DIFF 2015 – Day 1


 

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Day 1 – Friday April 10

I missed the Opening Night Gala at the Majestic Theatre last night, but took in three films on the first full day of this year’s festival.

Below is the day’s recap, and a reminder that I seek out the deep cut indies and documentaries that may or may not gain mass market distribution.

 

RED ON YELLA, KILL A FELLA (2015)

DIFF – Texas film series

Red on yella Co-writers and co-directors Duane Graves (from San Antonio) and Justin Meeks manage to hit all extremes with comedy, violence and drama as they trek across some of the roughest Texas terrain. Tongue-in-cheek westerns are rare, and this one never falls into true parody, but instead uses hyper-dramatic music and dialogue delivery to balance the gun play and hardened outlaw activities.

Mr. Meeks also stars as Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, who is leading his band of outlaws across Texas in an attempt to re-claim the gold from a previously botched train robbery. The character name is from a real life outlaw and the actions are loosely based on real life train robber Sam Bass. Meeks is clearly having a ball playing the type of colorful bad guy that actors dream about.

Screen veteran Pepe Serna has a brief but memorable role, and one that is crucial to story development. He too, seems to relish the chance to play a nasty guy. The rest of the cast, many of whom were present at the screening, all seem to have bought into the vision … whether their character is quickly filled with lead or manages to eke out a line or two or three. Every movie lover will quickly recognize the actor playing the Doc as Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes (1972).

The ringing of a bell, a young ventriloquist, twins, prairie land nightmares, a hooker with an ulterior motive, and family revenge all play a role as this group of outlaws is hunted by more than just the Sheriff as they make their way to the coast. With unusual lines of dialogue such as “Shut that puppet up”, and a misleading sign that reads “Lodgers Welcome”, Graves and Meeks deliver an unusual look at the old west and those that inhabited this rugged land.

 

RAIDERS! THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE (2015, doc)

DIFF 2015

raiders! Most documentaries are pretty simple to recap: A filmmaker makes a movie about a topic or person. However, simplicity just doesn’t fit here. Filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen made a movie about the making of a movie that is a movie re-made in honor of a movie that was already made.  This isn’t Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness which portrays his difficulty in making Apocalypse Now. Far from it. This is a modern day look back at two/three geeky eleven year old boys making a shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s classic Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Coon and Skousen catch up with forty-somethings Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb as they are trying to put together the financing and logistics to film the final scene of their unfinished movie Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. These are the same boy that started the process in 1982 and filmed each of the next seven summers until they graduated from high school.

If you are a total film geek, you have probably heard of their film and know that it has been an underground film favorite for years. But you may not know the real life details behind it and certainly not the modern day drama of Eric and Chris as they try to complete it. How about some interviews with their mothers? How about the real world possibility that Eric risks losing his job to complete this thirty plus year old kid’s summer project? How about the personal struggles of Chris over the years, or the fallout with Jayson as he is left out of this final chapter?

Director Eli Roth was instrumental in spreading the word of this film project throughout Hollywood, and the boys even got invited to meet with Spielberg. Mostly we are left with the fascination that young boys can have such passion and persistence over so many years. When asked about whether they missed out on their childhood, Chris responds “We filmed childhood”. A true and fitting response, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Fortunately, Coon and Skousen do.

 

THIS ISN’T FUNNY (2015)

DIFF 2015

Yes, it is funny. And it’s also not funny. This little relationship gem breaks down into 3 chapters … conveniently and obviously noted with title placards: Before, Together, After.

The story follows Juice Bar manager Jamie and stand-up comedian Eliot as their worlds literally collide in a chance meeting that doesn’t, on the surface, set the stage for love ever after. Director and co-writer Paul Ashton plays Jamie and co-writer Katie Page plays Eliot, and their natural onscreen rapport comes courtesy of their real life relationship (as they disclosed in the post screen Q&A).

Don’t mistake this for some simple rom-com. There is a lot going on here and it swirls around not just their budding romance, but also their individual lives. It’s very interesting how the story offers commentary on such topics as how young adults still use their parents as an excuse for their own lack of career success and/or happiness. In an interesting twist, it also allows us to view those same parents (including Mimi Rogers and David Pasquesi) as real people with their own issues, rather than just a drag on the “kids”. And speaking of parenting, Jamie and Eliot go through some rather unique soul-searching on the topic.

If that’s still not enough subject matter for you, we also witness Eliot’s struggles with anxiety. Her trips to a therapist are a battleground for medication levels – Eliot wants to be free of them, and wonders if they are a crutch or actually help. No judgments here, just wonderful material for further discussion.

On top of all that, we are treated to some sterling stand-up from Beth Stelling and Ahmed Bharoocha who are both extraordinarily talented comics. Plus Ms. Page more than holds her own at the microphone, as she brings Eliot’s personal life (and poor Jamie’s mishaps) to her material.  You should also be prepared for the most outrageous performance of Anthony LaPaglia’s career. He’s a riot.

It’s a joy to see an indie with such depth, insight and commentary on what relationships are like in today’s ever-changing world.

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