Saturday, October 20, 2012

#TallgrassX Review: "Paul Williams Still Alive"


Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

“I always thought he died too young,” notes Stephen Kessler mournfully, at the beginning of Paul Williams Still Alive—but it’s a fake-out, of course, and not one hidden for long (hell, it’s there in the title). Williams, for those not old enough to remember (or who were too high at the time), was one of the most recognizable singer/songwriters of the 1970s. He parlayed his success penning works for Streisand, the Carpenters, David Bowie, and the Muppets into a kind of all-encompassing celebrity, via his appearances in films, on talk shows, and in a seemingly endless series of TV guest shots. And then, in the mid-‘80s, his excesses got the better of him. But he didn’t die; he got sober, even working with addicts and alcoholics like himself. And he continues to perform, which is where this film comes in.

#TallgrassX Review: "Year of the Living Dead"


Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

In 1967, a 27-year-old college dropout and industrial filmmaker named George A. Romero assembled a ramshackle cast and crew of friends, associates, and clients, rented a farmhouse in the sticks, and made Night of the Living Dead—“this tiny little movie in Pittsburgh,” notes historian Jason Zinoman, that “changed the world.” That sounds like a tall claim for a low-budget horror picture, but in his new documentary Year of the Living Dead, director Rob Kuhns mounts a convincing case.

#TallgrassX Review: "The Story of Luke"


Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival


Alonso Mayo’s The Story of Luke deals with the elephant in the room about a third of the way in, and just in time. Its title character is autistic—modestly well adjusted, but not the kind of high-skill type we think of thanks to a certain 1988 Oscar winner. While trying to get a job, Luke is asked, “Can you multiply big numbers, or memorize entire books?” He can’t. But he does tend to remember the exact and often indelicate wording of things people tell him in semi-confidence, and repeat those things at inopportune moments for the tellers. Luke’s social skills may be underdeveloped, but the kid’s got crackerjack comic timing. That, in a nutshell, is the trouble with The Story of Luke, which is a likable and well-acted movie that feels just a little too clean and easy.

#TallgrassX Review: "Fat Kid Rules the World"

Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

If Matthew Lillard and his agent didn’t sit down a couple of years back and strategically decide to “do an Affleck,” I’ll eat my hat. First, the one-time Shaggy and eternal Freddie Prinze Jr. second banana started popping up in restrained and effective supporting roles in the likes of The Descendants and Trouble with the Curve; now, here is his charming, low-key feature directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World. It’s a fairly sly piece of work, narratively speaking, inasmuch as you think it’s going to be one kind of movie, and it subtly becomes something else. The film’s primary flaw is that both are movies you’ve seen many times before.

#TallgrassX Review: "Beauty is Embarrassing"


Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

“My name is Wayne White, and I make pictures.” So announces the subject of Neil Berekely’s documentary Beauty is Embarrassing , but he’s selling himself short; he is also a puppeteer, sculptor, cartoonist, art designer, and a pretty mean banjo player. To the oft-given advice to focus on one thing and do it well, he offers a stern “Fuck that!” And as someone who found success in Hollywood, dropped out, and became an artist, he says, “Fuck you, F. Scott Fitzgerald!”

Friday, October 19, 2012

#TallgrassX Review: "Pablo"


Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

Good documentary films can do a lot of things—educate, inform, immerse us in a scene, tell a story. Richard Goldgewicht’s Pablo does those things, and one of my other favorites besides: it wants to tell you all about this amazing guy that you totally should have heard of before now, but probably haven’t. Said guy is Pablo Ferro: self-taught animator, comic book artist, advertising creator, and one of the genuine artists of movie title design. If that all sounds too “inside,” it’s not; this is the story of a creative artist with a unique, idiosyncratic style that changed the game. Who’s not fascinated by that?

#TallgrassX Review: "The Right to Love: An American Family"

Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

On the very afternoon that I saw The Right to Love: An American Family, an informative and emotional documentary about marriage equality, yet another key moment in that movement had arrived: the Defense of Marriage Act had been ruled unconstitutional by a New York federal appeals court. That ruling will certainly be appealed; this battle, one that evangelicals insist is for the very soul of America, is one that has been fought in courtrooms as much as in the streets or in voting booths. Gay marriage has been a hot-button topic since George W. Bush used it as a wedge issue back in 2004; in 2008, the elation of the Obama victory was tempered somewhat by California voters’ decision that same day to add an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. On it goes.

#TallgrassX Review: "Citadel"

Reviewed at the 2012 Tallgrass Film Festival

Between The Raid: Redemption, Dredd 3D, Attack the Block, and now Ciaran Foy’s Citadel, I’m not getting a very good feeling about the safety of apartment block buildings overseas. In the jostling opening sequence of Citadel, a young man named Tommy (Anuerin Bernard) and his pregnant wife are moving out of their decidedly sketchy-looking building, but not quite quick enough; the missus is attacked by a mysterious—but scary—gang of hooded figures, and though doctors manage to save the baby, the mother is not so lucky.