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LOU'S VIEWS: Best of the Fest ... and more

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Lou Harry

It’s time for you to stop complaining about the lack of quality films in your local multiplex and consider a trip to the Indianapolis International Film Festival, running July 15-25.

I—with the help of IBJ news staffers Gabrielle Poshadlo, Kathleen McLaughlin and Bonnie Maurer—previewed 33 of this year’s offerings, the best of which include a serious turn from “The Office’s” Jenna Fischer and a documentary about a special breed of Chicago Cubs fans.

We’ve separated them into three categories: Go, If you have time, and Skip. Of course, your movie going may vary and one of the pleasures of festival-going is risk-taking.

For a complete screening schedule, including opening- and closing-night parties, visit www.indyfilmfest.org.
 

Ballhawks at International Film Festival One otherwise normal guy who hangs around outside of Wrigley Field trying to catch home run balls. (Photo Courtesy IIFF)

Go

“Ballhawks”
It’s easy to write off as nuts the gloved guys who hang out outside Wrigley Field waiting to catch home run balls. But this Bill Murray-narrated charmer makes a strong case that their obsession is not unlike fly fishing—and possibly more noble. Five minutes in, you’ll wonder how they can possibly get an entire feature out of this. An hour in, you won’t want it to end.

“Twisted Roots” (aka "Vaarat Juuret")
This heart-wrenching Finnish film looks at the forces that pull a family together and threaten to tear it apart. An antique dealer who inherited both the business and a genetic illness is beginning to lose his faculties and has to finally tell his children that they may also suffer his same fate. Director and co-writer Saara Saarela has populated the story with three-dimensional characters, flights of fancy (courtesy of the family’s adopted young daughter), and a complicated, rich view of the big picture that’s rare in movies. The ending is particularly powerful,including an unexpectedly beautiful moment that knocked me for a loop.



“A Little Help”
Jenna Fischer of “The Office” effectively turns to quirky drama in this story about a beer-swilling mom with marital and parental problems. She creates a believable center as a woman who has a vague awareness of life slipping away who can’t quite muster the resources to do anything about it.



“One Hundred Mornings”

Perched somewhere between the total despair of “The Road” and the almost-total-despair of “Children of Men,” this tense drama from Ireland focuses on two couples in a cabin trying to wait out an unspecified societal collapse. The final third isn’t as strong as what came before, but the filmmakers nonetheless keep a strong, nuanced interest in what, in lesser hands, could be mere end-of-the-world clichés.



“Taqwacores”

Beautifully filmed, each frame of “Taqwacores” is filled with vibrant and unique characters from perhaps America’s most alienated subculture—Muslim punks. Each of these outcasts struggles with the constraints of Islam, but they don’t deny their heritage. Friendship and music provides a new sense of belonging as they share a graffiti-covered house in Buffalo, N.Y. This is no after-school special, however, and the ending may come as a shock. One note, the dialogue is peppered with Arabic, and it helps if you are already familiar with punk submovements like Straight-Edge. –K.M.



“Only When I Dance”

A documentary about two underdog Brazilian ballet dancers will naturally make you think of “Billy Elliot,” but “Only When I Dance” is more real than that. The dancers represent two demographics whose only chance at a ballet career is outside their native country. As their coach helps them achieve their goals, the passion inside these two young people is so tangible it’s impossible to keep a dry eye. –G.P.



“LaPorte, Indiana”

The discovery of over 18,000 portraits in the back room of a café led to the oddly evocative book “LaPorte, Indiana.” In finding a cinematic form for the still photographs, director Joe Beshenkovsky has crafted a film that meanders but ultimately pays off as a look at the way some things don’t change from generation to generation. Some of the contemporary characters he finds, including a woman bravely raising her grandchildren, have enormous impact.

“Paulista”
The innocent actress-hopeful falls for a bisexual lounge singer, the awkward poetry enthusiast falls for his favorite hooker, and the very convincing transsexual is faced with revealing her secret to her boyfriend. The prevailing theme of “Paulista” is love stinks, no matter who (or what) you’re into. Yeah, you probably knew that already, only these characters’ sordid dramas may just make your love life seem normal. –G.P.



“The Wayman Tisdale Story”

Could the late basketball player/jazz musician have been as sainted as he’s painted in this documentary? Who knows. But although there are too few sources here (and those used revisited too often), this one remains an inspiring, double-hankie bio.



“When I Rise”

The style isn’t much different from a “CBS Sunday Morning” feature, but the story of opera singer Barbara Smith Conrad is compelling enough to ultimately overcome the lack of pizzazz in the telling. While a student at the University of Texas, Conrad was cast—then removed—from a production of “Dido and Aeneas.” The reason: race. The film is less about the injustice, though, and more about Conrad’s strength in turning what could have been a debilitating incident into the fire to launch her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

If you have time

“NoNames”
Lots of this year’s dramatic films focus on lower-class life. Although the second half isn’t’ as strong as the first, it nonetheless paints a strong portrait of the loyalties that keep a group of friends together in a barely-on-the-map Wisconsin town.

“World’s Largest”
With a subject that could easily turn snide, “World’s Largest” opts instead for a somber look at struggling American small towns that throw hail Mary passes for tourism dollars by creating the world’s largest whatever. Geese, lemons and even lava lamps get the biggie-size treatment. The film might have been stronger, though, if it tightened its focus on the lamp project. There, it offers a fascinating, very human look at small-town politics.

“A NY Thing”
A romantic Frenchman follows his lover to New York knowing she’s in love with someone in the city. His journey to profess his love includes the expected encounters with the city’s lunatics and lovers, all happy to help him in his quest. Entertaining, comical and satisfyingly predictable. –B.M.

“I Love You, Mommy”
A Long Island family—with two teen sons and an adopted-as-an-infant 3-year old—decide to add another member to the family. The worthy-but-now-familiar story of international option is complicated by the fact that their new daughter is an 8-year-old from China—and not only does the girl not speak English, but the family doesn’t speak Chinese. The fact that the filmmaker does muddies the water a bit.

“American: The Bill Hicks Story”
If you listen to what the interview subjects say in this British doc, you might believe Bill Hicks was the greatest, most innovative stand-up comic who ever lived. Unfortunately, the film tells more than it shows. Creative film techniques help, though, in making this a little more than the comedic equivalent of a “VH1: Behind the Music” episode.

“Barry Munday”
A strong cast (including Patrick Wilson, Malcolm McDowell, Chloe Sevigny, Billie Dee Williams and Cybil Shepherd) give life to this erratic comedy about a loser who loses his family jewels. If writer/director had anchored the early scenes and solved some later implausible quirks (a birthing scene is particularly misguided), this could have been a, well, a jewel. 

“Peepers”
The strength in this one is in the film’s amorality. No judgment is made about the hobby of its rooftop Peeping Tom characters as they try to adhere to a fraternal code of conduct. The cast of unknowns is strong, except for the miscast leading lady.

“The Things We Carry”
The better of the fest’s two “pair of sisters deal with death of mother” dramatic feature is stronger largely because of the performances as the siblings and the unique situation: Mom was a crack addict.

“Phillip the Fossil”
I was going to park this one in the “skip” category—much of it feels like a drama enacted by the cast of “Jersey Shore.” But, oddly, I found myself rooting for the foul leading man as he tried to start his own business, making it interesting enough to upgrade.

“Amanda”
Kudos to the filmmakers who managed to create a slick, well-packaged feature film right here in Indianapolis. I only wish I could give stronger endorsement to the finished project, which suffers from all-over-the-place writing, at some times trying to be an “American Pie” film and, at others, a Lifetime original movie. Local actor Douglas Johnson is the standout as the crude buddy of a guy who has fallen for a woman with a secret.

Dirty Mind
An accident on the job leaves Belgian stunt man, Diego, with a frontal lobe injury that releases his macho, womanizing alter ego, Tony T. This nerd, who once felt compelled to take “find your inner man” seminars is transformed into a jerk who hits on everything that walks, including his doctor. It’s hard to say which version of the protagonist is easier to swallow, but Tony T. seems to have the guts to go for what he wants. Nuvo playboy high jinks abound. Kinda funny. –G.P.

“Art House”
A low-key, winning performance by Greta Gerwig highlights this humdrum story of a group of quirky students trying to hang onto their quirky campus quarters by, surprise, putting on a show. An art show, in this case. Music legend Iggy Pop plays her oddball dad.

“My Year Without Sex”
Married with children types will appreciate this film’s portrayal of an Australian couple trying to maintain their loving relationship while coping with the aftermath of a nearly fatal illness. The relief of survival soon gives way to tension as Natalie, facing her own mortality, goes on a spiritual quest, and Ross shoulders financial and parenting burdens. The couple is reunited after some good luck lifts Natalie out of her funk. The film is full of amusing and sweet little moments, but it tries too hard to portray a full cast of characters, leaving the protagonists too muted. –K.M.

“Movers & Stakers”
Like a biggie-size episode of “Across Indiana,” this doc offers a relatively random look at the then-and-now of the Indiana stretch of the National Road. Most interesting are segments on Ross Lockridge Jr.’s novel “Raintree County” and a meeting with the owners of the Golden Eagle Inn.

“Special When Lit”
I spent much of my formative years in arcades playing pinball, and one of the things I learned is that watching pinball isn’t nearly as much fun as playing. Watching this documentary about pinball history and culture, I found myself wanting to play “Roller Coaster” or “Fireball” rather than listen to people talk. The film does offer some interesting facts but, alas, doesn’t introduce us to more than one or two interesting people.

“Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her”
The second of the siblings-processing-Mom’s passing: Two sisters, one white and one black, are joined by their respective partners for introspective speeches and topless lovemaking. Of course, one of the lovers is an artist, which leads to some poetic final scenes. Otherwise, though, this one doesn’t have the insight or interesting characters it needs to hold attention.

Skip

“Do It Again”
Even for a documentary of the filmmaker/protagonist stunt sub-genre, this film relies far too heavily on Geoff Edgers talking into the camera. Edgers fails to make us interested or even sympathetic to him or his cause. He is a guy turning 40, who might lose his job as a music critic. He thinks reuniting the Kinks will bring meaning to his life and career. Edgers goes to England and finally realizes that Ray and Dave Davies are more than a pair of legendary musicians. They are two brothers, each troubled in his own way, who have a very, very painful relationship. Thankfully, Edgers comes to his senses and drops his quest. The footage and interviews he landed would be good fodder for a 30-minute VH1 special. –K.M.

“Jimmy Tupper vs. The Goatman of Bowie”
What starts as a down market, shaky camera at the party “Cloverfield” turns into a “Blair Witch Project ” clone and then, well, you realize that this horror flick doesn’t have an original bone in its low-budget body. If you haven’t seen any of those films—or want to relive the feeling of watching them, here’s your pick.

“New Low”
If a film is going to focus almost entirely on a guy’s romantic troubles, at least the audience deserves a lead character it doesn’t want to slap in the head. The hero in this one seems to have gone to the Woody Allen School of One-liner Spouting (and a few are actually funny) and having him be a wannabe stand-up comic isn’t enough to mitigate the annoyance of having to listen to him for this long.

“Somewhere Between Here and Now”
When an American expatriate skips his train in Brussels to follow a mysterious Belgian girl, the backpack-clad story that ensues is really just a bad date on tape. Long pauses and wanting stares amount to a pubescent flirtation that could have been more boring only if the viewer were living it instead of watching. This is Europe, for goodness sake, let’s get crazy. –G.P.

“Skateland”
Nostalgia can be a filmmaker’s worst enemy. Memories can get in the way of a clear vision of what’s on screen, which seems to be one of the problems in this, yet another times-they-are-changing feature about kids in transition. The title refers to a town roller rink that, of course, is about to close down, but the potentially anchoring location is largely lost in the center of the film.

“Exit 117”
Despite the Jersey-focused title, there’s no sense of place in this, yet another twentysomethings-trying-to-figure-out-where-to-go-with-life drama. With many of the same plot points as “American Graffiti,” some humor or style would have helped.

“Jeffie Was Here”
The casting of the lead males (one also serving as director and writer) and an impossible-to-buy premise are some of the problems with this all-over-the-place would-be comedy/drama about a struggling college teacher, his pregnant partner, and a troublesome ride-sharing student trekking across the country to a funeral.

Not available for screening


“Fish Out of Water”

“Blanc comme neige (White as Snow)”

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming A&E events to lharry@ibj.com. Visit www.ibj.com/arts for more review, previews and blog posts. Twitter: IBJarts

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  1. Great article and post scripts by Mike L (Great addition to IBJ BTW). Bobby's stubborn as a mule, and doubt if he ever comes back to IU. But the love he would receive would be enormous. Hope he shows some time, but not counting on it.

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