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Old 04-19-2009, 03:13 PM   #1
larrymcg421
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10 Days, 35 Films: The 2009 Atlanta Film Festival

I've been attending the Atlanta Film Festival every year since 1999. While it's certainly not as big or prestigious as other festivals, throughout the years there have been some great films (Lovely and Amazing, Great World of Sound, George Washington), and every once in a while you get some big names that make an appearance.

It's also pretty cool to catch some people that eventually go on to make it big. For example, George Washington was directed by David Gordon Green, who went on to direct several highly regarded indies before hitting it big with Pineapple Express. Getting to Know You featured the debut performance of Zach Braff. Of course you also inevitably get some really terrible movies mixed in.

This year will be the first that I bought a festival pass, which means I will catch as many films as possible. I've made a schedule of 35 films (counting the shorts programs as 1) that I will be seeing through the end of next week. In this thread, I'll give my thoughts of the movies and the overall experience.
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Old 04-19-2009, 03:27 PM   #2
larrymcg421
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Opening Night
Thursday, Aptil 16th

Opening night has really changed over the years I've been going to the festival. They'd usually schedule an interesting film and have a slight upcharge for the ticket price. However, they have recently started making a huge event out of opening night. The price is now $50 and there is a after party. They rent out the Rialto Center for Performing Arts and turn it into a huge celebration.

This year's opening film was The People Speak, which is based on Howard Zinn's writings. Zinn is clearly a controversial figure and if you don't like him, then you won't like the movie. The opening monologue sets that tone as Zinn gives his views on modern politics. I thought this was a poor decision since it will alienate potential viewers that may have found the rest of the film interesting. After Zinn's monologue, he begins giving his own perspective on American politics, decrying the "Safe" history that is taught in schools. This is interspersed with some well known actors/singers (Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, Marisa Tomei Eddie Vedder) performing monologues from historical figures. The best was verteran indie actor David Strathairn's reading of a famous courtroom speech by John Brown. Overall it was a pretty interesting film after the rocky start, and gives a fresh perspective on historical events. 7/10

There was a Q&A after the movie, which included appearances by Howard Zinn, Josh Brolin, Jasmine Guy, and Eddie Vedder. Also, Congressman John Lewis was in attendance. It was definitely an interesting start to the festival.
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Old 04-19-2009, 07:39 PM   #3
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Friday, April 17th

The rest of the festival takes place at the Midtown Art Theatre, which is a really cool place that is almost solely dedicated to indie films. It has good access to nearby bars/restaurants, so I can grab something to eat in between and don't have to rely on the terrible movie theatre food.

I was only able to make 1 film tonight (most other days will be 4-5 films), but it was a good one. Blood River is about a young couple on a long road trip to tell her parents that she's pregnant. They break down on a long stretch of highway in the middle of the desert and have to hike to the next town to look for help. The name of the town is Blood River and it turns out to be a ghost town. A mysterious stranger eventually joins them in town and starts to cause trouble. This is a pretty good psychological horror film that is smart enough to understand that what is unexplained is often creepier than what is explained. The on location Nevada setting helps to build the tension as the pervasive heat begins to send the characters over the edge. The female lead was in attendance for an informative Q&A session afterwards. 8/10
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Old 04-20-2009, 12:43 PM   #4
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Saturday, April 19th

Today started off with a documentary. For the Loves of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism is pretty much exactly what it says. The film starts off pretty interesting by exploring the very early years of film criticism when critics were still trying to figure out how to approach this new art form. It goes on to explore the first famous critic, Bosley Crowther, who wrote for the NY Times for 27 years. The most entertaining section of the film is when it talks about the film critics that rose up in the 60s, such as Andrew Sarris and PAuline Kael, who battled pretty fiercely over the auteur theory, which Kael detested. Kael's biting wit is on full display in several interviews and press clippings included int he film. After this, it moves on to the rise of television, but this is where the film stumbles a bit in my opinion, While including several interviews with Roger Ebert, the filmmaker only spends about 3 minutes discussing the impact Siskel and Ebert had on film criticism, not even touching on the "Thumbs Up" system they developed. It seemed like an odd choice, especially when the film rushes by that to talk about the rise of the internet and actually spends more time on Harry Knowles and other internet critics. I'd consider the film a moderate success for the interesting exploration of early film criticism, but the choices made in discussing modern criticism are puzzling and hamper the film's credibility. 6/10

The next film was another documentary called Pip & Zastrow: An American Friendship. Pip Moyer and Zastrow Simms were two of the top athletes in their segregated Annapolis schools. They quickly became friends, despite the racial prejudices of the time, and the film explores their friendship over the years. Their lives took two different directions, as Pip went to college while Zastrow went to jail numerous times. Pip later came back to Annapolis and got alot of attention for joining an all-black amateur basketball team. Pip later on became Mayor of Annapolis, while Zastrow still found himself in legal trouble. To Pip's credit, he never turned his back on Zastrow, even stepping in to let him out of jail so he could attend his mother's funeral. The most interesting part of the film dealt with the aftermath of Martin Luther King's assassination and the civil unrest that it caused. This time Pip called on Zastrow, got him out of jail again, and they walked the streets together to help diffuse the situation. The film follows their lives up until present day, as Pip deals with struggling health conditions and Zastrow attempts to rehabilitate himself. This movie is a major success because it doesn't portray these two men as pure saints, but talks about some dark areas of their lives as well. This makes the two men even more interesting and human. There was a Q&A afterwards, with 71 year old Zastrow Simms in attendance. 8/10

I don't have much to say about the next film, called It Was Great, but I Was Ready to Come Home. It was the first narrative feature of the day, but had much less to say than the two documentaries. It follows two women who go on a vacation in Costa Rica. There's not much of a plot. The film just follows the two women from town to town. You gets bits and pieces here and ther through the conversations they have together, suggesting that they're trying to get over painful failed relationships, but this never really comes together. They just keep on moving to the next town and then the next town, and then it's over. There's really no ending here. I don't mind movies that are a bit ambiguous and this one does have some nice scenery and two appealing leads, but it ultimately feels pointless. The director Kris Swanberg seems like she has some talent, as the overall look of the film is really nice and it moves along at a decent pace. It'll be interesting to see what happens when she actually has something to say. 4/10

This film was preceded by a short called Love, Sadie, which is about a quiet girl who we learn is abused by her father. She has many people that write her notes asking for advice or telling her thay have a crush on her, but she has trouble responding and articulating what is going on in her life. This was only 12 minutes, but it packed a pretty good punch. 8/10


The next film was one of the big events of the festival, since it had already premiered to much success at Sundance. It is called Moon, and stars Sam Rockwell in a splendid performance. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut who lives on the moon, working for an energy corporation that is responsible for providing all of the Earth's energy. He is aided by a robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey with deadpan perfection). Sam's 3 year contract is about to end, and he awaits returning to his wife and daughter, but Sam starts to get sick and get sin a serious accident with the land rover. As he recuperates back at base, he sees a younger version of himself who says he's there to fulfill the same 3 year contract. The two Sam's struggle to make sense of the situation, as representatives from the company are due to arrive in just a few hours. This is a really strong sci-fi film, which includes enough humor to keep it light, but never strays too far into silliness. There's not much action here, but Rockwell's compelling performance and the unravelling mystery are more than enough to keep you interested throughout, and the film builds to a very satisfying conclusion. This one is a winner. 9/10

The final film of the night was not a winner. It is called Deadland, and is about the future of the United States after a nuclear strike almost completely demolishes it. The country is now called the United Provinces, and is run by the Officers of the Province, who hold on to a secret cure for the radiation poisoning that is slowly killing people. The main character is Sean Kalos, who is on a quest to find his missing wife, a quest that puts him in the middle of underground revolutionaries fighting the new government. This is an example of a bad sci-fi movie. In fact, it is every bit the quality of one of those bad made for sci-fi movies. This one is terrible across the board: acting, directing, story, dialogue, editing. This was a major disappointment following Moon. 2/10
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Old 04-20-2009, 01:14 PM   #5
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Almost caught up now. I'll try to write up Sunday's stuff in between the films I'm attending today.
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Old 04-20-2009, 02:37 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by larrymcg421 View Post
Blood River is about a young couple on a long road trip to tell her parents that she's pregnant. They break down on a long stretch of highway in the middle of the desert and have to hike to the next town to look for help. The name of the town is Blood River and it turns out to be a ghost town. A mysterious stranger eventually joins them in town and starts to cause trouble. This is a pretty good psychological horror film that is smart enough to understand that what is unexplained is often creepier than what is explained. The on location Nevada setting helps to build the tension as the pervasive heat begins to send the characters over the edge. The female lead was in attendance for an informative Q&A session afterwards. 8/10

I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.

I also saw the trailer for Moon and am looking forward to seeing that.

Obligatory "I'm reading."

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Old 04-20-2009, 04:06 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by sabotai View Post
I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.

I also saw the trailer for Moon and am looking forward to seeing that.

Obligatory "I'm reading."

Thanks for reading!

I'm sure Blood River will be released, at least in limited fashion or on DVD.
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Old 04-20-2009, 06:18 PM   #8
molson
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Also reading

I always wanted to go to film festival....
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Old 04-21-2009, 03:47 PM   #9
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Thanks for reading, molson! You should definitely check one out sometime. Even if you only go to a couple movies, the atmosphere is really exciting.
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Old 04-21-2009, 03:53 PM   #10
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Sunday, April 19th

The first one today was a nice treat. The film is called Rain which came from the Bahamas. It follows a young girl named Rain whose caretaker grandmother dies, so she travels to see her mother, who now goes by the name of Glory. Glory is a sad, poor, desperate woman who is into prostitution and drugs. As Rain watches her mother's sad daily life, she is encouraged by a track coach (CCH Pounder, one of only two Americans in the whole film) who thinks she might be able to get a college scholarship and make a better way for her life. This was a really good film with a terrific performanced in the title role by Renel Brown, who was a local Bahamian actress making her film debut. What's really interesting is the film shows a different side of the Bahamas than the paradise that we usually see portrayed in films. The area where Glory lives is a run down slum that no one would want to take a vacation to, and is populated by criminals and other malcontents. It's perhaps not the most original story. There have been tons of coming of age stories where a child tries to use sports to better their situation, and the wise coach is a staple in these types of movies, but the earnest performances make this one stand out. 7/10

This was followed up by an incredibly depressing film called Mississippi Damned. It follows an extended family as they cope with a seemingly unending cycle of drug addiction and abuse. It's clear that this is a very personal story from writer-director Tina Mabry. The film's main focus is on three children caught up in this mess, presumably different incarnations of the director's own childhood. This is an uncomfortable film that doesn't pull any punches. It explores some really dark aspects of the human condition, and shows how hard it can be for the young people growing up in that situation to escape their circumstances. There are some veteran character actors (my fellow geeks will recognize DB Woodside from the final season of Buffy), but I was especially impressed with the younger actors, who give very mature performance. This certainly isn't a fun movie, but it is made with alot of passion and talent and has a rewarding ending. 8/10

The only documentary I saw today was Training Rules, which exposes Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland's guideline that prohibits lesbian players on her team. Portland was coach of Penn State for almost three decades and had a very successful run over that time. The film interviews past players, some of whom were dismissed or decided to quit after Portland explained the rules to them. The central focus is a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Harris, who claims Portland dismissed her from the team after her sophomore season solely because she's a lesbian. While much of what is talked about is anecdotal, Portland actually was quoted in a news article, saying she wouldn't have it in her program and a PSU internal investigation found she had created a hostile environment for her players. Unfortunately, the documentary is pretty straightforward and feels more like a news story than a film. Still, the interviews do capture the emotional turmoil that Portland's policies caused for her players. 6/10

The Atlanta Film Festival seems to have a love affair with films about poor teenagers with sick mothers, and their attempts to use athletic skills to help their mother and themselves (Saint Ralph is the best example of this). We've already seen Rain earlier today, and the next film Playing for Charlie fits that bill. Tony Hobbs is a 16 yr old who is great at Australian Rules Football, and hopes to get selected on the national team one day. His quest is complicated by the need to take care of his baby brother while his mother (who has MS) works nights as a telemarketer. This one is filled with all of the cliches of the genre, including the wise old coach trying to help the boy through. Unlike Rain, this film is unable to rise above the cliches. Part of the problem is a stupid subplot about Tony's half-brother trying to get him involved in crime and a romantic subplot that seemed tacked on at the last minute. The actors do an adequate job, but the direction is uneven, particularly failing at really showing how good Tony is at football. 4/10

The night closed out with my first shorts program of the evening, Animation Extravaganza 2 (Animation 1 comes tomorrow). This is always one of the most popular programs of the festival, and I've seen some great shorts in the past. There were 12 shorts in this program, but I missed the first two due to overlap with the previous film. Most of the films included in this program were strong.

The Greatest Moment in the History of the Universe... Ever is the humorous history of the Earth told from the perspective of a little girl. (7/10)

One of the strongest is Sebastian's Voodoo, which is about a tortured voodoo doll that tries to rescue his friends. This is a very clever film with a surprisingly moving ending. (9/10)

Unbeleivable 4 is a funny 80s style MTV music video with animated versions of Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld performing as the band. (8/10)

Symphony is a pretty simple film that follows a little inkblot as it moves to the sounds of Vivaldi. (6/10)

The funniest was certainly Window Pains, which follows the exploits of a man trying to figure out what is wrong with his computer and dealing with useless tech support. The guy only talks in mumbled language, but anyone who's ever had PC issues will certainly understand every hilarious word he says. (9/10)

The program concluded with the latest from Nick Park, Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. The latest adventure finds the two trying to dodge a serial killer and both getting caught up in romantic possibilities. This fits right in with the fast paced, hilarious work that Park has delivered in the past with these characters. The only drawback is that the mystery is completely obvious, but that's where most of the humor comes from so it's not really a problem. (8/10)

Overall Program Rating: 8/10
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Old 04-21-2009, 03:58 PM   #11
larrymcg421
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Film Festival tip:

If an attractive woman starts talking to you and asks what you thought of a particular movie, tell her you thought it was great.

Because she's probably in it, or even directed it.

Woops.
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Old 04-21-2009, 04:54 PM   #12
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Monday, April 20th

The day opens with an interesting documentary called Kassim the Dream. It's about light middleweight boxer Kassim "the Dream" Ouma, who was kidnapped at a very young age and forced to be a child soldier for Uganda. While in the military, he took up boxing and took advantage of a chance to defect to the USA. He would later become a very good boxer and win the IBF title. The film follows his boxing exploits as he simultaneously tries to win a pardon so he can return home ot Uganda and see his family. Kassim is an interesting figure in that he doesn't seem to be too concerned with the human rights aspect of what happened to him, and is willing to keep quiet on that front so he doesn't ruffle feathers with the Ugandan president and gets a chance to go home. He is a fairly aloof figure for most of the film, except for some very emotional moments near the end of the film. Kassim is a fascinating person and the doc does a good job of exploring different facets of his life, including the Irish-American family who takes him in as one of their own. 7/10

Then it was time for Animation Extravagazna 1, and this one was far less successful, although there were a few standouts.

Garbage Angels shows several objects in a trash heap coming to life. It was cute, but felt very derivative of Toy Story. (5/10)

French Roast was a very funny short following a businessman in a Paris cafe who finds that he forgot his wallet and cannot pay for the cup of coffee, so he keeps ordering more cups until he can figure out what to do. The humor escalates in this one nicely and has a clever payoff. (8/10)

Crew 54 is a Bulgarian film following an elderly veteran's recollection of the war he fought in. This one is a little too clever for it's own good. There's only so many times you can go into slow motion and blast a Radiohead song before there's diminishing returns. (6/10)

Articles of War is an emotional tale of a WW2 bomber pilot who starts to feel regret for bombing civilian locations, told in a letter to his father. The narration is moving, and it avoids being overly preachy by including multiple dimensions in the pilot's monologue. (7/10)

I Am So Proud of You is a biographical short drawn mostly in stick figures. It's not without funny moments, but most of it is absurdist Adult Swim-style humor that honestly goes right over my head. Might be better if you get baked beforehand. (4/10)

Bill Plympton presents Hot Dog, the third film in his Dog series. I haven't seen the first two, but this one is really funny. It follows an oddly shaped dog struggling to find a place where he belongs. Here he attempts to be a fire dog but fails in hilarious fashion. (8/10)

Chump and Clump is so far the most fun I've had at the festival. The two odd looking title characters meet at a bus station, waiting for a bus that only shows once a week. Slowly they start to bond over alcohol and this eventually escalates to more alcohol and on to weed and shrooms. The two are so stoned that when the bus finally arrives, they have a Herculean struggle in trying to make it to the door before the driver leaves. Very inventive and absolutely hilarious. (10/10)

Overall Program rating: (7/10)


Back to more serious subject matter with the next film, another sports oriented documentary. Living is Winning tells the story of Andrew Johnston, a triathlete whose career was derailed by being diagnosed with Leukemia. This is the kind of documentary that really stands out above others because it takes a serious subject and injects a good dose of humor. You'll really enjoy getting to hear Drew and his family and friends talk about these events. The film is pretty candid about the relationship with Drew and his wife, including their sparring over Drew's involvement in dangerous high speed cycling races, which ended with him finally agreeing to switch to Triathlons. Drew is a compelling person who doesn't want to give up, and his battle to get back on the course is very inspirational, especially for someone like me whose been sitting on his ass all week watching films. Drew and his wife were both in attendance for the Q&A. (8/10)

Last year's festival featured a couple of fun low budget horror film called Make Out With Violence and Dance of the Dead. That spurred me to check out the late screening of Killer Movie, a horror film about a serial killer loose in a small North Dakota town while a reality show is being made. The reality conceit has been played out by now, but this one still had some potential. Kaley Cuoco has some really funny moments as a fictional Paris Hilton clone, but the rest of the cast fails to be engaging or create any characters worth caring about. The suspense moments are boring and unimaginative, and most of the humor falls flat. The director has clearly seen lots of horror films in his day because this one is filled with every cliche in the book, but he's clueless about how to retain the success of any of them. (3/10)
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Old 04-22-2009, 11:46 AM   #13
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Here's the website of Chump & Clump, my favorite animated short fromt he festival: Homepage of "Chump and Clump"
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Old 04-22-2009, 12:51 PM   #14
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Tuesday, April 21

Today started off with a major disappointment. I Am the Bluebird had a very interesting story idea, but was poorly executed in every possible way. Ethan Galloway awakens in a hospital with temporary memory loss. He slowly begins remembering things, but one thing that remains is a mystery is a photograph of a beautiful girl, and no one will tell him who it is. As he begins following, he starts to uncover the missing pirces from his memory and why he had memory loss in the first place. This seemed like it could have been really interesting, like a more serious version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, the movie is just flat out terrible. You'll often find bad acting in indie films, but rarely is an entire cast as wooden and blank as the people in this film. That makes it impossible to care about the story, but the story isn't worth caring about anyways. It's a mystery that unfolds at a deadly slow pace and falls flat when you finally get there. What a terrible way to start the day. (1/10)

The next one was a surprise. Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist is a documentary that follows several grad students as they struggle with advanced experiments while attempting to get their PHD's. From that description, it sure doesn't sound like a fun movie, but the director did a terrific job making this accessible and humorous to keep the audience interested. The story is almost framed in a sports underdog format, focusing mainly on one older grad student named Rob who has struggled for 4 years (dropping out several times) on one specific experiment involving the protein that controls appetite. It follows his struggle to develop crystals so data can be extracted and analyzed. This may not sound like exciting subject matter, but I found myself deeply immersed in this world, rooting for Rob to complete his experiment. Rob is an ingratiating person, who really fits the "obsessed" part of the title, and his idioisyncrasies add alot of humor to the film. This one really caught me off guard, but it was fun and rewarding. (8/10)

And here we go! Every year at the festival, there is at least one movie that truly stands out from everything else and this year it is 500 Days of Summer. This is a fucking fantastic film that succeeds in every single way. It follows Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a man who dreams to be an architect but instead ends up writing for a greeting card company. He instantly falls for Summer (Zooey Deschanel, looking better than ever), a new employee at the company. The structure is really interesting. It follows 500 days of their relationship, but keeps shifting back and forth to different days within that 500, mixing happy moments with sad ones. And there is plenty of both in this bittersweet film. There are numerous laugh out loud comic moments, including a hilarious dance sequence performed to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams". Levitt (who is building a nice movie resume) is completely winning as the everyman who is hopelessly in love with a girl that says she doesn't want commitment, and Deschanel gets one of her best roles to date, her stunning screen presence is a given but the offbeat personality that Deschanel injects makes the character even more appealing. The narrator warns at the beginning that this is not a love story, but I would argue that it is actually one of the most truthful love stories ever made. (10/10)

The night concluded with That Evening Sun, which had been given an additional screening because it won the festival's grand jury prize (note: not all films are in competition, so 500 Days was not eligible for this award). This film follows Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook), an elderly man who leaves his nursing home and goes back to the farm where he spent most of his life. When he gets there, he finds it occupied by the detestable Lonzo Choat and his family. Abner is determined to get his farm back, and begins a war of wills with Lonzo that slowly escalates into danger. This film captures the feel of the rural south very well, and the patient way it moves throught he plot allows the actors (especially Holbrook) to create fascinating characters. It's the type of carefully studied role that could get Holbrook an Oscar nomination. The screenplay by writer-director Scott Teems contains precise, mature dialogue and fully developed characters. I don't know what to make of the ending, which doesn't really tie things up the way I would've liked, but this is still an extremely well made film told in an old-fashioned style. (8/10)
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Old 04-22-2009, 04:31 PM   #15
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Old 04-22-2009, 04:36 PM   #16
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That Evening Sun trailer

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Old 04-25-2009, 11:21 AM   #17
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Today opened with a documentary about the Atlanta indie music scene. We Fun follows several bands playing at different venues, talks about their history, and the obsessive fans. I didn't really care for this one. While the documentary captures the thrill of the late night indie music culture, it fails to show us why these bands are so popular. Partly at fault is the poor sound quality, but I also found little to like about the music itself. The main band that the director focuses on is the Black Lips, a band with a big following in Atlanta, but I could not stand their music at all. There were other bands, including a female band that reminded me of Heath Ledger's line in 10 Things I Hate About You about "chicks who can't play their instruments". However, there was one band where the lead singer set her vagina on fire. That was the highlight of the movie. (4/10)

Los Campeones De La Lucha Libre is an animated film that was one of the more interesting films I saw at the festival. A village is under attack and they plead with the legendary Dragon Rojo to come save them. He refuses, but his son Dragon Rojo Jr. is determined to help out, so he recruits a team of wrestlers (Mr. Proffessional, Rayo X, Sorpesa, and Tsetse Fly) to save the town. Along the way, they decide to prepare and train against various competitors, causing the anguished villager to keep reminding them that his village is in trouble. The plot of this film is thin, even at the short 72 minute running time. However, it is filled with a fast paced animation style and plenty of jokes to keep things moving. The best joke of all is the payoff when they get to the village and find out who they're fighting for. Unfortunately, the big finale is very disappointing, spoiled by the group having several similar fights leading up to it. (6/10)

Next up was the Drama Shorts program:

Wheels follows a paralyzed girl who is determined to get her car back and literally drags herself to the towing company. The ending is a twist that's not too hard to predict, but still emotionally resonant. (7/10)

Miracle Fish follows an 8 yr old boy who is an outcast at school. During one trying day, he hides in a bed at the nurse's station. When he wakes up, the school is empty and he seems relieved that all of his tormentors are gone. The director gives this one a nice sci-fi feel to it, and the payoff works amazingly well. (9/10)

Flying Lessons has some star power with Dana Delany playing a mother trying to cope with raising her autistic son, who keeps getting into trouble. Bill Fagerbakke (Coach) shows up as a new neighbor that takes a liking to her. This is a pretty powerful dramatic piece, with Delany giving a wonderful performance. (9/10)

Between You and Me is a film that follows six different characters as they interact throughout the day. The film is show triptych-split-screen style, which is fairly interesting, but doesn't make up for the fact that what actually happens in the film isn't very interesting at all. (5/10)

Magellan is about a boy in 7th grade who walks to school each day with one of the most popular girls in school. Their friendship lasts the length of that walk and stops once they reach school, where her friends make fun of him and she joins in. Undaunted, he tries to muster up the courage to ask her to the school dance. Very appealing performances from the leads and the bittersweet ending is nice. (8/10)

The Capgras Tide
is about a man who has just recently recovered from a concussion, but now thinks his father may be an impostor. This one has a nice mystery element to it and features some great technical work, especially the wonderful cinematography. The ending packs a punch. (8/10)


And the day ended with another shorts program. This one was called Battle of the Sexes Shorts:

Who's Good Looking? is a mere 7 minutes long and consists of a man arguing with his girlfriend over her concept of beauty while they visit a cosmetics store. There is some really funny dialogue that makes this one work. (7/10)

Address To Silas On The Occasion Of The Retreat At Los Angeles County
is about a recently broken up couple, narrated from a letter that the woman is writing to the man. As the narration talks about their differences, a civil war battle erupts int heir apartments. Interesting idea, but the conceit got old before the 7 minute running time was up. (5/10)

Don't Walk Away In Silence
is about a man with radical political views who is offered a well paying office job that goes against everything he believes in. This one is a little preachy, but it is well acted and has a nice ending. (6/10)

Happy Hour features a depressed girl who is wallowing in misery after catching her boyfriend cheating on her. Her friends come up with an idea that she should get back at him by sleeping with someone, and they bring a guy over for that purpose. Some pretty funny farcical situations here make the silly idea work. (7/10)

Thinking... is about a young woman on a meditation retreat who is distracted by a young man who begins flirting with her, and this sends her mind running wild with imagination. Pretty funny, with an appealing lead performance from the director. (7/10)

He. She. It is about an aging teacher about to retire who tries to start a romance between the only two pupils in his class, but he must race to fix a problem when the romance is threatened. This Australian film was only 17 minuts, but featured three very strong characterizations. (8/10)

Rendezvous is the weakest of the films in this group. It's about a male hitmen talking to his female hitman friend about a botched job where he missed the target. The ending to his one is telegraphed from the very beginning, which took away from some decent dialogue. (4/10)
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Old 04-25-2009, 11:22 AM   #18
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Los Campeones De La Lucha Libre trailer:

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Old 04-25-2009, 11:23 AM   #19
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We Fun trailer:

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Old 04-25-2009, 11:35 AM   #20
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Old 04-25-2009, 11:53 AM   #21
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I like these writeups so far. Gives me an idea of some films to hunt for if/when they come out on DVD.
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Old 04-25-2009, 12:08 PM   #22
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Old 04-27-2009, 12:35 AM   #23
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Thursday, April 23rd

The first film of the day is a documentary called Heart of Stone. It follows Prinicpal Ron Stone's efforts to revamp Weequahic High School. The Newark high school used to be one of the most successful schools in the country, but is now in one of the poorest sections of Newark. Stone's attempts are supported by the school's mostly Jewish alumni association (the demographics of the area changed after the 1967 riots following MLK's assassination), which is one of the largest in the country. One of the more controversial methods Stone uses is meeting with the students that are gang leaders and earning their trust. He starts up a conflict resolution program aimed at stopping violence. The director gets some candid interviews with the two gang leaders and you do get the sense that Stone has really been able to reach them. There was a terrific Q&A with the director afterwards, and there were a couple Weequahic alumni in the audience. (8/10)

The next film was Lake Tahoe, from Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke. Eimbcke's previous film Duck Season premiered at the festival two years ago, and was a nice treat about two boys stuck at home all day. This film is very similar in the minimalist style that Eimbcke employs. Juan is a teenage boy who crashes his mom's car into a telegraph pole. The story follows Juan's efforts to get the car fixed. Along the way he meets some interesting characters, including a single mother who wants to be a singing star and a teenage mechanic who loves Bruce Lee films. The film doesn't dramatize anything. It takes a matter of fact approach to each event. Juan asks an old man for help, and the old man tells him which part he needs. Juan then goes to an auto parts store to order the part, where he waits with the single mother for an expert to arrive with the part he needs. While waiting, the teenage mechanic might help so he goes off with him. The film continues like this and it's a pretty refreshing style in a day and age when directors are trying to show off. Eimbcke prefers to keep the camera still and let the events do the talking. (7/10)

The final film of the day was The New Twenty, which is a typical indie film that follows a group of college friends as they struggle with the transition to adulthood. The film explores their difficulty with both proffessional and personal relationships. This is one of the more common indie film plots that has thankfully taken a back seat at this year's festival, but this one isn't so bad. Some of the characters are pretty interesting and the director keeps things going at a decent pace. However, some of the situations they go through are pretty ridiculous and some of the characters just come across as pricks, so there's little reason for you to care about them. Also, the resolution the director comes up with is just a little too neat. I'd recommend a 1995 movie called Kicking & Screaming (not the Will Ferrel one) instead. It's the best example of this genre. (5/10)
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Old 04-29-2009, 08:34 AM   #24
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Film Festival tip:

If an attractive woman starts talking to you and asks what you thought of a particular movie, tell her you thought it was great.

Because she's probably in it, or even directed it.

Woops.


I find this part of the dynasty woefully underdeveloped.
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Old 04-30-2009, 09:30 AM   #25
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A little behind in posting these final two days...

Friday, April 24th

The energy of the festival is really dying down now, and so is my enthusiasm for it. They really frontloaded the schedule this year, which I think was a mistake. I usually don't see so many shorts programs, because I prefer feature length films, but the options were underwhelming in the past couple days.

Today started off with another shorts program, called Fantastical Shorts, and this was by far my least favorite of all the shorts programs.

A Peacock Feathered Blue is about a kid who gets made fun of at school, but is determined to do well at the school science fair. This one has an incredibly sappy ending. (4/10)

Glory At Sea is about a group of people who lost loved ones during Hurricane Katrina. When one of the dead magically rise to shore, they all get together on a boat and look for the rest. This one had some really nice cinematography and a couple of interesting characters. (7/10)

Skylight is another incredibly sappy film. This one consists of a grandfather telling a little girl a "magical" story, which she finds out is a story from his own past. The story is anything but magical, and the ending doesn't make any sense. (3/10)

The Key takes place in a future where people grow their own hydroponic food. A guy who lives in the sewer watches a girl who walks by every day, until drops a key and they finally meet. Again, the cinematography is good, but we barely learn anything about these characters, so why do we care if they meet? (4/10)

The best of this bunch was certainly The Attack of the Robots From Nebula-5. It's a Mexican short shot to look like an Ed Wood film, and it's about a young man who believes robots are going to come from outer space and attack. It follows his hilarious efforts to warn his friends and family. This one is very clever, with some awesome visual cues and a hilarious performance from the lead. (8/10)


The only other film I saw today was The Death of Alice Blue, a Canadian film about a young woman who gets a job at an ad agency and soon learns that the agency is run by vampires. Sounds like a fun premise, but this one is a little too bizaare. The film is more interested in trying to be clever than telling any kind of coherent story. Everything exists in such a cold, absurdist reality that it's hard to really connect with any of the characters, so even when things start to make some kind of sense at the end, you don't really care what happens. However, I will give props to the art director and cinematographer. They both did a great job here, but it was in service of nonsense. (4/10)
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Old 04-30-2009, 09:43 AM   #26
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I find this part of the dynasty woefully underdeveloped.

The director of Pip & Zastrow sat next to me during Moon and we were chatting. She asked me what I thought of the movies I've seen so far. I said there's been some good stuff, but nothing great yet. Almost instantly as I said that, I recognized her from the Q&A session. We ended up talking about her movie and I told her I really liked it (which wasn't BS, see above), but I still felt pretty stupid.

But yeah, the tip was there for anyone that attends a festival. Be careful about openly dissing films, because at a festival there's a very good chance you could be talking to someone who was involved in it. If it's a local film, then half the audience probably worked on it in some capacity.
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Old 04-30-2009, 10:58 AM   #27
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Saturday, April 25th

The final day of the festival started off strong with Faded Glory, a documentary about a semi-pro baseball player that tries to get his old team back together so they can win the National Amateur Baseball Association World Series. The team consists of guys who have known each other for 18+ years, and many of them involved in the entertainment industry. One of them had a role in Little Big League. One of them is a network news weatherman. And one of them is poker player Chad Brown. It was directed by Richard Cohen, who is the player organizing the team, giving the film a nice first person perspective and a likeable guy to root for. Like Pip & Zastrow, I appreciate the film's willingness ot explore negative aspects of the people involved in the film, even the director's own issues are exposed. Cohen does a terrific job of showing the baseball action, making it very easy to follow and perfectly capturing the drama of the event. This works just like a really good underdog sports movie, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it made into a Hollywood movie down the line. (8/10)

This was followed by another strong documentary called Neshoba. This is about the efforts of the citizens in Philadelphia, Mississippi to get the state to proescute Edgar Ray Killen, the man largely thought to be responsible for the murders of three civil rights workers, an event that was dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning. The film includes interviews with the victim's survivors and various people in the town. What really sets this film apart is that the director gets an amazing amount access to Edgar Ray Killen, even during the trial. He is very blunt about his feelings of the events, going so far as to blaming the victim's parents for letting them go on the trip. The director also gets great footage of the trial, including some priceless reaction shots of Killen during testimony where he clearly mouths some cuss words. This is an expertly made documentary with superior editing that really delves into a frightening part of our history. (9/10)

The closing night film was a Mexican feature called Rudo y Cursi from director Carlos Cuaron. He's the brother of Alfonso Cuaron, who made Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men. It features the two stars of Y Tu Mama Tambien (Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal) as brothers who play soccer in a small Mexican town. They get recruited by a talent scout who takes them both to the big city and big league club play. The story follows their ups and downs playing professional soccer and also how they struggle to adapt to big city life. This was a huge disappointment. The idea sounds good, but Cuaron is clearly not as talented as his brother. The pacing is way off, as Cuaron goes from scene to scene, cutting at all the wrong moments. There is absolutely no flow to the story, and many events are randomly skipped over. What we do get to see is a bunch of cliches (seduction of gambling, sibling jealousy, financial issues). The biggest oddity is that Cuaron shows very little soccer action. One of the brothers is about to set the record for most shutouts in a row, but we hardly get to see any of that until the very end. The two leads are very strong actors, and Guillermo Francella gives a memorable character performance as the talent scout, but they cannot make up for this heavily flawed film. (5/10)
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Old 06-30-2009, 01:11 AM   #28
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Quick update here on my two favorite films from the festival.

Moon is currently in limited release. I know it will open in Atlanta on July 3, so keep an eye out for it in your city. It's getting very good reviews so far (59 Fresh, 10 Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes).

500 Days of Summer will be released on July 17th. This was the best film I saw at the festival, and I especially recommend it for anyone that thinks Say Anything is a great film.
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Old 07-10-2009, 05:14 PM   #29
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Moon is currently in limited release. I know it will open in Atlanta on July 3, so keep an eye out for it in your city. It's getting very good reviews so far (59 Fresh, 10 Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes).


This just showed up at our awesome artsy theater, I'm going to try to check it out this weekend.

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Old 07-15-2009, 06:12 AM   #30
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Thanks for this, Larry. I missed this originally, but read about half of your write-ups just now. It's 3 AM, and I feel sleep pulling at me, but I will read the rest posthaste.

I had heard some things tangentially about Moon, but didn't know what it was about until I came here. Sounds worth a watch, certainly.

I saw the trailer for 500 Days of Summer when I went to see The Hangover this last Sunday, and liked it. Your review has made this a must see for me.

Thanks,
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Old 07-24-2009, 10:32 AM   #31
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500 Days of Summer has just opened in Atlanta. Should be in most cities shortly.
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Old 01-13-2010, 08:15 PM   #32
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Moon and 500 Days of Summer are both now out on DVD. Both are highly recommended.

I'll definitely be attending the festival again this year, and I'd really love to go to the Toronto Film Festival later in the year. I'll post about them when that happens.
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Old 02-03-2010, 12:00 AM   #33
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Good news on the Oscar front. Three of the short films I saw at the festival ended up getting an Oscar nomination.

Wallace and Gramit: A Matter of Loaf and Death and French Roast are up for Best Animated Short, while Miracle Fish is up for Best Live Action Short.

All three are very good selections, and below you can find my original reviews for them...

The program concluded with the latest from Nick Park, Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. The latest adventure finds the two trying to dodge a serial killer and both getting caught up in romantic possibilities. This fits right in with the fast paced, hilarious work that Park has delivered in the past with these characters. The only drawback is that the mystery is completely obvious, but that's where most of the humor comes from so it's not really a problem. (8/10)

French Roast
was a very funny short following a businessman in a Paris cafe who finds that he forgot his wallet and cannot pay for the cup of coffee, so he keeps ordering more cups until he can figure out what to do. The humor escalates in this one nicely and has a clever payoff. (8/10)

Miracle Fish follows an 8 yr old boy who is an outcast at school. During one trying day, he hides in a bed at the nurse's station. When he wakes up, the school is empty and he seems relieved that all of his tormentors are gone. The director gives this one a nice sci-fi feel to it, and the payoff works amazingly well. (9/10)
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Old 03-14-2010, 04:51 PM   #34
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The full version of the animated short Chump and Clump (my favorite short of the festival) is now available on Youtube...

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Old 03-14-2010, 05:15 PM   #35
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Can you just buy tickets to individual films, preferably day of, or do you need to preorder the big passes to see stuff? I might be in Atlanta around that time and might want to just see one or two things while Im there.
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Old 03-14-2010, 05:27 PM   #36
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You can buy individual tickets. The opening and closing films are really expensive ($75 and $50), but individual tickets are available at the box office.

Most films don't sell out, but some of the bigger ones do. 500 Days of Summer sold out quickly last year, as did Last Days of Left Eye the year before that.

Right now, you can only buy passes, but the individual tickets should go on sale once the schedule is published.
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Old 03-22-2010, 07:00 PM   #37
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Great news for this year's festival. I applied and was approved for a press pass. So I will probably be seeing even more films at this year's festival since I'll have access to screeners for films that have conflicts on the schedule. Plus, i'll be conducting interviews with filmmakers. Should be exciting.

i'll start a new thread once I get my schedule set.
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