will bring your family to see CHAMPION on SATURDAY April 13th- at the Angelika! Support your local filmmakers and films being made in Texas! Thank you for your time!!!