Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of the five nominees for Best Documentary Feature at this year's Oscars, the one that seemed to be the least known and least buzzed about was Scott Hamilton Kennedy's The Garden (Oscilloscope, 4.24). It's also, after the high profile Man on Wire, Encounters at the End of the World, Trouble the Water, and The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), the last to be released theatrically in the US.

But that doesn't mean it's not every bit as deserving as the other nominees. The Garden is a riveting, timely look at a 14 acre inner city garden in South Central Los Angeles, that has been tended to by the Hispanic community ever since the garden's creation in the wake of the Rodney King riots, and the legal battle that ensued after the city re-sold the land to its previous owner in a shady back room deal, potentially throwing the gardeners out forever.

I won't be able to review the film until its NC release, but it will be released theatrically by Oscilloscope on April 24, and will be showing at the River Run International Film Festival in Winston-Salem on April 24 and 26.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thanks to IndieWire's Matt Dentler and his live-Tweeting of this year's Cinema Eye Honors (the documentary awards started by filmmaker and blogger AJ Schnack), I've been keeping up with the winners as they're announced. Keep refreshing for new updates:

Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Best Director: Ari Folman, Waltz with Bashir
Best Editing: Man on Wire
Audience Choice: Up the Yangtze
Best Debut: Up the Yangtze
Best Music: Waltz with Bashir
Best Animation: Waltz with Bashir
Best Producer: Man on Wire
Best Cinematography: Encounters at the End of the World
Maurice Jarre, Academy Award winning composers of such renowned scores as Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and A Passage to India, passed away today at the age of 84.

His other screen credits include Fatal Attraction, Ghost, Sunshine, Dead Poet's Society, Jesus of Nazareth, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Although he is probably best known for the famous "Lara's Theme" from Dr. Zhivago.

He was one of Hollywood's most accomplished composers
, and his great talent will be sorely missed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Here's a sampling of what other critics are saying about the year's best film:
Bahrani is the new great American director. He never steps wrong. In Goodbye Solo, he begins with a situation that might unfold in a dozen different ways and makes of it something original and profound. - Roger Ebert
The story told in Goodbye Solo, Ramin Bahrani's wonderful third feature, is moving and mysterious, and you may find yourself pondering its implications for a long time after the film's simple and haunting final images have faded. - A.O. Scott
There's hope yet for world cinema if an Iranian-American director can take the premise of an Iranian film, set it in North Carolina, cast the lead roles with an African fashion model and Elvis Presley's former bodyguard, and produce something utterly new. - Dana Stevens
The film is currently sitting at an impressive 100% Tomatometer rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 90 at Metacritic, placing it in the "Universal Acclaim" category.

Goodbye Solo opens today in New York and Chicago. Don't miss this film.
Three Monkeys opens on a lonely, winding country road in the middle of a rain storm. It's tempting to begin with some sort of hokey "it was a dark and stormy night" line. But Three Monkeys sucks you in immediately without any kind of clichéd tricks. The opening sequence sets an evocative and eerie mood for the film to come.

It is here where we are introduced to Servet, a shifty politician who is having trouble staying awake while driving. When he finally succumbs, he awakes to discover that he has hit and killed a pedestrian. Faced with a big election coming up, he panics and flees the scene, but not before his license plate number is taken down by some passing motorists.

Not wanting to jeopardize his political career, he enlists the help of his driver, Eyüp, to take the blame and go to jail for him. Upon his release he promises a large lump sum to him and his family. Eyüp agrees, and his wife, Hacer, and teenage son Ismail, are left alone for nine months.

But the situation only gets worse. Ismail wants an advance from Servet to buy a car so he can start his own business, and Servet wants sexual favors from Hacer in exchange. When Eyüp his released, he finds his wife in love with another man and his jealous son dealing with a murderous rage, and familial tensions finally reach a breaking point.

If you haven't gathered this much already, Three Monkeys is one of those films where everything that could possibly go wrong does. It is a film filled with familial strife and unspoken secrets lurking just beneath the surface just waiting for the right moment to burst through. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who won the Best Director award for this at last year's Cannes Film Festival) has crafted his latest film with an air of haunting dread. Through the lens of cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki, Ceylan creates a moody, noirish atmosphere, surrounded by gray melancholy skies and the ominous rumblings of an approaching storm.

The imagery of the approaching storm is repeated often in Three Monkeys. It begins with a storm and eventually ends with one as the film eventually comes full circle, both narratively and symbolically. And among all this heartbreaking tragedy, there are moments of great beauty. Tiryaki's camera work is disarmingly beautiful, capturing the character's lives in stark shades of gray.

The title Three Monkeys is a reference to the famous Chinese "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" symbol, indicating the web of lies and half truths that the family finds themselves entangled in. Ceylan deftly navigates the film's tricky emotional waters, avoiding soap opera melodrama and instead creating an enthralling and deeply powerful mood piece. The pacing and overall visual look are almost hypnotic. Ceylan has no need to push the audience's emotional buttons, and as such Three Monkeys is a quietly devastating Greek parable about the overarching effects of the choices we make. It's ultimately a film about consequences - of lies, deceit, both to loved ones and to ourselves.

This is really stunning work. It is a darkly lyrical film, filled with muddled morality, family angst and shady deeds, but like Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, Three Monkeys is a family drama that defies stereotypes and really works. Ceylan takes what has become an indie-movie specialty and made it feel shockingly, and thrillingly, new. He examines the darkness darkness beneath the surface with the deep seeded assuredness of a born filmmaker, and it will haunt the mind for days to come.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

THREE MONKEYS; Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Stars Yavuz Bingöl, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar, Yavuz Bingöl; Not Rated; In Turkish w/English subtitles; Opens today, March 27, in Los Angeles, and May 1 in New York.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm going to take a page from Jeff Wells for a second and write for a bit about the year in movies so far.

And I must say, we're off to a pretty good start. I've been going back and forth about how best to present this, considering that most of the great films that I have seen this year haven't been released yet, and won't be for quite some time. But here is a quick look at how 2009 is stacking up so far:

"Goodbye Solo," courtesy of Roadside Attractions

First rate, top of the line, best of the best: Goodbye Solo (3.27), Tokyo Sonata, Captain Abu Raed (May, date undecided), Three Monkeys (3.27 LA, 5.1 NY), Summer Hours (5.15).

"The Hurt Locker"

Strong, solid, just short of greatness: The Hurt Locker (6.26), California Dreamin' (Endless), Serbis, Departures (5.29), The Song of Sparrows (4.3), The Headless Woman (8.19).

Effective modern romances: Two Lovers, Medicine for Melancholy, Duplicity.


Excellent festival pics without distribution: 45365, Best Worst Movie, Make-Out with Violence.

Missed opportunities: Katyn

Epic disasters: Watchmen

Unseen: Sin Nombre
From The Dispatch:
"Duplicity" is a smooth, sexy caper with decidedly grown-up sensibilities. Owen and Roberts both sizzle, perfectly complimenting the film's breezy, drolly funny tone. It's nice to see a big budget, studio production like this one actually have the brains and the wit to be funny, exciting and structurally complex. It's an old-fashioned espionage romp, where the stars light up the screen, and the dialogue pops like a champagne cork.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The annual River Run International Film Festival, which takes place in Winston-Salem, NC, announced its schedule today, with a list that surprisingly includes several films that will already be playing in limited release, such as Goodbye Solo, The Garden, Treeless Mountain, and Tulpan.

Other high profile films, such as Guillermo Arriaga's The Burning Plain and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's excellent Three Monkeys will also be showing at the festival.

For tickets and other information about the festival, click here.
A Magnet spokesperson had this to say after the Let the Right One In subtitle debacle:

We've been made aware that there are several fans that don't like the version of the subtitles on the DVD/BR. We had an alternate translation that we went with. Obviously a lot of fans thought we should have stuck with the original theatrical version. We are listening to the fans feedback, and going forward we will be manufacturing the discs with the subtitles from the theatrical version.

Source: Hollywood Elsewhere.

Great...and I already bought the dumbed down version.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So apparently, someone royally screwed up the subtitle translations for the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Let the Right One In.

I bought a copy a couple of weeks ago, but haven't watched it yet. So my only memory of it comes from my early viewings of the film during its theatrical run.

CHUD first broke the story, and it was then picked up and expanded on by Cinematical. Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere suggests that it may have to do with rights to the original subtitles being more expensive than getting someone else to do them cheaper. So we ended up with dumbed-down gems like this:

and this:

The top screencaps were taken from the original screener that was sent out last year. The ones on the bottom are from the current DVD release. It gets worse, whole conversations are whittled down to single sentences, and tension breakers like this have been totally neutered:

They even had the gall to totally ruin one of the film's sweetest moments, which no longer makes sense:

They didn't even bother translating that one!

I know it's already been all over the internet all day, but this is just ridiculous. Not to mention cheap and sloppy. Whoever let this happen should be ashamed. It's sad to know that people who are just now discovering the film won't be getting the full and true experience. The basic story is still there, but the subtleties have been lost in translation.

What a shame.

Click here to see more screenshot comparisons.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (Summit, 6.26), is every bit as white-knuckle intense as its reputation suggests.

It's easy for a film to get caught up in its own hype, but The Hurt Locker is one lean, mean piece of work. It's an action thriller with a brain and a heart, but it leaves the politics at the door. That's what sets it apart from so many other Iraq war films. Bigelow isn't trying to make any kind of political statement here. The ultimate theme is what makes a soldier tick, what keeps bringing them back to put their lives on the line every day. And she's not here to offer answers or put any kind of cliche label like God, family, and country. No it's much deeper and much more complex than that.

I'll save any more comments I may have for my review, which will go up sometime in June around the film's release. In the meantime, here's the trailer:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I'm going to be pushing this one a lot in the coming weeks, both as a love letter to my home towns, and as the best film I have seen so far in 2009. It opens this Friday, March 27, in NY and Chicago, and will expand over the next few months. My full review will be up this week.

Here's the official trailer:

Friday, March 20, 2009

DisneyNature announced today that it will plant a tree in honor of every ticket buyer for its new film, Earth, during its opening week.

According to the press release:
Disney's goal is to ensure that it plants trees in areas that conservationists have identified as important hot spots of biodiversity. Disney will oversee the planting of the trees in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, which is considered the most endangered rain forest in the world. Today, only 7 percent of the Atlantic Forest remains. Disney is committed to ensuring the trees are planted and cared for to provide the greatest long term benefit for the planet.
It's easy to be a cynic about PR stunts like this, but this is one I can really get behind. I saw the trailer for Earth in front of Race to Witch Mountain last weekend, and was almost moved to tears by it. Documentaries are always a hard sell, especially for families, but the trailer is breathtaking and hopefully it can do some March of the Penguins business, or even more. With enough tickets this kind of massive tree planting initiative in devastated areas could really make a difference.

To order tickets, visit www.disney.com/earth or call 1-888-DISNEY6.

Unless you're Wes Anderson or Guy Maddin, most new films don't get a DVD release from the prestigious Criterion Collection.

But David Fincher's 13 time Academy Award nominee (but only 3 time winner) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will be released by Criterion on May 5.

Not quite sure why...but hey, the case is pretty.

Image via Cinematical.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

NOTE: This is a re-run of my review that I posted on December 4 during the film's one week Oscar qualification run. Hunger officially opens tomorrow, March 20.

Every year, in a last ditch attempt to squeeze their films in under the wire for Oscar consideration, studios open their films for one week qualifying runs in Los Angeles, while not giving them an official release until the next year. Usually, the result is the film goes totally overlooked.

IFC did it last year to 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, to infamous results. The year before that, Sony Pictures Classics did the same thing to The Lives of Others, which went on to win Best Foreign Language Film, but failed to garner the hoped for recognition outside of that category.

This year, IFC is dumping Steve McQueen's heralded directorial debut, Hunger, into a one week LA run that all but kills its chances at Oscar recognition, since it won't be around to remind anyone that it exists. In other words, by the time it it officially released in March of 2009, it will have been all but forgotten about.

Which is a real shame, because what McQueen has achieved here is simply stunning. The film takes an unflinching look at the conflict in Northern Ireland in 1981, as the Irish Republican Army was fighting to achieve political status for the prisoners that had been captured by the British, who are considered criminal terrorists by the government.

The prisoners, for their part, respond by smearing their own feces on the walls of their cells, pouring their urine out into the hall, refusing to cut their hair and wear British clothing, instead choosing to go naked with only blankets for cover. The prison guards respond with brutal beatings, forced baths and haircuts (which usually result in many cuts to the head), and painful humiliation. The prisoners live in squalor and are treated as animals, and the IRA has had enough.

So they organize a hunger strike from within the walls of the prison. What follows is perhaps one of the most astonishing and gut wrenching portrayals of the deterioration of a human being in cinema history. Michael Fassbender, who went on a medically monitored crash diet for his role, doesn't appear until half way through the film, but once he does, he owns it. His portrayal of strike leader Bobby Sands is nothing short of extraordinary. We literally see him wasting away before our eyes, ending up as a ghastly shell of a man, all protruding bones and open sores. It's horrific, the entire film is, but McQueen doesn't allow us to look away. He grabs us by the throats and rubs our faces in it.

The film is made with minimal editing, one notable single shot lasts a reported 17 minutes (which according to IMDB is a world record). I was reminded while watching that scene (pictured above), in which Bobby lays out the strike plans to a sympathetic priest, of a similar long take in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. While this scene doesn't have the same emotional layering of the (admittedly superior) Romanian film, it is one of the most riveting scenes I have seen in a film all year. Fassbender commands the scene with a jaw-dropping intensity, the topic of his death a nonchalant non-issue in a much larger picture.

In fact the whole film is nearly devoid of emotion, which is apt considering the rough surroundings. This is as tough and gritty a film as you will ever see. One could say it isn't so much about the death of one man but about the resilience of the human spirit, but that seems too simple and ready for "Lifetime" network. No, Hunger is about death and dirt and shit and blood and sheer ugliness in the face of unrelenting darkness. But it is also about the unheralded strength of human will. These men are willing to die in the most horrible ways imaginable for their freedom. McQueen allows us to walk away shattered, beaten, and horrified, with our own conclusions. But one can't help but feel in an age where one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, that this conflict echoes very much into our own time. How is it that you can fight an "enemy" who is unafraid to die?

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

HUNGER; Directed by Steve McQueen; Stars Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham; Not Rated; Opens tomorrow, 3/20, in New York.
I've always been fascinated with how films reflect the times in which they are made. Many may deal with timeless themes that are relevant in any time, or are just so great that their themes resonate through time.

It's easy to look back at older films and see how they reflected the contemporary climates, even if it wasn't readily apparent at the time. So its interesting looking at many current films and how they deal, both directly and indirectly, at the global economic crises.

Last year, Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy perfectly captured the plight of a woman who fell through society's cracks in modern day America. It was a haunting reflection of America's dire situation through a deeply personal lens.

Now along comes Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, which takes a look at unemployment and family woes from a decidedly Japanese perspective.

The film centers around a seemingly normal Japanese family. The father, Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa), is a successful businessman who finds himself suddenly downsized as part of widespread company cutbacks. Too ashamed to tell his wife, Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), he continues to leave for work every day, but instead spends his time in bread lines and hanging out with other laid off businessmen.

At home, he continues his strict traditionalist attitudes, especially when it comes to his children, Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) and Kenji (Kai Inowaki). Takashi is a somewhat rebellious teenager who wants to serve Japan by joining the American military as part of their new foreign program, and Kenji is a gifted young child prodigy who wants to focus his life on playing the piano.

Ryuhei vehemently forbids the dreams of both his children, seemingly unaware of Takashi's true maturity and of Kenji's immense talent. So unbeknownst to them all, Kenji sneaks off and begins spending his monthly lunch money to get piano lessons in secret, in the process becoming more talented than any of them could have imagined.

All the while the stoic family matriarch, Megumi, struggles to hold the family together, while the pressures of her husband's lies and the wellbeing of her beloved children begin to weigh heavily on her. But when Ryuhei takes a job as a janitor at a local mall, his shame and the family's strife comes to a breaking point, and they must all decide where their true passions lie.

Coming from outside the Japanese culture, and indeed never having even been to Japan, I found Tokyo Sonata to be not just a fascinating cultural study, but a powerful humanist drama as well. The themes here are undeniably universal; familial bonds and economic strife, and the achievement of ones hopes and dreams are universal constants. Kurosawa takes this family and holds them up to us as a mirror to ourselves. And even when the film threatens to veer off the rails in the final act, he keeps the focus clear, culminating it all in an extraordinarily moving finale.

Given the current economic situation in America, the themes of Tokyo Sonata resonate even more. The plight of the unemployed Ryuhei, his shame and the trouble it brings his family is the kind of thing more and more people are being faced with today. Through the power of his finely tuned script and simple, straight forward direction, Kurosawa gives us a family portrait that could easily be transposed anywhere. The ties that bind a family transcend location and culture, and Tokyo Sonata's humane narrative gives us all something to relate to. Where other family dramas fail, this one succeeds.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

TOKYO SONATA; Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Stars Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi, Kai Inowaki, Haruka Igawa, Kanji Tsuda, Koji Yakusho; Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language; In Japanese w/English subtitles.
You know something's big when I check my email this morning to find multiple emails from multiple publicists all proclaiming the same thing - Pixar's Up has been selected as the opening night premiere of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

This is big news for several reasons. One, this is the first time an animated film has ever opened the prestigious festival. Two, this is the first time a Disney film of any kind has ever opened the festival. And three, this is the first 3-D film to ever open Cannes.

That third one may be the biggest news to some, with 3-D technology really beginning to catch on, especially with big time advocates like James Cameron.

Of course, the technology is lagging behind initial predictions about how widespread it would be by now (a lagging economy may be partially to blame for that). But I'm pretty apathetic about the whole 3-D thing. The reason this news excites me is that it shows Disney has great faith in Up, which is a good sign. I hope this doesn't create any unnecessary hype, because WALL-E is a hard act to follow. But Pixar hasn't disappointed me yet.

Here, once again, is the trailer:

From The Dispatch:
That being said, it really isn't half bad for what it is. As far as children's entertainment goes you can do a lot worse than "Race to Witch Mountain." The Rock is always fun to watch, and Robb and Ludwig are quite good as the two alien teens. It's not the kind of film you go into expecting greatness, but as a way to pass the time, especially for children, it's actually fairly enjoyable.
Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So I noticed today that I had quite a few hits coming from some forum I had never heard of. So I decided to check it out, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a forum full of conspiracy nuts tearing my review of New World Order apart.

To be honest, I was quite entertained by it all, especially by their total lack of reading comprehension skills. Here is one of the quotes I found particularly amusing:
They are never held accountable for what they say

What? You mean like Dick Cheney accountable? Like George Bush accountable? Like Glenn Beck accountable? Bill O'Reilly accountable? Rachel Maddow accountable? Wolf Blitzer accountable? Tom Brokov accountable? WTF? This reviewer also is not held accountable for what he says. It is called "freedom of speech" and is in the constitution. I invite this "journalist" to look it up.
So? Hold me accountable! Come to the blog and comment! Ask me questions! That's all I wanted from the film. I didn't want a biased hit piece. I just wanted the filmmakers to ask questions. Yes I think what these people are saying is garbage, but that doesn't mean I don't want them to explain themselves. If what they are saying is true then I want to know how they came by the knowledge. I want to know why they believe what they believe. That is what the film doesn't explore and where I think its weakness lies.
"Journalistic investigation"? Is this guy for real? Has this guy done any "journalistic investigation" at all? Is this guy proposing the "investigation" of all truthers and that they be "held accountable" for informing the public of the truth rather than the lies on TV all day long?

I actually think that this is what the "journalist" wants. Hey, should we take odds on this guy being connected to the CFR?
OK...I don't even know what the CFR is, but if you want to take odds go right ahead and be my guest. See? That's the kind of junk I'm talking about, and why no one takes them seriously. They think I'm part of the conspiracy for "panning" the film, even though I gave it a B minus.

I'm not proposing an investigation, but I think anyone should be held accountable for what they say. Politicians, pundits, journalists...everyone has the right to question anything and everything anyone says. If these people, these "truthers" as they call themselves, really believe what they're saying, why are they afraid of it being held up to scrutiny like anything else?

I agree that journalism has not been up to a high standard in a long time...it seems like only comedians like Jon Stewart are asking hard questions and holding people accountable. But true journalism should be unbiased, while asking deep, probing questions about the subject at hand. That's what I wanted from New World Order, but some of these guys are obviously eager to attack "the man" for looking down on them. I don't know what they would do without their persecution complex...it's almost like they want to be attacked, and look for it everywhere.

Anyway, the people on this forum are a pretty good representation of the people in this film - loud, hateful, and not at all the kind of people you want in charge of a country, or as a mainstream force of any kind.

And they call me the joke?
Actress Natasha Richardson, wife of Liam Neeson and daughter of Vanessa Redgrave, died today after a skiing accident on Monday.

Richardson, whose film credits included The Parent Trap and The White Countess, and whose stage credits included the revival of Cabaret as Sally Bowles, was 45.

What a tragedy. She was a fine talent with a regal presence, and will be missed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, Departures (Regent, 5.29), isn't a great film. It isn't in the same league as Israel's Waltz with Bashir, which really should have one, but honestly, Departures captured my heart.

Its an unashamed tearjerker that occasionally borders on manipulative, but it all comes together and works. I had almost given up on it about halfway through, but in the end it won me over. It's a pleasant, heartwarming film with a truly gorgeous Joe Hisaishi score, and its easy to see why the Academy members voted for it.

Waltz with Bashir is clearly the superior film in terms of art and craft, but the emotional power of Departures is hard to deny. It's definitely the safe choice, but I don't begrudge it its win. I will post a review closer to the film's US release.

In the meantime, here is a clip from the film (no US trailer has been released yet), that happens to be my favorite scene in the whole movie, and the point that finally sold me on the film as a whole. Enjoy.


Special Jury Award
The Way We Get By, Director: Aron Gaudet

Grand Jury Award
45365, Director: Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross


Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast
That Evening Sun, Director: Scott Teems

Grand Jury Award
Made in China, Director: Judi Krant

Click here to see all the SXSW 2009 awards.

Let me just say I am thrilled that 45365 won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary. I really loved that film, as I said in my review the other day. The Ross brothers have made a beautiful film, and I hope it goes far. These guys deserve it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Every now and then you run across a film, especially hidden in a festival like SXSW, that hits you just right, and you can't really explain why. That is one of the things I have enjoyed the most about keeping up with the films coming out of the festival (through the generosity of many filmmakers and publicists who sent me screeners of their films to review), there are so many discoveries to be made that may not have otherwise gotten any attention. And one of my very favorite films of SXSW 2009 is the Deagol Brothers' fantastic debut feature, Make-Out with Violence.

Make-Out with Violence is a curious little oddity about three brothers, two high school aged twins, Patrick and Carol, and their little brother, Beetle, who lose a mutual friend when beautiful and popular high school senior, Wendy, goes missing. Eventually, the search is called off and Wendy is presumed dead, while the town holds a funeral and each goes off to mourn in their own way.

But one day while exploring in the woods, Beetle discovers Wendy's body bound between two trees...and she isn't dead. Well...not in a conventional sense anyway. Wendy has been transformed into a nearly inanimate blood drinking zombie. So Beetle and Carol do what any good friends would do, they take her the house of a friend who is out of town and hide her in the bathroom.

But Wendy's presence causes continuous problems, as Patrick lives out his longtime unrequited crush by taking care of her every need, while Carol begins to act on his own feelings by pursuing Wendy's best friend, Addy, who has become a source of strength for Wendy's boyfriend, Brian. All the while, Beetle looks on, both as a bystander and active participant, watching his brothers desperately refuse to let go of the dead, while time moves inevitably on. In that last summer before college, everything will change, no matter how hard they try to hang on to the past.

For such a bizarre and unusual premise, Make-Out with Violence packs quite an emotional punch. It's a hard film to put your finger on. It's not a horror film (even though it features some genuinely creepy images) despite the presence of an animated corpse...it's more of a mash-up of genres, a mix of horror, romance, and coming of age drama. It has a delicate peculiarity to it, not unlike the work of Miranda July, rich in both sadness and charm.

It's not a perfect film, there are a few rough patches here and there, but the ultimate effect is undeniably winning. Despite the presence of a zombie and the occasional flash of blood, Make-Out with Violence is a very sweet and incredibly perceptive film about that awkward transition from high school to college, where childhood must be left behind for new adventures. Some characters refuse to let go of the past, while others take their first tentative steps into the future, all built around this zombie whose presence is never really explained.

Wendy is a metaphor for something that is lost and cannot be regained. She is there in body but it isn't the same. She is a shell, a memory of better times, and with a playful sense of melancholy, the film is a reminder that no matter how hard we try to stop it, life always moves on.

Featuring a rocking soundtrack (which can be downloaded from the film's website for free), some gorgeous cinematography, and haunting imagery, Make-Out with Violence is a wholly original and thrilling debut from a promising new talent. If this is any indication, they have a bright future ahead of them.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

MAKE-OUT WITH VIOLENCE; Directed by The Deagol Brothers; Stars Eric Lehning, Cody DeVos, Leah High, Brett Miller, Tia Shearer, Jordan Lehning, Josh Duensing, Shellie Marie Shartzer; Not Rated; Showtimes: 9:00 PM, Tuesday March 17th - Alamo Lamar 1, 9:30 PM, Saturday March 21st - Alamo Lamar 3

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The South by Southwest Film Festival is now in full swing down in Austin, with films screening all day today and well into the night. The fest officially began yesterday, but today marks its first full day in operation. The Reel Shorts 1 program has a few goodies, and there are a few feature premieres worth noting as well. Here's a brief look at whats showing at SXSW today:

45365 (Dir. Bill and Turner Ross):
Buzz may be light on this one now, but trust me 45365 is not only one of the finest docs of SXSW 2009, it ranks right up there with the very best of the year. I've already posted a full review, but I want to get the word out. This mosaic of small town life in Sidney, Ohio is a gem worth discovering. Don't miss this one. GRADE: A
12:30 PM, Saturday March 14th - Austin Convention Ctr (World Premiere), 2:30 PM, Sunday March 15th - Alamo Lamar 3, 2:00 PM, Wednesday March 18th - Alamo Lamar 3 .

A'MARE (Dir. Martina Amati):
There's something delicately beautiful about this short about two kids whose fishing trip yields an unexpected discovery. Amati provides a fresh perspective and pulls off a nice last minute switch that that is both surprising and profound. Not many films can pack such a last second emotional gut punch in 15 minutes, but A'Mare leaves a deep impression. GRADE: A-
Showtimes: 1:30 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 1, 11:00 AM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Lamar 12:30 PM, Thursday March 19th - Alamo Lamar 1.

BEST WORST MOVIE (Dir. Michael Paul Stephenson):
I've already given this one a pretty enthusiastic review, but it bears repeating. Michael Paul Stephenson's tongue in cheek doc about "worst movie ever made" Troll 2, and the cult phenomenon behind it, is one of the highlights of the festival. GRADE: A-
Showtimes: 9:30 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 1 (World Premiere), 4:00 PM, Monday March 16th - Paramount , 9:30 PM, Friday March 20th - Austin Convention Ctr .

This award winning short (whose director is also the author of one of my acting text books) is a mostly improvised comedy about a woman whose deep seeded aggression issues are compounded by her unorthodox and supremely unhelpful psychiatrist. Rambles a bit at times (but that tends to happen when dialogue is completely improvised), but overall it's quite funny. GRADE: B+
: 11:00 AM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 1, 1:30 PM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Lamar 1, 11:00 AM, Wednesday March 18th - Alamo Lamar 1.

This comedic short about a fish puppet who enlists the help of his human buddies to stop a recurring nightmare, is entertaining enough, but there's really not a lot going on here. Take it for what it is. GRADE: B-
11:00 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Ritz 2 , 11:00 PM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Ritz 2, 11:00 PM, Friday March 20th - Alamo Ritz 2.

IDA Y VUELTA (ROUND TRIP) (Dir. David Martin-Porras):
This one is my favorite short of the festival so far. It's a brief but searing look at a mother and son who are forced to face deeply buried issues when they are detained at an airport. Martin-Porras handles the difficult subject matter mostly through subt
ext and inference, packs a powerful emotional punch. GRADE: A
1:30 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 1, 11:00 AM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Lamar 1, 2:30 PM, Thursday March 19th - Alamo Lamar 1.

I LIVE IN THE WOODS (Dir. Max Winston):
For sheer audacious originality, look no further than this wonderfully bizarre animated short about a gleeful redneck and his bloody romp through the forest, culminating in a violent confrontation with America's God. It may seem unspeakably weird at first, but there's a lot going on beneath the surface here, as the film examine's mankind's attempt to kill God and replace him with himself. GRADE: B
Showtimes: 11:00 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Ritz 2 , 11:00 PM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Ritz 2 , 11:00 PM, Friday March 20th - Alamo Ritz 2.

JOHN WAYNE HATED HORSES (Dir. Andrew T. Betzer):
Here's a curious little oddity that I'm not quite sure what to make of. It centers around a father and son whose ideas of masculinity are vastly different. The father is a hard nosed military type, while the boy shows homosexual tendencies. It's a scant 10 minutes, which really doesn't seem like enough time to really explore the issues it raises. Just when it feels like it's getting started, it ends. I would like to have seen more, it seems like a good idea that just didn't really get fleshed out. GRADE: C+
1:30 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 1 , 11:00 AM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Lamar 1, 2:30 PM, Thursday March 19th - Alamo Lamar 1.

MAKE-OUT WITH VIOLENCE (Dir. The Deagol Brothers):
Here's another one of my SXSW favorites, about three brothers who discover the body of a missing friend that has been turned into a blood sucking zombie. Sounds bizarre, and it is, but it's actually quite beautiful and charming. I'll be hammering out a full review later today. Until then, here's the GRADE: A-
Showtimes: 8:00 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Ritz 2 , 9:00 PM, Tuesday March 17th - Alamo Lamar 1, 9:30 PM, Saturday March 21st - Alamo Lamar 3.

SCATTERBRAINED! (Dir. Joe Avella, Ed Boe):
This amateurish short film may be intentionally goofy, but that doesn't make it very funny. Made like an educational video warning against the affliction of scatterbrained-ness, this comes off more like a homemade Youtube video than anything else. Which, in all actuality, it is. You may enjoy it if you're into that kind of thing, but it doesn't do much for me. GRADE: D+
Showtimes: 11:00 PM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Ritz 2 , 11:00 PM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Ritz 2, 11:00 PM, Friday March 20th - Alamo Ritz 2.

THAT'S MY MAJESTY (Dir. Emily Carmichael):
Playful 3 minute short film about about a princess from another world who arrives on Earth to crown the queen of her planet - an executive who is quite late for a meeting. Not much going on here, but it's cute. Call it Enchanted-lite. GRADE: B+
Showtimes: 11:00 AM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 1, 1:30 PM, Monday March 16th - Alamo Lamar 1, 11:00 AM, Wednesday March 18th - Alamo Lamar 1.

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (Dir. Jocelyn Cammack):
This full length British doc about a trio of active elderly women, 101 year old former sex therapist, Rose, 102 year old peace activist Hetty (pictured above), and 87 year old former Communist party member Alison, mostly seems like the kind of thing you can catch on PBS any given day of the week, but the subjects really speak for themselves. They're an inspiring bunch, even if the film occasionally lacks focus and energy. GRADE: B
11:30 AM, Saturday March 14th - Alamo Lamar 2 (North American Premiere), 11:15 AM, Tuesday March 17th - Alamo Lamar 2, 4:30 PM, Wednesday March 18th - Alamo Ritz 2.