June 12, 2019

2019 Oak Cliff Film Festival

 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the benefits of attending a close-to-home film festival is getting the opportunity to see the work of local people that we are familiar with. Writer-Director Daniel Laabs has been active in the Dallas film scene for years, and although he has produced short films, it’s his feature film debut that nabbed a prime spot at this year’s Oak Cliff Film Festival.

Tallie Medel stars as Maya, and she’s in an on-again-off-again relationship with Jules, played by Betsy Holt. Things never seem quite right with the couple, especially in a dance club scene where David (Johnathan Miles Howard) gets involved. Awkwardness, insecurity, and uncertainty follows. Not long after, oil field worker Freddy (Robert Longstreet) happens upon a car accident. Both Maya and Jules are injured, though Jules’ injuries are more severe. The David situation takes an odd turn, and so does the Maya – Jules dynamic … but it’s Freddy’s story that really connects or disconnects all of the personal story lines, depending how one views it.

Mr. Longstreet is a terrific character actor and it’s nice to see him with a more substantial role here. He seems to thrive on the complexity of, what on the surface, seems like a simple man … but wow, does this guy have issues and challenges (dogs, daughters, identity, regrets). In a way that’s difficult to explain, Freddy and Maya bond and seem to really help each other sort out some things. This happens even though we don’t see a good amount of discussion between them – it really goes to the point, that we all need someone we can depend on.

The film is very well acted, including supporting work from Liz Cardenas and Rafael Villegas. The score from Brent Sluder is spot on, and the film has a very grounded feel and look to it. The story may be secondary to the characters, but we find ourselves wanting each of them to find a glimmer of happiness.

(I couldn’t find an online trailer)


October 4, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Jim Morrison’s lyrics, “This is the end. Beautiful friend. This is the end” have been interpreted to have many meanings over the years, and they also seem just right for what is likely the final on screen performance from one of the few remaining iconic movie stars. Robert Redford claims this is probably the end of his nearly 60 year acting career. If that’s true, he couldn’t have selected a better project for his victory lap. The film itself is a nice mixture of mass appeal and the independent projects that Mr. Redford has long supported. As for the character he plays, it too fits him like a glove.

Filmmaker David Lowery (fresh off last year’s indie favorite A GHOST STORY) has adapted the story from a 2003 “New Yorker” article by David Grann, and it’s based on a true story – one that’s a bit difficult to believe … well, at least until Mr. Redford brings Forrest Tucker to life. Mr. Tucker escaped from San Quentin at age 70, and it was just one of his 16 prison escapes during a lifetime of robbing banks and getting caught. The story is that Tucker simply enjoyed the work, and went about it in the most gentlemanly possible way – often described by bank employees as polite and nice. It’s the perfect character for Redford’s trademark twinkle and grin acting style.

Most of this portion of the story takes place in 1981, and the film captures not just the era, but also the essence – something much deeper than clothes and cars. Starring alongside Mr. Redford is Sissy Spacek as Jewel, and their chemistry allows the quiet moments between their characters to work as effectively as their (sometimes) playful verbal exchanges. Tucker’s “crew” is manned by Danny Glover as Teddy, and the great Tom Waits as Walter. Waits is always fascinating to see on screen, and here he gets one especially good scene to shine. They are referred to as “The Over the Hill Gang” (in contrast to “The Hole in the Wall Gang” from Redford’s classic BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.

Casey Affleck (reunited with director Lowery for the third time) plays Austin Texas detective John Hunt, who spent a great deal of time chasing Tucker, and actually put the puzzle pieces together. Tika Sumpter appears as Hunt’s wife, Gene Jones is memorable as a Bank Officer, and for you Austin music lovers, Lefty Frizzell’s granddaughter makes a brief appearances. Other far too brief appearances include Isiah Whitlock, Jr, Keith Carradine (weirdly brief), Robert Longstreet, John David Washington, and Elisabeth Moss. The parade of familiar faces can be a bit distracting, but it’s understandable why so many wanted to work with Lowery and Redford.

Joe Anderson’s cinematography is terrific, and the film is oddly devoid of violence. If not mistaken, I believe we only see Tucker’s gun once … and that’s in a glove compartment. There is a certain easiness and warm fuzzy to the film, somewhat conflicting with what we would expect following an armed bank robber!

Of course, the reason we buy into the gentlemanly outlaw is the performance of Robert Redford. Charming and easy-going comes pretty easily to a man that is charming and easy-going. Director Lowery even treats us to a quick clip from young Redford’s film THE CHASE, and does so within a delightful montage of Tucker’s prison escapes. Few actors get such a perfect farewell tribute, and though it’s not quite Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at-bat, at least Redford gets to tip his cap to the fans. Since he’s moving his career off screen, let’s bid a fond and appreciative farewell to the man that once proclaimed, “I’m better when I move”.

watch  the trailer: