2019 Dallas International Film Festival
Greetings again from the darkness. The best way I can describe my Day 6 movies is quirky – oddball- unique indie filmmaking at its most deep-cut festival level. It’s doubtful any of the three will receive widespread distribution, yet all three are entertaining in their own special way.
Here is my recap of Day 6 movies:
It’s so cold! That’s a running joke in a movie based in International Falls, Minnesota (one of the coldest spots in the U.S.) during the dead of winter time. There are plenty of other jokes included since it’s the story of a local woman who dreams of being a stand-up comedian. We first see Dee (Rachael Harris) greeting Tim (Rob Huebel) as he checks into the hotel where she works. He’s there for a 2 night gig as a stand-up comedian and the two of them immediately clash.
Amber McGinnis directs the script from Thomas Ward, and as you might imagine with a number of stand-up sets shown, there is also a good bit of improvisation. Surprisingly, the comedian sets are the weakest part of the movie. Where it excels is with the self-evaluation that occurs with Dee, Tim and Dee’s husband Gary (Matthew Glove). Rather than a laugh-a-minute approach, there is a heavy dose of introspection as Dee comes to grips with a disintegrating marriage, and learning the ups and downs of stand-up courtesy of her tryst with Tim … yes, they get over that initial clash as soon as Dee figures out she can learn from him.
The film does a nice job of demonstrating how most comedy stems from pain, sadness and disappointment. Many comedians struggle with depression or at least the challenges of being mocked or found unfunny. Tim and Dee spend a good amount of time together over his two days, and he states on multiple occasions that the second show will be his final show. This is all going on as Dee evaluates the stand-up gig as a career, and whether she wants to continue her marriage. There is a terrific scene where Dee and Tim walk around town (yes, it’s cold) to see the sites … including the Bronco Nagurski museum (unfortunately, it’s closed).
The supporting cast is talented and familiar and includes comedian Erik Griffin, Kevin Nealon, Mindy Sterling (AUSTIN POWERS), and Jessie Sherman. Mr. Ward’s script began as his own 2-person play, and it’s easy to see how it benefits cinematically from expanding outside the walls of a hotel room. Sure it’s a bit of a downer, but sometimes that’s the way life goes … the question is what do we make of those down times?
In 1926 Sister Aimee Semple McPherson was one of the most famous people in the world. If you are like most of us these days, you’ve never even heard of her. She was an evangelist – healer – entertainer – swindler – celebrity and built one of the most popular radio shows of the era. Co-directors and co-writers Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann begin by telling us that 5 ½ percent of their film is true, and the rest is imagination … speculation on one of the most bizarre mysteries ever reported on the front page of most newspapers.
Anna Margaret Hollyman delivers a fun performance as Sister Aimee, though unfortunately, the other 94 ½ percent isn’t quite as much fun as we hope for – but it’s enough to keep us engaged. See, Sister Aimee faked her own death/disappearance and then reappeared at the Mexico border a few weeks later, claiming she had been abducted and held hostage. Of course, it took very little investigation for her story to fall apart, but somehow the actual details were never pieced together. This is the re-imagining of her “lost” time.
Tired of her fame and the pressure that comes with being a faith-based healer, we watch as Sister Aimee runs off with Kenny (Michael Mosley, “Ozark”). They secure a guide named Rey (a terrific Andrea Suarez Paz) to take them through the backroads in order to cross the border unseen. Rey has a pretty tall tale backstory herself and might be a nice subject of her own film … the hero with no name.
Supporting actors include Lee Eddy as Hazel, Sister Aimee’s handler and assistant; Julie White as Aimee’s mother Minnie Kennedy; and Amy Hargreaves as Sister Semple. There is a full-scale song-and-dance number that takes place in a Mexico jail that Ms. Hollyman performs quite beautifully. The story involves one famous woman searching for anonymity and one anonymous woman looking for attention. It’s surely the first throat-slitting musical western road trip dramatic mystery comedy arms-dealing adventure film I’ve ever seen.
SHOOT THE MOON RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES
When you attend the Dallas International Film Festival and you see a feature film debut from a writer/director who was influenced by legendary Austin filmmaker Eagle Pennell, and stars cult favorite Sonny Carl Davis, and the film is based on a song by the even more legendary John Prine and a short story (“Two Gallants”) by the great James Joyce … well, it becomes a must-see and a film that you simply schedule other films around (yes, that run-on sentence was intentional).
Jerry (David Kendrick) and Carl (Sonny Carl Davis) are a couple of elderly con men making their way through small Texas towns scamming women out of money. Hot on their trail is a lovesick Private Investigator named Les (Frank Mosley). He’s lovesick for his current client, who happens to be his ex-wife as well as Jerry’s and Carl’s latest victim. Les hopes to catch up to the con men, get the money back and win back the affections of his ex. While Les bumbles his way through the investigation, Jerry messes up the latest scam by falling hard for torch singer Maureen (Morgana Shaw), their current target.
We are told the film is based in Texas during 2016, and anyone familiar with Austin will recognize Deep Eddy Cabaret, where just about everyone in the film has a drink (or more) at some point, and we hear a few Waylon Jennings songs from the jukebox. However, that’s not the music that will stick with you. All of the key characters get to sing a John Prine song, including one of the strangest versions of “The Late John Garfield Blues” you’ll ever hear. Most of the vocals from the leads are somewhat strained, but it fits with the tone and adds to the charm.
Filmmaker Graham Carter proves to be a worthy successor to the beloved and late Eagle Pennell (check out his classic LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO) with this ultra low-budget offering filled with songs and fun characters … and a narrator that guides us through. This one is perfect for late night viewing and a taste of John Prine lyrics.