Austin Film Festival 2009 part 2

Day 4 — Sunday, October 25

Strigoi — This is a very authentic Romanian vampire movie, by which I mean it is true to the Romanian vampire legends and not the more popular version that we typically see portrayed in movies. The Romanian vampires don’t vaporize in the sunlight, and although the may not like eating garlic or going into churches, doing so won’t do any significant damage. The writer/director has spent a lot of time in Romania, and her husband (who I think was a producer) is Romanian. The movie is in English rather than Romanian with English subtitles or dubbing.
Overall, I liked the movie. It did feel a bit slow at times, but it was interesting to see how vampires are portrayed in their original culture. 7/10.

Shorts — This is a series of short films (10-20 minutes each) shown back-to-back. They were:

  • Sugar Rush — A Gremlins-type tale about a little girl who turns into an absolute monster when she is given sugar, and a babysitter and her boyfriend who ignore the advice of her parents. It was pretty fun, if not a bit cliche. 6/10.
  • A Little Mouth to Feed — A religious woman who has repeatedly failed to have a baby prays to the devil instead and gets a demon child. 6/10.
  • Unawakening — A story about a man who has a recurring nightmare of killing someone and burying the body, triggered by a past event that he has repressed. 6/10
  • Lambs — A couple of guys stage a broken-down car so they can rob whoever comes to their aid, only to find the tables turned when a 50’s style Ward Cleaver type turns hardcore. 8/10.
  • Survivors — A man and woman hole up in a bar to try to stave of a zombie attack. 7/10.
  • Slasher — A story about a rather outcast kid who stabs a fellow classmate in an altercation at a party. No obvious point, and very boring. 2/10.

Hunger — Five loners with varied pasts find themselves abducted and held hostage together in an underground bunker. They are given plenty of water, a crude toilet, a knife, and a clock to tick off the number of days they’ve been held. They aren’t given any food, but it becomes clear that their captor expects them to eventually turn against each other.
This was an excellent psychological thriller, that wasn’t really scary or particularly intense but was a well-told story and well-acted movie. My only real complaint is that the characters’ appearances didn’t seem to reflect the duration accurately (e.g., guys weren’t really amassing a lot of facial hair, and a girl’s white shirt was still a pretty brilliant white after a couple of weeks). The director did mention that they had someone looking at continuity, and scenes were shot in sequential order and within a time frame that was about the same as that portrayed in the movie, so it’s probably something that probably should have been handled a little better. Nevertheless, it was still a great movie so I’m willing to overlook the continuity. 8/10.

ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction — A small island town off the coast of Washington finds itself in the midst of a zombie infestation. Like every other zombie comedy, a small group of people try to survive, while family, friends, and neighbors are overcome.
There have been a lot of zomcom movies in the last few years, and this one isn’t a serious contender against the top tier movies like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but it can hold its own against most others. It was quite funny and had plenty of gore, so it was never slow or boring. The director said that they had recently gotten a distribution deal, so it may be making it to theaters early next year, and I think that it’s worth seeing if you like this type of film. 7/10.

Day 5 — Monday, October 26

Little Fish, Strange Pond — Callum Blue plays a murderer named Sweet Stephen who’s a bit off his rocker. He’s accompanied by a man known only as “Mr. Jack” (Matthew Modine), who is kind of like a human embodiment of the voice in Stephen’s head encouraging him and antagonizing others (more like Tim Roth/Amanda Plummer in Pulp Fiction than Edward Norton/Brad Pitt in Fight Club). It’s a very fun dark comedy that also features Zach Galifianakis, Adam Baldwin, and Don McManus. I give it an 8/10.
I really loved Callum Blue’s performance in this, and it evoked a lot of fond memories of his role in Dead Like Me. A small grim reaper doll was prominently featured in one scene, and you could consider him playing a kind of reaper role to Matthew Modine’s graveling. He also had a great “don’t talk during the movie” scene that would be perfect for the Alamo Drafthouse to run before the trailers.

Happy Ending — This is a Japanese movie (with Engrish subtitles) about a not-very-girly lead character who is very into movies and is beginning to see her life as a movie, much like Jamie Kennedy’s character in Scream. She’s generally more into horror movies than romantic comedies, but that starts to change when she happens across a guy who she wants to notice her. She enlists the help of her friends (including one who secretly likes her, ala Duckie in Pretty in Pink).
I generally liked this movie, although it wasn’t very original. It also seemed to develop a bit slowly toward the end. Nevertheless, I liked the humor and the self-referential nature. 7/10.

Day 6 — Tuesday, October 27

Myna Se Va — This is a movie about a woman living as an illegal alien in Spain, where she was a nanny for a young boy. His parents went out of town on a ski trip, and she was left to care for him. When he got injured, she had to find help for him while avoiding being found out and deported.
The premise for this movie sounded interesting, but its execution fell flat. This was without question the worst movie I have ever seen. The subtitle translation was horrible. The camerawork was horrible, and there were minutes at a time with absolutely nothing happening on the screen (no people or objects of interest visible, and not particularly focused on anything, with only occasional sounds). The pacing was unbearably slow. It had more false endings than Return of the King. It had completely unnecessary flashbacks that didn’t provide any useful information. And there was a 30-minute sequence in the middle of the movie that was so painful to watch that I can’t even bring myself to describe it. I would say that at least half the audience walked out, and I would have if there hadn’t been two other movies following it in the same theater that I wanted to see. I can’t see any value whatsoever in this movie, and I give it a rating of zero out of ten.

Earthwork — This is a documentary that tells the true story of a man who creates incredible artwork through landscaping. From the ground, they don’t look like much, but from the air they turn into very intricate scenes depicting all kinds of things, like people and nature. He had been doing this all his life and had become a bit of a minor celebrity in his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas but he wanted a bigger audience, and jumped when he heard about an opportunity to create his artwork on land owned by Donald Trump shortly before it was to be used to erect skyscrapers. He undercut all of the other competitors by basically offering to do the work for free, and paying all of the expenses himself (effectively putting himself deep into debt by taking out a loan to cover the costs), and he enlisted several homeless men to help him out. He of course encountered a number of difficulties in the process, and it doesn’t necessarily turn out as you might expect, but it’s definitely worth a watch. 9/10.

The Vicious Kind — Alex Frost plays a college student who brings his girlfriend (Brittany Snow) home for Thanksgiving. His father (J. K. Simmons) and brother (Adam Scott) aren’t on speaking terms, nor can they even stand to be in the same place at the same time. They haven’t spoken in several years, since the mother’s death. Things got even more tense when the brother’s treatment of the girlfriend alternated between hostile and obsessive.
This was a very good movie, although at just over 90 minutes I felt that it could have been longer and a couple of story lines weren’t pursued as well as they could have been. The line producer (who was in attendance) mentioned that a lot had been cut out in editing to prevent it from dragging on too much, but I think that perhaps too much had been cut. 8/10.

Day 7 — Wednesday, October 28

Tenure — Luke Wilson plays a literature professor named Charlie who is up for tenure at a small college, after two previous unsuccessful attempts at other schools. He loves teaching, and the students love him, but he’s under pressure to focus more on other academic pursuits like getting published. Things get a little more anxious when another professor (played by Gretchen Mol) enters the picture and joins the tenure race. Even though she gets off to a rocky start as a teacher, she has more impressive credentials and has been published in a prestigious journal.
This movie had two different personalities. I think that the primary story was well executed and generally enjoyable. However, it was awkwardly intertwined with some attempts at comedy which fell a bit short. The quest by a fellow professor (David Koechner) to find Bigfoot, a student’s attempts at erotic comedy, and a fake double date (with Rosemarie DeWitt) felt out of place and in some cases were almost painful to watch. 6/10.

American Cowslip — This is a very odd movie about a heroin addict named Ethan Inglebrink (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins) who hasn’t left his house in years but is being evicted by his landlord/next-door neighbor (Rip Torn) because he’s unable to pay the rent. About the only thing that he does well is tend to his garden, and he is the primary obstacle in the way of his landlord’s victory in a home landscaping competition.
Despite his addiction and agoraphobia, and in spite of his constant neediness and lack of personal responsibility, Ethan is very well-liked by most of his neighbors (a pretty noteworthy cast, including Diane Ladd, Cloris Leachman, Priscilla Barnes, and Hanna Hall), although his well-meaning but somewhat misguided brother (Val Kilmer) appears to be the only one trying to get him to really improve himself. The film has a pretty crazy climax, but I think that it took too long to get there and I just couldn’t connect with the characters and get into the movie like I wanted to. 5/10.