Today at the Dallas International Film Festival (4/6/14)

Here’s today’s schedule, and our reviews of movies playing today:

Queens & Cowboys

12 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

Grade: B

Matt Livadary’s documentary follows the gay rodeo circuit for a year, using aSpellbound format. The film peeks into the lives of some of its prominent competitors, framing them against he story of the rodeo and its importance to gay culture as well as the it challenges American presumptions about masculinity, strength, and western bravado. Two characters who stand out are Wade Earp, a Dallas-based competitor who lost his partner to aids and struggles to beat the best cowboy on the circuit, and Chris Sherman, a young man from Oklahoma who couldn’t find a roping partner on the “straight” circuit after his college teammates found out he was gay. There’s not enough story here for Queers and Cowboys to be a truly great documentary, but the film still delivers a engaging, candid, and occationally moving look at the lives of a handful of characters that you root for, not only in rodeo, but in life. — Peter Simek

 

We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place

12:15 p.m April 6 Angelika 8

Grade: B+

We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place is Texas to its core: its nearly-college aged characters waste time at Whataburger and jet off to Corpus to break the small town monotony. Tracking shots catch ranch houses and wind turbines and drought-stricken grass seen from the window of a beat-up blue Chevy truck cruising down a country road. But this is no nostalgic coming-of-age romp, this is noir, and Bobby, BJ, and Sue are trapped by their own decisions, honorable or otherwise. When Bobby takes the blame for BJ’s theft of twenty large from his murderous, racist boss, they’re forced to hatch a plan to rob a big-time criminal to settle their debt. The ho-hum plot is elevated by the terrific performances and the focused lens of directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins. The two have great confidence in their actors, often filling a scene’s entire frame with their faces. Every lip quiver, mischievous grin, and furrowed brow signal something beyond their words. It’s absolutely captivating. And when the camera eventually zooms out and settles, you feel as trapped in this tiny coastal town as they are; all of the havoc, some they caused and some they didn’t, is set out in disturbingly plain sight before you. – Matt Goodman

 

Anna 

2:45 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

Grade: B-

In a world where people possessing unique ESP abilities have been trained to enter the minds of others and revisit their past experiences, John Washington (Mark Strong) is an ace “memory detective” who’s suffered a tragic personal setback. Hard up for money, he accepts the task of un-troubling the troubled teenage daughter of a wealthy family. He earns her trust to help determine the origin of her mental illness. It’s an intriguing premise ultimately undone by the fact that the story’s “big twist” requires the detective to be a moron. — Jason Heid

 

Shorts Program 2

5:30 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4

Based upon an oral history, Tobacco Burn (B) reproduces an episode of defiance among slaves in the antebellum period. The stirring Ni-Ni (A) zeroes in on one of the aimless youth of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and his noble attempt at redemption. Aftermath (A) is a visually striking coming-of-age vignette, set against the bleak backdrop of a post-apocalyptic ice age, in which men must kill or be killed. Tryouts captures adolescent angst through the potent story of a hijab-wearing Muslim girl who wants to join her high-school cheerleading squad.  — Farraz Khan

 

The Militant

7:30 p.m. April 6, Angelika 8 | 1:30 p.m. April 7, Angelika 8

Grade: C +

A student activist in Montevideo returns to his Uruguayan hometown after the death of his father. In interacting with student protestors there and wrapping up his father’s affairs (which involve settling a pile of debts), Ariel Cruz (played by an actor who speaks in a mumbling monotone) learns something about himself. I have no clue what that is, but at the end of the movie he seems to have made some sort of peace with his place in the world, I guess. — Jason Heid

 

No No: A Dockumentary

8 p.m. April 6, Angelika 4 | 4 p.m. April 7, Angelika 4

Grade: B+

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this look at the life of Dock Ellis, the flamboyant former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 1970 while he claims to have been high on LSD. The film offers a compelling chronicle of Ellis through interviews and archival footage, detailing his triumphs and struggles. — Todd Jorgenson

 

The Man Behind the Mask

8:15 p.m. April 6, Angelika 6 | 4:15 p.m. April 7, Angelika 7

Grade: C

Aficionados of Mexican wrestling — lucha libre — may be thrilled by this hagiographic documentary. Those of us unfamiliar with the exploits of masked men like El Santo (the most famous of all luchadores) and El Hijo del Santo find ourselves checking the clock frequently during the nearly two hours of this straightforward, tediously detailed story of how El Hijo inherited his mask from his famed father, made a legacy of his own, and is even passing on his brutal craft to another generation.— Jason Heid

 

Long Distance

10:15 p.m. April 6, Angelika 8 | 12:15 p.m. April 12, Angelika 7

Grade: B

Familiar themes are given a fresh spin in this contemporary romance about two Spanish lovers separated for a year when Alex (Natalia Tena) leaves for a yearlong residency in Los Angeles while Sergi (David Verdaguer) stays behind. They remain connected through social media, but their relationship is tested in a modest effort that’s both ambitious and intimate. — Todd Jorgenson

 

Other reviews from yesterday:

Web Junkie 

Repeats 1:30 April 8, Angelika 8

Grade: B+

Israeli directors Hila Medalia and Shosh Shlam gain surprising access into a surprising kind of new mental health therapy in China. China is the first country to classify internet addiction as a clinical disorder, and distressed parents are sending their children to a boot camp-like facility that weans them off World of Warcraft and other addictive video games with a regimen of physical fitness, reeducation classes, and strict discipline. Some of the teenagers admit to spending hours upon hours – sometimes weeks at end – playing games, with little sleep or food. But the longer we are immersed in the world of the rehabilitation center this approach to “treating” the addition starts to look like it is mistaking a symptom of psychological trauma for its root-cause.

The teenagers, mostly the only children in their families because of China’s reproduction regulations, are lonely, feel ostracized from their families, are often abused, and bear the weight of immense pressures to succeed at school. The games offer an escape as well as way to network virtually with other kids like them. The internet is more real than reality, they protest, and watching them navigate attempts to brainwashing and reprogram at the facility, you can empathize with their perspective. It all makes Web Junkie is an unsettling film, but one that offers a unique view into escalating personal stress and suppressed social distress  in contemporary China.  – Peter Simek

 

 

Little Brother

Repeats 1 p.m. April 8 Angelika 7

Grade: A-

In Kazakhstani filmmaker Seric Aprymov’s Little Brother, 9-year-old Yerkin lives alone in a rural village. His father is on a business trip, his brother is at school in the city, and his mother has died. The precocious child is slapped around at school, bullied by kids in his town, and hustled by the town thief. But he still is able to manage the affairs of his life, selling bricks, helping out his school teacher, and borrowing money to buy a sheep to celebrate his brother’s eventual return. Little Brother offers a portrait of rural life in Kazakhstan, with its fraught tension between traditional and contemporary life, with the life of the village taking shape as a boarder social allegory. Though the real joy of Aprymov’s film is being with his Yerkin, a remarkably resilient, lovable, and lyrical soul, reminiscent of the children in the films of Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, whose story takes us through heartache and abandon of eroding innocence. – Peter Simek

 

Touch of Sin

Repeats 9:30 April 9 Angelika 7

Grade: A-

Four stories, loosely intertwined, offer a mosaic look at contemporary China. A rural worker protests corrupt local officials by going on a killing spree; a migrant worker returns to his wife and son but can’t turn away from the easy money robberies that have turned him into a fugitive; a mistress is dumped by her lover and abused by his wife, and then turns on lecherous men at the sauna/whore house where she works; and a young factory worker is caught in the rat hole of dead-end low wage work. Zhangke Jia pairs a panoramic visual sensibility, a rich sense of place, and flare for genre indulgence to craft realist cinema elevated by symbolic sensibility – an enthralling, though sullen critique of social and personal turmoil. – Peter Simek

 

Cast/crew scheduled to appear at DIFF today, April 5: 

THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK (EL HOMBRE DETRAS DE LA MASCARA) – Gabriela Obregon (Director, Screenwriter),  Jorge Guzman (Subject of film)

NO NO: A DOCKUMENTARY – Mike Blizzard (Producer), Sam Douglas (Editor, Co-Producer), Jeffrey Brown (Co-Producer), David Hodges (Executive Producer)

PRIVATE VIOLENCE – Kit Gruelle (Subject of film)

LAMBING SEASON – Jeannie Donohoe (Director, Screenwriter), Breeda Wool (actor)

QUEENS & COWBOYS: A STRAIGHT YEAR ON THE GAY RODEO – Matt Livadary (Director, Writer, Producer), Wade Earp (Subject in film), Chris Sherman (Subject in film)

ZERO HOUR – Dan Carrillo Levy (Director, Producer), Jaime Camil (actor)