LOU'S VIEWS: Here's the best from International Film Fest

July 13, 2009

This year’s Indianapolis International Film Festival gets rolling later this usual, with a bump to summer precipitated in part by the moving on of its founder to the Nashville Film Festival and in part by the move of most of the fest (minus parties) to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The new venue should provide a comfortable place to hang out between flicks and compare notes.

Of course, we at IBJ couldn’t wait to get to the festival. Instead, we’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing most of the features in competition. Here are our thoughts. You can include your own reviews on Lou Harry’s A&E blog at www.ibj.com/arts.


“Best Worst Movie.” In the 18 years since “Troll II” was released, the film has earned a reputation as a cinematic fiasco on the level of classic howlers like “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and “Robot Monster.” The surprise here is that there’s actually something fun and engaging to say about that film besides, “It sucked.” In this documentary, a child “star” of “Troll II” tries to make sense of the original movie’s cult status and, in the process, takes us into the lives of, among others, a jovial dentist, a reclusive would-be actress and a foreign director with mixed feelings about his masterpiece’s newfound “worst film” status. After the screening of this documentary, gluttons for punishment can stick around for an outdoor screening of, yes, “Troll II.”—Lou Harry

“Daytime Drinking.” A slow-paced and quiet South Korean road-trip movie, “Daytime Drinking” chronicles the fallout of a young man’s decision to literally run away from a bad breakup with his girlfriend. Once on the road, he tries to befriend a couple of deceptive hustlers, a deviant trucker and one really bad poet. Life kicks him when he’s down again and again, but don’t expect him to respond in a hope-inspiring way. The film effectively explores how the respectful and courteous traditions of Korean culture render people ill-equipped to deal with the betrayal, indifference and cruelty that lies just beneath the surface.—Pete M. Smith, special to IBJ

“Garbage Dreams.”
The three teenage trash collectors at the center of this Cairo-set documentary are members of an underclass known as the “Zaballeen” who have formed an entire culture around garbage and make their living from recycling an amazing 80 percent of it. The fixed camera shots create an intentional and distinctly jarring effect, lending a frozen effect to the film even though the teens are living through a time of rapid change as foreign companies decimate their livelihood and futures. This one is for anyone who thinks globalization and free trade are beneficial for Third World countries. It’s worth it just to watch the teens get dressed up to collect garbage and then drool over all the trash they see on a trip to the United Kingdom.—P.M.S.

“Here and There.” The art house version of “The Proposal,” “Green Card,” or any other gotta-get-married-for-citizenship, this double fish-out-of-water film concerns a depressive New Yorker who accepts a deal to go to Serbia and marry a woman so she can come to the United States while her true partner struggles to get by until she gets there. It’s low-key—don’t look for wacky comedy misunderstandings—but the unfamiliar faces and refreshing matter-of-factness help this one rise above its Hollywood brethren. —L.H.

“HomeGrown.” A divorced father and his three grown children manage to create three tons of produce every year from only 1/5 of an acre of land near a busy interstate exchange in Pasadena, Calif. The Dervaes family proves eccentric–-but likable–-as they discuss how they reduce their “eco-footprint” by their choices of energy sources, such as solar panels and biodiesel made from used vegetable oil from restaurants. May inspire viewers to buy non-electric mixers from an Amish catalog.—Rebecca Berfanger, special to IBJ

“Prince of Broadway.” “Three Men and a Baby” this isn’t. In this gritty story, a fed-up mom hands off her child into the unwilling hands of the possible father, a hustler of knock-off goods on the streets of New York. The film meanders and repeats itself, but the sense of burden and reluctant acceptance of responsibility is palpable.—L.H.

 “A Ripple of Hope.” Two months before his own untimely end, Robert Kennedy likely saved our city from riots similar to those in other urban areas following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Kennedy’s approach to the tragedy—mentioning his brother’s assassination for the first time in public and quoting Greek philosopher Aeschylus—soothed the crowd, including those who were armed and ready for a fight. Told by those who were there, this documentary offers an emotional ride through a near-disaster that was averted by words of calm and peace from one civil rights leader about another.—R.B.

“The Rock-Afire Explosion.” Ten minutes into this off-kilter documentary, I thought I knew all I needed to about the subject. But this proves more than just another “wacky obsessives” exercise. With a real appreciation of the power of nostalgia and an interest in how absurd cultural touchstones evolve, the filmmakers explore the world of the fictional critter band that once took the stage daily at Showbiz Pizza Place.—L.H.

“Shoot First And Pray You Live (Because Luck Has Nothing To Do With It).” This gritty revenge-Western tells the story of an orphan raised to fight. Once trained, Red Pierre goes off in search of the men who raped his mother and killed a man claiming to be his father. In case you couldn’t tell from the film’s title, this movie is full of bad dialogue and mildly absurd story lines. But if you have ever wondered what kind of movie would arise if you melded “Kill Bill,” “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Outlaw Josie Wales,” this movie is for you. And, yes, that’s Indiana comedian Jim Gaffigan in the cast.—P.M.S.

“Sita Sings the Blues.” Marvelously fun in parts and redundant and tiring in others, this animated take on the Indian story of Ramayana is sparked by debating narrators, a joyful use of 1920s jazz songs, a fresh visual style, and a pair of well-woven narratives. I promise you haven’t seen anything like it before.—L.H.

“The Tiger Next Door.”
The film’s balanced take on the subject of why private citizens should or shouldn’t be allowed to keep wild animals in cages left me unsure whom I should root for: the main subject, a likable ex-con who breeds tigers and other exotic animals at his home in Flat Rock, Ind., or those trying to stop him, like the founder and director of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Crown Point. In the end, that balance made it worthwhile. Other pluses: local ties, captivating footage and a thought-provoking topic. —R.B.

“The Way We Get By.” The trio of seniors we meet in this documentary have a range of feelings about the war in Iraq, but they steadfastly refuse to let a single soldier arrive at the Bangor, Maine, airport without being personally greeted and thanked. The film seems to stray in its midsection, but remains powerful nonetheless. Bring tissues. —L.H.

In “The Way We Get By,” seniors share their feelings about the Iraq war.

“Zift.” This overstuffed, sadistic, scatological and wildly fun thriller tells of an ex-con (picture a Bulgarian Vin Diesel) who has a very rough time of it after being released from prison. Unfolding in one torturous day, it’s shot in striking black and white and contains a can-you-top-this cast of oddball supporting characters. The perfect fest film to take the action-film-loving uninitiated film-fester to. —L.H.

If you’ve got time

“Autistic-Like.” Often, the label of autism is used as a diagnosis in order to secure services—even if the diagnosis isn’t quite correct. This film explores the issue through the story of one family in which a child was diagnosed as having “autistic-like” behavior that, in reality, was a sensory disorder. Disjointed in parts, but informative and interesting, it will, like many medical documentaries, hit home with its subject population. —Cindy Harry, special to IBJ

“Beyond Our Differences.”
If one already believes that peace, love and understanding can make the world a better place, this film will reinforce those ideas and possibly inspire action. If not, this will still encourage some thought. Speakers include spiritual leaders Emeritus Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, an Irish priest who runs a clinic for AIDS patients in South Africa, mind-body expert Deepak Chopra, and “Alchemist” author Paulo Coelho, among others. —R.B.

“Official Rejection.”
Navel-gazing, perhaps. But this look at film-festival politics has enough interesting anecdotes and info to maintain interest in anyone curious about how the independent movie biz works. It concerns a pair of filmmakers and their efforts to land their film in the right fests. While the process is interesting, the characters aren’t. The unfortunate result is a film where you don’t want the leading men to succeed. —L.H.

“The Other Side of the Lens.”
When a jaded Salt Lake City television news reporter’s own 4-year-old boy dies in a backyard accident, he discovers the difference between exploiting and enduring heartache. To soothe his loss, he travels to Kenya and builds a school in his son’s name, but soon a violent outbreak of ethnic cleansing expands his understanding of devastation. The premise is any parent’s worst nightmare, but the film ignores opportunities to explore the exploitative nature of journalism, instead concentrating too exclusively on Cowan’s personal journey. —Peter Schnitzler

“Playground.” A well-made documentary on the American underground child sex trade, watching “Playground” is recommended only for people with strong enough stomachs to handle 90 minutes of film on the worst crimes this country produces, or anyone who hasn’t watched an episode of “Dateline” in the past decade. “Playground” ranks nowhere near “Gardens of the Night” or “Little Children,” but it will reward you with some surprising insights into the minds of predators and the children they destroy. —P.M.S.

“Poundcake.” A family — including three adult children — deal with parental divorce in this comedy drama set in the ’80s. One of the more mainstream entries in the fest, it gives familiar faces Kathleen Quinlan and Jay O. Sanders the kind of substantial roles that come along too rarely for movie actors. Unfortunately, the film they’re in isn’t funny enough, dramatic enough or anything else enough to make it a must-see. Still, it’s watchable and features many moments that ring true. Plus, in Deshja Driggs-Hall, you could be discovering a breakout actress early in her career. —L.H.

“Route 30.” This would-be charmer would be in the “Skip” category if it weren’t for winning performances by Dana Delany, “Revenge of the Nerds” alumnus Curtis Armstrong and the she-looks-familiar Christine Elise (I’ll save you the trip to IMDB.com — she was Brandon’s girlfriend in an episode arc of the original “Beverly Hills 90210.”) They’re featured in a trio of interconnected tales about life in a small town along the titular Pennsylvania road. The first, involving a pair of deer hunters and their spouses (one wants to start an online porn site, the other is obsessed with a civilian casualty of the battle of Gettysburg), is the strongest. —L.H.

Imagine “Leaving Las Vegas” minus the hooker and most of the drama. In this fiction film, we watch Carlos, a Guatemalan deadbeat, drink himself to death in front of his 7-year-old son, despite the little boy’s efforts to convince him to stay sober, e.g., “Please stop drinking, Dad. I don’t want you to die.” Heartbreaking, but not terribly eloquent. —Gabrielle Poshadlo

“Throw It Down.” Every festival needs a competition documentary in which a group of [fill in the blank] compete to be the world champion [fill in the blank]. In this case, it’s a Drum and Bugle Corps squad and, while the determination and talent is admirable, the film keeps playing the same notes. And unlike, say, a spelling bee, there’s little drama in the climax because we can’t see each full routine nor do we have the tools to clearly see who is best. —L.H.

“The Vanished Empire.”
It’s a pleasure to watch a movie about Russians that doesn’t involve politics or demonization. This nostalgic story about college kids being college kids in 1970s Moscow will feel similar to most American coming-of-age stories but may bore audiences in this country if they forget the social context of the times. It shows how much we took for granted, but more important, just how sweet forbidden fruit can be. —P.S.


“Beket.” Two middle-age men travel through arid terrain, repeat short bursts of bad dialogue and occasionally interact with flying buses, a peasant guitar hero, a be-thonged beach goddess and other random characters. “Beket” seems a caricature of the worst of art house cinema. If it’s isn’t meant as parody, “Beket” is probably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen distributed for public consumption. —P.M.S.

“Lo.” A man tries to talk a demon into rescuing his love from hell, but don’t look for even Dante’s first circle. The entire budget seems spent on creature makeup and a talking hand wound. That wouldn’t be that big of a problem if what was on screen weren’t trying so desperately to be a cult film. So how low can “Lo” go? I’d suggest that this horror romance is “What Dreams May Come” meets “The Evil Dead,” but that implies a watchable dreck instead of yawn-inducing dreck. —L.H.

“My Dear Enemy.”
If Woody Allen decided to direct a movie set in South Korea about a street hustler trying to repay a debt to his ex-lover, it would probably look exactly like this. It’s missing only a neurotic writer; otherwise it has the dialogue, characters and jazz down perfectly. It’s a pretty romance movie, but it’s also kind of like receiving a cubic zirconia ring. —P.M.S.

“Off Off Broadway.” Mockumentaries are a lot harder than they seem (even the genre’s widely acknowledged master, Christopher Guest, screws up once in a while. See “For Your Consideration”). In this case, the filmmakers set their pseudo-doc sights on pretentious fringe theater—and not only is the satiric air stale, but the material just isn’t funny. Winning characters might have redeemed it but, alas, they’re absent as well, making sitting through this one even more difficult than sitting through the stuff it scorns. —L.H.

“Tre Lire.”
Like its characters, the narrative film is confused and lacks direction. Three young, irresponsible male nurses take a 93-year-old ex-merry-go-round operator for one last, well, go-round of his life and times. This would be sweet had they not been motivated by the promise of a very valuable stamp, the Tre Lire, at the end of the journey. Of course, the nurses all come to love the old man, but none of them actually learns anything. Frustrating. —G.P.


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming events to lharry@ibj.com. Visit ibj.com/arts for additional reviews, previews and arts discussion.



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